Posted by: Susan Fair on October 18th, 2013
A western Maryland newspaper perpetuated the hoax of the winged monster.
Teddy Roosevelt had hunted some exotic game before, but nothing like this.
According to the Middletown Valley Register, a newspaper operating in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Maryland, President Roosevelt was considering postponing his highly publicized African safari to stalk a local and much more mysterious specimen: the Snallygaster.
The February 1909 article claims that a man had been seized by the winged creature, which proceeded to sink its teeth into his jugular, drain his body of blood and casually drop it off a hillside. The story set off a flurry of reports of sensational encounters with the beast, christened the Snallygaster.
The area was no stranger to strange happenings: Settled by German immigrants in the early 1700s, it was riddled with stories of menacing creatures and assorted ghouls. But no tale sunk its claws into the imagination of the community quite like that of the Snallygaster.
Described as sporting a razor-like beak, lethal claws and a single eye in the middle of its forehead, the creature also, for added effect, emitted a screech like “a locomotive whistle.”
According to local newspapers and several enthusiastic eyewitnesses, the murderous monster undertook a series of colorful adventures: laying an egg the size of a barrel, picking a railway worker up by his suspenders, and even speaking to one man, mysteriously declaring, “My I’m dry, I haven’t had a good drink since I was killed in the battle of Chickamauga!”
It’s widely assumed that many details of the legend were fabrications of wily newspaper editors looking to sell more papers. Dwight Hutchinson of the Middletown Valley Historical Society believes it was the community’s close proximity to the Old National Pike that gave birth to the beast. “It might have been a scare tactic for undesirables traveling through.”
From the roiling mish-mash of old-country horrors, real and perceived threats by outsiders and the startling changes of a new century, perhaps the emergence of the Snallygaster was inevitable.
While the monster supposedly met its demise in – appropriately enough – a vat of moonshine, it has made reappearances. So if you happen to be traveling in the Blue Ridge Mountains, beware: Author Patrick Boyton is set to release his second book on the legend and, never one to shun publicity, the creature could very well re-emerge. After a colorful century of adventures during which even Teddy Roosevelt couldn’t hunt it down, the Snallygaster just may have the last laugh.
To learn more about the Snallygaster, check out my book: Mysteries & Lore of Western Maryland: Snallygasters, Dogmen, and other Mountain Tales
In the shadows of the quiet mountain towns of Western Maryland, strange creatures are said to lurk in the woods while phantoms wander the foothills. The Hagerstown clock tower is reportedly haunted by the ghost of a young artist killed during the Civil War, while the low summit of South Mountain was once host to a mysterious spell-caster, the Wizard Zittle. Farther west, tales of legendary hunter Meshach Browning echo among the Allegany Mountains while visitors to Deep Creek Lake may feel the chilling presence of monks who never left their former monastery. From the 1909 hoax of the monstrous Snallygaster that terrorized the Middletown Valley to the doglike Dwayyo that was spotted near Frederick in 1965, local historian Susan Fair rounds up the bizarre beasts, odd characters and unsolved mysteries that color the legends and lore of Western Maryland.
Susan Fair lives on the shoulder of South Mountain in rural Maryland, where she works for a public library system. She can also be found writing for numerous publications, exploring the weird and offbeat, and working at an eclectic museum where she often eats her lunch next to a mummified arm.