Births! Wonderful, wonderful births. Here in England, we love a good birth. IT’S THE FUTURE KING! Hooray! Awh, look at his disgusting regal placenta. Better yet, put a crown on the fucking thing – it’ll probably dress like a Nazi and say horrible things about Indians less often than the actual royals.
Of course, not all births are overblown pomp-parades that sparkle and twinkle and give saluting Daily Mail readers the kind of throbbing pride-enthused stonk-on that an appalled nun couldn’t beat down with a length of rubber hosepipe. Some are horrifying paranormal ordeals where our future demon overlords tear their snarling way into this world through a ragged mess of gore and tissue.
Ahem. I’m talking about a birth that legend states took place in the pine barrens of southern New Jersey sometime around 1735. Mother Leeds was pregnant with her 13th child, and by this point presumably had a vagina you could reverse a transit van into without ever getting the panelling wet. She claimed her child would be born a demon and sure enough, the baby came into the world a horrifying monster. With a horselike head, bat wings, a forked tail and cloven hooves, the Jersey Devil was a snarling freak that promptly killed the midwife and escaped up the chimney of the house. Because demons are dicks that are born with a few more life skills than the rest of us.
Of course, an obscure and self-evidently daft bit of colonial folklore wouldn’t be of much interest to cryptozoologists without some possibility of linking it to some weird animal encounters. Because of the entrenched nature of the Devil myth, New Jersey goes mad for such sightings, and the name ‘Jersey Devil’ has become an umbrella term for any and all unexplainable animal encounters throughout the state. Their National Hockey League team is even named in its honour:
The Devil has been reported in the area around the Pine Barrens for centuries, but the most significant demonic kerfuffle happened over five days in January 1909. Over a hundred people across southern New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania reported encountering the creature, which often shrieked horribly as it flew overhead harassing the crap out of people. Dogs were attacked and the local fire department in West Collingswood even tried to spray it out of the sky with their hoses, to no avail. The hysteria was very real and widespread, meaning that if the sightings were a hoax, it was one being perpetrated on a grand scale against a lot of people who ended up genuinely shit-your-kecks frightened as a result. All because of a monster that looked like a goth giraffe on a meth binge:
Hoaxes did take place, of course. Two guys even profiteered off the whole debacle by charging people to come and look at the ‘devil’ they’d killed, when in fact they’d stuck fake antlers and a few feathers on a taxidermy kangaroo they’d painted green. Less easy to explain were the strange hoofprints in the snow that often appeared after a sighting. In some cases they went on for miles and seemed to not give a fire-and-brimstone fuck about the laws of physics, carrying on without pause under fences, over high walls and up on to the roofs of houses. The hysteria of 1909 was only made worse by reports that bloodhounds in Hammonton became terrified and refused to follow the trail when they were brought in to track the beast. Devilmania was in full swing, and schools and mills closed as frightened residents sought to avoid any possible encounter with the terrifying sky-llama from hell.
More modern sightings lump all kinds of weird animals under the ‘Devil’ moniker. In a more recent one from 1993, a park ranger named John Irwin claimed to have encountered a six-foot biped with a deerlike head and glowing red eyes in the New Jersey forest. Just a few months ago, a picture claiming to be of the Devil perched on a fence created a buzz on the internet, but turned out to be nothing more than a photo of a bald squirrel that had actually been taken miles away in Oklahoma:
A more traditional Devil sighting occurred in 2004, when a mother and son gathering in their Christmas lights fled into their house when the Devil started harassing them. The tracks it left on their roof were not only unidentifiable to experts, but were generally agreed to be in a position that would have been nigh-on impossible to fake without leaving other telltale signs in the snow.
Despite all sorts of failed efforts to trap, identify and debunk the Jersey Devil myth, it remains one of the most famous and enduring cryptids in American folklore. Cryptid-hunters Loren Coleman and Ivan T. Sanderson have put forward the theory that the 1909 hysteria was in fact an elaborate real estate hoax, designed to freak the crap out of local residents to the point of selling up on the cheap. Sanderson even claimed to have found the fake feet used to make the tracks in the snow. If the two of them were right, then the Jersey Devil is an urban legend sparked by the antics of a real life Scooby-Doo style evil mastermind. And if there’s one sort of prick in the world evil enough to pull off such a plan, of course it’d be a fucking estate agent.