“I have horns on the top of my head. I have a great big tail. I have wings like a vampire bat and over the night winds I sail.”
So starts New Jersey songwriter and conservationist Russel Juleg’s song, “The Devil From Leeds.”
The song was a highlight of many Jersey Devil Nights at the famed Pinelands music center Albert Music Hall in Waretown, New Jersey.
Presented by the Pinelands Cultural Society, this year’s annual event is set for an outside concert on Sunday, October 4, and high on the bill is a special appearance by the critter itself.
And while focusing on the legendary creature during this time of year gets one in the spooky mood for Halloween, it misses a point.
The centuries-old Pinelands creature born by poor Mother Leeds is a demon for all seasons.
And forget about the professional hockey team that has brought the creature regular attention.
The Jersey Devil’s bigger-than-life status has been helped by a growing number of books, films, visual art works, and even songs inspired by what has been dubbed New Jersey’s official state demon.
Jersey Devil music, like the legendary creature itself, doesn’t seem to exist until it suddenly appears — sometimes seemingly from nowhere.
That’s the case with a song that starts with the Jersey Devil declaring, “Hear me now! I was born 13th child, ’neath the 13th moon/Spit out hungry and born anew.”
The song is Bruce Springsteen’s “A Night with the Jersey Devil.”
The New Jersey rock ‘n’ roll legend released it on Halloween 2008 as a free download-only single.
Springsteen accompanied it with the following note: “Dear Friends and Fans, if you grew up in central or south Jersey, you grew up with the ‘Jersey Devil.’ Here’s a little musical Halloween treat. Have fun!”
With a driving blues rhythm and a revivalist’s fiery phrasing, Springsteen pulls from Southern Gospel Blues and hometown folklore to create a piece that breathes contemporary fire into the Jersey Devil theme and contributes to the storytelling on both a CD and in a video.
The latter features Springsteen as various characters — devil and pastor appearing in moments evoking haunted Colonial landscapes and sinister American Gothic moods and raging country ministers.
“Ram’s head, forked tail, clove hoof, loves my trail,” he proclaims menacingly. It’s followed up with the lines, “I sup on your body, sip on your blood like wine,” soon moves to “So kiss me baby till it hurts/Gods lost in heaven, we lost on earth,” and ends by making rock ‘n’ roll’s roots very clear by evoking Gene Vincent’s “Baby Blue.”
A nod to American and New Jersey traditions, “A Night With the Jersey Devil” can be seen at brucespringsteen.net/news/2012/a-night-with-the-jersey-devil.
The song at the top of the article, “The Devil From Leeds” is part and parcel of the Pinelands tradition of Jersey Devil storytelling and music — although its composer is a Texan conservationist who had moved to New Jersey.
In a recent telephone discussion, Russell Juelg, now a senior land steward at the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, says he was volunteering at the Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge in Medford when he got involved with education programs.
One of the events involved the musicians Carol Ann and Jim Sweet. “Jim and Carol were wonderful musicians,” he says, “I was trying to teach myself the five string banjo. Little by little we got better acquainted and played music together. They were teaching me. There were a couple of other guys who joined us, and we formed the Sugar Sand Ramblers. And we put together enough songs to play at Albert Music Hall.”
Juelg says he learned about the Jersey Devil from the daughter of the refuge’s founder and thought the “bizarre piece of folklore” could be used for ecological programs and Pinelands conservation efforts “because the Jersey Devil symbolizes the wildness of the Pine Barrens and the distinctiveness of the region.”
But he says the main thing about writing the song “was that I was fascinated with the Jersey Devil. Some line and chord progression in a minor key occurred to me, and I put the song together. We played that at Albert Hall for at least several years until I dropped out of the band. I don’t know if anyone continues the song or not.
“It’s a fun song. I try to have a mixture of drama and humor. It’s one of those songs that had a very distinct sound.”
After saying he doesn’t really know how to explain the Sugar Sand Ramblers, he says it was music played by most of their friends and other Pinelands musicians — “Mostly folk, old style country, and some elements of old blue grass, but not the newer bluegrass and country stuff. It’s the ‘Albert Hall’ kind of genre — old folk, old bluegrass, and old country. There is a nostalgic element to it and not much innovation. It is mostly celebrating those old sounds.”
Juelg eventually worked for the Pinelands Preservation Alliance (PPA), where the staff and a group of artists from Monmouth University created a life size papier mache and wood figure of the Jersey Devil that keeps watch over a room used for meetings and for brides who hold their weddings at the PPA barn in Vincentown.
Juelg says one activity he conducted for the PPA was the regular Jersey Devil Hunts — designed as outreach and community events.
“I had a specific dramatic version of the story and found what worked dramatically and what worked from a comedy standpoint. I always tied to make it funny,” he says.
Asked if the hunts yielded any catches, Juelg says, “The only thing I can say is that there were times we were out there and heard and saw things we couldn’t account for. But we never had the classic Jersey Devil encounter where you actually see it and say, ‘That had to be the Jersey Devil,’ or heard something that was so frightening you’d have to conclude that it was the Jersey Devil.”
