Transcriptions

When I visited the archives in the library to research the Jersey Devil, I found an article in the vertical file about a place called Blue Hole in Winslow, NJ. According to article and weirdnj.com, the Jersey Devil frequents the mysterious body of water located in the Pine Barrens. Folklore surrounding Blue Hole tells tales of swimmers drowned, pulled under by the Jersey Devil. Others claim it has no bottom and maintains a cool temperature year round. Blue Hole is a legend in itself, closely related to the Jersey Devil, so I knew I had to make the trip.

Last Saturday, Dan and I had no plans so I suggested we visit the Blue Hole. With sunny weather, I knew this might be my last opportunity to get some field research done before the deadline. Early in the day, one of our friends, Chumpy, posted a status on Facebook seeing what was going on. I suggested he and his girlfriend, Felchie, come with us. We planned to meet up around 3pm and head out.

On our way to Chumpy’s, we called our friend Brian to see if he wanted to tag along. He had just gotten off work, so he said if we could wait for him, he’d be over in a half hour. At some point during the day, Chumpy had invited our other friend Bobby to come too. Six total—me, Dan, Brian, Chumpy, Felchie, Bobby.

Dan, Bobby, and Chumpy decided they were going to get some alcohol for us to enjoy on our excursion. Felchie and I stayed at the house for some girl talk, and Brian showed up while they were gone. The boys came back about 20 minutes later with chips, salsa, Wild Turkey, cream soda, and ginger ale. We prepared mixed drinks in plastic containers for easy traveling usage, and packed into my car. Dan drove and I sat in the passenger’s seat. Chumpy, Brian, Bobby, and Felchie squeezed in the back. (They are all fairly skinny, and my car is rather large.)

I had the directions written down in my notebook. Surprisingly, Google maps knows where the Blue Hole is. (Side note: The Blue Hole is basically what Mexicans call a cenote—an inland sink hole filled with ground water. Other Blue Holes exist throughout the world, and on our honeymoon to the Yucatan peninsula, Dan and I will be swimming in one!)

Dan thought it would be quicker to take the expressway, so we took that to the Winslow/Blue Anchor exit. However, my directions explained how to get there from the Black Horse Pike, so we weren’t sure exactly where to go once off the exit. Everyone took out their smart phones to search for directions. Felchie and Chumpy were looking at geocaching locations to see if there were any nearby. Consequently, six voices in the car discussing different locations equated to confusion and frustration. Dan thought we had driven too far, but I told him to keep going. Eventually, we realized the Black Horse Pike was nearby, and decided to just take that.

We drove for several miles down the Black Horse Pike. Every so often, on either side of the road, a house and or small business broke up the monotony of trees. Bobby still had his phone out looking at the directions when we passed a dirt road on our left.

“Wait dude, I think that might be the road,” he said.

“My directions say to take Piney Hollow,” I said, “but something else I read said there are two ways to get back there. We can try it.”

Dan turned the car around and we headed back to the dirt road. A fallen sign near the entrance read “Winslow Wildlife Management Area.” Dan pulled the car onto the sandy dirt road, and our journey into the woods began.

The road was very bumpy, so the entire time I kept saying, “Slow down,” or “Watch out.” I tend to be a rather annoying front seat passenger.

“You know, I’m really good at off-roading. I spent at least half of my adolescence in the Pine Barrens, and never once did I get a car stuck,” I offered.

“I got it babe,” Dan replied.

“I could drive though.”

“You’re not driving.”

More banter like that continued until we saw several giant turkey vultures fly through the air ahead.

“Whoa look at those! They kind of look like the Jersey Devil,” I said.

“Yeah, they’re huge.”

“They’re turkey vultures.”

We drove by, and continued on the winding road. At one point, we came to a fork in the road, but Bobby told us which way to go according to the directions on his phone. We headed back at least a mile or so into the thick forest. Pine trees and brush surrounded us—nothing else. At another 3-way fork, we parked the car to figure out which way. We all got out and explored the area a bit. A dilapidated baby’s car seat rested against a tree and cement pilings that looked like rolls of carpet were stacked in the sand near some brush—the  only signs of human activity. Bobby and Dan figured out which path to take, so we climbed back into the car and kept going. We were still a good distance away.

