Mythical Monday: The Burnt Swamp Monster by Mae Clair

Swamps just naturally seem to attract legends of monsters, and the Great Cypress Swamp of the Delmarva Peninsula is no exception. Locals tell countless tales of bizarre events associated with the swamp, dating as far back as the 1920s. According to folklore, two coon hunters were out with their dogs when they heard a horrible inhuman scream. The sound terrified them so much, they ran rather than fire, and were pursued by a large, lumbering creature. They never actually saw the beast, but heard its heavy tread as it gave pursuit, snapping off tree branches behind them.

Fog over a night time swamp

The tale grew over time, with the monster blamed for everything from mutilated chickens (they always get eaten, don’t they?), to missing pets, and even odd blood splatters found in the swamp. Most people avoided venturing into the dank area, but Prohibition was still going strong, making the site a favored hideaway for bootleggers.

In the early 1930s, Delmarva was plagued by extreme draught, the temperature climbing to a sweltering 110 degrees by July. It was during that exceptionally hot, dry summer that a massive fire took place. Most believe it started when a moonshiner’s still exploded. Fed by underground peat deposits, and the dried out “knees” of cypress trees that had been exposed by the draught, the blaze burned for eight months. Eight! Firefighters simply couldn’t combat it, and eventually it burnt itself out. From that time forward, the Great Cypress Swamp became known locally as the Burnt Swamp.

It’s rumored that a shingle-maker who lost his life in the fire still haunts the edges of the swamp. There are also references to the mysterious phantom of a young girl. Reportedly, a motorist who was driving across State Line Route 54 between Maryland and Delaware (a drive I have made many times) claimed to see a girl dressed in a flowing white gown. The girl ran across the road and vanished into the woods on the opposite side. The motorist was understandably shaken. Not only was the hour after midnight, but the girl carried her head in her hands.

As for the swamp monster, its preferred hunting time is thought to be late night or just after midnight. Descriptions from those who claim to have glimpsed the monster, range from a ghostly figure, to a hairy creature, to a two-legged, half-man animal. Is it possible this dark, perilous area is home to more than one supernatural being?

Others have reported hearing strange sounds and moans coming from the swamp and surrounding woods. On April 23, 1964, the Delmarva News ran a story on the swamp monster. Their reporter had spent nights in the swamp, tirelessly searching for the creature until he was finally able to capture it on film. A photo of the beast ran along with the story, and swamp fever was born. As it turns out, the story and photo were a hoax, a clever ruse and a bit of fun, undertaken by a local resident and the paper’s editor at the time. But it didn’t stop tales of the Swamp Monster from flourishing.

For years, teens flocked to the area, especially on Halloween night, daring each other to brave the haunted swamp as a rite of passage. Riddled with sinkholes and dangerous wildlife, it isn’t just the Burnt Swamp Monster those brave enough to try had to fear.

Swamps and bogeyman-like creatures are always entertaining tales for a late night campfire. Although I have visited Delmarva many times, and have never encountered the Burnt Swamp Monster, it’s interesting to note the legend lingers today. As a proper legend should.

Have you ever ventured into a swamp? Would you?

23 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: The Burnt Swamp Monster by Mae Clair

  1. I’ve never visited one and for sure I never intend to. Dangerous place. I wouldn’t know who to be afraid of more? Two-legged or more legged dwellers?

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    • Oh, yeah, all kinds of creepies in there for sure, Carmen. I’d have to be safe and secure in a boat, but for some reasons, swamps fascinate me. Er….minus the crocs and alligators of course! 😉

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  2. This is a great regular feature. And, yes, I’ve visited a swamp–I think the Everglades count but I was safely on a boat, enjoying a tour and looking out for crocodiles.

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  3. Misty swamps and shadows…the possibilities of what lies within are spine-chilling and mind-boggling. Living out here in the desert I haven’t had much opportunity to venture inside a swamp, and I’m not really sure I’d want to physically. However, I don’t have a problem allowing my imagination to wander there… As always, fun post, Mae! Happy Mythical Monday!