Thinking about the hunts and the stories, Juelg says, “That’s what makes folklore so interesting. You really do have a lot of stories too hard to explain in one consistent way. People say they heard mountain lions or saw some large birds ahead. And there are a lot of different kinds of experience, so there isn’t one explanation for all these encounters that people have reported.
“I don’t want to disturb the mystique of the Jersey Devil, but I’ll tell you what I think. If you look around the world you see the depictions of strange creatures that are remarkably consistent although they’re from different places of the world — totem pole figures, Hindu images of demonic creatures. I think we carry this imagery around in our subconscious.
“We used to be the prey at one time, and I think there are some images that are still with us. My hypothesis is that at certain moments, in scary situations we encounter, that imagery can come forward in the consciousness. So someone can ‘see’ one of these bizarre-looking creatures. It’s dark and it’s spooky and suddenly we see something up close, and we see some imagery tucked deep in our brains.”
In visual art
Jersey Devil images began to appear in the early 20th century and were related to either reported sightings or around manufactured events.
One such created event was a Philadelphia entrepreneur’s campaign to drum up audiences to see the legendary creature.
A “Jersey Devil Wanted Dead or Alive” poster illustrating the creature was followed with announcements that the creature — a painted kangaroo with wings — had been captured on view at his 9th and Arch Street Museum — an arcade of sorts.
Jersey Devil illustrations also made front-page news when reporters exposed the hoax and then reported on an unprecedented number of Jersey Devil sightings occurring during a single week in 1909.
Newspaper illustrations kept the Jersey Devil alive in the area’s visual imagination until the 1960s, when artists started taking advantage of new technologies for creating and reproducing art, like Ed Sheetz’s popular Jersey Devil portrait.
Another popular image was the painting of the Jersey Devil appearing in a misty bog. The work by an unknown artist was on display at the New Gretna House along Route 9 until it vanished one night — several years before the building was closed and demolished.
One recent Jersey Devil image is securely in place in a very secure and prominent location: the New Jersey State House Complex.
Part of the public art project component of the 1990s-era State House renovations, the Jersey Devil can be spotted in the massive skylight stained glass “New Jersey: A 360 Degree View,” a fact and fiction depiction of New Jersey history
The image is by Runnemede, New Jersey, based stained glass master J. Kenneth Leap, who chose to depict a more conventional red devil seemingly fleeing from some invisible tormentors.
In a quick exchange with Six09 about the work, the South Jersey-based Leap says, “My dad gave ‘lost towns tours’ of the New Jersey Pinelands, and the Jersey Devil was a favorite subject of his. He had a book on the Jersey Devil in his study. The ‘eyewitness’ descriptions of the Jersey Devil are pretty out there — horse’s head, cat body, leathery wings. I opted for something a little more classical and depicted him as a tragic figure — a little misunderstood but not malicious.”
Leap says he also put a Jersey Devil in the windows for the Ocean County Library in Toms River Township but “used a different graphic entirely.”
For more on the artist, visit jkennethleap.com.
A Jersey Devil sculpture stands tall in the midst of the Pine Barrens out front of Lucille’s Restaurant on Route 539 in Warren Grove.
Its maker, New Jersey native and chainsaw carver Joe Wenal, says by cellphone as he drives from a “carve off” in Montana to his home in Colorado that the Jersey Devil is “one of the funnest sculptures I can do.”
He also says he doesn’t really recall how the Lucille statue got started because he has been going there since he was a boy — he grew up in nearby Cedar Run where his parents still live on Route 9.
The local institution founded in the 1975 by the late Lucille Bates caters to locals, hunters, travelers, and sometimes those on a quest —like the late New Jersey-raised food adventurer Anthony Bourdain.
While noted for its pies, Lucille’s family continues the operations and provides general cafe fare, a Jersey Devil hot sauce dish, and T and sweat-shirts with signage that lets wearers brag, “I ate with the Jersey Devil.” The logo image depicts a hiking winged devil with a walking stick.
Wenal says, “When I started to talk with Lucille, they wanted it to be too close to their logo and not too scary. I’m waiting for that perfect costumer who will let me loose and do what I want.”
The 45-year Army veteran then adds, “I’m drawn to the meaner, more classic version of the Jersey Devil, not the goblin version. For years I wanted to do a scarier one that makes people go ‘whoa!’”
Wenal says he learned about the Jersey Devil by simply growing up in the Pines and that he heard all the legends. He and his pals also went out on hunts. “There were a couple of places we’d be out looking.”
Returning to the topic of creating figures of the famous monster, Wenal says, “There are so many different ways to do the Jersey Devil. I have done some small ones, tiny two-footers. But I wished more people would order (life-sized ones) because I’d love to carve them.”
He says that the Lucille’s Devil is made of pine wood. “It’s a soft wood that carves a lot easier and takes the sealer well for the weather.”
A full-time carver, Wenal says he didn’t set out to become a professional wood sculptor. “I was never an artist. I never had an artistic bone in my body.”
He says his path to his art making happened when he made houses in the Army and learned how to use wood tools.
