Monsters of Maryland by Ed Okonowicz, Book Review and Reflections

After reading another book from the local library about Maryland folklore which left me disappointed, I have to admit my hopes were resting on redemption when I moved on to this book. Ultimately I was pleasantly surprised and not disappointed. Now I'm no expert on cryptids or folklore so I wouldn't go as far as to say this is the best book ever on the subject, nor that creatures it talked about were even believable, but ultimately this book was fun and it also gave me different perspectives on geography and history of Maryland.

  Image Source: Pocomoke River State Park tripadvisor.com

 

Image Source: Pocomoke River State Park tripadvisor.com

One example of this link to geography, was the story of the Cypress Swamp Monster of Pocomoke Swamp. It was clarified that the name “Pocomoke” comes from “an indian word meaning “black water”. Eventually the author further acknowledges the recognition of Native presence when mentioning the history of the swamp that goes centuries back; From the ways Indians inhabited the swamp, to the underground railroad as well as confederates and pirates hiding in the swamp. Of course I wish there had been further specification than “Indian” in describing the language as well as the Tribes that lived in the territory. Upon googling I found that the swamp had in fact been a meeting place for Tribal diplomacy, so there are specific histories beyond vague “indian mysticism” some may read and associate this with. However, I cannot deny that it was nice that the thought had been included in the first place which could prompt readers to research and learn more about Pocomoke.

Coloring book published by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1986. Source: Wikipedia, google images

Coloring book published by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 1986. Source: Wikipedia, google images

Lately I have also really been thinking about “monster stories” from the perspective of a Native person and that is a primary reason I chose to read this book. Going back to geography, Native oral histories and folklore have a way of tying characters in stories to geographic features and territories. It is from that logic that I've found more of an interest in expanding upon scary stories, mythologies and folklore from all over. Without getting into too many personal specifics, I'll say this was what left me interested with the section about “Chessie” rumored sea monster of the Chesapeake Bay which I had never heard about. I don't want to spoil conclusions that were drawn about the monster, but it was a fun thought to consider such a monster would be spotted in Maryland.

Another interesting example of folklore that points to deeper origins, is a story about a creature called the Snallygaster, a dragon creature believed to have lived in the mountains. (Id imagine this is the creature pictured on the cover which I found kind of comical when I checked out the book). But the origins tie back to stories that were brought from German settlers, the term snallygaster is believed to be derived from german word snell geist or schneller geist, which is actually a german paranormal entity with poltergeist like abilities. As a military brat my parents were stationed in Germany, so I grew up seeing all the mementos like Steins,t, shirts, spoons and plates with a dragon like creature seal and suddenly that makes perfect sense to me. The story told of the monster being enticed by moonshine as well as a reference to it in The Hillbilly Party Book from Mountain Dew which includes a recipe for a snallygaster drink, in The Flintstones and in the XFiles. When considering that the monster was sighted in the mountains and other areas associated with the “hillbilly” culture of moonshine makers, it's practically cultural metaphor.  In general, it's interesting to think about how so many superstitions in the US formed out of the cultural syncretism that resulted from groups that were settlers, displaced or immigrated.

There was also a story about a “pig woman” which immediately made me think of the podcast episode where we discussed the pig trope in horror. Although the conclusion in the book seems to point to pranks rather than an actual entity, it still is very reminiscent to the prevalence of pig mask as a horror device.

Image source: Pinterest, "Goatman" Google image search

Image source: Pinterest, "Goatman" Google image search

Finally, the last creature that I will expand upon (and my favorite from the book) was the story of goatman. But more so because I grew up being told stories about goatman at sleepovers, and have even heard a story of a sighting regarding the land upon which I currently reside. Im sure that many non Marylanders may find the stories comical, however my assumption with that even changed when I learned from the book that there are goatman stories even in Georgia and other places in the south. (Which was something I never really thought about). There are also tribal stories regarding a hoofed creature that parallel the same features although the stories are primarily framed in an allegorical way. Although the stories from Maryland appear to be more of a way to scare young people, perhaps it too is indirectly allegorical in the fact that the origins of the creature are often taught as fall out from “scientific experimentation”. The book mentions the home of goatman at the BARC facility.

“Originally BARC was named the Experiment Farm of the Dairy and Animal Husbandry Divisions. Later it included the Bureau of Plant Industry and a variety of agencies involved in space exploration, environmental protection, and food and drug enforcement.” “contaminated areas have been identified at BARC, resulting…from the handling and disposal of chemicals, including pesticides and radioactive agents, used in research and other activities conducted at the facility...Including* landfills and dump sites, chemical storage areas, chemical burial sites, a burial site for material contaminated with low levels radiation, and pesticide and herbicide mixing, application and washdown areas. Warning signs are posted in accordance with the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act.” Additional details in the report relate to groundwater contamination.”

 

Overall concluding that this restricted government area is a perfect place for goatman to reside. After reading this, it left me to consider the ways that skepticism of government secrecy play a role in particular cryptids and folklore; But also the nuances of allegory and how that can play into industries and institutions established by colonialism.
 

In conclusion, I enjoyed the book, it was light reading and I would recommend to anyone with an interest in scary stories, cryptids, folklore, especially if you are from Maryland! I thought it was cool that there was also mention of documentation of stories recorded at the University of Maryland. Its good to know that there are people that keep records even of folklore, knowing the references included can be valuable for a different type of knowledge preservation.
-#NeverDeadDani