A Monster Metaphor Slavery

Throughout time ponderous monsters have tread the pages of newspapers in the form of cartoons embodying social woes. Similarly, the question has risen as to whether the Snallygaster is itself an allegory for some political turmoil. Fearful and foreboding imaginings are by their very nature inherently symbolic and can represent different things to different people. In regards to the snallygaster being a personification of the evil of racism, such an argument is not without its merits.

In 1910 an analogously-titled beast makes an appearance in William T. Cox's book: Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods. This creature, dubbed the snoligoster, is aquatic rather than airborne, but shares both the snallygaster's taste for human blood and its half-serpentine nature.1 In addition to these traits both monsters share a bitter disposition toward African Americans suggestive of this metaphor.

In Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State, the author directly alludes to such attitudes by stating: 2

“In the Middletown Valley section of western Maryland the fabulous ‘snallygaster’ flies into a little settlement of log cabins that served as slave quarters prior to the Civil War. The great bird preys upon Negro children out after dark, and on occasion has even been known to carry off a full-grown man to its lair in the near-by mountains.”

It is worth noting that these previous lines, specifically the phrases "preys upon," "after dark" and "carry off," are highly suggestive of the practice of lynching. In the contemporary period so-called "sunset towns" were declared wherein African Americans would be barred from entering after nightfall. Any "violators" would be sought out by lynch mobs, dragged to a secluded location and "dealt" with. Even in Frederick County such practices were not unheard of and which represent perhaps the singular most, brutal and violent acts in the whole of American history. It only goes to follow that the question becomes why clothe atrocities in the form of a monster, why not just tell it like it is? Was the snallygaster a manifestation of the subconscious mind, a ruse to frighten the superstitious or a ploy to divert political reprisal? Then again maybe the answer is simply that— monsters of the imagination are easier to accept than real ones.

Catalog House Monster See, the curious thing about folklore is how much truth there is behind it. Humans beings as a race tend to look away from terrifying realities, but are wholly willing to indulge frightening fantasies. So whenever one is confronted with something so terrible that people will never wish to mention it, but so important that everyone must know about it; than disgusing fact as fiction naturally becomes the choice means to reach such an objective.

1. William T. Cox, Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, with a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts (Washington: Judd & Detweiler, 1910), 15.
2. Pappas, 7.

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