Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The Snallygaster

Below is an essay written by my brother, Jason Burns, about the Snallygaster. I assisted Jason in researching this topic. I kept finding mention of the Snollygaster/Snallygaster/Snoligaster whenever I looked through old local news items in The Pendleton Times newspaper. Growing up, I'd always heard about the Snollygaster but never did pay much attention to it, so I kept telling Jason about these stories I was finding in the old newspapers. He took it upon himself to do alot of research and then he wrote the following essay on The Snallygaster.

My brother, Jason, is a member of the West Virginia Storytelling Guild who specializes in ghost stories, monsters and supernatural legends of West Virginia & Appalachia. He has collected & documented a ghost story from every county in WV, and has several dozen monsters from around the state as well. If anyone is interested, Jason is now booking speaking engagements/parties for 2009. In 2008, he was a finalist for the "Governor's Arts Award for Appalachian Folklore", given annually by the West Virginia Division of Culture and History. You can find out more about him on his website, West Virginia Spectral Heritage.

The Snallygaster by R. Jason Burns

The Snallygaster is a monstrous beast whose rampages were recorded in Maryland, Virginia, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia starting in 1735. The reports of a bloodsucking dragon-like beast with wings, claws, tentacles, fur, horns, and a long reptilian tail continued into the mid 1970s. In addition, the Snallygaster had only one eye in the middle of its head and had a horrible sulfuric smell. A group of lumberjacks also claimed to have come upon the Snallygaster’s nest, which was perched on a high cliff and contained an egg “big enough to hatch a horse”. Often accompanied by its signature bloodcurdling roar, the beast attacked people, pets, and livestock in the aforementioned states. The Snallygaster’s rampage was so prolific and terrifying that it attracted the attention of President Theodore Roosevelt, who allegedly planned to kill and mount the beast for display in the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

The beast got its name from German immigrants who settled in the region. “Snallygaster” is a corruption of the German word “schnellgeiste” which means “quick spirit”. The Snallygaster evidently had many frightening attributes, which included its dragon wings, poison breath, toothy beak, tentacles, and its penchant for sucking blood. The monster is said to have been one of the reasons behind the “seven pointed stars” and hex signs that were painted on barns and houses in the area. Apparently these worked as magical charms that kept the Snallygaster away.

In Pendleton County, WV, the beast’s rampage lasted from 1935 to 1941. Its first appearance was reported in the Hopewell section of the Pendleton Times newspaper in March of 1935. Hopewell is a tiny community near the Bland Hills in the North Fork area of the Germany Valley, near a holler named Monkeytown. According to the newspaper article, the Snallygaster was terrorizing the family of Kennie Bland on March 1, 1935. Bland was “left high in the air” by the monster, presumably referring to Bland being treed by the beast.

Two months later the Snallygaster was again noticed in Hopewell. This time the beast reportedly roared and “snarled” on May 10, 1935. That day being Sunday, the locals stated that the beast was attempting to prey upon those who were less than pious. The Snallygaster also allegedly spewed forth a “poison vapor” wherever it went. However, it did not attack anyone that night, because all those who witnessed it stayed inside their homes until it departed.

Following these two occurrences, the Snallygaster was not seen in Hopewell for nearly six years. Presumably it had moved into another area of the country, probably terrorizing people in Maryland or Pennsylvania. However, the beast returned to the Hopewell community on St. Valentine’s Day, 1941. Apparently the beast had been spotted in the area prior to that report. “Old Dog Blue”, a hound that had been paralyzed through a previous battle with the Snallygaster, first noticed the beast in the area and set up a howling chorus to warn the neighborhood of its approach. The people of the town escaped to the safety of their homes, but not before they witnessed the Snallygaster’s large “fiery” eyes, large tail, and monstrous-sized teeth.

The beast’s last recorded appearance in the Hopewell community was recorded on July 11, 1941. Apparently it came upon the town rather quickly, surprising the populous and causing them to run for any safety they could find. The people were able to find shelter in homes and other places, and all of them survived except for Old Dog Blue, who was last seen trying to evade the Snallygaster.

The Snoligaster was not reported until June the next year. On June 29, 1945, the Pendleton Times reported “the howl of the dreadful Snoligaster” was heard in the Hopewell community again. The dogs of the area, hearing its scream, hid from the beast in any place they could. One dog was deaf, however, and was killed by the Snoligaster because he did not hear it. Some local women hid in their attic to get away from the Snoligaster, but one lady was so scared that she fell into the slop barrel. She was rescued by her husband and they sought safety together. Then suddenly the Snoligaster tale took a turn. It seemed to be breeding.

In April, 1946, a coon hunter in Doddridge County found what was thought to be a Snoligaster cub. The hunter dug it out of a hole in the ground after seeing his dog retreat from it. The animal, still living, was examined by a group that included two Salem College professors and a representative from the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The Snallygaster cub was about the size of a half-grown rat, and it was colored light blue with a light yellow face. Its eyes were close together and near the end of the nose, its ears were attached low on its head near the jaw line, and it had cat-like claws. In addition, it was covered in a fine-textured fur. The group decided to raise the cub to see what it turned out to be, but whether or not they succeeded is unknown. Later that same month, the Pendleton Times reported that the towns of Hopewell and Monkeytown were in the process of installing electric lights, and when that occurred the Snoligaster would probably “wind his way into darker corners” in order to prey upon the area’s population. Whether it was the electric lights or not, the Snoligaster was not reported in the area news again.

Events related to the life of the Snallygaster continued, however. In the 1960s, the Pepsi Company paid tribute to the beast when it introduced a drink named “The Snallygaster”, which was composed of Mountain Dew and vanilla ice cream. The last event in the long, frightening history of the Snallygaster was in 1976, when the Washington Post funded an expedition to find the beast. Nothing was ever found – no eggs, tracks, or any other evidence. Despite this, the state of Maryland placed the Snallygaster on the Endangered Species list in 1982.


Wikipedia Online. 2006 Edition.

The Pendleton Times, Franklin, WV. March 1, 1935; May 10, 1935; February 14, 1941; July 11, 1941; and April 5 & 12, 1946.

Timothy L. Cannon and Nancy F. Whitmore, Ghosts and Legends of Frederick County. Sept 1979.

Hooper, Anne B. (1974). Braddock Heights: A Glance Backward. Great Southern Printing Co. p. 71-72.

The Valley Register, Middletown, MD. February 12—March 5, 1909


tipper said...

Jason did an outstanding job! I've heard of the snallygaster-but didn't really know what it was-now I do!

The Tile Lady said...

This was an excellent read--tell Jason thanks for writing the history of the Snollygaster. I wonder what that little animal was that they found? It probably didn't survive. How neat that Maryland placed it on the endangered species list! I enjoyed this. Reminds me of the Chupacabra stories one hears.