Time now to circle back around to a popular topic that I keep leaving in the wayside to go off about cheese and legendary battles involving kissing: Modern Cryptids! Don’t worry about me going too mainstream though, we’re going off into the wilderness with this one. After touching base with the Jersey Devil we’re getting downright weird… SECTION BREAK – It’s Loud, and it’s Angry As just promised, let’s take a look at the Jersey Devil! For such an awesome evocative name, this may not be as iconic a monster as some. Headliner acts of the Cryptid world such as The Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot have a massive pop culture cachet that has them springing immediately to mind at a mere mention, but the Jersey Devil is… Well, something. Its varied descriptions don’t help here. This creature is a full on grab bag of a modern chimera! There’s a solid consensus that it’s bipedal, has wings, and has a tail of some description. Cloven hooves are also a lock in by the looks of it. From there, it’s pot luck. Its head can either be that of a goat or a horse, if the description is of the horse head variety that may then have horns anyway, all horns may vary depending on which side of scary wild creature versus scary satanic imagery the storyteller lands upon. Its body can vary from big kangaroo to small wyvern. It might have big clawed hands, small clawed hands, or not at all hands and more flailing hooves like a goatish t-rex. In part this muddled description directly relates to the nature of a Jersey Devil sighting. It moves fast, screams horrifically at such intensity and volume just the noise of it sends people into a panic, and then it vanishes even quicker than it appeared. Any given random sightings are hit and run terror, with these brief yet alarming encounters not explaining much. To attempt to learn about the Jersey Devil, you need to dig down into the origin of the strange beast. An alternative name is the Leeds Devil, as the origin story goes this creature was in fact a bizarre individual born of one Jane “Mother” Leeds. The common story goes that Mother Leeds was a poor women cursed with far too many children to take care of. Already having 12 ankle biters back somewhere between 1700 and 1800, upon finding out she was pregnant for the thirteenth time she was overwhelmed with frustration at her lot in life and cursed the child in the womb. This proceeded to not go well, some strange force with a case of triskadekaphilia overhead the overwhelmed mother-to-be and accepted the curse as a challenge. The day of the birth was one for the ages, hence our discussion now. A storm raged as the baby was born, the friends of Mother Leeds helping as the poor woman struggled through a difficult birth back when medical care was basically a bottle of moonshine and recycled bandages you could only hope got boiled clean between uses. The child seemed normal at first, but soon transformed into a monster. Careening about the place on leathery batwings, whacking everyone in the house with its forked tail at least once while it growled and screeched, the Jersey Devil shot up out of the chimney and fled into the nearby pines. There’s a less flattering version of the story that insists poor Mother Leeds was a witch and the biblical devil himself was the father, but anything could be blamed on witchcraft if you were bored enough before TV was invented. Whichever version of the story they believed, it looks like local clergy of the time would chase about the wilds trying to exorcise the creature. Something again that was likely a symptom of there being no TV back then, noteworthy only in that it really didn’t seem to work. From there, the Jersey (or Leeds) Devil was known to haunt the Pine Barrens in South Jersey. It doesn’t especially respect State lines though and is also know to barge screaming through adjoining parts of Philadelphia. While the tale of this unusual and loud creature had been told since the 18th Century, it was only really the early 20th century when the story spread wider. Almost certainly thanks to more readily available print publications, the Jersey Devil made the leap from campfire story to national sensation. While it was the 1900s onwards that would really codify the Cryptid, it has some pretty great 19th century sightings. Commodore Stephen Decatur was said to have spotted it flying about the Hanover Mil Works on a routine inspection of cannon ball production around the time of the American Revolution, being in the perfect time and place he took the opportunity to shoot at the Jersey Devil with a cannon, although apparently to no effect (except potentially terrifying random farmers as it began to rain cannonballs). Joseph Bonaparte, as in the brother of Napoleon, claimed to have seen the creature while hunting on his New Jersey estate. The Jersey Devil doesn’t seem to be shy around humans, although it