I have often mentioned the Dover Demon as being one of my favorite cryptids, as it is one of the more bizarre “monsters” that people have reported seeing. Put plainly, it just doesn’t fit in with the vast majority of monster sightings, as it’s not a Bigfoot, it’s not a lake monster, and it’s not even really your stereotypical alien. But there is another cryptozoological creature that I am fascinated with almost as much as the Dover Demon, and it resides a lot closer to me: the Jersey Devil. Making its home in the Pine Barrens of southern New Jersey, the Jersey Devil (or Leeds Devil as it was originally called) is a creature steeped in folklore dating back to 1735, when a woman known as Mother Leeds allegedly cursed her 13th child during childbirth, proclaiming it to be the Devil. According to legend, the child was born as a normal human child, but transformed into a creature with the head of a goat, cloven hooves, glowing red eyes, a forked tail, and bat-like wings. It allegedly ran off to live in isolation in the Pine Barrens, where it’s blood-curdling shrieks can still be heard to this day.
Now, if the legend and sightings are to be believed, this would also be a very unique-looking cryptid, more chimera-like demon than anything else that is usually reported (and, believe in them or not, Bigfoot and lake monster descriptions do tend to follow those of scientifically accepted animals such as apes or large reptiles). There are some passing similarities to the Mothman of Point Pleasant, but mainly just with the flying and the glowing red eyes. All that being said, theories have been put forth over the years that witnesses were simply mistaken, and that the Jersey Devil was just Bigfoot. Even TheX-Files, in the first-season episode “The Jersey Devil,” eventually revealed the creature to be a hairy humanoid, and not the weird hybrid animal that has been described for centuries. Now, I love the Jersey Devil legend, and think it’s creepy as Hell, but I can definitely see why people think that in some cases at least, Bigfoot encounters are being attributed to the Jersey Devil. The glowing eyes, the unusual screams coming from the Pine Barrens, never mind the fact that an unidentified primate is much more believable than a cursed creature from 1735 still flying around southern Jersey. Add in the fact that the only real reliable modern sightings of the creature back in 1909 were pretty much proven to be a hoax, then the Bigfoot theory (oddly) becomes the more plausible explanation of the two. So it was very cool to come across this story today, where the “Bigfoot as Jersey Devil” theory gets some more press.
That time you and your friends saw the Jersey Devil in the Pinelands? It was probably Bigfoot.
The theme for the annual Lines on the Pines festival was the Jersey Devil, so it was a surprise to see Mike Familant’s Bigfoot booth.
“I think a lot of Jersey Devil sightings are really Bigfoot,” he said.
“I’m serious. There are tons of Bigfoot sightings in New Jersey,” Familant said, standing at a table with a selection of plaster Bigfoot feet and video from “In the Shadow of the Big Red Eye,” which is his YouTube show documenting his hunts for the woodlands-dwelling creature.
All around him at the Stockton University Campus Center, where Lines was held Sunday, was a celebration of “JD,” as some locals call South Jersey’s best-known cryptid. There were pictures, books and even a flower arrangement depicting the Jersey Devil in his winged glory. Just feet from Familant’s Bigfoot booth was a Jersey Devil, which growled and flapped its wings as it posed for photos with visitors to the show.
“I get it. The Jersey Devil has been around a long time down here. He’s popular,” Familant said.
It’s not that he isn’t open to the existence of the Jersey Devil. Nevertheless, he said his research persuades him that, in many cases, JD is really BF.
Familant is a field investigator for Sussex County Bigfoot, in Sparta, where he lives and works as an EMT. The group leads expeditions in search of the elusive sasquatch, described as 7 feet tall, with glowing red eyes and a terrifying shriek. Though Familant has never seen the thing, he believes he had a close encounter on a camping trip in Florida.
“We heard tree knocks,” he said.
“Tree knocks. It’s how Bigfoot communicate with each other,” he said.
Rocks were mysteriously hurled into camp. A search discovered the closest matching rocks were almost a half-mile away.
“No human can throw a rock the size of a small boulder 850 yards,” he said.
“When I first came down to the Pine Barrens, I was thinking, this is Jersey Devil country. But the more I’ve looked into it, the more it’s a misidentification. You have this mythical story that, I think, turned the Jersey Devil into something really odd, with bat wings and is flying around.”
The 18th-century legend began in Atlantic County with the birth of a 13th child to Mrs. Leeds, who cursed the baby as the devil’s own. The baby morphed into a winged phantasm, killed a midwife and flew up the chimney. It has frightened kids and moonshiners ever since.
“The Jersey Devil is reported to be 7 foot tall with glowing red eyes,” Familant said. “Well, that’s also a Bigfoot. ‘Glowing red eyes’ is more common to a Bigfoot than to a Jersey Devil. The scream, too. That’s a Bigfoot characteristic.
“To me, Bigfoot is an undiscovered intelligent bipedal primate that lives in dense forests in North America,” he said. “I’ve never seen one in person, but I have done some studies specifically in New Jersey you might find interesting.
“Every third year, (Bigfoot) sightings increase 70 percent. Now these sightings run in a counterclockwise motion around the state, as I said, every third year. Bigfoot are nomadic. They travel. When I’m looking for Bigfoot, I look for what they need. They need food, shelter, water and a travel path. The Pine Barrens fit that. There’s a train track that runs right through the middle of the Pine Barrens that’s not used anymore. It’s a Bigfoot highway.”
Several people were bemused to learn that the Jersey Devil could be mistaken for Bigfoot, among them V. Scott Macom, a lawyer who lives in Smithville. Macom was at Lines selling copies of his novel, “Devil Leeds.” His book’s story line about the Jersey Devil is informed with original research into the phenomena, he said.
Macom said he first heard about the Jersey Devil on a YMCA camping trip at Camp Ockanickon in Medford.
“The camp counselors said if we left camp after dark, we’d be eaten by the Jersey Devil,” he said. “Did I believe them? Hell yeah. I was 12.”
In his novel, he never describes the Jersey Devil, because there have been so many eyewitness descriptions that, added up, don’t make sense. (Put them all together and you have a demon that looks like a flying kangaroo.)
“In the book, I just leave it up to imagination, except for two blood red eyes that stare at you from the woods,” Macom said. “Let your imagination fill in the rest. The gap between what we think is real and what is real is what scares us. It’s the unknown, like the Jersey Devil.”
Linda Stanton, founder and president of Lines on the Pines, was surprised anyone could confuse either specter.
“The Jersey Devil has cloven hooves. Bigfoot has big feet,” she said. “There’s a difference.”
In all likelihood, the Jersey Devil is just an old story borne of folklore, fantastical tales that parents would tell their kids to keep them scared enough to not wander around in the Pine Barrens, which are spooky enough as it is. But if we were to make that leap and assume that some cryptids exist, then I’d say that a sasquatch-like creature is way more plausible than the demon spawn that is the Jersey Devil.