The Snallygaster and Its Abominable Friends
The year is 1862, a Confederate unit is passing through Middletown Valley seeking assistance in preparing a meal for their regiment. A walk through of the neighborhood reveals a town seemingly deserted; doors locked, windows shut and not a person in sight. An exhaustive search precedes the discovery of a housemaid, who upon inquiry gave a most unexpected reply:

W.A. Johnson

“ On seeing us, they were evidently alarmed, but we quietly asked the lady if she would cook four pounds of flour for us. She replied that she would. This assured her that we were peaceful. I inquired of her why all the houses were so tightly closed and nobody visible. She replied that the Yankees had been to the town ahead of us, and had told the people that the rebels had but one eye and a horn, both in the middle of the forehead, and that they lived on women and children. I was amazed and asked her if they believed it. She replied
that they did. ”

- W.A. Johnson (Co. D, 2d S. C. V.) 1

There are some stories too good to be true, than there are other that are just too good.

Early America was a strange place, few migrants knew exactly what to expect in such a curious, unfamiliar land and some expectations were higher than others. For good authority has it that in the Appalachian foothills near South Mountain there exists a belief that the vicinity is plagued by a bloodcurdling, flying creature of vast proportions— the “snallygaster.” An avian-reptilian miscreation, the snallygaster is said to prey on poultry and carry off children after nightfall.2 At first glance the brute is suggestive of European dragons, the major divergence being the prior is wholly hideous. The grotesque gargantua boasts a beak of iron fitted with teeth of steel, claws like scythes, an eye midway in its forehead, a pair of feathered wings and a dozen, wriggling tentacles to boot.
But whatever the snallygaster lacks in wholesomeness it seems to make up in unquenchable appetite (in hindsight not the most favorable tradeoff). The snallygaster routinely draws it teeth into numerous fowl draining them of all bodily fluid. Pennsylvania Dutch tradition holds that hex signs, in the form of seven-pointed stars, afford the chief means of protection against the creature which dwells deep in the bowels of South Mountain.3

How Folklore Works

The Snallygaster and His Abominable Friends
Local legends seldom stem from a single source and newer names often become affixed to older stories. At first glance, the snallygaster is a marriage of folklore and urban legend; rooted half in the early superstitions of German settlers and half in the twentieth century hoaxes by the editors at the Middletown Valley Register. Beneath the surface it is not the product of one or two stories, but rather a puzzle fashioned together through time, with each new anecdote more sensational than the next. The author of the following summary is greatly indebted to Patrick Boyton for his definitive work: Snallygaster: the Lost Legend of Frederick County for having touched on much that is to say about the subject. In an attempt to elaborate further one must go through great lengths to follow the trail of breadcrumbs to a sufficient end. The result is a fresh investigation and a bit of unearthed intrigue concerning the snallygaster and its home at South Mountain.

1. W. A. Johnson, “The Confederate Soldier as a Curiosity,” The Anderson Intelligencer, July 03, 1901, 2. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.
2. Douglas Pappas, Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State (New York : Oxford University Press, 1940), 7, 348.
3. Patrick Boyton, Snallygaster: the Lost Legend of Frederick County (Frederick, MD: 2008), 55.
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