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Thursday, October 29, 2015

Snallygasters, Jersey Devils, and Jabberwocks

In the Northeastern United States there have been tales of strange flying monsters for hundreds of years. Lots of times, these monsters are said to look like a groutesque combination of many animals. Are they just legends, or are they something more?
Jersey Devil

The most famous cryptid of this sort is the Jersey Devil, said to live in the New Jersey Pine Barrons. Stories of the Jersey Devil go back to the 1700s, but its heyday (discussed later in this post) was in January 1909. Along with the Jersey Devil, there is a possibly even stranger creature called the snallygaster, and the jabberwock, too.


Starting in the 1930s, the area surrounding Washington, D.C. and Frederick County, Maryland was settled by many German immigrants. Many of these people told of seeing something they called a "Schneller Geist," which means "quick spirit" in German. The Schneller Geist was said to be some sort of dragon-like monster, part bird, part reptile, with a beak lined with sharp teeth and tentacles. So, not really something you'd want to run into when you're alone in the woods in the middle of the night!

Settlers said the creature, which later became known as the "Snallygaster" here in the U.S., would silently swoop out of the sky and snatch up human victims! Some stories also said that it drained the blood out of whatever it caught. Farmers painted seven-pointed stars on their barns, because that was supposed to keep the Snallygaster away. People still do it today.

In February and March, 1909, many newspapers carried stories about a "beast with enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead." The monster also was said to make "screeches like a locomotive whistle." After these stories came out, the Snallygaster received a great deal of publicity. The Smithsonial Insititution offered a reward for its hide, and President Theodore Roosevelt even considered hunting the beast.

Many people think the stories of a Snallygaster were just a newspaper hoax. It supposedly met its doom in a vat of moonshine. Maybe that's what started the stories of the Snallygaster in the first place?


There were also stories about the Dwayyo, another strange Maryland monster, said to be the enemy of the Snallygaster.

The Dwayyo is supposed to be bipedal, hairy, and has a bushy tail. It is commonly said to look like a wolf but stand like a human. (That sounds like a Dogman!)

The Dwayyo and Snallygaster are said to be bitter enemies. Violent encounters between them have been reported since settlers first arrived in the areas they supposedly inhabit.

On November 27, 1965, the Frederick News-Post, of Frederick County, Maryland, described an account of an encounter with a Dwayyo. Here's the account:

"Near the woods of Gambrill State Park, 'John Becker' went out in his yard to investigate a strange noise. It was getting dark, and he had started back to the house, when he saw something moving toward him. 'It was as big as a bear, had long black hair, a bushy tail, and growled like a wolf or a dog in anger.' As it got closer, it stood up on its hind legs and attacked him. 'Becker' fought the creature until it ran into the woods, leaving him, his wife and children in horror. Deciding to the remain anonymous under the alias John Becker, he filed a report with local state police, telling of an attack by a mysterious monster that he called a Dwayyo." 

If anyone can, I encourage them to see if they can find the Frederick News- Post from Nov. 27, 1965 and see if the story is really in there, or see if there was actually a police report about a Dwayyo attack. If the story is true, it really sounds like the Dwayyo is a Dogman.

Just like with the Snallygaster, the Dwayyo is probably more fiction than truth. But, there have been a good number of reported sightings besides the one above. Maybe there really is a werewolf-like monster in Maryland.


In January 1909, residents of New Jersey and surrounding states were in a panic because of reports of the "Jersey Devil."

The sightings started Saturday, January 16, when Thack Cozzens, from Woodbury, New Jersey, was leaving the Woodbury Hotel. As he was leaving, he heard a hissing sound and saw "something white fly across the street. I saw to spots of phosphorus, the eyes of the beast. There was a white cloud, like stream escaping from an engine… it moved as fast as an auto."

There was another sighting at 2 a.m. Sunday morning, in Bristol, Pennsylvania, when John McOwen woke up to the sound of his crying daughter. He went over to the window and saw a "creature that looked something like an eagle" that "hopped along the tow-path." Another Bristol resident, Officer James Sackville, saw the Jersey Devil after McOwen. As he was walking towards Buckley Street, he heard dogs barking at something. When he turned, he saw the creature. He said it was winged, hopped like a bird, had the features of some peculiar animal, and had a horrible scream. Sackville ran towards the creature and fired at it. The Devil started to retreat, flying close to the ground at first, but then shot upwards and out of sight.

Sightings of the Jersey Devil occurred in many other places in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and other surrounding states that week. The reports have been chronicled in many books on cryptozoology, (including my own book, and an older one called The Jersey Devil) so I will not go into the details of all the other sightings here.
Book on the Jersey Devil.
It's a good one, too!

Descriptions of the Jersey Devil varied widely, with some people saying it was about three-and-a-half feet tall, with a "head like a collie dog" or "face like a horse," back feet "like those of a crane," a long neck, horse hooves, short front limbs that it held up, and which had paws on them, wings, and even a serpent tail. One witness said it was "something like a possum, but the size of a dog" that "made a shrill bark and flew off into the air." Another said it had antlers, and yet other descriptions saying it was "three-toed and dog-like," had "eyes like blazing coals," and looked like "a winged kangaroo with a long neck." One woman said "It's a two-legged cow with wings!"

Sightings have continued after that week in January in 1909, but the Jersey Devil has never been sighted as much as it was that year. But, were people really seeing what they said they were seeing?

With all the varying descriptions, it's obvious that mass hysteria had at least a part in spreading rumors of the Jersey Devil. The real question is: did some of the witnesses actually see some unknown creature, and if they did, what was it? That question remains unanswered to this day.


What is a "jabberwock?" What does it have to do with snallygasters and Jersey Devils?
Jabberwocky from Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1872)
By Lewis Carroll

We're not talking about the jabberwocky from the Lewis Carroll poem. We're talking about the term "jabberwock" regarding snallygaster and Jersey Devil-like creatures.

One witness who saw the Jersey Devil, Louis Strehr, a Camden policeman, called what he saw a "jabberwock."  He said it had the antlers of a deer, the head and body of a kangaroo, and bat wings.

Did he just get the term from Lewis Carroll's poem? Probably. But now the name "jabberwock" is associated with weird winged wonders seen in Maryland and New Jersey.

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