Black Dogs and Phantom Hounds, Part Two: Pennsylvania
It is probably no coincidence that many of the oldest counties in Pennsylvania share the names of counties and regions of England (Berks, Bucks, Chester, Lancaster, Westmoreland, York) and that like Maryland and Delaware, dealt with in a previous article, Pennsylvania also has a number of tales of phantasmal dog-creatures. These are more dissimilar from the British black dog legends than those of further south; apparently the original tales were mixed with Native American traditions in the northern part of the state and the folklore of the German and Dutch settlers in the southern, as well as with more traditional ghost and werewolf legends to create a unique whole. Several types of phantasmal canines are reported from Pennsylvania.
First are what would seem to be “traditional” black dogs. These are relatively rare in Pennsylvania lore.
Second are the cemetery dogs, canine creatures which apparently haunt graveyards and are often seen in or near them. On occasion, they are said to be the phantoms of specific persons.
Third, and most common by far, are the spook wolves, which for the most part seem to be normal wolves with a few supernatural attributes (often these are derived from the werewolf myth) similar to the Beast of Gévaudan.
Adamstown Black Dog:
Tucked in the northern corner of Lancaster County, the tiny village of Adamstown boasts at least four ghosts. One of these is a small black dog, who appears seemingly at random and follows pedestrians before vanishing as mysteriously as it came.
Black Wolf of Oak Valley:
Sometime around 1900, Henry W. Shoemaker recounts, authorities sought a Silas Werninger for the murder of two men in Youngmanstown (near Belfast in Northampton County). The man barricaded himself in his home. His pursuers set the home on fire to flush him out. The man responded by slitting his own throat. His burned corpse was buried in a grove of oak trees and after a brief while a large black wolf emerged and eluded hunters. A witch named Granny Myers told locals to exhume the body of the man, and bury it alongside the body of his mother in a consecrated cemetery. When this was done, the wolf vanished.
Charles J. Adams III cites the story of ghostly activity at the Stroud Mall in Stroudsburg, Monroe County, part of which was the appearance of what appeared to be a lion-headed dog. The sound of a whimpering dog was sometimes heard even when the phantom was not seen. The mall was formerly an old mill.
Hans Graf Cemetery:
A tiny cemetery lies on Old River Road near Marietta, in Lancaster County, the family plot of the Grafs. Tradition cites that anyone walking the perimeter of the cemetery seven times by the light of a full moon will die. Also, the cemetery is reputedly haunted by a canine apparition seen near the grave of Hans Graf, one of the earliest settlers of Lancaster County. I recall hearing this story several times while in high school.
Lock Haven Dogs:
A number of phantom black hounds have been reported in the large hilltop cemetery at the end of Akeley Lane near Lock Haven University in Lock Haven, Clinton County. I’m not sure whether these dogs could have any relevance to a black, smoky form seen moving through the halls of Sloan Hall, the university art building adjacent to the cemetery. A 2009 article in the Lock Haven Express mentions that there are several Indian burial grounds in the area.
Solebury Mountain, Bucks County:
A phantom wolf supposedly haunts this ridge south of New Hope. Information on the wolf is scarce (read non-existent) but I find it interesting that a number of sightings were reported in the last few years of the so-called Yardley Yeti, which despite the name was a dog-like creature, from the region around New Hope.
Talking Hell Hound:
Mentioned by Charles Fort, a tale emerged from Pittsburgh of two men who encountered a frightful apparition in a city park. A small black dog walked in front of the men and said “good morning” to them. “I speak for myself,” it said. When one of the men moved to grab the dog, it moved to avoid him and said “don’t touch me.” The man didn’t listen, and was burned by contact with the dog.
Wayne Spook Wolf:
Henry W. Shoemaker recounts the tales of this creature. George Wilson of Wayne Township (in the mountains south of McElhattan, Clinton County and very near Sugar Valley, see below) long suspected that another Wayne resident was a witch who took the shape of a wolf at night. He shot a large brownish wolf in the foreleg with a silver bullet. Soon afterward, Wilson said, the supposed witch was found with a broken arm. Sometime in the 1850s or thereabouts, Wilson shot a three-legged wolf, again with a silver bullet.
The Werewolf of Northumberland:
On the Paul farm not far from Snyderstown in Northumberland County there lived an old hermit. The man had the local reputation of being a “woolfmann”, or werewolf. In the 1850s, the daughter, May, befriended the old hermit, who would often sit on a log and watch her tend the sheep. It was said that wolves which came in to prey on the sheep would be scared off by the sight of the old man. One night a local farmer shot a large gray wolf, which he tracked to a hut where the “woolfmann” lay dead. The area where his hut stood became known as “Woolfmannsgrob”, the werewolf’s grave. May Paul later claimed that in subsequent years, wolves would never prey on her sheep. At times, she said, a large gray wolf would appear, snarling at the interlopers. Was it the ghost of the “woolfmann” protecting her?
The White Wolf of Venango:
Folklorist Charles Skinner mentioned this phantom in his book American Myths & Legends. The creature, as the name suggests, was a huge white wolf which inhabited the Cornplanter Reservation and was associated in particular with the Jacobs clan of Native American huntsmen. It was said that sightings of the white wolf were “bad medicine” and portended misfortune. Skinner states that Jim Jacobs, the elder of the family, saw the white wolf and shortly thereafter was killed in an accident. The white wolf later plunged over a ravine rather than be killed by hunters, and vanished. Some research revealed that, while Skinner cited Venango County as the haunt of the wolf, the story probably actually originated in Warren County. Henry Shoemaker mentions that a great number of wolves infested the Cornplanter Reservation (further research has revealed that the Reservation is now beneath the waters of Lake Kinzua) and that a record-sized wolf was killed in the Kinzua region. Could the white wolf have been this record-setter, mythicized and mixed with black dog legends? Jim Jacobs was also a real figure: born Samuel Jimmerson Jacobson, he was supposedly killed by a train in Bradford County in about 1880 and the story most likely dates from the late 1870s or even 1880.
The White Wolf of Sugar Valley:
Henry W. Shoemaker recounts the story of a huge white wolf seen in this region of Clinton County near Loganton. First encountered by Philip Shreckengast, the white wolf killed livestock and generally made itself a nuisance. The people of Sugar Valley sought the aid of Granny McGill, a witch, who suggested that a black lamb, born under a new moon in the autumn, be tied near a trap. The plan worked and the wolf was captured. John Schrack of Carroll had the pelt, which had shaggy hair like a sheep or goat rather than the short hair of a wolf. The head of the wolf was reputed to keep wolves away from Jacob Rishel’s sheep paddock, to flash green light from its eyes at night and to move its jaws.
Part One covers Black Dogs and Phantom Hounds of Maryland and Delaware.
By Andrew Gable