Devil’s Footprints

After a dense snowfall on February 7 and 8, 1855, the people of Devonshire, England awoke to find strange footprints throughout their small town. The London Times, on February 16, reported the entire incident in detail.

Considerable sensation has been evoked in the towns of Topshm, Lympstone, Exmouth, Teignmouth and Dawlish, in the south of Devon, in consequence of the discovery of a vast number of foot-tracks of a most strange and mysterious description. The superstitious go so far as to believe that they are the marks of Satan himself; and that great excitement has been produced among all classes may be judged from the fact that the subject has been descanted on from the pulpit.

It appears that on Thursday night last there was a very heavy fall of snow in the neighborhood of Exeter and he south of Devon. On the following morning, the inhabitants of the above towns were surprised at discovering the tracks of some strange and mysterious animal, endowed with the power of ubiquity, as the foot-prints were to be seen in all kinds of inaccessible places – on the tops of houses and narrow walls, in gardens and courtyards enclosed by high walls and palings, as well as in open fields. There was hardly a garden in Lympstone where the footprints were not observed.

The track appeared more like that of a biped than a quadruped, and the steps were generally eight inches in advance of each other. The impressions of the feet closely resembled that of a donkey’s shoe, and measured from an inch and a half to (in some instances) two and a half inches across. Here and there it appeared as if cloven, but in the generality of the steps the shoe was continuous, and, from the snow in the center remaining entire, merely showing the outer crest of the foot, it must have been convex.

The creature seems to have approached the doors of several houses and then to have retreated, but no one has been able to discover the standing or resting point of this mysterious visitor. On Sunday last the Rev. Mr. Musgrave alluded to the subject in his sermon, and suggested the possibility of the footprints being those of a kangaroo; but this could scarcely have been the case, as they were found on both sides of the estuary of the Exe.

At present it remains a mystery, and many superstitious people in the above towns are actually afraid to go outside their doors at night.

There has been one other recorded sighting of similar tracks, reported by Captain Sir James Clark Ross. The commander of two ships was exploring the South Pole landed on Kerguelen Island around May 1840. The Captain told of finding no animals and simply tracks of a “pong or ass, found by the party detached for surveying purposes…” The men thought the creature may have escaped from a shipwrecked vessel. The men eventually gave up looking for the creature as it passed over a large area of rocks and the tracks were lost. As Rupert Gould asks, “One wonders, if they had ‘got a sight of it,’ what they would have seen.”

In January of 2000, a similar report of footprints were reported near Cleveland, Ohio. Has this case solved the Devil’s Footprints?

Occasionally people have found odd footprints that are big enough to be a man’s but are shaped like those made by a cloven—that is, divided—hoof of the sort seen on goats, pigs, or deer. Such footprints are called devil’s footprints or devil’s tracks because the devil is often depicted as having cloven hooves. The first reference to devil’s footprints was in newspaper reports of an incident that took place in and around Exeter and Devon, England, on February 9, 1855. That morning, residents in the area discovered new snow on the ground, but it was marked with a line of strange tracks that extended for more than 100 miles (161km). These tracks were not in pairs but in a single line, each print about 8 inches (20.3cm) from the next, and their spacing and progress remained constant despite various obstacles in their path. They crossed walls, went through haystacks and gardens, and even went across the roofs of buildings. When this case was publicized in newspapers, other people came forward to report that they had seen similar tracks regularly near the border between Poland and Germany.

The most famous reported sightings of devil’s footprints in the United States were in New Jersey in the early 1900s, when the tracks of a creature dubbed the Jersey Devil were seen in a southern part of the state. These tracks were later revealed to be a hoax, however, and skeptics say that most other instances of such tracks are hoaxes as well. The remainder, skeptics say, are the result of ordinary tracks being distorted by changes in the environment, such as when snow melts or sand shifts. Believers in mysterious beasts, however, have suggested that the tracks are made by an animal that has yet to be found and scientifically classified.

SEE ALSO:

  • The Jersey Devil

SOURCE:

The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning

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