It’s that time of year again when ghost stories and legends take hold of our subconscious. New Jersey has its share of spooky tales, but none is more famous than that of the Jersey Devil. The Jersey Devil has become so intertwined with the area that it is the only official state demon in the United States.
There are many different stories on how the Jersey Devil came to be, but the most widely accepted origin is that he was born to a woman named Mrs. Leeds over 260 years ago. Mrs. Leeds lived in the Pinelands and was pregnant with her thirteenth child. Distraught over the idea of having to take care of so many children, she declared of her unborn child, “Let it be the devil.” It’s said that when the child was born, he was deformed with the face of a horse, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns, and a tail.
Stories differ on what happened to the devil immediately after his birth. Some say the creature was hidden away and raised in secret by Mrs. Leeds until her death, at which time he escaped into the Pine Barrens. All versions agree, however, that a winged creature was set free at some point to roam the Pine Barrens and frighten anyone it came into contact with.
Sightings of the devil have occurred for years, but the most famous happened in 1909. Over the course of one January week, hundreds of people claimed to have seen the devil, not only in New Jersey but also in Pennsylvania and Delaware. He was reportedly seen along roads and railroad tracks and on roofs. Even a local politician, Trenton Councilman E.P. Weeden, claimed to have been awoken by the sound of flapping wings outside his window. He also allegedly found cloven footprints in the snow outside his home.
Over the years, many people still claim to have seen or heard the devil in various wooded areas around New Jersey. In 1957, the devil was believed to be dead after the Department of Conservation found a strange corpse in a burned-out area of the Pine Barrens. The remains were a partial skeleton of an unidentifiable creature with feathers and hind legs. However, a few years after the corpse was found, a pair of sisters from Bridgeton allegedly spotted the devil clinging to their bedroom window.
No one has been able to definitively identify what the Jersey Devil is or was. Nevertheless, it’s clear that people have seen something lurking out there. So the next time you’re passing through the Pine Barrens, keep your eyes open and you may just spot the elusive Jersey Devil.