Folk Beliefs
Legends

Jersey Devil

*Note about informant: Laura Zucker is my mother. She grew up in New Jersey.

 

INFORMANT: “So I grew up in Highland Park, New Jersey, and in the southern part of the state of New Jersey, there’s a place called the Pine Barrens, which is a big expanse… uninhabited expanse of pine trees and forest. And there has, for … 200 years been this legend of something called the Jersey Devil that lives down there. And the story is… I mean, it’s kind of like a Bigfoot/Sasquatch thing, but … um, it’s said to be this creature with the head of a horse or a goat and bat wings, and it emits this shrieky… loud, scary, shrieky sound. I don’t know if it eats people or just scares the pee out of them, but it’s, you know, why you don’t want to stay in the Pine Barrens alone by yourself at night.”

COLLECTOR (myself): “Who told you about it?”

INFORMANT: “You know, it was just one of those things that you grew up knowing about. I don’t remember anybody telling me, it was just sort of part of the world that we swam in because we lived in New Jersey.”

Before I posted this, I saw that a student from last year’s class had published a post also called “Jersey Devil,” so I gave it a look and wasn’t entirely surprised to find that my mom’s version of the story and the other informant’s version were pretty different. Some elements stayed the same, like the bat wings and goat/sheep/horse head, but the back stories and the informants’ opinions on the underlying message were very different. While the other informant had a detailed back story about a promiscuous woman, my mom’s version has no such back story – the creature simply exists, and that’s the way it’s always been. The other informant saw the Devil as a warning to women not to be promiscuous, while my mom saw the Devil as a warning for children and others not to spend time alone in the Pine Barrens. I thought it was interesting that the other informant had a more detailed back story, because if I remember correctly, that informant was from Delaware, not NJ. You’d think that my mom, as a Jersey local, would have a richer understanding of the legend than an outsider.

The Jersey Devil is a great example of folklore because the origin of the story is absolutely unknown. My mother can’t even recall a person telling her the story – she says it was just part of the general context of her hometown and her growing up, that it was almost known and understood by default because it was so ingrained in the local lore.

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