Given that it is October, here is a post re-edited for the Halloween season. It is done somewhat tongue-in-cheek.
The Mythical Half-Man, Half-Animal
The ancient Greeks loved such stories of centaurs (half-man, half horse) and the minotaurs (half-man, half bull). Possibly akin to the mischevious Pan, the local folklore of Prince George’s County, Maryland, gives us the notorious Goatman. There is very little information, reliable or otherwise, about this peculiar legend. Scattered newspaper accounts, an article in Strange Magazine, and a couple of citations in books about monsters by Daniel Cohen pretty much exhausts the available data. While creatures like Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and even the New Jersey Devil get regular sensational attention, the Goatman of Prince George’s County alternately faces neglect or outright mockery. It is hard not to regard the business as a joke and yet a number of people over the years placed some credence in the stories. Admittedly, it seems pretty preposterous. Complicating the equation is that there are recent sightings of a similar Goatman in Texas.
What is the Legend?
Often the Goatman of Prince George’s County is associated with all the various other so-called “lover’s lane” monsters; attacking the parked cars of teenagers doing more than talking about the weather. However, encounters with this creature have included people of all ages and during the most innocent of situations. It is reported that he has banged upon automobiles and that people have set their dogs upon him, the latter purportedly with the most tragic of results. He appears exclusively near wooded and rural areas and at night. Searches find nothing other than deer. The mythical elements are quite peculiar and strike fear into the hearts of God-fearing Christians: this satyr-like creature, not unlike the Hellenic deity Pan, is usually described as being human from the waist up and like a goat from the legs down. As with so many creatures of Cryptozoology, we might find the depictions of artists, but no solid evidence. Photographs are blurry. There is no absolute agreement to the appearance of the Goatman. While it is said by some that he wears boots, others contend that his feet are actually cloven hooves. Certain tellers of the tale contend that he has devilish twisting horns or antlers. Other renditions would say that his face is goat-like. The popular story about his origin seems rather farfetched. It is said that he was a researcher at a local agricultural research facility who suffered a metamorphosis when an experiment went awry. Now he travels as an outcast to humanity, some say with an ax in hand. His stature grows larger with each telling. Traditionally he was no bigger than a normal man. Now he is compared to Bigfoot and is given gigantic proportions. I suspect if an eight to twelve foot monster were running around Maryland, it would be pretty hard to hide. Today I am the pastor of Holy Family Parish in Mitchellville, MD. I am smack dab in the Goatman’s old hunting grounds. But the woods and farms are gone. New housing in the $500,000 to the $2,000,000 price range has gone up. It find it doubtful that I will see the Goatman driving down the highway in a Mercedes-Benz.
Suckers for a Good Story and Our Love of the Tall-Tale
One of my favorite authors was Mark Twain. He was the master of tall-tales and delighted in telling them. I am also reminded of P. T. Barnum who tried to profit from bringing the sensation and/or mythical to life. While it is true that many people are gullible, others are attracted to the imaginative elements themselves. Note how science fiction and fantasy books have exploded at the same time while technology surrounds us and scientific knowledge is growing with leaps and bounds. We have seen this also in Catholic or Christian circles, with the fans of Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings and C. S. Lewis’ Narnia stories. We know it is fiction, but it fascinates all the same. Of course, the danger is that both faith and real science might not be taken seriously. When the Discovery Channel tried to market their religious programs, pastors said no because they had polluted themselves with shoddy programs about topics like the so-called tomb of Jesus and the search for Noah’s ark. How credible are hard science programs and solid historical documentaries when they are placed side-by-side with so-called investigative reports on Big Foot and UFO’s? Real researchers constantly shake their heads and worry about how simple minds could be led astray, just to make profitable television. The line between fact and fiction is blurred.
In any case, there is a huge emerging market for the paranormal as with Ghost Hunting and renewed interest in mythical creatures like the Mothman, the Bunny Man, the New Jersey Devil, Lizard Man, etc. People love a mystery and they want the emotions stirred. We might find some of these funny or alternately, very frightening. As with rollercoasters, people often like a thrill or scare, especially if they can ironically feel safe during the experience. As we approach Halloween, note the numbers of Haunted Hayrides and charity Haunted Houses. There is also the current Zombie craze on college campuses. Instead of being repelled, it seems the stranger, the better.
