Connecticut has its share of supernatural tales. Some of them, like the story of The Moodus Noises, are easy to explain away as a quirk of local geology; others, like hauntings, are easy to classify.
Yet there is one tale from central Connecticut that is difficult to order within one's mind, for it resists explanation and classification.
This is the legend of The Little Black Dog of the Hanging Hills, in Hamden.
It's a little black dog. Not a big scary black dog. Just a little one. But it leaves no footprints, and it makes no sound. Should you hike the trail that leads up the hanging hills, you may spot it, or you may not; its apparition is by chance. Be glad, when you see it, for the first time you see it, you will find joy. Be wary, the second time you see it, for a second sighting brings woe.
Third time means you die.
This is how the story plays out in the first written account of the dog, by one W.H.C. Pynchon. As he told the Connecticut Quarterly in 1898, he and his friend Herbert Marshall were hiking in the Hanging Hills in February 1891, and they saw the dog. This was the second time Pynchon had seen it, and the third time for Marshall. Marshall paid Pynchon's warnings no heed. On that same hike, Marshall slipped on an icy cliff, and fell to his death.1
As the tale is told in Legendary Connecticut,2 the story of Pynchon with his death in the same place and manner as Marshall. He said he was going to hike in the Hanging Hills, and his body was discovered in the exact place that Marshall had fallen.
Everyone said he must have seen the little black dog a third time.
Since that time, the rumors of the dog have persisted, and its sighting has been blamed in the deaths of six people.3
So what is this dog, then? A Black Shuck or a Barghest, like they have in the old country? Some kind of vengeful ghost? A being from out of space and time that keeps forcing its way into our world, and we only percieve it as a dog because we can't comprehend the true form?
Hard to say. The dog is singular. Idiosyncratic, even. There's nothing like it in Connecticut, nor anything quite like it in all the world. While it is a black dog, like those of the Old World, it's a little black dog, not some kind of hellhound. While it fortells doom like the black dogs of the Old World, it does so in a manner reminiscent of the one for sorrow, two for joy rhyme. Its curse is related to a specific event -- see the dog and die -- and is easily avoided if one avoids the Hanging Hills. This is quite unlike the hell-and-damnation wrought by the Black Dogs of the Old World.
It's a little black dog. It seems to take its inspiration from the more famous Black Dogs, but the legend of those beasts arose from the very real threat that feral dogs pose.4 This little black dog seems to take its inspiration from the idea of haunting, as its apparition only occurs within the Hanging Hills. But who ever heard of a dog haunting any place? Surely dogs do not die with enough emotion at stake that they leave an imprint of their souls on a place? Unless their master has betrayed them time and again? But then you would hear more ghost stories related to the practice of Dog Fights.
The Black Dogs of the old world are big and mean. They bring doom, or they eat people. This black dog is cute, and brings good fortune.
But it also brings ill fortune! What other black dog does both? And according to specific rules, at that?
This is a being that only looks like a feral dog. It doesn't act like one. If this thing was an actual dog, it would behave the way poorly-trained little dogs do, and bite people's ankles, and snarl, and bark, and do dog things. This thing just stands there, barks silently, and bestows good and ill fortune.
Hell, the thing sounds like some kind of fae creature. You know how they work. They have their weird rules that you have to follow, frequently on pain of death, usually even if you don't know them.
But what would a fairy be doing in Connecticut?
The dog could be the manifestation of the spirit of the Hanging Hills. I like that idea best.
I shall go to the Hanging Hills, find the stupid dog, take a photo, then come home and realize that the dog didn't show up in the picture. And then never visit the Hanging Hils ever again, because unlike the characters in fairy stories, I'm no reckless fool.5
2. Philips, David. Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State. Spoonwood Press, 1984.
4. Just ask any modern Muscovite.
5. At least, not anymore.