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Jersey Devil and Ivan T. Sanderson

Posted by: Loren Coleman on April 10th, 2006

One January night in 1909, E. P. Weeden of the Trenton, New Jersey City Council bolted upright in bed when he heard someone trying to break down his door. It was a most unusual “someone,” apparently, because Weeden also heard distinctly the sound of flapping wings. Councilman Weeden rushed to his second-floor window and looked outside. He did not see the intruder, but the sight that greeted his eyes chilled him far more than the icy temperature ever could: In the snow on the roof of his house something had left a line of tracks. And whatever that “something” was, it had hoofs.

(To see the Jersey Devil, please go here.)

On the same night, “it” left hoof prints in the snow at the State Arsenal in Trenton. And shortly afterwards John Hartman of Center Street caught a full view of it as it circled his yard and then vanished into the night. Trenton residents living near the Delaware River were shaken by loud screeching sounds, like the cries of a giant cat, and stayed in their homes that night too frightened to venture out.

“It” reappeared in Bristol during the early morning hours of January 17th. The first person to observe it, a police officer named Sackville, was patrolling along Buckley Street around 2:00 a.m. Officer Sackville was alerted by the barking of dogs in the neighborhood that something was amiss. Feeling increasingly uneasy, he reached the race bridge when a sudden movement from the path below caught his eye. Carefully he turned his head. When he saw it, he was so stunned that, for a moment, he could not move.

Gathering his wits, Sackville drew his revolver and plunged toward “it.” It let out an eerie cry and hopped rapidly away, with the officer in hot pursuit. Suddenly it raised its wings and flew above the path, and Sackville, afraid that it would get away, fired his gun. He missed. By the time he got off a second shot, the thing was gone.

The second witness was Bristol postmaster E. W. Minster, who the next day told this story to reporters:

I awoke about two o’clock in the morning … and finding myself unable to sleep, I arose and wet my head with cold water as a cure for insomnia.

As I got up I heard an eerie, almost supernatural sound from the direction of the river…I looked out upon the Delaware and saw flying diagonally across what appeared to be a large crane but which was emitting a glow like a firefly.

Its head resembled that of a ram, with curled horns, and its long thin neck was thrust forward in flight. It had long thin wings and short legs, the front legs shorter than the hind. Again, it uttered its mournful and awful call—a combination of a squawk and a whistle, the beginning very high and piercing and ending very low and hoarse….

John McOwen, a liquor dealer who lived on Bath Street with the back of his house facing the Delaware Division Canal, heard his infant daughter crying and went into her room to see what was wrong. It was about 2:00 a.m. A “strange noise” brought him to the window, which overlooked the canal.

“It sounded like the scratching of a phonograph before the music begins,” he said later, “and yet it also had something of a whistle to it. You know how the factory whistle sounds? Well, it was something like that. I looked from the window and was astonished to see a large creature standing on the banks of the canal. It looked something like an eagle…and it hopped along the tow path.”

The next day Mrs. Thomas Holland discovered hoofmarks in her snow-covered yard, as did other residents of Buckley and Bath Streets.

And Trenton and Bristol were not the only places where the creature was seen. At Camden twelve men at work in the Hilltown clay bank took one glance at the thing as it descended toward them, and then, as one account wryly notes, they “were off to set an unofficial record for the three-mile run in working clothes.”

Other New Jersey towns and cities reporting visitations were Wycombe, Swedesboro, Huffville, Mantua, Woodbury, Mount Ephraim, Haddonfield, and Mount Holly. Said a contemporary news story, “Hoofprints have been noticed in hundreds of places over a strip of country at least 16 miles long and three miles wide.”

***

But the 1909 reports are very suspect….

The episode has been dubbed the Jersey Devil’s “finest hour.” In the course of five January days, more than 100 persons across eastern Pennsylvania and southern New Jersey swore they had seen the beast. All over the region, accounts of such a creature or creatures were heard, as well as the discoveries of bizarre, unidentifiable hoof-prints in the snow. Schools and businesses closed. Newspaper articles where written and read.

A climax to the events took place on January 21, 1909, in West Collingswood, when the town’s fire department supposedly confronted the monster and sprayed it with fire hoses as it swooped menacingly overhead.

The next morning, a Camden woman said the Jersey Devil attacked her pet dog. This report marked the end of the 1909 flap, although another solo sighting occurred in February.

But years later, information provided to me by Ivan T. Sanderson offered a likely explanation for the scare: apparently an elaborate real estate hoax*. Sanderson even found the fake feet [in an old barn] used to make the footprints in the snow. Hoofprints and other evidence were faked or misidentified.

The stories of sightings seem to have been a combination of planted stories, hoaxes, and imaginations fueled by fear.

