MERIDEN — Hubbard Park is considered one of Meriden’s greatest attractions. Castle Craig, which overlooks the park from above, is one of the highest points within 25 miles of the shoreline on the East Coast, offering beautiful views of New England.
But as local legend has it, those beautiful views can quickly turn to fatal ones, once a black dog enters the frame.
The first written account of the legend of the Black Dog of West Peak traces back to 1898, and the story has captivated residents and hikers of the Silver City and beyond ever since.
As the myth suggests, the black dog roams around the western regions of the Hanging Hills, where the radio towers currently stand. The canine makes no sound when it barks, nor leaves any prints in the ground when it walks. For those who venture into the hills and spot the canine for the first time, it is believed to be a sign of joy. See the dog again, and that signifies sorrow. A third sighting means death.
The story of the black dog was described in chilling detail in an 1898 article in the Connecticut Quarterly, authored by W.H.C. Pynchon. Most accounts believe that Pynchon was writing from his own experiences, but a Meriden Record story from 1949 suggests that Pynchon could have been retelling a story based on the experience of a mysterious, unnamed man with the initials F.S. However, a later archive from the Morning Record in 1977 does state that is was Pynchon himself who encountered the black dog, with deadly results.
As the article in the Quarterly goes, Pynchon, a geology student at Harvard, was hiking and studying the Hanging Hills when he saw a black dog, who wound up following him for hours. Pynchon described the dog as a “short-haired black dog of moderate size, with nothing particularly noticeable in its actual appearance.” If the dog’s appearance wasn’t memorable, the events that followed were.
Pynchon recalled the dog leaving behind no footprints, nor kicking up any dust on what was “a dry summer day.” After the dog mysteriously disappeared, Pynchon explained the experience to his friend Herbert Marshall of the U.S. Geological Society, who informed Pynchon of the local myth. Marshall even claimed to have seen the dog twice himself while in the area, though balked at the idea of the myth holding any truth.
Three years later, the two returned to West Peak together for more study. While scaling the edge of one of its cliffs, there was the dog, looking down on them from the peak above. According to Pynchon, Marshall’s face went white at the sight of the animal.
“I did not believe it before. I believe it now, and this is the third time,” Marshall said to Pynchon before a rock gave out at his feet, and Marshall let out a cry before tumbling to his death. It was the third time he saw the dog. For Pynchon, it was his second, which signified sorrow, and he had just watched his friend die.
Pynchon wrote that he quickly sought the help of a group of men from a nearby house, and the men claimed to have seen a black dog standing over Marshall’s body when they went to retrieve it. Pynchon was officially a believer, and acknowledged his fate in his article.
“I know sometime, I shall see it again, for the third and last time.” Pynchon wrote. That third time came six years later, this time in the cold, winter months, and Pynchon disappeared. According to an article in the New York Herald, his body was found 10 days later, “on almost the same spot where his friend Herbert Marshall met his death six years ago.” According to the article, Pynchon’s death was the fifth that occurred near that area in the previous 30 years.
Claimed sightings of the dog were less frequent after Pynchon’s death, but the legend continues. It can be found in Patricia Edward Clyne’s “Ghostly Animals of America,” published in 1977. David Phillips, a former English and Folklore Professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, would tell stories of the black dog to crowds at numerous public gatherings, including the Wallingford Public Library, in the late 1980s to mid 1990s. He also notes the story in his book “Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State.”
Diane Smith, formerly of WTNH, previously did a four-minute news segment on the legend of the black dog. Storytelling nights at the Solomon Goffe House on North Colony Street around Halloween would consist of rumblings of the black dog. A blogger even claimed that a Meriden resident had a photographed encounter with the dog back near Castle Craig in 2006.
To this day, curious explorers still search West Peak, hoping to catch a glimpse of the legendary canine. Those who search out the black dog will never hear it coming, and if they see it, will likely hope it’s for the last time.