New Jersey Devil

LOCATION:  Pine Barrens, NJ

CHALLENGE:  3.5 stars

DATE/NUMBER:  04-Feb-2001/33


Somewhere deep within the white cedar swamps and cranberry bogs, perhaps hiding along one of the old, barely visible stage roads that link the fingerprints of the forgotten towns in the Pine Barrens, lurks the Jersey Devil.

Many descriptions of the beast have been reported; some say it looks like an eagle with four feet, a deformed child, a horse-headed creature, a crane, or a flying lion. It has been blamed for many deeds of woe, such as the slaughter of livestock, the spoilage of milk and eggs, drought, and even war. Still others claim the phenomena is a silly superstition or outright hoax.

I had once thought it a hoax myself -- the tired remains of an old Lenape legend passed down by word of mouth, or a tale concocted by the Pineys to scare the kids on halloween or explain the failure and spoilage of crops in this difficult land.

That was until I came face to face with this beast myself.

It was Midwinter's Eve, some 65 years ago, (exactly 200 years after after the Devil's unlucky birth, or so I'm told), that I was wandering the Pines visiting the forgotten ghost towns, which could still be seen pretty well in those days. The towns where first bog iron was industriously converted into munitions for the Revolutionary War, then, as that played out, were converted to paper mills, glass factories, clay mines, and the like.

That was until the Iron Horse came through, of course, obsoleting the sandy stagecoach routes and brackish shipping lanes, and eventually the towns themselves, wiping them from all but the best of maps and leaving nothing but fingerprints -- clearings of Indian grass, exotic trees, and a few other signs for the astute explorer; desolate sands and roads to nowhere that told no tales, for everyone else.

I first visited the town where, 4 decades earlier, they came from all over the Pines to bet on the fights or nab the best girl at the weekly dances. Not much was left except for the mystery of the disappearance of the man who gave the town its name after jilting his girl of the night, and the tree where it happened. I leaned back against this tree and pondered this mystery a bit, as many others had before me. Some claimed to have seen hoofprints at the time, while others speculated on the more bizarre, such as other worlds and holes in space that swallowed up the unfortunate gentleman that evening. (Nowadays, of course, the place has been totally lost to time, except perhaps in a street sign -- even the restaurant that sits at the original townsite no longer has the place mats with the legend, just coffee and overcooked burgers for those that continue to come from near and far seeking out the rumored interdimensional gates in the area, but I digress ...).

Anyway, I left this town, looking for the town south of Chatsworth which was perhaps named by some poor soul who got a vague glimpse of the Devil and wasn't sure what he saw. The old stage hotel (or tavern?) was still standing then; now all that can be found, or so they tell me, is a single remaining gravestone of the several that were in the consecrated plot by the side of the old road.

I still had some daylight left, so I carried on looking for the site of another of the forgotten towns. My old map showed it some 57,293 feet from the first town I visited, 52,942 feet from the cemetery, and 158,975 feet from the alleged birthplace of the Devil himself, if one is to believe that poppycock.

I ended up at an intersection of the main road (or at least the one with a name on my map, all those tracks looked the same to me), and a crossroad, perhaps leading thru the pines to the old train station. The town was supposedly north of the crossroad and west of the main road, but I could not find it. I knew the town was an old clay mining town, so I headed west down the crossroad looking for the remains of the 19th century clay pits.

I eventually found these, along with the lake the mining had caused, but no sign of the town. I knew there were a couple of other forgotten towns in the area, (although even my map didn't have one of them on it), so I decided to try my luck with those instead. I headed back to the main road, and south towards the one that was on my map (where incidentally, I now here rumors that Druids visit the lost cemetery there once a year, but I knew nothing of this sort at the time, and have still yet, even to this day, to find the cemetery, so I doubt they have either).

After an odd intersection, I then came to the one that wasn't on my map, or was the map wrong? I started poking around the site -- nothing substantial, just the usual fingerprints along with some terra cotta pipe, timbered old growth stumps, a couple pieces of wood, and some bricks and stone.

Its always strange how your subconscious is aware of things before your consciousness is. I was poking around what must have been the site of the stage hotel, or a stone and brick house in any case, when I felt a chill like nothing I have ever felt before, and it was not due to the weather. Then I saw it in the snow, cloven hoofprints leading off across the clearing towards a large tree to the east. Curiosity always trumps fear, so I watched, senses numbed, as I felt myself dumbly following the hoofprints thru the snow, across some scattered bricks and a half-buried course of foundation stone, towards a strange shape leaning against the tree.

It was not exactly what I expected, nor was it as others had previously described. It had the head of a ram, the body of a horse (without forelimbs), and the wings of a bat. Its scaly skin was a ruddy red, whilst its horns and eyes glowed an ivory white. In all truth, I think it was more surprised to see me that I it. It headed off towards the south, or perhaps southeast, about 15 paces to where it stepped up on an old rotted hunk of wood in a grove of pines, and then flew off into the twilight.

Well, here ends my tale of that cold Midwinter's Eve all those years ago. No longer the doubting Thomas, add me to the list of other such reputable folk as Commodore Stephen Decatur and his Royal Highness Joseph Bonaparte, who can confirm, first hand, that the Jersey Devil does indeed exist. Some say that it shows itself every seven years; I don't know about that, but perhaps someday when you are wandering the lost towns and maze of sandy roads thru New Jersey's Pine Barrens, you'll be fortunate enough to get a glimpse of it as well.

NOTE 1:  The New Jersey Pine Barrens are a special place. Replete with unique ecosystems, plant life (the area is noted for carnivorous plants), paddling rivers, and of course the fading fingerprints of the lost towns and the maze of sandy roads and trails that connect them. Grab your tent or canoe, and plan to spend the weekend.

NOTE 2:  Off-trail walking is involved. Not recommended for the novice navigator or ghosttowner, you will get lost without proper preparation and navigational aids. although this isn't as deep in the Pines as it could be. Consider 4WD, although it certainly can be done on foot if you enjoy hiking.

NOTE 3:  Be wary of snakes and other wildlife when reaching into dark places. No need to dig for this box. All bearings magnetic unless otherwise noted. A pace is a long stride counted on a footfall of either foot, i.e. two paces are counted each time the right foot hits the ground. Be aware of if or when there is game hunting in the area.

NOTE 4:  Please re-hide the thing well just as you found it, and be discreet when stamping up.

DISCLAIMER & COPYRIGHT:  PERSONS USING THIS CLUE OR HUNTING THIS LETTERBOX DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK. Do not hunt this letterbox without reading and agreeing to the waiver first. Children, do not hunt this letterbox without the supervision of an adult who has read and agreed to the waiver. Possession of this clue does not imply rights of access to particular lands and route choices, or the safety thereof, including the location of the box itself. Always observe current local regulations, signs, property rights, and customs; you are responsible for your actions. Clue not indended to be taken literally or to suggest route choices; route choices (and the choice to proceed at all), are your choice.
This clue, photographs, and associated stamp art are copyright © 2001, by Randy Hall. Permission to reproduce for personal use granted; all other rights reserved.