The Pine Barrens – two thousand square miles of hauntingly beautiful forested land – is located in Southeastern New Jersey (yes, New Jersey has forests). This primeval stretch of white sands and towering cedars is home to arguably the most unique creature in all of “cryptozoology” (otherwise known as the study of unidentified animals not officially believed to exist, “monsters” in other words).
The Jersey Devil is said to have the head of a horse, jagged antlers, cloven hooves, bat-like wings, and the ability to generate mysterious fires. According to local folklore, the “origin of the creature dates back to the 18th century. The story goes as follows: when Mrs. Leeds, an indigent woman living in secluded poverty with her twelve starving children, found out she was to have another child exclaimed: I don’t want any more children! Let it be a devil. When the child was born, it was horribly deformed. It crawled from the womb and up the chimney and out into the woods. It is rumored to have fed on small children and livestock while haunting the area for years to come.” (source: strangemag.com)
This origin story has many different versions, but the description of the Jersey Devil itself has remained largely the same throughout the centuries. The most notable wave of sightings occurred in 1909. For one January week, the residents in the surrounding area were genuinely terrified. Farm animals were found dead and mutilated. Bizarre cloven hooves were discovered in the snow, up trees, even on rooftops. Unearthly shrieks were heard coming from the Pine Barrens. Schools and factories were shut down. Hunting parties were formed. The tracking dogs refused to go anywhere near the hoofprints. Had the townspeople succumbed to mass delusion? Or was something really out there, something they couldn’t explain?
In Legend Trippers, the Jersey Devil is part of the crypto-army wreaking havoc on the small town of Exeter. Here is a sketch of the fire-spewing, dragon-like beast as he is described in the book.
Credit to my artist Dennis Saputra.
And remember, screaming is believing…