Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Pennsylvania black dogs

On Mysterious Britain & Ireland, Part Two of my piece on American black dog mythology, focused on Pennsylvania.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part I: The Black Wolf of Oak Valley and other werewolves

In Pennsylvania Mountain Stories (1909) is the tale of a ghostly black wolf in Oak Valley. Through cross-referencing with a few other tales of Granny Myers elsewhere in the volume, I've figured that this occurred in the valley about five miles north of Loganton (Clinton County) and the wolf-haunted Sugar Valley.

Silas Werninger shot two men and killed one after a row at a Youngmanstown hotel. He barricaded himself in his wife's cabin near Jacobsburg and while there shot two policemen sent to collect him. At some point, the house was set on fire, and while Mrs. Werninger and her children escaped, Silas slit his own throat. His body was buried in a grove of oak trees. That winter, a "big black shaggy dog" was seen near the oak grove where Silas was buried. Ira Sloppey, an old wolf-hunter from Clearfield County, said it was a large wolf. Sloppey was shot in the leg as a hunting party infiltrated the grove after the wolf. Dogs would not enter the grove, and soon the adjoining portion of the road was disused.

Sam Himes stopped to visit Granny Myers, a local witch. She said that it was not a wolf, but the ghost of Silas Werninger. To dispel the haunting, she said, his body would need to be exhumed and buried in the Lutheran cemetery in town. This was done, and within a few weeks Himes had killed the wolf.

Shoemaker also recounts other bits of werewolf lore from Clinton County. In "The Werwolf in Pennsylvania" (Shoemaker's spelling), he gives a tale which he heard from Peter Pentz, a famed "mountain man" who lived near McElhattan. Pentz' aunt, Divert Mary DePo, a midwife, was returning home one night in the 1850s when she saw an "enormous black dog". The werewolf rose up onto two legs and chased Mary home. There, Mary's husband used two pewter bullets (not silver) to shoot the werewolf dead. It fell and transformed into the body of a neighbor of theirs.

And in "Wolf Days in Pennsylvania" (1917), he gives an account of werewolves encountered in Wayne Township (the region where the above stories took place). He tells the tale of George Wilson, who was convinced that a neighbor of his was a witch, and took the shape of a wolf at night. He saw the huge brown wolf one night on his farm, and shot it in the foreleg with a silver bullet. It vanished, but a short while later the suspected witch was seen to have a broken arm. Another wolf was also killed by Wilson with a silver bullet, a three-legged creature, and one wonders if this one was the first come back for revenge.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The saga of the Hyote

In the summer of 2003, a family living in Joppa (Harford County), Maryland, saw a strange canine beast. Eventually they set up some game cameras to capture images of the creature, and they weren't disappointed. They got the above picture of the mysterious dog drinking from a horse trough. The sightings and photographs mostly went unreported for a year.

The following summer, another family in Glyndon (Baltimore County) reported something similar seen meandering through fields nearby and again got photographs of it. The animal was soon labelled the Hyote (hyena/coyote), after the Joppa and Glyndon photos made the national news. A stunningly original name, maybe, but at least it wasn't called a El Chupacabra or something.

It wasn't long, though, until the Glyndon witnesses captured an animal in a trap. What they had captured was a juvenile red fox with a severe case of sarcoptic mange (although some felt that it was an endocrine disorder). And although the residents who saw the animal were adamant that it wasn't what they had seen, in the minds of the media, the mystery was solved.

Monday, November 16, 2009


In November, 1883, an individual using only the initials R.B. wrote to the Frederick News in Maryland. He swore that at Catoctin Mountain he had seen, early one morning,
...a monstrous dragon with glaring eye-balls, and mouth wide open displaying a tongue, which hung like a flame of fire from its jaws, reared and plunged.
This may be the same as the dragon which supposedly guarded the mines at Silver Run, in Carroll County. In the 1760s, a silversmith by the name of John Ahrwud supposedly was shown a hidden vein of silver under Rattlesnake Hill by local Indians. Ahrwud was permitted to use the silver in his work: but he was never to become greedy and take more than he needed, nor to tell anyone of the mine. He broke this when he told his wife and daughter about the mine and thereafter was banned from the mine.

In the 1780s, according to "A Field Guide to the Monsters and Mystery Animals of Maryland," by Mark Chorvinsky and Mark Opsasnick, a German silversmith and his daughter saw a "fiery dragon with gaping jaws" in the Silver Run mine. Was this silversmith Ahrwud? A "large white fiery eyed monster" was seen near Rattlesnake Hill in 1885. It's usually thought of as a Bigfoot, but could it have been the dragon?