+++++

*I will write more about this “real estate hoax” in-depth some day, but in essence, crafty tricksters-purchasers wanted to buy up rural property that speculators had identified as soon to have increased values due to planned development. The thought was that the ill-informed and those scared of the Jersey Devil activities would gladly sell their land to “fools” who wanted to take their “worthless” real estate off their hands.

…from Mysterious America, copyright 1983, 2001, 2006 – Loren Coleman. P.S. If you ordered a discounted hardcopy for your cryptozoology library, look for yours in the next week to ten days, via media mail. Thank you.

About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


12 Responses to “Jersey Devil and Ivan T. Sanderson”

  1. Mnynames responds:

    I have read a lot of information over the years on good ol’ JD, and I know that there have been several hoaxes, some just after the 1909 incidents, but as a resident of the area, I can also say this- people have been seeing SOMETHING here for an awful long time. There is also no way that a single hoaxer could have made all of the reported prints, nor place tracks on rooftops, across, atop, and under fences, nor have said tracks suddenly stop after many miles. That winter was a very cold one, and it is possible that conditions led a small group of otherwise unknown animals to enter more urban areas in search of food or warmth. There are at least 2 accounts of a Jersey Devil being killed (Both by railway linemen, I recall), and just as one hoaxer could not have made all those tracks, neither could one animal have either. Although it has rarely been proposed (Maybe ever, now that I think about it, although I suspect I must have heard it somewhere as I doubt I came up with anything original), I personally believe that the best candidate for what the Jersey Devil might be (Barring those few sightings which are clearly Sasquatch, like the 1927 Taxi driver encounter in Salem) is a Thunderbird. This would also explain the sightings in the Pennsylvania region, where Thunderbirds have also been reported. Horse-like face, red eyes, wings (which, when folded, might appear to be a tail), it all seems to match to me.

  2. One Eyed Cat responds:

    Hum I must say for a long time I have place the Jersey Devil in a realm outside of Cryptozooology, into folk tales. However there does appear to be some kind of ‘Pine Barren cryptid’. Wish someone could retired the JD and find out what the cryptid is.

  3. prioris responds:

    It was written

    “The stories of sightings seem to have been a combination of planted stories, hoaxes, and imaginations fueled by fear.”

    Planted stories are usually government sponsored to discredit the truth. The media has been controlled by the oligarchy that runs this country for a long time.

    US counter intelligence hiring people to carry out hoaxes are another way to discredit the truth.

    The way a government discredits people when there are too many witnesses and say people are hysterical or their imaginations fueled by fear.

    With black operations technology 50, 100 or even more years ahead of what we see in public, it is easy to think that the animal was likely genetically created. If they didn’t create it, you can be sure they sent out some trappers to capture it.

    By keeping things like this a “mystery”, they help keep people distracted from the more important things.

    There seems to have been enough sightings so it likely does exist or had existed.

    In the final analysis, most people rather live in their little compartmentalized bubble so like a mushroom rather be kept in the dark and sprinkled with manure by their government.

    It’s like the chupacabra. There is enough eye witnesses to say it exists.

  4. Mnynames responds:

    One-Eyed Cat- For better or for worse, the Jersey Devil, like the Chupacabra, Mothman, and even Sasquatch, seem to exist in both the realms of folk tale and cryptozoology, making it all the more frustrating to try to figure out just what is going on. As we have seen, folklore, such as the Native American legends of Sasquatch or the native African tales of Mokele Mbembe, can serve as a guide for cryptozoologists, clueing them in to the existence of a phenomenon worth exploring. Personally, I think the Jersey Devil gets pooh-poohed because it comes from the folklore of a seemingly “modern” society (Even though a lot of New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians would probably disagree…that’s OK, as a lot of New Jerseyites think the same about them). Personally, I find both areas fascinating to explore (See my comments on the other Jersey Devil posting for some more folkloric contents).

    Prioris- Somehow I think it safe to say that genetic engineering back in 1735 (The origin of the legend) or even 1909 for that matter, did not consist of much more than selective breeding of domestic animals. I also doubt the administration of Theodore Roosevelt had much interest in black ops programs or counter intelligence operations against his own country…although being a New Yorker and a nature lover, he likely knew of the legends. He also knew of some Sasquatch legends as well, and if I recall correctly, may even have heard one growling.