never seems to have actually harmed anyone it has had reports of killing livestock and on one exceptional occasion attacking an electric tram car. There’s a great quote from a newspaper in 1887: “Whenever he went near it, it would give a most unearthly yell that frightened the dogs. It whipped at every dog on the place. "That thing," said the colonel, "is not a bird nor an animal, but it is the Leeds devil, according to the description, and it was born over in Evasham, Burlington county, a hundred years ago. There is no mistake about it. I never saw the horrible critter myself, but I can remember well when it was roaming around in Evasham woods fifty years ago, and when it was hunted by men and dogs and shot at by the best marksmen there were in all South Jersey but could not be killed. There isn't a family in Burlington or any of the adjoining counties that does not know of the Leeds devil, and it was the bugaboo to frighten children with when I was a boy.” The MO remains the same any time the creature is spotted: it’s too quick to see properly, it screams like a Banshee that just trod barefoot on to some particularly spikey Lego, and then it’s gone leaving behind startled witnesses in need of a change of pants. Circling back around to how the Jersey Devil became a national sensation, we can thank the newspapers of 1909. For whatever reason, and I suspect that reason was simply “sell more newspapers”, there was a massive wave of reported encounters published. This culminated in schools closing and workers staying home to avoid the earsplitting Cryptid as sightings spread as far away from the usual haunts as Maryland and Delaware. This hysteria almost certainly was stoked by the reported sightings inspiring a wave of hoaxes. A spreading fad of tracks made out of hoofprints in the snow were very unlikely to be anything except drunken hijinks, and having put up a $10,000 bounty for the creature Philadelphia Zoo was not fooled by some enterprising individual dressing up an actual live kangaroo with wings and claws. While unlikely to be actual devilspawn terrorising the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, along with infrequent trips to Philadelphia to pick fights with public transport, this campfire story has had real staying power and folktales of the Jersey Devil are a proud part of regional culture, in a similar way to how the Mothman was embraced by Point Pleasant. There’s even an annual Jersey Devil & Fable Festival I would love to swing over for on holiday some time. The striking name, and whirlwind nature of an encounter, has kept the Jersey Devil alive in imaginations for centuries at this point and I don’t see it stopping any time soon. SECTION BREAK – The World’s Saddest Monster Okay, time for something pretty different as Cryptids go. This is a personal favourite of my partner Hannah, who feels this one on a deep spiritual level. We’re going to talk about the poor Squonk. The Squonk is tiny quadruped creature, hindered by a warty brown skin that will keep growing despite the body having stopped leaving the creature incredibly awkward looking in its loose fitting hide. It inhabits the swamplands of Northern Pennsylvania that are not its natural habitat, as the story goes excessive logging drove them in to a place that only makes them even more miserable. A Squonk is cursed with knowing it is ugly, they are nocturnal to avoid anything seeing them and move slowly under a full moon as they don’t want to see their own reflection in any moonlit pools. They’re easy to follow due to a combination of having webbed feet only on their left legs as some sort of weird adaptation to always walking anti clockwise around bodies of water, plus the fact they are constantly crying. Hunters are supposed to easily be able to follow a Squonk anywhere it goes by following the trail of tears it leaves. Basically everything is a threat to the Squonk, they’re about the least threatening anything that can be encountered. Their response to being trapped by hunters, coming under any attack, or to just generally being startled is to lie down and cry until they cease to exist. Upon giving up, which seems to be their first response to anything but being left alone, a Squonk cries so excessively its whole body dissolves into tears. This has led to them being dubbed ‘Lacrimacorpus dissolvens’, a Latin mash up of ‘tear’, ‘body’, and ‘dissolve’. Squonks are the ultimate underdogs, the mere burden of existing being too much for them to handle, and as such this has led to a small yet fiercely loyal fanbase. These sad little fellows are the Patron Cryptid of depression, dysmorphia, and self loathing; a tortured existence that has rendered them a modern day “Big Mood”. Even though they’re a relatively young bit of folklore that seems first mentioned in the book ‘Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods’ from 1910 they’ve