The area was settled by German immigrants beginning in the 1730s. Early accounts describe the community being terrorized by a monster called a Schneller Geist, meaning "quick ghost" in German. The earliest incarnations mixed the half-bird features of a siren with the nightmarish features of demons and ghouls. The Snallygaster was described as half-reptile, half-bird with a metallic beak lined with razor-sharp teeth, occasionally with octopus-like tentacles. It swoops silently from the sky to pick up and carry off its victims. The earliest stories claim that this monster sucked the blood of its victims. Seven-pointed stars, which reputedly kept the Snallygaster at bay, can still be seen painted on local barns.
It has been suggested the legend was resurrected in the 19th century to frighten freed slaves.
Newspaper accounts throughout February and March 1909 describe encounters between local residents and a beast with "enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead." It was described as making screeches "like a locomotive whistle." A great deal of publicity surrounded this string of appearances, with the Smithsonian Institution offering a reward for the hide. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt reportedly considered postponing an African safari to personally hunt the beast.
In 2008, author Patrick Boyton published a book about the history of the Snallygaster entitled Snallygaster: the Lost Legend of Frederick County.
The Snallygaster has one widely known enemy, called Dewayo. The Dewayo is reported to be a mammalian biped with features similar to a wolf, but the stance and stature of a human. The sightings of Dewayo are primarily reported in West Middletown, Maryland, but sightings have also been reported in the Wolfsville, Maryland region. The Dewayo and the Snallygaster have reportedly had vicious encounters dating back to early settlement of the Middletown valley.
- ^ The Valley Register, February 12—March 5, 1909.
- ^ Hooper, Anne B. (1974). Braddock Heights: A Glance Backward. Great Southern Printing Co. p. 71-72. ASIN B0006CEDUA.