Call it either an impressive grounding in reality or the rampant horniness of a 17-year-old male, but Hank James was having none of that monster talk. His mission this October evening was cleargirl, woods, beer, sex.
To his right, looking fine in black Levis and a white cotton sweater, sat Liza Jane Benedict, maybe not the prettiest girl at Eleanor Roosevelt High in Prince George’s County, but surelyif the buzz was truethe most sophisticated.
“I don’t like this at all” Liza said, as Hank steered his father’s Buick into the darkness of Fletchertown Road. “I mean, not that I believe any of that stupid stuff. But, well…what if he’s really out there?”
“Who? Your pop?” Hank said, reaching over to pat the girl’s knee. “Hell, he’s passed out in his La-Z-Boy right now.”
“You know I’m not talking about my father,” Liza said, crossing her arms.
For as long as he’d been hearing about P.G. County’s infamous urban legendwas third-grade recess the first time?the monster’s name had never failed to give Hank the big-time creeps. So he was more than thankful when Liza refrained from uttering that awful appellation.
As Hank steered the car along Bowie’s winding, leaf-littered roads, he thought the town seemed strangely empty for a Friday night. His pals were at Ledo’s chowing down and talking shit, but where was everyone else? He tried to keep himself in steady spirits, but when he turned the car onto Zug Road and the headlights brushed the white crosses marking anonymous graves in the church cemetery…
“Zug Road,” Liza whispered. “That’s where that dog was mutilated. That’s where the monster was first spotted, right?”
When Hank felt Liza slide closer to him, he knewhell, he became shit-sure positivehe’d made the right decision. Screw the monster. Probably just some dirty wino anyway. With visions of lust undressing in his skull, Hank kept driving, planning to stop at the chain-link fence guarding the train tracks. Let a little fear do its work, he thought. But tonight, for some reason, the fence’s gate was wide open.
“No way, Hank. If the Goatman doesn’t get us, then some train will.”
But despite the fact Liza had finally blurted the beast’s filthy name, Hank still wasn’t listening: “Let’s just drive out there for a second.”
Fueled by adrenaline, fear, and you know what, he steered his father’s car through the gaping mouth, took a tight turn, and parked 30 feet down under a dying tree. “Now, is this so scary?” he asked, reaching into the back seat for a beer.
Liza, distracted by looking north-south-east-west for the monster, mumbled, “No.” When Hank hit the headlights, however, Liza had seen enough. “Please leave ’em on, Hank,” she pleaded. “We won’t be out here long enough for the battery to go dead.”
He looked at her small, red mouth and nodded his head. But just as he leaned toward her, his lips barely touching hers, Liza jerked violently and shouted, “Someone’s out there!”
“Come on, Liza,” Hank sighed, “it was a fuckin’ ghost story. Like The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Hank turned toward the windshield. “And you don’t believe in the Headless Horse”
But then he saw it, too. Well, he saw something. Something like legs. (But not really.) Something human. (But not really.) A costume. It had to be costume. In fact, Hank was almost positive he could make out the crude ape-drape hairstyle of a certain nosy friend.
“Is that O’Sullivan?” Hank said, straining his eyes. “Hell, he’s just tryin’ to scare us, that’s all.”
Liza pointed a finger in Hank’s face: “You are going out there and telling O’Sullivan or whoever to beat it right now.”
Hank looked at Liza, weighing getting the shit scared out of him against rounding the bases with the most sophisticated girl at Eleanor Roosevelt. He opened the door, the hinges making a terrible screech, and turned back to Liza: “At least have a beer while I’m gone. Please?”
As Hank ambled toward the shadows, the girl locked all the doors. She turned up the radio and tried to sing alongwas it “Star Star” by the Stones?and that’s when she started hearing things. The crack of a tree branch shut her silent. Then a howl stole her breath. And then, finally, the tapping convinced her to stay put.
Tap-tap-tap. Like a drop of rain beating against a tin can. Tap-tap-tap.
As the seconds turned into minutes, and her curfew came and went, and the tap-tap-tap kept its sickening rhythm, a teary-eyed Liza was visited by all those tales she’d been hearing since she was young enough to pee her pants.
Somehowand when Liza thinks back on that night she figures it must have been the metronome tick of the tap-tap-tappingshe fell asleep, only to be jarred awake at dawn by a train roaring a few yards away. She let loose a shriek that ripped through the haze of slumber and slammed her body into the upright position.