We headed down an even more narrow and winding path. I could tell the ecology of the landscape was changing a bit as we went deeper into the forest. Instead of just Pines, on either side of the road I could see Cedar trees several yards away. The soil was blackened in some places from muddy indents in the road. We were close to the cedar swamps—the lowlands of the Pine Barrens. We came up to a place where the road was completely covered in water. Bobby got out to test how deep it was. The branch he stuck in the water showed at least a foot of water, and I knew the bottom of that pool was covered in soft mud. We decided to turn around rather than risk getting stuck. Luckily, there was a small clearing to our right which gave Dan just enough room to turn the car around. We contemplated parking the car there, but when I got out to check, the back tire had already sunk down into mud. We decided to drive back to the 3-way fork and leave the car there. We’d have to walk the rest of the trail on foot.

As we were driving towards the 3-way fork, Felchie let out a scream.

“Oh my God!” Bobby shouted.

When I looked up, I saw something red on the trail flying straight towards us. I screamed too as Dan slammed on the brakes.

To our relief, it was only a dirt biker, dressed in a red and black suit with a red helmet. He had slowed down by the time I screamed, but if he hadn’t, we might have collided.

“Oh my God, it’s the Jersey Devil!” Brian joked, and everyone laughed.

The dirt biker passed us, probably laughing from the scared look on my face, and Dan parked the car off to the side of fork near the abandoned car seat.

We packed up our snacks and mixed drinks and started walking down the muddy trail. As Felchie and I walked together I said, “I love it out here. I think it’s beautiful.”

“I know,” she said, “I’m just taking it all in.” And it was a lot to take in—the vast silence, the smells of cedar and pine, the complete immersion in nature. Despite my incessant urge to document my surroundings, I tried to keep my phone away. I wanted to enjoy my time in the woods.

Eventually, we reached another fork with several options, and I had to pee. Felchie and I scurried off behind some bushes, so I could take care of business. In this area of the forest, the ground was covered in dead leaves and pine needles. Then I noticed something strange—many of the trees had been marked by spray paint, a blue dot inside of a white square—perhaps to notify hikers which way to the Blue Hole? Sure enough Bobby said to follow the markers, and we continued on down the path. It narrowed to a point where a car could no longer drive (thankfully we were walking).

As we continued walking, I noticed areas beyond the trees where it seemed like there might be a clearing, or water. Then, to my right, I saw a small pond that looked familiar. It looked like the Blue Hole from the pictures I had seen online. But it was so small and dingy. It didn’t look very special.

“Guys, this kind of looks like the Blue Hole in the pictures.”

“More like Blue Puddle,” Brian said. Everyone brushed it off. That little pond couldn’t be it, we all assumed.

Bobby was still using his phone to guide us and kept walking straight ahead.

“I’m afraid this might not be good, guys,” he said walking forward.

We all reached the top of a small hill and realized what Bobby was talking about. Straight ahead, a river about twenty feet wide cut through the forest ending our trail. There was no way across.

“Damnit.”

“Shit.”

Immediately, Felchie turned back and started walking towards the car.

“Well, maybe we can use the other entrance,” I said. “One of the articles had said something about needing a boat to get there, but the other way should be fine.”

We all started heading the opposite way down the trail, back past the dingy pond. But Bobby was determined to cross the river. He thought he might be able to find a bridge. I looked around a bit but soon gave up hope. The sun was starting to go down, and I wanted to get to the Blue Hole before it was completely dark.

Felchie and Chumpy were far ahead on the trail. Dan and Brian lagged several yards behind me, and I couldn’t even see Bobby. Suddenly, I thought about a short story I had recently read where one hiker left his friend behind assuming he was following, and then his friend died. I stopped in my tracks and started yelling very loudly for Bobby.

“Bobby, come on! Bobby!”

By this time, Dan and Brian had caught up with me.

“Bobby!” I yelled.

“Geez, that was my ear,” Dan complained.

“Bobby!” I yelled again.

Finally, a very distant Bobby emerged on the trail, and I sighed in relief. Bobby came running up.

“You were right,” he said looking at me. I turned and started walking.

“Sam’s way was better,” he said. “It’s much closer to the road.”

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’m having fun.”

“Yeah, but it’s about to be dark.”

“So what? I spent many of my adolescent nights in the Pine Barrens.”

We trekked back to the car. “Felchie peed” was scribbled in the dirt trail—clearly Chumpy’s doings.

As we walked, the whiskey burned down my throat and warmed my belly. I ignored the taste. Dan kept trying to steal the bottle from me, but I mostly averted him.

