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The urban legend I chose to write about for this assignment is the story of the Jersey Devil. The Jersey Devil is a creature that was, according to legend, born from a woman in southern New Jersey and it is supposed to have haunted the people of the surrounding area for at least 260 years. The Jersey Devil is known as a creature that mutilates livestock as well as other animals and is said to appear shortly before disasters occur.
I was able to listen to two versions of the story surrounding the Jersey Devil while conducting research for this assignment. The first story teller is an 18 year old female from Rockaway, New Jersey. This town is a suburban community in northern New Jersey with the majority of residents belonging to the economic middle class. I collected this story during a trip to see my parents on April 1, 2006 at the story teller’s home. She told me the story shortly after dinner so it was nearly dark when she told me the story. The second story teller is a 15 year old female that is also from Rockaway, New Jersey. This story teller also told me the story of the Jersey Devil on April 1, 2006, and also delivered the story from her home during dinner.
When the first story teller, the 18 year old female, began to tell me her version of the story of the Jersey Devil, she first said that she did not know much about the legend. She then explained to me that the Jersey Devil is an animal-like creature that lives in the Pine Barrens (the Pine Barrens is a sparsely populated, wooded area of southern New Jersey). He has been seen by many different people who have camped in the area, and he has killed several campers over many years. She finished her story by saying that he is very scary and that she has been afraid of the Jersey Devil for years. When I asked her where she heard this story, she told me that she could not remember but she did remember hearing about the story while she was in elementary school.
The second story teller, the 15 year old female, also stated that she did not really know much about the Jersey Devil. She started by saying that he lives in the woods, and then corrected herself by saying that he lives in the Pine Barrens in southern New Jersey.
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One of the things I noticed when I listened to both of the story tellers tell their version of the story was that neither one of them utilized hand gestures or other movements while they told me what they knew. Both stories yielded similar characteristics about the Jersey Devil, and both felt a lack of confidence in what they knew about him. However, there was one major difference in the way they each delivered the story. While the younger story teller was more exited to tell me about what she knew, the older story teller was clearly bothered while she was telling the story. Since the story was told to her at a young age, she was scared by the story and it could be heard in her voice as she told the story.
It was very interesting hearing both versions of the story because even though the content of each story was very similar, each version of the story made me feel different after the story was done. While I heard the younger speaker tell the story, I felt as if the story was less serious and would be more of a fun story to tell friends than a story to scare friends. However, while the older story teller told her version of the story, the story was much more menacing. It seemed as if the purpose of the story was to scare people into thinking there was an actual beast that lived in the Pine Barrens that could murder you should you get lost in the area. The way the story was delivered changed the way the story made me feel while it was being told, even though the content was almost the same.
After some research, it became clear to me that the two people who told me the story of the Jersey Devil did not know all the details of the legend. According to the official Elk Township, New Jersey Web site on the Jersey Devil, the story of the Jersey Devil has been around at least since the 1800s. The most popular story of the Jersey Devil’s origin is that a Mrs. Shrouds of Leeds Point, NJ, made a wish that if she ever had another child, she would want it to be a devil. When her next child was born, it was misshapen and deformed, so she hid it from the public. One day, the child flapped its arms, which turned into wings, and then it flew through the chimney and into the woods.
Another story about the origin of the Jersey Devil is that a woman of Leeds Point, NJ, fell in love with a British man during the Revolutionary War. The townspeople cursed her for her act of treason, and as a result her next born child was a devil. A final example of the origin of the Jersey Devil is of a woman named Mrs. Leeds from Estelville, NJ, who shouted, “I hope it’s a devil,” before giving birth to her 13th child. Once the child was born, it was of course a devil.
Regardless of origin, it is believed that there was an exorcism of the Jersey Devil sometime in the 18th century that was valid for one hundred years. This set the stage for many sightings that occurred during the latter half of the 19th and early 20th century. Many of the sightings that occurred during this period were that of strange hoof prints and mutilated livestock. Additional sightings occurred in which people saw the Devil from a distance. In one extreme encounter, it is said that a man shot the Jersey Devil in one of its wings. All of the ostensible sightings of the Jersey Devil occurred in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, which is where the creature is believed to live.
Some commonalities in the story of the Jersey Devil include the name Leeds, the fact that it is a strange creature with unidentifiable hoof prints, it mutilates livestock, and that it lives in the Pine Barrens. This leads me to believe that the Jersey Devil fulfills a similar purpose to that of UFOs. Many UFO sightings occur when a person sees something unexplainable in the sky. Since they do not understand what they see and they feel that they should understand everything in the sky that is human-made, they immediately assume what they see is a UFO. Similarly, when there are strange tracks found, an unidentifiable animal in the vicinity, or the death of livestock without explanation in the area of the Pine Barrens, the event is associated with the Jersey Devil.
Additional messages that accompany the story of the Jersey Devil depend upon which version of the story you are exposed to. One message is that you should be careful for what you wish for because it may come true, similar to Mrs. Shroud’s wish for a devil as a child. Other versions show superstitions such as being the 13th child of a mother. The clearest message sent in a version of the story of the Jersey Devil deals with the version where the mother of the Devil fell in love with a British soldier. As punishment for her treasonous acts, her child became a devil and it haunted the area for centuries. These examples show how a story can be changed so that it contains all the general information of other versions of the story but at the same time deliver the desired message that will teach the listener a lesson.
The story of the Jersey Devil was at its peak in popularity in 1909 when over the span of about a month there were thousands of sightings of the Jersey Devil. Even though popularity has waned in the years since, the story of the Jersey Devil is still very interesting and worth telling. Technology has allowed for this legend to be more documented and as a result there is now a generally accepted story of the Jersey Devil, but each version of the story brings something unique to the listener. This creature has become similar to a Bigfoot or Loch Ness Monster for people in the Pine Barrens.