Beware the ...Snallygaster?

     Sure, you've heard of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, alien crash landings in New Mexico and the New Jersey Devil, but in the fashionable world of paranormal phenomena, none can surpass the ferocity, terror, or downright goofiness of Baltimore's native Snallygaster.

     The Snallygaster has stalked Maryland folklore since colonial times when the beast was described as a bird/reptile creature that preyed on wayward children and barnyard poultry. According to experts with way too much time on their hands, its name likely derives from the German "schnelle geist" or "fast ghost" . To ward off the pest, locals painted perfect seven-pointed stars on their houses and barns. The creature seemed content with stealing the occasional chicken, robbing some stills, and generally scaring the crap out of generations of kids around campfires. Somewhere around 1902, though, something went horribly wrong.

     Sightings of the creature increased significantly in the early part of this century. While the Snallygaster was always identified by name, witnesses describe in horrified detail their encounter with a creature which varied from a "half bird, half wildcat with yellow and black stripes" to a "sable-eyed muskrat with a tuxedo front".

     Perhaps the creature'ss most psychedelic incarnation appeared in the fall of 1932 to a local resident who reported seeing the Snallygaster swoop down from the clouds on an antique bicycle "of the large front wheel variety", wearing water wings and shouting "Balance the budget!"

     Trying to avert a panic, the Baltimore Sun reported the Snallygasters death in November 1932, a shadowy photo of the dead creature accompanied a questionable account of how it had drowned in a vat of whiskey mash on a Baltimore County farm. By suspicious coincidence, the report stated that Federal Prohibition Officers "inadvertently" blew up the still before the carcass could be examined. In yet another so-called "coincidence", prohibition ended just a few days later, and in the resulting celebration, the Snallygaster Incident seemed but a foggy, post-hangover delirium to Baltimore and the rest of the nation.

     Fast forward to June 1973 when a well-rested Snallygaster resumed his rounds in western Baltimore County. Obviously pissed-off from years of neglect, this incarnation closely resembled the bigfoot monster, a hulking, hairy, ape-like creature emitting blood-curdling screams in the middle of the night and reportedly mutilating a few heads of cattle. After dozens of "eyewitness" reports within a two week period, a hunting party consisting of tracking dogs, state police, game wardens and zoo officials set off into the woods. Armed with tranquilizer guns, nets, and a heavy steel cage, they returned without even a sighting of Snallygaster droppings.

     There are many of us who believe that the Snallygaster, in one form or another, still wanders the shadows of Baltimore, so beware if you venture out after dark. Don't trust the government. And whatever you do, stay away from chicken coops and whiskey stills.

An excerpt from "Don't Eat the Devil: A Dirty Hands Guide to the Meat of Baltimore", Copyright © 1998, Rob Wallace and Chris Lease"

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