Ok so it’s all about… it’s like the 1800s there’s this like hooker, and she has so many kids and she says that if she gets pregnant one more time, she’s gonna give birth to the devil, and so she gets pregnant again and has the kid, and at first it looks fine, but five minutes later, it turns into a monster with wings and everything, and it flies out of there and they’re all like whoa. And so then it goes and lives in the woods, and a bunch of people say they see it, and it kills people and it’s a lonely thing like… a whole frankenstien scenario… but sometimes its just an asshole who lives in the woods. This is specifically to New Jersey, specifically called the New Jersey Devil. There are tours and stuff like the Pine Barrens of New Jersey… yeah its like a lot of … there’s like t shirts and stuff they sell about the Jersey Devil…
Background: I conducted this interview live, so this story was given to me in person. I had never heard of this before, so it was interesting to hear about folkore that was very well-know in another part of the United States where I had never been before. The informant says it was not very important to him and he was not sure if he believed it entirely, but it was something was was just so heavily discussed and publicized that he had heard of it many times.
The informant and I were having breakfast one day, when he mentioned how much he missed Taylor ham from New Jersey. I asked him to tell me more about Taylor ham.
“So there’s this breakfast food and its called Taylor ham and it only exists in four counties in all of New Jersey and everywhere else in New Jersey it’s called pork roll, because that’s the generic version of Taylor ham, and in New York City and Pennsylvania it’s also called pork roll, and no one else in the United States knows what it is, and it’s amazing, and every morning a New Jerseyan wakes up, and they are like ‘I want a Taylor ham on egg and cheese and everything bagel at salt pepper and ketchup’ and they go to the bagel shop they get that… this guy named Taylor just decided to have this cut of ham.”
A peculiar aspect of the informant’s account of Taylor ham is his perspective that New Jersey has the “original” Taylor ham, and that other parts of New Jersey and New York call it something else. It would be interesting to find out if these other people consider “pork roll” the original version of the ham, and consider “Taylor” ham some quirky name that a small weird group of people in New Jersey use to refer to pork roll. Clearly, Taylor ham is a point of pride for my informant, and something that he shares the knowledge of with some fellow New Jerseyans.
The informant and I were talking about sports and superstitions so he mentioned something specific to his home state’s sports culture.
“Hockey is really huge… a culture unlike anything in California. Everyone grows out their beard during playoffs season, and they don’t shave it until their team’s out of the playoffs. Bad luck for your team if you shave your beard. I don’t [participate], because I’m Asian and I can’t grow a beard.”
Sports superstitions are nothing unheard of, but it’s still interesting to observe how they vary from region to region. Some people don’t wash their jerseys until their team is knocked out of the playoffs, and some people don’t shave their beards. How such a tradition begins and spreads amongst a group of people would be interesting but probably difficult to investigate.
My informant was telling me about some customs his family in New Jersey celebrates, and he seemed particularly fond of early Sunday dinners at 2pm.
Informant: “Every Sunday you eat dinner at like 2pm, and you have like a really big dinner that someone cooks. And you always have bread at the table, salad, pasta, and your whole family is expected to be there.”
Collector: “And then you wouldn’t have dinner after that?”
Informant: “Yeah, it was really dumb, like ‘why are we eating dinner right now?’… Italians really like to cook, and when they have a guest, they always try to feed them”
When I asked the informer if he knew why his family chose to do early dinner at 2pm instead of just a regular large dinner at the “normal” dinner time around 6pm, he was unable to recall how this tradition started. My personal hypothesis is that it’s a way for the Italian side of his family to reconnect to their European roots, since many European cultures eat a large meal at around 2pm, and then dinner is typically late at night, around 10pm or so. However, a 10pm dinner would probably be too out of the ordinary for this Americanized family to handle, so they just chose to stick to an easier option, of having a large family meal at 2pm.
*Note: The informant, Harriet, is my grandma. She attended college at Rutgers University in New Jersey!
INFORMANT: “Well, there were a lot of jokes about the football team, the Scarlet Knights. They weren’t very good. West Virginia had a lot of jokes about us. And then there were the usual jokes about Rutgers kids being stupid, Rutgers kids being idiots. It was all pretty generic, most of the jokes could really be applied to anyone or anything. But one of my favorites was the one about the cemetery. It was … there was … a little boy and his mother were walking through a cemetery and they passed a tombstone that said ‘Here Lies a Rutgers Graduate and a Great Man.’ And the kid looks confused and he says to his mom, ‘I don’t get it,’ and she asks ‘Why not?’ And he asks, ‘Why are there two people buried here?'”
While the cemetery joke was pretty general, Rutgers jokes are a good example of the wider category of sports or college rivalry-related jokes. Almost every college has a direct rivalry with other colleges, whether it’s based on sports, academics, or something else entirely. With this competition always comes a slew of jokes, often very basic and general, that demean the other team, emphasize their shortcomings and failures, and downplay their triumphs. These jokes build on the lore of each particular school, strengthening bonds between its students and alumni, and enriching campus culture.