Once we were all back the car, we piled in and made our way back towards the road. On the way out, the ride felt like roller coaster as we bounced over bumps. The whiskey jostled in my stomach, and I thought about my youth: Off-roading down dirt trails to find a place to party or hang out with friends. Maneuvering my car down those dirt roads like a sea captain. Friends getting their cars stuck in the soft sand, hours passing before we pushed or dug our way out. Trips to ‘JD’s’ behind Renault Winery in Egg Harbor city (which, thinking back, was named for the Jersey Devil). The cops coming and making us leave. Wild. Reckless. Young. Untouchable. I felt a little of that coming back during our trip to Blue Hole. I felt like I was 16 again.

The turkey vultures guarded the path on the way back, and we realized they were eating something. Dan stopped the car, so I could get a closer look. Felchie and I dashed out to take pictures of what I assumed to be a dead deer carcass. I could tell by the fur. When we got back in the car, the boys had opened the chips and salsa. Perhaps the turkey vultures munching on dead deer spurred their hunger.

Finally, we made it back to the Black Horse Pike, and Dan made an incognito left hand turn onto the road. We approached the jug-handle for Piney Hollow Road. Surprisingly, we still had some daylight to work with. I put Poison the Well’s Opposite of December on blast to set the mood and amplify our excitement. The light took forever to change green, and Dan kept nudging the car forward as if it would help. At last the light turned green.

Bobby leaned forward to show me the map on his phone. He said there was a huge lake off to the right and a smaller one off to the left.

“We want the one on the left,” I said.

“Yeah but the one on the right looks way bigger,” Bobby replied.

“That’s not the right one. She doesn’t want that one,” Felchie explained.

“Okay okay. The one on the left it is.”

“Dude, why do all these trees look burnt down?” Bobby asked.

“They set fire to them on purpose,” said Felchie.

“But why would they do that?”

“Because,” I said, “It’s the only way they can reproduce.”

“Who?” he asked.

“The Pine trees. The cones have to reach a certain temperature before they open,” I said.

“That and they do it to prevent wildfires from destroying everything,” Felchie said.

“Exactly,” I said.

A moments of silence passed, and then Chumpy said, “You girls are so smart.”

Just then we passed a road on the left.

“I think that was it,” I said.

“Yeah turn around.”

“Turn around,” everyone chimed in.

Dan pulled off to the side and made a U-turn. We drove back to the road, which was strangely wide. A few trees scattered the area on either side, and a huge road block prevented us from driving any further. Dan parked the car. Directly in front of us lie a wide open field, and off to the right, a small deteriorated white building. We piled out of the car, and headed to the field. Excitement took hold of us. We knew we were close. Of course, I had to pee again, so I ran behind the building while everyone else ventured into the field. They all took off running, and I hurried to catch up. The sun was setting behind the trees in the distance, giving their silhouette an amber aura. I couldn’t stop smiling.

I approached the beginning of a concave area beyond the field, and I could see the water. A clear lake rested at the bottom of the hill—the Blue Hole. Dan lagged behind the group to wait for me. I ran to him and kissed him. Then we took off after the others. The area by the water was muddy, and my feet squished into the soil with each step. I walked right up to the water’s edge to take a picture. Bobby had already started hiking up the hill on the opposite side of the lake; everyone trailed behind him. We stopped to take pictures on the hill with the lake in the background. From the angle on the hill, the lake appeared bright blue. A strange hole had been dug into the side of the hill, probably some sort of animal. We found a trail at the top of the hill large enough for a car to drive down. I wondered how a car would make it back there with that huge road block in its way.

Then Dan yelled, “Last one there is rotten egg!” and sprinted down the trail. I watched him bound ahead and shove Felchie in the process. (He takes running very seriously.) I tried to jog a little, but I was too drunk. “I’m the rotten egg,” I said. Brian was the only was close enough to hear me.

I made it down the trail, which led to the far side of the lake. I took the last couple of swigs from my bottle and looked around. Someone had recently carved donuts in the sandy soil with a vehicle. So there is a way to drive here, I thought. Dan was down by the water taking pictures. Chumpy had begun to lay down a blanket for us all to sit on. I lit a cigarette and took in the view. As dusk settled in the lake’s color became a deeper and deeper blue. The air began to cool, and soon, the glow of the sun was no longer visible beyond the trees.

I tried to get my bearings and realized where we were was probably very close to the dingy pond we had visited only an hour before. If we had been able to cross that river, it would have led us here, I thought.

“I want to come back here in the summer and camp out,” I said.

