Camden, New Jersey - 1934
My colleagues believe my interest in folklore is superfluous at best. At worst, it is a source of scorn. Why would a historian, who should be dedicated to true events, waste his time with exploration of tall tales? Sometimes I ask myself the same question. But try as I might, I cannot seem to escape a desire to collect and catalogue the stories native to this part of the country.
Of particular interest are the legends of the Leeds Devil. There are several variations of the tale, many of which claim the origin of the beast was with one Mother Leeds. The creature was her thirteenth offspring, another mouth she would struggle to feed. The beleaguered woman, supposedly in a fit of exhaustion at her lot in life, cried out that this next child should be a devil.
To me, the story is clearly a cautionary tale for all those parents who would dare curse the burden of rearing children. For her part, Mother Leeds did give birth to a devil, which proceeded to devour her and all others in the birthing room before it soared into the night, and into the fevered imaginations of the superstitious.
And yet, I have of late heard a rarer variation of this tale, from the lips of elders among the folk who dwell in the Pine Barrens, where the beast is said to lair. It is a version placed during the time of the American Revolution, and depicts a Mother Leeds with far less children and no fateful wish for a demonic offspring. It is also a more complex tale, one made dark with treachery and more overt Satanic references. Significantly, Mother Leeds herself becomes something of a heroine, rather than simply an immature and irresponsible woman.
No doubt my esteemed colleagues would balk at my journeys among the Pine Barrens folk, who are considered backwards and unsophisticated. I have found reality to be the opposite; the people are hardy, industrious, and suffer no lack of intelligence. Perhaps they are given to superstition, but who could blame them? I myself have felt a certain dread creep upon me when entering the woodlands they call home. What would it be like to dwell there permanently? What effect would it have upon the mind, the soul?
Indeed, what effect has the frightful legend of the Leeds Devil had on my own soul? Perhaps my peers have some validity to their disdain of my pursuit, because of late I’ve felt as if I’ve attracted the attention of some presence. This feeling may simply be a kind of latent superstition that has infected me. I may have immersed myself too deeply and too often in the subject of the creature.
Yet I am not comforted by such reasoning. Perhaps my foreboding also stems from the influence of rereading the supposed events of 1909, when the Leeds Devil apparently rampaged across the region. Of note are the accounts of another New Jersey man, who claimed the reappearance of the creature presaged the horrors of the Great War. My own service in that apocalyptic conflict gave me the injury that permanently weakened my right arm, and left me with nightmares that continue to this day. To read the words of a fellow veteran lends some credence to the legend.
Perhaps I’m lapsing into self-pity and paranoia. Yet I can’t help but wonder if sightings of the Pine Barrens beast will soon begin anew. As I write this, there are once again reports of grim events unfolding in Europe. Germany is now lead by a man who seized power through intimidation and the shedding of blood. If the creature is a harbinger of doom to come, should we be watching for its return? Does human violence and misery, or even the potential of such occurrences, summon the Leeds Devil from some dark abode in the Pine Barrens?
Ah, but enough of such self-indulgent musings. I return once again to what I believe is the rarest account of the creature’s origins. What follows is my attempt to compile the various tellings of this version into a cohesive narrative, based on stories I gathered first-hand from a number of Pine Barrens folk. I pray I've done the tale, and the tellers, their due justice.
Perhaps I can find some solace in the tale of tragedy and redemption surrounding Deborah Leeds. Through the story of this singular woman, whether it be true or fantastical, one can gain at least some small hope of surviving the Devil Himself.
- Charles Bakerson, Professor of History, Rutgers University
C.A. Gallinger      7/14/19 7:54 PMI really enjoy the way you have written this. It is engaging right from the start! I can't wait to see what you have come up with.
Anthony Simeone      7/15/19 9:14 AM
Thank you very much!
Sharon L. Clark      5/09/19 9:22 AMReally nicely written! I love the scholarly tone - reminds me a bit of Jonathan Harker - and it really fits the time frame. And yes, please, tell us the true tale of Deborah Leeds! Redeem her memory! (Guh - I'm already drawn in...) Can't wait for more!
Anthony Simeone      7/15/19 9:15 AM
Thanks Sharon, very much!