And when the buzz of the locomotive finally faded to quiet, the beat went on: tap-tap-tap.
Slightly comforted by the daylight (and a coal train crawling in from the west), she opened the door and watched as the first drop of blood spread across the sleeve of her white sweater. Then another. And another. She could smell the blood beginning its slow bake in the sunlight, and she swallowed hard to keep everything down. But the stench was nothing compared to what came next. Her screamthroaty, raw, endlesswas lost in the whistle of the locomotive, as Liza Jane Benedict looked up into the canopy of branches and realized what that tap-tap-tap was all about…
In the autumn of 1971, Washington Post reporter Ivan Goldman ventured out to Bowie, Md., to investigate a grisly murder: On the frosted morning of Nov. 4, two 20-year-old kids, William Gheen and John Hayden, had gone searching for Ginger, a German shepherd puppy belonging to April Edwards, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Lacie Daniels, with whom Gheen was currently residing. The puppy had escaped from its Zug Road pen the night before and was probably wandering around the neighborhood looking for trouble. But the boys, who would later report seeing a strange figure and hearing a “high-pitched squeal” the night before, didn’t have to look far to find the dogor at least what remained of the juvenile canine. As Gheen and Hayden casually walked into the back yard, in the direction of the Penn Central Railroad train tracks, they spotted something in the grass. Furry. Fanged. A rabid gopher? A crazed squirrel? No, Gheen and Hayden found the cleanly severed head of the family dog. And even worse was what the two young men didn’t find that morning: the rest of the family dog’s corpse.
The nervous whispers that sprouted from the violent end and missing remains of Ginger would soon grow into the loud and proud reports of the area’s most notorious antihero: Goatman (or “the” Goatmanyour choice), a monster of many maskshalf-man, half-goat; mad scientist; unhealthy hermitbut of universal, seemingly everlasting, spooking power.
In fact, the myth’s essential starting pointthe sad demise of Ginger, a true tale this time, not some much-trafficked account of unfortunate Bowie lovers bumping uglies in the brushhas considerable staying power, even 27-plus years later. And as Mark Opsasnick, the nation’s foremost Goatmanologist, recaps the dog’s last days while driving toward his old Bowie haunts on
a spectacular summer day, the story still manages to tingle.
These are exciting times for Opsasnick and the legions of Goatfans scattered across the globe: Tales of the Washington area’s most popular urban legend have been thoroughly revived lately (if for no reason other than that’s what the best and most deviously creative urban legends will do). In just the past few years, the Internet has become ablaze with Goatman tributes. A prestigious horror-centric magazine continues to give the monster good press. A recent X-Files graphic novel features Mulder and Scully heading for P.G. County hot on Goatman’s trail. The Discovery Channel has been running the creepy Animal X series since April; in one of the episodes, titled “In the Shadows,” Goatman, our Goatman, is discussed in full and is given kudos for still drawing crowds. And though many of these swirling, endless campfire stories originate from a seemingly more innocent time, their freshness todaya time when buckets of blood and knife-wielding lunatics send flicks like Scream into the box-office stratospheremakes them that much more special.
The 36-year-old Opsasnick is a fanatical, detail-oriented historian who has actually tracked the beginning of the Goatman oeuvre to a time years before Ginger went headless. In fact, Opsasnick goes all the way back to the sweltering summer of 1957, when the Washington Evening Star published reports of a gorillalike beast roaming P.G. County and scaring the bejesus out of residents. After an extensive but fruitless search for an “Abominable Phantom”a shotgun-led manhunt composed of members of the Upper Marlboro fire department and avid hunters was even organizedlocal authorities announced that the reports were nothing but a hoax. In fact, county cops claimed this mutated gorilla with “red beady eyes” was nothing more than a derangedand deafchow dog aimlessly wandering the vicinity.
But 14 years later, on that infamous fall morning in 1971, Ginger’s decapitated head was found, and that’s when Goatman hell really broke loose. John Hayden, in a 1994 interview with Opsasnick for Strange Magazine, would matter-of-factly reveal how early-’70s Bowie became blissfully unhinged by those original rumors of a monster in their midst:
Everybody around here was complaining about it, strange things going on around here. It was seen on Fletchertown Road, mainly in the area of High Bridge Road….We had sightings of it here, me and Willie Gheen, my brother-in-law. We seen it back in the field located across the railroad tracks from 8510 Zug Road just before it got dark. It was a long time ago . It was 6 foot, hairy, like an animal. As far as I know it was an animal on two feet. I remember it made a high-pitched squeal.
