S5 Ep. 8: The 13th Child
This week, I bring you the tale of a favorite cryptid of mine, The Jersey Devil, and the folklore that surrounds this fascinating creature. This show suggestion has been hanging around for a little while and I thought with all the unknowns we’re dealing with in our crazy world, a cryptid wouldn’t go astray.
I’d also like to fill you all in as far as what’s happening in my world right now. Currently, I’m in the process of editing the thesis for my MFA program (a 200-page document) and I’m fitting that in between work and the podcast. For the next couple of weeks, I won’t be posting episodes as I’ll be waist-deep in that document, but I’ll return on the 27th with a new episode.
This episode contains a very shitty Benjamin Franklin, a creepy cryptid, and some unreliable news sources.
Pregnancy comes with its own set of fears and frustrations. Some mothers worry their baby might be born with a deformity while others fear they might have to be pregnant forever. Others simply become frustrated with the experience, the uncomfortable nature of carrying around new life, swollen ankles, and the cravings for, often disgusting, concoctions. Jane Leeds was no different. Her frustrations came to a head when she was told of the birth of her 13th child. Jane had already given birth to 12 children and was at her wits end after receiving the news. The year was 1735, long before contraception or abstinence was an option. Infant mortality rates were high and having so many children was a necessary evil. But up until this point, Jane didn’t know evil. She cursed the child in frustration, crying out that the child would be the devil. On a stormy night as the wind and rain raged outside their small home, Jane gave birth to her 13th child. Appearing normal at first, the child gradually morphed into a creature with hooves, a goat’s head, bat wings, and a forked tail. The creature gained its footing and attacked the family members present, killing as many as it could. Then, it turned and flew up the chimney, destroying the structure. The remaining family members cowered in fear, listening to the creature’s bloodcurdling shriek as it disappeared into the night.
This week, I bring you the tale of a favorite cryptid of mine, The Jersey Devil, and the folklore that surrounds this fascinating creature. This show suggestion has been hanging around for a little while and I thought with all the unknowns we’re dealing with in our crazy world, a cryptid wouldn’t go astray. I’d also like to fill you all in as far as what’s happening in my world right now. Currently, I’m in the process of editing the thesis for my MFA program (a 200 page document) and I’m fitting that in between work and the podcast. For the next couple of weeks, I won’t be posting episodes as I’ll be waist deep in that document, but I’ll return on the 27th with a new episode. I also think it’s important to take time to breathe and I feel like I haven’t been giving myself much of a chance lately. I pretty much just go from episode to episode and never really take time to enjoy the content. I’ll be doing a little of that as well during this downtime.
In addition to that news, I wanted to give a shout out to Lawyer Douglas and Tyler Zottarelle, owners of The Wilde Collection in Houston, TX. I visited Houston a few years ago because I’d been invited to sit on a panel at a writing conference there and happened upon The Wilde Collection. The store was simply amazing, filled to the brim with amazing taxidermy and one of a kind items. It was beautiful and mesmerizing and I seriously could have lived there. In November of last year, a man suffering from mental health issues walked into the store, poured gasoline, and lit a match. The beautiful Wilde Collection went up in flames and, although the owners have found some artifacts amongst the rubble that could be saved, the store itself is a total loss. A terrible loss. They’re very close to their $70,000 clean up goal, but I wanted to reach out to my listeners and see if anyone could lend a hand. The Wilde Collection was such an amazing place. It absolutely deserves to return and bring joy to oddies hearts once more. Lawyer Douglas has started a Go Fund Me page in order to offset the repair costs not covered by insurance. I’ll drop the link into the show notes so that you can navigate there easily. The loss of The Wilde Collection is a terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with Lawyer and Tyler during this difficult rebuilding process.
And now…on with the show.
Whether you believe the tale of the Leeds family or not, you have to admit that the legend surrounding the Jersey Devil is fascinating. The story has been told and retold, but the facts remain basically the same. Not often the case with these kinds of stories. Many once referred to it by different names like Jabberwock, air hoss, and wozzle bug, but the term Jersey Devil has stuck around.
Now, I relayed the most popular folklore related to the Devil in my intro this week, but I also wanted to present a couple of other tales that have worked their way into this already odd story.