Then, he says, “I had ruptured some tendons and started making furniture to keep myself from going crazy. I started making more and said I could do this full-time. My first sculpture was a bear — it wasn’t made for anyone. I just decided to do it. I went into the back yard and made a bear and someone stopped and asked if it were for sale and I said ‘yeah.’”
He says the price of his works ranges from $100 to $8,000, depending on the size and figure.
He says cute bears are popular and that “no one wants a mean bear on their porch.” There are also requests for nautical figures and dragonflies.
He also says he is involved with Carve Wars — or chainsaw competition. One usually occurs at the Tuckerton Seaport and may happen this fall if COVID conditions allow.
Turning back to the devil, Wenal says, “With the Jersey Devil you can get scary, you can do something different. You’ve got me thinking. I am going back to New Jersey in October. I’ll carve a Jersey Devil. I’m sure someone will buy it.”
More on Wenal at facebook.com/rockymountaincarvers.
While Wenal’s sculpture comes directly through the Pinelands folk tradition, the northern New Jersey sculptor Michael Locascio’s approach reflects his training.
In a biographical statement, Locascio says, “I studied classical sculpture at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Newington-Cropsey Foundation. Working with live models, skeletons, and annual cadaver dissections, I trained in anatomy and the bronze monument process there while studying at New York University. Since then I’ve worked as a fine artist in addition to building a prolific career sculpting action figures, toys, and collectible statues.”
Ask about his interest in the Jersey Devil, the sculptor says, “Since I was born and raised in New Jersey, I’ve always known about the legend, and I remember having lessons about it in grade school. My inspiration in sculpting for my business, Dellamorte & Co., is focused on mythology, legends, and lore. It was a natural subject, and I wanted to give it my own take while still maintaining details from the devil’s descriptions.
“My design process is to look at primary source references, both written and visual. I take from that what inspires me and begin sculpting. I rarely render concept drawings; I try to solve the creative challenges in clay.
“With my background in anatomy and classical sculpture training, I wanted to depict the devil naturalistically — to breathe life into some of the old depictions. I actually wasn’t aware that Albright knew about my work! With all of my pieces, I sculpt in a type of wax or clay by hand, and I work with a mold maker and resin caster. We produce the statues locally, and I sell them through my Etsy site. I still sell the resin castings. The benefit of keeping a master copy and making silicone molds is that I can make as many as I want. It is a popular piece, so I have no plans to stop producing it.”
For more, visit facebook.com/dellamorteco.
A list of books suggests the Jersey Devil is equally at home in the Pines bogs and on the pages — mainly within books devoted to New Jersey legends and history. High on the list is James McCloy and Ray Miller Jr.’s 1976 classic “The Jersey Devil.”
Yet the devil has been successfully tempting fiction writers over the past few decades with a steady arrival of devilish titles — including a few appearing during the first part of 2020.
One hot-off-the-presses offering is “The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation.”
The Freeze Time Media publication features five stories by five Bucks County-based writers who collaborate as part of the group The Writers Block.
The introduction to the 180-page book puts the devil and writing about legends in perspective. “Folklore is defined as popular myths and beliefs relating to a particular place and circulated orally among a people. The folktale of the Jersey Devil began in 1735. As legend has it the 13th child of a family, local to the New Jersey Pine Barrens, was born cursed and deformed. The elusive creature moves quickly through the Barrens and is said to resemble a Wyvern (a two-legged dragon figure) with a horse and dragon head, leathery wings, and horns and cloven hooves. The Writers Block writers have tried to capture the spirit of the folklore tradition by creating their own tales of wonder and speculation.”
The first story is Melissa Sullivan’s “Land of Hope and Dreams.” It is a science fiction tale involving a young girl whose mother is part of an international field operation in a post-industrial Pine Barrens.
It’s followed by LCW Allingham’s “Seeking Monsters,” a mystery involving two Jersey Devil encounters separated by 50 years yet connected by a spirit larger than the devil itself.
H.A. Callum provides “Under My Skin” about a female reporter investigating a Jersey Devil sighting and becoming involved with a man whose thin skin is unable to contain his true identity.
River Eno’s “The Unspoiled Harmonious Wilderness” fancifully bundles the Pinelands figure with ancient Greek myths and has two sisters encounter the Jersey Devil’s protector, the forest god Pan.
And finally there is Susan Tulio’s “The Secret,” a history-driven story based on actual events that helped bring forth the legend of the Jersey Devil.
The writers say, “As a group, we would start brainstorming months ahead of time and throw out ideas for topics. We tend to lean towards unsolved mysteries and phenomena that took place in the United States. Local legends are always a bonus to write about, and when the Jersey Devil as a topic surfaced, we knew we had to write about it. Here we were faced with a legend steeped in local lore and speculation. One that we all grew up knowing about. One that made each of us shudder when we ventured into the shadows of the Pine Barrens.
