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Monday, October 17, 2005
My Favorite Monsters #3: The Jersey Devil
One night, in a shack out in the Pine Barrens in New Jersey, a woman was giving birth. No one was quite sure if she was a witch or not. And she'd had many children before and this was unlucky number thirteen. When the baby was born, it was a grotesquely misshapen monster, with cloven feet, bat wings, a forked tail and the head of a horse. It beat the midwife and flew away through the chimney. For a time it visited its mother every day like a dutiful child, until she got fed up with it and chased it away. Now it haunts the forests of New Jersey, letting out blood-curdling screams in the night and staring in to people's houses with its glowing red eyes.
I have no excuse for my fondness of the Jersey Devil. At the root, like many of my favorite monsters, I like him simply because he looks cool. I probably first became aware of him in an old elementary school book of monsters, illustrated with wood-cuts (which even at the time I found fascinating), including many period newspaper illustrations of the Jersey Devil. That's probably what did it for me. The old newspaper articles, with their illustrations that were far more compelling than their yellow journalism prose, made it seem as if people were genuinely panicked over a fanciful creature out of American folklore. And that's probably the other thing that drew me to fellow. He's quite obviously a creation of early American myth-making, that's survived into the present day. No one takes wooly snakes or jackalopes seriously anymore, but the Jersey Devil is still sighted to this day. It just makes me, somehow, glad, to think of the goofy looking guy out there when so many of the other creatures of the early American period are now only found in dry academic texts about "Post-Revolutionary Folktale Types: An Overview and Bibliography."
The inevitable Wiki, and is it just me, or do the Wikipedia entries on monsters not enter into the proper spirit?