The Jersey Devil has never been exactly what he seems. In fact, from its very inception, the Leeds Devil myth almost certainly emerged as a political weapon to defame the family of Daniel Leeds, from whom Sprouse believes he is descended. This notable Colonial-era almanac and tract writer bitterly feuded with the Quaker community to which he once belonged. "Daniel Leeds, had he been born a generation later, we would think of him as one of the Founding Fathers," said Regal. For his heretical views and criticisms of Quaker beliefs, Leeds was demonized, in the most literal sense of the word.
Like a true kangaroo-goat-German Shepherd-NHL mascot-food truck, the Jersey Devil is all things to all people, easily imbued with seemingly incompatible meanings. He may be employed and manipulated toward goals of financial gain, environmental conservation, glory between the ropes of a wrestling ring, or simply according to personal preference. This malleability may be partly because, as Brian Regal put it, "[The Jersey Devil] doesn't really do much. Even in any of the legends, it doesn't speak. It doesn't give out any wisdom. You see it, people get scared, it disappears, and that's the end." He's a blank canvas, albeit a shrieking, clawing, and altogether unruly one. Even The X-Files saw fit to tinker with the Jersey Devil, remaking him as a feral forest woman scavenging in the big city for food -- which, what?
"[The Jersey Devil] has been depicted in so many different ways," Russell Juelg told me. "I think some people would find it to their advantage to adopt an image of the Jersey Devil as a mischievous little imp. If you're going to do a haunted house, you want to play it up the other way. You could have it 10 feet tall, breathing out fire -- or you could have it like a cuddly stuffed animal. I think people have just done whatever they want with it, to use it for whatever their purpose is."
"I mean, personally, I'm a big fan of the weird, scary [Jersey Devil]," admitted Jeff Heimbuch, acknowledging that he'll never be entirely satisfied with "cute and adorable" portrayals of a legend made family friendly. "But on the other hand, I think that's great in its own way. It's getting the word out about the Jersey Devil," he said.
With the exception of a much-publicized pair of alleged sightings in Galloway in 2015 -- the footage looks like a stuffed rooster slash terrier rigged up to a pulley system -- the Jersey Devil is keeping a low profile, but I wouldn't count him out anytime. Marginalized yet resilient, he's a quintessentially Jersey urban legend: incubated where both New York and Philadelphia are close enough to look down their noses, where unfathomable suburban population density meets unfathomable wilderness, where Thomas Edison and Joe Piscopo each have their places in the official Hall of Fame. A creature of contradictions belongs in a state of them.