Sightings of a snallygaster — a mysterious creature with a curious name — brought fright and concern to the Middletown valley (Frederick County) and beyond in the first few decades of the 20th century.
“For those not in the know,” according to a 1965 article in The News, “a snallygaster is said to be a mythical nocturnal creature, half reptile and half bird, which preys on children and poultry.”
The Cumberland Evening Times reported that the first sighting of the snallygaster took place in Middletown in 1909 “…and periodically ever since has swooped down from the skies to terrify Middletown and neighboring communities.”
Well-known Middletown resident and ice cream entrepreneur Charles Main spotted the creature in November 1932, 23 years after the first sighting, when he was returning to Middletown from Frederick early one morning. “He said its wing spread appeared to be between 12 and 14 feet. At times, he said, it threw out long streamers like the arms of an octopus, but would draw them in again,” reported the Cumberland Evening Times.
Two boys also saw what they described as “a strange creature” while they were playing outside, according to an article in The News. “They did not wait to get a fuller description of the monster, but ran to their homes.”
This sighting divided folks in town. “The story has caused such a range of feeling among residents of the valley that a person can now be identified, it is stated, by whether he is ‘snallygasted’ or not,” according to The News.
On December 1 of that year, The News reported that the snallygaster had been captured. It was not the creature that it was thought to be; instead, it was a large owl. “And if it’s three-foot wing spread appeared to be eight, ten or even fourteen feet, it is only fair to give a stranger the benefit of the doubt — especially when there isn’t time to be sure,” The News sympathized.
However, other newspapers described a different fate for the snallygaster — death by moonshine after flying into a vat of mash. “Prohibition agents who raided the still a few days after the accident reported finding the monster in cold death,” reported The News. “The mash has eaten practically all the flesh from the beast. Only the skeleton remained.”
The Morning Herald reported information found in the Middletown Register explaining that lye had been used to speed up the mash production and ate the flesh of the creature. This same report said that the agents didn’t remove the snallygaster skeleton from the vat; instead they blew up the still with 500 pounds of dynamite. “The action of the two prohibition agents will certainly be welcome news to persons residing in the various sections where the beast was seen, for they can now lay down their arms and once more enjoy a quiet night’s rest,” per the report.
But can they?
Some claim that the snallygaster laid eggs, which hatch every 20 years.
Next week, learn about a creature that appeared on the scene years later … something that some believed could be from those hatched snallygaster eggs.
Sources: The News, November 28, 1932, December 1, 1932, December 1, 1965, December 3, 1965; Cumberland Evening Times, July 8, 1947