A dip into the New Jersey Devil and Mass Hysteria

On a weekly basis during days where work is scarce and I’ve time in abundance, I usually surf around on topics that I normally don’t read much of. I’m very fascinated by things unknown to us, having read all UFO material I could dig up when I was 12-14 years old (including J. Allen Hynek’s challenging material), and lately I’ve been checking out and mapping some curiosities from the field of Cryptozoology.

That said, Cryptozoology is a science, as it tries to explain legendary animals, creatures and myths from a biological (and even a sociological) perspective. Lately some of its assets have been rewarded due to the discovery of the Homo Floresiensis (a.k.a the Hobbit) published in Nature in 2004. There is no doubt, however, that this field (also) attracts alot of shady characters, as has long been the case in Ufology. The problem is that these (more or less intentional) "troublemakers" disrupts the reputation and hard work of the "real" researchers whom make an effort to cast scientific light on these phenomena.

Another thing is the cult-like websites all around the internet, that really just attracts spotty teenagers.

The last thing I stumbled over, was the Jersey Devil.
The creature is a bipedal, flying beast, reported to have a dog’s head, horse’s hooves, monkey-like hands and ranging from 3 to 8 ft. in height, said to have terrorized New Jersey inhabitants since the 1700s. These google’d photographs from AboveTopSecret.com could very well fit the description. I don’t, however, think we have a photo of the creature in question.
What differs in the case of the of the JD and other cases of bipedal cryptids? The Phenomenal Week. During a week in January 1909, so many sightings were reported on the creature that one cannot simply deny them all as false. Of course, I don’t believe that we are talking about the son of the devil, which the legend wants us to believe, but are we facing an unknown species, a mix-up of several different sightings or just erraneous reports of the Jersey Crane?

Hold on. Let’s not run along and let the boots linger on.
Jersey in 1909 was far from Jersey today. Since I’ve never been to NJ and my geographic skills are less than 1337, I had to refer to a map. Here’s a map dating from 1909, and I also used Google Maps to give an approximate of the distances involved. I began to check the information from The Devil Hunters, and soon noticed that the distances between sightings weren’t really that far. (Not very illogical considering the devil(s) are said to lurk in the Barren Pines.) I checked how far you can get on a horseback, and found that "forty miles [is] quite a fair thing for a day on horseback" (from a horse-enthustiast site). The first distance google spewed out to me was 31 miles (Woodbury, NJ to Bristol, PA) which is about 50km or 5 Norwegian miles. The next one was 5 miles etc. Then we split up the sightings over a whole week and we see that people had all the time in the world to move around the locations involved, as merchants (and whomever) probably did in their daily lives.

Ok, ok, ok! I got it! The distances weren’t that far, so what?
I’m just checking the possibility of rumours flying instead of devils. And this is by far an analysis, just a logical test. To make rumours like this have any impact at all, you’d need a firm basis of superstition to spread it with. I imagine that Americans in 1909 were good Christians and believed in the devil. This could’ve made it alot easier for "sightings" to pop-up everywhere. Sightings as: "Two muskrat trappers encountered strange footprints" and "A Trenton councilman was awakened by the sounds of someone attempting to break into his home. He ran to his windows and heard the sound of wings flapping." are subject to deep scepticism on my behalf, since they are easily explained as more or less normal incidents misinterpreted under the stress. When a rumour of flying devils goes wild, people will check things twice and often give perfectly usual observations extraordinary meaning.
A good 85-90 percent of all UFO sightings reported every year, turns out to be the moon. I have no doubt at least a good fifty percent of the sightings of the beast as it was flying, were incidents involving a perfectly normal crane.

Marc D. Feldman, and MD writes in this article, some very interesting points about mass hysteria: "The cause of mass hysteria is often a baseless belief that begins small but, like a hurricane, travels and becomes more devastating as it picks up speed. Orson Welles’ War of the Worlds radio broadcast in 1938 is a well known example of the power of a false idea gone berserk. Though the play was announced as fictional several times, panic still spread throughout the country as millions became convinced that the Martians were taking over the Earth."
Check out the section on Mass Sociogenic Illness, where over sixty children got sick "from a rumour".
I’m not saying anything, just pointing out the possibility.
While you’re into it, also check out The Political Sociology of Alien Encounters by Eric Ouellet Ph.D.

Mass Hysteria does not leave footprints on the roof, however, but if the reports of the abnormal hoof-prints were done by as thorough investigators as the devil hunters (here mystifying rabbit tracks), then a good deal of them would have to be denied a status of evidence. I have no idea what kind of creature(s) lurk(s) or not lurk(s) in the woods of Barren Pines, but the problem is that we are not generally making any progress in getting there, when posts as this and websites all around are accepted as evidence. I think I’ve made my point.

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