Another 1800s dragon tale, this time from Pennsylvania, supposedly occured at a country schoolhouse in Jenner Township (Somerset County). William Johnson and others swore that they had seen a monstrous serpent coiled around a schoolhouse built at the crossroads there, always at night and on the nights of a new moon. Only one coil of this serpent was seen - never a head nor tail. Apparently, anyone who trod on the serpent (not everyone could see it) was hurled to the ground.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Maryland and Delaware black dogs

Over on Mysterious Britain and Ireland is an article I've written on ghostly hounds in Maryland and Delaware.

Friday, November 13, 2009

A trip to Lock 49

On November 3, Mindi and I took a trip to Reading to do a bit of early Christmas shopping. While there, we decided to stop at the old Union Canal, so we could check out Lock 49. On August 17, 1875, Louise Bissinger, distraught over her husband's infidelities, took her three children on an outing along the Tulpehocken Creek. She had a basket tied around her waist, and when she reached the area of Lock 49, she grabbed her children tightly and plunged in. The children were still alive when witnesses arrived on the scene, but they drowned before the bodies could be pulled from the canal. The bodies were taken to Gring's Mill nearby. Later reports had it that while Mr. Bissinger mourned the deaths of his children, he callously was unmoved by the death of his wife. The stories have it that the ghostly forms of the Bissinger children are seen walking along the canal's towpath. Though the canal is now dry, the towpath is maintained by the Berks County Parks Department as a trail and it's commonplace to see joggers and cyclists along the old canal.

Lock 49 was a bit over a mile along the trail from the Wertz Bridge, a rather long wooden covered bridge bedecked with hex signs crossing the Tulpehocken. Shortly after entering the forested section of the path, after passing through what was the canal basin, I found a small conical structure about a foot tall made of three interlocked sticks. Similar stick structures have been previously found in areas of Bigfoot sightings and may be markers of some sort. This was probably in the area of what had been Lock 50. For the rest of the mile-long hike, I was hearing movement in the brush directly beside the path, movement which seemed to stop when I stopped and begin again once I started walking. This could easily have been squirrels but I didn't see anything there.

There were game trails leading all through the woods near Lock 49, though once again the skeptic in me wants to say these could have been due to the many local ghost hunting groups which have likely been all through these woods. I braved thornbushes and stray branches to follow these paths, which led from the maintained part of the trail clear through the canal bed and up the opposite bank, on which there was a second, less maintained trail.

The entire area is very near the Reading Airport, and the Berks County campus of Penn State, and not far from the Berkshire Mall.

Nick Redfern's book Man-Monkey is about the traditions of a shambling humanoid - what could be called a Bigfoot, though it is likely that it, like other British sightings, are something else - along the Union Canal in Shropshire, England. One aspect mentioned was the humanoid as the ghost of a suicide whose body was found in the canal. I had mentioned to him the coincidence of another Union Canal with a suicide in its history, as well. This possible presence of some sort of humanoid furthers the coincidence.

Tulpehocken is a Lenape (Delaware) word meaning "place of the turtle". The turtle, in Lenape lore, was the spirit entity which helped create the world. Like other cultures worldwide, the Lenape had the world resting on the back of a turtle. What does that mean? I don't know, quite possibly nothing.

Devotees of the ideas of Jim Brandon and Loren Coleman about so-called "twilight language" and the names that pop up again and again in Fortean contexts would be interested to know that there is a Warren Street in the area.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Manor Road Pig-Dog

On the morning of February 6, 2009, two men driving along Manor Road in Baltimore County saw a strange creature amble across their path. The animal had hind legs longer than the fore, and its face was a hybrid of dog and pig features. The two were quite clear that it was neither a dog or bear - it apparently had thinner legs than a bear and didn't move in the same way as a bear. A bear had recently been seen on Manor Road, making it possible that it was a bear, despite the denials.

Manor Road runs east of Loch Raven Reservoir.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Dauphin County Bigfoot

WHTM television has reported that a fellow in Dauphin County has released what may be a film of a Bigfoot (WHTM provides a still image of the supposed creature). The story's been making the rounds on various cryptozoological and Bigfoot blogs and websites recently. Several have posted to the effect that the whole deal is dubious at best, mostly due to the involvement of Tom Biscardi (best known for his association with the infamous 'gorilla suit in an icebox' Georgia Bigfoot hoax).

