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‘Keep Maryland magical’: A guide to the DMV area’s ghouls and cryptids

The national capital area is rumored to be home to a wide variety of unusual creatures.

Goatman

Prince George’s County’s own anthropomorphic night stalker, the Goatman, became a mainstream cryptid in the 1970s, said Stephen Barcelo, owner of the Cryptozoology and Paranormal Museum in Littletown, North Carolina. Goatman is believed to be responsible for the disappearance and/or deaths of several animals at the time.

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“Goatman’s one of those creatures favoring that old rail bridge that multiple people end up either falling off, being hit by a train and things of that sort,” Barcelo said.

There isn’t any photographic evidence of Goatman, Barcelo said, but sightings feature a consistent description, “Basically, it’s your typical half-man, half-goat.”

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Barry Pearson, a folklorist and professor in the English Department at the University of Maryland, said that goats have deep roots in folklore from around the world. They range from satyrs to deities to Satan.

“None of that has a whole lot to do with Goatman except to say that goats can be portrayed as really cute and cuddly — although they smell pretty bad — but everyone loves baby goats,” Pearson said.

“On the other hand,” he said, “if you ever take the time to kind of look at a kind of a grown-up goat, and look in their eyes, there’s something a little bit creepy about them. The way their eyes are shaped, among other things, as well as the horns and other things that have connections to some of our representations of Satan, the devil as we know it.”

The Goatman legend fits into a specific kind of narrative, Pearson said, one generally told by teens to other teens. Bigfoot, on the other hand, is generally seen by adults. It also fits into the “teenagers on Lovers Lane” trope.

“You’d probably be drinking beer if you’re a teenager or around that age,” he said. “And you’ve heard from your older brother or sister the story about the Goatman and where he’s located and how he hates teenagers. And so you decide, of course, that’s just what you’ll do, you’ll go out and look for him and show off how brave you are. And essentially, you’ll drive out there, and you do it as a group, and you’re kind of hanging around waiting for something to happen. And sure enough, somebody will hear something, and everyone will get scared and drive away.”

Goatman could have his origins in a hermit who lived in the area and who, according to Pearson, strongly resembled a goat.

Chessie

The only aquatic member of the Washington metro area’s cryptid contingent is Chessie, a sea monster rumored to patrol the Potomac, the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding tributaries.

The creature’s name is lifted from “Nessie,” the shortened nickname for Scotland’s famed Loch Ness Monster. The details of reported sightings, dating back to 1938, reveal that Chessie might resemble its European counterpart closely.

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A 1980 New York Times article reported a Virginia farmer spotting a serpent-like creature in the Potomac River that he estimated to be 14 feet long. In the same article, an expert from the Virginia Institute of Marine Science said the creature was likely an anaconda that hitched a ride on a commercial sailing vessel from its tropical home. Potomac swimmers should breathe easier knowing that anacondas typically live for only about 10 years in the wild.

People enjoy the Inner Harbor on Living Classrooms Foundation’s Chessie Dragon Paddle Boats on Saturday.  August 6, 2022.

“I haven’t seen any really good videos on this one,” Barcelo said. “They’re pushing it more to be part sea monster or part lizard, greenish in color.”

While Chessie’s existence is hard to confirm, it symbolizes something tangible for its modern habitat.

Chessie serves as the unofficial mascot of the Chesapeake Bay Program, a regional partnership dedicated to upholding environmental standards in the bay’s watershed, according to Jennifer Starr, a committee coordinator in the program.

“I am a believer in Chessie being the mascot of the bay program,” Starr said, without committing to the real-world existence of the creature.

Snallygaster

Sarah Cooper, founder of the American Snallygaster Museum, says the beast is reportedly a chimera with features of a dragon, a bird and, most peculiarly, tentacles coming out of its mouth.

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The Snallygaster is unique to Maryland, though sightings of the monster did first appear in 1909, around the same time as early reports of the neighboring Jersey Devil.

