“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.
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 identify.
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.
In a note sent to U.S. 1 regarding the new anthology’s birth, 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 — as are all the following.
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.