By Thomas D’Agostino
Here is an abridged version of a story from our latest book, Ghosts of Litchfield County.
On August 21, 1895, the Hartford Courant reprinted an article from the Winsted Citizen regarding an incident involving Winsted, Connecticut, selectman Riley Smith. Smith was in Colebrook on business, and it was during a few moments of downtime when he witnessed something he would never forget. Smith decided to pay a visit to a place called Indian Meadow with Ned, his trusty companion bulldog. While in the field, he commenced picking and eating berries from a bush. Ned suddenly came whimpering and crawling toward Smith with his tail between his legs and situated himself between Smith’s legs. Moments later, a creature resembling a “Wildman,” over six feet tall, sprang from a clump of bushes. The hairy entity let out a fearful scream before fleeing with lightning speed from the terrified duo.
The article stated that both Smith and his dog were paralyzed with fear, despite the two being fearless and full of “pluck.” In an amusing conclusion, the article went on to state that if anyone had lost a wild hairy man, they could go to the Lewis Place in Colebrook and search the woods and fields in an attempt to recover their lost property.
The story spread quickly through the region and piqued the interest of newspapers in New York and Boston. Before long, Winsted was besieged by reporters, thrill-seekers, ghost hunters, scientists and anyone else who may have wanted to catch a glimpse of the mysterious creature that suddenly appeared out of nowhere in the Winsted woods. Some even went as far as trying to hunt down and capture the elusive beast in the hopes of bringing it to the big cities for profit. People began to pour forth with frightening stories of their encounters with the Winsted Wildman.
A certain Mrs. Mushone and Sadie Woodhouse were strolling Indian Meadow when they encountered the wildman at the same location Smith had first come in contact with it. They described it as having large white teeth, long straggly black hair and a muscular form. The beast stood over six feet tall and was very wiry when it took flight from them. Another local, James Maddrah, was also chased out of the same berry patch in Indian Meadow.
A Mrs. Pulver of Colebrook hailed a passing stage in “great distress and excitement,” ranting that she had just seen the Winsted Wildman wandering around her property. She desperately pleaded with the driver to send a search party so that they might catch the wiry prowler.
John G. Hall ran a stage between Winsted and Sandisfield, Massachusetts. While passing through Colebrook, a large creature ran into the road, stopping for a few moments before bounding a stone fence and disappearing into the forest. Hall drew his pistol as the coach approached the creature, but the hairy beast just stood erect, staring back at the wide-eyed Hall before making haste for the woods accompanied by the most horrifying scream. Sightings of the Winsted Wildman spread through Norfolk, East Canaan, Colebrook, Winsted, North Goshen and Sandisfield, Massachusetts. No one in the region was safe from the possible appearance of the elusive and mysterious being.
John Williams came face-to-face with the beast while walking home one evening. Authorities were able to trace the animal’s large footprints to the mountains before the trail was lost. Charles Benson of Norfolk claimed he was chased by something that jumped from a tree and pursued him at a breakneck pace all the way to his home. Farmers came forth with accounts of the wildman stealing their poultry and produce. One farmer claimed he shot at the creature but that the shot bounced off its body and caused no harm and had no effect on it.
A group of folks from Norfolk saw the creature enter a hole in the side of a mountain. They quickly proceeded to run massive chains across the opening in an attempt to lock the monster in, but when they returned the next morning, the chains were torn asunder, as if someone with great strength had effortlessly pulled the links apart.
As suddenly as the Winsted Wildman surfaced, it was gone, vanishing into thin air and never to be seen or heard from again. No rational answer in regard to the identity of the wildman has ever surfaced. He came and then vanished into legend, forever eluding those who seek the identity of who—or what—for a short time terrorized a region of Litchfield County, Connecticut.