Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland - book review

The other day on Amazon, I bought Mysteries and Lore of Western Maryland: Snallygasters, Dogmen, and other Mountain Tales by Susan Fair. I haven't spent much time in western Maryland, but it seems like an interesting place. I picked up this book because I intend to visit there more often and wanted to know what places might be interesting to see.

The book is broken up into four parts. Part one is about legendary monsters. Part two is mainly about ghosts . Part three is about weird or strange happenings. Part four is about crimes, odd places and mountains.

In Part one, the author wrote about, among other things, the Snallygaster, a flying beast that allegedly tormented the good people of western Maryland in the days before people had ready access to cameras. The author essentially debunked this legend and offered a reasonable explanation for how it got started. She also discussed other legendary monsters such as the Snarly Yow, the Jabberwock, and the Dwayyo. I confess that I would have enjoyed this part of the book more if the author had argued that these beasts were real and offered 'evidence' that they were still stalking the poor people of western Maryland, but I guess her factual take on these subjects was more educational.

In Part two, the author addressed "Eerie Entities" of western Maryland. Of most interest to me, was the story about Witch Margery who lived on South Mountain and used her satanic power to terrorize anyone who might come across her. The author also wrote about the Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick that is allegedly haunted by, among other spirits, a thieving civil war doctor/embalmer. In addition to the other haunted places, we also learn that little green men described as leprechauns inhabit Allegany County thanks to a General Braddock who somehow managed to bring them over when he left Ireland for Maryland in 1755. Although I can see the Ancient Alien people making an argument that these were really aliens and they were helping the British during the French and Indian War.

Part three covered stuff that could just generally be described as weird. The author wrote about George Alfred Townsend, who bought a large estate out in Burkittsville  with a personal mausoleum that was never used. The author also wrote about Michael Zittle, Jr., the so-called Wizard of South Mountain, who in the 1800s attempted to cure people of various diseases using his "evil spell book." The author debunked the idea that Zittle was using demonic powers. He was a bit of a folk healer, or at least he tried to be. Another person, among the many, the author wrote about was "Harris the Crazy Naked Guy", a "middle-aged Quaker of 'quiet demeanor' and 'humble manners'" who would walk naked through the streets of Cumberland in the 1800s. He was from Virginia, but each spring he would go to Cumberland, take off his clothes, and walk the streets warning about a "terrible calamity" that would hit the town. Aside for once being briefly jailed after entering a church and disrupting the service with his warnings, the people of Cumberland were reasonably tolerant of him. He did this once a year, for five years, until the great fire of 1833 burned down all of the houses along his parade route. One cannot help but wonder if Harris had something to do with starting the fire.

Part four addressed the leftover weird subjects and history, including famous murder trials, executions, places, and stories. For example, the author tells the history of two severed arms, one at the previously mentioned Museum of Civil War Medicine and the other at the Boonsboro Museum of History. She also wrote about the somewhat odd history of the Washington Monument in Washington County and Fort Frederick, which, of course, is haunted. The section on famous murders and executions was rather morbid. And the book ended with tales about mountains, including Will's Mountain, where two young lovers once jumped to their deaths.

Full or lots of interesting information and stories that I had never heard before, I really enjoyed this book. The list price is $19.99, which is a bit high, but not unreasonable. Amazon does discount books from time to time, especially if you have Amazon Prime. You might also look out for cheaper used copies. The Kindle version is $9.99, which does strike me as too high. But I believe that most Kindle books are overpriced. Nevertheless, I recommend this book.