When my wife Athena and I first moved to Pennsylvania in late 2003, one of our earliest projects was to research the folklore creatures and paranormal entities that were rumored to haunt our new home state. As students of folklore, urban legends and living myths, it behooved us to be armed with whatever scant knowledge we could gather before seeking out, or even having chance encounters with anything anomalous. Our run-ins with the looming shades of New Jersey taught us some valuable lessons regarding the virtues of being prepared and remaining forever vigilant.
One of the first native ‘uniques’ we found reference to was the Squonk, an elusive weeping entity that haunted the once-proud hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania during the heyday of the region’s logging industry.
According to the lore, the Squonk always manifested as a small loose-skinned entity covered with unattractive warts and moles. It is difficult to ascertain much about the Squonk’s form beyond this. It has been referred to as a bird with lips and teeth. Artists have depicted it as a humanoid, a hound, and a rat-like biped.
The Squonk was seemingly cursed with enough self-consciousness to realize how wretched it must have appeared to humans. An odd concern for a monstrous intelligence, unless – like the gorgon Medusa – it was once human. It is said that though the Squonk’s lament was often heard, the creature itself was seldom seen.
Tracking the Squonk was a task best left for bright, moon-lit nights or during periods of frost. The creature’s trail of tears glistened eerily at such times and, if followed, would lead you to its well-hidden lair. If you hoped to catch a glimpse of one you had to respond to its heart-rending lament by wordlessly expressing the depths of your very own private sorrow. The Squonk would be curious to discover what monstrosity could possibly be more wretched than itself.
In the dawn of the 20th century a hunter, J.P. Wentling (Wentley by some accounts), is said to have actually captured a Squonk. He followed the sad trail of shiny tears, waited patiently to hear the unearthly weeping, responded in kind and when the entity eventually manifested he quickly nabbed it in a sack. It struggled and sobbed for a while, then abruptly ceased. The sack grew lighter. When the hunter opened it he found that naught remained of his catch but a layer of frothy slime.
By 1915 the wild hemlock forests of northern Pennsylvania had been tamed and humbled. The Squonk’s natural habitat was no more. Occasionally one was sighted in the region’s hardwood forests, but the creature seemed fated to fade into folklore, to survive in memory as a curious entry in fringe books on vanishing local lore.
About a half-century later, in 1974, the Squonk was mentioned in a Steely Dan song, ‘Any Major Dude Will Tell You‘. In 1976, the band Genesis titled a song ‘Squonk’ which made use of references from the folklore. Both tunes featured enigmatic lyrics that have yet to be explained by the bands in question and have led to much fan speculation over the years. These songs also served to re-focus our awareness and re-awaken our interest in Pennsylvania’s sad and elusive woodland spirit.
In the 1990’s the award-winning Squonk Opera premiered in a Pittsburgh junkyard. Like the chimerical beast whose name they’ve claimed, the Squonk Opera is a strange composite creature that communicates primarily by sound and gleefully violates our social mind-constructs while radically extending our perceptual boundaries. In 1997 the Netherlands spawned ‘The Mighty Squonk‘, a contemporary jazz/fusion band.
I admit, Athena and I don’t quite know what to make of all this. Is the Squonk a logger’s tall-tale critter? A lonely fragment of Lenni-Lenape or European myth? A mere weeping ghost like so many other earthbound spirits? A phantom like the Banshee, heralding the death of Pennsylvania’s stately hemlock forests? And who would have guessed that the Squonk would emerge triumphant in our time as a fledgling Muse?
We could detect no trace of malice in the Squonk’s manifestations over the years, and there are no cautionary tales warning of dire consequences should one encounter this particular beastie. Yet, being a supernal invisible still active in our adopted state, it merited monitoring.
A Regional Folklore Society was formed to study the Squonk, and other creatures of living myth, during our decade-long sojourn in the Keystone State. Though we learned much about, and had several encounters with, a wide range of odd entities, we learned very little else about the elusive Squonk.
Our life-path eventually led us back to New Jersey and, in 2014, we moved to Bergen County. I started offering a series of workshops at the Cresskill Public Library, most of which focused on the folkloric creatures that still roam among us, such as living shadows, gray aliens and power animals. The Center for the Study of Living Myth (CSLM) came into being and the people who attended the workshops started contributing encounter tales of their own. As word spread about my interest in these types of experience, this sharing continued at other speaking locations and even during chance encounters.
If you have personally experienced, or have heard about, any anomalous events, including encounters, that have occurred in our current neck of the woods, we would love to hear from you! All CSLM meetings will be announced in the local press and the treasured tales we collect or investigate will be archived and shared. If you can not attend the meetings, or would like to join our team, I can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(c) Hercules Invictus