There has never been a monster quite like it.
The earliest accounts may be merely folklore. In the rural areas of southern New Jersey, tales of a strange creature supposedly appearing out of nowhere were told throughout the 1700s. The portrait of the monster is beyond imagination: a creature with a horse’s head, two small arms, a forked tail, and leathery wings. It became known as the Jersey Devil.
The monster was not benign. From the beginning, there were tales of the beast killing cattle and sheep and terrorizing people in the area with unearthly screams unlike anything heard before.
It was not just rural farmers who spotted the strange creature. Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph had a large property in the area and reported seeing the Devil in the 1820s. A US Navy commodore would state that he had seen the Devil, aimed a cannon at it, hit it square in the chest with a cannonball — but the creature didn’t seem to feel anything from the violent attack and continued on its way.
There would continue to be sporadic sightings of the Devil or its hoof-like tracks for the remainder of the 19th century.
Then came a swarm of sightings. In January of 1909, hundreds of people reported seeing the Devil, so many that it is now difficult to discount the reports entirely. The citizens of southern New Jersey were thrown into a panic. Terrified parents kept their children home from school. Countless workers refused to leave their houses in order to go to their jobs.
Various police departments reported sightings and even fired shots at the Devil, to no apparent effect. In one account the Devil attacked a trolley crammed full of passengers.
And then suddenly that onslaught was over, as mysteriously as it began.
Later sightings of the Devil would become infrequent and questionable. Throughout the 20th century there would be a few mysterious hoof prints in mud and snow, strange mutilations of livestock, and reported face-to-face encounters with bizarre creatures.
Regardless of these events, the Jersey Devil is now thought to be in the realm of folklore, despite the inability to explain that mass of sightings in 1909.
New Jersey now takes pride in its local monster, naming their state hockey team the Jersey Devils. There are groups of people who regularly go out into the wilds to search for the Devil. In 2008, no less than Bruce Springsteen wrote a song about the creature.
The Devil lives on.