Binghamton’s professional hockey team plays its first regular-season game on Saturday.
The Binghamton Devils borrowed their nickname from the New Jersey Devils, their parent club. The word “Devil” can connote fire, torture, burning for all eternity. But, not this Devil. This one is based on an urban legend. “This is not the devil of the bible," said Angus Gillespie, a professor and folklorist at Rutger University. "This is a creature, a legendary creature of southern New Jersey.”
So, think less Adam and Eve and more Loch Ness Monster and Big Foot. The Jersey Devil dates back to the 1700’s. Legend has it, Jane Leeds had a dozen kids. Her husband took little interest in the children so their care fell on Jane. When she got pregnant for the 13th time, she sent a wish into the ether.
“She said 'Lord, let this one not be a child. Let this one be a Devil'," Gillespie said.
So a beautiful boy was born. He had blonde hair and blue eyes, but things soon changed. “The little baby, it grew so fast that within 20 minutes it was the size of two grown men," Gillespie explained. "And in the place of the baby blue eyes, there were eyes alright, but they were red like two burning coals.”
The Jersey Devil had the head of a horse, the torso of man, the feet of a goat, the wings of a bat and a serpentine tail. It had furry paws and long nails that it used to kill the midwife and attendants. It let out a scream, escaped through the chimney and has terrorized the people of southern Jersey for the last few centuries.
There have been a few notable alleged sightings. Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon's brother, claimed to see it on a hunting trip. Then, in 1909, a slew of people caught Jersey Devil fever. “It wasn’t so much a rash of sightings. It was a rash of footprints," Gillespie said. "These strange footprints drew a lot of attention that caused a big clamor.”
That clamor came from newspapers in Philadelphia, which mocked the sightings.
When the NHL came to New Jersey in the 1980’s, fans voted to name their team after the legend. Their logo is an “NJ” monogram. The “J” has horns and a devil’s tail. Their mascot has a giant Satan head. That’s not consistent with the spirit of the nickname. Gillespie says folks in Binghamton should remember that.
“We’re not talking about the biblical devil, the representation of pure evil," he said. "This a legendary creature from southern New Jersey. So not to worry, it shouldn’t offend anyones religious sensibilities.”
That being said, if you do find yourself in the woods of southern New Jersey, maybe, be careful.