“For Melissa D. Sullivan, it was a part of who she is growing up in South Jersey (Eastampton, Burlington County), attending Rutgers, and marrying a boy from the Jersey Shore. Her high school mascot was the Red Devil. She grew up surrounded by the legend and took this anthology as an opportunity to rethink the stories and give representation to other voices that aren’t generally represented by the myth. Topping it off was the fact that the special ecology of the Pine Barrens is under constant threat, a topic she wanted to bring to readers.
“Susan Tulio’s historical fiction story led to interesting research that uncovered a potential hoax involving an extremely famous historical figure orchestrating the myth to snuff out a competitor. Her research also led her down the backroads of the Pine Barrens for personal interviews with friends and residents who have firsthand knowledge of the region and the sightings of this legendary being.
“Some of us have had an even more personal connection to the mythical creature. LCW Allingham’s family has had personal encounters with the devil. (Something she declined to discuss further).
“Aside from all of this, we are local to the region. These are stories from our childhood, the things of dares on dark nights. The stories that made campfires a little less unsettling as the coals burned down to ash.”
The end result is an attractive, engaging, and surprising book. While Callum’s tale is more in the horror vein, several others stir environmental issues below the service and show — intentionally or not — how an ancient tale can become relevant to the concerns of a contemporary audience.
“The Jersey Devil: A Collection of Utter Speculation,” $12.99 paperback, $2.99 Kindle, is available at Amazon.
Another new book, very hot off the presses, “Naked With The Jersey Devil,” obviously takes liberties with the legend. It turns the Jersey Devil into a shape-shifter hiding in public as an Atlantic City casino manager.
The book is one in a series in the Florida-based 4 Horseman publications Urban Legends Erotica Collection. “Naked’s” companion works include “Cuddling with Chupacabra” and “Sleeping with Sasquatch” (there are several fairy-tale themed stories such as “Goldie and the Three Beards” and “Beau and the Professor Beastialora.”
Editor Erika Lance says during some email exchanges that the book “came about while discussing doing an erotica series for 4 Horseman Publications. After much research, the top seller turned out to be ‘Shifter Romance/Erotica’ and thus, I needed my own unique spin on this. I hadn’t seen anyone really going all the way into the Urban Legends, and I know quite a few due to my other hobbies and writing.”
She says her choice of monster came when she “broke the Urban Legend collection into thirds, and so I used classic North American Urban Legend cryptids starting with Sasquatch, Chupracabra, and as you know, New Jersey Devil.”
Regarding her audience, Lance says, “Based on my reviews, I have a wide variety of ages reading this series from early 20s to well into retirement age. However, interestingly enough, I discovered male and females over the age of 40 make up easily 40 percent of my Facebook impressions.
The story penned by Honey Cummings focuses on a sadder but wiser young woman with the Puritan-sounding name Abigail.
Jilted by her two-timing adulterous minister boyfriend, the Philly girl reluctantly joins a friend on a church trip to an Atlantic City casino.
That’s where the Jersey Devil manager spots her in the lounge and is smitten by her looks and an unknown force that becomes a key plot element.
But that something really doesn’t matter. The point is that this literally handsome devil can’t resist temptation, abandons all caution of being involved with a human, and does more than rush in where angels fear to tread.
It is through his attention to Abigail — depicted in a series of graphically reported encounters —that he helps both of them to realize their physical and spiritual selves.
True to its intention to provide an easy-reading titillating story that focuses on an urban legend, the 100-page book spiced with sex scenes doesn’t take itself seriously — especially in crating a scene where shape shifters arrive for a regular get-together in a casino conference room.
Cummings dedicates the book “To Kim & Deidre” and says, “Your real life stories of Jersey & Philly were quite the inspiration!”
Asked to elaborate on that dedication, the writer says, “Sadly, it wasn’t due to any sightings or experiences with the Jersey Devil. In fact, Kim once told me she dated a pastor and that he cheated on her (when she lived in Jersey), and I was trying to figure out how to connect the church scene to getting the character to the casino where the Jersey Devil would be. Deidre lived in Philadelphia and once at a writing session at our local cafe, she shared how the church she went to had busses to Atlantic City. Voila! I had the missing pieces and a fun contrasting feature to have in my saucy story.”
While elaborating on how she wrote amorous scenes from a male perspective, the writer says, “I have been happily married to the same man for over 13 wonderful years. We are all human. There is always something extra special about the excitement of pleasing our opposites, in and out of the bedroom. I focus more on the things leading into those moments, adding to the moment well before the climax comes. They say in writing to ‘remember to use all the senses’ and so, I do my best to heed this even if I find myself blushing and covering my face attempting to type one-handed.”
While Jersey Devil purists will want to take up pitchforks and torches, that this type of book seizes on the legend is an indication that the story is growing in power rather than diminishing with time.
Hunter Shea’s 2016 “The Jersey Devil” novel gets back to basics of telling a horror yarn. The 378-page Pinnacle press paperback’s plot is simple. When the Jersey Devil starts making headlines after years of inactivity, octogenarian Sam Willet and his family head to the Pine Barrens to settle a grudge that started decades before the current action.
The 52-year-old Bronx-born author of a string of horror stories — including “The Montauk Monster,” “Loch Ness Revenge,” and “The Dover Demon” — says in a recent telephone interview from his New York City residence, that he was always a monster enthusiast.
