If you've ever been to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, then you've probably heard stories about a strange winged creature that roams the land and soars through the skies. But the Jersey Devil is no ordinary cute and cuddly forest critter. Terrified witnesses describe it as a flying biped with cloven hooves and a forked tail. Even if you don't see this creature as you wander the Pine Barrens, you might instead hear a terrifying scream that echoes from the treetops. If so, then you can add your story to the many others that tell of frightening encounters with the Jersey Devil.
1735: Birth of the Devil's Child
The Jersey Devil has its origins in folklore staring with tale of Mother Leeds. There are many versions of the story, but they all begin in 1735 with Mother Leeds (who already had 12 children) discovering she was once again pregnant. Being her 13th child, she stated that this was the devil's child.
Her delivery that year took place during a severe thunderstorm. Surrounded by friends to assist in the birthing of her child, Mother Leeds delivered a boy who appeared to be a normal baby. That is, until a few moments later when it transformed into a ghastly creature with a goat's head, hooves, forked tail, and bat wings. The creature baby let out an unearthly scream and attacked and killed the midwife, then flew up the chimney. This creature became the Jersey Devil.
1800: Fly the Unfriendly Skies
The first Jersey Devil sighting came 65 years after that stormy night when the Devil's Child was born. It was in 1800 when Commodore Stephen Decatur paid a visit to the Hanover Iron Works located in the Barrens to conduct a test of the cannonballs being manufactured at the plant. While out on the firing range, he spotted a large, strangely shaped creature flying overhead. He took aim and fired at the monster, but didn't kill it.
1830s: King's Encounter Sparks a Panic
A couple of years later, there was another sighting by Joseph-Napoléon Bonaparte, brother of Napoléon and former King of Naples, Sicily, and Spain. From 1816 to 1839, Bonaparte leased a house near Bordertown. While hunting in the Pine Barrens, he spotted the Jersey Devil. By 1840, the area was in a panic. There were reports of the Jersey Devil preying on livestock and attacking children who ventured outside of their homes after sunset. Doors were locked and lanterns lit and placed outside front doors to ward off the creature.
1909: Siege of the Jersey Devil
The Devil resurfaced in 1909. Thousands of people reported seeing the creature. In January 1909, Councilman E.P. Weeden of Trenton, NJ reported he'd been awakened by the sound of flapping wings just outside his bedroom window. Upon investigating, Weeden claims to have found cloven footprints left in the snow. Around the same time, there were several similar reports of cloven footprints in the city.
A local police officer saw the monster while out on his rounds. He had just passed a dark alley when the winged creature hopped into the street and screeched loudly. The policeman shot at the creature, but it flew off into the night. Within a week of that encounter, there were thousands of reports from others who claimed to see the Jersey Devil. The wave of sightings stretched across the river into Pennsylvania and Delaware.
Unknown Explorers reports, "Almost every yard in Burlington [NJ] had sets of strange footprints in them. The prints were up trees, went from roof to roof, disappeared in the middle of the road and stopped in the middle of open fields." Tracks were found in the neighboring towns of Hedding, Columbus, Rancocas, and Kinhora. A massive hunt was organized to find the creature, but the dogs refused to track.
On January 18, 1909, Mr. and Mrs. Nelson Evans of Gloucester had what's known to be the longest sighting of the Jersey Devil. The couple were awakened by strange noises. They watched the creature from their bedroom window for 10 minutes. Mr. Evans described the creature as, "… about three feet and half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse's hooves."
Two professional hunters tracked the creature from the Evans home for 20 miles. A group of people in Camden, NJ saw the Jersey Devil that same day and reported that the creature also barked at them before flying away. By January 21, 1909, people were so frightened that they closed the schools, mills and other businesses. Everyone stayed inside their homes, too scared to venture outside. The siege finally ended abruptly, with sightings tapering off and then ending altogether.
1927: The Devil Catches a Cab
More than a decade passed before the Devil made another notable appearance. One night in 1927, a cab driver was changing a flat tire when he reported that the Jersey Devil landed on the roof of his car. He sped away leaving the tire jack and tire and drove to the police station. All that was found at the scene were the tire jack and tire.
1930: Even the Jersey Devil Gets Hungry
In 1930, the Jersey Devil popped up again, and this time it seems he was hungry. People picking berries at Leeds Point and Mays Landing reported seeing the Jersey Devil crash through fields "devouring blueberries and cranberries." Two weeks later, the Devil was spotted just north of these locations.
1951: Devil Seeks Playmates
In 1951, a group of children claimed the Devil cornered them while they were playing at the Duport Clubhouse in Gibbstown. The creature then "bounded away without hurting anyone."
1961: Jersey Devil Hulk Smash
In 1961, two couples parked in the Pine Barrens heard a loud screech followed by a car roof smashing in. They fled the scene, but returned to see the Devil flying through the trees, "taking out huge chunks of bark as it went along."
1993: Ranger Sees a Horned Creature
A forest ranger driving along the Mullica River in southern New Jersey found his path blocked by a six-foot creature with "horns and matted black fur."
2001: The Devil Goes Peeping
In 2001, a woman heard scraping noises on her bedroom window. She saw a seven foot tall, grayish brown creature that looked like a horse or dog looking in.
2002: Creature Hangs Out in a Tree
In 2002, a family driving on a November night through Pine Barrens spotted a dark brown creature crouched in a tree. The creature had black wings, a horse face, pointed ears, amber eyes, and hooved feet.
2004: Up on the Rooftop
In 2004, woman and her son encountered a creature in their backyard tree during a snowfall. The creature scaled 85 feet to perch on the house roof, leaving prints in the snow up there. Police and wildlife officials were unable to identify the tracks. This creature was described as four to six feet tall with a horned animal head.
2007: Devil Camps Out
In 2007, two men left a campfire to investigate a screeching noise. They were chased by an eight-foot tall winged creature with a horse or goat head and red glowing eyes. Later, they made casts of the hoofprints, but an expert hunter couldn't identify them.
2008: The Screeching Bush
One October afternoon in 2008, a student was walking his dog in the woods by his home when he came upon a winged creature crouched behind a bush. It screeched, then flew into a tree overhead. The boy described the creature as having a three-foot wing span and features of a mixture of different animals.
The Jersey Devil Made Them Do It
Over the years, strange livestock deaths and blood-curdling cries have been attributed to the Jersey Devil, but there hasn't been a wave of sightings like the ones of 1909. The legend perseveres, however, and Pine Barrens remains an attractive destination for those wishing to get a glimpse of the Devil.