As a young girl I was told one of the most memorable stories, the legendary myth of The New Jersey Devil. The New Jersey Devil is believed by some to be a mythical creature and by others, a real-life monster of flesh and blood.
When I was a young girl, my parents bought a second home on Long Beach Island, New Jersey. LBI, short for Long Beach Island as the locals say, is a 16 mile Island and a beach lover’s paradise. The Island was a summer community that came to life on Memorial Day weekend and became quiet and desolate the day after Labor Day. I Spent much time during the summer and winter on the island and made many lasting friendships with other summer commuters and with the locals that lived year round on the island.
I can vividly remember the first time we drove an hour and a half on the Garden State Parkway to get to our new beach house. The drive felt like a life time. Driving on the Garden State Parkway was like driving through a forest. The only thing we saw out our windows that day were trees. Thousands of tall green pine trees.
The Garden State Parkway stretches the length of New Jersey and at the southern location cuts through the pine Barrens which is also known as the Pine lands. The Pine lands stretch across more than seven counties of Southern New Jersey and consists of over a million acres of forest, sandy roads, swamps and other agriculture.
My brothers and I were in the back seat of our car, fighting, and screaming with excitement while heading on our long drive to the beach. We were driving our parents crazy. In a desperate effort for my parents to keep their sanity, my father told us to look out the window and look for the New Jersey Devil. My brothers and I had no Idea of what our father was talking about. My father went on to tell us that a half man, half horse with wings lived in the woods that we were driving through. Being from NY my father really didn’t know much of the legend of the New Jersey Devil but he knew enough to scare the life out of me. Years went by and I never heard much more about the “Jersey Devil” or the myth of the creature of the pine lands. It wasn’t until my teen years that the legend of this mythical creature once again came to life. My friends and I would try to escape the crowded island and head over to a local spot called the pit. If you weren’t a local to the area and didn’t have a truck with extremely large tires you would never find this spot. We would squeeze as many people as possible into trucks, drive off the island, take a turn on a dirt road and head into the woods. We would drive deep into the woods, through ponds of water, and on small dirt trails until we reached a place you would never think would exist. A beautiful white sandy open pit. On the drive to the pit , one of the voices in the truck mentioned how they hope we don’t meet up with the “Jersey Devil”. My eyes lit up hearing this name after so many years of trying to forget it. I couldn’t believe that someone else knew of this creature who was lurking in the woods. I thought my father was just trying to distract us on that drive to our beach house. This was the first time since I was a little girl that I heard of this creature. When we piled out of the car, I asked my friend how he knew about the “Jersey Devil”. His response was, “ If you live in New Jersey, you know about the Jersey Devil.” This was the night I learned about the legend.
Looking up information on Google wasn’t an option when I was a teenager. Everything I learned about the “Jersey Devil” was from my peers and the stories that had been passed down to them.
According to the legend, Its origin dates back to when New Jersey was still a British Colony. A woman named Mrs. Jane Leeds who was very poor headed into the spine of the Pine Barrens of New Jersey. There she created a life for herself. She was surrounded by vast forests, sandy soil and patches of swamp. In 1735, Mrs. Leeds discovered that she was pregnant with her 13th child. She complained to her friends and relatives about having another child and said that the “Devil can take her 13th child.” and he did. When the baby was born, it was a monster! the baby was grotesque and grew to more than 20 feet long, it had a reptilian body, a horse’s head, bat wings and a long, forked tail. She would not let him go out of the house until one day he escaped. Some say he escaped by flying up and out through the chimney. The creature, or what they call today the “Jersey Devil” never went back to his home and legend says it wanders the woods haunting the Pine Barrens.
Its been said that the beast would hunt the land, killing and eating large dogs, geese, cats, chickens and when it was really hungry, eat children. As the story spread, people would not venture out into the woods at night. Remains of hundreds of animals were found in the woods but the remains of children who went missing were never found because the devil ate everything including their bones. There has been many reports from the 1700’ s to present day of sightings of the creature that haunts the pine lands. There are many conflicting stories of what the creature looks like. Many people do not believe the New Jersey Devil exists and believe it is nothing but a creation of a New Jersey folklore.
Once I had children, I wanted them to experience the life I had at our family beach house. When summer came, I would take my children on the one and a half hour drive down the Garden State Parkway through the pine Lands and heading to LBI, and the beautiful beach. It wasn’t until my oldest son was 6 or 7 years of age when I told him to look out the window in search of the New Jersey Devil, passing along what I knew of the creature and keeping alive the legend that was passed down to me.
Informant: The informant of this story was my mom. She said this is one of the most popular folklore that she heard as a kid. Family members and friends told this story to my mom in several different versions and she gave me the version she best remembers. She said that a lot of parents told their children this story to avoid exactly what she was doing in the woods, which was partying without parental supervision. I think this story taught my mom the importance of being safe wherever you are going and be aware of your surroundings.
Analysis: Listening to my mom tell her story regarding the New Jersey Devil made me realize that this piece of folklore is mostly popular on the east coast. Due to the location of where my mom was living, New York and traveling to New Jersey she heard this folk several times in her life. Someone her same age may never hear this story due to the location of this folk figure being located in the deep woods of New Jersey. This story was a great way for parents to keep their kids from running off into the woods.