“As a kid, I was attracted to monsters and scary stories. I was obsessed with Bigfoot. I read all the books in the library on Bigfoot over and over. My father bought me a book, and it had all these monsters. And I said if I could ever write, I’d like to do books on monsters.”
His first book was the novella “Swamp Monster Massacre.” Its star is the Florida “skunk ape” or, as Shea calls it, “The southern cousin of Bigfoot.”
“Once I put my toe in the water, I couldn’t take it out. I could do it forever,” he says of writing horror.
The Jersey Devil book came to him when “I was on my way to a meeting with my editor. I always have a bunch of ideas. But sometimes it just hits you out of nowhere and you have to ride it.
“I started thinking about the Jersey Devil. I had an idea that a family that had encountered the Jersey Devil in the past and now multiple generations now faces it when it rears its ugly head again. I liked the idea that the characters were not running from the monster but towards it.”
He says he had the story’s general idea by the time his train arrived at Grand Central Station.
Then there was a surprise. “My editor asked what I was going to write about and said, ‘I hope it is something like the Jersey Devil.’ I almost fell off the chair.”
Shea says the book’s accurate descriptions and geography came from “doing a lot of research going to libraries and going to Google maps. But my sister and brother-in-law live in New Jersey, and I said, ‘Let’s take a road trip.”
After spending a few days researching to the point “where it wasn’t going to overwhelm me,” Shea says he was struck by the mystery of the Pine Barrens’ landscape. He encapsulates his visit with, “After being there, if you said, ‘A dinosaur just came out of the woods, ’I’d go, ‘Okay.’ “
He says, “I read books about the Jersey Devil, about real accounts, but no one did it justice as a monster story.” And that his “fly by the seat of your pants” approach to writing flowed freely and “didn’t feel like I was working at all. And if I’m surprised then the audience is going to be surprised. I just keep it lean and mean and moving. I took actual history and myth and roll it up in one and let it go.”
“The Pinelands Horror: The Story of the Jersey Devil” appeared in 2015. The 92-page story begins with a Lenni Lenape hunter being slaughtered by a winged monster after he enters Popuessing, the Lenape name for the place of the dragon.
Centuries later, in 1735, the Leeds family unwisely builds a house on the same location. And their hard life gets harder when Mrs. Leeds sneaks out to have an amorous rendezvous with a wood spirit, and a horrified Mr. Leeds takes off. Then the Mrs. bears a child that has a ram’s head, bat’s wings, and supernatural yearning to fly into the night.
When the mother and devil child also disappear, all hell breaks loose, and the children ask a nearby pastor to help them sort things out. It’s then that the book turns into a paranormal Agatha Christie-like yarn that has the bewildered pastor picking up clues while burying family members being picked off by an unknown menace.
Add lots of Bible quoting, grizzly killings, an intriguing section about Satan from British poet John Milton’s “Paradise Lost,” mixing up names in scenes, and the elimination anything dealing the Lenapes, and the result is a clumsy read that takes a new slant on the old story.
The author is Gary Botsch, a writer of two other books who mysteriously leaves no trace of a personal history. The publisher is Gottfried & Fritz, a division of the Acropolitan News and Media Group LLC, a Miscellaneous Publishing company in Freehold.
“The Legend of the Jersey Devil,” 2013, proves that it is never too early to introduce kids to a good local monster tale. Written by Montclair writer Trinka Hakes Noble and illustrated by Colorado-based illustrator Gerald Kelley, the 32-page children’s book starts off on a spooky night near Halloween to provide the traditional account of Mrs. Leeds’ 13th child being born a devil and taking off up the chimney.
The devil has the townsfolk up in arms by scaring their livestock and disturbing their peace until they get a taste of some other devils: city slickers hoping to make a buck on snagging the monster and tromping through their farms and town while they do so.
Adopting the adage “Better the devil we know than the devil we don’t,” the townies mobilize to protect their monster, who is heartened by the gestures, helps chase the urbanites away, and “continues to preserve the wild and ancient ways” of the Pines.
Explaining how the book came to be written, Hakes Noble says, “I write and sometimes illustrate books for children. I also visit many elementary schools as a visiting author, especially here in New Jersey and the east coast. At schools I noticed many kids wearing the NHL Jersey Devils logo and sport jerseys. And that’s when I learned that the kids had no idea how or why the NHL hockey team got its name.
“So I first wrote about the Jersey Devil in a book titled ‘The New Jersey Reader’ which is all about everything New Jersey, from history to riddles to poems to non-fiction, including a historical timeline and a reader theater, all for the elementary school grades. I included a short section in this book on the Jersey Devil, tying it to our NHL team, and teachers and librarians told me the most popular section of that book was about the Jersey Devil. The kids wanted to learn about it!
“I realized that there wasn’t anything about the Jersey Devil for the younger readers. Everything written about our folklore character was for adults. So I decided to write a picture book about the Jersey Devil for young readers. Because it is for elementary children, I made it a bit tongue-in-cheek, with humorous illustrations, and in the end, the Jersey Devil turned out to be a good guy because he kept outsiders and developers out of the Pine Barrens, leaving it to those who lived there. Consequently, today, we have the protected Pinelands Reserve for all to enjoy, thanks to the Jersey Devil.”