From AtlanticCounty.org, “Another story tells of a young Leeds Point girl who had fallen in love with a British soldier. The British had come to the region because the iron furnaces at Batsto were supplying the privateers. In 1778, the British engaged the Americans at the Battle of Chestnut Neck. The townsfolk opposed the match, calling her liaison an act of treason. They cursed the girl. According to legend, when she later gave birth to a child – it became known as the Leeds Devil.
A variation on the tale tells of a young woman who encounters a passing gypsy begging for food. She was frightened and refused. The gypsy cursed her for her refusal. Years later in 1850, with the curse forgotten, when the girl gave birth to her first child – a male – he became a devil and fled into the woods.”
The Jersey Devil (sometimes called the Leeds Devil or Devil of Leeds) is known by many either as being connected to the Leeds family or Leeds Point in New Jersey. Historically, some threads have been found to connect the dots and make the legend make sense, though I wonder if the researchers were just grasping in order to create something tangible. “Mother Leeds” has been identified by some of these researchers as Deborah Leeds. Her husband was Japhet Leeds and they lived in the Leeds Point section of (now) Atlantic County where the Jersey Devil is said to reside.
From Wikipedia,” Brian Regal, a historian of science at Kean University, theorizes that the story of Mother Leeds, rather than being based on a single historical person, originated from colonial southern New Jersey religio-political disputes that became the subject of folklore and gossip among the local population. According to Regal, folk legends concerning these historical disputes evolved through the years and ultimately resulted in the modern popular legend of the Jersey Devil during the early 20th century. Regal contends that “colonial-era political intrigue” involving early New Jersey politicians, Benjamin Franklin, and Franklin’s rival almanac publisher Daniel Leeds (1651–1720) resulted in the Leeds family being described as “monsters”, and it was Daniel Leeds’ negative description as the “Leeds Devil”, rather than any actual creature, that created the later legend of the Jersey Devil.
Much like the Mother Leeds of the Jersey Devil myth, Daniel Leeds’ third wife had given birth to nine children, a large number of children even for the time. Leeds’ second wife and first daughter had both died during childbirth. As a royal surveyor with strong allegiance to the British crown, Leeds had also surveyed and acquired land in the Egg Harbor area, located within the Pine Barrens. The land was inherited by Leeds’ sons and family and is now known as Leeds Point, one of the areas in the Pine Barrens currently most associated with the Jersey Devil legend and alleged Jersey Devil sightings.”
Daniel Leeds was a Quaker and a prominent individual of pre-Revolution colonial southern New Jersey where the Pine Barrens are located but he was ostracized by his congregation because he published almanacs containing astrological symbols in 1687. These Pagan practices were blasphemous and the Quaker community confiscated and burned the writings. Leeds continued to publish, writing about Christian occultism and mysticism, cosmology, demonology, and natural magics. In the 1690s, Leeds, after further censorship of his work, converted to Anglicanism and published anti-Quaker documents that criticized the theology and accused Quakers of being anti-monarchists. Eventually, Leeds’ writings would be endorsed by Lord Cornbury, a man the Quaker community despised, and Leeds himself would work as a councilor to Cornbury. The Quakers saw Leeds as a traitor for rejecting Quaker beliefs and aiding the crown (leading me to believe that perhaps Leeds calling Quakers anti-monarchists actually wasn’t a far cry from the truth) and condemned him as evil.
When Leeds’ son Titan inherited his father’s almanac business, he began to include his family crest on the documents. It depicted a wyvern, a dragon-like creature that stands upright on two clawed feet. Perhaps the poor reputation of his family and the inclusion of the crest caused some to put two and two together to make 5 and create a monster. The beef between Benjamin Franklin and Titan Leeds for readers likely didn’t help either. Leeds “eventually competed with Benjamin Franklin’s popular Poor Richard’s Almanac. The competition between the two men intensified when, during 1733, Franklin satirically used astrology in his almanac to predict Titan Leeds’ death on October of that same year. Though Franklin’s prediction was intended as a joke at his competitor’s expense and a means to boost almanac sales, Titan Leeds was apparently offended at the death prediction, publishing a public admonition of Franklin as a “fool” and a “liar”. In a published response, Franklin mocked Titan Leeds’ outrage and humorously suggested that, in fact, Titan Leeds had died in accordance with the earlier prediction and was thus writing his almanacs as a ghost, resurrected from the grave to haunt and torment Franklin. Franklin continued to jokingly refer to Titan Leeds as a “ghost” even after Titan Leeds’ actual death during 1738. Daniel Leeds’ blasphemous and occultist reputation and his pro-monarchy stance in the largely anti-monarchist colonial south of New Jersey, combined with Benjamin Franklin’s later ongoing depiction of Titan Leeds as a ghost, may have originated or contributed to the local folk legend of a so-called “Leeds Devil” lurking in the Pine Barrens.”