Last year I saw a short program where self-proclaimed researchers visited the Colchester Overpass in Clifton, Virginia. This was the apparent haunted spot where the Bunny Man makes his presence felt. Supposedly the legend started with a man in a bunny suit who went on a murderous rampage with an axe. In truth there were a couple on incidents of a man in a bunny suit who threatened couples in 1970 in various locations of Virginia but no one was mutilated. But the stories began to spread like wildfire. Stories about the identity of the Bunny Man were demonstrably false, particularly that he was an escapee from a local insane asylum. No such place existed in the area. The most that can be said is someone reported a strange man for eating another’s pet cat.
Just as the witnesses of aliens from outer space often come across as sincere; those who testify to encounters with the Goatman also seem to believe that they have seen the legendary creature. Supporters will argue, “Why would they lie?” and explain that “There is nothing in it for them.” It has always surprised me that no one in Prince George’s County has tried to market this fascination with Goatman Hunting and selling plastic Goatman dolls. Hum, I wonder if that would go over as a parish fundraiser?
What About This Goat Business?
Was he a real mutation of a goat and a man? The idea of a mad scientist who has somehow infected and metamorphosed himself through experiments with goats at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center is pretty far-fetched. It would make for a good B-movie but pretty poor science. Unless he had suffered some kind of natural mutation, as one might from the womb, I would doubt it. Reason rebels at the notion that any faulty pre-DNA technology brought about this monstrosity. Catastrophic and artificially induced changes into a person’s biology are probably detrimental to health and lethal. Maryland folklore, about the Goatman and similar legends, has been collected by Barry Lee Pearson at the University of Maryland. Just as with the New Jersey Devil, he explains that such tales were perpetuated by excited teenagers. It is here where we find the ingredients for the story: a mysterious man, hysterical teenagers and too amny Incredble Hulk comic books. Note that there is no record of a missing researcher and no name is put forward, although some have recently labeled him Doctor Fletcher after the local road where there were purported sitings in Bowie, MD.
The imagination of teens probably ran wild when they encountered a hermit or assorted figures with similar descriptions. While I was gullible enough to believe anything as a child, when I got older it seem more likely that this was a poor man living outdoors and/or trying to keep his privacy and not liking others to make fun of him. Given the darkness of the old roads like Brown Station and Fletcher, he was probably more vulnerable on foot than the teens in automobiles. Kids can be cruel and I can easily imagine an old man fighting for his dignity. If he lived in the woods, then an axe would be an essential tool. Even if he did attack cars with an axe, I would not be surprised if he was incited by the lights and mockery.
Such figures often carry a stick to help with the walking and to fend off attackers, both animal and human. As I write this now, I know a man who has built a structure, part shack and part tent, in the woods near a warehouse in the Forestville area. During the day he walks up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, Forestville Road, and Allentown Road raising a bible over his head for all to see. When it rains he keeps the book in plastic and continues his rounds all the same. The poor man is not quite right, but he means well and believes. Parishioners of my old church in Forestville helped him with a tent and got him a nice sleeping bag. He refused proper shelter or further help. The authorities will not lift a finger to assist him. They argue that their resources are already stretched to the breaking point. The shelters are often full and they turn people away.
The Goatman figure, by contrast, traveled mostly by night and fled association with others, at least the so-called regular people. Hobos who will share a fire or hitch a ride along with other bums of the road are less likely to mingle with so-called regular people. This reaction is mutual as well. I saw something of this in my city ministry. People would cross the street so as to avoid a beggar. I was counseled to keep my distance from them because they were dirty, smelly, diseased and carried fleas and body lice. I remember one poor man being chased out of a fast-food restaurant. He had a dime and asked for water. I intervened and bought him several large cheeseburgers and super-sized fries. The manager was upset with me but my money was good. The poor man told me the honest truth, that it was booze that brought him to this dire state. He said he would sneak around the dumpsters at night (hoping they were not locked) and would dine on what was thrown away. I rather think that this urban street person was the city version of his country compatriot, the hermit (plural or singular) labeled as the Goatman.