“The Call of the Jersey Devil,” also published in 2013, mixes New Jersey’s teenage mall-rat culture with the Pine Barrens legend. The story written by Aurelio Voltaire involves a group of North Jerseyites who head to a Goth music concert in the Pinelands. Since the story opens with young witch seeing her older mentor die while subduing the Jersey Devil, it is clear where this dark yet tongue-in-cheek tale is heading — a tone reinforced as the concert-bound reclusive New York City-based Goth musician says, after being driven through the Holland Tunnel, “I am pretty sure I am in hell now.” Over all, it’s a breezy and snarky read.
Other quick references in light fare include the appearance of the Jersey Devil in several comic books.
In perhaps one of his most mainstream comic forays, the Jersey Devil has an encounter with the popular TV cartoon character Scooby-Doo. It’s part of the lovable big dog’s mystery outings and involves solving a problem with the Jersey Devil spoiling a kite competition. While nothing really noteworthy, the 2001 issue produced by DC comics introduced the regional monster to a national audience of young readers.
The Jersey Devil comics were developed in 1996 by South Jersey writer/illustrator Tony DiGerolamo and published through his own company, South Jersey Rebellion Productions. While having a healthy presence in the regional comic book market, the illustrated tales of the mysterious Pine Barrens-dweller was unable to find a strong market for distribution and ceased after 12 issues in 1999. The books were well designed and certainly engaging to New Jersey history buffs.
“Salem’s Daughters — The Legend of the Jersey Devil” is another comic book take with a twist. Here the writers connect the Jersey Devil to a descendent of a “real” Salem witch who ends up hunting for the Jersey Devil.
Produced by Zenescope in 2009, the expertly illustrated books with creaky story-lines present another look at the Jersey Devil and attract readers with covers depicting sexy witches — including one in a Jersey Devilish hockey uniform-like costume.
Sex selling the Jersey Devil seems also to be an ongoing theme. In addition to the erotic series already mentioned, carnal romps with the Jersey Devil are featured in the Monstergasm and Monsters Made Me Gay series, not reviewed at press time.
And just when one thinks they’ve seen everything, Janet Evanovich’s Trenton bounty hunter Stephanie Plum gets into the spirit when she accompanies her supernatural bounty hunter guy pal into the Pines in “Plum Spooky.” While the book hypes the Jersey Devil, the monster’s appearance is fleeting — literally — and does little for the plot except providing a connection between the 25-book franchise and the enduring myth.
Speaking of myth, one recent nonfiction book needs to be mentioned — especially since it draws on the same materials as the previously mentioned Susan Tulio’s speculative fiction story.
The 2018 “The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster” shows how one of the founding fathers’ hellish satire against rival almanac publishers Daniel and Titan Leeds helped brand the Leeds family as being in cahoots with the devil — something unexpectedly reinforced by the Leeds family’s crest with a two-footed dragon.
In TV and film
The Jersey Devil has been a frequent documentary film subject, such as in New Jersey Network’s 1972 documentary, but its fictional screen time seems to start rolling in 1993 on the popular television show “The X-Files.”
The program deals with an FBI paranormal investigation unit led by agents Dana Scully and Fox Mulder, the latter played by Princeton University graduate David Duchovny, Class of 1982.
In this program, the fifth in the show’s first season, the unit is dispatched to Atlantic City to investigate human remains that seemed to have been gnawed by a human-like creature — one similar to the legend of a large creature roaming the woods.
While a visit to the nearby Pinelands provides some details, Mulder hits pay dirt when he interviews an AC skid row resident. The down-and-outer provides a sketch of the creature that immediately lets viewers know episode writer and series creator Chris Carter substituted the state’s dreaded winged-horse-headed creature for a more pedestrian and Sasquatch-like figure.
He says in a published interview that he wanted to explore the idea of a missing link that resisted any form of evolution. He also saw Atlantic City as “an interesting place to put a de-evolved, or a less evolved character,” adding that, “Atlantic City almost represents the decay of Western Civilization.”
While “X-Files” is standard fare, the show is a Garden State disappointment. It promises a Jersey Devil, but instead delivers a large, nude, Bigfoot-like woman chomping down derelicts. And the Vancouver, Canada, locations are visually and geographically a world away from Atlantic City. Nevertheless, it is fun and worth a free look.
The Jersey Devil also made a few guest television appearances but in different manifestations. In a 2007 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles episode, a diminutive red devil rips up a diner kitchen before getting into a couple of minute fight with one of the turtles. See it on Youtube.
It wasn’t until 1998 that the Jersey Devil got big screen time with a small budget film with a big impact: “The Last Broadcast.”
The documentary-style film focuses in on the final tapes created by a pair of hosts of a public access paranormal show who perished on a midnight trek to the New Jersey Pinelands to locate the Jersey Devil.
