Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Devil's Hoof Prints

Technically, this story falls outside the Regency period, but I found it too irresistible!)

On February 9, 1855, folks in villages throughout south Devon awoke to find strange hoof prints in the snow. The prints were said to resemble those of a donkey, and they wandered single-file through the countryside for about a hundred miles. This was no ordinary trail, however. The marks leaped walls, stopped dead on one side of a haystack only to resume on the other side (the hay was undisturbed). They crossed roofs, appeared to enter and exit a drain pipe, and disappeared abruptly through small holes in hedges. But what most frightened people from Topsham to Dawlish was evidence the prints approached the front doors of many homes.
In a Feb 16th article, The London Times claimed locals believed they were the hoof prints of Satan.
Villagers tried to follow the trail or trails, but after a few miles gave up. So the source or end never was identified. Tracings of the prints were sent to the naturalist, Richard Owen, who responded in a March 4, 1855 Illustrated London News (Vol 26, p. 214) article. He claimed they’d been created by a badger. (See "Document 11" of Mike Dash's The Devil's Hoofmarks.)

Over the following weeks and months, other creatures were blamed for the mysterious trail. Nevertheless, the conviction persisted that the Devil walked in Devon.

And it appears he returned one hundred fifty four years later, almost to the day.

On March 5, 2009, seventy-six year old Jill Wade found prints in her back garden in Woolsery, Devon. They seem to match the description of those discovered in 1855. Zoologists investigated, but other than postulating they’d been created by a hare hopping on its hind legs, nothing definitive has been determined.
And so the mystery persists.


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