Generic jokes, I suppose, are also a form of folklore all their own, because they are blank slates to which any number of things can be applied. They aren’t specific enough to be blason populaire, but rather they’re so general that they can be used as a quick put-down for virtually anything.
*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.
When I asked my roommate if she had any folklore from New Jersey she replied “Yes, New Jersey has a devil.” This is an urban legend that tells of a woman who gave birth to a devil like creature that disappeared into the swamps immediately after being born. The creature has the head of a goat, the body of a kangaroo like creature and bat-like wings.
My roommate did not have any personal stories about the New Jersey devil but noted that it was where the state basketball team gets its name. She also compared the creature to other mythical animal creatures like the Sasquatch.
This story is interesting because it is very similar to myths like the Chupacabra and Big Foot, but unlike those myths it is specific to New Jersey, which builds a sense of pride in the people who are active and passive bearers of this piece of folklore since they are bonded together by identity.
I collected this folklore from my friend who grew up in New Jersey, in Monmouth County. She told a story about a road near her county (she believed the road was either in Middletown or Navesink)
“In my town in New Jersey, well not my town, but my county essentially, there’s a street that we call Whippoorwill, I believe on a map it would come up as Cooper Road, but it’s called Whippoorwill. And it’s a dirt road behind a lot of farm type areas, a lot of small horse farms and stuff, but it’s also off a major highway which is kind of strange…
So, teenagers have a tradition of driving down Whippoorwill at night and the rumor is that weird things always happen when you drive there. People will drive down it, and it’s narrow enough that it’s almost a one-way, so a really common thing that people say happens is that you’ll park, just to look around or to scare the crap out of whoever’s in the car with you, and you’ll sit there and people say that cars will come and facing you will turn on and off their lights and do creepy things and then turn around and disappear.
Other people have said that the reason people used to get creeped out by the road is because through the woods that surround you on Whippoorwill, if you walked through you would end up at a house that used to be a Ku Klux Klan meeting house. Don’t know if that’s actually true…but people would claim they saw scary things or people in hoods or scary looking people or maybe like a fire in a distance and it was assumed that you were possibly stumbling upon a KKK meeting, which is obviously a very frightening thing to stumble upon.
I’ve driven down it multiple times with multiple different people and it’s usually that whoever’s driving the car is usually the one in control and they park, shut off their lights to scare whoever else is in the car, I’ve seen people get out and run through the woods to scare the people in the car and things like that.”
Q: How do you decide to go down that road?
“It’s kind of one of those things where you know, you’re like 17, 18, you just got your license and you want to drive but you don’t have anywhere to go, so it’s like nighttime and there’s no parties or anything, so you say, oh let’s drive down Whippoorwill. So someone in the car is obviously going to protest and say please, no, don’t take me there and then you have to take them there to scare them”
There a few different types of folklore happening in this piece. First, the behavior of the teenages driving down the road seems like a folk ritual or folk game, since there are certain kinds of things that are supposed to happen on the road, and those things are passed between the different teenagers who take each other there. The belief about the KKK meeting house is a kind of legend, since it might be true, but it would be difficult to verify or prove it.
This piece was collected from my friend who grew up in New Jersey. To her, it wasn’t a very important part of her life, but it was well-known where she was from because it’s one of the most popular pieces of folklore from New Jersey.
This is how she explained it to me:
“I’m from New Jersey, and there’s a southern part of the state called the Pine Barrens, it’s filled with trees, it’s a very forest-y area. And for years and years it’s been said that there’s the Jersey Devil that lives in the pine barrens, hence the name the New Jersey Devils, the hockey team… there’s ben songs written about it…stories written about it. There are lot of versions of what it actually is. Some say it’s an actual devil or it’s more like a beast, like an animal. It’s kind of like a yeti or something, to this day people still say they see when they go to the pine barrens. I think I learned about it honestly in school when we learned about New Jersey myths, I’m pretty sure it was mentioned, and the only way is just through word of mouth”
Even though the Jersey Devil is very popular, there’s still not a consensus on what it looks like (or even what it is exactly) So, the legend can be interpreted differently by each person. However, it has been incorporated into things like sports teams, where it might become less folkloric because it would be portrayed in a certain way and would probably be trademarked. Also, the informant described it as a New Jersey myth, however, it would more accurately be categorized as a local legend or folk belief.
“So in my town, Montclair, New Jersey, we have a street called Mission street, and it is broadly known as the ‘crime street’ in town. So, I’ve never actually been down this street. I know that there’s crime there (I read police reports about it), someone got shot there last year, he died. So anyways the story is, this person is at the corner of Mission and Bloomfield, the cross street. And there’s this man standing there with a bucket. So the person, whoever was the originator of this story, goes over to the man with the bucket and said ‘what’s in the bucket?’ And the man with the bucket explains that it’s formaldehyde and that for five dollars the guy can dip his cigarette into the formaldehyde and smoke it.”
This anecdote is a rumor that the informant overheard at his high school.
This story a great example of a wacky, neighborhood urban legend. Regardless of where you are from, everyone knows little anecdotes like this that may or may not be true, but are remembered and passed down because of their originality and tie to the specific area that they circulate within.