Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Urban Legends of Maryland, Part III: Bunnyman

What has to be one of the more laughably-named urban legend figures out there hails originally from the area of Fairfax, Virginia although stories of the axe-wielding, bunny-suit bedecked psychopath range into suburban Prince George's County, Maryland, home of the Goatman (with whom stories of the Bunnyman are confused).

Incredible as it may seem, the Bunnyman stories may have been based on real events. The Washington Post ran two articles detailing things that happened near Fairfax, Virginia in October, 1970; in one, an Air Force cadet reported that he had been visited by a man in "a white suit with long bunny ears" who ran out of some bushes, shouted a warning about trespassing on private property, and threw a hatchet at the car. Later that month, another article detailed a bunny-suited man wielding a long axe chopping at a home under construction, also near Fairfax. A security guard distinctly reported a figure about 5'8" and about 160 lbs. in his early twenties.

The Bunnyman was reported to have assaulted a church sign near Greenbelt, Maryland in the 1970s. Supposedly, in 1971, a young man in Hyattsville reported that a white bunny-suited man pounded on his door one evening and used an axe to attempt to gain entry. He also chopped two pillars on the porch. He was also reported from another home nearby.

Legends from Harford County tell of a ghostly rabbit-type creature, called the Witch-Rabbit, which haunted Rocks. In the manner of the Celtic pooka, it was reputed to shift shapes from one animal to another and thus to elude hunters. Could the Bunnyman be a similar "Witch-Rabbit"?

Check out the rest of the Urban Legends of Maryland mini-series:

Part One: Pigwoman
Part Two: Goatman

Urban Legends of Maryland, Part II: Goatman

The region near Bowie (Prince George's County) is the haunt of a variously-described monster named Goatman. Some will have it that he is a man with a goat's head. Others, that he is a goat-legged human figure, a traditional satyr. Still others, that he is a 6-foot tall hairy humanoid, a typical Bigfoot. Whatever the case, the stories of Goatman could have their origins in August 1957, when a gorilla-like creature was reported to be prowling around Brown Station Road in Upper Marlboro. Over 200 reports of the Abominable Phantom, as the creature was called, were received by police in the space of a week.

According to, a Washington Post article appearing in November 1971 reported that a dog belonging to April Edwards of Bowie was killed, its severed head the only part of it that was found. The head was discovered by Willie Gheen and Ray Hayden. The night before, Ray's brother had encountered a 6-foot tall bipedal hairy creature which made whining, squealing sounds near the railroad tracks at Old Fletchertown Road.

The autumn of 1976 had Francine Abell seeing a grayish-brown, round-shouldered animnal with reflective red eyes cross the road in front of her car on Route 198 and then step over the guard rail and disappear. In March 1977, a NASA engineer witnessed a Bigfoot-type tossing a dog onto the road at I-95 and Powder Mill Road in Beltsville. In August 1982 a sighting of a gorilla-like animal was made in a field near the United States Agricultural Research Center (USARC) in Beltsville, a building with other bearings on the Goatman legend as seen below.

In August 2000, a number of construction workers saw a 12-foot tall Bigfoot-like creature roaming around suburban Prince George's. This seems unusually tall for a Sasquatch, if not exaggerated.

An undated encounter with Goatman was described by "thestereogod" in Weird Maryland, surfacing from the military housing complex near Andrews Air Force Base. A quadrupedal figure which later rose onto two legs was seen near a stream, and later hoofed footprints were found in the area.

The legendary version of the origin of Goatman has it that a scientist working at the USARC in Beltsville (above) became the axe-wielding beast-man, though the mechanism differs from teller to teller: some have it that the scientist simply went mad, and took up residence in the wooded lands. Others will have it that through a horrible accident, the scientist was mutated into a goatish figure. Yet another variation has the scientist working on a cure for cancer when this happened (living near a large pharmaceutical lab as I do, I can confirm that sheep and presumably goats are indeed used for generation of various vaccines and such -along with its area of origin, that makes this version sound as if it could be a response to the anthrax attacks immediately post-9/11).

Yet another variant of Goatman surfaces from Depression-era Anne Arundel County, and seems more believable. In this one, Goatman was an accident victim who suffered brain damage. In the accident, his head was disfigured and appeared to have two horn-like projections. He wandered the wilds, killing and eating animals raw, armed with a shotgun or sickle. He was apparently quite misanthropic.

Like all good urban legend figures, Goatman has particular haunts, though it's difficult to pin down just one. Of course, as mentioned above, one of his preferred regions is the area around Fletchertown Road near Bowie. Some also have him taking up residence at the Glenndale Asylum, and abandoned mental-health facility near Lanham-Seabrook - or maybe, as some variants have it, he is a former resident of the hospital.

