Friday, June 1, 2012

The Day the Devil came to Woodbury

The Jersey Devil,
Philadelphia Evening Bulletin,
January 1909
Most folks in the area are familiar with the Leed's Devil mythos, aka the Jersey Devil, the 1735 folk tale of a woman named Leeds (or Mrs. Shrouds from Leed's Point, NJ), who gave birth to a 13th child one fateful day. During labor she apparently proclaimed, “May the Devil take this one!” and the baby, upon being born, turned into a monster with the head of a collie, the wings of a bat and cloven feet. The creature proceeded to fly out the window (or chimney) and has been haunting the Pine Barrens and surrounding areas ever since, mutilating animals, scaring locals, and harbinging bad luck.

January 21st, 1909 Philadelphia Inquirer
Since his 1735 birthday, the Jersey Devil and his subsequent sightings 
predominantly remained within the sparsely populated 1.1 million acres of the Pine Barrens. In 1909, however, the beast got a touch of wanderlust. Beginning in Woodbury on January 16th, the devil had a week long tear, visiting such towns as Bridgeton, Burlington, Collingswood, Camden, White City (near Trenton), and even crossing the Delware over into Pennsylvania! See map below for his route. It all reportedly started when a one Thack Cozzens was leaving the "Woodbury Hotel" which was most likely Newton's Hotel on Broad Street, or the Green Castle Hotel on Cooper Street, or possibly Hotel Paul on Broad Street (Now Charlie Brown's). Cozzens states, "I heard a hissing and something white flew across the street. I saw two spots of phosphorous—the eyes of the beast. There was a white cloud, like escaping steam from an engine. It moved as fast as an auto." (McCloy & Miller, 1976)  For the remainder of January the local papers were abuzz with reports detailing sightings, killed livestock, strange beastlike calls in the night, and mysterious hoof prints were found throughout Woodbury and across the region. A January 21st edition of the Trenton Evening Times alternately mention the "Jersey Devil" as the "Winged Dog", "Leeds Satan", "Flying Hoof", "Beast Bird", "Flying Death", "Woggle Bug", "Kangostridogovitch", etc. and headlines:

Trail Leads Right Up to Houses and

Then Disappears as Though He,

Or She, Or It Or Whatever the

Thing is Has Taken Flight

Into Realms of Space


Various accounts of the beast being shot or captured also appeared in the papers, but were all proven to be either large foxes or hoax animals cruelly put on display for a fee (see below ad.) Newspaper coverage continued over the next few months, creating a veritable media frenzy. Among the many more or less sober witnesses were a Pemberton preacher, a Trenton city councilman, and numerous police officers. The mayor of Burlington issued orders to shoot the creature on sight after one of his men saw "a jabberwock." and a Camden county freeholder was one of hundreds to find strange, cloven-hoof tracks in the snow. In a strange group sighting, firefighters from West Collingswood even turned a hose on the beast (Lewis, 1997).  Some churchgoing folks that admitted to spotting the devil went on to insist they never before even tasted applejack! Save for a 2002 Weird NJ story about a lone Woodbury Cyclops Snake sighting, things for the past 100 years have been relatively quiet in our city regarding cryptozoology. But keep an eye out... it's perhaps high time Winged Hoof made another stop to this old county seat.

Lewis, F. (1997, October 23). The devil went down to jersey. Philadelphia City Paper, Retrieved from
McCloy, J. F., & Miller, R. (1976). The Jersey Devil. Wallingford, Pa: Middle Atlantic Press.