October 25, 2009

October Monster Mania: the Black Dog of West Peak



A small, non-descript black dog is said to live on West Peak, a mountain near Meriden, Connecticut. He's cute and friendly, but a little unusual. His bark is soundless, and he doesn't leave any footprints, even in the snow. But still, how dangerous can a little black dog be?

Quite dangerous if you see him three times. There's a local saying about the black dog: "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." (Note to self: Don't visit Meriden more than twice!)

Legends about the black dog were described by the New York geologist H.W. Pynchon in an 1898 article in Connecticut Quarterly. Unfortunately, Pynchon himself became part of the dog's legend.



In his article, Pynchon writes he first met the black dog while riding his buggy towards West Peak on a beautiful spring day. The little canine trotted beside his carriage, climbed with him up and over the mountain, and even waited outside while he had lunch in a tavern. Pynchon enjoyed the dog's company, but it ran off as evening came on.

A few years later, Pynchon returned to West Peak with a fellow geologist. As they climbed, Pynchon told his friend about the black dog he had seen years ago. "Funny," said the friend, "I've seen that dog twice before while climbing this mountain in the past." (Cue ominous music here.)

As they continued their climb, the two men noticed a small shape waiting for them on a high ledge. It was the black dog, happily wagging his tail. Suddenly, Pynchon's friend lost his grip and fell hundreds of feet to his death. He had seen the dog three times, and died. Pynchon had now seen dog twice, and his day ended in sorrow.

That's all Pynchon wrote in Connecticut Quarterly. You'd think he would avoid West Peak, but he didn't. Several years later, he once again climbed the mountain, this time alone. He never came down alive. Instead, his body was discovered at the bottom of the same cliff where his friend died. Had he seen the black dog for the third fatal time? Only the mountain and the dog know for sure.

A little black dog might seem like an unusual monster, but monstrous black dogs are very common in British folklore, where they too are often portents of death. The most famous black dog in the U.K. is the Black Shuck, who has haunted East Anglia for centuries, and has even caused church towers to collapse. The rock band The Darkness recorded an obscenity laced ode to the Black Shuck. Sadly, there's no real video available, just music.



The black dog of West Peak is less outrageous than its British cousins. After all, he does live in Connecticut, a state known for its good taste.

(This story is well known, but I got my information from David Philips' Legendary Connecticut. Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State.)

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