Everyone continued taking pictures during our last few moments of light before the dark settled upon us. A huge bird swooped down to the lake, and for a moment, I thought it might be the Jersey Devil.

“It’s the Jersey Devil!”

“No, that’s a goose,” Chumpy said.

“It might be the Jersey—oh no, that is a goose.”

Felchie and I had a mini photoshoot by the water’s shore, and the boys made fun of us for taking too many pictures. Soon after, Dan and Brian headed back to the car to catch the Phillies game on the radio. I wasn’t quite ready to leave. The rest of lingered by the water until the temperature began to drop. Bobby, Felchie, and Chumpy created some kind of torch out of Bobby’s t-shirt and a branch.

“Torch me, Felch,” Bobby said. She lit the t-shirt with a lighter, and surprisingly, it worked. I realized I had dropped my phone, and Chumpy ran around down by the shore and found it for me. Then, Bobby led the way on the trail, guiding us with his torch. I ran ahead a bit to take in the night alone, but I soon found myself afraid. I stopped and waited as Chumpy ran to catch up with me. He lit my cigarette as Felchie and Bobby approached with the torch.

By the time we reached the field, night had fallen. The sky was speckled with stars like snowflakes frozen in place. I wanted to know which constellations were which. Bobby tossed the torch in a puddle, and we all took out our smart phones to use the Google sky app. It worked surprisingly well, but I grew dizzy trying to position my body to see the constellations—Orion’s Belt, Big Dipper, and others I’d never heard of. Finally, laughing and stumbling, we made our way back to the car.

Reflections:

  • Afterwards, half of the group went to eat and the other half went home.
  • Chumpy and Felchie called to tell me that where we had been was a toxic waste contamination site. The next day, I googled it, and sure enough, Johnson Matthey Inc. Site (the bright blue lake) is on a 490 page list of active confirmed contaminated sites in New Jersey. The information was not hard to find. I continued my research and discovered it used to be a platinum/gold refinery and chemical plant. We had thought that bright blue lake was the Blue Hole, but it was probably so blue due to chemical pollutants. Needless to say, we probably won’t be going back in the summer.
  • I need to spend more time exploring and enjoying the beauty of the Pine Barrens. I am lucky to live so close to a place left untouched by civilization. I want to take more advantage of that.
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I arrived home from school at about 6pm, threw on some pajamas, and scarfed down dinner. Then, I met Jeff on Gmail chat.

The conversation began casually—where Jeff was from, what he’s up to now. Jeff explained that he grew up in Brick, NJ. In the process of explaining where Brick is, he argued there is indeed a Central Jersey, and I became increasingly aware that my post about Snooki’s poof may have been offensive in that I discriminate against the North (and completely disregard the idea of a ‘Central’ Jersey).  But even through chat, I could tell Jeff wasn’t truly offended because we both had a casual, joking tone in our words. However, Jeff and I agreed to save that ‘argument’ for another day.

Jeff then explained that he got into the Jersey Devil back in grade school. He took up an interest in it, and luckily, his local library had a copy of Jersey Devil, the primary authority on the legend. Jeff said, “I must have taken it out like 50 times…I would love to see if they still have the check out cards, just to see how many times my name was on it!”

Clearly, he has been passionate about the legend for a long time. He told me later on, while studying filmmaking in college, he and his collaborator produced a feature film titled Leeds Point, which took home Best Horror Film and Audience Choice awards in the 2008 Garden State Film Festival. Even more impressive, Jeff and his collaborator made up the two man crew that wrote, filmed, edited, and produced the work; the actors were the only other people on set. They accomplished all of this with only a $3000 budget. During our chat, Jeff remained modest about those accomplishments, brushing them off as I continued to question him. But finally, he said, “I rag on the movie, but I am proud of it. It was our first feature, it was a learning experience, but I’m proud two kids from NJ were able to pull it off by themselves.” Jeff still writes and produces films, and he is currently working on a short about time travel.

Then the discussion moved towards his involvement with the NJ Devil Hunters, a group dedicated to compiling information about the Jersey Devil. During writing/filming Leeds Point, Jeff attempted to contact NJ Devil Hunters. However, he was met with some resistance because of an experience the group had while filming “Scariest Places on Earth,” which ended up being an atrocity. Jeff explained that after that show aired, the group became wary of outsiders representing them and distorting their image/mission. The show made it seem like Laura, the group’s leader, was running from the Jersey Devil, which Jeff said was not the case—apparently, she had to pee.

