(Image of Leeds Devil from Philadelphia Evening Bulletin January 1909)
Fall is in the air. I can feel it! There is a slightly cooler breeze accompanied by long morning shadows. It is a welcome change from our deep fried Southern heat of Summer. I am amazed how seasons can bring up memories, especially of my childhood in Southern New Jersey. Fall meant crisp cool air, playing in great piles of fallen leaves, field day at school, festivals, picking a pumpkin from the farmer’s field, Halloween trick or treating, and feasting at Thanksgiving. In a nutshell, it was a grand time. This is also the time of year when stories would be told, especially about a creature seen as a local celebrity, the Jersey Devil.
Who in the heck is the Jersey Devil? According to lore going back to the 1700s, the Jersey Devil was the 13th child born to a witch named Deborah Leeds. She cursed the child upon his moment of birth. He was transformed into a bipedal hoofed creature with the head of a goat, wings and a forked tail. Most likely after getting scared off by his own reflection in the mirror, he flew up and out of the chimney in a tizzy and has been lurking about the Pine Barrens (a place marked by scrubby pines and sandy soil) ever since. I know what all of you doubting Thomases are thinking… This story may not be true, but there are accounts of something unusual living there. The Lenni Lenape tribes, the Native Americans living in the area of New Jersey, called the Pine Barren region “Popuessing” or place of the dragon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Devil).
When I was exploring this topic, I encountered a website (http://www.njdevilhunters.com) for the Devil Hunters, a group dedicated people that try and track this rascal down. They thoughtfully provided a list of Jersey Devil sighting locations in New Jersey: Burlington, Woodbury, Gloucester, Trenton, Pemberton, Eldora and Mays Landing. Hmmm…. I am a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Specialist by trade, meaning I do geographic analysis and computer mapping. Here I am with general spatial location information and the state of New Jersey is very good at making spatial data available to the public in a digital form. I had a fun and simple little project to start.
In order to start my work, I needed two basic spatial files: placenames which contains the center point data for the municipalities; and pinelands which is a boundary (polygon) of the pine barren zone. I queried out only the 7 towns listed above. I created a center point from the pineland polygon. I then calculated the distance from the pineland centroid to all 7 sighting locations. I summed up the findings and came up with an average distance of 148088 feet (or 28 miles). I ran the buffer tool on the pineland centroid for the average distance and came up with a ring. This ring measures “as the crow flies” and the Jersey Devil does have wings after all! The results were interesting. Three sighting locations fell on the boundary of the pineland polygon, while 3 others were slightly beyond the western edge of the buffer ring. As for the Trenton sighting, he must have had a lunch appointment with Governor Christie.
Let’s have some fun with the analysis. It is a fact. You cannot have a sighting without a person being there to witness it. The Pine Barrens is not a densely settled area and is home to a group of people known as the Pineys that have a reputation for their fierce independence and eccentricities. Based on the sightings we can deduce that the Jersey Devil is going where towns are more numerous.
The state of New Jersey is bounded by two bodies of water: the Delaware River to the West and the Atlantic Ocean to the East. There is an issue of water quality. The water in the Pine Barrens is orangey-brown in color thanks to the cedar tree tannins. I can attest to this as since I was a veteran canoer on the waters near Batso and the Wading River in my youth. The sweet fresh water is to be found west of the Pine Barrens towards the side of the Delaware River.
Now if I take this analysis another degree further out, let’s look at it from the Jersey Devil’s perspective. He has been living on the land for at least 300 hundred years. A diet of bland fish, deer and livestock could get a little tiresome. Where might a fellow go for some really good eats? I exported spatial layers to a kmz files that can be loaded in Google Earth. I then ran a query on sub shops and restaurants. I hit pay dirt especially on the western zone! Who would not like to go out for an exceptional cheese steak sandwich, meatball sub, a wonderful hoagie, delectable pizza…the list goes on and on. If he gets too full and his wings are tired, the Jersey Devil can rely on mass transit to get back home!
I hope you have enjoyed this adventure in geospatial analysis as much as I have. Monster lore is a universal phenomenon. I encourage you to try this exercise on your own favorite creature.