Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Tearful Squonk by Mae Clair

It’s always fascinating when I stumble upon a new creature in my ongoing searches for all things odd, mythical, or cryptozoological. Even more rewarding when I discover a beastie from my native state of Pennsylvania.  Today, I’d like to introduce the Squonk.

Doesn’t the name sound like something out of Dr. Seuss or Jabberwocky? I love saying it. Give it a try… “Squonk.” It makes me want to cuddle the poor thing.

As it turns out, the squonk could probably use a good cuddle— assuming you could get past its ghastly appearance.  A mid-sized animal that goes about on four legs, the squonk will never win a beauty contest. Its skin, which sags and flops on its frame, is covered in a mish-mash of warts, boils, and moles.

Illustration of the mythical Squonk, a creature rumored to haunt the hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania

Illustration from “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods” illustrated by Coert Du Bois and by William T. Cox, 1910 PUBLIC DOMAIN . By Coert Du Bois and by William T. Cox;Tripodero at en.wikipedia [Public domain or Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons

Said to favor the dense Hemlock forests of Northern Pennsylvania, this pitiful creature spends most of its time hiding and weeping, ashamed of its grotesque appearance. Bashful and retiring, it usually ventures out at dusk when it is less likely to be seen. On nights illuminated by a full moon it prefers to stay completely hidden, fearing it might otherwise catch a glimpse of its reflection in a pond.

Numerous hunters have attempted to capture a squonk, tracking the animal by the trail of its tears. All have failed. If cornered, or even frightened, the squonk will quickly dissolve into a puddle of tears.

How terribly sad is that?

Legend tells of a particularly clever hunter who was able to lure one of the creatures into a sack. He quickly tied the bag and hefted the beast over his shoulder for the stroll home. Halfway there he realized his burden had grown incredibly light. When he looked inside the sack he discovered nothing but liquid—all that remained of the woefully despondent squonk.

Although it’s not entirely clear from the research I’ve done, I tend to think the squonk reverts back to its physical form when the threat has passed—and most assuredly begins weeping again.

Given its pitiful existence, I hereby nominate this Mythical Monday as “Hug a Squonk Day.” Assuming, of course, you can catch one long enough to brighten the poor thing’s dismal existence!

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?

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: Pennsylvania’s Yellow Monster by Mae Clair

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a bit of myth! Digging around in some old folktales, I found another related to my home state of Pennsylvania. This one comes from Berks County in the eastern half of the state. It relates to a creature so bizarre, it was never even given a proper name other than to be tagged the “yellow-what-is-it.”

Early in October of 1879 in the tiny town of Topton Station, the son of the local prison inspector, a Mr. Schmel, set a hunt in motion with his tale of an unidentified monster.  On a brisk fall day, he raced into the local motel and breathlessly told his story to the hotel’s owner, Mr. Hinnershitz.

Country Yard showing side of barn and wagon wheelSchmel was backed up by his friend, Jared Rissmiller. Together, the two men had been herding cattle when they spied a yellow creature in an open field just outside of town. According to Schmel it was about four feet tall with long arms, and two fingers on each arm resembling claws. No mention of hands, but its feet were said to be flattened lumps without toes. Its head was furrowed, its body smooth. The creature was male, naked, and covered in dirt or clay. When spotted, it ran toward Schmel as if to grab him, then abruptly changed its mind and fled into a cornfield.

Shaken but fueled by adrenalin, the two friends quickly secured the cattle and set off in search of the beast. Not long afterward they found the creature curled into a ball on the opposite side of the cornfield.

This image conjures such a pitiful picture in my head, it makes me think the “monster” was more frightened of them than vice-versa. It isn’t specified, but I’m sure the men made a fearful sight, probably armed with rifles, pitchforks or clubs. When it realized it was discovered, the poor beast leapt to its feet and stood blinking at them. Perhaps it was confused or too terrified to move. Whatever the delay, it allowed Rissmiller a closer look.

“It was yellowish brown in color with no hair, small eyes and face, arms about fourteen inches long, legs somewhat longer, the hands and feet resembling those of a human being.” Rissmiller also said it had two horns on top of its head. He and Schmel tried to capture the beast but it was able to escape, scurring into the woods beyond a fencerow.

Several days later the yellow-what-is-it was spied by another resident. Mr. Heckman supported the description given by Shcmel and Rissmiller but thought the creature might be an escaped gorilla.

Hmmm . . .clearly, Mr. Heckman hadn’t encountered many gorillas in his day, because:  one, the description wasn’t even a distant match and two, there was no news of an escaped gorilla anywhere in the vicinity.

dirt road leading into woodsThat didn’t prevent the local residents from taking action,however. Fired up by the thought of a creature haunting the countryside, they diligently combed the area. In the days that followed, reports filtered in of odd footprints discovered around town, strange tracks in plowed fields, and bizarre cries echoing from the woods at night. Some townspeople whispered their fear of being followed when their path led them on darkened roads after twilight. The growing terror eventually prompted armed patrols. Men with rifles began traversing the area at night, accompanied by dogs.

Yet despite all these efforts, the yellow-what-is-it, was never captured or seen again. The unidentified creature remains a mystery tucked into the annals of Pennsylvania’s dusty folklore. Perhaps, realizing it was no longer safe, it moved to another area. Or perhaps it was ill and eventually perished. There are no accounts of the beast actually harming anyone, despite all the hysteria it generated. For that reason, part of me can’t help but feel sympathetic toward it. What do you think?