South Mountain Legends

From Ghosts and Legends of Frederick County by Timothy L. Cannon and Nancy F. Whitmore



Winding our way from Frederick, through the Middletown valley, across beautiful rolling hills, we come to one of the ranges of the Blue Ridge chain that extends from Virginia to Pennsylvania: South Mountain. The scene of the bloody Civil War battle that raged all day on September 14, 1882, it has long been an historic place.

But more that just historic in interest, South Mountain has long been associated with strange stories, spooks, and legends – most dating back to the last century.

There are several accounts of a banshee called the White Woman, who roamed South Mountain some years ago. Apparently, her appearance was very much dreaded, as it was considered a harbinger of death or some other disaster.

Annie was a simple young mountain girl who lived in a hut with her grandmother and her Uncle Ike. One summer day, she was looking out on the road when she saw the White Woman. The shrouded figure arose from the surface of the road and then seemed to pass through the house. Two days later Ike died, and not long afterward the hut burned to the ground.

Another time, the banshee was sighted by a woman who was caring for her nine-day old grandchild. The ghostly figure of the child’s recently dead mother was seen bending over the cradle. Shortly thereafter, the baby died.

The White Woman was seen roaming South Mountain on several other occasions, through nothing harmful seemed to come of it.

* * *

One evening in 1817, a company of Army regulars on their way to fight the Seminole Indians stopped at South Mountain House for some pleasant conversation.

One soldier, a handsome young man from Michigan, remained in the kitchen near the fire, unable to take his eyes off the tavern keeper’s young daughter, Saidee, as she prepared dinner. He would regret having to leave her in the morning, for Cupid’s arrow had pierced his heart. As Saidee turned to face him, he said, "Saidee, I wish that I could die for you!" "Die for me, " she said angrily. "Ain’t I worth living for?"

At that the young man made his decision. He would desert and hide in the forest near the overhanging cliffs. Saidee agreed to bring him food and cry like a wildcat when danger was near. When it was safe for him to return, they would marry and build a cabin on the mountain.

His company searched for him for days, never even considering that he had deserted. Convinced that he was dead, the company departed, and the young soldier returned for Saidee. They married, lived and died on South Mountain.

Their story is still told, and some say the lovers are seen, their footsteps are heard, and the cry of a wildcat often breaks the silence of the night on South Mountain.

* * *

A young Frederick woman told of a terrifying childhood experience when she lived on South Mountain.

Residents of that area were often frightened at night by strange screaming noises. In the morning cat, chickens, and cattle were often found dead and many times eaten.

All attempts to hunt the unseen carnivore proved in vain. The young woman’s father searched for it with a rifle until frightened away by its shrill cries. Dogs refused to hunt the strange animal and would hide under the porch if they sensed its presence.

Late one afternoon as she was climbing a tree, she spotted a strange creature coming down the hill to her left. It resembled a dog, with a face like a cat, and had a bristle-like hairy coat. She watched breathlessly as it moved in her direction, making a low murmuring sound. She leaped from the tree and ran toward her yard. Her screams must have frightened it, for when she turned, the strange beast had vanished. All that could be found were a few large tracks leading nowhere in the underbrush.

She wears her story is true, though she was the only one to ever see it.

Reports of this kind have not been unusual on South Mountain – where the young woman’s story took place. Tales of a strange dog-like creature date back almost a century, when it was then called the Black Dog or Snarly Yow. We have already mentioned this vicious looking dog who would often confront and frighten passing travelers on the National Pike. It was usually described as having large paws, wolfish teeth, and an ugly red mouth.

Late one evening many years ago, William, a hard working and sober married man of about thirty, was returning home from an errand in Boonsboro. He was approaching the Glendale area of South Mountain when he encountered a strange black dog blocking his path. Fearlessly he lashed out at the beast, his fists striking only the air. The dog was bigger than any he had ever seen, but as he fought it, the beast grew to monstrous proportions, taking up the whole width of the road. Then, without a sound, the huge creature bared its teeth, exposing an ugly red mouth, and passed into the darkness, leaving William frightened and confused, but otherwise unharmed, to continue his journey home.

Another time a man of considerable strength, whose thirst for whiskey equaled his size, was confronted by a huge black dog. The horse he was riding stopped dead in its tracks and couldn’t be budged by verbal or physical abuse. Finally, the panicked horse reared up and threw his master to the ground, breaking his collarbone. The dog vanished as quickly as it had appeared.

A man known to be a crack shot with a rifle came upon the dog crossing the road. The marksman took steady aim and fired several shots. However, the bullets passed right through the undaunted beast, leading the rifleman to flee in terror.

Another area resident, nicknamed "Big Joe," encountered the Black Dog while riding his horse one evening. Joe pursued the animal for some distance but failed to overtake it. He insisted that as the dog ran, it kicked up dirt and gravel like any other large running animal – and then mysteriously disappeared.

In 1975, the strange dog was seen again, in the same area as former accounts. A group of sightseers returning to Middletown from Washington Monument State Park suddenly came upon the beast in their automobile. They heard the unmistakable thud and felt the impact of the animal being crushed under the wheels. The care was stopped and they were amazed to see the dog standing upright on its huge paws. The beast bared its teeth, showing an ugly red mouth, then vanished as suddenly as it had appeared.