Jersey Devil - Fact or Fiction
How did the story start?
The popular beginning of this Cryptid legend starts with Mother Leeds who had 12 children and was expecting her 13th. Tired, as all Mothers will be at that time, she cursed the child she was carrying saying, "Oh let this one be a devil and the devil take him." Little did she know on one dark and stormy night in 1735 the Devil was listening and would grant her wish.
Two different tales say that she gave birth to the Jersey devil as it was reported with the head of a goat, hooves and bat like wings, ouch, and it flew out the chimney after killing everyone else in the room except his mother. The other version says that when the child was born it was born as a regular child then began to change after birth into the creature and flew out the cabin to live his life in solitude.
"Mother Leeds" has been identified as Deborah leeds, who was married to Japhet leeds. People are able to draw two connections between this family and the Jersey Devil; in his will Japhet named twelve kids and they lived in the Leeds point section of what is now called Atlantic County that is commonly thought of to be the birth place of the Jersey devil story. Does seem a strong enough connection for me, but everyone's entitled to their own belief.
Brian Regal makes a truly compelling argument though that the monster was linked to the Leeds family by none other than Benjamin Franklin to Daniel Leeds who was a rival almanac publisher. To set himself up as the more trustworthy almanac publisher Benjamin Franklin began spreading rumors and calling Daniel leeds a, "Political and religious monster." Regal reports that, "References to the Jersey Devil do not appear in newspapers or other printed material until the twentieth century. The first major flap came in 1909. It is from these sightings that the popular image of the creature—batlike wings, horse head, claws, and general air of a dragon—became standardized."
The legend begins
The only problem with only thinking that this Cryptid is merely a legend cooked up so one business man can stay more important than other is all the sightings that go back to 1909. What would people, who have nothing to do with the business dealings of almanacs, in the early 1900's have to gain by reporting sightings of the Jersey Devil? Farmers would find their livestock killed in the morning and strange tracks leading them back into the forest that they couldn't explain.
Perhaps the most famous person to sight the beast was Joseph Bonaparte, the taller older brother of Napoleon, who said that he witnessed the beast while out hunting during his exile in America.
In January 1909 there were hundreds of stories of people claiming to see this beast all over the state. Some more believable than others; for example there is even a report that the creature attacked a trolley car and of police shooting the beast with no effect on it. The beast has been seen as far as Delaware and West Maryland. The widespread panic these stories created caused a lot of Delaware to close their schools and workers to stay home until the sightings went down. People obviously believed the stories even if they hadn't seen the beast themselves, but if these stories were started by business men to garner tourists it seems to have backfired spectacularly.
The Devil is among us?
Today's skeptics say the devil was nothing more than a creative story of the English settlers, a bogeyman, to keep children in line and a helpful way to pass the time. Perhaps they are right, but why then would people in neighboring states report sightings and the story take off like wild fire? Again, other than a day or two off work, what would they have to gain by participating in these tall tales if that is what they were? In the past 260 years and 2,000 witnesses who reported and continue to make reports why hasn't the story died out if there isn't a ring of truth to it?
Not as many people are coming forward these days to make reports, could be they don't want to be branded crazy by their neighbors. Unfortunately this type of reaction happens frequently when people are talking about something like this that isn't widely believed.
Some think the beast could be nothing other than an undiscovered bird and that's how the story has persisted all these years. Others believe the bird is know and most likely the Sandhill crane which weighs roughly 12 pounds, has a wing span of 80 inches and stands about 4 feet tall. It's completely plausible, but it doesn't explain the killed livestock since birds may scavenge but they can't kill cattle or horses.
If the Jersey Devil is a devil or a bird is what investigators have to find out, with as many sightings as there have been and continue to be it's an interesting question to answer.
Is it possible there's a Devil among us?
© 2016 Chosen Shades