Folklore Profile: The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills
In south central Connecticut, there is a range of volcanic rock ridges that overlook the towns of Meriden, Southington, and Berlin. The hills were formed nearly 200 million years ago during the Triassic and Jurassic periods and are today known as the Hanging Hills (due to the distinct linear ridge and dramatic cliff faces).
Within the Hanging Hills is a recreational area known as Hubbard Park. Given to the town of Meriden in the early 1900’s by Walter Hubbard, the park covers over 1,800 acres, contains the famous 51-mile Metacomet Trail, has numerous flower gardens, is home to Mirror Lake, and is haunted by a spectral canine known as The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills.
While it is said that the dog has been known since the late 18th century, it wasn’t “officially” documented until 1891, and the story of the Black Dog was not known widely until 1898 when the Connecticut Quarterly newspaper published the story of the encounter. The story states that in 1891, a New York geologist known simply by the initials F.S. was in the Hanging Hills area doing research when he encountered the dog. The mysterious canine was said to have travelled alongside the geologist during his trip through the park but never made a sound the entire time. As the day was ending and F.S. was preparing to leave the Hanging Hills, the dog vanished without warning and was not seen again that day. The geologist was left confused as to where the dog had gone to as it had left no tracks in the dirt and had made not a single sound.
Three years later in 1894, F.S. returned to the Hanging Hills area to continue with his research, but this time he was accompanied by his friend, United States Geological Survey member Herbert Marshall. While in the park, F.S. was said to have told Marshall about his time spent with the black dog in the area three years prior, but Marshall knew about the dog all too well as he himself had seen the dog twice already during previous trips into the area. The two men laughed at the legend and continued on further into the hills.
The following day after camping for the night, both F.S. and Marshall encountered the dog yet again. While this encounter would be the second for F.S., it would be third for Marshall, and the last. Shortly after seeing the dog, Herbert Marshall fell to his death after the rock he was standing on broke free of the ground around it and plummeted to the earth below. After the fall, the dog vanished yet again and F.S. fled the area.
Three years later, F.S. returned to the hills and made his way to the same location in which Herbert Marshall had died. This would be the last thing the geologist ever did as his body was discovered days later at the bottom of the same cliff where Marshall’s body was recovered three years earlier.
Was the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills to blame? Only the two men at the bottom of the cliff know for sure.
Described as being small in stature (roughly about two feet in length), the Black Dog is known by those who have seen it to be friendly and in possession of large sad eyes. The dog is said to leave no footprints as it travels and remains completely silent. It has been said that when the dog does open its mouth to either bark or howl, not even the sound of air escaping can be heard.
While many people state that the legend of The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills is nothing more than an original ghost story written by William Harry Chichele Pynchon (who was a Harvard trained geologist, teacher at Trinity College in Hartford, amateur writer, and grandfather of novelist Thomas Pynchon) and published as a work of fiction in the April-June 1898 issue of the Connecticut Quarterly and that Herbert Marshall never existed in the first place, others claim the legend is entirely real.
Well over 100yrs later and encounters with the ghost dog are still said to take place within the Hanging Hills. Are these nothing more than tales from a friend of a friend made up to scare people? Many feel this is unlikely as numerous witnesses who have claimed to see the canine even refuse to travel back into the Hanging Hills for fear that they will encounter it again. Do these multiple (unnamed) witnesses make the existence of phantom hound more plausible? While different individuals will give different answers to that question, it does seem as if a once fictitious ghost story written in the 1800’s has slowly evolved into a “true” story and has taken on a life of its own.
So, whether the stories of the Black Dog are true or not, always remember to be cautious if you ever find yourself in the Hanging Hills because as the legend says, “if a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die.”
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google