Mythical Monday: The Brier Hill Monster

The autumn of 1926 was by all accounts a regular Pennsylvania autumn in Erie County. The trees were dressed in vibrant shades of orange, cinnamon and gold, with the nip of the coming winter biting at the air. Neighboring farms stretching between Brier Hill and Masontown looked postcard perfect—pastures slowly browning with the tint of fall, and curls of woodsmoke rising from the chimneys of picturesque homesteads.Farm field in autumn beneath a stormy skyThis placid atmosphere was shattered when a farmer found his chicken coop had been broken into. The carnage was gruesome, many of the chickens partially devoured. It seemed unlikely a dog or fox had been the culprit, and the farmer suspected a large predator. Still, others shrugged it off. Chickens were often the prey of wild animals, especially if the coop wasn’t adequately secured. Perhaps the farmer had been negligent in protecting his stock. And if not . . . well, wasn’t that the price of farming?

But within days, other chicken coops were attacked and several pigsties were breached as well. The unknown predator made short work of half-grown hogs, literally ripping them apart. More and more, it seemed some unusual animal was at fault. As the carcass count continued to grow, the creature was dubbed “The Murderous Monster of Brier Hill.” Parents feared letting their children outside. Any creature large enough to kill a hog could do the same to a child, possibly even an adult.

Fear rose to a feverish pitch when a farmer reported losing a cow and a horse to the beast. Both were found disemboweled, their carcasses ripped apart. Though they appeared to have struggled fiercely, even these large animals could not fend off their attacker.

Men quickly banded together in armed possess in an attempt to track the monster. For several weeks the carnage continued, and although blood trails were discovered leading to Brier Hill on two occasions, no evidence of the beast was ever found. After a while, the killings stopped. People latched onto the hope that the creature had tired of the area and moved on. Life eventually returned to normal for the farmers and the residents of neighboring towns, but the memory of that bloody autumn remained.

To this day, no one is certain of the true identity of the Murderous Monster of Brier Hill. Some insist a gorilla escaped from a circus in Brownsville around the same time, but there is no evidence to support an escape. Gorillas are also herbivores and would have no reason to slaughter and partially devour so many animals.

I came across this story in the book MONSTERS OF PENNSYLVANIA by Patty A. Wilson. Have you looked to see if there is a “Monster” book from your own state? It’s amazing the folklore tucked away in murky campfire histories. I wonder if the Monster of Brier Hill could have been a rogue black bear. Though you’d think farmers would certainly have recognized bear tracks. Still . . . it makes for interesting reading and speculating.

What do you think?

20 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Brier Hill Monster

    • I agree, definitely creepy. I wouldn’t have wanted to be a farmer back in the day when this was going on. And I think any time I went out I would have been constantly glancing over my shoulder looking for some horrible beastie. *shudder* Thanks for commenting, Mishka!

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  1. I love stories with creatures attached to specific places. Whatever it was, I know the farmers were relieved for it to move on down the road.

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    • Yep. Talk about relief. The chickens were bad enough but when it attacked a cow and a HORSE, that pretty much freaked me out. No chance of coming out of that one without a weapon of some kind *gulp*

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      • Evidently its appetite was growing larger with every meal. Can you imagine having been a farmer with such a thing happening? Zowie.

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  2. The unexplained is always far more intriguing than the explained. I think if might have been interesting to sit in the middle of a Brier Hill gathering and hear the possibilities the residents came up with… Great post Mae and Happy Mythical Monday!

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    • Hi, Debbie. Happy Mythical Monday back’atcha! 🙂 What a great thought, sitting in that gathering with everyone speculating on what the “thing” could be.

      I feel like you do too . . . unexplained legends are so much more intriguing than those with rational answers. I’m more than happy to entertain the mystery! 🙂

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  3. I wonder if it was a bear? Perhaps an old one who found it difficult to feed on other things. A very scary story for a campfire. I don’t know of many creature stories attached to places here. I’ll have to look into that. There must be a dragon tale or two as we are so close to Wales.

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    • If there are place legends in your area, Daisy, I bet they are fascinating. Most legends in the U.S. originated with the immigrants who came from part of Europe and elsewhere, bringing those old superstitions along.

      If I had to go with a rational guess, I’d go with a bear too, probably a rogue, maybe infected with mange or something. Though even a bear would have a tough time against a horse, I think. YIKES!

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    • Hi, L.J. I’ve definitely seen a book on Wisconsin monsters. I have one on order right now and I think it might be that one. The last time I went looking there were so many to choose from, I found it hard to decide, LOL.

      And I would have been terrified too . . . hunkered down inside with the doors and windows locked at night. Double and triple-bolted! 😀

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  4. Hi Mae,

    Really interesting legend. It’s funny, but this weekend I was up in Foresthills California and I started thinking about the birds, probably due to my bird book, and there is a phenomenon I remembered about birds in Beebe, Arkansas. On New Years Eve thousands of birds fell from the sky. I googled it, and it showed it happening for the third year in a row. Very interesting. I might have to work that into my story.

    Mary

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    • Ooo, that’s awesome. I think it would be a great thing to use in your WIP. I’m going to have to Google your reference. It sounds vaguely familiar. Can’t wait to learn more about it!

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  5. You have a lovely descriptive way of writing that makes me able to picture the Pennsylvania setting easily.
    Let’s hope this particular monster doesn’t come back, and if he does, he hasn’t moved onto humans! I’m not sure about local monsters, but definitely something to look up.

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    • I’m always shocked at how many places have local monster legends. So many in Pennsylvania that I didn’t even know about!

      I’m glad I was able to help you picture the setting. And I too hope that the creature has moved on. Location-wise it’s a little too close for comfort for me even if it was all those years ago!

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