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.
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?