The Snallygaster, Muggles Beware or Maryland Folklore?

Heather Jauquet

Have you ever heard of this Maryland legend?

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Concrete statues of mythical creaturesaisvri/Unsplash

I have enjoyed reading the comments on all of the cicada articles I have shared with you. Now, I have a new creature for you. Well, it's new to me. I wonder, is it new to you, too? Read on and let me know if you ever heard of the legend of the Snallygaster.

In her book, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, the famous author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, describes the Snallygaster as a creature that is part-bird and part-reptile. It is considered to be a relative of the dragon but one that does not breathe fire. With fangs like serrated steel, it effortlessly slices through its prey. It has a curious disposition and bulletproof hide. According to Harry Potter lore, the Snallygaster heartstrings are used for wand cores.

But did you know that the Snallygaster is based on Maryland folklore?  

The Snallygaster is a mythical creature introduced to Maryland by German immigrants during the 18th century. The new immigrants brought more than their customs, food, and clothing. They also brought their legends and myths. In German, the Schneller Geist, which means "quick spirit" or "fast ghost," was said to swoop from the sky and carry off its victims like small game, farm animals, inattentive pets, and even young children. Legend believes that the only way to ward off the creature was to paint a seven-pointed star on barn sides. 

 Over the years, the description of the Snallygaster changed. In 1973, instead of a dragon-like being, Sykesville residents reported the creature to be 6 to 7 feet tall with a big bushy tail and black hair. The beast’s footprints measured thirteen and a half inches long and six inches wide. Depending on who you asked, it emitted a sound like a locomotive whistle, or it cried like a baby and screamed like a woman.

Another description gave the Snallygaster enormous wings, a long pointed bill, and an eye in the center of its forehead. 

The legend became so prominent that the Smithsonian Institution offered a reward for its hide. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt even once considered postponing an African safari to hunt down the beast personally.  

Later, it was discovered that the Snallygaster sitings were a hoax created by editor George C. Rhoderick and reporter Ralph S. Wolfe to increase readership for the Middletown Valley Register.

Snallygaster ice cream 

 South Mountain Creamery Farm keeps the local legend alive with its Snallygaster ice cream made with peanut butter ice cream infused with chocolate peanut butter cups, pretzels, and a caramel swirl.  

If you want to level up your dessert, try the Twisted Snallygaster Sundae. On top of the ice cream, South Mountain Creamery adds chocolate and peanut butter sauces, chocolate sprinkles, pretzel rods, chopped peanut butter cups, peanut butter pieces, whipped cream, and the requisite cherry on top.

You can find this sweet treat at all of the South Mountain Creamery locations, including:

  • Karen’s Country Store (Middletown, Maryland)
  • The South Mountain ice Cream Shop in downtown Frederick
  • The Ice Cream Shop and Cafe in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania

Have you ever heard of the legend of the Snallygaster? What do you think about it? Let me know in the comments!

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Certified educator K-12 and Reading Specialist with a focus on the adolescent brain. I write about how educational decisions affect parents, students, and staff. As an educator and parent I also focus on community events for the whole family.

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