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7 Apr 2018

What the Devil?

Brian Regal. The Secret History of the Jersey Devil: How Quakers, Hucksters, and Benjamin Franklin Created a Monster. Johns Hopkins University Press (2 April 2018)
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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 sceptics alike - realise. 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 favourite 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 rumour, 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.

Providing a complete reappraisal of an old and popular legend, this book will entertain readers interested in colonial America, the history of New Jersey, or cryptozoology.