Despite the group blowing him off at first, Jeff decided to put in an application from the website. He said, “If you want to join, there is a very intense interview process….we chatted via email for a few weeks, and then set up an interview day. I met up with most of the group at a diner down Rt 70…The first hour, I was grilled with questions as to why I wanted to join, what story of the devil I grew up with, what I thought it was, etc etc. After that, it was like ‘OK, we’ll let you know soon…’ and then we sat at the diner for another FOUR hours just BS-ing and stuff.”

Jeff found out by the end of the night that he was accepted.

From what Jeff described, the NJ Devil Hunters seems like any tight-knit folk community. Members create meaning through sharing their experiences during outings and gatherings. Members forge friendships and establish an esoteric understanding of their purpose where outsiders are treated as such. When I asked Jeff if the group is now defunct, he explained, “We were active for a good 2-3 years, actively doing ‘hunts’ and research nights and occasionally speaking at public functions.” During research nights, the group read through old newspaper clippings and accounts of sightings looking for correlations—similar to the methods of phenomenology I previously discussed in an earlier post. “We’d have tons of books taken out from the library, town records, sightings from the early 1900s, and try to cross reference reports by description, location, and so on,” Jeff said. ‘Hunts’ consisted of the group venturing into the forest at night to places like “Whiting, Batsto, [and] Leeds Point,” all commonly known for Jersey Devil sightings.

The group distinguished between credible and non-credible sighting reports. Non-credible reports that were clearly jokes were discarded, but “Credible is broken into things like: just a sighting, sighting with a detailed description, sighting with an encounter.” Laura, the group’s leader, had even compiled a color coded map according to the categories.

Now, the group’s activity has slowed down because of family priorities. Laura is now a mother. However, Jeff said, “We have a private Yahoo group just for us members, and at least an email a week goes out, so we’re not dead. Haha. I don’t think it will ever be truly dead. Laura has invested too much time and effort into it for that, and her love for it is way too strong. Just, the babies take priority, obviously.”

That also explains why Laura didn’t get back to me. (I had attempted to contact her for an interview.)

Jeff spoke fondly of his experiences with the group and the friendships he forged. Of the other group members, he said “Sure, I met them through chasing a mythological creature, but the friendship is definitely real. Some of them are like family, even.”

As for his belief in what the Jersey Devil actually is, Jeff said, “I’ve never believed JD was actually the 13th child of Mother Leeds, but the legend is cool to hear. Is it possible that it’s actually an undiscovered animal that’s managed to stay hidden for over 200 years? Maybe. Could it be a non extinct flying dinosaur? Maybe that too. Is it just a crock of BS? Also very possible.”

From Jeff’s perspective, the NJ Devil Hunters is about more than proving or disproving the legend. The group’s purpose may be to research the Jersey Devil, but in doing so, they’ve created a folk community that helps to define New Jersey’s culture and preserve its heritage.

 

Reflections

  • After the interview, Jeff sent me some old newspaper clippings he had saved and scanned. I ended up using one of them for my Harper’s annotation project.
  • During my research about the Jersey Devil, the NJ Devil Hunters came up again and again—so much so that I felt I wouldn’t have a thorough understanding of the legend without learning a little more about this group. They are now a part of the legend itself, ingrained into the folklore as a community.
  • I thought it important to mention that the group was heavily involved in the Jersey Devil Episode of “Monster Quest” but received little or no credit. Jeff recalled his experience with that show as frustrating, to say the least.
  • Because the interview was online, I could save the conversation. This made my transcription much easier. I pulled direct quotes. Our conversation ended up being 10 pages single space in a word document. In that sense, the online interview was far more thorough than in person. However, I wasn’t able to describe Jeff’s appearance or the physical setting.
  • I told Jeff to let me know if the group becomes active again. Perhaps I will send in an application. There’s little I enjoy I more than a late night excursion in the Pine Barrens. (See upcoming post about my trip to Blue Hole.)

 

 

 


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Jeff (is/was?) a member of the NJ Devil Hunters, a blogger, and a filmmaker. He wrote a film called Leeds Point, which is about the legend of the Jersey Devil. Growing up in New Jersey, the Jersey Devil is a subject “near and dear to his heart.” I will be interviewing Jeff via gmail chat at 7pm this Tuesday.

