...Throughout the 1800s, the Jersey Devil was blamed for livestock killings, strange tracks, and reported sounds. In the early 1900s, a number of people in New Jersey and neighboring states claimed to witness the Jersey Devil or see its tracks. Claims of a corpse matching the Jersey Devil's description arose in 1957[Generallysaid to be a hoax]. In 1960, the merchants around Camden offered a $10,000 reward for the capture of the Jersey Devil, even offering to build a private zoo to house the creature if captured.
[1,3] McCrann, Grace-Ellen (26 October 2000). "Legend of the New Jersey Devil". The New Jersey Historical Society. http://www.jerseyhistory.org/legend_jerseydevil.html. Retrieved 16 February 2010.
As many readers might know, I was at one time a major contributor to the SITU and had full access to Ivan Sanderson's library and archives before they were broken up and sent away to various other institutions (I am currently in contact with an organisation that has retrieved most of the files).
After an initial survey of Jersey Devil reports subitted by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark in the early 1970s, Ivan Sanderson sent them a letter (which I have seen) explaining that he considered the Jersey Devil sightings to be based on a large condor-like bird or 'Thunderbird' and he explained why. He also said that there was a secret society at work in New Jersey that would attack undesirable neighbours with acts of terrorism, framing the Jersey Devil as the cause (something out of Scooby Doo, but more deadly serious: the perpetrators would destroy livestock and leave faked tracks among other things). This secret society had been in existance since colonial times and was largely perpetrated by certain member families, operating along similar lines to the Ku Klux Klan.
However, once the obvious hoaxes and mistakes are sorted out, there are still any number of alleged Jersey Devil sightings, particularly in the 'Flying Horrible' category. There is something generally like a huge eagle that leaves large three-toed footprints and then again assorted other 'devils', which include trails of 'Devil's Footprints' such as seen in Devonshire in 1855 and 2009 (these would seem to have a natural origin not requiring the invention of a 'devil' to explain them). It seems that anything out of the ordinary in New Jersey gets slapped with the 'Jersey Devil' tag, and this includes sightings of bears, pumas, kangaroos and even a possible 'Mothman' or two, and unfortunately the inevitable bald dogs more recently. But most of the sightings are 'Jabberwocks' seen just once apiece for any sort of detailed description given.
In January 1909 came the most impressive series of Jersey Devil sightings when about a hundred individuals in Northern New Jersey and Eastern Pennsylvania claimed to have seen it. The only scientific opinion advanced was that it could have been a relic pterodactyl that people were describing. Any or all of the sightings during this 'flap' period could be lies or hallucinations based on fear aroused by the 'Devil's Hoofprints' that were appearing at the same time. No single blanket explanation would cover all of the 'Devil' experiences at the time, unless it really was an outbreak of amorphous demons, since all the sightings described something different.
The following is a sampler of the reported traits: large crane-like bird; glowing head (eyes?); ram-like horns curling around the back of the head (this may have been an appearance caused by wrinkled and warty skin rather than actual horns); long thin legs and long thin wings; short useless forelegs pressed to the chest (which might be imaginary); squawking and whistling; red glowing eyes; bird legs and horse's head; bat wings; long tail with barb at the end; forked tail; alligator skin; breathed fire; one horn on the head; tail like an ostrich; monkey-like face; dogface; 3 feet high; 11 foot wingspan; winged kangaroo; head like (the size of?) a collie dog and face like a horse; long neck; 3 1/2 feet high; legs like a crane; horse's hoofs (probably to match the alleged footprints); split hoofs; human-like feet; 3-toed bird-like feet; wings about 2 feet long folded up (which meant possibly about a 10-12 foot wingspan with wings spread); 6 feet tall; 6-foot-long bird (beak to tail); feet hanging down as it flew; hopping on the ground; awkward flight close to the ground; effortless soaring high in the sky; hair and feathers; scales; red head; black, brown or grey colour on the rest of the body-occasionally reported as green or some other colour.
Some of the traits are possibly only imaginary or remembered incorrectly and exaggerated in the retelling. But there is no internal sorting criteria by which it could be guessed, which traits are more likely to be real and which ones might be false, as measured by the consensus of opinion. There is very little consensus of opinion.
This being in January with snow-covered ground, the 'fire-breathing' probably means no more than its breath made condensation or 'steam.' If it actually was a large condor-like bird, many of the reported traits would fit. These include the regularly-reported bird legs, feathers on the body and scales on the legs but a bald head and a ruff that looks like hair around the neck, the tail like an ostrich's, and even the different flight patters at different altitudes, even including the feet hanging down when it is flying at low level (this was a bird report but it was also the one that said 'human-like feet').
The comparison of the head to that of a horse or collie dog means that the head is an elongated oval, but the hooked beak is only very rarely mentioned. The size is also consistent if we take 3 to 3 and a half feet as the height and about ten feet as the wingspan: stretched out head to tail might be estimated as six feet long but probably that would be exaggerated.
This is, however, only after digging out the details. The reports as they stand sound nothing like condors at face value. Perhaps witnesses were so unnerved at seeing THE DEVIL at night that they all freaked out and were all confused about it afterwards. Perhaps some journalists took liberties with recording the reports afterwards
But basically all that can be said in summary is that if most of the witnesses are describing the same thing and that thing is a sort of a condor, then most of the reports that we have on record are remarkably bad reports.
- Bord, Janet and Bord, Colin. Alien Animals. Harrisburg, PA, Stackpoole books, 1981
- Clark, Jerome. UNEXPLAINED! Washington, DC, Visible Ink,1993
- MacDougall, Curtis D. Hoaxes. New York, Dover Books, 1958