Around the same time, signs began to appear on the strangest of placesgutted refrigerators, picket fences, old, dying treessome bearing the warning “Goatman Was Here.” Goatman seemed a little on the literate and artistic side for a monster that munched on puppies, but the dripping red graffiti made for some very good marketing. Stories divided and mutated, morphed and grew meaner: Several Bowie residents claimed to have spotted a creature with the torso of a man, the legs of a goat, horns, and coarse body hair rumbling across their driveways and through their back yards. Others said Goatman was really just a pissed-off hermit who roamed the Huntington section of Old Bowie, spooking high-schoolers, mutilating mutts, and doing some serious hell-raisin’ to parked cars with an ax. Or, even better, Goatman had been a scientist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center experimenting with barnyard animals, and one day his studies had gone considerably awry and…well, you get the picture.
Fueled by locker-room chatter and after-school bull sessions, every kid with a little imagination and a share of courage joined the Goatman hunt. With fresh driver’s licenses tucked into thin wallets, teenagers from all over the regionOpsasnick and his Eleanor Roosevelt High School classmates includedwould spend their weekend nights racing through Bowie’s tight, rural roads, loaded on Natty Bo and intent on bagging themselves a beast.
Not to be left out, the local press piled on. Along with the Post, the Prince George’s County News and local academic folklorists were also publishing reports on sightings and hearsay that would add serious fuel to the Goatman fires. A few years laterNovember 1986, to be exactthe Bowie High School newspaper, The Pacesetter, would publish an article, “Goatman Mania Hits Bowie,” by student Jennifer Joyner, claiming, “When we came into school on October 31, the ‘Goatman’ had struck, leaving the head of a paper mache [sic] dog in front of the school. There is now a Goatman Squad at BHS and, believe me, Goatman fever is catching.” (A crude illustration accompanied the article, claiming Goatman’s “known friends” to be “Satan, Sasquatch, Mr. Montie, Hitler, Burl Ives, Zamfir, shepherds, and others.”)
“The people of Fletchertown Road must have put up with hell over the years,” Opsasnick says, pointing at various landmarks like a Universal Studios tour guide as he wheels through the area. “There would be beer cans all over the road. It was an event. If there was a Friday night football game, you would end the evening cruising for the Goatman.”
As Opsasnick tells his tale, his eyes glaze over with the recollection of good times long gone. His tone is pure Stand by Mein fact, the dull ache of dewy remembrance can be heard in the stories of many men and women who grew up with the joyous threat of Goatman. Take Frederick’s John M. Roman, for instance, who jumped at the chance to jot down his rambling, sepia-toned tale about his salad days, when he lived in the Seabrook-Lanham area of Prince George’s County.
In our area, he was a shaggy, unkempt hermit who carried a hatchet. His main territory was between Glendale and Bowie, bordered by the (then) Pennsylvania RR tracks, Fletchertown Road, Bell Station Road, and MD 450. The Cleary family, who lived in Mitchellville at the time (1967?), claimed a sighting near their house of a ragged, unkempt “something.” Mrs. Cleary called in her sons [from playing in the yard]. They told us that story on the bus and we believed them! They were scared!
Why was he called the “Goatman”? It’s unclear. I think he looked like a goat. He wasn’t “half-goat, half-man.” And he didn’t carry a “goat’s head” or anything like
that. He did have an ax or hatchet, though. When Susie went to Duval HS, a girl who lived on Fletchertown Road related how her mom would call them into the house near dusk because of the “Goatman.” This was in the mid-’60s. The eerie part was, on some nights, this girl and her family would hear the Goatman crying and howling. Very strange.
I never saw the Goatman, but he made his mark. I got my driver’s license in 1972 and tooled around the countryside. I went down Fletchertown Road [one night], came to a 90-degree turn…and on the plank fence in front of me was a spray-painted “Goatman Lives!” I mentioned the spray-painted fence to my peers and friends. One guy, who had several older brothers, said the fence was painted years earlier and showed no signs of deterioration…[but] I think the guy was [just] being “hammered” by his big brothers…
Those days of narrow, forest-lined roads that Opsasnick and Roman recall so fondly, however, are now mostly nothing more than a memory: As the modern claws of the District reach farther and farther out to strangle the remaining countryside, the flora and fauna of Goatman yesterdays have been replaced by pricey sprawling housing developments and wide, well-paved roads. Massive planned communities like Northridge and Walnut Grove don’t exactly strike fear into the hearts of young teeny-boppers the way thick woods and haunted houses used to. The very same folks who chased besotted kids off their lawns, all the while insisting that Goatman was going through their garbage and molesting their pets, have moved on and been replaced by Pizza Huts and luxury condos.