I’m interested in talking to Jeff for several reasons. He is, of course, knowledgeable about the legend and I’d like to hear about that. However, I’m also interested in his experiences with the NJ Devil Hunters group. What kind of activities did Jeff partake in? Did he enjoy his experiences with the group? I am aware he is still in contact with some of the members, but did he make lasting friendships? Why is the group no longer active? Or are they? What is Jeff’s take on the legend (his theory)? Does he have any future plans to make another film about the legend? What other personal experiences does Jeff have that are relevant to the legend and/or his time spent with the group, and how have these experiences shaped him as a person?

After exchanging several emails with Jeff and getting to know him a little, I have a feeling this will be one of my most valuable interviews in that I already feel comfortable communicating with him. He has been very helpful thus far, so I anticipate his willingness to share with me. According to the text, Postmodern Interviewing, it’s important to verify online sources because of misrepresentations. No worries here with Jeff. He has several online profiles and a website. I follow his Twitter account, and I’m friends with him on Facebook. I’m looking forward to getting to know Jeff more!


Since the NJ Devils hockey logo was voted out, I racked my brain for Jersey related ‘items.’ What embodies Jersey? Tattoos? Yes, plenty. Obnoxious sports’ fans? Duh. Shoobies? Unfortunately. Reality TV shows? Lately (and strangely), yes.

Originally, before I had decided on the Jersey Devil as the focus of my research this semester, I played with the idea of Jersey pride. People in New Jersey tend to be ridiculously loyal to their state. Half of the people I know have New Jersey tattoos. I have a New Jersey tattoo. The thing is, even if we don’t want to live here forever, we are damn proud that we grew up here.

So what about these reality TV shows?

First off, what TV shows? Real Housewives of New Jersey, Jerseylicious, and the infamous Jersey Shore. When did New Jersey get so popular? I’m not really sure. However, I’d like to briefly mention some comparisons between New Jersey and its backwards brethren, California. Yes, if you take California, enlarge it, then flip it horizontally, it kind of looks like New Jersey. Ok big deal. But now let’s consider that the film industry began in New Jersey—Edison’s Black Maria studio in 1893 was one of the first ever built. Then, around 1907, the film industry began migrating to southern California for better weather and to escape patent laws. Similarly, many of today’s reality TV shows are filmed in California. Was it not the Real Housewives of Orange County that started them all? And of course, where would Jersey Shore be if not for its network predecessor, The Hills, to prove that America loves watching young people get shitfaced at clubs and act like asses. But what does all of this mean? Well, for New Jerseyites and Californians, it means being judged based on a very small percentage of your population. Believe it or not, not all girls from California have blonde hair and fake boobs, just like not all dudes from New Jersey worship the GTL and wear Ed hardy.

I want to explore how pride in New Jersey has been affected by these reality TV shows, namely Jersey Shore. Here is where I must admit I watch the show. While the rest of the country, and New Jersey’s own governor, ridicule its cast members for their notorious idiocy, I have (shamefully/religiously) begun watching. But a part of me feels this is wrong. A part of me will forever deny my affiliation with those North Jersey bennys. But the North is creeping in. Just as the legend of the Jersey Devil once symbolized our state, now glowing orange gorillas howl in the night. People have forgotten about our winged Leeds Devil haunting the pines. They’re more concerned with our fist-pumping neighbors of the North (many not even from New Jersey). So how can this paradigm shift in Jersey culture be adequately discussed? As Nicole Richie pointed out, it’s all hiding in the poof.

Poof Wig for Halloween


Transcriptions

Yesterday Dan and I drove up to Monroe Township Public Library in Cranbury, NJ. (I’m pretty sure Dan enjoys taking these little trips as part of my research. If not, he’s been a good sport.) We lucked out with gorgeous weather and no traffic. However, we got a little lost in Cranbury because the GPS tried to take us through a gated community. Anyhow, we made it to the library a little after 1pm. Dr. Gillespie had suggested the library as a meeting place because he was giving a talk there about Yemen and its relationship with the U.S. Dan and I snuck in the back of the lecture, which had a considerable turnout (about 60 people), and sat down. The room and the library as a whole looked fairly new and was bustling on a Saturday afternoon.

(Things I learned about Yemen: The men in the country spend around half of their income on khat, an amphetamine-like, chewable plant that is legal there. The women do not like this. Yemen is very low on water, and the water they do have they use to grow khat. Yemen is run by a dictator who is opposed to democracy but compliant with America’s War on Terror. Unlike Libya, Yemen has very little oil. Therefore, the U.S. did not intervene when Yemen’s government fired on its own citizens.)

