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The Secret History of the Jersey Devil

, 160 pages

17 halftones, 1 map

March 2018



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The Secret History of the Jersey Devil

How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster

Table of Contents

Legend has it that in 1735, a witch named Mother Leeds gave birth to a horrifying monster—a deformed flying horse with glowing red eyes—that flew up the chimney of her New Jersey home and disappeared into the Pine Barrens. Ever since, this nightmarish beast has haunted those woods, presaging catastrophe and frightening innocent passersby—or so the story goes. In The Secret History of the Jersey Devil, Brian Regal and Frank J. Esposito examine the genesis of this popular myth, which is also one of the oldest monster legends in the United States.

According to Regal and Esposito, everything you think you know about the Jersey Devil is wrong. The real story of the Jersey Devil’s birth is far more interesting, complex, and important than most people—believers and skeptics alike—realize. Leaving the Pine Barrens, Regal and Esposito turn instead to the varied political and cultural roots behind the Devil’s creation. Fascinating and lively, this book finds the origins of New Jersey’s favorite monster not in witchcraft or an unnatural liaison between woman and devil but in the bare-knuckled political fights and religious upheavals of colonial America. A product of innuendo and rumor, as well as scandal and media hype, the Jersey Devil enjoys a rich history involving land grabs, astrological predictions, mermaids and dinosaur bones, sideshows, Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother, a cross-dressing royal governor, and Founding Father Benjamin Franklin.

Brian Regal is an assistant professor of the history of science, technology, and medicine at Kean University. He is the author of Searching for Sasquatch: Crackpots, Eggheads, and Cryptozoology. Frank J. Esposito is a distinguished professor of history and education at Kean University. He is the coauthor of Victorian New Jersey: Photographs by Guillermo Thorn from the Kean University Collection.

"Tracing the myth of the Jersey Devil from its origins, Regal and Esposito’s telling of this legendary monster’s story is as lively as it is well researched. Impressive and substantial; I have never read anything quite like it."

"Regal and Esposito show that the truth behind the Jersey Devil is far stranger—and more interesting—than fiction. Through meticulous research, this book uncovers the murky, myriad roots of this famous monster not in the pits of hell, but in centuries-old grudges, religious feuds, yellow journalism, hoaxes, and folklore. The Secret History of the Jersey Devil is an engaging and well-researched look at one of America’s best-known legends."

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