The sighting supposedly took place on the Appalachian Trail. The section of the Trail in Dauphin runs along the top of the mountains directly north of Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society has recorded only one sighting from Dauphin County, and that was considerably further north along the Susquehanna River directly across from the town of Liverpool.

Those individuals who have speculated that the Bigfoot was actually a branch may not be too far off. It is reported on the BFRO website that the witness in this case initially submitted the film to them, which apparently was of not a Bigfoot but of a leaf appearing human-sized due to forced perspective. After he was told this, he repossessed his film from the BFRO and resubmitted to Biscardi. In this instance, Biscardi may be vindicated - it seems as if he was duped rather than the culprit.

The incident at Liesenring and other Bigfoot/UFO reports

Over on Blogsquatcher, today's post is on the connected sightings of Bigfoot and UFOs. The Bigfoot/UFO connection has been present for years, and if all accounts are to be believed, before they were even called UFOs. Pennsylvania and Maryland are home to several reports of this connection.

The Sykesville, Maryland monster flap began in the early summer of 1973. Tony Dorsey was the first witness to the monster on the evening of May 29 at his home on Norris Avenue. According to The Bigfoot Casebook by Janet and Colin Bord, Dorsey's sighting came after he witnessed a UFO dropping an object of some type into a reservoir. Mark Opsasnick notes that Dorsey saw two luminous red eyes about the size of half-dollars, but did not see any sort of body ("Monsters of Maryland: Bigfoot", Strange Magazine 3).

The Chestnut Ridge area, which is Pennsylvania's Bigfoot hotspot, has seen the bulk of the UFO-related sightings. One of these was in 1975 in Jeanette. On May 19, a motorist saw a Bigfoot running quadrupedally, later rising onto two legs and running off into the forest. A UFO had been sighted in Jeanette on May 18. Other reports of synchronous Bigfoot and UFO sightings were reported from Midland and Uniontown. In the 1974 Uniontown sighting, several individual Bigfoot creatures were seen, as was a UFO. When one Bigfoot was shot at, it disappeared into thin air. In 1975, a report from Jumonville surfaced of a Bigfoot creature which, oddly, floated rather than walked and was later enveloped by a mist. When the mist receded, the Bigfoot was gone. Could the mist have been a sort of UFO? Many of these sightings were collected and investigated by Stan Gordon.

The most famous and bizarre humanoid report in Gordon's files, though, took place on October 25, 1973 in the small town of Liesenring near Connelsville. I'll post the Pennsylvania Bigfoot Society's description of the incident:
A man and two boys saw a UFO land in a field. Upon investigating, they observed 2 tall, hairy bipedal creatures walking along a fence line. The creatures had matted, dirty brown hair, glowing green eyes, broad shoulders, and small necks. They walked stiff-legged giving them an overall robot-like appearance. The man shot at the creatures, which caused the spherical UFO that had landed in the field, to leave the area immediately. Although the witness felt he didn't miss, the shots had little effect on the strange creatures. They simply turned around and traversed their way back along the fence line. A luminescent ring on the ground remained where the UFO had once been. The witness left the area and returned later with a Pennsylvania State Trooper. Although the glowing ring near the ground was still visible, its intensity had diminished. Several hours later the luminescent ring completely dissipated.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Of barking deer and climbing groundhogs

First, there's a nifty video on YouTube of a barking roe deer. I've also found recordings of white-tailed deer, the ubiquitous Pennsylvania species, making similar noises.

And over on Marcus Schneck's blog, there's a post indicating that groundhogs can climb trees, though they must do so very rarely.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Move over, Punxsutawney Phil

Just after Christmas, 2006, on December 29, public workers near the intersection of South Gilpin and Cypress Streets noticed a large fish lying on the shore of the Mahoning Creek. Upon examination, the fish turned out to be a three-foot bonnethead shark. Officer Heath Zeitler of the Punxsutawney police said "it might have been disposed of by some who had caught it while fishing elsewhere, or had previously kept it in a personal aquarium - a very large personal aquarium."

We might never know exactly where this shark came from. It had been theorized on Cryptomundo that the Punxsutawney shark could have wandered in from the Delaware River and through tributaries and such - while it is true that sharks have been known to wander into the Delaware, Jefferson County is extremely far from that river, and the Mahoning Creek empties into the Allegheny, anyway. Pittsburgh has seen several out-of-place animal reports over the years.