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?

Mythical Monday: Thunderbirds and the Mysterious Disappearance of Tom Eggleton by Mae Clair

I can’t believe two weeks have swept by since I last posted on my blog. It’s true what they say about summer — life slows down and seems to move in fast-forward at the same time. Or maybe that’s just my own topsy-turvy view of warm weather months.

The first week of the July, I was on vacation. Seven whole days of relaxation, goofing off and neglecting my daily routine. Last week, I couldn’t seem to return to the flow, especially with several new projects coming onboard at my office.

Today, I am happy to return to Mythical Monday with a post on the Thunderbird.

These enormous winged creatures have been an integral part of Native American folklore down through the ages, but original Thunderbird legends date back thousands of years and can be traced to Egypt and Africa. With wingspans of twelve to fifteen feet or more, the Thunderbird has been known to carry off small animals, children and even adults. It is a formidable avian spirit, able to shoot lightning from its beak and summon the roar of thunder with a clap of its powerful wings. It is a storm spirit, a harbinger of change.

Dramatic sky

Surprisingly, there have been numerous sightings of Thunderbirds in the 20th and 21st centuries. My home state of Pennsylvania is abundant with them. The story I’d like to share, however, dates back to the late 1800s, a bizarre tale that beings on a hot summer evening in August 1897.

On that date, nineteen-year-old Thomas Eggleton decided to hike to nearby Hammersley Fork in order to mail his mother a letter. He told his employer, a farmer, where he was headed, then set out on his evening trek. It was likely a walk he’d undertaken numerous times in the past without incident.

But Tom never arrived in town, nor did he return to the farm the next day. Worried by his absence, the farmer traced Tom’s footsteps in the dirt, following the path he had taken toward Hammersley Fork. No doubt he had visions of Tom, always a reliable young man, injured and lying somewhere along the path. Much to his dismay, the farmer lost Tom’s tracks outside of town. Unwilling to abandon the effort, he enlisted others with bloodhounds. The dogs were able to pick up Tom’s scent and his trail was tracked to the middle of a bridge where it simply vanished.

Old Wooden Bridge through Heavy Forested Path

Unable to understand how the young man’s scent could cease to exist in the middle of a bridge, the people of Hammersley Fork, feared the worst. They dragged the river, but Tom’s body was never found. Spooked by the odd circumstances, the locals began to murmur among themselves about a thunderbird.

A few insisted they had seen a massive bird in the vicinity shortly before Tom’s disappearance. Surely it must have snatched him away and carted him off to a distant place from which he couldn’t return. With the flames of fear stoked, schools closed for a period of two weeks until the panic eventually dwindled and passed.

It wasn’t until four years later that news of Tom Eggleton surfaced again. On that day, the farmer who had employed Tom received a letter from him. Thankful to learn the boy was still alive, he eagerly tore open the envelope but his excitement gave way to shock. Tom relayed how he had only recently awakened in a South African hospital with no memory of his past or how he’d come to be there. All he could recall was that he had worked for a famer outside of Hamersley Fork.

Had Tom been abducted by a Thunderbird? Had it snatched him off the bridge as many locals speculated, or had he somehow slipped through a hole in time? The mystery of Tom Eggleton has no definitive answers, but whispers and rumors of Thunderbirds remain.

This story was relayed in the book, Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty A. Wilson. Want more weirdness? There are “Monster” books available with the strange denizens of various states on Amazon. Check them out! After all…

Who knows what creatures and beasties lurk in your neck of the woods!