A Philadelphia huckster advertises the "real" Jersey Devil in 1909. This creature, however, was nothing more than a kangaroo painted green.
A Philadelphia paper "exposes" the Devil as a hoax.
ALSO IN 1909
* New Jersey began building its first highway for automobiles the "Ocean Highway, linking Atlantic Highlands to Cape May. The road is now known as Route 9, and the Highway Commission created to supervise the project has become the Department of Transportation.
* Explorer Robert E. Peary returned from a winter voyage in the Arctic to announce he had discovered the North Pole. Later studies of his log would show, however, that he missed the top of the world by 30 miles.
* Created on the 100th anniversary of Lincolns birthday, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People set forth to fight lynchings and promote civil rights. Among its founders were African-American activist W. E. B. DuBois, editor of "The Crisis," and white humanitarians Jane Addams and William Dean Howells.
* Musician W. C. Handy wrote a campaign song for the mayor of Memphis. Entitled "Memphis Blues, it was the first blues song known to be put on paper.
* A band of reform-minded military men known as the "Young Turks" deposed the sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdul Hamid II, who fled with his harem of women.
|1909: The devil went down to Jersey|
|By JON BLACKWELL / The Trentonian|
|He has the head of a horse, the wings of a bat, the scaly body of a reptile and the forked tail of a demon.
He's screeched and hopped and pranked his way into folk legend as a mischievous monster who haunts the New Jersey countryside, scaring the wits out of lone travelers.
He's the Jersey Devil, and, while some believe he comes straight from hell, he seems at home in the Pine Barrens.
There, for more than 250 years, the Jersey Devil has been an eerie presence who story-tellers insist belongs to the scrubby landscape as much as the stunted pine trees and cedar swamps.
But for at least one week in January 1909 the Jersey Devil came north, right into New Jersey's state capital.
Witness after witness in Trenton insisted they saw the creature banging on their doorsteps, making strange noises and leaving cloven hoof-prints in the snow.
In some rural towns, men actually formed armed posses to defend themselves while their wives and children huddled behind locked doors.
Then, as quickly as the devil showed up in the city, the devil disappeared and hasn't been seen again here for nearly 90 years.
Skeptics today say the Jersey Devil was either a hoax or a case of widespread insanity. Even for people ready to believe in UFOs, Bigfoot and "X-Files" cover-ups, the notion of a flying devil sounds silly (Although a recent "X-Files episode did feature Mulder and Scully taking on the Garden State-born beast).
For many people, the Jersey Devil is a state treasure, a quaint piece of Pinelands lore that survives into the era of superhighways. Besides, he's good for tourism.
Taverns and bed and breakfasts all over South Jersey celebrate him, hockey's New Jersey Devils named themselves after him and folk artists like Susan Heinz incorporate his image into their works.
Heinz, for one, sees the Jersey Devil not as a satanic evil-doer, but a very human prankster who doesn't mean anyone harm. In her paintings, she's portrayed the devil stealing peach pies off a windowsill, fishing in a creek and carousing with pirates.
"We don't see him much anymore because, I think, he's a bit taken aback by all the changes in the landscape, the roads and the casinos and the developments," Heinz said. "But he's around and he's watching."
The Jersey Devil's origins, like all good back-country legends, is shadowy. The best story involves a Mother Leeds, of Leeds Point.
Sometime in the early 1700's, pregnant with her 13th child, she cursed: "Let it be the devil!"
Her wish was fulfilled. Soon after delivering a seemingly healthy baby, she saw its pink, chubby body mutating into a reptilian form. With a shriek, it sprouted a pair of wings and flew straight out the window.
Ever since then, Pinelanders believed, the 13th child of Mother Leeds was inhabiting their countryside.
Lone men traveling at night and hunters shooting for the game in the spooky forests would report sightings. Farmers suffering through hard times in the Pinelands' unforgiving soil would blame the creature's vile whims.
"Crop failure, droughts, and cows not producing milk were said to be his doing," James F. McCloy and Ray Miller wrote in their book, "The Jersey Devil." "He ... blew the tops off trees, frightened man and beast and pierced the still night air with awful screams."
Reports circulated of a devil scare in Bridgeton in 1873 and of tracks in the snow at Haddonfield, Leeds Point and Brigantine in 1894. Still, enlightened people scoffed at the idea of a lurking devil.