  5. One Eyed Cat responds:

    Mnynames,
    Your points are valid however unlike most other folklore and cyriptid crossover JD is stated to begin in a given year. On another board I read an accout some time ago from a member in that area eho had a strange experience involving the top of a car.
    I’m thinking it would be useful to have more reports of what ‘strange occurences’ meaans. Locals would be a valuable source to collect stories from if they could describe the incidents in a bit more specific terms and not think the investigator is just interested in the JD

  6. Mnynames responds:

    Oh, I agree. I was just looking at a site that collected eyewitness accounts of the Jersey Devil and found it interesting how vague some of the descriptions were. It was like, “I saw the Jersey Devil! No need to describe him, since we all know what he looks like.” Frustrating. Still, there were some interesting nuggets to be found, and one account of finding numerous tracks of various sizes indicates multiple animals, which takes it out of the conventional folklore paradigm. There were also some photos of tracks found after an encounter that look like nothing I’ve seen before- sort of like cloven hooves with a claw in between. Even if they were deer tracks, I find it hard to explain how they wound up on the roof of a house and nowhere else. Overall, the accounts I was looking at could be relatively easily divided into the following categories- 1) Probably a crane or heron, seen by someone who wouldn’t recognize one; 2) Not seen but heard, which could place it as a conventional animal like an owl or wounded rabbit, deer (One of the scariest, most blood-curdling sounds I have ever heard came from a baby rabbit being attacked by a cat); 3) Sasquatch-like being; 4) A profoundly large bird, possibly the Thunderbird; and 5) WTF? Some horrible, demonic chimera with little in common with any conceiveable biological animal.
    Perhaps what is really needed is a dedicated investigator with no pre-conceived notions who really does his homework. I think the main complaint I had with the investigators whose site I was viewing was that very little seems to have been done to explain the evidence as anything but what they were told it was. Still, it was nice to see that their personal theory was that it was a cryptid of some sort, as opposed to a demon.

  7. Mnynames responds:

    Oh, I suppose a possible 5th category would be a Kangaroo (Oddly enough, there are several reports of Kangaroos in New Jersey, devoid of any folkloric trappings). I also recall that Jerome Clark had a photo of one in his book “Unexplained!”, said to have been taken in 1908, a year before Phenomenal Week and rather far removed from the area the hoaxer was said to operate out of. And yeah, it did look like a Kangaroo, not a monkey, with all respect to the phantom kangaroo-as-giant monkey theory (Which doesn’t, of course, disprove it, just means that maybe both suppositions are valid).

  8. Mnynames responds:

    Damn, I also forgot to mention that the photo was supposed to have been taken in Mays Landing, New Jersey, the seat of government for Atlantic County.

  9. Loren Coleman responds:

    Yikes, mnynames, what are you talking about? Are you trying to start rumors about the “Mysterious Missing Jersey Devil” photo?

    Look, please, again in your copy of Unexplained.

    Please find and reference the page where there is a photograph of a Jersey Devil from Mays Landing. Please tell us more about such a photo from 1908. It doesn’t exist.

    Are you thinking about a photo of a kangaroo from Wisconsin in 1978? Or a drawing of a Jersey Devil from around 1908?

    But, no, there never has been a photo of a Jersey Devil in any Jerome Clark book because one does not exist.

  10. Mnynames responds:

    Funny you should make reference to the missing Thunderbird photo…OK, I stand corrected, but I wasn’t way off. First off, yes, I was talking about Kangaroos, not ol’ JD. As far as I know, no one’s ever gotten a picture of anything they even claim is a/the Jersey Devil. On page 201 of Clark’s original edition is the 1978 Wisconsin picture…but opposite it is an account from 1900 (So I was off a few years) of a Kangaroo in Mays Landing. Now here’s the odd bit- I would swear that I’ve seen a Kangaroo picture, almost identical to the Wisconsin pic, that was said to have been taken in Mays Landing. I can see it in my mind now, essentially the same composition, with heavy trees and brush in the background appearing very dark, Kangaroo hunched over somewhat with its head staring right at the photographer, although the roo itself was a tad brighter and stood out more clearly from the background. I’m certainly willing to admit, given the evidence, that the text on the one page and the picture from the other combined in my head long ago, and I’ve been carrying the false memory in my head for over a decade. I guess my question now is whether or not something like this could have happened regarding the famous Thunderbird photo? Might there be any books that mention the Tombstone incident accompanied by a somewhat suggestive image? That might explain how so many people claim to have seen it, I suppose. Just a thought.

  11. Mnynames responds:

    I also take back my comment about the Giant Monkey theory, upon seeing the Wisconsin photo again. That photo, at least, is vague enough to be interpreted a little more broadly.

  12. Loren Coleman responds:

    It is easy to mix up accounts, dates, and towns in this arena, when one is doing such things without looking. The old kangaroo stories and Wisconsin photograph appeared not first with Clark, but in my work, so I knew something was off here. Sorry. I researched those stories and assisted him in obtaining the details and placing them in his books, so I figured this was a memory lapse. There is no 1900s’ photograph from Mays Landing of a kangaroo, and I would like to stop this “rumored remembrance” right now before it gets carried away. :-)



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