When we look back on the long history of the United States, we see in a way the sum of all folklore and legends mixed together as people explored a new nation. In many ways, the ideas of these people merged and created some of the most interesting stories of their time. But in other ways, they merged even as they were witnessing some of the most fantastic and alien landscapes known at the time. What we take for granted today was once a wild and unexplored frontier filled with mysteries – and one of the stranger mysteries to ever be told in the safe confines of the home when the wind howls at the door and the night creeps in on the candlelight is that of the Schneller Geist.
The Schneller Geist legend started around Maryland when German settlers began building communities and villages at the edge of the Maryland wilderness in the 1730’s and ’40s. Folklorists suggest that the Schneller Geist of legend would be adopted from several sources and draw from the stories and legends in the minds of the people at the time, including the Greek Epic where Odysseus comes across the magical Siren women on his journey. It was said the voice of the Siren was enough to drive a man mad with love and plunge himself to a watery grave in an attempt to reach them. It’s said this was mixed with the more local legends from the Powhatan, the Nanticoke, and the Shawnee tribes of the great birds of the ancient and wild world which could in some instances transform from bird to human and back again.
The Schneller Geist was said to be a half-siren, half-bird creature of unknown origin. Its name, in the local tongue meant “quick spirit.” The only way to keep the creature away, with its nightmarish beak surrounded by amphibious octopus tentacles was to draw seven stars near your property where it could be seen from the air. The practice of painting symbols such as these was sometimes a source of regional contention among puritans as it suggested to them an occult interest and a reliance on forces other than God. Others dismissed it as simple superstition.
The monster was said to have a rival in the area, as well. The creature is said to fear a creature that went by the name, “Dewayo.” The Dewayo resembles a werewolf, or rather a creature somewhere between human and wolf. They have reportedly had a long and intense rivalry that is chronicled in their collective legend.
But in 1909 when suddenly newspapers began reporting the appearance of a cyclopean massive bird with hooks at the ends of snarled feet, needle-like teeth in a massive beak, and a hatred for human life, the stories seemed to somehow relate to others of the Schneller Geist. In time, however, the name had changed. In time the name was simplified to the colloquial Snallygaster. Oddly enough, reports of the Dewayo, its mortal enemy, came shortly afterward in the region.
Finally in 2008, author Patrick Boyton studied the creature and chronicled the legend of the mysterious creature in his book, Snallygaster: The Lost Legend of Frederick County. In it, he described the long rich history of this obscure but overwhelmingly intriguing monster.