The county was once a farming community. Small farms often raised goats for their milk, cheese, and meat. They were even utilized as natural lawn mowers. Some people domesticated them like pets, although dogs were unlikely to get along well with them– there is a definite goat smell. Goat skins could be used as a poor man’s leather and as a coat. Wearing the skins of an animal, with the accompanying cap of horns or antlers, was seen as a way for the men of the forest to get close to wild prey, like deer. Wild goats, to my knowledge, no longer roam the county.
One elderly person remarked that they had known the figure, not as the Goatman, but as the Coatman. The name changed as the particulars were confused by word of mouth. According to this testimony, it resulted from this madman always wearing a long coat of fur, even in the sweltering summers of Southern Maryland.
While the sensational media will sometimes mention the Goatman, only a remnant of the local community has a real interest. Goatman Hollow, a seasonal “haunted” attraction, did NOT open in 2012. The skeptical will say the Goatman saga is corny or stupid; the gullible, that it has something to do with alien abductions. Nevertheless, a few still have fun with the traditional story. Asking around, a young woman in her twenties told me that she has heard of the Goatman living under Cry Baby Bridge in Brandywine. Previously, I had heard rumblings of such a character around Baby Lane, near Mill Swamp, a waterway running into Pomokey Creek. Actually, if he were to live anywhere in the county, that would be the place. It still has a remnant of the rural about it and is adjacent to the countryside of neighboring Charles County. The Pomokey Creek area has many poor people. I know of one family who resides there in a shack with wooden crates for a floor and blankets for room dividers. They make a little money selling wood and eat what they can catch. They have no electricity or indoor plumbing. Hidden away on a dirt road in Pomokey, they are the forgotten residents of the county. Their local minister is an anti-Catholic preacher who earned his theological credentials from an uncertified correspondence course. Ignorance and resentment, as well as children robbed of hope, is still liberally bred. Their overriding pride and deep distrust of strangers makes it difficult to help them. (The importance of such an environment near a creek will come to light in my comments about the Upper Marlboro Goatman.)
Personal Recollections as a Child in Forestville-District Heights, MD
I well recall the “Goat Man” phenomenon of my childhood. While I can nostalgically reminisce upon this “creature” from the 1960′s and early 1970′s, at the time it filled me with much anxiety. It took upon itself something of the pallor of a boogeyman, a mysterious figure who might “get us” if we were bad. Such was the message that many parents gave their children. The teenage couples were all excited about this “thing” in the woods, I suppose hoping that a tale of mystery and danger might help their parents forget why they were in the woods, anyway. (As for those in parked cars, they evidently used to agitate the Goatman by flashing their lights upon him. His response was to attack the automobiles.) Did the grownups, themselves, really believe in the existence of this “monster”?
Local teens used to tease us small children about the Goatman. They said that if we followed them into the woods the Goatman would get us. In retrospect, they might not have wanted us little ones tagging along. I do recall at one point that some of the parents and other adults thought there was something strange in the forest, going so far as to hunt it down. However, this task was often relegated to teenage boys playing a new version of snipe hunting. Did the adults merely adopt the fanciful stories as a tool to compel their younger ones to behave? The wooded area in Forestville, a name once descriptive of the town, was being developed for suburban housing. An untouched area behind Holly Hills apartments was said to possess a Goatman. But, as I said, the kids might have merely adopted the Bowie/Upper Marlboro story for their own. Officials of the neighborhood schools, Forestville Elementary and Spalding Junior High, as well as fearful parents, were always harping at us to keep out of the woods, lest some creature should get us. As any student of human nature might guess, this warning made the prospect more tempting. Indeed, as a shortcut, so many kids had detoured through the woods on the way home after school, that a trail of a sorts had been made. Remembering the story of Hansel and Gretel, I felt so very brave when I first dared to misbehave and entered the forested trail. What I remember comes to me through the prism of a child’s mind and feelings. Maybe I made more of the Goatman story than I should have? Given that various friends have forgotten about it, it seems that fear and wonder overly fueled my wild imagination.
