The Jersey Devil and the Hat
A New Jersey Folktale
I was putting the finishing touches on a nice big dinner - meatloaf, mashed potatoes, green beans, pumpkin pie - when Charlie blew in the back door. He'd spent the day ice-fishing in the quarry, and I expected him to be in a jolly mood. But he stood there with his gray hair standing on end, his cheeks bright red with rage and his coat and pants covered with snow.
"Charlie, what happened to you?" I gasped. "And where is your new hat?"
I'd bought him a fancy new fishing hat for his birthday not two days ago, and today was the first opportunity Charlie'd had to wear it.
"My hat!" Charlie shouted, his eyes popping out of his head like a fish. "My hat!" He was too speechless to go on. He jumped from one foot to the other in rage and pointed his finger a number of times at the daily newspaper that lay on the counter beside him.
"I'll tell you where my hat is!" Charlie finally sputtered out. "It's at the bottom of the quarry pond. And its all because of that blasted creature!"
He banged his fist down on top of the cartoon of the Jersey Devil which adorned the front of the newspaper. The Jersey Devil had been spotted all over the Pinelands region during the last few days. Charlie and I had laughed over the sightings, considering it to be a joke perpetuated by the newspapers.
I gaped at my husband. "You mean its real?" I gasped. "You actually saw the Jersey Devil?"
"That Dad-Blame creature came swooping into the quarry at the very moment I got a big fish on the line," Charlie said. "I was sitting in my chair, reeling in my line and that fish was fighting like anything. Then I heard a big whooshing sound, and a huge creature swooshed over my head."
"What did it look like?" I asked incredulously.
"It looked like a dad-blame dragon, with a head like a horse, a snake-like body and bat's wings," Charlie said. "Nothing like this crazy picture." He stabbed his finger down on the newspaper. "Anyhow, it flew over me head so fast that the wind from its long wings knocked me right out of my chair! My new hat went flying into the ice hole, along with my pole. That fish dragged the pole right under the ice, and it took my new hat with it!" Charlie turned purple at the memory. "That Jersey Devil owes me a new hat! And a fishing pole. I aim to see that justice is done!"
So saying, Charlie grabbed his rifle from over the back door and headed out into the yard.
"Charlie, what about dinner?" I called after him.
"I ain't got time for dinner," Charlie shouted back to me. "I'm getting up a posse. I'll teach that Jersey Devil to mess with a man's new hat!"
And that was the last I saw of my husband for the next three days. Charlie roused the whole neighborhood, and the men went hunting all over creation, racing from town to town following every rumor they heard about the Jersey Devil. They never caught a glimpse of it, though once they followed its strange tracks through the snowy woods for over an hour before the tracks disappeared. Charlie'd come home after I'd gone to bed and leave before I got up in his determination to track down the creature that lost him his hat.
After about a week, the Jersey Devil disappeared back into the Pinelands and Charlie came home to roost. He was still in a bitter rage about losing his hat and his pole, and sat sulking in his study all day. Around suppertime, the mayor stopped by our house and presented him with a new fishing hat and a fancy new pole to replace those he lost when the Jersey Devil flew over the quarry. Charlie was tickled pink, and he went out the very next day to do some ice-fishing. He came back with the biggest fish he'd ever landed and a smile that nearly split his cheeks in two. So maybe the Jersey Devil did him a favor after all.
Read more New Jersey folklore in Spooky New Jersey by S.E. Schlosser.