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American Folklore: The Devil in the Arena? A New Jersey Legend

written by: Sarah Degnan Moje • edited by: Carly Stockwell • updated: 6/21/2013

Much more than a hockey team, the mythical New Jersey devil has been said to be lurking in the woods for years. Learn the origin of this legend.

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    Nj devil notgreyscale Anyone familiar with professional sports knows the New Jersey Devils’, New Jersey’s professional hockey team. Residents of New Jersey can tell you exactly how the team came to obtain its name, but perhaps the other 49 states are not aware of the mysterious creature lurking in the Southern New Jersey’s Pine Barrens.

    One thing is for sure, no trip to the Garden State is complete unless you head down south on a moonless night for a little Jersey Devil hunting. Can’t get to NJ? No problem, use this lesson to get the story across.

    The Origin of the Myth

    There are so many variations on this myth it is almost impossible to totally trace the origins. Suffice to say, it has all the elements of a classic haunting folktale: a cursed child, a desolate setting, and an atmospheric tone that provokes the believers to continually hunt for this elusive creature. Believed to be the 13th child of an exhausted New Jersey mother, the child was cursed at birth when the mother cried “let it be a devil!" And, curses, like wishes, come true in folktales and the baby grew wings and the head of a horse and flew out the chimney. Hundreds of years of legendary sightings were born in that one instant.

    Is a real devil lurking in the forests of New Jersey? It seems unlikely and far-fetched. However, this creature has such iconic status that New Jersey has made it practically the national mascot, with the hockey team sporting its name, a local winery producing Jersey Devil wine, and numerous bars serving Jersey Devil cocktails. There are books written about this creature, a film was made in the vein of The Blair Witch Project about searching for it, and it’s somewhat creep visage can be spotted on caps and shirts all over the Garden State. It’s a legend worth learning, for all of the U.S.A.


  • Drawing of the New Jersey Devil in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons.