Plaque for Jersey Devil House Tour
The words “Jersey Devil” caught my eye as I passed by the plaque during my walk-through of the auction house. That, I thought, must have a very good story behind it.
Tours of a place called the Jersey Devil House? That was some kind of spooky and I was game to learn how spooky. Not necessarily by actually taking a tour of the house but finding out what it was all about – since I had never heard of it before.
The metal plaque with its dark patina looked a little weather-beaten, with hints of rust on its embossed letters. Since spooky houses have been popularized in the movies and on TV shows, I figured that this one was a sure thing.
During my research, though, I could find no indication that a formal Jersey Devil House existed, but the legend of the Jersey Devil does. The closest I came to finding a house was one called the Shourds House in Leeds Point, believed to be the birthplace of the Jersey Devil. The cities of Leeds Point, Burlington, Estellville and Pleasantville all have been cited as the birth site, according to one website.
The Jersey Devil, it seemed, has been a part of South Jersey folklore since the 19th century. It is said to inhabit the Pine Barrens – an ecosystem of plants, forests, wildlife, swamps, rivers and people – and its origin is as elusive as the creature itself. Popular myth is that it was the 13th child of Mother Leeds (who may or may not have been a witch and whose name may have been Jane) who on the instance of its birth invoked the devil’s name. The child was either born a devilish creature or soon evolved into one.
A series of sightings in 1909 precipitated an outpouring of press coverage that led even more to the devil’s notoriety. Hundreds of people (or maybe 50, depending on what you read) said they saw the creature in South Jersey, Philadelphia and Delaware in one single week in January of that year.
People were so unnerved by the newspaper coverage that they stayed home from work and kept their children out of school. The sightings erupted again in 1927, during the 1960s and right up until the 1990s.
According to the Pinelands Preservation Alliance, it was named the state demon in 1938. The Pine Barrens Visitor’s Guide offered its own description of the creature: looks (bat-like wings, long tail, body covered in hair, stands upright), sounds (loud shriek), food choices (live chickens) and habits (ventures out at night and hides in dark places). The guide also noted that its descriptions were not precise.
The NJ Devil Hunters appears to spend a lot of time tracking and researching it. The goal, according to the group’s website, is to find out the truth about its existence.
The creature is apparently one of several state legends with the devil at its core. I found its name attached to several haunted places in a state that one site called a “hotbed of haunted houses, witches’ cauldrons and odd apparitions.”
Since I couldn’t find a Jersey Devil House, I can only assume that the plaque at auction was made for sale as a novelty item. I found two others like it selling on the web: one on eBay for around $35 and the other on a retail site for around $217. I didn’t buy the one at auction, but I’m sure someone did.