made a big impact for such a small hapless abomination. They’re a popular creature used as part of the conservation efforts in their adopted home of the Hemlock Forests of Pennsylvania, and the overlogging that threatened to completely eliminate these woodlands have been impressively turned around for a massive resurgence of conservation led natural growth. Squonk fans are fiercely loyal of their diminutive sadsacks, and not only are the poor little sods harmless to everyone but themselves they’re a fable helping nature fight back just by being a feeble critter that needs all the help it can get. Not bad for a crime against nature you can accidentally kill by surprising it with a sneeze. SECTION BREAK – The Dalby Spook The British Isles don’t have too much in the way of Cryptids. We’re mostly overrun by fairy creatures and ghosts, the former which can be suspected of having eaten any Cryptids that pop up trying to displace them. We have the odd big cat that was likely an escapee exotic pet which went on to be a Beast of the Moors, plus the world famous Nessie, but we’re light on notable non-spectral or fae Cryptids. Not, however, completely devoid of them. This leads us to the Dalby Spook, which sounds impressive until you use the more common name: Gef the Talking Mongoose. Gef became a sensation in the early 1930s as low brow newspapers latched on to the tale, causing the tiny hamlet of Dalby on the Isle of Man to be inundated with assorted paranormal investigators. Ghost hunters, parapsychologists, and spoilsport debunkers alike all piled in on the Irving family farmhouse. Gef the Talking Mongoose was a very mixed bag of stories. They acted a lot like a household brownie in a way, potentially putting themselves in the category of fairy over Cryptid, depending of course if you believe what Gef was alleged to have told the Irving family about himself. Supposed to be the size of a small rat with a big bushy tail and yellow fur, Gef claimed to have been born in India somehow travelling to the Isle of Man. Possibly after dying as a human, the Dalby Spook gave himself a multitude of potential origins. He spent some amount of time babbling and haunting the farmhouse before finally introducing himself assortedly as “an earthbound spirit” “a ghost in the form of a mongoose”, or sometimes simply “an extra extra clever mongoose”. Their most alarming claim only happened once: “I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you’d faint, you’d be petrified, mummified, turned to stone or a pillar of salt!”. If Gef’s most audacious claim is to be believed, they had an alarming true form beyond that of a friendly mongoose. Claims of being some form of biblically terrifying eldritch abomination hiding in the form of a cute smol Herpestidae aside, Gef was best known for being a chatterbox who would follow the family to market sticking to the safety of hedgerows as well as helping about the home. He would extinguish the hearth if it was left burning at night, as well as guard the farmhouse by warning the family of people or strange dogs in the area. Minor acts of help about the household were met with small offerings of food and milk, and the only trouble this strange housemate brought was a parade of curious observers trying to record the potentially paranormal activity. So was Gef a trickster of some sort? A fairy or human spirit? Or, as the explanation debunkers ended up settling upon, was Gef the Talking Mongoose a ventriloquist prank carried out by the family, a game with the daughter that got out of hand? If Gef the Talking Mongoose was a ruse by the family attempting to find fame and fortune, it backfired pretty badly. The farmhouse got a reputation for being haunted thanks to the talkative whatever-Gef-was and sold at a loss when the Irvings moved in 1936. The new owners, annoyed by the ongoing attention the Dalby Spook was drawing, claimed to have shot and killed the unwanted house guest. Although the body they provided was a completely different mongoose to that described by the Irvings. If Gef can be believed, they’re some sort of Lovecraftian Great Old One in an extra dimensional mongoose mask, so my advice to anyone in that area is to just offer polite conversation back and definitely don’t shoot at any uncanny mongoose spotted around the place. Resume small offerings of food and leave Gefthulu in peace, lest we get an apocalyptic answer to the question of what the exact nature of the Dalby Spook is. SECTION BREAK – It Came From The Swamp We have a really recent Cryptid here, care of a friend in South Carolina. Something strange happened in the late 80s in Lee County. The sheriff’s office was called out on the 14th of July 1988 to investigate car damage. A car parked up overnight outside of Bishopville was found to have scratches and bite marks all over it, muddy footprints leading from and returning to the nearby