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.

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