\ˌcryp·to·zo·ol·o·gy | krip-tə-zō-ˈä-lə-jē : the study of and search for animals and especially legendary animals (such as Sasquatch) usually in order to evaluate the possibility of their existence
Cryptozoology has never been my specialty. I have never been out looking for Sasquatch, never toured Loch Ness looking for the legendary creature, and I’ve never been out looking for other animals of legends that stalk the darkness of the forest of out minds. That being said, I’m not unfamiliar with certain monsters that lurk in the eerie of places I have lived. When I lived in Florida, everyone on the Everglades knew of the “Skunk-Ape.” Which is bigfoot’s smelly southern cousin. The name alone gives you an image of what the creature is like…but for those who lack imagination, it is a creature, that stands over 8 feet tall (when it stands, normally it walks hunched over, like an ape) and is always recognized by the foul odor it emits. Much worse than a skunk. Many of my neighbors in Florida claim to have had an encounter, or at the very least have seen the creature loping through the swamp under the moonlight. Personally, I have never seen of heard the Skunk-Ape, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. I knew many down there who would swear it was true. Who’s to say they are wrong?
Harpers Ferry has it’s very own monster too. That beast is the dreaded Snarly Yow. From all accounts, the Snarly Yow has haunted the mountains surrounding Harpers Ferry since anyone can remember. Several written accounts date back to the 1700’s. This creature takes the appearance of a ferocious and huge black dog. Some have even said the beast is headless with a bloody chain wrapped around the stump of a neck. Some have put the creature at 5 foot tall at the shoulder, some have said the beast is no larger than a Rottweiler, But all have said that it’s eyes burn like coals. They glow with an ominous fire that terrifies those who claim to have seen it. The legend itself and what the appearance of the Snarly Yow portends is similar to many of the British, Irish and German tales that followed those who settled this area. Most say that the Snarly Yow is a grim omen of death and misfortune, very similar to the Black Schuck of British lore. While most ghostly black dogs are omens and creatures of foreboding, the Snarly Yow is directly malevolent. If challenged the creature will grow in size and menacing, seeming to add to its mass from the shadows that surround it.
Published in the 1882 paper “South Mountain Magick” by Madeleine Vinton Dahlgren one account reports…
“ One night about ten o’clock, as he was returning from the village of Boonsboro’ back to the (harper’s) ferry, whither he had gone to make some little purchases for his family, he encountered the Black Dog. It was clear starlight, and the ungainly form of the beast could be distinctly traced. It was black, and bigger than any dog he had ever seen; and, as he came nearer, the object intercepted him, and stood guarding the road in such a way as to forbid his crossing. So, to use his own expression, he “fit him.” That is, nothing daunted, he fought at him. But, to his confusion, as the creature was attacked, it “grew longer” and presently seemed to extend across the road, making no noise, but showing a very wide and very ugly-looking red mouth; while, all the time the thick and heavy blows rained down upon it, the sinewy arm of the woodsman met with no resistance, but rather seemed to beat the air. Presently the still lengthening shadow passed onward, and then the man, not a little flurried at the strange nature of the vision, went home; — nor did he receive the least bodily harm from this ominous combat.”
After the rash of sightings in the early 20th century, the Snarly Yow faded into obscurity. This would not last; the legend was resurrected in the 1970’s when sightings of the creature began anew.
During the new round of Snarly Yow encounters, motorists began reporting a dog that would suddenly appear in front of their cars. In 1976, a Frederick County, Maryland couple reported hitting a large, bluish-black dog with glowing eyes. When they stopped to investigate, it had vanished without a trace. This is a recurring theme with the Snarly Yow. Other motorists have reportedly hit the creature after it materialized in front of their car only to have their vehicle pass through it and see the creature standing in the road behind them.
I have lived, camped, hiked and run the mountains that surround Harpers Ferry all my life. I have never encountered this terrifying monster in the woods…thankfully. But does that mean it doesn’t exist? I would have to say, no. It does not mean that it doesn’t exist. It does mean that I haven’t had the misfortune of running into it. If the Snarly Yow does exist, and there is enough history behind the legend to suggest that something is going on, it most certainly is an apparition rather than a flesh-and-blood animal. The creature seems to lack physical properties; some witnesses have seen the phantom dog pass through fences.Similarly, in the 1990’s, a person who became startled by the appearance of the creature began throwing rocks and sticks at it—all of which passed right through its body. The creature glared at its attacker and snarled before disappearing into the brush.
So is the Snarly Yow a ghost? Or is it a creature of the night? Who can say? I have always held firm that these “monsters” exist. What a boring and dull world it would be without these beasts. The mere chance that these monsters might roam the woods and dark places of the world, is all I need to believe that they do.