I take great pride in my home state’s most famous monster, the Jersey Devil. Its folkloric roots can be traced back to New Jersey’s Colonial era. The iconic image of the Jersey Devil is of a winged, scrawny, bipedal horse. But the Jersey Devil has many faces and forms.
In a recent article, I wrote about the surprising number of times the Jersey Devil has been reported to have died and its remains put on display. Today we are going to look at one of those cases, dating back to December of 1925.
According to newspaper reports, William Hyman, a farmer who lived near Greenwich Township in southern New Jersey, awoke before dawn when he heard a commotion among his chickens. He grabbed a gun and went outside to investigate. Through the darkness, he saw a strange animal hopping away with a chicken in its mouth. When the creature returned, Hyman opened fire but failed to prevent the animal from snatching another chicken. In all, it had consumed seven of Hyman‘s flock. Hyman pursued the thief into a meadow, and that’s when the beast turned and savagely attacked him. Hyman blazed away with his firearm to save himself.
When the sun rose, Hyman got a full view of the strange animal he had killed. It was covered in black fur and was the size of a grown Airedale. Its forequarters were higher than its rear, which crouched as it lobbed along. Its hind feet had four webbed toes. The creature’s eyes were yellow, and its back teeth each had four prongs that fit perfectly into its upper jaw.
According to news reports, hundreds of visitors streamed to Hyman‘s farm to view the carcass and take photographs. This is an intriguing detail. Could photos of the beast still exist? None were published with the article. “No one can identify the species,” the news report read, “except to suggest that at last a Jersey devil has been brought to earth.”
Charles Fort, famed chronicler of the unknown, wrote about this incident in his 1931 book, “Lo!” Fort had received one of the news clips and decided to pursue the story further. He did not get far. “I have written to Mr. Hyman, and have no reason to think that there is a Mr. Hyman,” concluded Fort.
In 1970, an enterprising reporter from The Woodbury Daily Times named Laurie Stuart conducted her own in-depth investigation into the veracity of this story. Woodbury, it should be noted, is less than 10 miles from Greenwich Township, cited as the vicinity of Hyman‘s farm. Stuart interviewed long-time area residents and consulted local birth, death and tax records; she could find no record of William Hyman, nor anyone who remembered the farmer or the incident.
Stuart would write, “Whether or not the Jersey Devil or William Hyman is fact may not be of significance to several residents. However, the state’s most popular beast still remains one of the treasured legends to many.”
And I think that’s a common theme with the Jersey Devil. It is grounded more in folklore than it is in cryptozoology. It is part of New Jersey culture, a reflection of the mystery still palpable in the darkest corners of the sprawling Pine Barrens. Maybe some of the creatures that have been called the Jersey Devil were in reality strange and unusual creatures of a different type. But whatever the case, the Jersey Devil remains large in the hearts, minds… and nightmares… of New Jersey residents.
If you’d like to read more about the many deaths of the Jersey Devil, visit thunderbirdphoto.com.
- “Beast is Mystery.” Border Cities Star (Windsor, Ontario, Canada), Dec. 15, 1925.
- Fort, Charles. Lo! New York: Ace Books, 1941.
- Stuart, Laurie. “Legendary Jersey Devil Figures to Be ‘Imagination.'” Daily Times (Woodbury, NJ), March 2, 1970.