The crowd was mostly senior citizens sprinkled with some middle aged folks, and they were very passionate about this topic and asked many informed questions after the lecture. Several people drew comparisons between Yemen and Libya, and much of what I learned resulted from the Q & A. There were a few younger people there, and I found out they were from a local community college. After the lecture, a guy from the Cranbury Press asked me for a quote. He thought I was also from the community college. (I assume the students were probably required to attend for a class.) I explained what I was there for and summarized my understanding of the lecture.

As the room cleared out, Dan decided to go wonder the library so that I could start my interview. I waited patiently as Dr. Gillespie was approached again and again by people with questions. Finally, he packed up his laptop which he had used for a slide show during the lecture, and we sat down to talk. Overall, the interview went more like an interview than a conversation. While I was less nervous than my previous interview, I still found it difficult to guide the conversation without asking direct questions.

First, Dr. Gillespie explained that while at U Penn, he took a folklore class in lieu of a literature course because it fit better with his schedule. He found folklore to be “congenial” and then continued his studies in it. There are four courses that Dr. Gillespie teaches about folklore at Rutgers University. He said the Jersey Devil provides an example of a legend within his folklore course. He then proceeded to explain to me that four genres exist within folklore: the myth, the legend, the tale, and the ballad. The Jersey Devil is a legend, and I realize now, that throughout this blog, I have been using myth and legend interchangeably and incorrectly.

Dr. Gillespie provided me with an example of each genre. For myth, he discussed the Lenape myth of creation (which I had just been reading about the night prior); for legend, the Jersey Devil; for tale, he mentioned a story about two black snakes eating each other and becoming one; and for ballad, he mentioned “Hard Times in Mount Holly Jail”. Dr. Gillespie also brought up the work of folklorist Herbert Halpert who researched ballads and other folklore in the Pine Barrens. I am in the process of reading some of Halpert’s work. I found my prior research useful in talking with Dr. Gillespie. I feel that if I had interviewed him earlier in this process, I would have been overwhelmed with the amount of new information, but because I had already come across some of these things in my reading, I was better able to understand their relevance.

I then asked Dr. Gillespie how the evolution of the Jersey Devil—from scary monster to cartoonish creature—has affected the culture of South Jersey. He responded passionately. The following quote is the gist of what he said, not word for word, as are all quotes in this blog.

“The main change comes from the hockey team, The New Jersey Devils. First, it’s not the New Jersey Devil, it’s the Jersey Devil. Second, ‘devils’ is plural, and there is only one Jersey Devil. It’s a corruption of the folklore. The Jersey Devil went from being a horrific creature with the head of horse, wings of bat, and red glowing eyes, who used to steal babies in the night and slit their throats, to a cartoon character.”

My interpretation: the legend of the Jersey Devil is now watered down because of its popularization with the hockey team. Indeed, if you google Jersey Devil, the hockey team is sure to rear its ugly head. (Did I mention that the New Jersey Devils suck as a whole? Not only do they corrupt the legend, but they are also a shitty team. ßPer Dan’s request.) Anyhow, if the folklore becomes corrupted, as Dr. Gillespie suggested, then the question remains, will the legend survive?

According to Dr. Gillespie, sightings are more prevalent than ever before. He mentioned the NJ Devil Hunters’ website as a documentation of recent sightings. While no updates have been made since 2009, the site still provides the most recent records. However, I question the validity of some their records because many do not provide full names making the account impossible to verify. While the website requests only “true, credible sightings,” anyone can fill out a “sightings report” online and submit it. This is both practical and problematic because it allows people who would not otherwise share their story to report it, but it also creates anonymous accounts. That being said, it seems silly for someone to go out of his or her way to create a false report.

As Dr. Gillespie pointed out, whether the creature exists is irrelevant. What matters is that people believe they saw a creature. What matters is that this legend is being passed down from generation to generation, and that is a fact. Dr. Gillespie said, “These shows like Monster Quest are asking the wrong questions. They want to know if there are bones, or droppings, or pictures, or footprints of the creature. They want facts. But the fact that is important is that the legend exists.”

Dr. Gillespie pointed out that cryptid legends exist all over America—mothman, big foot, Chessie, Champ, etc. He said that American society can be viewed as a spectrum from avid believers to skeptics. He also said that people are inclined to believe in something based on the context in which they hear the legend. “Did Uncle Harry whose never told a lie in his life tell them the story of the Jersey Devil or did Uncle Harry the town drunk tell it?”