As a child, I connected the myth of the Goatman with a mysterious figure who came to the Forestville area. He was pursued by the local authorities. The county was in the early stages of a transition wherein unchecked construction of homes, businesses, and roads were encroaching upon the natural environment. (The rural and farm community of only a few decades ago is almost extinguished, now. Prince George’s has become one of the most populous counties in the nation, with all the accompanying regulations, taxes, and laws to match.) A vagabond living off the land and/or a creature like the Goatman would be hard pressed to find a home here. Looking back, it seemed that the interloper was an intensely shy individual. Was he ashamed of his appearance? Or, did he just want to be left alone? He would creep from the woods at night scavenging for food, clothing, and any other useful castaways. The Junior High dumpster was repeatedly broken into, as were those behind Penn-Mar Shopping Center. The proximity of these vagabond treasure troves might have been another reason for this wanderer’s presence in our location. Stories spread of mutilated animals. Dogs were purportedly dismembered, and sometimes with the meatiest parts missing. I suspect he defended himself against the dogs and then made sure the food did not go to waste. Pets protecting their owners’ property and bands of wild canines were known to go after him. While there were allegations that he ate raw flesh; there were definite signs of camp fires in the woods. Eventually, some stumbled upon his home, little more than a rackety tree house surrounded by animal skins and bones. The teens lost no time getting out of there. While in Junior High School, officials were forced by parents to search the small forest for the Goatman. Since, as far as I knew, he never hurt or killed anyone, they were going to charge him with trespassing. Word was that they found an old hermit who quickly eluded their grasp.
Those woods are almost totally gone now, replaced by houses and condominiums. If he was old then, he must assuredly be dead now. Of course, there is a possibility that he was not the only one given the Goatman label. The bums and hobos, while being solitary, would sometimes gather for purposes of sharing stories and trade. This became even more the case as they were less welcomed into what we consider normal society.
Various youth with whom I grew up have no recollection of any of this. One even accused me of making it all up. Maybe so many have forgotten the tale because they WANT TO FORGET? Just as stories can be exaggerated or molded into legend or myth, they can also be repressed. Being scared by a boogeyman is one thing, actually believing in him, or worse, meeting up with him, is something else!
Upper Marlboro, County Seat: Source of the Goatman?
An article by Mark Opsasnick in Strange Magazine mentions that the Goatman stories “originated with farm families in early 1958 around the Upper Marlboro area of what today is Rt. 202 or Landover Road.” Back in the 1990′s, I thought I would make some cursory exploration of the oldest testimonies about the so-called Goatman among the members of St. Mary of the Assumption Church in Upper Marlboro, a Catholic community finding its origins in colonial times. The likelihood was that such a creature-man would have emerged from and have been known best by the poorer inhabitants. I turned my search in that direction. Maybe their descendants would have some notion about the oddity’s identity? Many of the black slaves and early tenant workers were parishioners there. After the Civil War, while there were some influential parish families among the property owners, many of the poor made this church their own. Immediately, it struck me as curious that Upper Marlboro seemed at the center of the various sightings:
Fletchertown Road in Old Bowie
[Due north of UM] It was once heavily forested with Northridge Community Park still remaining. Newstop and Horsepen streams are near and branch out from the Patuxent River.
Lottsford Road in Mitchelleville
[Northwest of UM] On the other side of Watkins Regional Park from us, it includes the remnant forest, Western Branch Stream Valley Park and several golf courses. It is intersected by Bald Hill and Western branches on one side and Southwest branch from the Patuxent on the other.
National Agricultural Research Center in Beltsville
[Northwest of UM] This is still a somewhat rural and farming area, with a stream running into Indian Creek It encloses Alter Pond, Beaverdam Creek, Indian Creek, Little Paint Branch Stream out of Little Paint Branch Park, etc. Adjacent is the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.
Patuxent Wildlife Research Center in Laurel
[Northwest of UM] A portion of the Patuxent River actually flows through here. It remains a substantial natural wilderness.
Walker Mill Road/Forestville-Ritchie Road
[West of UM] One could follow the Southwest Branch stream right into this area. It includes Walker Mill Regional Park and on the other side, near Forestville proper, the Suitland Bog Conservation Area and stream.
