I’m not gonna lie: I love urban legends and folklore. I also love local creepy stories about ghosts, witches, and death omens. It’s not the occult that has always fascinated me… but the unknown. And nothing is more bizarre and frightening than the legend of the infamous black dog.
No, not the Led Zeppelin song. I’m talking about one of the biggest literary devices in the English language. Heck, it’s even featured in Harry Potter!
It’s a common symbol of death, but it may have been inspired by real life events. Right here in Connecticut, in fact!
As an English major and reading my fair share of symbolism-heavy books, the black dog has always been my favorite omen. Perhaps it has something to do with growing up near the Hanging Hills in Meriden’s Hubbard Park.
I mean, it’s probably one of the coolest legends in the state. What’s not to love about a supernatural canine?
With it being so eerily close to Halloween, now’s definitely the time to share the story.
The century old legend claims that the Black Dog of West Peak is a small short-haired dog that leaves no footprints and makes no sound, even if it looks like it’s barking. Almost like a ghost. Witness accounts claim that the dog is friendly, but caution that you wouldn’t want to see it more than once.
The first encounter results in joy. A second run-in ends in despair. If you see it a third time, death is imminent. At least six deaths have been blamed on the animal.
The earliest account of the black dog occurred in 1898 in Connecticut Quarterly. It was written by New York geologist W.H.C. Pynchon. He was out researching the geology of the hillside in winter with his friend and co-worker, Herbert Marshall, and the two began talking about the local legend of the black dog.
Marshall claimed he didn’t believe in the folklore, but admitted he had seen the dog twice before while working around the hillside. The two then set out to document West Peak and, after taking photos at the highest peak, they came across the black dog as they were making their descent. Pynchon’s recollection of that fateful encounter is eerie:
“There, high on the rocks above us, stood a black dog, like the one I had seen three years before, except that he looked jet black against the snow wreath above him. As we looked he raised his head and we saw his breath rise steaming from his jaws, but no sound came through the biting air. Once, and only once, he gazed down on us with his gleaming eyes and then he bounded out of sight. I looked at Marshall. His face was white as he steadied himself against a rock, but there was not a tremor in his voice as he said:
“I did not believe it before. I believe it now; and it is the third time.”
And then, even as he spoke, the fragment of rock on which he stood slipped. There was a cry, a rattle of other fragments falling – and I stood alone.”
- W.H.C. Pynchon, Connecticut Quarterly, (April-June, 1898)
Pynchon wrote he had to leave his friend behind as he searched for help. He came across a nearby house, but was too frozen to join the recovery party, which was probably for the best. When the local authorities found Marshall, eyewitness reports claim a black dog was watching over the body and it fled as they approached.
Although Pynchon’s report is the first written account of the Black Dog, but some say the legend has been around since people started living around the Hanging Hills. There’s no way to accurately guess how old the legend is, so we just say “it’s pretty darn old.”
The story still persists today with those hunting the supernatual claiming they have spotted the elusive creature.
One blogger claims to have photographic evidence of the Black Dog, who appeared out of nowhere as he was taking photos around Castle Craig:
(photo by Michael Anastasio)
Anastasio told CTTrips Blogspot that he was definitely the only person at Castle Craig and looked around for its possible owner. Although skeptics claim that the dog is wearing a collar, or that the photo is staged, or that the dog is not the size as depicted in Pynchon’s written account, it still must have been a pretty dramatic moment for a Meriden local to come across a black dog.
So, there you have it, my favorite local ghost story. I think this legend has the right amount of a sense of dread, danger, and mystery. Makes you wanna go hiking, doesn’t it? What would you do if you saw it?
What’s your favorite local haunted legend?