Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Werewolf Tale, by Mae Clair

Wolf in silhouette howling at full moonFor today’s Mythical Monday, I’m sharing a legend from my home state of Pennsylvania. Some of you who have followed my blog for a long time know I have a fondness for werewolf folklore. I used it in my first novel, WEATHERING ROCK, and never tire of the many twists and turns this legend has undergone through the centuries. Pennsylvania doesn’t seem like prime territory for werewolves, but there’s no arguing wolves in general once roamed the state.

In the 1800s wolves plagued the German settlers of Northumberland County, raiding local farms and carrying off chickens, sheep, and goats.

May Paul was just a child at the time, but she tended her family’s sheep, taking them to graze among the surrounding fields. One day, while going about the chore, she encountered a gray-haired man with a grizzled beard. People in the community routinely gossiped about a hermit who lived in the woods, and had a strange way about him. Her parents had instructed her to avoid the man if she ever encountered him, but May saw nothing wrong in befriending him.

The man didn’t talk much, but he seemed gentle and kind. Over time, it became habit that whenever May took her sheep out to graze, the hermit would appear and watch over her from a distance. Sometimes she spied wolves on the perimeter of the grazing field, but never had to fend them off. While her neighbors’ sheep suffered grisly attacks, any pack that roamed near May’s flock retreated abruptly, as if frightened away by something.

wooden fence in the grass on the hillside near the village at night in moon lightOne night, a farmer heard a commotion in his barn. Fearing a wolf attack, he grabbed his rifle and hurried outside. A grizzled grey wolf raced past, so close, he was able to shoot it cleanly. The great beast loped off into the night, but left a blood trail behind. Wanting to finish the job, the farmer followed the trail a short distance before deciding against the folly of chasing a wounded animal in the dark. The wolf was injured and couldn’t roam far.

Confident he could bag the animal in the morning, he returned to his house, picking up the trail again after daybreak. He followed the blood to the cabin of the old hermit, venturing cautiously inside when he received no answer to his shouts. He found the old man dead in a pool of blood, a gunshot wound to his chest.

When the community got wind of what had happened, locals immediately branded the hermit a werewolf. Hadn’t he always been strange and secretive, living alone, and keeping to himself? They buried his body in the dirt floor of his cabin, christening the spot Die Woolf Man’s Grob, which translated means “The Wolfman’s Grave.”

When May heard the news, she was devastated by the loss of her friend. Turning a deaf ear to the gossip, she steadfastly refused to believe the old man had been a werewolf. But thereafter, whenever she tended her sheep, an old grey wolf would watch from the distance—much in the same way her hermit friend had watched over her.

Wolves continued to raid local farms, but never ventured near the farm owned by May’s family. The old grey wolf stood guard in the distance, driving the rogue packs away whenever they drew near. As decades passed, the attacks eventually dwindled. Wolves were killed or driven off. As for the old grey wolf, it made a final appearance around the time of May’s death.

As I look back over this tale, what strikes me most about it is the bond between May and the hermit/werewolf. Usually werewolves are depicted as killers, but in this case, the creature protected not only May, but her family, and her family’s farm as well. Of all those in the community, May was the only one to show the old man friendship, and he returned it a hundredfold by keeping the packs of rogue wolves at bay.

Are you a fan of werewolf tales?

16 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Werewolf Tale, by Mae Clair

  1. I love werewolf tales. This local legend is fascinating. Wolves are very loving animals, to their mates, their young and their pack. I think werewolves would be so too, therefore to see the old wolf’s loyalty to the young girl is logical. A very interesting story. Thanks for sharing.

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    • Wolves do look after their own. Perhaps the old wolf viewed the girl like a daughter. It’s a nice thought, isn’t it? I love how protective he was of her and those she loved. Finding this legend in Pennsylvania was a welcome surprise given my affinity for werewolf folklore!

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  2. What a nice twist on a wolf story, that the noble animal acted as a guardian for the girl. Her name, May–a time of spring and even with a goddess so named–is also suggestive of the protection of female power by the tender grandfather figure. It puts me in mind of Native American folklore that honored animal spirits. Thanks for the post, Mae!

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    • He did act like a tender grandfather, so wonderfully attentive. In some of the tales I found on this May is spelled the older way of “Mae” (naturally, I couldn’t help noticing that, LOL). Nice connection with Native American folklore and animal spirits, Flossie. I hadn’t thought of that! 🙂

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  3. Great post as usual. A touching story of the bond between the young girl and the hermit/werewolf. A bond that extended even after the old man’s death as human.
    As Daisy and Flossie point, wolves are noble animals and it seems we misunderstood their behavior.
    The wolf is a near mirror of our own society, with only the absence of our excessive violence toward each other. There is a Native American saying: there’s no such thing as an orphan in the wolf world.
    And, by the way, Caleb in Weathering Rock was a most fascinating “werewolf”.

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    • HI, Carmen! I never heard that saying before, and it’s a great one. Thank you so much for sharing it here! And I’m delighted to hear you found Caleb’s werewolf curse in Weathering Rock fascinating. As my very first release, that novel still has a special place in my heart. 🙂

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  4. Nice tale, Mae.
    There was definitely a bond between May and the man/wolf. He continued to watch out for her even after his death. I hope they met again when May passed away.

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    • I like to think they did, Emma. I even imagined him (the wolf) waiting for her when she passed, then walking at her side as he lead her into the light. I always need an HEA! 🙂

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