“What’s that? A new animal I can kill? I’m IN!”
Compared to other, older nations, America doesn’t really have a lot in the way of monsters in our folklore. Sure, we’ve got Bigfoot, and we guess there’s the jackalope, but compared to the sheer volume of mythical creatures in stories around the world, America’s got relatively few entries in that particular genre.
This isn’t too surprising—outside of Native Americans, most Americans haven’t been on this continent long enough to really nurture any good folklore. Hell, the first reported sighting of the Loch Ness Monster was 1500 years ago—considering that, it makes sense that we’ve only got a handful of random monster sightings in our history.
While the relative scarcity of American “strange monsters” doesn’t really shock us, the relative obscurity of the Snallygaster does. Because with so few things going bump in the night in America, how is everyone focusing their attention on finding some big hairy forest ape when there’s supposedly a dragon-like beast hanging around Maryland and Washington D.C.? Well Teddy Roosevelt apparently asked that very question.
Let’s talk about America’s least-talked about mythical monster then, shall we?
Teddy Roosevelt Wanted To Hunt the Snallygaster, America’s Mythical Dragon-Bird
In the 1730s, Central Maryland was largely settled by German immigrants. Around this time, there were whispered reports of the Schneller Geist, or “quick ghost”, that would sweep from the sky to pick up livestock or people in order to suck their blood. Originally described as half-bird, half-reptile with tooth-lined metallic beak swooping silently from the sky, a mispronunciation of its German name christened this creature the Snallygaster. In order to protect oneself from this giant winged beast, seven-pointed stars were painted on local barns to repel the monster.
References of the Snallygaster all but disappeared in the 19th century, and it faded away as a local myth in a small segment of the nation, occasionally brought up for assholish reasons such as deterring slaves from running off. All things considered the Snallygaster was well on its way to complete irrelevance by the end of the century.
Until newspapers came around.
Literally Fake News
In 1909, local residents in the Middletown area of Frederick County began reporting eyewitness accounts of Snallygaster sightings. Only now, the creature made horrifically loud noises like a locomotive, and tentacles would emerge from its mouth to capture its prey. Tomas C. Harbaugh of Casstown, Ohio added fire to the “oh my God A MONSTER” panic by writing a letter to the Middletown Valley Register claiming to spot a giant beast headed his direction, with a horn-filled head and twenty foot long tail, screeching horrendously. Never you mind the logic behind writing a letter to a newspaper to say, “There’s a monster coming this way, HURRY!,” all the coverage had led to a small panic taking over the country, with the Smithsonian offering a $100,000 reward for the creature.
Enter Teddy Roosevelt.
The Snallygaster was causing enough waves in the news that Teddy Roosevelt, a man who never met an animal he didn’t want to kill, was hearing about it. And naturally, his response to hearing the existence of a massive, blood-sucking, screeching bird-dragon with razor-sharp teeth, hook-like claws and godddamn tentacles was, “Maybe I should kill this thing.”
What, Teddy Roosevelt kill some massive animal? Not really his style.
Teddy Roosevelt considered delaying an African safari to instead stalk through the woods of Central Maryland to hunt this creature which, like, we don’t have to mention that it doesn’t actually exist, right? Good. Because at the same time the Smithsonian considered sending out an expedition to capture this, again, nonexistent creature on camera. Thankfully, neither went through with their plans, as the sightings proved to be an elaborate hoax. George C. Rhoderick, the publisher of the Middletown Valley Register, and journalist Ralph S. Wolf decided to write various eyewitness accounts about the Snallygaster as a ploy to increase newspaper sales. Which technically did work, for a time. Oh, and remember Thomas Harbaugh from before? He was a personal friend of Rhoderick, and wrote of numerous sightings under a pseudonym in order to help his buddy out.
So no, the Snallygaster is not real. It’s appearance throughout American history has been largely out of convenience. In the 1800s, it was whispered of in order to scare off slaves. In the 20th century it was used to sell newspapers and then, later on, it was co-opted by moonshiners to use the creature’s loud “train-like” shriek to explain away the sound of exploding sills and keep revenue agents away. It’s since largely fallen out of American consciousness—at this point, a few history buffs know that Whittaker Chambers referenced the Snallygaster in an article deriding Joseph McCarthy, and gamers might know it from its appearance in the game Fallout 76 (though Bethesda really shat the bed here—the Snallygaster in the game is the result of an experiment that doesn’t fly, doesn’t have tentacles, doesn’t have a beak, and literally looks nothing like the damn thing).
But still—we Americans don’t have a lot of spooky creatures to go bump in the night. And even fewer that Teddy Roosevelt himself wanted to kill-murder. So let’s learn from our mistakes—let’s bring the Snallygaster back into the national mindset. Snallygaster hunters should be the new Bigfoot hunters. They’re more badass anyway. So here’s to you, crazy blood-sucking tentacle dragons that don’t exist. You’re born from the American imagination, and we’re honestly not sure what that says about us.