The Snallygaster may sound like the name of a five-year-old's imaginary friend, but the creature is far too insidious for children. Maryland is filled with eerie legends, but all pale in comparison to this flying giant who sports tentacles, a metal beak, and a taste for drinking blood. According to locals, the Snallygaster has been around for hundreds of years and is still sighted today. The Snallygaster monster legend has many variations composited together from several stories, and possibly dinosaur bones mistaken for the remains of something otherworldly. Even if its name is worth a giggle, the blood-thirsty creature and its mythos are nothing to laugh at.
Like a beast from an H.P. Lovecraft story, the Snallygaster is typically described as a mish-mash of different creatures. Since it has wings and can fly, it's often compared to a bird, but it also sports some peculiarly reptilian features. It has a tail, scales, and claws, similar to a dragon. On top of that, it has a metallic beak with razor-sharp teeth that are capable of cutting through meat and bone.
Some accounts describe the Snallygaster as having one eye, whereas others attest that it has dozens of eyes. But all Snallygaster spotters agree about the creature's piercing cry. Occasionally, the creature is said to be semi-aquatic, as it has squid-like tentacles that protrude from its face or body.
The most frightening aspect of the Snallygaster is its voracious appetite. Tales describe the creature picking up livestock to eat whole, and occasionally, devouring humans. A 1909 newspaper article attests that the creature dragged a man to a hillside where it fed off of him, leaving behind only his hallowed-out corpse.
While Snallygaster attacks typically involved people who had strayed too far from home, this reported attack gave way to a flurry of sightings and supposed encounters. For several months in 1909, the Snallygaster seemed to only want to consume human flesh. In one account, the beast actually spoke in a human tongue, telling a passerby, "I haven’t had a good drink since I was killed in the battle of Chickamauga!”
While Snallygaster sightings were sporadic, the legend was kept alive during the 1800s in as a way to frighten enslaved people in the area into staying put. For a time, the story specified that the Snallygaster liked to prey upon young black children who went into the woods. Enslaved people who believed the legend feared for their children and their own lives, and were afraid to go into the woods after dark. Because of this, the Snallygaster was often referred to as a myth meant to keep enslaved people from fleeing, and to scare formerly enslaved people later on.
The Snallygaster was originally compared to a siren or a flying ghost bird, but over time, the creature changed its appearance to become more aquatic, more dragon-like, and more like a Pterodactyl. Part of this likely has to do with an intermingling of legends. In later descriptions, the creature's call is compared to a locomotive whistle, a rumor allegedly started by moonshiners to explain the odd noises created by their stills.
Since Maryland is a coastal, mid-Eastern state, the area hosted a wide variety of travelers moving across both land and sea. Sailors routinely stopped in the Port of Baltimore to tell tales, and anyone coming from the North had to pass through Maryland to reach the nation's capital. Considering the state's fluid populous, it's easy to see why the story of the Snallygaster may have morphed over the years.