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    • Happy Mythical Monday back,atcha, Debbie! Isn’t it great we can let our imagination soar where we can’t? I’ve always held a fascination with the desert, too, but have only glimpsed it twice—once when visiting Arizona, and once when visiting Nevada. Equally chilling stories and mysteries can be spun from that terrain. For your neck of the woods have to rely a lot on my imagination! 🙂

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  4. My granny lived near the edge of a swampy area. I remember exploring it with never a thought of snakes or quicksand at the time. It was always a source of magic and mystery to me. I could well imagine a sinister creature such as you have described. Late in the year the leaves in there were scarlet and gold–so much more colorful and vivid than outside that Florida swamp. Thanks for a great post.

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    • What a great place that must have been, Floosie, but dangerous, too. As kids, I guess we don’t think of things like quicksand and snakes, just adventure. Your memories of that are beautiful. Your words painted a picture in my head!

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  5. Oh yes, I’ve ventured into one or two (I almost wrote ‘frequented’ but then I realized how truly creepy that would make me sound)! Dartmoor is riddled with myths and legends. The setting for Conan Doyle’s ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ was well chosen, because on a misty autumn night (cloud-mist, not fog at that height) the ghosts rush past you and the bogs tempt your feet such that you might believe in anything that Middle Earth suggests. It is a while since I have been there, but I remember a legend surrounding a hill that once was graced by a gallows, and how it’s rope could still be heard creaking on a windy night.

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    • I love the way you painted the images…I can see them in my head. Moors are so fascinating and also creepy (I remember how spooky it was watching Hound of the Baskervilles for the first time).The legends in your part of the world are so rich. That one about the gallows gives me chills. And I’m envious you’ve ventured into a swamp a time or two! 😀

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  6. I’ve never been near a swamp.
    I wonder if the reason that descriptions of the monster vary from witness to witness is because the monster takes the form of a person’s particular monster fear? 🙂
    Interesting post.

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    • Interesting thought, Emma. Monsters of that sort are said to populate the realms of the unexplained. Once again, I can’t help thinking what a great idea that would make for a story! 🙂

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  7. I live a few minutes from the Great Swamp. It’s breathtakingly beautiful in all seasons. There is definitely a presence in there, but it’s funny…I don’t ever feel fear. I have seen some disembodied wanderers there from time to time as well.

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    • I live on the edge of the burnt swamp. The history and lore is well known here. While real monsters may not exist, the dangers of this specific swamp is very real.

      It has been documented that bear and wildcats do stray down from Pennsylvania and seek refuge in wooded areas. This may be what the coon hunters experienced.

      The swamp is cut by a labyrinth of dirt roads, each one looking exactly like the next with very little to make bearings while exploring. The canopy off trees make it hard to keep direction by the sun, and more so by the moon and stars.

      I’ve explored the swamp my whole life and know not to venture too far. What makes the physical swamp more dangerous now then in the past is the conservation groups efforts to rehydrate the swamp after years of agricultural draining. The bogs are deep and unforgiving now.

      Cell phone service is sporadic at best.

      The same seclusion the bootleggers sought may also be sought by fugitives and outlaws. It’s not a place that is patrolled by anyone other then the conservationalists.

      All in all, it’s not a habitable place. It’s not a place to explore. There’s a reason we tell our children there’s a monster out there.

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      • Charles, thanks for a view from someone who has experienced this area first hand. I have been out of the country for over a week and just found your comment today. The Burnt Swamp does indeed sound like a place where one should not venture alone, nor very far. I found your detailed information fascinating, especially the descriptions of being inside the swamp itself. Thank you for sharing your knowledge with myself and my readers!

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  8. Pingback: To The Eastern Shore and The Beyond – didyouknowthis

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