The Devil's Footprints

A 19th Century Mystery

January to March of 1855 was described as unusually bitter, as temperatures remained around freezing. On February eighth, there was heavy snowfall, followed by rain and high winds. After daybreak the people of Devonshire county found evidence of an unexplained event that took place during the night while all slept.

Perhaps the best way to describe what was discovered is to reference the editor of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette:

The return of day-light revealed the ramblings of some most busy and mysterious animal, endowed with the power of ubiquity, as its foot-prints were to be seen in all sorts of unaccountable places – on the tops of houses, narrow walls, in gardens and court yards, enclosed by high walls and palings, as well as in the open fields. The creature seems to have frolicked about through Exmouth, Littleham, Lympstone, Woodbury, Topsham, Starcross, Teignmouth, &c. &c.


There is hardly a garden in Lympstone where his foot-prints are not observable, and in this parish he seems to have gambolled about with inexpressible activity. Its tracks appear more like that of a biped than a quadruped, and the steps are generally eight inches in advance of each other, though in some cases twelve or fourteen, and are alternate like the steps of a man, and would be included between two parallel lines six inches apart.


The impression of the foot closely resembles that of a donkey’s shoe, and measures from an inch and a half to (in some cases) two inches and a half across, here and there appearing as if the foot was cleft, but in the generality of its steps the impression of the shoe was continuous and perfect; in the centre the snow remains entire, merely showing the outer crust of the foot, which, therefore, must have been convex.


The creature seems to have advanced to the doors of several houses, and then to have retraced its steps, but no one is able to discern the starting or resting point of this mysterious visitor. Everyone is wondering, but no one is able to explain the mystery; the poor are full of superstition, and consider it little short of a visit from old Satan or some of his imps.

Some residents were so alarmed they armed themselves with clubs and guns and set off in pursuit of the “devil” but returned empty-handed after following the tracks form village to village.

I remember reading about this incident in a book of strange and unexplained stories when I was a little girl (I loved those kind of books). The idea of strange hoof prints in the snow–on top of walls and roofs–creeped me out more than any of the other tales. I imagined a demon going from house to house and spying on sleepers, all unaware in their dreams. Even after all these years, the image stuck with me.


For more information about the Devil’s Footprints, you may want to check out Mysterious Universe.

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