It’s not until you weave down Fletchertown Road into the very heart of the Goatman legendthe place Opsasnick is driving so calmly to nowthat you find the proper rural landscape. Leafy, shadowy, sparsely populated with easy prey, this is the place where common sense takes a sharp left-hand turn and imagination begins to barrel down the road all by its lonesome.
“There’s some intrigue in any unexplained phenomena; it makes things more exciting. It’s fun to be scared, especially when you’re young,” says Opsasnick, who, along with his incessant ghoul-chasing, has also written and self-published two well-received books on the history of the local music scene, Capitol Rock and Washington Rock and Roll: A Social History. “And there’s no question the people believe what they’re saying,” he adds, driving past the Ascension Catholic Church cemetery and heading down Zug Road. “But what they’re seeing, well…”
As Opsasnick pulls his car to the end of dusty Zug Roadthe small house on the left, the bigger, creepier house on the right, the tow truck parked 50 yards awayit’s a spooky enough tableau to spark some nervous laughter in Opsasnick. To the left, in a long, wide, penned-in back yard, frolics a young white puppy, beyond frisky in his relative safety. And in front of us, guarding the three sets of train tracks that wait beyond is a tall, silver, chain-link fence, today with its security gate very wide open.
When you and a date head to a movie theater sometime in the near future and find Goatman: The Movie as one of the featured attractions glowing brightly on the marquee, you can thank Mark Chorvinsky for the bloodstained thrills and over-the-top chills that will creep onto the big screen.
Chorvinsky, the 44-year-old editor and publisher of the glossy, beautifully illustrated Strange Magazine (subtitled Exploring Strange Phenomena), is an authority when it comes to the unexplained (not to mention the just plain weird). Equipped with both an L.A. and a New York agent, along with numerous consultant credits for Unsolved Mysteries, Chorvinsky is a spookmeister who knows a good tale (and a potential audience) when he sees one. With the help of Opsasnick, Chorvinsky is prepared to pen a screenplay (think “X-Files meets Candyman meets Scream,” he says) about suburban D.C.’s infamous cloven-hoofed bad boy.
An expert on everything from the Grim Reaper to Mongolian death worms, Chorvinsky says “there are something like 900” Goatmanlike incarnations roaming around the world, from Aragon, Ga., all the way to Baulkham Hills, Australia. “I thought [Goatman] was a real interesting case,” says Chorvinsky, who is currently working on in-depth investigations into the Patterson Bigfoot film (you know the one, where a big blurry-furry is seen hopping over a log) and whether there was a real, historical Merlin in King Arthur’s court. “There’s always been a case for [Goatman’s] being an urban legend, or what should be called a contemporary legend. People love campfire tales; they are told in every subculture….[I think] 20 years from now, people will be still be talking about Goatman. Even more so than today.”
Dr. Donald Dossey, author of Holiday Folklore, Phobias, and Fun, says humans develop urban legendseven the most violent onesout of a need to feel alive and, more importantly, feel safe.
“Any kind of legend…generally starts out with something very novel, very horrific or weird; it may or may not be based on fact,” he explains. “We human beings love excitement; we thrive on it on a subconscious level. We spend a lot of money to have the crap scared out of us. Urban legends start taking on lives of their own because of the excitement.
“But also, human beings are superstitious by nature; we’re not logical,” Dossey continues. “We’re very superstitious because we have to make sense out of things. Something horrible we have to make sense out of. By filling in the gaps, we create urban legends. If it hadn’t been Goatman, it would have been something else.”
If Chorvinsky doesn’t escort Goatman to the shelves of Blockbuster, then 21-year-old college student Josh Wimmer will be right behind him doing his level best to put Goatman’s name in lights. Wimmer, who will graduate from the University of NebraskaLincoln this winter with a degree in journalism, created the intricate GoatLinks Web site in early ’97 and has since then watched in amazement as his cyber-shrine has attracted thousands of dedicated Goatheads.
The man, the monster, the hermit is making the kind of comeback that might cause Elvis to spin in his grave. Goatman is hip again.
