The Snallygaster: Fake News Ain’t New

Hello, and welcome to episode one of Alexis’ bestiary, the part of the show where I talk about some silly beast. Today, we’ll be discussing the Snallygaster.

The United States is home to a number of fearsome creatures, but few have a cooler name than the Snallygaster. Of course, as any quick google search will tell you, the creature’s first victims, German immigrants in what is now Maryland, called it the “schneller geist” or “quick ghost.”

Like many such creatures, the Snallygaster was a pain in the neck for farmers. It preyed on livestock, often sucking their blood like Mexico’s El Chupacabra (“goat sucker”). To this day you can still find some barns marked with the seven-pointed star, said to ward off the creature. Why seven? Beats me.

And to follow another tradition of folklore and crypto-creatures, the Snallygaster too had an annoying habit of changing its appearance, having no regard for consistency whatsoever. However it tended to stick to features between that of a bird and reptile, usually appearing as some sort of scaly flying thing.

It was fond of metallic weaponry, whether beak, teeth or claws. And sometimes tentacles.

Tentacles on a wingy thing? Why?

I can’t picture it either. Maybe something like prehensile catfish whiskers? But would those have been described as tentacles, or whiskers? Who knows.

For many years, however, not a peep was heard from the Snallygaster. Evidently it had retired, and decided to live in peace. Then in the early twentieth century, the Snallygaster was the victim of a terrible fake news campaign perpetuated by the Middleton Valley Register, a newspaper seeking to profit from the Snallygaster’s notoriety.

The editors of the newspaper told outlandish tales of the creature carrying off livestock, uttering train-whistle-like calls–(“It’s the Snallygaster Mom!” “No, it’s just the train.” “That’s what they sound like!”)–and laying barrel-sized eggs.

To add insult to injury, they even dragged the president into the mix, claiming that good ol’ Teddy Roosevelt was undertaking a venture to hunt the Snallygaster. And to add a thin veneer of credibility to the stories, they claimed that the Smithsonian was interested in studying the creature.

This went on for some time until, mercifully, the powers that be told the newspapers to knock it off, and charged the editors with fraud, thus allowing the maligned Snallygaster to recover the pieces of its tattered reputation and move on with its life.

 

A note on sources:

I got all this information from wikipedia, and other websites that appear on the first page of a “snallygaster” google search. In keeping with the haphazard nature of the oral tradition of folklore, and my intended audience, I’m not citing any of them.

But as a “library person” I encourage you to take the list of sources from the wikipedia article, or any of the others, to your local library person and see what they can do with it. Or do the research yourself, that works too. Or not.

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2 comments

  1. Cute take on a familiar theme: creatures materializing to fill our needs. To take one instance: whether it is Zeus coming down from the sky to seduce women, nether-world demons or djinn similarly driven, or space aliens who find our species strangely attractive, we often find fantasy more palatable than reality.

    Liked by 1 person

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