July 09, 2023

The Glocester Ghoul: A Monster and A Pirate in Rhode Island

A while ago I was poking around on the Internet and saw articles about a monster called the Glocester Ghoul. I had never heard of this terrifying creature before, and of course wanted to find out more. This is what I learned...

The monster supposedly lurks in the woods and swamps of Glocester, Rhode Island, a small town in the northwestern part of the state. Here's a fun fact about Glocester. Its name used to be spelled "Gloucester," like the town in Massachusetts, but in 1806 its citizens decided to change the spelling to "Glocester" to avoid confusion with the Massachusetts port. The two towns are different in other ways, as well. Gloucester, MA is haunted by witches and sea-serpents. Glocester, RI, is haunted by a large scaly monster that roams through the woods: the Glocester Ghoul. 

Image from TeePublic 

One of the earliest accounts of the monster was an article that appeared in various newspapers (including The Boston Globe) in January and February of 1896. Titled "Monster, Cow, or Ghost?," the article claims a Glocester man named Neil Hopkins encountered a monster while walking home from work one night:

"It seemed to be all a-fire; it had a hot breath," Hopkins told his neighbors. "There was a metallic sound, like the clanking of steel against steel... I could hear the dead branches and twigs crackling under the heavy tramp."

Unfortunately Hopkins only caught a brief glimpse of the creature before it ran off into the woods, but he said "it was as big as an elephant, and that he is certain it had no tail." 

The article goes on to suggest the creature may have been the same one seen seen in 1839 by Albert Hicks and three other local men. They believed Captain Kidd had buried some of his treasure on a Glocester farm and were digging to find it, but their efforts were interrupted by the appearance of a monster. Hicks described the following:

"It was a large animal, with staring eyes as big as pewter bowls. The eyes looked like balls of fire. When it breathed as it went by flames came out of its mouth and nostrils... It was as big as a cow, with dark wings on each side like a bat's. It had spiral horns like a ram's, as big around as a stovepipe. Its feet were formed like a duck's... The body was covered with scales as big as clam shells, which made a rattling noise as the beast moved along..."

That's an impressive monster, even if it's only as big as a cow, and not an elephant, like Neil Hopkins said. It sounds like some kind of dragon, doesn't it? 

Beyond the scaly monster, there are a few other interesting things about this story:

1. Treasure-digging was a common activity in the 18th and 19th centuries. People thought New England was full of buried treasure, and would get together with friends to try to find it. They never seemed to succeed, though, often saying they had been on the verge of finding the gold only to be scared off by a monstrous guardian of some kind, like demonic dogs, sinister black cats, and maybe even the Devil himself. Digging for Captain Kidd's treasure and encountering a monster would have been a familiar theme to a 19th century newspaper's readers.

2. Albert Hicks, who was digging with his friends for pirate treasure, ironically later became one of the last people in the United States to be executed as a pirate. Hicks was born in 1820 in Foster, Rhode Island, and was executed in New York in 1860 after killing three men on a small boat to steal their money. He dictated a confessional biography before his execution. In it, he claimed to have killed dozens (if not hundreds) of people as a pirate and highway robber. Hicks had a reputation as a teller of tall tales, so he may have exaggerated his victim count. 

Drawing of Albert Hicks from an 1860 newspaper (via Wikipedia).

3. Despite being fond of tall tales, there's one thing not found in Hicks's biography, The Life, Trial, Confession and Execution of Albert Hicks, and that's a large scaly monster. Hicks does mention digging for treasure when he was young, but says nothing about encountering a monster. If he had encountered a monster I'm sure it would have been in there. So perhaps this story was created by someone else?

According to folklorist Stephen Olbrys Gencarella, the story was written by a reporter for a New York newspaper, The New York World, where it was published on January 12, 1896. That reporter based their story on an earlier one that had appeared in The Providence Journal on May 5, 1889, which was titled "Glocester Gold Digging." The Journal article contains various Glocester legends, including one about six men who went digging for Captain Kidd's treasure on November 13, 1833. One of the men was indeed Albert Hicks, and the six men saw a creature that looked exactly like the one in The New York World article. The big difference between the two articles are that the men also see a meteor strike the earth before they see the monster, and it is other men who describe the monster, not Albert Hicks. Hicks only played a minor role, but The New York World reporter probably played it up to capitalize on Hick's notoriety. 

One note about that meteor: the six men took the meteor as a good omen, and didn't seem to connect it with the appearance of the monster. 

The story about the Glocester monster appeared in various newspapers in 1896, but then more or less disappeared for over a century. The story reappeared on the blog Strange New England in 2019, where the monster was given the catchy name "The Glocester Ghoul." The name seems to have stuck, and I've seen the Glocester Ghoul mentioned a few places online. You can now even buy a Glocester Ghoul tee-shirt online:

From TeePublic

I feel like every state deserves a good monster, so hopefully knowledge of the Glocester Ghoul will spread. Is there really a large, scaly creature lurking in the woods and swamps of Glocester? Probably not, but I write that from the safety of my home on a sunny summer day. I might have a different opinion if I were out in the woods at night. I don't think anyone's allegedly seen the creature since the 1800s, but if you have drop a note in the comments. I'd be curious - and a little scared - to know more...


I got a lot of my information from Stephen Olbrys Gencarella's article "Lovecraft and the Folklore of Glocester's Dark Swamp," which appeared in Lovecraft Annual, No. 16 (2022), pp. 90 -127.