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Haven History: Monsters among us

By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment

October 6, 2011

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Photo courtesy of Google Images

On July 21, 2011, the Clinton County Historical Society and the Clinton County Commissioners made history together. They issued a proclamation declaring an official monster of Clinton County.

“In all my years as commissioner,” said county commissioner Adam Coleman,”I never thought I’d be discussing monsters.”

The official monster of Clinton County isn’t one that you’ve heard of. It’s not like Bigfoot, or some weird Mothman. No, here in Clinton County we can be more original than that. Our monster is called the Giwoggle.

The legend of the Giwoggle is an old folk tale originally told in Keating Township, on the northern end of the county. Nobody knows who initially told it in the early 1800s, but we can document that the story was later told by Sarah Confer to her grandchild, George Rhone, about 1900. George grew up to write the story for Keystone Folklore Quarterly, which is where I discovered it.

George’s father, John Rhone, is best known for disappearing without a trace in 1899. Last seen climbing a fence at the edge of his property, he vanished and was never seen again. I’ve researched his disappearance and his family. I can make a good case that he had a mid-life crisis and ran away. I can also make a good case that a Giwoggle ate him.

I often get two questions about Giwoggles: What did it look like? And how do you pronounce it?

The pronunciation is easy. Giwoggle is pronounced jee-WOG-ull. As for what it looked like….According to the story, it was a sort of werewolf. Except it had bird claws for hands, and horse hooves for feet. So, if you were hunting one, you could never be sure what you were following. Perhaps you were hot on the trail of a Giwoggle. Or perhaps you were wasting your time following around birds and horses all day.

The Giwoggle was conjured by a witch, which were apparently plentiful in northern Clinton County in the 1800s. The witch would cast a spell, creating or summoning a Giwoggle, and send it out to harass people who had offended her. A farmer would get up one morning to find his horses scared, his cows unnerved, his crops eaten, and Giwoggle tracks all over his farm.

Giwoggles were often used for things like this. They would burn down buildings, make babies sick, frighten animals, and destroy crops. In one story, a farmer named Honest Joe found his cows scared and trying to smoke a piece of cornstalk. This was a dead giveaway that there was a Giwoggle around, as cows aren’t usually such heavy smokers.

There was a hero to many of these stories, a man named Loop Hill Ike. Loop Hill Ike was a man who lived in the forests of Keating, and acted as a sort of supernatural bounty hunter. Farmers who had Giwoggle trouble would go talk to Ike, who would cast magical spells, find the witch that had created the Giwoggle, and stop them.

It was one of the stories involving Ike against the Giwoggle that George Rhone wrote down for Keystone Folklore Quarterly, a Pennsylvania magazine from the sixties that promoted interesting facts and legends of the state. Rhone told the story of the Giwoggle, and described how his grandmother had told him the story as a child. At age seven, George Rhone heard his first Giwoggle story.

He describes the following night in the article, as well.

His grandmother had told him the story. Being a seven-year-old boy, he was excited about the Giwoggle until the sun went down, at which point he began to get scared. As he lay in bed, he heard something scratching at the window. The window swung open, and something furry dropped to the floor and jumped into his bed.

“One jump and I was out of there,” Rhone wrote.

He ran to his mother, scared that a Giwoggle had been in bed with him. When she went to investigate, she discovered it was his pet cat that had climbed into the window and joined him.

“Sometimes, things don’t turn out quite as bad as we think they are,” he wrote.

The story continued to be told, to this day. Rhone said,”You can hardly blame me for telling my kids the story of the Giwoggle.”

And much later, the Giwoggle became the official monster of the county. Meaning that children will hear the scary stories of it for generations to come.

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