Skip to main content

Zoomorphic Ghosts

We are all familiar with the "traditional" depictions of ghosts, from the chain-dragging tormented souls who wail and groan in the lonesome hours of night, to the ethereal ladies clad in white who float through space in chilly castles and then disappear in the blink of an eye.  From the downright spooky to the ephemeral, chances are that if you try to envision a ghost, you will invariably conjure up a stereotypical image of what a ghost should look like.

However, there are many ghosts who do not fall into the "traditional" category- at least in terms of appearance.  Many witnesses have claimed to have seen ghosts that are zoomorphic; that is, ghosts which manifest themselves as part human and part animal.  Not all zoomorphic ghosts are hybrids, however.  In some cases, entities may be able to "shapeshift" between human and animal form (theriormorphy).

Zoomorphy has long played a role in human civilization, most notably in mythology.  From the jackal-headed Anubis of Egyptian mythology to the minotaur of the Greeks, animal-human hybrids have held a place in the pantheon of religion since time immemorial.  Yet, there is a very clear distinction between myth and reality; while there is no evidence supporting the existence of creatures such as centaurs and minotaurs, the modern historical record does present us with some rather interesting and detailed accounts of zoomorphic ghosts.

One on the most bizarre ghost sightings on record took place in St. Mary's, Ohio, in the summer of 1891.  In a house which had once been the scene of a gruesome murder and several unexplained deaths, the children of Charles Henderson reported seeing a ghost with a man's body and a mule's head.

From the August 21, 1891 edition of the Pittsburgh Dispatch:

St. Mary's, O., Aug. 20.-- The people of Byer, a small village in Jackson county, are all torn up on account of a haunted house.  The building is a cheap structure, built by Thomas Woods, who lived in it and kept a saloon.  Five years ago a cheap jewelry peddler stopped in the house over night, and next morning was found dead in bed with his throat cut from ear to ear.  Since then five persons have died in the house, viz: Thomas Woods, Walker Benson, Tressa Byers, Mrs. Thomas Woods and James Serry.

Some time ago the place was rented to Charley Henderson, and the very second night his family moved in strange noises were heard and tables and chairs were hurled about the room by no visible means.  The children screamed and say they saw a man with a mule's head.  The frightened family moved out at midnight, refusing to wait until morning.  Citizens say they heard strange noises while setting up with the last one who died there.  Mr. Ray, the present owner, had two men sit up in the house, but they declined to stay after midnight owing to the queer proceedings there.  Unless his nerve fails Mr. Ray will try a night of it himself, and report if he lives through it.

Another chilling and well-documented sighting of a zoomorphic ghost took place in Henrico County, Virginia, in 1903.  This ghost appeared as a woman's head on a dog's body.  Like the aforementioned mule-headed apparition, this ghost was also seen by more than one witness.  From the April 10, 1903 edition of the Richmond Times Dispatch:

The one thing which acted more effectually than the appearance of county officers to eject Charles Cooke, a well known farmer, from certain Henrico property, which he had been ordered to leave, was the fearful apparition of a ghost-- a giant dog with a white woman's head.  The man pulled up at once and yesterday moved down in Varina District where he hopes to be out of harm's way.... (Cooke) said that for several nights past about 10 o'clock the premises have been visited by a most fearful apparition-- a ghost, which takes the shape of a dog with a woman's head.  It gets into the yard and scatters the milk pans and the wood pile, uttering the while most horrible noises.  Upon some occasions it comes up to the door and rattles the knob.

Cooke showed the deputy two pistols he had armed himself with as a means of protection against the ghost.  Still he wanted to get out of the place, and hence he was moving.  He had chosen a house about ten miles down in Varina District, where, he hoped, the ghost could not follow... An old white woman who lives in the same house with Cooke declares that all he says concerning the ghost is absolutely correct.

The mule-headed ghost of Ohio is a classic case of theriocephaly, which refers to a human form with an animal's head.  Theriocephalic beings figure prominently in many world religions, such as the Eastern Orthodox religion, which often depicts St. Christopher with the head of a dog.  Theriocephaly also plays a role in cryptozoology.  Since 1887, residents of Michigan have reported seeing a creature described as a human being with a dog's head.  The "Michigan Dogman" was first encountered by lumberjacks in Wexford County.  Unfortunately, lumber camps of the era were populated by men with a propensity toward whiskey and storytelling, so it is unlikely that theriocephalic beings exist in the material world outside of campfire tales and carnival sideshows.

As for zoomorphic ghosts, far less has been written on the subject.  Are these bizarre apparitions mere ghosts or sinister beings of a demonic nature?  Perhaps only the six unfortunate residents of Byer, Ohio, who mysteriously died in the house built by Thomas Woods know for sure.

Popular posts from this blog

The Incest Capital of the World?

At the far eastern edge of Kentucky, nestled in Appalachia, resides Letcher County. In spite of its isolation and poverty (approximately 30% of the county's population lives below the poverty line), Letcher County has managed to grow at an impressive rate, from a population of just 9,172 in 1900 to a present-day population of nearly 25,000. However, even if Letcher County tripled or quadrupled its present population, there's still a pretty good chance that virtually all of the county's inhabitants would be related to each other-- thanks to one particularly fertile family whose astounding rate of reproduction can put even the friskiest rabbit to shame.

Around the year 1900, Letcher County was the home of a man by the name of Jason L. Webb, who made national headlines for having the one of the largest families in the world. According to newspaper reports of the era, Jason had 19 children, 175 grandchildren, and 100 great-grandchildren. Perhaps even more impressive was his b…

The Ticking Tombstone of Landenberg

If you look closely at a map of Pennsylvania, you'll see an anomalous semi-circular border at the extreme southeastern part of the state. This circle, known officially as the "Twelve Mile Circle", serves as the border between the Keystone State and Delaware. Much of the strange circle is surrounded by Chester County, one of the three original Pennsylvania counties created by William Penn in 1682. While there are many historical points of interest in Chester County, few are strange or as steeped in legend as the Ticking Tombstone.

Near the London Tract Meeting House in Landenberg is an old graveyard which contains a tombstone which is said to make eerie ticking noises, much like the ticking of a pocketwatch. Landenberg locals claim that the ticking is the result of two very famous surveyors who arrived in town during the 1760s- Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon.  A young child supposedly swallowed a valuable pocketwatch owned by Mason and later died, and the boy's head…

Jenny Hanivers, Mermaids, Devil Fish, and Sea Monks

Three centuries before P.T. Barnum attracted flocks of crowds with his mummified Fiji Mermaid (which turned out to be a papier-mâché creation featuring a monkey's head and a fish's body), sailors around the world had already began manufacturing "mermaids".  Known as Jenny Hanivers, these creations were often sold to tourists and provided sailors with an additional source of income.  These mummified creatures were produced by drying, carving, and then varnishing the carcasses of fish belonging to the order rajiformes- a group of flattened cartilaginous fish related to the shark which includes stingrays and skates.  These preserved carcasses can be made to resemble mermaids, dragons, angels, demons, and other mythical creatures.

Jenny Hanivers became popular in the mid-16th century, when sailors around the Antwerp docks began selling the novelties to tourists.  This practice was so common  in the Belgian city that it may have influenced the name; it is widely believed …