Why You Can’t Find the Jersey Devil
Like every kid raised in South Jersey, you saw the film strip or poorly shot documentary about New Jersey’s state demon, the Jersey Devil. And naturally, after finding out the book on the Jersey Devil is the shortest one in your school’s library, you did a book report on the Jersey Devil. Then, as a teen, one drunken night you and your friends decided to find the Jersey Devil.
But no luck. The mysterious monster remains mysterious. That’s probably because the residents of Leeds Point, NJ (the supposed birthplace of the monster) want absolutely nothing to do with you Jersey Devil hunters! Devil hunters are about as welcomed in the woods around Leeds Point as the cast of the Jersey Shore is in Sea Side Heights.
Why is this so? Well, as you know, the story goes that in 1735, Mother Leeds gave birth to her 13th child. She, also being the thirteenth child, cursed the baby. It was born a horrible monster that ate the family and has been haunting the Jersey Pine Barrens every since. Or so some variation of the story goes.
The “truth” is that James F. McCloy and Ray Miller, author of the Jersey Devil books, will tell you that the legend is based on a lot of rumor an innuendo. The real story is probably that the Leeds family, who owned all of South Jersey when it was a colony of England, probably had a kid with some sort of severe mental impairment. Of course, in those days, it was a “sign of the Devil” and the poor kid was probably locked in an attic. But servants talk and superstitious rumors snowball, until now the legend is bigger than life.
Unfortunately, that kind of nuanced understand of folklore usually doesn’t permeate the drunken brain pan of the teens that come stomping in the Pine Barrens looking for “the house”. The house is supposedly the birthplace of the Jersey Devil, but this is usually just an old shack or house abandoned in the woods. There are quite a few. Nevermind that a house from 1735 would’ve long since rotted away if it wasn’t properly kept. That doesn’t stop every would-be monster catcher from taking a piece of the house with them as they trespass on private property trying to be a Ghostbuster.
No, Devil Hunters, the reason you can’t find the Jersey Devil is because no matter how much you want life to be like the X-files, it isn’t. And after almost 300 years of embellishing the Jersey Devil story with each generation, you can barely recognize its true origins, which is why you’re probably not going to find anything.
The closest thing you will find to a Jersey Devil “spot” is across the street from Leeds Point in Smithville, NJ. Smithville is a pleasant little tourist trap full of shops, restaurants and ducks that also has quite a few pieces of Jersey Devil merchandise. So stop by, get yourself a Jersey Devil t-shirt, comic book and a hotdog, but please don’t bother the good folks at Leeds Point.
If you and your drunken friends could catch the Jersey Devil, he wouldn’t be legend to begin with.
written by Tony DiGerolamo
(Tony DiGerolamo is the author of the Jersey Devil comic book, available on his site at www.thefixsite.com)