Lair of the Beasts: Monsters of New Jersey (Mania.com)
Date: Saturday, October 16, 2010
It’s new book time again! And on this occasion it’s a great one: Monsters of New Jersey, courtesy of cryptozoological author-researchers Loren Coleman and Bruce G. Hallenbeck.
The former is without doubt one of the world’s leading seekers of all-things of a monstrous and creepy-critter nature, and whose previous books include Bigfoot!; and (with fellow anomaly-chaser, Jerome Clark) The Unidentified and Creatures of the Outer Edge. Hallenbeck, meanwhile, co-wrote with Paul and Bob Bartholomew and William Brann an excellent 1986 book, Monsters of the Northwoods; a copy of which I stumbled upon around 1993, shortly after it entered its second-printing.
And, with such a pedigree of writers on-board for Monsters of New Jersey, you would expect something very good – and that’s precisely what you get, I’m pleased to say!
Stackpole Books – the publishers of Monsters of New Jersey – are planning a whole series of Monsters of… titles. Indeed, Monsters of Pennsylvania is already among us, and Monsters of Wisconsin and Monsters of Illinois are looming on the horizon as I write these very words. But, it’s New Jersey that we’re talking about here; so let’s get back to it.
As the authors make abundantly clear, the Garden State is packed with tales of hairy monstrosities, weird winged things, and creatures of the dark waters, but there’s one beast that absolutely no book on New Jersey’s unidentified animals can fail to mention. Yep, that’s right: the Jersey Devil – a nightmarish beast that seems to be a combination of a whole range of animals, one that very nearly defies description, and which turned up in The X-Files; the History Channel’s MonsterQuest; and the 2009 movie, Carny.
Coleman and Hallenbeck travel back in time several centuries and relate the strange story of how, and under what particular circumstances, the winged terror first surfaced and struck fear into the hearts of the people of New Jersey. They reveal a wealth of illuminating data on the way in which the saga reached near-stratospheric levels in 1909. And the authors demonstrate that, despite those who claim the actions of the beast are merely borne out of legend and folklore, the Jersey Devil is far from dead – even if Coleman and Hallenbeck don’t buy all the stories of the creature’s reported antics and activities.
Moving on from the Jersey Devil, we get to learn about a whole flock of other winged curiosities that seem intent on making New Jersey their home, including gigantic birds, and one of my absolute favorites since I was a kid: a flying man, replete with bat-like wings, who was seen traversing the skies near Coney Island in September 1880, while wearing a “cruel and determined expression” on his face. I have to wonder: was this, perhaps, a proto-Mothman?
Then, with the aerial monsters out of the way, Coleman and Hallenbeck treat us to masses of material, eye-witness reports, and old, archive-style material on encounters with unidentified, hairy, ape-like animals. That’s right: it’s time for New Jersey’s very own Bigfoot to put in an appearance.
Many people not deeply conversant with the whole Bigfoot controversy often assume that sightings of such beasts are strictly limited to the huge and ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest. Not so: these creatures have been reported all around the United States, and New Jersey is no exception.
I particularly enjoyed the sections of the book that focused on Sasquatch, as much of this data would otherwise be very hard to find, and practically unknown to many who will quite rightly find it fascinating. Indeed, many of the reports at issue date back more than a century – thus demonstrating that whatever these animals are, they have been with us for a very long time. If you thought Bigfoot hadn’t made it to New Jersey, it’s time to think again!
Our fearless authors also turn their attention to what might be termed New Jersey Nessies. That’s right: lake-monsters and sea-serpent-style creatures that have on occasion put on appearances in certain parts of the state.
We’re treated to some fantastic tales of water-beasts (and maybe tales are all that some of them were – but others most surely were not) that appeared in old, 1800s-era newspapers, and which tantalized and terrified their wide-eyed readers.
Perhaps most memorable of all is the Lake Hopatcong Horror, which is described as having a “gigantic horse-like head, antlers or horns, and a body roughly the size and texture of an elephant’s.” And, although the origins of the story date back two centuries, Coleman and Hallenbeck discuss a case that suggests the beast – or, more correctly, beasts - of Lake Hopatcong just might still among us.
Then there are those creatures that sound like they stepped right off the set of The Creature from the Black Lagoon: bipedal “Lizard Men” that it would probably be very wise to avoid at all costs!
Finally, we get an excellent resource tool: namely, a calendar of encounters with the Jersey Devil dating from 1735 to 2009. For anyone who wants to learn more about the Jersey Devil, without having to wade through countless old files and hard-to-find magazines and books, you will not be disappointed.
In conclusion, then, I don’t hesitate in the slightest in recommending Monsters of New Jersey to anyone and everyone that is fascinated by stories and eye-witness accounts of unknown animals. This a great guide to those truly bizarre beasts that have made New Jersey their personal stomping ground. And remember that, the next time you’re in the woods and waters of the Garden State, you may not be alone…
Nick Redfern latest book is Final Events – a study of the links between UFOs and demonology.