Sunday, April 16, 2017

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The Snallygaster

While we have all heard of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra, many more regional and rare cryptids exist that few ever hear of. One of these is the Snallygaster of Maryland, particularly found in the hills of the Washington and Fredrick counties.

Descriptions of the beast vary, but in general, it is described as a reptilian bird with hooks on the ends of its feet, a massive beak (possibly made of metal) lined with sharp teeth.It is reported as having claws, but it is also reported as having hooves.At times it has tentacles.It resembles a flying octopus. The noise it makes has been likened to that of a locomotive whistle.

The Snallygaster has one widely known enemy, called Dewayo. The Dewayo is reported to be a mammalian biped with features similar to a wolf, but the stance and stature of a human. The sightings of Dewayo are primarily reported in West Middletown, Maryland, but sightings have also been reported in the Wolfsville, Maryland region. The Dewayo and the Snallygaster have reportedly had vicious encounters dating back to early settlement of the Middletown valley.

The word Snallygaster has its origins in the German phrase "Schneller geist," meaning quick spirit.The area around Middletown Valley was no stranger to strange happenings.Rumors of a beast that would swoop in silently and steal children and chickens pervaded the area from as soon as the first white settlers arrived in the area.There are early references to ghosties and ghoulies that could be the Snallygaster throughout Frederick's history. The documented Snallygaster, however, is a twentieth-century beast. 

The first newspaper article about the Snallygaster appeared in 1909 in the Middletown Valley Register. A smattering of articles appeared during that time. The Snallygaster then went dormant in this area until 1932, when a series of sightings were again reported in the Middletown paper. Some speculate that the second monster was the offspring of the first that had been reported to have been laying eggs. In fact, some men were reported to have found one and tried to incubate it.

The First report of the Snallygaster came from a man named James Harding who saw the creature flying low overhead.  He described the Snallygaster as a huge winged monster with a long sharp beak, claws like steel hooks, and having one eye in the middle of its head.  The monster’s screech he described as “as loud as a train whistle”.

Reports would continue for several months with only one reported fatality. Bill Gifferson was a black man and is said to have been snatched up by the monster, who flew to a nearby hill, pierced his neck and sucked out his blood.  While it dined it flapped its wings and when satisfied, dropped his corpse down the hill.

Sightings of the Snallygaster were creating such a commotion that at one point it was reported that President Theodore Roosevelt might postpone a trip to Europe so that he could lead an expedition to capture it.

Apparently, the Smithsonian Institute was also interested in the beast. From the description provided by engineer 83, at Shepherdstown, West Virginia, they determined the strange beast was either a bovalopus or a Snallygaster, since it had the characteristics of both. Further, its hide was so rare that it was worth $100,000 a square foot, as it was the only substance known to man that could polish punkle shells.

The Snallygaster's travels throughout Maryland are not limited to Frederick County.  It has been seen not only in neighboring Carroll and Washington Counties, cut as far away as Baltimore and Cecil Counties. 

Some accounts place Snallygaster activity in Ohio and West Virginia, communities that have migrant patterns out of Western Maryland. Coincidence - or an illustration of cultural traditions?

While people may have seen less of the Snallygaster as the twentieth century progressed, it was still very much in the minds of Frederick Countians. In the late 1940s, for example, a Thurmont algebra teacher would threaten his less studious charges with the beast.  He also threw erasers at them. It is unclear which threat was more successful.

The Snallygaster finally met his end in a way some might envy. The creature was flying near Frog Hollow in Washington County when it was attracted by the aroma of a 2500-gallon vat of moonshine. As the beast flew overhead, it was overcome by the fumes and dropped into the boiling mash. A short time later, revenue agents George Dansforth and Charles Cushwa arrived on the scene. They had received information about the still, but were rather startled at the sight of the dead monster in the vat.

The two agents exploded five hundred pounds of dynamite under the still, destroying the remains of the Snallygaster and John Barleycorn’s workshop.

A great deal has been written about the Snallygaster since 1909. It has appeared in countless articles in the Middletown Valley Register, Frederick News Post, and other area newspapers. Is has also appeared in the Baltimore Sun, National Geographic, and Time Magazine.

Information about the Snallygaster can be found in several books on Maryland legends.  There is a Snallygaster chapter in both "Spirits of Frederick" (1992) and "Weird Maryland" (2006). The definitive history of the Snallygaster tale was recently published by local researcher Patrick Boyton in "The Snallygaster: The Lost Legend of Frederick County."  


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