Have you ever noticed how many American states and regions are associated in the popular imagination with animals? Southern Florida, for instance, has the dolphin. Maryland has the oriole. And Minnesota has the timber wolf.
Sports teams, quite naturally, have adopted the names of these animals. Thus, Miami’s football team is called the Dolphins. Baltimore’s baseball team is named the Orioles. And the professional basketball team in Minneapolis is called the Timber Wolves.
Does this mean that the New Jersey Devils of the National Hockey League is similarly named after a creature? One that is popularly associated with the Garden State?
Actually … yes. And yes. The hockey team is indeed named after a Satanic monster. And the entire state of New Jersey is, in fact, associated with it.
Here is the legend. Several decades prior to the American Revolution, a New Jersey resident named Mother Leeds was disgusted when she learned that she was pregnant with her thirteenth child. She cried “Let it be the devil!”
She gave birth to a normal human baby. However, the infant soon transformed into a “kangaroo-like creature with the face of a horse, the head of a dog, bat-like wings, horns and a tail.” It flew away into the New Jersey swamplands.
Sightings have continued for centuries, though it is unclear whether the terrified onlookers claimed to encounter the original monster or some of its off-spring. Nevertheless, the demonic creature became an icon of New Jersey, and it is now honored by its namesake hockey team.
Incidentally, colonial America was rife with horrifying stories of pregnant women producing demons and monsters. Consider Anne Hutchinson, for instance. She was banished and excommunicated from the Massachusetts Bay Colony as a heretic for possessing the temerity to question the male authorities who ruled the Church and the local government.
Shortly after her banishment, she delivered a miscarriage of more than two dozen masses of ill-formed cells. Governor Winthrop of the Bay Colony wrote: “She brought forth not one, but thirty monstrous births or thereabouts … as she had vented misshapen opinions, so she must bring forth deformed monsters.”
So what happened to Hutchinson? She found a haven in Rhode Island and was a pivotal figure in the settlement of Aquidneck Island, on which the city of Newport now stands. Then she emigrated to the Dutch colony of New Netherland and settled near what is now the Hutchinson River of Westchester and the Bronx in southern New York State.
Sadly, Indians slaughtered her and her family. New York State political leaders eventually memorialized her by naming the Hutchinson River and its adjacent Parkway after her.
Swamp devils and deformed monsters are pretty scary creatures, aren’t they? And yet they were mainstays of colonial America. Today, we might detect residual glimpses of the frightened mentalities that gave rise to these tales when individuals demonize people who seem mysterious or threatening.
But you are welcome to simply enjoy these legends as historical horror stories. After all, today is October 31st … and Happy Halloween to you!