"With the advent of the new century," wrote folklorist Charles B. Skinner in 1903, "many worshipful commoners of Jersey dismissed, for good and all, the fear of the monster from their mind."
Six years later, however, the monster re-appeared. And this was not a lone sighting it was a statewide panic.
During the week of Jan. 16-23, 1909, thousands of people saw the devil or its tracks. They described a thing that was anywhere from three to 10 feet high, but all accounts seemed to agree that it flew, jumped about like a kangaroo, made awful screeching noises. And it was really, really scary.
A man named Thack Cozzens may have been the first to see the devil that week as he stepped out of the Woodbury Hotel.
"I heard a hissing and something white flew across the street," he said. "I saw two spots of phosphorus the eyes of the beast. There was a white cloud, like escaping steam from an engine. It moved as fast as an auto."
From there, the creature went on a zigzagging course that took him up and down the Delaware Valley. He spooked a patrolman in Bristol, Pa., left behind a maze of footprints in Burlington City and killed a puppy in Riverside.
The Jersey Devil came to Trenton came on Jan. 20, shortly after midnight. William Cromley, a doorkeeper at the Trent Theater, was driving his buggy back to Ewing when the horse stopped dead in its tracks.
Cromley got out, puzzled, and saw a beast in the form of a dog with fur and feathers. It hissed, spread its wings and flew away.
At about the same time, Claudius P. Weeden was woken up by banging on his door at 217 Brunswick Ave. He flung open his bedroom window, heard wings flapping and looked outside to see strange tracks imprinted in the snow cloven hoofprints.
Weeden, a city councilman and the owner of a prominent carriage business, was no crank, and his good character seemed to lend credence to the devil story.
Others came forward to tell of their sightings, too. Muskrat trappers in Hamilton saw its tracks. A woman on Centre Street in Trenton barricaded herself in her house when she heard its noises. A churchgoing couple in Gloucester "neither of them has ever even tasted applejack," the Trenton Times reported saw the devil banging around on top of their backyard shed.
In parts of Gloucester and Burlington counties, posses were formed to protect farmsteads. Some members insisted they were able to wound the beast by firing shotguns in its direction.
Others, however, suspected the Jersey Devil of being pure hokum.
Newspapers invented names for the creature like "wozzle bug," "flying hoof," and "winged dog." They sought quotes from animal experts, who tongue in cheek called it a pterodactyl or a missing link. Trenton humorist Francis B. Lee identified it as hespiro-dinosaur-rorinis, seen "in the homes of some of Jersey's manufacturers of bug juice."
In Philadelphia, a showman named Jacob Hope announced that the devil was really an escaped "Australian vampire" and offered a $500 reward for it. Then, with great fanfare, he announced its capture and put the "vampire" actually a kangaroo painted with green stripes on display.
On Jan. 23, the Daily True American breathlessly announced that a farmer in Morrisville, Pa., had been able to trap the "bird-beast" in his barn.
That, story, too was a hoax. But the True American was correct in one respect, reporting that "the terrorizing career of this mysterious being has come to an end." Never again would the Jersey Devil haunt Trenton.
Scattered sightings of the Jersey Devil continue the latest was reported in Winslow Township in 1993 but few get much media attention, and most turn out to be youthful hoaxes.
So what was the phenomenon of 1909? The devil himself? Mass hysteria?
In their book, McCloy and Miller make an excellent case that the Jersey Devil was nothing more exotic than a Sand Hill Crane, a tall bird with a nasty temperament and a chilling whoop for a voice.
That would explain many aspects of the devil's behavior, along with the prints he left that seemed to walk through fences.
Fevered imaginations, fueled by exaggerated newspaper accounts, then enabled the devil to be "seen" by so many people.
But back in the Jersey Devil's ancestral homeland, plenty of people argue the devil lives on.
One of those is Harry Leeds, who counts the legendary Mother Leeds as an ancestor and thus, is a distant cousin of the Jersey Devil.
Leeds, 64, isn't a fearful man. He fought as a Marine in Korea and later served as an Army paratrooper. Yet when he goes raccoon hunting around his home in Leeds Point, he gets the spine-tingling sensaton that he's not alone.
"When you're out there, your visibility is restricted and the trees seem to go on forever," Leeds said. "The least little disturbance gets all your adrenaline flowing and gets you imagining things.
"Is the Jersey Devil out there? I'm not 100 percent sure. But at least ... I don't think he would harm any of his relatives."