Question: What has the head of a ram, the body of a lion, the hooves of a goat, the wings of an eagle, and is from New Jersey? If you said ,"the average household pet from Mars", you were close, but wrong: It's the Jersey Devil, a creature that has been terrorizing the residents of New Jersey for the past 400 years.
First reports of the New Jersey Devil date back to the time of the Native Americans. In the Pine Barrens, what was later to become the Devil's main hang-out, the Indians of the region gave the land the name of "Popuessing", which translates to "place of the dragon". Later Swedish explorers renamed it, "Drake Kill", drake being a European name for dragon.
As more settlers entered the region, Devil reports increased. Rampages in 1840, 1873-74, 1894-95, and 1909 left scores of slaughtered livestock and scared settlers. For a while, the New Jersey Devil terrorized members of the government in Trenton, leaving footprints on roofs and in backyards.
The Devil eventually became a legend, (and even became the state's "official demon" in the 1930's) and tales of his beginnings filling the conversations of pubs and churches alike. The most common folktale is that the Jersey Devil is the offspring of one Mrs. Leeds, who, in 1735, after hearing she was pregnant with her 13th child, was overheard saying "it might just as well be a devil as a child." Devil it was, and after it was born, it flew directly up the chimney to the swamps, cursing its mother on the way out.
Descriptions of the Devil range from a "flying lion" to "an eagle with four legs" and everything in-between, but one thing that does not change from report to report is the Devil's call, a combination howl and whistle. When harassing the good people of New Jersey, the Devil would eat livestock, attempt to steal children, and scare the wits out of everyone in the process, often leaving hoof prints for scared villagers to see.
The truth about the New Jersey Devil is very confusing because it has many different tales. Remember the Mrs. Leeds tale? Well, the Devil was seen before 1735, which was the year Mrs. Leeds was supposed to have given birth to it. Maybe it was a relative of yet another devil?
Today, the Jersey Devil is generally dismissed as a colorful legend to scare the children of Halloween, but reports of the beast still come in from time to time. One would hope that time would reveal the mystery of the New Jersey Devil, but it has kept silent for the past few years. Yet some think the Devil is still out there. Do you?