Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Search for the Jersey Devil

by Chris Chaos

    As many of you know I am producing a documentary on New Jersey's most legendary resident, the Jersey Devil. So here I am offering up some basic information concerning him.

    The Jersey Devil originally referred to as The Leeds Devil, a cryptid that is believed to inhabit the Pinelands in New Jersey, has been haunting the surrounding areas since about 1735. Over these years, the creature has been reportedly witnesses by more than 2,000 individuals.

    The Jersey Devil has terrorized and amused NJ towns through this time and has even caused schools to close and people to fear venturing outside their own homes. Is good ole JD a creation of Piney folklore, a left over dinosaur, an undiscovered species, a hybrid, a ghost or The 13th Child?

    The legendary creature of Southern New Jersey is described as a biped that flies and having hooves. There are several description of the Jersey Devil, the most popular one is that it is a kangaroo-like creature that has a horse’s face, a dog’s head, leathery wings resembling that of a bat, small arms and clawed hands, horns, a forked tail and cloven hooves. It reportedly moves fast so as to keep away from human contact and emits “blood-curdling scream.”

    There are several different versions of the story of how the Jersey Devil has become to exist. The earliest dates back to the Lenape tribe where they called the Pine Barrens "Popuessing" which translates to "Place of the Dragon". Later the Swedes referred to this area as "Drake Kill". Drake meaning dragon and Kill referring to a channel of a river.

    The most popular and widely accepted origin story is of Mother Leeds having 12 kids and cursing her 13th one, who was to become the Jersey Devil. On a dark stormy night Mrs Leeds gave birth to her seemingly normal baby but shortly afterwards it grew wings, hooves, a horses head and a forked tail. It Jersey devil footscreamed, killed the midwife and then flew up the chimney and into the Pine Barrens where it currently lives. Supposedly in 1740 a member of the religious community exorcised the Jersey Devil for 100 years. There were not any reported sightings of JD until 1890.

    Based on real history Deborah Leeds and Japhet Leeds (of Leeds Point, NJ) were married and records indicate they did have 12 children. While visiting Hanover Mill Works to inspect the forging of cannonballs Commodore Stephen Decatur claims he sighted the Jersey Devil and fired a cannonball at the winged creature, but it had no effect on it.
    In 1820 Napoleon's brother Joseph Bonaparte also claimed to see the Jersey Devil while at his Bordentown home.

    From January 16th to the 23rd in 1909 was the busiest period for sightings of the Jersey Devil. Newspapers were bustling with headlines stating encounters with the Jersey Devil. Widespread panic ensued when the Jersey Devil supposedly attacked a trolley car in Camden and Haddonfield, a social club and unexplained footprints were found in the snow. January seems to be the most likely month to spot the Jersey Devil.

    The Philadelphia Zoo offered a reward of $10,000 to whomever could capture the Jersey Devil. News coverage created pandemonium and schools were closed and factories shutdown.
    An unidentified animal was shot and killed in December 1925 as it tried to kill chickens. The man from Greenwich showed the body to all that came to see it but no one could determine what the animal was.
    On July 27th 1937 in Downingtown PA residents saw an animal with red eyes that they could not identified.
    Back in 1960 in Mays Landing tracks were found and noises were heard and were assumed to be those of the Jersey Devil. Also merchants in the Camden area offered up $10,000 to anyone that could bring them the Jersey Devil.

    It has been said that when the Jersey Devil is spotted usually it is followed by some sort of bad historic occurrence such as war or ships sinking.

    Many skeptics that do not believe in the Jersey Devil believe it is simply just the product of an over active imagination or just a story to scare the children. Others feel that the legend may have been created for political gains. The earliest recollections and referrals to the Jersey Devil called it The Leeds Devil and may have been to discredit a Daniel Leeds who was a local politician.

    Out of all the cryptoid the Jersey Devil has the least amount of photos, videos and physical evidence collected against him. Some common explanations of what the Jersey Devil might be are: ghost, inbred, birth defect, mentally disabled, Sand Hill Crane, Hammerhead Bat, Dinosaur (specifically a dimorphodon), undiscovered species, figment of an overactive imagination.

To follow along with the progress of the film, go here:


(Chris Chaos is a long time resident of South Jersey who once again resides in and writes from Gloucester City, New Jersey. He is a filmmaker, a business owner, writer, urban explorer and investigator of the odd and weird, a proud parent, happily taken and a connoisseur of hot wings. Chris can be reached at AxisVideo@aol.com)