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For Sarah Cooper, the hidden story of the Snallygaster is something western Maryland needs to know more about.
Cooper, the founder and owner of the American Snallygaster Museum, said the cryptid’s story is one that is not only an untold gem amongst rural legends but also a story that could bring tourism to the Frederick, Maryland area.
“I’m also a big fan of Cryptids and cryptozoology,” Cooper said. “It’s my favorite thing. And when I moved to Maryland a few years ago, I started to do all this research about the folklore and I found out about the snallygaster and I was like, ‘why isn’t this more of a thing?’”
In the 1770s, German immigrants came to western Maryland and brought with them brats, beer, dances, and the Schnell Geist – or “quick spirit.” Over the years, the legend turned from stories told to small children to the creatures living in the area.
In 1909, residents reported seeing a snallygaster. Described as a dragon-like creature, half-bird, half-reptile, the monster was said to have large wings, a metallic beak, glowing red eyes, tentacles for arms (or sometimes coming out of its mouth), and razor-sharp metallic talons. Residents said the snallygaster picked up a farmer, sucked the blood from his neck, and flung his lifeless body over a cliff.
Over the course of two months, several people reported seeing the creature, and hearing fights between it and its mortal enemy, the Dwayyo – a wolf-like creature that walked on two feet.
Other sightings followed and the monster made the national news. It took the country by storm, to the extent that the Smithsonian Institute offered a reward for the hide of a snallygaster, and President Teddy Roosevelt reportedly considered putting off his trip to Africa in order to go to Maryland to hunt for the creature.
Soon after, other sightings started popping up around the country. In New Jersey, one resident said they found the footprints of a snallygaster in the snow. In West Virginia, reports came out that the monster had almost caught a woman near Scrabble, and was later found roosting in a farmers’ barn where it had laid an egg the size of a barrel. In Casstown, Ohio, a man reported in a letter to the Valley Register, that a strange creature, with large wings, a horned head, and glowing red eyes had flown over his home, making horrible screeching noises.
By the 1940s, one report declared the creature dead. A moonshiner in Washington County, Maryland claimed the snallygaster had flown over his still and passed out because of the fumes. The bird-lizard fell into his 2,500 gallon vat and drowned, only to be destroyed later by revenue agents when they demolished the moonshine operation and its product.
It’s a story that should get more attention, Cooper said.
She currently houses all of the exhibits for the American Snallygaster Museum in her home. Right now, she’s waiting for materials to arrive so that she and her husband can build a barn that will eventually house the museum. In the meantime, she takes the exhibits to nearby locations to tell Maryland residents about the snallygaster.
She said she hopes the museum will bring cryptid lovers and others to the Frederick, Maryland area.
“I visited a lot of paranormal and cryptid museums like for the Flatwoods Monster Museum and I’ve been to their festivals and I’ve seen how much tourism business they bring to those communities,” she said. “I think we really need to get some of that going on in Maryland. We have such a cool cryptid with such a cool story that is so tied into American history, we should be celebrating it and our businesses should be benefiting from it.”
But the story of the snallygaster is something that did more for her than just giving her something to do. The story is one that helped her cope during the Covid-19 pandemic. An emergency room nurse, Cooper said she heard about the story and would read about the snallygaster to take her mind off of the pandemic and work.
It’s thought that the snallygaster lives for 20 years and then has a 20 year incubation period before another snallygaster hatches and another generation emerges. The next snallygaster life cycle, she said, is thought to start in 2024.
With her museum scheduled to open in 2022, Cooper plans on being ready.