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10 Mythical American Monsters


8
The Jersey Devil (aka Leeds Devil)
The Jersey Devil, which according to lore, has haunted the wilderness area of southern New Jersey since the 1700s, is depicted in this drawing by Linda Reddington. © Bettmann/CORBIS
The Jersey Devil, which according to lore, has haunted the wilderness area of southern New Jersey since the 1700s, is depicted in this drawing by Linda Reddington. © Bettmann/CORBIS

How can you not love a story about the spawn of Satan? This myth says that in the 1700s, a woman in New Jersey's Pine Barrens area had 13 children, the last of whom was a devil who flew out the chimney and disappeared shortly after birth. There are several variations to the story, including one where the woman cursed her unborn child by invoking Satan (she wasn't too happy to be pregnant again).

No matter the exact scenario, the Jersey Devil is depicted as having a horse head, bat-like wings and claws – although it's rarely seen. Instead, it makes its presence known via eerie wailing, awful cries and rampaging sounds throughout the forests of the Pine Barrens area. One notable sighting came in 1909, when Trenton councilman E.P. Weeden reported being awakened in the night by flapping wings outside his bedroom window; in the morning he found cloven prints stamped into the snow. As soon as the news broke, hundreds of people suddenly claimed they, too, had spotted the Jersey Devil [source: The New Jersey Historical Society].

So how did this story arise? It likely had its origins with one Daniel Leeds of 18th-century New Jersey. A former Quaker, Leeds publicly butted heads with Quaker leaders on religion, occultism and politics for years. When stories of the Jersey Devil arose, it was said to be the child of a Mother Leeds and looked much like the winged dragons on the Leeds family crest [source: Regal].