Goatman is also reported to frequent the area around Lottsford Vista and Ardmore-Ardwick Road in Mitchellville as well as Tucker Road in Oxon Hill, where a satyr-like phantom terrorizes amorous teenagers.

In the area of Largo, Goatman is said to be tremendously fast and aggressive, running at speeds of up to 60 MPH and then launching himself at passing cars, accounting for a number of car accidents.

In another typical urban legend fashion, the stories of Goatman are hopelessly confused with other urban legends. One of the more notable of these is the notorious "Crybaby Bridge", which features in several urban legends nation-wide. The Crybaby Bridge associated with Goatman is on the border with Anne Arundel County, on Governor's Bridge Road. The bridge in question is an iron trestle, and legend has it that you can hear the crying of a baby who supposedly was hung from one of the iron beams. Some variants, though, claim this as Goatman Bridge, and the crying is no ghostly infant but Goatman himself. Another is on the Lottsford Vista Road.

As discussed in a previous post, the stories of Goatman and Bunnyman are inextricably linked. In fact, some variants have it that Bunnyman resembles a goat and that Goatman is simply a variant name for that figure. Some of the areas of Bunnyman legends, such as Greenbelt, are squarely in Goatman territory.

Goatman seems to have a notable antipathy towards dogs. The Bowie sighting discussed above involved the killing of a dog, and many have claimed to have seen Goatman throwing dogs off of overpasses on the Washington Beltway. Bigfoot also often have a dislike of dogs, the Beast of Seven Chutes and Momo having been seen with dead dogs. This is also a feature of the Mothman of West Virginia.

One wonders whether the frequenting by hairy hominids, etc. of the area near the USARC is due to the easy availability of prey animals such as goats and sheep.

Whether Goatman is a Bigfoot or NAPE, a strictly urban-legend figure, or something else entirely, is up for dispute. However, it does seem something has taken root in Prince George's County.

Check out the rest of the Urban Legends of Maryland mini-series:

Part One: Pigwoman

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The naked phantom of Manheim

Der Nockisher Mon, or The Naked Man, is an apparition supposedly haunting the neighborhood of Buchtown south of Manheim, Lancaster County. It was seen by Mary Ann Litzenberger sometime around the beginning of the 1900s. As Litzenberger said:
To my astonishment as I gazed across the field nearby, I saw the ghost of a stark-naked man rise up from a fence corner and slowly walk across the field, not looking right or left, but having a worried look on his face.

"I yelled with all my might to my sisters, saying in Dutch, 'A nockisher mon! Don't you see him?' But they insisted they didn't see anything of the kind.
After talking with a neighbor, Litzenberger went on:
She informed me that there really was such a spook, that she had seen it too, at different times. She explained that there had been a dispute about the correct line of the property, and the ghost of the farmer-owner verified it by stepping it off where it should be.
Why the ghost was naked, we may never know! Perhaps it was not a ghost, but a free-roaming spirit manifestation like the other "wild men" throughout history.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Dwayyo and others

Linda Godfrey has received this account via her website:
This sighting occurred in late fall of 1976 in Frederick Co. MD near the town of Thurmont. My friend had picked me up at my house and we had gone into town with plans to meet some other friends to drink some beers at a local pub. Since our friends had not yet arrived we decided to take a short drive up Rt. 77 to a field where it was common to observe deer feeding at night.

The field was on the edge of the woods which bordered the areas of the Cunningham Falls State Park and the Catoctin Mt. National Park. We drove off the main road onto a small private access road which led up to the field. Upon arriving we drove the car to a point where the headlights illuminated the area but to our disappointment no deer were to be seen. After spending several minutes there we turned the car around and slowly headed back down the small road from where we had entered.

Suddenly from the left side of the road a large creature, running on two legs, bounded and leaped across the road and disappeared into the brush on the other side. It passed directly in front of us not more than 30 feet away. My first reaction was shock and amazement but I quickly controlled my surprise and decided not to say anything to see if my friend would react and allow me to better determine what had just happened. Immediately he exclaimed “WHAT WAS THAT MAN!!!” In a calm but excited voice I replied “Tell me what you saw”, tell me what you saw!”

We both began to describe to each other the strange sight which had just passed before our eyes. Here I wish to add something that is hard to explain except to those who have had a similar experience. When one sees something that is totally unlike anything one has seen before it is actually hard to put into words or even cognitively recognize what that thing is or what you have seen. It is hard to get a point of reference for something unlike anything you have seen before. Thus we spent the next couple of minutes trying to calm down and decide just what it was we had seen. Needless to say we were both nervous and a little shaken from the experience and decided to continue directly back to town.

