Posted by: Susan Fair on March 17th, 2014
On the shoulder of South Mountain, along the winding road just outside Boonsboro, MD, is a wayside marker sure to warm the hearts of monster lovers.
Here, a historic sign for the National Road enthusiastically proclaims South Mountain Summit What an Ideal Location for a Break! But it also includes a wonderfully unexpected caveat: Beware of the “Snarly Yow,” the sign advises just below a drawing of a rangy, wolf-like creature baying at a full moon. Kind of like: you know that really relaxing place we just told you about? well… hope you’re not scared of monsters…
So just what is a Snarly Yow? According to the sign:
Legend has it that the shadow of a black dog used to prowl the heights of South Mountain. One night, a huntsman, famous as a sure shot, encountered the beast. He aimed and fired his rifle. The shot went right through the animal with no effect. He fired again and again, each shot passing through the shadowy beast. Finally, overcome with dread, the huntsman fled.
The best known accounts of the Snarly Yow come from Madeleine Dahlgren’s 1882 book South Mountain Magic. Dahlgren, who also referred to the beast as the Black Dog, the Werewolf, and, best of all, the Dog-Fiend, was a wealthy widow who kept a (very large) summer home on South Mountain. She was a woman on a mission when it came to documenting local legends, and what’s striking about her Snarly Yow reports are that many of them are first-hand accounts given to her directly from the locals. Assorted denizens of South Mountain – everyone from a preacher to a farmer’s wife to a “mountain man”- seem to have had confrontations with the Snarly.
And the Snarly Yow, according to these reports, was quite an intimidating creature: a wolf-like beast that could suddenly increase in size. The Snarly was also dark, shadowy, and had an unsettling proclivity for blocking the paths of travelers.
Tradition has it that the early settlers of South Mountain brought many of their legends and superstitions with them from the old country, including “black dog” stories. But that, of course, doesn’t account for those first-hand reports Dahlgren received. And as for the creature’s awesome name, it appears in the title of an 1837 book by British Naval Officer Frederick Maryatt. His high seas adventure novel Snarleyyow or the Dog-Fiend features a large and aggressive dog with a bite-me attitude and supernaturally bad-ass fighting skills.
And as for that wayside marker, awesome as it is, it gets one important thing wrong: the “used to” part. For the Snarly Yow has been sighted again and again over the years.
That’s right – the Snarly Yow – or at least some variation of the legendary black dog – is apparently still out there. Modern day motorists have reported hitting a large black dog, only to have it disappear before their eyes.
So if you visit Boonsboro, beware the Dog-Fiend – he likes to chase cars. Then again, maybe he’s just trying to get folks to stop and admire his unusual claim to fame, the wayside marker for a monster, there along the shoulder of the eerie and beautiful South Mountain.
To learn more about the Snarly Yow, 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.