This is one of those Victorian myths/mysteries that I enjoy, like the Mary Celeste. Not one of those lame ones like Spring-Heeled-Goddamn-Jack.
So, Devon, February 1855. It snowed heavily. People woke up in the morning to find footprints that looked like this:
Not a big deal, probably just some kind of animal. But wait--what kind of animal just walks straight over large objects, like haystacks and houses? Yeah, the reason people started reporting these tracks was because they noticed the tracks leading up and over their roofs, high walls, and even coming out of drain pipes that were only four inches in diameter.
If that wasn't odd enough, about 30 people reported these unknown tracks. These reports were spread out over territory 100 miles in distance.Okay, so this is really creepy. What animal is small enough to walk through a drain pipe, powerful enough to climb over very steep obstacles, fast enough to walk 100 miles in a night, has cloven hooves, and is totally unknown in the Giant Rural Handbook of Creepy Animal Tracks?
Then people got all Crucible-y and started accusing the Devil of making the prints, but thankfully it died down before anyone got crushed by stones or hanged or tried to steal anyone's husband. Those kinds of things only happen in 'Merica.
1.) Some of the tracks were deliberate hoaxes or mistaken reports, the tracks being made by normal animals with cloven hooves.
2.) The Devil.
3.) Aliens. Because theorists are contractually obliged to throw this one out there.
4.) A low-flying hot-air balloon made the prints because its shackles were being trailed in the snow.
5.) Hopping mice. Apparently their prints look like hooves, though they don't have them. But surely those prints would have been familiar to people and recorded in that giant animal tracking book that I just made up.
6.) An escaped kangaroo. Because if you already have foreign wildcats roaming the Yorkshire moors, why not kangaroos in Devon, as well? Hell, Lady Arran Colquhoun introduced pet wallabies to an island in Loch Lomond in the 1920s, where they still thrive to this day.
7.) Some sort of Jersey Devil-type monster, or creature typically hidden to or unknown by the world.
8.) Mass hysteria--one weird report prompts anxiety, leading people to believe they have seen things they haven't or misunderstanding something easily explained by common sense.
I'm not sure which theory I subscribe to, because at the end of the day I don't think it really matters. It's a creepy, fun story, even if all the creep was just the product of hysterical minds or deliberate lies. Perhaps it's a flaw in me as a researcher, but I don't always think everything needs to be explained. Sometimes an answer ruins a perfectly good story. Can you tell Life of Pi is one of my favorite books? Good lord, I think I just paraphrased all the philosophy of Chapters 21-22.
- The Devil's Footprints