For the better part of two centuries, at least, the story of the Jersey Devil has been part of the culture of Southern New Jersey. A fire-breathing monster with the head of a horse, bat wings and the body of a kangaroo, the creature is said to be the thirteenth child of Mother Leeds, born in 1735, when the unfortunate woman put a curse on her future offspring.
Informed at a tender age by his BeBop (his grandmother) that he is distantly related to the beast, Bill Sprouse goes looking for the story behind the story of his family’s connection to the famous monster. The result is part memoir, part travelogue and part a raucous tour of three-hundred years of New Jersey history.
The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil traces the origins of the Jersey Devil legend to an obscure pamphlet war that sent the Leeds family to Leeds Point at the end of the seventeenth century, with the family patriarch, Daniel Leeds, branded “Satan’s Harbinger” in the process. It follows the story through its connection with the residents of the Pine Barrens (the famous Pineys), who were said to live in fear of the beast, and, finally, it examines the legend in its modern iterations: X-Files episodes are made about the monster, a pro hockey team is named after it, and residents of Galloway Township attempt to adopt the creature as the Official Town Mascot.
The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil is a book about suburban identity, and about one suburbanite’s attempt to come to terms with his family history in the most unlikely of places.
A Guide to the SectionsDISCLAIMER On being related (distantly) to the Jersey Devil, and why this whole thing was probably a mistake 1 ONE BeBop and I go to Galloway Township 5 TWO ‘Everyone liked being related’ 5 THREE BeBop’s beef with Harry Leeds 8 FOUR Harry does something peculiar 11 FIVE I take the casino bus to find the Jersey Devil 14 SIX BeBop’s family arrives in Leeds Point 17 SEVEN BeBop and I go to Bombay 22 EIGHT BeBop prevents civil war 24 NINE West Jersey as Quaker utopia 26 TEN Keith’s beef with the Public Friends 28 ELEVEN The libel trial of the Keithians 33 TWELVE Daniel’s relationship with the Quakers at this time 39 THIRTEEN The Kingdom of Lucerne, and a sharpshooter 42 FOURTEEN I go to Wawa 53 FIFTEEN
Other conversations in chain retail shops 60 SIXTEEN W.F. Mayers goes into the Pines 63 SEVENTEEN Daniel Leeds is ‘Satan’s harbinger’ 69 EIGHTEEN The spiritual and carnal whoredoms of Quakers 72 NINETEEN Daniel and the Cornbury clique 79 TWENTY Weather events, and I fail to ask an important question 87 TWENTY-ONE Uncle James shoots the sheriff of Henderson in the ass 92 TWENTY-TWO A visit to the Booseum 95 TWENTY-THREE Boo’s jump shot, and other Atlantic City icons 101 TWENTY-FOUR Today’s morons, yesterday’s disowned Friends 103 TWENTY-FIVE ‘Lenin tried something different’ 112 TWENTY-SIX I am offered Combos 114 TWENTY-SEVEN The 1909 Jabberwocky invasion 116 TWENTY-EIGHT Folkroulette, and Mabel yells ‘Crackers’ 129 TWENTY-NINE A cabinet of curiosities, and ‘We had older heads’ 132 THIRTY Lord Whimsy proposes an investigation 134 THIRTY-ONE Beck’s romantic Jersey Devil 138 THIRTY-TWO Halpert’s Piney testimonies 145 THIRTY-THREE ‘Attitudes and ambitions’ 149 THIRTY-FOUR The feedback loop, and a ‘No-last-name-local’ 152 THIRTY-FIVE A C-list cryptid, and the loss of a certain elemental power 155 THIRTY-SIX Instant nonstick folklore 158 THIRTY-SEVEN Leut and the Devil Hunters 163 THIRTY-EIGHT BeBop and I go into the Pines, and a memory of shad roe 167 THIRTY-NINE A failed reconciliation, and why I feel rather like a shit 172 FORTY An important caveat, and more Quaker refugees 178 FORTY-ONE Harry Leeds revisited 181 FORTY-TWO Harry doesn’t eat crabs 186 FORTY-THREE ‘Somebody worked overnight’ 186 FORTY-FOUR Return to the Galloway Muni Complex 190 FOURTY-FIVE Daniel Leeds’ astrological toolkit 194 FORTY-SIX Revisiting Daniel 202 FORTY-SEVEN Ben Franklin, and Titan Leeds’ Ghost 207 FORTY-EIGHT A walk in the woods with the Devil Hunters 211 FORTY-NINE Bad productions 216 FIFTY I meet a Piney 218 FIFTY-ONE New Jersey Devil 221 FIFTY-TWO Sante’s list of acceptable Jerseyana 227 FIFTY-THREE A message from Harry Leeds’ ghost 230 FIFTY-FOUR BeBop’s Jersey Devil 235 EPILOGUE 237