[If you need to catch up on part 3 of this Classic Cryptid piece, you can do so here.]
Whether you’re prepared to believe in the Jersey Devil or not; whether you find any of the stories about encounters with it or explanations of its origin and nature believable, one thing about it cannot be denied: It has had an impact on popular American culture. Like many cryptids (especially Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster), the Jersey Devil has slowly seeped into tv, film, music, literature, and even sports.
For example, in what may be a rare honor for a creature of legend, the Jersey Devil has had not one but two professional hockey teams named after it; the Eastern Hockey League Jersey Devils (1964 − 1973), and the National Hockey League New Jersey Devils (renamed from the Colorado Rockies when the team relocated to New Jersey in 1982).
The Jersey Devil has a United States Air National Guard fighter unit named after it; the USAF 177th Fighter Wing, nicknamed “Jersey Devils,” operate within the borders of the Pine Barrens region.
On television, the Jersey Devil has made appearances in or been used as the basis for other creatures in a wide variety of shows, ranging from an episode of the X-Files to a recent episode of Supernatural. It made appearances in a few cartoons, including the Extreme Ghostbusters episode “The Jersey Devil” (naturally) in 1997, and an episode of The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest called “The Spectre of the Pine Barrens” (I’m sensing a pattern here).
There have been several reality programs dedicated to it, including an episode of Animal Planet’s series Lost Tapes and an episode of Paranormal State. In 2002 an episode of the Travel Channel’s Scariest Places on Earth featured it, and in 2009 the History Channel aired an episode of their program MonsterQuest entitled “Devils in New Jersey,” which looked at the legend and possible explanations for it, including putting together a computer rendering of what they thought the creature might look like.
It has had an impact on literature as well. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath introduces us to the “Shantak-bird,” described as having the head of a horse and scales instead of feathers. Being a New England native, it’s not hard to suppose that Lovecraft might have been inspired by stories of the Jersey Devil. There have, needless to say, been more than a few books about cryptozoology that have featured it in various forms and with a wide variety of possible explanations as to its existence, and it has been the subject of several works of fiction as well.
The Jersey Devil has made its way into the music industry: On October 31st, 2008, as a Halloween treat, Bruce Springsteen – a proud son of New Jersey – released a video and downloadable audio single entitled “A Night with the Jersey Devil” on his website.
And recently it has even worked its way into video games, appearing in Sony’s Playstation game “Jersey Devil” and one of the Castlevania games, amongst others.
Whether you believe in the Jersey Devil or not, and no matter what you do or don’t believe it might be, its power to grasp and linger in the imagination is undeniable. Its legend – however it started – has endured for nearly 300 years, and its story will likely continue being told for a long time to come. It has been researched extensively by historians, scientists and amatuers alike since before the early 1800s, and continues to be today.
Perhaps someday someone will find the creature itself, or trace the legend’s roots back to their actual beginning and provide an explanation for all of the sightings and encounters over the years. Or maybe it will remain a mystery forever – perhaps that would even be for the best. We need mysteries in the world to entice fresh minds in every generation, and no mystery is more fascinating than an old and unsolved one.