The story, according to legend, goes something like this. The Jersey Devil, aka the Leeds Devil, is a legendary creature said to inhabit the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey. The creature is often drawn or described in folklore as a cloven hoofed flying dragon with blood red eyes.
According to the most popular legend, the Jersey Devil was spawned in the 18th century when Deborah Smith an English immigrant wound up in the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey married to a peculiar Mr. Leeds, a rather vain man who wanted many heirs to continue the family name. Consequently, the new wife was continually pregnant. After bearing twelve healthy children, she was dismayed to be pregnant with her thirteenth. She cursed the unborn child, declaring a preference to bear the Devil’s child rather than another Leeds. (source: wikipedia).
Apparently, her wish was granted as the new child had cloven hooves, claws, and a tail. The horrific newborn proceeded to eat the other Leeds children and the parents, before escaping through the chimney to begin its reign of terror.
To this day, Jersey Devil sightings have been rampant. In 1909, the Philadelphia Zoo posted a $10,000 reward for the creature’s capture. Not surprisingly the offer resulted in a myriad of hoaxes, including a winged kangaroo. The reward remains available to this day.
However the rise of the Jersey Devil may have more to do with a bad mixture of indigenous animals and mercury poisoning than real monsters in the mist.
During the Revolutionary war era – the time in which we see the first written accounts of the Jersey Devil, the Pine Barrens was an industrial area in which its inhabitants were subjected to many dangerous chemicals and elements,”. “For example, the use of lead was very commonplace in their water pipes, utensils and even makeup. We now know that lead damages the brain, lowering IQ and causing learning disabilities and behavioral problems”.
“In addition to a proliferation of lead, the Pine Barrens was home to a thriving hat making business during the 1700’s,” Wiese continues. “Unfortunately, the furriers who made beaver skin hats made use of the chemical Mercury in the process to turn fur into felt. Mercury can cause pronounced mind altering effects. You may have heard the term as crazy as a Mad Hatter – and this is where it evolved from.”
“It can also be said that early settlers to the Pine Barrens may well have not been accustomed to wolves, bears, bobcats, badgers, flying squirrels, mountain lions, and bison that inhabited the area at the time. Due to the close proximity to the ocean, the large marshy areas of the barrens is also known to be a somewhat foggy location (which would have been exacerbated due to coal burning and other particulate in the air from the industrial plants). All these details could easily lead to hallucinations that spawned an industry of urban legend.