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The Black Dog of the Hanging Hills

Tales from Beyond
Just the name, “Hanging Hills” evokes trepidation as to what lies within the rocky crags of Meriden, Connecticut's, natural wonder. Do not let the name fool you: the Hanging Hills provide breathtaking vistas of the surrounding area. The East Peak is located in the 1,800-acre Hubbard Park where adventurers can ascend a thirty-two foot high tower called Castle Craig, built in 1900 for a better view of the New England landscape. On a clear day the foothills of the Berkshires and Mt. Tom to the north, Long Island Sound, as well as the Sleeping Giant Mountain Range to the south, are completely visible. The tower stands at an elevation of 1987 feet above sea level.  

The park and surrounding area is well worth the visit but be warned, there is a supernatural side that lingers within the very heart of the hills. This supernatural entity comes in the form of a friendly black dog.

Unlike the black dog of Great Britain called the Black Shuck, or the Snarly Yow that terrorizes the South Mountain area of Maryland, the Black Dog of Meriden is rather small in size and at first extremely friendly.

The Black Dog leaves no paw prints in either snow or sand. It makes no sound, even when it appears to be barking or howling.  A misty vapor emanates from the dog’s mouth but no sound will ever accompany its presence.

According to legend, if the black dog visits you for the first time, you will experience great joy and abundance in your life. Upon the second contact with the ethereal canine, sorrow, and the third time the same person beholds the phantom pooch, imminent death is close behind.

The legend of the Black Dog goes at least as far back as 1898 when geologist and Harvard student W.H.C. Pynchon sought to study the Hanging Hills’ geological marvels. While surveying the mountain called the West Peak, he noticed a moderate-sized black dog following him. The creature kept its distance yet never strayed from Pynchon’s view and Pynchon admitted later that he took pleasure having a companion roaming the hills with him. When the young geologist turned to head towards home, the dog looked back once and then vanished over the hill.

Three years later, Pynchon returned to the West Peak with a friend and colleague, Herbert Marshall, of the newly formed United States Geological Survey. During the expedition, Marshall mentioned that he had seen the strange dog not only once, but twice before while studying the geological treasures that abound the Hanging Hills. He considered the legend a quaint New England tale and nothing more.  

The next morning, despite the bitter cold and snow, the two ascended the south face of the West Peak. As they reached the deep fissures in the cliffs, Pynchon made reference to the formations resembling what he pictured as the biblical valley of the shadow of death. His pondering was abruptly interrupted by the sudden halt in Marshall’s stride. There on the rocks above them was a black dog. It was now the second sighting for Pynchon but for Marshall, his third.

Pynchon later admitted, “We saw his breath steaming from his jaws, but no sound came through the biting air. Marshall turned and uttered, ‘I did not believe it before, I believe it now.’ And then, even as he spoke, the fragment of rock on which he stood slipped. There was a cry, a rattle of fragments falling-and I stood alone.” Rescuers found Marshall’s body in the ravine, along with the visage of the macabre Black Dog standing sentinel high above.

The death of his friend and the chance of seeing the ominous canine for the third time was not enough to keep the ardent geologist from completing his studies of the West Peak. He knew that he was doomed when he wrote these words, “I must die sometime. When I am gone, this paper may be of interest to those who remain, for, in throwing light on the manner of my death, it will also throw light on the end of the many victims that the old volcanic hills have claimed.”

Six years later, Pynchon made his last trip to the Hanging Hills.  He never came back. His frozen body was found several weeks later in the same spot where his friend Marshall had fallen to his death. He had been the fifth person in thirty years to meet his fate in the Hanging Hills. Whether it was the perils of the range or the third time he saw the ominous beast is a mystery that may never be solved.

Some claim that the Black Dog still roams the vicinity of the Hanging Hills. Other incidents and tragedies are attributed to the ghostly beast's presence in the hills.  Another account tells of two friends who chose to hike the hills for a weekend. One of the adventurers took a quick hike along the hills during a rainstorm. The dog appeared to the hiker, who took it for a local pet. When he returned, he told his story to his friend, who mocked him in regard to the legend.

The next day when they returned to the mountain, there was the black dog again as the day before. It was the man’s second sighting. Just as he pointed the presence out, his footing gave way and he fell, breaking his leg. They both concluded that it would be best to never stray onto the range again for they now held stock in the legend of the Black Dog of the Hanging Hills. The park is a beautiful place to visit but if a black shadow emerges from the trees, seeing it once is acceptable but a second or third trip back to the hills may not be advisable.

Tom D'Agostino has been a paranormal investigator for more than 30 years. His books include Haunted Vermont, Haunted Massachusetts, and Haunted Rhode Island. He lives in Connecticut.