“There are already hundreds of sites devoted to Bigfoot,” Wimmer explains when asked for his motivation behind the peculiar tribute. “Before GoatLinks, though, Goatman had no home on the Web….I don’t think [Goatman’s] more ‘special’ than Bigfoot or Nessie [the Loch Ness Monster], but I think he is scarier. The devilish resemblance has something to do with that, for sure; but it also has to do with the fact that people don’t make goofy movies and stuff about Goatman, à la Harry and the Hendersons. Nobody thinks Goatman is cuddly.”
Although Wimmer has never lived anywhere near Bowie, Md., the monster found him anyway: “I first learned about Goatman…in fifth grade. We had a book fair at schoolthey brought in a bunch of books and everyone could pick out two. Anyway, one of my choices was a rip-roaring adventure novella called Pursuit. Although entertaining, that book never held my attention like my other pick, Monsters You Never Heard Of by Daniel Cohen….That book was devoted to the monsters who are just as good as Bigfoot and the Yeti but never get the pressmonsters like the Jersey Devil and the Tazelworm and, of course, Goatman.”
Wimmer is clear-eyed enough to know that monsters exist most comfortably in the realm of imagination, but sometimes the legend seems close enough to spark a galvanic skin response. And he’ll happily rest uneasily in that middle place until somebody comes along with sure-fire proof that Goatman is nothing more than the embodiment of overheated teen speculation.
“I have no trouble accepting that possibility,” Wimmer says. “I’d be surprised if someone discovered hard, tangible evidence of Goatman’s existence, but this world is too weird for me to discount his existence just because it’s paranormal.
“My friends and I do get freaked out when we’re thinking about Goatman and we’re far from civilization, but it’s kind of fun,” he adds. “I think that’s been the case ever since humans were evolved enough to tell ghost stories….I also think a lot of folks’ lives are so mundane, it’s a trip for them to believe that ‘the truth is out there’ or whatever. I know that’s not profound, but I’d chalk up [Goatman’s popularity] to just escapism.”
And because Goatman has been handed down through a few generations, he is blatantly unaware of current sexual mores: “We at GoatLinks have reason to believe he steals young female virgins every so often; he chains them up, commits God knows what kind of ungodly acts, and then eats them.”
Although Goatman is kicking up a lot of new dust locally, Bigfoot is still the Hulk Hogan of hirsute humanoids. Opsasnick has an obscenely thick folder full of Bigfoot sightingsgathered from library archives, personal accounts, and buried blurbs in small-town ragsin and around the Baltimore and D.C. vicinities. (Northern Baltimore County and Harford County appear to be the more popular Sasquatch lodging sites nearest us.)
In the last few years, reports of unwanted, unknown creatures lurking in back yards have been called in everywhere from Annapolis (“lurking around the camper…9-10 ft. tall”) to Frederick (“a massive creature, bigger than any human I’ve ever seen!”) to Fairfax, Va. (“We were showered by large rocks and boulders falling all around us”). Bigfooters have immediately glommed on to these reports as their own, but let’s be honest: This is Goatman country.
Unfortunately, Bigfoot aficionados are not a very sharing bunch. Scott McNabb is a 28-year-old self-employed Bigfoot researcher in Tennessee. He doesn’t take kindly to the notion that some other woodsy golem could be lurking out there. “Goatman is not an interest of mine,” McNabb’s sniffs. “It’s more of a modern myth than anything. Most parts of the legend are obviously contrived, as opposed to Bigfoot, which is more grounded in history and evidence and plausibility than Goatman is. The starting point of the Goatman myth reads like a Swamp Thing episode.”
Imagine that: Goatman might be just a little too ornate to merit the attention of serious monster men.
“While the base stories are Bigfootlike in nature, and some quite interesting, the inclusion of the lab experiment gone wrong and the ax-wielding murderer taint the entire perspective of the legend….Several aspects of the Goatman speak of Bigfoot activity, such as bipedal gait, coarse hair covering the body, squealing sounds, and a seeming affinity for dogs,” McNabb states academically, adding, “Bigfoot are notorious for attacks of, or dislike
Goatman, by McNabb’s lights, is really just a local idiom for the main man: “It’s not unusual for a regional name to pop up that is used for Bigfoot, such as Mo-Mo, Skunk Ape, Fouke Monster, etc. Even Bigfoot was originally a regional variant on
the various names the creature went by, such
Ultimately, Bigfoot has been kidnapped by the locals, and the prickly McNabb isn’t too happy with how the big man has been treated since. “More so than usual, the facts of this case are clouded by ‘folklore’ additions, namely the lab incident, insane scientist, and the ax murderer in search of lovers’ lane victims. It seems as if the typical boogeyman stereotype was merged with authentic historic Bigfoot activity, and the conglomeration was so complete that to this day many researchers look over Goatman stories….I’d say that a closer look into the Goatman legend is justified, and in reality, Goatman may be a Bigfoot population with an unfortunate name and some unfortunate stigmas attached.”
