Are you an amateur crypto-zoologist living in the New Jersey area with nothing to do on the weekends? I've got some people you should talk to.
NYTimes columnist Dan Berry files his latest "This Land" piece from Smithville, New Jersey, in which he profiles the Devil Hunters, a small confederation of folks who spend occasional nights and weekends tramping through the Pine Barrens in search of the legendary Jersey Devil.
From the article:
A few dedicated hunters gather instead at JD’s Pub, in a strip mall near the epicenter of the Jersey Devil phenomenon. On the surrounding walls hang old illustrations of that which they seek: cloven hooves, a horselike face, a wing span perhaps too wide for browsing the aisles at the Super Foodtown a few doors down.
These college-educated people, who call themselves the Devil Hunters, order a round of soft drinks that includes two Shirley Temples. They say they are the “official researchers” of the Jersey Devil, a shy specimen of cryptozoology that has haunted these parts long enough to have sent tricornered hats spinning from the mops of frightened colonists.
Here's Berry describing the legend of the Jersey Devil's origins:
The beautiful and mysterious Pine Barrens can encourage such thoughts. A largely undeveloped swath of pines and oaks, swamps and bogs, it covers more than a million acres at the bottom of the country’s most densely populated state and has produced scores of legends and stories, though none as famous as that of the Jersey Devil.
The most common version, dating to 1735, concerns a local woman named Mother Leeds. Married to a drunken ingrate and pregnant with her 13th child, she had what today might be called a “moment.” She expressed weariness with children and a wish that her unborn baby be a devil.
Have you ever wished you could take back something you’ve said?
Instead of greeting the world with coos, the story goes, the newborn mutated into a serpentine-tailed devil and introduced himself to family members by eating a few of them. He then flew up the chimney and out into the Jersey wilderness to begin centuries of shrieking, lurking and occasional mauling.
Maybe the birth of a deformed child led to the story’s creation; maybe parents concocted the tale to keep children from straying into the enveloping woods. Whatever the origin, the place of the devil in lore was secured in January 1909, when strange footprints, attacks on livestock and reported encounters with the devil over several days created panic in parts of New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Posses conducted searches, police officers fired guns, and schoolchildren and mill workers found reason to stay home.
How do you join?
Prospective members fill out a questionnaire and are interviewed at JD’s Pub, where they are judged on their knowledge of devil lore, friendliness and likely dependability during nighttime tramps through brush and swamp. Those who express a desire to kill the Jersey Devil are rejected.
Speaking of joining an elite club of monster chasers, guess who just became an official member of the League of Tana Tea Drinkers?
You: "Holy shit! Anna Wintour, editor-and-chief of Vogue magazine, is now a member of the League?"
No! Better! Guess again!
You: "Better that Nuclear Wintour? Then you must be talking about the always awesome Ms. Kitty LeClaw of Killer Kittens From Beyond the Grave fame!"
You're gosh darn right I am! For those who regularly follow the sidebar, you know that ANTSS was an early adopter, so your humble horror host is glad to see she was tapped for the team.
Do stop by and see her. If you like CRwM, you'll love LeClaw. She's just like me except she's very funny, whip smart, and really good looking. You owe yourself the visit.