Both of us had a good look at the creature. It was likely at least 6 ft tall but inclined forward since it was moving quickly. Its head was fairly large and similar to the profile of a wolf. The body was covered in brown or brindle colored fur but the lower half had a striped pattern of noticeable darker and lighter banding. The forelegs (or arms) were slimmer and held out in front as it moved. The back legs were very muscled and thick similar to perhaps a kangaroo.

I do not recall the tail of the animal although my opinion is that it did have one. It moved in a leaping bounding motion and crossed the distance of the road in front of us in two or three leaps. It was very fast and athletic and was obviously trying to get away quickly. This was not a hominoid type creature; it did not have the characteristics of an ape. It was much more similar to a wolf or ferocious dog however it was definitely moving upright and appeared to be adapted for that type of mobility. I was particularly impressed by the size and strength of the back legs, the stripes on the lower half of the body and the canine-wolf-like head.

After we calmed down my friend and I talked about whether or not we should report what we had seen but we decided not to. I mentioned to him that years previously in the mid sixties there had been reports published in the local paper the Frederick News-Post of some hunters who had reported a similar creature in the Frederick Co. area. At that time they called the creature a “duwayo” (I am not sure the spelling is correct). Because of this we decided this is what we had seen.

That evening we told our friends the story but they weren’t too inclined to believe us unless they could see it for themselves and we were definitely not interested in going back to the area that evening. Since that time I have moved away from the area and have had only a few opportunities to see my friend who shared this experience with me. Every time we’ve met however he always asks me if I remember the night we saw the duwayo.
Mark Chorvinsky and Mark Opsasnick report that there was a sighting of "a large hairy creature running on two legs" made from the Cunningham Falls area where the above sighting took place by park rangers in 1978. And in the 1890s, a local farmer reported seeing a doglike creature 9 feet tall at Camp Greentop, only a bit northwest of this sighting off Manahan Road.

The Duwayo the witness mentions (Dwayyo or Wago) was first reported from Carroll County in 1944. It was reported to have uttered frightful screams and to have left footprints. The creature really became infamous on November 27, 1965 when it was seen by a John Becker at the Gambrill State Park further south along the South Mountain northwest of Frederick. However, no trace of a 'John Becker' could be found (the picture above is a depiction of this creature).

A woman in Ellerton, north of Myerstown, reported hearing screaming or crying sounds and another woman in Jefferson, along the southern reaches of South Mountain, said that she had seen a calf-sized dog chasing cows. University of Maryland students laughably claimed to have encountered the Dwayyo on campus there, and that it originated from the Amazon jungle.

(A 2006 article by Craig Heinselman records a similarly-described creature to the Dwayyo and more specifically to the Shookstown sighting described below from Nevada, where it is called the Whoahaw or Wahhoo. It also likens it to the "bearwolf" of Wisconsin.)

The Gambrill State Park near Shookstown was also the site of the sighting in 1966, by a 'Jim A.' of a screaming creature the size of a deer, dark brown in color. The shaggy-haired creature had a triangular head and pointed ears and chin and back slowly away from the witness. Its legs, he said, "stuck out from the side of the trunk of the body making its movements appear almost spider-like as it backed away."

In just the last post I mentioned the sightings of a "gorilla" further north along the South Mountain in Adams County, Pennsylvania. Some sightings of that creature described it as a kangaroo. That monster made a gurgling noise when it was heard.

Also from this area, stories of werewolves circulated around near Mt. Holly in Cumberland County, as described in Matt Lake's Weird Pennsylvania. In the early 1970s, someone giving his name only as "Skywalker" claimed to have seen a man-sized ape-like creature run across the road in the northern Adams County hills (it is notable that though discussed in connection with the werewolf legends, nothing in the description indicates a Bray Road-type animal).

There are also the sightings of the Dorlan Devil, a leaping kangaroo-type reported from Chester County and the Brandywine Valley. Traditions of the Red Dog Fox, a werefox, exist further south along the Brandywine near Wilmington, Delaware and a sighting of a kangaroo was reported from the nearby town of Concord.

The South Mountain area, of course, is also home to reports of a black dog called the Snarly Yow, described in an article I wrote for Mysterious Britain & Ireland.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part VI: The Gorilla

In 1922, Shoemaker wrote Allegheny Episodes, which contained a tale called "The Gorilla". The tale, a story of murder and revenge, was a fictionalized account based on actual incidents which took place in the early 1920s in Pennsylvania and Maryland. These events are chronicled by Chad Arment.

