The Jersey Devil has built up a vast collection of encounter reports since its first appearance in the 1700s. All of them come from the area in and around the New Jersey Pine Barrens, and the majority of them by reliable witnesses. Following are some of the most notable recorded run-ins with the creature:
In 1819, at the behest of President James Monroe, Commodore Stephen Decatur was visiting the Hannover Mill works to inspect the quality of his cannonballs as they were being forged. While there, he reported that he sighted a flying creature matching the Jersey Devil’s description, and that he fired at and hit it with a cannonball…to no effect. Work that was done on Decatur’s house in Washington, D.C. in 2007-2008 turned up papers suggesting that this encounter might have been something more than chance – he was definitely in New Jersey at the time testing the quality of the cannonballs produced by Batsto and Hannover, but was evidently accompanied by Dr. James Killian, a famous paranormalist and cryptid hunter of the time. Stories collected from throughout New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania have the two men in pursuit of the creature for some months.
The writings of Joseph Bonaparte, the eldest brother of Emperor Napoleon, indicate that he saw and fired upon a creature matching the Jersey Devil’s description while hunting on his Bordentown estate in 1820. Like Decatur’s encounter, shooting at the creature had no effect.
In 1840, the Jersey Devil was blamed for several livestock killings; similar attacks were reported again in 1841, accompanied by strange tracks and “unearthly” screams. There were similar reports again in 1859 and a flurry of sightings in 1873, followed by a report of it terrifying children in 1887. Again, as in Decatur’s encounter, there are reports of people shooting at it to no effect.
On July 27th, 1937, a creature matching the description of the Jersey Devil was seen by many of the residents of Downington, Pennsylvania.
In 1960, unusual tracks were found and accompanied by loud shrieking heard near Mays Landing. That same year, merchants around Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil, saying that they would even build a private zoo to house it if it could be brought in alive.
In 1990, several soldiers from Fort Dix reported witnessing a strange creature matching the Jersey Devil’s description while on maneuvers.
In 2007, a creature with a horse’s head and bat like wings was reported to walk in front of a couple of hikers in Wharton State Forest. The following January 21st (2008), a man in Eldora heard a strange screech and saw a creature matching the Jersey Devil’s description perched on top of his chicken coop. He said that the large winged creature flew off after being startled by his cell phone ringing.
In 2008, the New York Times was given no less than ten reports of encounters with the Jersey Devil by a group local to the Pine Barrens that collected them.
The list of sightings is seemingly endless, and only continues to grow to this day. But by far the most spectacular event associated with the Jersey Devil is the so-called “Phenomenal Week” of January 16th – 23rd, 1909. During those days, sightings of the Jersey Devil were reported by thousands of people in the area surrounding the Pine Barrens, including:
Dozens of people sighted the creature flying over Woodbury on the 16th. On the 17th and 18th, strange and seemingly impossible tracks were found in Burlington, NJ; Bristol, PA; and several other towns. The tracks were said to appear and disappear at random, sometimes even appearing in the snow on top of houses or passing beneath and through impossibly low or small spaces.
On the 19th, Nelson Evans and his wife, of Gloucester, reportedly saw the creature outside their windows at 2:30 AM and provided a detailed description of it: “It was about three feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse’s hooves. It walked on its back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn’t use the front legs at all while we were watching.”
The same day, two Gloucester hunters tracked the creature’s trail for twenty miles. It appeared to “jump” fences and squeeze under eight-inch gaps. Similar trails were reported in several other towns the same day.
On the 20th, Haddonfield and Collingswood formed posses to find the devil. Both groups reportedly watch the creature fly towards Moorestown, where it was reported being seen by at least two more people.
On the 21st, the creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights, but was chased off, resulting in trolley cars in several nearby towns beginning to maintain armed guards. Several poultry farmers found their chickens dead that day, and the devil was reported to collide with an electric rail in Clayton without being affected. A telegraph worker near Atlantic City claimed to have shot the devil, only to watch it limp off into the woods – it was apparently unfazed, as it continued rampaging through Philadelphia, PA and West Collingswood, NJ. In West Collingswood, the devil seemed poised to attack nearby people and was supposedly hosed by the local fire department to chase it off. It reemerged in Camden to injure a dog; the first reported attack on a living creature.
There were a few more sightings on the 22nd, but the damage had been done – widespread newspaper coverage had led to a panic throughout the Delaware Valley, resulting in a number of school and business closings.
It can’t be denied that people have been seeing something in and around the Pine Barrens over the past 275 years or so. But what, exactly, is it that they’ve been seeing? In the next part, we’ll explore some of the theories people have put forth to explain what the Jersey Devil might be.
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