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Understanding the American Myth

Written by Silveran


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Over the course of history, humanity has developed a form of storytelling to explain those aspects of reality which can not be readily explained. In the modern scientific age, we call these stories myths. An aspect of the Primitive Human's psychology which we have outgrown, the myth is commonly seen now as a form of entertainment.

However, modern societies continue to produce a mythology to deal with our deep concern and even fear of the unknown. Modern America has created stories ranging from the infamous New Jersey Devil, to Hook-hand, to a convoluted alteration to the traditional belief of Angels. What are these myths of the modern equivalent to Rome? Why do the develop into a commonly expressed, often told story system? Why do Americans, so renowned for it's scientific community, continue to create and pass on legends and myths?

To understand this phenomenon we must first consider some of the American myths.

The New Jersey Devil: Not just a Hockey Team
According to the story, the famed New Jersey Devil was born to Mrs. Deborah Smith Leeds in late 1700s. The thirteenth child born, this child was supposed to be a difficult birth. According to some, Mrs. Leeds somehow invoked the Devil during the painful and long labor, causing the child to be mutated into a demonic creature. Upon birth, the child grew into a full-grown demon and escaped into the night. Other sources say the child was born demonic for anything from family curse, to curse of a rival faith clergy (Mrs. Leeds was a Quaker), on to misstatement by Mrs. Leeds herself (upon learning she was pregnant again she said "may it be a devil"). From some sources, the demonic child didn't leave the home until after Mrs. Leeds had died, after being cared for by her all until she died.

Over the next 200+ years, the Devil was sighted in various areas of the New Jersey Pine Barrens, Delaware, and eastern Pennsylvania. Often times the sightings are limited to sounds, red eyes, or shadows. Over the years, it has become common to ascribe all manner of "weird" occurrences on the Devil.

Some of the most important recent New Jersey Devil sightings:

January 1909 Trenton, New Jersey
Councilman E.P. Weeden claims to have been awoken by flapping wings at his window. He also claims to find cloven, goat-like footprints in the snow. Several other locations in town are found to have the same footprints. Hundreds, if not thousands, of sightings occur in the area being reported to local newspapers.

Winter 1978 near Chatworth, New Jersey
Two teenage boys, while ice skating on a pond near Chatworth, report seeing two red eyes watching them from the nearby brush. Also, both boys reported smelling an odor like dead fish.

1960 May's Landing
Multiple people report finding strange tracks attributing them to the Devil. One set of tracks were found after a "loud shriek". according to witnesses. Merchants of the town offer a reward of $10,000 for the capture of the New Jersey Devil. The merchants state they will create a private "zoo" to house and care for the Devil. The reward is unclaimed to this day.


Other versions of this type of story includes the Mothman legend, and possibly, the Bigfoot legend of the Northwest.

This sort of story is created by a society to explain a variety of unusual occurrences. Most likely the New Jersey Devil was born in the 1700s, but not as a supernatural creature. During the period in question, birth defects were commonly ascribed to infernal influences.

Additionally, most of the unfortunate children with these defects were hidden away and cared for by close family members. It is quite conceivable Mrs. Leeds had an afflicted child, cared for it all her life in seclusion, and the young man disappeared into the woods after her death to avoid ridicule and fear from the local townsfolk. However, it is almost impossible to believe the Devil survives today. Most likely the "strange" tracks, flapping wings, and red eyes can be explained by the natural ecology of the Pine Barrens area of New Jersey. In this area there are wild pigs, turkeys, deer, and even the occasional wolf and bear. This story appears to be a combination explanation of an unfortunate child and a standard fear of nature by people who understand neither.



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