The first incident, and apparently the one Shoemaker's story was based on, took place in December, 1920 when Samuel Bolig, 13, was attacked by a "gorilla" on his father's farm in Globe Mills (Snyder County), and his knee dislocated in the attack. It was said that the gorilla was an escapee from a circus in Williamsport. It was later reported that no other inhabitants of the area had reported sightings of the ape.

However, as an article on the case in the North American BioFortean Review reveals, a whole flap of sightings surfaced in 1921 from Adams County and surrounding areas.

1. Gettysburg (Adams County), January 19: The gorilla was spied sitting on a rock at Mount Rock. The only Mount Rock I could find is in Cumberland County, but it is described as very close to Gettysburg.

2. Idaville (Adams County), January 20: An animal described by some as a gorilla and by some as a kangaroo (shades of the Dorlan Devil) was pursued on Snyder's Hill and also on Pike Hill. It fled towards Cumberland County. Several hams were stolen from William Chamberlain's smokehouse and attributed to the gorilla.

3. Sunnyside (Cumberland County), January 24: Another sighting. A hunt was launched.

4. Waynesboro (Franklin County), January 26: Harry Shindledecker saw the gorilla near the baseball fields on Chestnut Street.

5. Rouzerville (Franklin County), January 26: The animal was seen by Henry Needy crouched at his brother's farm. Needy and two others hunted the gorilla, which they cornered at Mike Lookabaugh's farm, but it escaped. At one point, the hunters killed a black dog which they took to be the gorilla. The newspaper reported that Rouzerville had not known such excitement "since Lee's battered and disorganized legions came thundering down the mountain after the Battle of Gettysburg".

6. Monterey (Franklin County), January 26: In the evening, the animal was seen near the golf course on Mentzer's Gap Road by William Flohr and Maurice Molesworth. It was described as being about five feet tall. It approached them on all fours and made gurgling sounds.

7. Chambersburg (Franklin County), January 27: The gorilla was seen by Paul Gonder, who was gathering wood near Black's Gap.

8. Pen Mar (Franklin County), January 30: John Simmons saw the gorilla in broad daylight.

9. Rouzerville (Franklin County), February 2: The gorilla was seen crouching alongside s fence making a gurgling sound.

10. Franklintown (York County), February 9: Abraham Lau shot at what he thought was the gorilla and found he had shot his neighbor's mule.

11. Jack's Mountain (Adams County), February 9: Harvey Minnich and Frank Rodgers saw the gorilla as they were returning from York to Waynesboro.

A few weeks later, the editors of the Waynesboro Press ran another story of a supposed gorilla killed by William Quimby, a farmer in Queen Anne's County, Maryland. The encounter supposedly took place at Willoughby, a widely-dispersed handful of farms south of Starr and right on the southern border of the county. This story was apparently meant to close the case of the Pennsylvania gorilla, but it is unclear what, if anything, this case had to do with the Pennsylvania ones.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part V: Undead mountain lions

Shoemaker recounts several tales of various superstitions held about the mountain lion, including several of animated taxidermy mounts. The stories of the animated cougars seem to be unique to Snyder County and environs.

In Centerville (Snyder County), in 1864, a hunter killed a mountain lion and mounted it on the roof of his home. The lion's mate is supposed to have leapt upon the roof and knocked the mount to the ground, scooping it up and carrying it into the forests of Jack's Mountain, where the mounted cougar is supposed to have returned to life. A similar tale originates from Troxelville, again in Snyder County. Here, the skin of a mountain lion left mounted in an attic is reputed to have been encountered, still mounted, stalking the forests of the White Mountains.

The body of a mountain lion killed by Lewis Dorman on Shreiner Mountain on Christmas Eve, 1868 as well was reputed to leave its case at a New Berlin museum on Halloween and to hunt mice! The panther's body is now kept at Albright College.

The Senecas (an Iroquoian tribe living around what is now Warren County) believed that the souls of tyrants and unfaithful queens passed into the bodies of panthers, and for this reason the cougar was hunted. The early German settlers believed that cougars glowed at night, and that their eyes flashed green fire.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Henry W, Shoemaker, Part IV: Long-tailed bobcats

Shoemaker's pamphlet "Felis Catus in Pennsylvania" describes an incident on January 16, 1922 in which a wildcat was killed in Nockamixon (Bucks County) by 16 year old Tunis Brady. Frightful screams had been heard in the vicinity for three years. A detailed description of the dead animal quoted in the pamphlet describes a cat about 2 1/2 feet in length and a foot in height, with a broad head. It was a smoky gray color, with yellowish patches on its undersides. It had an 11 inch long tail which was bushy and rather like a raccoon's. It had a white spot on its throat and was marked with black stripes. At the time, it was believed that the animal may have been similar to a European wildcat (Felis sylvestris) and the original article describing Brady's kill is quite clear on its not being a bobcat (Lynx rufus) or lynx (Lynx lynx).