Tucker Road in Clinton
[Southwest of UM] Henson Creek can be followed into Henson Stream Valley Park.
Brown Station Road in Upper Marlboro
[Immediate area] An assortment of farms and woods dot the landscape. Cabin, Back, Turkey, and other branch streams intersect it. It is not far from Rt. 202 (Largo Road), Southwest Stream Valley Park, and Watkins Regional Park.
Note that all of these areas still have at least some residual rural flavor, usually reduced to a park, and that in past days, were accessible by a waterway. Upper Marlboro is a place of convergence for many streams and canals. These particulars are important as they help to collaborate some of the history about the man or men behind the Goatman legend uncovered in Upper Marlboro.
One of the parishioners of St. Mary’s recalls a man named Dominic But— whom he thinks was the source of these Goatman stories. He lived on Leeland Road, an area still quite rural and housing many rustic characters. He would close up his house from Spring to Fall and go trapping for turtles. Principally, he would look what the kids call the crocodile turtle. Cooters, Painted and Bog turtles are found in or near water. We all know about the terrapin. The creature he sought was a large or monstrous water turtle, with ridges along its tail. The beast looks something like a dragon with a shell on its back. They can also grow quite large, as much as 15 to 25 pounds. I myself have seen them in School House Pond down the street from the church. Man-made canals, creeks, and streams crisscross the Upper Marlboro area, feeding into the Patuxent River. Water levels sometimes flood the local bridges. Patuxent Park River is also a feature of the area within parish boundaries. The turtle population, no longer actively pursued, has become a nuisance to local fishermen, snaring their lines. Dominic would have followed these waterways in search of turtles. Indeed, the Collington and East branches (streams) passed near his home. He tended to move westward to find turtles, perhaps because the water was murkier in that direction– the kind the turtles liked best. He would also go quite a way south, but as he got older, his treks shortened. Along the muddy banks the turtles would bury their eggs.
He was quite a character. Most certainly he wore some sort of head-dressing as protection against the elements. Nature could have easily provided the horns for a cap. Of course, all sorts of head-gear could have been mistaken for something bizarre in the cover of darkness. During the time he was out, he would live totally off the land. He wore furs and carried other gear on his person. He would not cut his hair, which grew quite long. Because of the dirt and hair, you would be hard-pressed to testify to his African American ancestry. He was a trader. While he traveled, he would occasionally ask permission to stay in barns. Knowing how his appearance was offensive, he never asked to enter a house. While he probably carried a hatchet, if not a complete ax, it is known that he carried a long stick with a nail at one end. This was his most valuable tool. He would use it to probe for turtles in the muddy water. He could determine from the bubbles which side was the head and which was the tail. The last thing anyone ever wanted to do was to reach for one of these creatures on the head side. Their mouths are very powerful and dangerous. He was known to reach into the mud past his shoulder to drag the heaviest of turtles out of the water. He would then take the turtle and trade for things he needed. If someone wanted him to prepare the turtle, he would gut it as one might do a fish. As one who has eaten turtle, I can testify that the meat is quite good; however, the process of extracting it from the shell is a bit gross. Because of its primitive nervous system, the turtle can run around without its head and the heart will continue beating for a while after it has been detached from the rest of the reptilian flesh. As a boy, I can remember my mother with an ax, chopping the head off a turtle. Then my brothers and I had to chase the headless body as it sought to get away. Yum yum!
You can well imagine what this hairy man, dressed strangely, and caked in mud must have looked like. He functioned this way faithfully from the 1930′s to the mid-1950′s. After the war, people began to settle in the county who were more circumspect about trespassers and unfamiliar with the ways of men like Dominic. They went into a panic when they saw him and unleashed their dogs upon him. The civility he and his kind knew had been replaced by a fear and loathing– the ultimate in bad manners and intolerance. The last thing they wanted was to trade with this man trespassing on their property with a bucket or inverted shell full of turtle guts. They probably did not give him time to explain what he was offering. Confrontations became so bad that he was reduced to traveling public roads at night. That is where the teenagers come into the picture.
