In 1898, The Connecticut Quarterly included an essay entitled “The Black Dog.” Written by geologist W. H. C. Pynchon and printed not long after his mysterious death, the essay relates the story of a possibly otherworldly dog that is said to haunt the Hanging Hills region that overlooks the town of Meriden in Connecticut.
According to local lore, the dog appears to travelers on the mountains up to three times. The first sighting brings joy; the second, misery; and the third, death. Such a tale is not entirely unique to Hanging Hills, of course. Dating back to at least the early 12th-century, beastly black hounds have portended death throughout the English countryside.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle featured the devilish dog in The Hound of Baskervilles, but the legend is much older than that, showing up in literature and eye witness accounts, not to mention it has long held a certain fascination for students of divination at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.
But old Black Shuck, as he is often known, really isn’t in the same league as the little animal in Pynchon’s essay. He describes the beast not as a huge ghostly monster with glowing red eyes but as a plain old dog the shade of “an old black hat that has been soaked in the rain a good many times.” Pynchon’s dog is friendly, playful even, and of “uncertain lineage.”
To be fair, Pynchon does describe the dog as making no sound when it barks, nor footprints when it walks. Still, it’s otherwise basically just a sweet little ole mutt, not unlike the puppy that has recently taken up residence in my home.
I don’t exactly consider myself a “dog person” and although my family had a dog when I was a child and I endured a brief stint as a professional dog trainer just after college, I’ve never had a strong desire for the responsibility of owning one myself. But my sons are six and nine now and (as everyone keeps telling me) a boy needs a dog.
Since most of the time nothing good comes of social media, my husband and I fell victim to adorable pictures of puppies who needed good homes after my cousin’s kindhearted neighbor took in an abandoned mama dog that promptly gave birth to eleven pups.
Because even if you’re not a classic “dog person” there’s no denying that the critters can worm their way into your heart pretty fast. That happened to Pynchon as well. On his first journey into the Hanging Hills region in the spring of 1889, the dog saw him and accompanied him along the way. When the animal disappeared at the end of the return journey, Pynchon was a little sad that he’d lost such a good companion.
Three years later, Pynchon returned to the area, this time accompanied by fellow geologist Herbert Marshall who laughed about having seen the legendary mutt two times previously, but doubting that he might really be in any serious danger. After the men encountered the dog on their journey and Marshall almost immediately fell into a ravine and died, Pynchon was a believer.
Six years would pass before his duties with the Geological Survey would take him back to Hanging Hills. This time, he journeyed alone and never returned. His body was later recovered in the same ravine in which Marshall had died.
If you’ve read this blog for very long, you may know that I am something of a skeptic when it comes to cryptozoology and I suppose demon ghost dogs that portend death fit into that category. Pynchon seems like a reliable enough witness, but the suggestion of local lore and hiking through the mountains can do crazy things to your psyche.
Of course, I’ve also admitted that I’m not much of a dog person and yet I now live with a playful little black puppy named “Ozzie” and he brings me a lot of joy. It’s also true that when he poops on my carpet he provides me with a little bit of misery, and if he doesn’t learn to sleep through the night he may yet be the death of me.