Elsewhere in Shoemaker's article it is described how just such an animal was kept in the Philadelphia zoo, and labelled an "Indian Devil". Similar animals were to be found in the Blue Ridge Mountains and also in the Chestnut Ridge area in the western part of the state. In around 1920, Daniel Trouts killed two similar wildcats in the same area as Brady's kill. Robert Lyman's Forbidden Land describes these wildcats as being recorded from Potter County.

Karl Shuker has noted that long-tailed specimens of the normally short-tailed bobcat and lynx have been recorded. In fact, despite the early denials, the size of the animal and coloration meshes perfectly with commonly-accepted traits of the bobcat. The striped markings of the animal may not line up perfectly, but as some lynx subspecies such as the Iberian lynx have coats with a striped appearance, this is not out of the ordinary either.

Furthermore, bobcats can be melanistic (black). I have been wondering whether a melanistic long-tailed bobcat could account for some of the sightings of "black panthers" often recorded. Also, a wildcat with similar markings to the Nockamixon one could account for sightings of "tigers".

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part III: Peter Pentz's maned cat

Another of Shoemaker's tales of the Lock Haven area in Clinton County was the account of a bizarre cat killed by the 'mountain man' Peter Pentz in 1798.

Shoemaker says that Pentz was visiting with Isaac Dougherty near McElhattan Run when they heard a commotion among Dougherty's animals. They found a steer dead, a large maned cat crouched over its body. Pentz and Dougherty tracked the animal up the side of Bald Eagle Mountain, eventually tracking it to a cavernous den in a 'bare place' (large rock-strewn clearings common to the area). Here, the two killed the maned cat and its mate, and captured three cubs.

Chad Arment points out that elsewhere in his writings (Extinct Pennsylvania Animals vol. 1) Shoemaker theorizes that Pentz's cat may have been "a modification of the prehistoric lions which Prof. Leidy called felis (sic) atrox". It is intriguing that such a similar idea to that espoused by Loren Coleman and Mark A. Hall was made over a half century before.

In the same passage he mentions that the Indians of Manhattan Island, New York, said that male cougar were maned. He also mentions later that the skin of a cougar killed along the Greenbrier River in West Virginia had a tail similar to that of an African lion.

In his original recounting of the tale, Shoemaker theorizes that the cat was an aberration of the normal cougar; it is perhaps possible that the genetic traits of Panthera atrox still exist in the genepool of the cougar accounting for lion-like attributes.

Recent studies have indicated that prehistoric lions including P. atrox lived until 13,000 years ago.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Henry W. Shoemaker, Part II: The White Wolf of Sugar Valley

A white wolf haunted the earliest settlers of Sugar Valley, near Loganton (Clinton County) around 1840. The wolf was first encountered by Philip Shreckengast of Tylersville near his barn. It had apparently been eating some animal as its mouth was bloodstained. Shreckengast managed to sever the wolf's tail by slamming the barn door. The wolf was also seen in the graveyard at Brungard's Church by a preacher, who said it was yelping "like a yellow cur that had had boiling water poured on it" as it ran out of the gate.

Granny McGill, a supposed witch living near Lock Haven, told Jacob Rishel that before contacting George Wilson (the killer of two "werewolves" in Wayne Township) they should attempt to locate a black lamb born during a new moon in the Autumn of the year. One was eventually procured, and the wolf was indeed trapped and killed.

The pelt was described as being shaggy and long-haired, almost like an Angora goat, rather than short-haired like the average wolf.

The head of the wolf was displayed mounted on a pole near Jacob Rishel's home. Children were afraid to pass by the head. It was reported that the jaws of the severed head moved, and that the eyes flashed green, and that as long as it was present it warded away wolves from Rishel's farm.

Shoemaker also recounts in his account of the white wolf in "Wolf Days in Pennsylvania" that another wolf which he likened to the French Beast of Gévaudan terrorized the area around Carroll, although no date is given for this event. This wolf was killed by John Schrack, who also had the pelt of the white wolf, as it was attempting a 16-foot leap over a stockade fence at a sheep pen. One of its paws was impaled on the top of the stockade for a good luck charm (elsewhere Shoemaker mentions that this tradition was a widespread one in Sugar Valley and elsewhere).