MAKICHUK: Revisiting the legend of the horrifying Jersey Devil

Illustration of the Jersey Devil, a beast who terrorized New Jersey.
Illustration of the Jersey Devil, a beast who terrorized New Jersey.Travel Channel

The NHL’s New Jersey Devils played an afternoon game at the Saddledome on Saturday, a rare matinee against the mighty Calgary Flames.

It included the return of former Flame, Tyler Toffoli, who has 12 goals this season for the Devils — a reasonable pace.

But did you know that the New Jersey Devils were actually named after a legendary creature that caused havoc for decades?

Yes indeed, it is a very interesting X-File.

The Pine Barrens region in New Jersey has long been a place of mystery, with its dark pine groves, black swamps and dank bogs, oftentimes shrouded in mist and fog.

But of all the mysterious happenings to be found in the Pine Barrens, there is none so intriguing as the Jersey Devil.

A terrifying beast sighted on many occasions, apparently. Since its first reported sighting in 1735, local lore has it that a "devil-like" creature with the head of a horse, the wings of a bat and the hooves of a goat has menaced townspeople, frightened livestock and caused all manner of trouble.

Let’s just say he was not a team player.

So, was the Jersey Devil real? To be honest, we don’t know, but like Bigfoot, there were many reported sightings.

Author Trinka Hakes Noble weaves a spellbinding tale about said creature in his 2013 book, The Legend of the Jersey Devil (‎Sleeping Bear Press.)

The front cover illustration, by artist Gerald Kelley, brings the tale to spooky life.

Let’s just say you would not want to meet this fellow on a dark night.

Oh and by the way, Joseph Bonaparte, the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte and former King of Spain, was reported to have seen the Devil himself. The incident took place in Bordentown, NJ while he was hunting. And then there was Commodore Stephen Decatur, an American naval hero who was visiting the Hanover Mill Works to inspect his cannonballs being forged.

While there, he visited a firing range and sighted a flying creature flapping its wings. He fired a cannonball directly upon it.

According to the report, it had no effect and the creature flew away.

Strange tracks were found in fields, but terrified bloodhounds allegedly refused to follow the tracks.

In Clayton, NJ, the Devil was chased by a posse to the edge of a wooded area. The Devil fled into the woods.

Courtesy Sleeping Bear Press

The posse, deathly afraid to pursue this frightening creature, halted and declared " if you're the Devil, rattle your chains."

The Devil would gain fame, during a famous week in January of 1909. It would take the story from folk belief to authentic folk legend.

During the week of January 16–23 1909, newspapers published hundreds of claimed encounters with the Jersey Devil from all over South Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

Among these alleged encounters were claims the creature attacked a trolley car in Haddon Heights and a social club in Camden.

Newspaper articles created a near panic in the region.

Where will the Devil strike next? Was the Devil a carnivore? Should the authorities capture the Devil? Will the Devil take our children?

After the 1909 appearances, the scientific community was asked for possible explanations.

Reportedly, science professors from Philadelphia and experts from the Smithsonian Institution thought the Devil to be a prehistoric creature from the Jurassic period.

Had the creature survived in nearby limestone caves? Was it a pterodactyl or a peleosaurus?

New York scientists thought it to be a marsupial carnivore. However, the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia could not locate any record of a living or dead species resembling the Jersey Devil.

The Jersey Devil fad died out for a while until 1927, when a taxi driver in Salem City allegedly encountered the Jersey Devil while changing a tire. The man told the police that a winged creature was pounding on the roof of the cab.

In 1939, the Jersey Devil was reportedly named the Official State Demon.

Walter Edge, twice governor of the state, was quoted as saying: "When I was a boy. . . I was never threatened with the bogey man. . . we were threatened with the Jersey Devil, morning noon and night."

But the fear didn’t end there.

In 1960, several residents of Mays Landing heard horrifying screams in the night. There was no explanation for the noises and people began to panic.

Police hung flyers assuring residents the Jersey Devil was a hoax, but a circus owner countered the appeal by offering a $100,000 reward for anyone who could capture the creature.

The beast, apparently, did not want to be captured, but occasional sightings would continue through the decades.

Including Forest Ranger John Irwin, who was driving along the Mullica River when he saw a strange creature blocking the road ahead of him.

He said it was about six feet tall with horns and matted black fur. The two stared at each other for several minutes before the creature turned and ran into the forest.

The creature would gain media fame, after it was featured in the fifth episode of the first season of the American science fiction FOX television series, the X-Files.

While we will never know if the Jersey Devil actually existed, the NHL’s New Jersey Devils do and beat the Flames 4-2 on Saturday night.

Nobody on the Jersey Devils' bench had sharp teeth or wings.

But just to be safe, though, I would stay out of the Pine Barrens, where evil may indeed, be exalted.

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