Angela Tung from The Week wrote in 2014, “Crackpots aren’t the only ones who claim to have seen the creepy critter. In the early 19th century, U.S. Commodore Stephen Decatur is said to have seen it when he was “testing cannonballs in the Pine Barrens.” Joseph Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon (yes, that Napoleon) and Bordentown, N.J., resident, had his own sighting as well. According to Mental Floss, he was hunting alone in the woods when he heard a “strange hissing noise” and found himself face-to-face with an animal with a “long neck, wings, legs like a crane with horse’s hooves at the end, stumpy arms with paws, and a face like a horse or a camel.” It hissed once more before flying away.
Since then sightings of the monster have spread to areas all over the Garden State. […] For many New Jerseyans, the legend of the Jersey Devil is a fact, or fiction, of life.”
In case you’ve never been, the Pine Barrens area in New Jersey is almost impenetrable and filled with thick groundcover. It’s difficult to traverse and getting in to that place to take a look around is a challenge. This practically impassible area makes for the basis of some great creepy stories, but what about sightings of the Devil on the Garden State Parkway and the Jersey turnpike? People have clearly seen the creature in these areas as well and they’re pretty clear on what it was they saw.
Let’s look into some of the many reports from 1909. From Weird New Jersey, “In 18th and 19th centuries, the Jersey Devil was spotted sporadically throughout the Pine Barrens region, frightening local residents and any of those brave enough to traverse the vast undeveloped expanses of New Jersey’s southern reaches. Unearthly wails were often reported emanating from the dark forests and swampy bogs, and the slaughter of domesticated animals would invariably be attributed to the Phantom of the Pines. Over the years the legend of the Leeds Devil grew, occasionally even overstepping the boundaries of its rural Pine Barrens haunt to terrorize local towns and cities.
The most infamous of these incidents occurred during the week of January 16 through 23, 1909. Early in the week reports starting emerging from all across the Delaware Valley that strange tracks were being found in the snow. The mysterious footprints went over and under fences, through fields and backyards, and across the rooftops of houses. They were even reported in the large cities of Camden and Philadelphia. Panic immediately began to spread, and posses formed in more than one town. Fear and intrigue grew even greater when it was reported that bloodhounds refused to follow the unidentified creature’s trail in Hammonton. Schools closed or suffered low attendance throughout lower NJ and in Philadelphia. Mills in the Pine Barrens were forced to close when workers refused to leave their homes and travel through the woods to get to their jobs.
Eyewitnesses spotted the beast in Camden and in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and in both cities, police fired on it but did not manage to bring it down. A few days later it reappeared in Camden, attacking a late-night meeting of a social club and then flying away. Earlier that day it had appeared in Haddon Heights, terrorizing a trolley car full of passengers before flying away. Witnesses claimed that it looked like a large flying kangaroo. Another trolley car-full of people saw it in Burlington when it scurried across the tracks in front of their car. In West Collingswood it appeared on the roof of a house and was described as an ostrich-like creature. Firemen turned their hose upon it, but it attacked them and then flew away. The entire week people reported that their livestock, particularly their chickens, were being slaughtered. This was most widespread in the towns of Bridgeton and Millville.
The marauding misanthrope reappeared later in the week in Camden, where a local woman found the beast attempting to eat her dog. She hit it with a broomstick and it flew away.
While there has not since been another week to match the frequency, fervor, and intensity of the January 1909 rampage, numerous sightings of the Jersey Devil have continued to be reported to this day.”
There are many old stories about the Jersey Devil but the Philadelphia Inquirer warns that journalistic standards were “loose” and newspapermen would often write stories as favors for people who gave them free meals or alcohol in payment. Newspapers would also try to outdo one another in terms of sightings.