Created by then-Bucks County-based filmmakers Stefan Avalos and Lance Weiler, the lean film created for around $900 shows an understanding of pacing and slowly ratchets up interest and suspense — before letting it dissipate.
While no Jersey Devil is actually seen in the film, and the film’s conclusion seems more handy than creative, there is a presence throughout of something mysterious and evil.
In addition to being one of the first feature films to exploit the Jersey Devil legend, it also made history as the first feature film to be shot using everyday digital technology — with no film used. While it reportedly made only about $13,000 domestically, it grossed $5 million internationally.
The film is also forever connected to the more successful “Blair Witch Project,” which came out around the same time and had a similar plot. View it online here.
A bigger budget production with some film star power, “The 13th Child: The Legend of the Jersey Devil” followed in 2002.
The story follows a New Jersey prosecutor’s office agent (Leslie-Anne Down) investigating a series of grizzly killings in the Pine Barrens. Soon she encounters Mr. Shroud (Cliff Robertson), a person of Native American decent with a secret.
Although the film uses the Leeds legend in the title, Michael Maryk and Robertson’s screenplay ignores the legend and connects the story to the pre-Colonial Lenape legend.
Moody scenes and New York City-based composer Peter Calandra’s dissonant score contribute to the tension that leads to the climax when a fanged, gooey creature emerges from the ooze to exact revenge on the unfortunate person who had desecrated the bones of the forest spirit.
But that brief dramatic monster-moment isn’t enough to make up for the film’s murky plot and clumsy dialogue, and audiences booed during its theatrical release. (I didn’t but wished I had).
Pretty soon, the distributors noticed they had a monster victim of their own, yanked it from the theaters, and re-released it on video.
Yet it still has some interest. Other actors include “Blue Lagoon” frolicker Chris Aikens and familiar sit-com actor Robert Guillaume, and the filming locations include the New Jersey State House in Trenton, the Wharton Tract, and the mansion and village at Batsto. Take a look at it here.
Paterson-born director/writer Dante Tomaselli’s 2006 “Satan’s Playground” is the exact opposite of the “The 13th Child” and goes all in on the winged Jersey Devil and Mother Leeds.
The plot is standard haunted house fare: a group of people (here a North Jersey family that includes an autistic teenager, an unmarried mother and her child, and a spunky eye-rolling woman and her older and hefty husband), are in unfamiliar territory (the Pines), get stranded (stuck in the sand), and look for help from the closest house they can find.
Unfortunately for the family members, the old place belongs to a fortune teller, Mrs. Leeds. Reminiscent of the Addams Family’s “Ma-ma,” this mistress of the house presides over a family of a couple of cartoonish “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” offspring — a mute clown-dressed killer daughter and a half-witted son. But the other member of the family is the winged devil flying overhead and picking off individuals here and there. Add devil worshippers and police officers getting whacked with frying pans and this intentionally over-the-top grotesque film filmed at Whitesbog Village in the Pines either derails or delivers the train wreck it set out to be. It’s available on DVD.
“Leeds Point,” made in 2008, is a low-budget film striving to be an earnest horror mystery. The film centers on the killing of a group of campers at the Leeds Point — the Atlantic County town where the Jersey Devil was born.
The community members begin to suspect the stepfather of one of the slain campers as the killer. The innocent man attempts to exonerate himself, and with the help of a newspaper reporter who believes the father is innocent starts an investigation that leads to a conclusion that neither wants to believe: The Jersey Devil did it.
Eventually the two track the devil to its home within a home and confront it. Hampered by production values and acting, the old-style story filmed in Brick and Jackson, New Jersey, lets the audience imagine the monster.
Its writers are two Jersey boys, Brick’s Jeff Heimbuch and Whiting’s Santo Scardillo, who also directs this interesting home-brewed addition to Jersey Devil story telling. See it for free on Youtube.
“Carny,” the 2009 SyFy television production, gets high marks for presenting the Jersey Devil in its horrific splendor. However, forget about New Jersey.
For some reason, the story opens with after the Jersey Devil has been captured and sold to a carnival in Nebraska. Of course, the creature escapes and creates mayhem until people get their thoughts together and figure out how to fight back. Popular actor Lou Diamond Phillips is the star of this predictable film that simply uses the Jersey Devil as a plot element without fully exploiting its background or home state. It’s available online at www.youtube.com/watch?v=MI-UrodCa0o.
“The Barrens” is “Saw II” and “Saw III” director Darren Lynn Bousman’s 2012 story of an increasingly troubled man retracing his youthful camping days with his father by taking his family to the Pinelands — with the forests near Toronto, Canada, standing in for New Jersey.
Suffering from a dog bite fever received when the man decided to strangle his family dog and unnerved by the disappearance of nearby campers, the man believes the Jersey Devil is in the woods and insists his family move deeper into the forest to save themselves.
The Kansas-raised Bousman also wrote the screenplay, which was inspired in part by his youthful reading of a book with the Jersey Devil legend. But the inspiration here is more in the vein of the “Saw” franchise, leading the man, his family, and the audience to a grim encounter with evil.
