Tuesday, June 30, 2015

My Uncle, The Jesey Devil

IF YOU WERE TO CRACK a phone book in South Jersey and drag your finger along the pages in the "L" section, you'd find rows and rows of people named Leeds. And if you were to ring them up — one by one — and ask, sheepishly, if the person on the other end of the line knew anything about the Jersey Devil, you might hear claims of direct lineage, the kind of boasts made by folks with ancestors off the Mayflower or descended from European royalty.

Bill Sprouse, 39, has made that phone call and also has his own claim to stake. When he was 10 years old, the South Jersey native and author of "The Domestic Life of the Jersey Devil," was visiting his grandmother — his "BeBop," Helen Leeds — at her tiny house in Absecon when she told him, quite plainly, that he was related to the Jersey Devil.

The news did not immediately impress him.

"I kind of forgot about it for 10 or 15 years," he tells me as we drive down suburban backroads at the edge of the Pine Barrens, the Jersey Devil's backyard. "I think it's one of the weirdest things about growing up in this part of New Jersey. Somebody can tell you you're related to a monster and it won't seem like a very big deal."

Eventually, the story became Sprouse's back-pocket anecdote, the thing he'd pull out at parties and job interviews. "It wasn't until I left New Jersey — until I went to college and started mentioning that fact outside the local context," he says, "that I realized how crazy it is."

But there was something to it, this story. BeBop had some evidence.

Read Full Story: NJ.com

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