One such Philadelphia newspaperman/vaudeville publicist, Norman Jeffries was likely to blame for a lot of the fake news circulating at the time. From the Philadelphia Inquirer:
“On Jan. 22, 1909, thanks most likely to Norman Jeffries, the Inquirer ran a story that offered a possible explanation to the mystery.
“VAMPIRE MISSING; LOOK OUT, JERSEY,” a headline on Page Two shouted. “Australian Wonder, Cross Between a Kangaroo and Bat, Strangely Disappears,” the subhead noted.
From where it disappeared and when, the story did not say, but it did recount a series of supposed encounters with the creature around South Jersey.
That very day, a hunting party “captured” the creature in Fairmount Park, the Inquirer reported Jan. 23.
It was, the story said, a cross between “a kangaroo and an Australian water bird” and called a “kangowing,” a made-up name for a nonexistent creature.
On Jan. 24, an ad for the struggling Dime Museum at Ninth and Arch Streets, which Jeffries had represented for years, appeared in the paper announcing that the captured Leeds Devil would be on display.
After the creature was reportedly captured in “the wilds of Fairmount Park,” ads invited the public to see the “Leeds Devil” at a museum at 9th and Arch Streets in Philadelphia.
A follow-up story that could have been written by Jeffries himself reported that “thousands” had turned out to see the “fuming and fretting” creature chained in a cage.
Some newspapers, however, were not buying it, and instead reported that the Leeds Devil was killed when its tail hit the electrified third rail of a train line in Gloucester County, disappearing in an explosion that left behind only a large patch of melted snow.
Years later, Jeffries, whose name also appears as Jefferies in newspaper clips, confessed to staging the stunt.
When he died at the age of 67 (or 57, according to the New York Times), the Inquirer said, “Reports that the Jersey Devil had reappeared aroused his showman instinct and he used all the arts of a press agent to build up the belief in the legend.”
As for the devil that appeared at the museum, Jeffries’ obituary said it was a “cleverly disguised kangaroo” — one that, despite its intent, did not save the showplace. It remained open for only a few more weeks, according to phillyhistory.org”
So, should the old accounts be believed? Given the propensity for papers at the time to weave tales to boost readership, they’re not reliable sources. But, if that’s really the case, if the Jersey Devil was simply made up to sell newspapers, why are people still seeing the Devil today? Let’s get into some reported sightings of the Jersey Devil that can’t be lumped in with the 1,000 or so sightings from 1909. These reports are all from nj.com and are likely the most popular sightings, not the only reported sightings.
In 1927, a cab driver in Salem City was changing a tire when he was allegedly attacked by the beast. This happened years before electric streetlights so it would have been extremely dark. The creature was screeching and screaming. He told police that he jumped back in the cab as quickly as he could and the creature was “pounding on the roof of the cab” as he drove away.
In the 1960s, screaming sounds could be heard at night. There was no explanation for the noises, though one could speculate it might have been a raccoon that found a nest of baby rabbits or a coyote. Regardless, randomly hearing something screaming late at night is unnerving. I’ll give them that. Several residents of Mays Landing heard the sound and contacted local authorities. Police tried to let people know that the Devil was a hoax, but “a circus owner countered their appeal by offering a $100,000 reward to anyone who could capture the creature.” The reward was never claimed.
It was on a night in 1972 when Mary Ritzer Christianson got a creepy feeling while driving from Blackwood to Glassboro. She claims she saw a figure cross the road 25’ behind her car, something taller than average that appeared to have thick haunches and a large head like that of a goat. The sighting was on Greentree Road.
In the early 1980s, a forest ranger, Chief Ranger Alan MacFarlane, came upon a scene on a South Jersey farm where a pack of pigs had been killed. He said, “the backs of their heads had been eaten and their bodies were scratched and torn.” There were no visible tracks and no blood found on the ground.
Fast forward to 1988, a Howell Township resident tells a reporter about an encounter with the Devil that he’d had 7 years prior. The account is highly detailed, right down to the teeth the creature had.
Somewhere between ’88 and ’89, a group riding dirt bikes in the Pine Barrens experienced malfunctions with their bikes. They wouldn’t start. The group was about 100 yards from a camp that they’d set up when they heard “a piercing, inhuman scream coming from the woods.” They quickly returned to camp and those who had stayed behind said they’d heard the screams too. When one of the riders visited a bar a few days after the incident, the bartender who overheard the story said he thought the rider had an encounter with the Jersey Devil.