The unusual moniker Snallygaster has its roots in “Schneller Geist,” or quick spirit, a term for a trickster spirit introduced to the region by German immigrants. Marylanders morphed the German into the more familiar Snallygaster.

The first reports of the Snallygaster appear in the Middletown Valley Register in 1909. The paper published reports of a “one-eyed dragon” terrorizing the population of Western Maryland (though it has occasionally veered into West Virginia).

According to local legend, President Theodore Roosevelt postponed an African safari in 1909 so that he could hunt the Snallygaster, though this has never been proven.

Snallygaster mural by Ben McCord on right side of E.W.Beck's  7565 Main Street Sykesville.

“In 1932, the Snallygaster had a resurgence and made headlines again, until its demise,” said Cooper. “According to a local moonshiner, the Snally was attracted to a vat of mash. It flew overhead, became overwhelmed by the fumes and dove headfirst into the vat, where it drowned.”

Sarah Cooper was so inspired by the story of Snallygaster that she decided to launch the American Snallygaster Museum. The museum is tentatively set to open in Libertytown in December.

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Cooper says there are many more cryptids in Maryland besides the Snallygaster:

“There are loads more! The snarly yow, the Dwayyo, Chessie, Goatman, the Egg Heads, the Wicomico Cat Man and the Blue Dog of Port Tobacco (though he is more of a ghostly creature). Maryland is rich in cryptids, ghosts and folklore, and I want to use my museum to celebrate all of those things. Keep Maryland magical!”

Leaders who linger

In the halls of the United States Capitol, several former leaders are rumored to have never left, lingering in the marble halls and haunting visitors.

In what is now called Statuary Hall, John Quincy Adams served nine terms in the old House of Representatives chamber. On February 23, 1848, Adams suffered a cerebral stroke during a speech and collapsed on the House floor.

Two days later, he died in the nearby speaker’s office. According to Senate Historian Betty Koed, Capitol workers started to witness Adams’s ghost appearing to deliver a speech on the spot where “the Old Man Eloquent” fell.

Henry Wilson, President Ulysses S. Grant’s vice president, is also said to appear in the Capitol halls. Known for his enjoyment of “tubbing,” relaxing in the marble bathtubs of the lower Senate wing, Wilson died of congestive chill during one of his bathtub sessions in 1875.

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Mysterious sneezes have been heard in the empty hallways near the former vice president’s office, John Alexander said in his book, “Ghosts: Washington’s Most Famous Ghost Stories.” Guards of the Senate wing report a “damp chill in the doorway,” as well as the scent of an old soap provided for senators use in the bathtubs.

In 1890, Congressman William Taulbee of Kentucky was shot dead on the stairs to the House gallery during an argument with a journalist. Stains of Taulbee’s blood linger in the porous marble despite years of cleaning agents, according to Alexander’s book.

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Every time a reporter stumbles on the steps, Alexander wrote, some Capitol employees laugh because they believe Taulbee’s spirit sticks around to trip journalists in revenge.

In the White House, former President Abraham Lincoln’s ghost is considered a frequent guest, sighted in the Lincoln Bedroom and the Yellow Oval Room, according to the White House Historical Association.

Witnesses of Lincoln’s ghost include former First Lady Grace Coolidge, who claims to have seen Lincoln staring out a window toward the Potomac; Prime Minister Winston Churchill; and Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands, who fainted after Lincoln’s ghost allegedly knocked on her guest room door.

Demon Cat

According to old congressional tales, a haunted cat has long patrolled the basement of the U.S. Capitol, first appearing as a regular-sized tabby before growing massive in the face of its unlucky observer.

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The appearance of the Demon Cat was officially documented in the Congressional Record around the time of the Civil War, according to a 1935 Washington Post article.

“The eyes of this elephantined alley trouper are supposed to glow with all the hue and ferocity of the headlights of a fire engine entering one of Washington’s notoriously dark alleys,” wrote George O. Gillingham in the Post’s 1935 story on “Ghastly Apparitions.”

The Demon Cat has been reported in both the Capitol and the White House, and the tale is still passed around the Hill today, according to the U.S. Senate Historical Office.


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