Meanwhile Lee Albright of Albright Productions in Colorado is in the process of making what he hopes will be “the” Jersey Devil film audiences have been waiting for, “The Jersey Devil — the Legend Lives.”
With a production team, screenplay, and some resources already in place, Albright is in the process of raising $1.5 million to get the production rolling.
A Camden native — his dad worked at RCA — and 1962 graduate of Woodrow Wilson High School, Albright says he learned about the Jersey Devil when he was in grade school and during camping trips to the Pines.
He also taught as part of the New Jersey folklore curriculum when he was a South Jersey grade school instructor.
His interest in filmmaking started as a youngster at the ARLO Theater in Camden and after seeing a Hopalong Cassidy cowboy movie.
He says the desire drove him to create his film company in 1987 in Haddon Heights.
During a recent telephone interview, Albright says the company produces films for business and government agencies as well as his own projects — such as the short historical film “The Hamilton-Burr Duel,” available on DVD.
He moved the enterprise to Colorado after he spent his honeymoon there in 1992 and decided to stay.
“The Jersey Devil actually began percolating in the 1980s. I teamed up with the New Jersey Film Commission’s executive director and talked about making a film in New Jersey,” says Albright. “It was on the back burner and I finally got the initiative to resurrect it.”
He says that he and cowriter Skip Rose, “a buddy who lives in Swedesboro,” created a screenplay based on a story that appeared in a Hammonton Newspaper in 1938.
The account described Jeremiah Watson’s encounter with a creature whose description matches that of the Jersey Devil.
When the man continues to insist that he had an encounter with a mysterious creature, his fellow townspeople decide that he is crazy.
Albright says that while that fact-based 20th-century encounter is important, the screenplay is set in the present and involves a fictional story of Jeremiah’s now aged son, Jessie, who, upon hearing that the creature may be resurfacing, sees it as a chance to redeem his father’s name.
Albright says his treatment of the monster is different from other filmmakers’. “All the stories have a one-sided version of the beast, a blood-thirsty creature. But we bring out his human side because he was born human and was transformed into this creature. All the other films exploit the vicious side of him. But there is not one instance of a Jersey Devil killing.”
Trying to stay as true as he can to the myth, Albright says during the writing process he researched the story and spoke with people who had been involved with strange cases in the Pines.
But things then got mysterious. “When we were writing the screenplay we spoke with the chief of police in Mullica Township and asked him if he believed in the Jersey Devil. He said he was a tracker and had seen tracks and mutilations and couldn’t identify what had happened. Then he looked me in the eye and said he couldn’t disbelieve in it.”
Talking more about his approach to the film, Albright says, “People try to categorize the type of film you’re making — a romantic comedy or a number of things. (The Academy Award winning fantastic creature film) ‘The Shape of Water’ is as close as you are going to get to this. It is not a gasher, and there’s very little blood.
“It’s a very personal movie from Jessie’s point of view. What if you had a father who was considered crazy, and you had to prove otherwise?”
As he waits for filming to begin, Albright says, “We’re currently at the point of proof of concept — that we have something that is profitable and unique. We have developed a 3-D character that we have brought to life and can match anything from Hollywood.”
He goes on to say he envisions the film as being distributed as a feature film release followed by availability on DVD and streaming.
But he says it is mainly designed as a theatrical screening. “The Pine Barrens is a main character. It is one of the unique places in the world. It is beautiful. It has to be on a big screen. The key to the success of the movie is seeing the (Pinelands) through the Jersey Devil’s point of view as he flies over the Pines. You’ll be like on a roller coaster over the Pine Barrens. That is what (film’s approach) is designed for.”
He also points to the creature’s design that involved three artists and decades of research “I’ve had a file on the Jersey Devil for a long time. Anytime anything comes out in the paper I put it in the file.”
He says a good deal of descriptions came from 1909, when monster sightings occurred across New Jersey, and the Trenton Times decided to drop the name Leeds and christen it the Jersey Devil.
Albright says the look of his monster involved several artists. One is Michael Locascio in Fairlawn, New Jersey. “He did a sculpture of the Jersey Devil in flight. I contacted him and asked if we could incorporate some of the features — his sculpture has spikes in the back, and it looked neat.”
Another is Venezuelan artist Alfredo Rivera. “I sent him the copy of the Locasio image, and he created a model that is on the website.” And Kansas 3-D artist Kenray Barnabas enhanced the model that is in use on the website.
Albright says once the budget is in place he can then take advantage of the New Jersey Film Commission’s 35 percent tax break for filming in New Jersey and help reduce costs.
Going for the pitch, Albright says, “There is huge market for this in New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania,” he says. “After (a theatrical release) we can go to DVD, streaming, and products —Jersey Devil Halloween costumes and Jersey Devil music.”
Albright says people can learn more at his website and advises they “take their time. And if they’re really interested we have a 38-page business plan.”
Then thinking back at his days as a boy in the Pinelands, Albright says, “There is something out there in those million acres. I want to present to the world what I think the Jersey Devil should be. Not what Hollywood thinks, it’s a mood — something you can’t put your finger on.