By Shelly Gatto
It is very easy to dismiss reports from centuries past. There was a different level of understanding about the world that has greatly improved since then. Still, some tales of freakish occurrences and horrifying beasts from history can pose interesting questions. This is the case with phantom dogs, or more specifically, the Black Shuck sightings. This cryptid is one of the more popular among folk legends. Unlike other unknown beasts, which seem more inclined to hide, Black Shuck appeared in plain sight. He also seemed to randomly kill rather than choosing victims for a reason.
There are only two particularly detailed reports of Black Shuck. Other tales of how this ethereal canine stalked the English country side are still capable of sending a few chills down modern spines. In most cases, dark evenings and lonely country roads were Black Shuck’s favorite haunt.
· On August 4th, the most notable Black Shuck sighting was reported. The beast appeared in two Suffolk churches in the towns of Bungay and Blythburgh. At the Blythburgh church, the beast broke in through the front doors, ran the length of the building, past the large congregation and slaughtered a man and young boy. He also caused the church tower to collapse through the roof. After the beast left, scorch marks remained on the northern door, which are said to still be visible today.
· The same day, Black Shuck paid an unexpected visit to the Bungay church. The encounter was recorded by Reverend Abraham Fleming. In his description, the Reverend claimed that Black Shuck burst in, much like he did in Blythburgh. The beast moved across the church interior very quickly. It ran between two kneeling church goers and “wrung their necks” in the same instant. According to the Reverend, “at a mome[n]t where they kneeled, they stra[n]gely dyed.”
The Final Sighting
Other, less detailed sightings were reported in villages near Chelmsford, Essex and in Chignal Saint James. Rumors began that anyone who witnessed the phantom dogs died within a year of the encounter. The beast has been reported both with and without a head, and in some cases floating on a mist rather than running.
Aside from pure and simple superstition and hysteria, there is no solid explanation for the reports. Although some claim the Blythburgh church’s scorch marks could have been the result of lighting. Today, the scorch marks have earned the label “the devil’s fingerprints.” Given the age of the reports, it is also difficult to place other factors that could have contributed to such a sighting. If taken at face value it is truly an intriguing and, at the same time, blood-chilling tale.
A Final Word on the Phantom Dogs
We may never know what the phantom hounds really are. Black Shuck is one of England’s oldest folktales. While some age-worn stories are often explained through modern science and technology, it is hard to pick apart this one. Without actually being there, who can say what truly happened? The story left multiple people dead and two entire church congregations as witnesses. Although those witnesses have long been buried for hundreds of years, it remains a curious legend. It is believed that even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was intrigued by Black Shuck, which may have influenced his popular novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles.
For now, we are let with a horrific tale swallowed up by time and an unsettling verse:
“…and a dreadful thing from the cliff did spring,
And its wild bark thrill’d around.
His eyes had the glow of the fires below,
‘twas the form of the spectre hound.”
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