In 1993, Forest Ranger John Irwin saw a strange creature in the road ahead of him along the Mullica River. Irwin reported it was about 6’ tall with horns and matted black fur. The creature stared Irwin down for a few moments before turning and running into the forest.
Fran Coppalo, owner of the Smithville Inn in Galloway Township witnessed a strange shadow on a wall in front of her while taking out the trash. Coppalo says she felt a strange calm when she saw the winged beast.
On Route 9 in Bayville, cars were forced to slam on their brakes when a 10’ tall figure came out of a wooded area and ran across the roadway. It disappeared just as quickly into the trees on the other side.
In 2015, in Galloway Township, Little Egg Harbor resident David Black was driving home on Route 9. He was near a golf course when he says he saw what he thought was a llama at the tree line at the side of the road. The creature suddenly spread its wings and flew out of sight. There’s a cell phone video of this sighting. I’ll add a link to the show notes. A few days after this video appeared, a woman named Emily Martin also caught the creature on video. Both Black and Martin claim the videos are unedited, but I think you’ll have the same suspicions I do. https://youtu.be/cXjUDCA2ovI
On Jan. 21, 2019 an article appeared in the Inquirer with a headline that read, “WHAT-IS-IT Visits All South Jersey.” A photo with “footprints” accompanied a story which told of “hoof-like tracks” that could be seen on “practically every block” of Burlington City. According to the Inquirer, “hounds put on the trail refused to follow the tracks and, with bristling hair and the picture of terror, ran home.” Farmers in the township tracked the Devil for four miles but found the trail went cold and the Devil had disappeared. There were, as I said before, different news reports in different papers, some amped up to gain more readership, but many of those papers reported that South Jersey residents were invoking the Leeds family name and telling the folklore of the Leeds Devil to explain the events.
The Leeds Devil has existed since the 18th century, but Regal claims the more modern version of the Jersey Devil became standardized during the 20th century, specifically 1909. Bat-like wings, a horse’s head, claws, and the general appearance of a dragon (or wyvern) now seem to be the standard. Among those who live in the Pine Barrens, this is the image of the Devil that is most familiar to them. It’s also common knowledge that the New Jersey Devils hockey team adopted the cryptid as a mascot and New Jersey is the only state to have an official state demon. Many people have witnessed the creature, their reactions ranging from inquisitive to absolutely horrified, and there is a strong belief held by many Pine Barren residents that it does exist.
From the Pinelands Alliance website, “Countless stories have circulated describing the Devils escapades, raiding chicken coops and farms, destroying crops and killing animals. His presence has been seen and felt by many in at least fifty different towns when he emerges from his natural lair in the Pinelands and wanders throughout Southern New Jersey, sometimes intriguing and sometimes terrorizing the residents. Posses were constantly formed to apprehend the Devil, but to no avail and at one point, as much as $250,000 was offered for the capture of the Jersey Devil, dead or alive. Several reports of the Jersey Devil’s death also proved to be inconclusive and even the scientific community could not explain its existence.
Belief in the Jersey Devil is quite real and based on records of concrete occurrences. Reliable people, including police, government officials, businessmen and many others who so integrity is beyond question, have witnessed the Devil’s activities. To this day, people traveling down the Garden State Parkway or the Atlantic City Expressway reported sightings of “something” or tell stories of strange occurrences. Many continue to believe that the legendary being is still around disturbing the region and will continue to do so for generations to come.”
Television shows like Scariest Places on Earth and Paranormal State have tried to track the Devil and explain away the strange occurrences that many have reported, but the tale of the Jersey Devil seems eternal, unwilling to die out with the previous generations who have witnessed it, and existing in a sort of limbo as a cryptid, a tourist attraction, and a mascot. Does the Devil exist? Perhaps we’ll never really know.
That’s it for this week, dear listeners. Thanks so much for tuning in. I’ll be back again soon with more tales of the creepy, weird, and paranormal.
Until next time, Stay Spooky!
The ODDentity Podcast is brought to you on a weekly basis by host Janine Mercer.
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