Young punks like Opsasnick and Roman, Hayden and Gheen surely weren’t as innocent and virginal as, say, Potsie and Ralph Malph, but there is just no goddamn way they were anything like 16-year-old Lanham resident Richard Ringeisen, either. The high school sophomorehis current place of study goes specifically unspecifiedis the editor and publisher of “Mr. Fulci’s Horror Site,” a thoroughly alarming Web page. With his lanky gait, pale complexion, and straight brown hair parted down the middle and tucked behind his earsand, of course, his unquenchable thirst for all things crimson, raw, and guttedRingeisen is the natural heir to the Goatman legend, and one of the very best reasons for why Strange’s Chorvinsky believes Goatman will still be slicin’ and dicin’ his way through the public consciousness two decades from now.
Named after the late Italian blood ‘n’ guts director Lucio Fulci, Ringeisen’s Web site is a sprawling endeavor of nasty links, gruesome film reviews, twisted quotes, and a complete list of his coveted movie collectioncertainly a grimy window into his troubled mindwhich include, in no particular order of importance, Cannibal Holocaust, Chopping Mall, The Mutilators, Ed and His Dead Mother, Buried Alive, Autopsy 2, Hide and Go Shriek, Autopsy 3, Rabid Grannies, Night of the Scarecrow, Ozone: Attack of the Redneck Mutants, and, perhaps not so out of place, three Gallagher comedy tapes.
Mr. Fulci’s also includes a section titled Macabre MarylandRingeisen pronounces this “Mac-a-bray Maryland”which focuses on the Free State’s bloodiest murders and coolest urban legends. Goatman occupies hallowed ground here. Right next to Sam Sheinbein. “Yeah,” Ringeisen says with fresh life in his eyes, “I’m trying to get some more Sheinbein stuff for the site right now.”
The kind of kid who has a favorite true-crime psychopathNew York City’s famed Zodiac KillerRingeisen also enjoys spinning a good, if a bit more violent than usual, Goatman yarn. His particular favorite, which he unveils while sitting hunched in a big booth in the very empty Ledo Pizza in Seabrook Station, goes something like this:
Two Shenandoah Valley mounted Park Police are patrolling their beat on a cold, foggy night. Eventually, the cops get separated. One pair of horse and rider reports back to their mountaintop station on time, but the other duo fails to show.
In the morning, a massive search party ventures out, and, after a few hours of traversing the tricky climbing terrain, one of the cops spots something off to the side of an overgrown riding path. At first he can’t figure out what he’s looking at, but the bloodand the entrails and the inescapable, vomit-inducing stenchtells him that whatever it is, it sure as hell ain’t human. Then he makes out the horse’s head, abuzz with flies and crawling with plump maggots. Nearby are the animal’s broken, skinned legs. The torso is nowhere to be found. And neither is the missing cop.
Ringeisen was around 10 years old, either in elementary school or at summer camp, when he heard his first Goatman story. It was the lovers’ lane classic, which concludes with an innocent young girldespite the rumorsfinding her very dead boyfriend hanging upside down above their car, blood drippingtap-tap-tapfrom his headless torso. Ringeisen grins and shakes his head:
“I remember that scared menot to death, but
it scared me.”
Opsasnick pauses just a moment before the fence opening to check for oncoming trains and then strides in. But we’re only allowed a quick perusal of the wide set of three tracks before a CSX coal run rumbles by as an ominous warning. Only the staunchest Goatman supporter would watch the locomotive creep on by and not do the math on the bodyless puppy story that begat Goatman in the first place: Puppy escapes from pen, puppy wanders toward train tracks, puppy meets her untimely end. Simply: Ten-month-old Ginger was not beheaded by a vicious suburban satyr, but was, sadly, shredded by a choo-choo.
Simple as that. Except. Except as we turn back toward his car, Opsasnick spots a rough-looking potbellied man walking toward us from Lacie Edwards’ old home.
