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The Snallygaster of Maryland

A Flying Monster In Maryland

While we have all heard of Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra, many more regional and rare cryptids exist that few ever hear of.  One of these is the Snallygaster of Maryland, particularly found in the hills of the Washington and Fredrick counties.

Newpaper clipping about the SnallygasterDescriptions of the beast vary, but in general it is described as a reptilian bird with hooks on the ends of its feet, a massive beak (possibly made of metal) lined with sharp teeth.  Other features possible include tentacles around the mouth and one eye in the center of its forehead. The noise it makes has been likened to that of a locomotive whistle.

As I started digging it quickly became apparent that the Snallygaster has changed names over time.  It started out as Schneller Geist, a Pennsylvania Dutch term for monster whose name translates roughly as “quick spirit”.  Some other permutations of the Snallygaster’s name are:

  • Snallygaster
  • Schnelle Gaster
  • Schnelle Geister
  • Schneller Geist

Rumors of a beast that would swoop in silently and steal children and chickens pervaded the area from as soon as the first white settlers arrived in the area. However the first concrete sightings of the Snallygaster first started in 1909 and persisted for a few months.  Then mysteriously it appeared again for a brief time in 1932.  Some speculate that the second monster was the offspring of the first that had been reported to have been laying eggs.  In fact some men were reported to have found one and tried to incubate it.

Schnelle Geister Sighting 1909The First report of the Snallygaster came from a man named James Harding who saw the creature flying low overhead.  He described the Snallygaster as a huge winged monster with a long sharp beak, claws like steel hooks, and having one eye in the middle of its head.  The monster’s screech he described as “as loud as a train whistle”.

Reports would continue for several months with only one reported fatality. Bill Gifferson was a black man and is said to have been snatched up by the monster, who flew to a nearby hill, pierced his neck and sucked out his blood.  While it dined it flapped its wings and when satisfied, dropped his corpse down the hill.

This of course fuels speculation that that the Snallygaster was invented to terrify former slaves or keep “colored folk in their place” as one source has it.  I’m a bit dubious of this explanation.

Uproar over the monsters sightings was intense and there were enough close up sightings that even Theodore Roosevelt considered cancelling a safari to hunt the beast.

What is the Snallygaster?

Pterosaur as the Snallygaster

My personal feeling is that if you strip off the extraneous bits, that what we are left with is probably an encounter with a Pterosaur type creature.  Sightings of these creatures still go on today, though albeit rarely and usually in the southwest.  But it accounts for the hooked claws, long beak with teeth and reptilian appearance.

To me this is the most logical answer for what the Snallygaster may have been.  I would be interested to hear any other theories on that you may have, so comment down below!

Additional Reading on The Snallygaster

If you want to read more on the Snallygaster or Schnelle Geist depending on the name you like, I highly suggest you pick up a copy of Snallygaster: the Lost Legend of Frederick County by Patrick Boyton.  I’ve read part of it and it is full of close encounters and accounts of run ins with the Snallygaster both in the 1909 and 1932 invasions.

Here are some other web links if you just want to do some casual browsing:



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