It’s the early 1900s, and you’re traveling across Frederick County, Maryland. A huge shadow passes over you and your horse, and maybe you don’t think anything of it—that is, until a huge creature with a massive wingspan and a long, pointed beak dive-bombs you from above, screeching like a train whistle and tracking you with the single eye perched in the middle of its forehead. You urge your horse faster, but that thing swoops again, faster, and this time its steel-hook claws digs into your shirt. It snatches you off your horse, sinks its teeth into your neck, and drains you of blood before releasing your body to splat all over the road and your very terrified horse.
You’ve been a victim of the Snallygaster.
To be fair, the legend of the Snallygaster existed long before the early 20th century—it originated in the 1730s as a half-bird, half-demon when German immigrants settled in the Frederick County area. At that point, it was called the Schnellegeister, or “quick spirit” in German or Pennsylvania Dutch, depending on who you ask. It stole chickens and rabbits, small goats and lambs, maybe a child or two, and farmers might paint hex signs on their barns to ward it off. Eventually Schnellegeister morphed into Snallygaster—and with that bastardization of the word, moonshiners co-opted it as a way to keep nosy people away from stills during Prohibition in the U.S. And it also somehow came to be known as having… tentacles protruding from its beak.
It was only then that people started to pay closer attention. Local newspapers ran articles. Then came articles from Baltimore Sun and the Washington Post. Folks started to visit to see if they could find the Snallygaster or get a photo. People in other states started reporting sightings. The National Geographic was just about to mount an expedition to get it on film when the Baltimore Sun reported the Snallygaster’s death in November 1932, allegedly to avoid a panic, but it seemed to coincide with feds blowing up the very booze still the Snallygaster had drowned in. Prohibition ended, and so did Snallygaster fever.
To this day, there has never been another sighting of the Snallygaster. But there is a Snallygaster Museum that should be open in Frederick, Maryland in a few months, so you can always stop by and sort of having your very own sighting.
Don’t think I’m not tempted to fit the Snallygaster into a novel down the road… but for now I’m excited about introducing you to Old Lucy in next year’s A Misfortune of Lake Monsters.