“I bet that’s one of the Hayden brothers,” Opsasnick murmurs under his breath. Suddenly, we’re confronted by a real-life link to one of the progenitors of the Goatman story.
“Hello,” I shout out like an all-too-friendly Avon lady. “We’re here about the Goatman!”
Forty-eight-year-old Raymond Hayden, John Hayden’s older brother, is neither surprised nor impressed by our presence. And, perhaps weary of the legend that just won’t diewill probably, hopefully, never diehe plainly announces to a couple of wannabe believers, “The whole fuckin’ thing was, the dog got hit by a train.”
Just like that, Goatman is dragged out of the bushes of imagination and shot before our eyes.
Sensing his foothold on the legend slipping away, Opsasnick hits Hayden with the 1957 “Abominable Phantom” reports and the scores of sightings and all the important history, but Hayden politely declines to play along. Instead, he neatly and quickly ties one loose story into another: There was a man, he says, perhaps a bit mentally unstable, who lived nearby. “They called him the Goatman, basically. Nasty-looking old bastard…with a double-edged ax, who used to roam along the train tracks.”
But he attacked cars, right? Scared horny high-schoolers and cloaked himself in only the freshest goatskins? “Nothing but a myth,” Hayden says. “That man wouldn’t hurt shit. Name was Albert. Albert Abel or Thompson, or something like that.” Albert would mingle with the “hobos” who set up camps along the tracks, and the newfound friends would get along just fine. “The hobos were good people,” Hayden adds. “Very gentle. They liked their wine. They’re what you would call street people today.”
Opsasnick just stares at Ray Hayden’s mouth, which is intermittently being plugged with a bottle of Diet Pepsi. Piece by piece, the longtime Bowie resident, who now resides at 8510 Zug Road, finishes undressing the hoax, revealing how then-20-year-old troublemakers John Hayden and Willie Gheen made up the whole story to spook Mrs. Daniels. “They had that fat bitch fooled,” Ray Hayden says, chuckling. “I haven’t seen that fat bitch in I don’t know how long.” Hayden looks to the ground and shakes his head. “Man, this thing’s been going on for some 20 years. The kids still show up down here when Halloween comes.”
(Unfortunately, John Hayden, now 48, who once told everyone he could findincluding Opsasnick in the Strange interviewhow he spotted the beast, is strangely silent and extremely surly these days when asked about the urban legend: “Hey, listen, man, I don’t have time for this now. I got my hands full of grease, and I’m getting ready to go on vacation.” Uh, one quick thing, John: Your brother says you’re full of shit. Hayden pauses then blurts, “He said that? Hell, he wasn’t even around when this thing happened.”)
With the hot July sun baring down on his ball-cappped head, Opsasnick presses Ray Hayden for more information, maybe to even corner him into buying into the Goatman legend just a bit. Finally, as Hayden finishes up a bizarre tangent that refuses to veer into the realm of Goatman, Opsasnick sidetracks him by asking after Albert, the hermit/mythic monster.
Hayden switches his bottle of pop to his other hand and extends a grimy arm and even grimier finger back up Zug Road. “Go up there,” he says. “That’s where Albert’s buried. Right near his mother. He used to cry at her grave.”
Ray Hayden is pointing to the Ascension Catholic Church cemeteryand all those white, bare crosses.
“I don’t know how we’re going to do this without stepping on a lot of dead bodies,” Opsasnick says, his fears of funereal desecration tempered by his suddenly renewed sense of adventure. “This is an experience: looking for the grave of the Goatman.”
In front of us, to the side of the small brick churchwhere, eerily enough, a memorial service is about to begin and black-clad mourners are slowly entering the holy confinesis the modest graveyard, 50 yards wide, maybe 50 yards long.
For about 25 minutes, Opsasnick and I wander about the sacred grounds, heads bowed down not out of respect but out of investigation. Crumbling headstones, some dating back to the late 1880s, tell us we are walking over the remains of Clarks, Browns, and so on. But we never do find a Thompson or an Abel. In fact, we never even find an Albert.
There is the matter of those bare white crosses, each without a date or a flower or a name, but as the shadows grow longer and the sun on this gorgeous July day starts its slow descent, the search for Goatman, at least for now, is called to a close. Fresh, glistening questions hang in the early evening air like stars. Properly enough, we decide to leave before dark and let the legend live on. CP
Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Illustrations by Craig Orback.