swamp were found. After the report became known, another local came forwards to report to the sheriff that two weeks earlier their car was similarly damaged. Only they saw what caused the damage, and that was WHY they didn’t initially report the damage. In their words, they saw a creature trashing their car they described as “green, wetlike, about 7 feet tall and had three fingers, red eyes, skin like a lizard, snakelike scales.” This is the story of the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, and its weird vendetta against cars. As soon as the story of a seven foot rage beast ready to destroy your motor got out, Browntown South Carolina became an instant tourist hot spot for the Summer of ’88. Local businesses began selling Lizard Man merchandise, local radio station WCOS offered a $1million reward to anyone who could capture the creature alive, and the local chamber of commerce helped fan the flames with ongoing press reports since the tourism boost was great for the community. Skeptics went instantly to war with the new Cryptid that had emerged. The 17 year old who came forward to report the earlier incident came under a lot of scrutiny. As he claimed to have gotten a flat tire on the way home from work, then driven away before the Lizard Man attacked him, he was brushed off as it being unbelievable the Lizard Man could manage to maul his car at high speed. Later that Summer at the start of August, an airman from nearby Shaw Air Force Base claimed to have shot and wounded the Lizard Man, providing scales and blood as proof. He later got walloped with a misdemeanour case of unlawfully carrying a pistol as well as filing a false police report, retracting the story to instead make the apology he faked the shooting to keep the stories going. As September came around all sightings dried up, and the official reports state that it must have been a bear sighting. Not that unbelievable, go Google pictures of “hairless bears” for horrifically credible explanations of Cryptid sightings being bears with mange. A bear without any hair looks like it just crawled out of the pits of hell bonus cranky and is about to make its bad mood every other living thing’s problem. However, this is where the locals begin to ask questions. Isn’t it convenient that the airman has to issue a retraction to avoid a massive bollocking by his superiors and the local law? Isn’t a frightened teenage kid having an inconsistent story more likely to be a true eye witness account than having a perfectly plotted out account? Where’s this car eating bear, then? CNN ran a new Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp sighting story in 2008, more car damage that included blood from the Cryptid again. The blood was officially ruled as that of a dog, or maybe a coyote, or maybe a wolf. The inconsistent reporting on the blood got locals considering conspiratorial cover ups again. Something which wasn’t helped when apparent video of the Lizard Man popped up on local television in 2015. Whether it’s a conspiracy covering up a rampaging Lizard Man, an angry bear hungry for delicious car paint, or all just a bit of fun by local organisations and individuals, The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp gets occasional national media attention despite being a lesser known extremely modern Cryptid. I would be very surprised if a trip to Browntown South Carolina resulted in zero Lizard Man merchandise, and I may have to visit the friend who brought their local Cryptid to my attention some day soon to investigate myself. If nothing else Scape Ore Swamp’s car mauling monster is very well poised to go the way of the Mothman or the Jersey Devil and become a permanent fixture for tourists. However they get there, whatever their full story may be, these modern figures of folklore make their haunts more fun and interesting places to explore! SECTION BREAK That’s all for this instalment of Modern Cryptids, I’ve got a few plates spinning for upcoming topics, the 1st of August is Lughnasadh for the next step in the Pagan Wheel of the Year, and if anyone has any leads on more Modern Cryptids local to them I will be very happy to hear about them! LukeLore is a Ghost Story Guys production. If you do want to contact me there’s the show’s dedicated email firstname.lastname@example.org, and the general show email email@example.com. Both myself and the main show are really easy to find on Facebook and Twitter if you want to make day to day contact, as well as a very active Instagram account a lot of the community gets involved with. The LukeLore Instagram is now up and running for your more folklore focused content needs, with a lot more some to come for the LukeLore brand. There’s apparently a GSG TikTok as well, but I don’t Tik the Toks so haven’t checked that one out.
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Goodbye for now. #TeamSquonk