When I asked Dr. Gillespie if the Lenape had legends similar to the Jersey Devil in their culture, he replied, “No.” He explained that the Jersey Devil legend was probably carried over by the settlers from the British Isles. For further research, he suggested I look up the motif index, an online compilation of characteristics and attributes of legends.

Dr. Gillespie also explained that the Jersey Devil served a cultural purpose. Pineys are people who value privacy, self sufficiency, and keeping outsiders out. During colonial times, the Pine Barrens were a prime place to smuggle goods. Dr. Gillespie said, “Why go to a port in New York and pay a tax, or why go to Philadelphia and pay a tax, when you could go to Tuckerton and pay nothing?” And later, during Prohibition, the Pine Barrens again became a headquarters for smuggled alcohol (as aptly portrayed in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire). “The Pineys used the legend of the Jersey Devil to scare law enforcement officials and outsiders away,” explained Dr. Gillespie.

The Piney mentality has not changed. Growing up in Port Republic I remember much praise given to Mayor Gary Giberson for preventing commercial building. Giberson kept Port Republic rural, and people always reelected him for that. In fact, he is still the mayor.

Our interview ended, and I found Dan sitting in armchair reading a book about Mexico. (We finally decided on our honeymoon—neither Baja nor Jamaica—but we are excited to see Mayan ruins and swim with dolphins.)

 

Reflections

-This interview confirmed I am on the right track with my research and also guided my future endeavors, like looking at the motif index and continue with the Halpert/Lenape readings.

-Slowly, my interviews are becoming more conversational, but I now realize it is an acquired skill (at least for me).

-While my research is based on this particular legend, it is important to have an understanding of legend in general.

-Finally, Yemen men should probably lay off the khat.

 


Tomorrow I am interviewing Dr. Gillespie at the Monroe Township Library in Cranberry, NJ at 2pm. Dr. Gillespie is both a folklorist and a Professor of American Studies at Rutgers University. He is giving a talk at the library about “Yemen and its importance to the U.S. in the global war on terrorism,” according to the library’s website. How does this relate to the Jersey Devil, you ask. Well, it doesn’t. However, Dr. Gillespie is very knowledgeable about New Jersey folklore, and wrote the forward for Phantom of the Pines, a must read for anyone interested in the Jersey Devil. Dr. Gillespie’s name came up in my research time and time again, so I decided to give it a go and ask him for an interview. He suggested I meet him at the library after his talk. Dan will be accompanying me (so that I don’t get lost), and we may go to hear him speak on Yemen before hand as well.

I’m excited to pick Dr. Gillespie’s brain for a number of reasons. First off, I’m interested in how he got into American studies and folklore. While I’ve read about his extensive background, I’d like to know what drives and intrigues him. I’m also interested in the coursework for his “weird folklore” classes where he discusses the Jersey Devil, Big Foot, and other cryptids. I think speaking with Dr. Gillespie will give me a thorough understanding of how folklore defines and transforms culture, specifically in South Jersey. I’d also like to hear his views on how the evolution of the Jersey Devil had defined South Jersey. In my research, I’ve come across a few links between the Lenape Native Americans and the Jersey Devil. I plan on asking Dr. Gillespie if he is aware of any relations between the two, or if a legend existed within Lenape folklore that is similar to that of the Jersey Devil. I’m also curious if there is any relationship among cultures that have developed “weird folklore.” Is there a common stimuli or progression that these kinds of legends build upon?

Because Dr. Gillespie is such a wealth of information, I hope to take an approach similar to that of Studs Terkel (as discussed in Postmodern Interviewing edited by Jaber F. Gubrium and James A. Holstiend p. 69). While I won’t have a tape recorder like Terkel, I plan to begin the conversation with, “Tell me about yourself,” or something along those lines (once casual introductions have been made, of course). This kind of opener will set an expectation for the interviewee to do a lot of talking without interruption on my behalf. I think the more Dr. Gillespie talks, the better. I have an inclination that I will learn a lot of unexpected knowledge from him as well. Throughout the interview, I will have the aforementioned questions in mind, and I’d particularly like to get his opinion on the Lenape because information on it has been so scarce. But I predict Dr. Gillespie will introduce me to new information and ideas that I have not yet pondered. Finally, I’m hoping he can point me in the right direction for more valuable resources.

Overall, I’m very excited for tomorrow!