His family line, still found locally, has sometimes suffered from skin diseases which rob the features of pigment. There may even have been some albinism. It is a major presumption, but if such were the case for Dominic, then much would be explained regarding glimpses of a milky complection and the care he took to avoid direct exposure to the sun. Further, the legendary red eyes would find a logical explanation since this is the natural appearance of eyes lacking pigmentation.
I am told that one of his favorite areas to work was down on Brandywine Road, a place where his family and compatriots purportedly continued their line of work for many years. Particularly, the area was in the direction of Baden in what is today Cedarville State Park. It still allows hunting within designated areas. Several waterways penetrate this forest, but Dominic preferred Zekiah Swamp Run. If I wanted to find a modern day Goatman, that is where I would start my search. Who knows, maybe they still carry goats with them for milk and cheese? After all, it is a lot easier than toting a cow through the brush and mud. Plus, it will eat anything.
There were similar persons often confused with Dominic and who may have lived a parallel type of life. One was named Joe Car—. Another was George Tay—. The last in this list refused to cut his hair and would wear a long green army surplus jacket. He wore this coat even during the humid hot summers. I am told he would bring an alarm clock to Mass and would make a racket if the pastor went too long. People laughed about it and tolerated him. Such people made life interesting. Maybe that is why the legend of the Goatman has endured? This feeble reflection does not exhaust the mystery. That is probably for the best.
“Last known victim of the Goat Man.”–just joking!
Postscript: Who Are the “Real” Goatmen?
My faith mandates that I make a qualification to these remarks. I would argue that such creatures do exist and that they are truly monsters of the worse possible sort. They are not restricted to Prince George’s County; indeed, they co-exist with us as a secret society. These goatmen, and I must quicken to add, goatwomen, do not possess horns– at least none that we can see– but still they are kin to Satan. Unlike the local fables, they are not the end-product of either science or nature, but of supernature. They constitute that other city which has been repudiated throughout the centuries and most brilliantly discussed by St. Augustine of Hippo. It is a legion which lies to itself and to all others. Their allegiance is only to themselves, and then only when it is profitable and/or pleasurable. They have no immediate concern for judgments against them, but are a parasitical hedonistic community enraptured by proximate goods and ends. Unlike the poor old men who were harassed for their peculiarities, and who were really a threat to no one; these other goatpeople are all murderers. True to the mythic symbolism of the horned goat, they are the ultimate manipulators. Well-versed with pretense, they have stifled genuine charity both in their hearts and in their daily operation. They become more and more beasts, and less and less human. Compounding the problem, they are all plagued carriers of a lethal contagion called sin– a poison which if left untreated, results in the death of souls.
“But when the Son of Man shall come in his majesty, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory; and before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the GOATS; and he will set the sheep on his right hand, but the GOATS on the left.“Then the king will say to those on his right hand, ‘Come, blessed of my Father, take possession of the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me to drink; I was a stranger and you took me in; naked and you covered me; sick and you visited me; I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the just will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, and feed thee; or thirsty, and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger, and take thee in; or naked, and clothe thee? Or when did we see thee sick, or in prison, and come to thee?’ And answering the king will say to them, ‘Amen I say to you, as long as you did it for one of these, the least of my brethren, you did it for me.’“Then he will say to those (GOATS) on his left hand, ‘Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire which was prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you did not give me to eat; I was thirsty and you gave me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take me in; naked, and you did not clothe me; sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to thee? Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Amen I say to you, as long as you did not do it for one of these least ones, you did not do it for me.’ And these will go into everlasting punishment, but the just into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25:31-46)
A Revision of the Challoner-Rheims Version, 1943 Confraternity of Christian Doctrine
Other Goatman Sites
Goatman Drawings - Artists’ rendering of the mythical creature.
Goatman Legend – A brief explanation of the mythical creature.
Goatman Legend in Washington City Paper – A newspaper article placed online.
Famed Goatman in Washington Post – Big time article for the goatman.
Recommended: Strange Magazine Issue #14, Fall 1994, pp. 18-21. Author: Mark Opsasnick. ISSN 0894-8968.
Written April 2, 1998 / Revised October 17, 2012
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