GALLOWAY TOWNSHIP — Claims of sightings of the legendary Jersey Devil have been a centuries-long tradition, and they don’t appear to be stopping any time soon.
Dave Black, of Little Egg Harbor Township, said an image he captured along Route 9 last week is the winged, furry creature with the body of a small horse.
Lifelong residents in the legend’s birthplace are skeptical and chalk it up to another doctored photo.
“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve seen that image before, and I strongly suspect someone has something hanging on a drone. As far I am concerned, it is a legend, but I love the legend,” township Historian Ken Sooy said.
Although many South Jersey towns wish to lay claim to the Jersey Devil’s roots, the mythical beast hails decidedly from Galloway, Sooy said.
“They want the legend tourism and notoriety, but all the older connections go back to Galloway and Leeds Point, no matter what is said,” he said.
Leeds Point Road is a draw throughout the year for visitors who come in search of the site where the legend began, said Sooy, who lives on the road. The tale is that Mrs. Leeds gave birth to the creature, her deformed 13th child, on a stormy night in 1735. The Leeds homestead is tucked in the woods, about 600 feet off Leeds Point Road near the Edwin B. Forsythe National Wildlife Refuge.
“All that’s left from that house back there is the stone foundation. Only thing there is the remnants of a cellar hole, but people come in search of it all the time,” Sooy said.
Sooy said he believes the influx of visitors, which intensifies around Halloween, will be larger this year because of the latest claim of a sighting of the beast.
Sooy said all drawings of the beast over the centuries shows hooves like a kangaroo, wings like a bat, a head like a goat or a horse and small arms with clawed hands.
“Has anyone local seen the devil? Nobody honest or reliable that hasn’t been up at Oyster Creek drinking,” he said.
Police Chief Donna Higbee said the department has grown accustomed to fielding phone calls about sightings and people who come to the town in search of the Jersey Devil.
The police, of course, find nothing in connection to the Jersey Devil, but social media has drawn widespread attention to the alleged sighting and photos of the creature, said Higbee, who is a lifelong resident.
Like Higbee, Mayor Don Purdy grew up in Galloway and remembers being told the legend of the Jersey Devil.
“You come out here at night and just stand here and listen. It’s scary, and it’s dark. There’s nothing out here, and then you think about that legend born in these woods,” Purdy said as he stood on Leeds Point Road and looked through the brush in the direction where the Leeds foundation still stands.
Sooy said his wife, Shirley, is a cousin of the late former Mayor Harry Leeds, who claimed to be kin of the Jersey Devil. Leeds, considered “piney” aristocracy, claimed to have descended from Daniel Leeds, who in 1690 came to the rural wilderness of what is now Galloway.
“Harry told the story so many times that he was family of the Jersey Devil, I think he believed it,” Sooy said.
Sooy said township history shows no evidence the devil ever hurt anybody, although animal carcasses have been attributed to the creature. Some accounts said it killed Mother Leeds’ midwife.
And, like so many other alleged sightings, Sooy said, he’s not buying the latest account and image.
“If you’re out at night in that area and a blue heron flew over you and made the noise a blue heron makes, it would scare you to death. And then you look up in the dark and see wide wings ... and that’s how legends start,” Sooy said.