It seems that Wisconsin, Manwolf hunter Linda Godfrey’s home state, is just rife with mysterious canids. Monsters and Mysteries in America, Season 3, Episode 6, aired on 25 February 2015 and included a fascinating piece on the ‘hellhounds’ of Meridean Island in Wisconsin. I’ve done significant research on the Phantom Black Dog most commonly seen in Great Britain and found this segment, which begins around 29:00, quite fascinating.
I am not entirely happy with Monsters and Mysteries – too much effort, in my opinion, to overstate the case for the phenomenon that they cover and to be ‘spooky’– but the show has done a good job of trying to find fresh stories that may not have seen coverage in other paranormal shows. This hellhound case in Wisconsin is a good example. It seems to me that I might have run across it in some of my digging (I would have to go back and look through notes) but it is certainly not a site that I am familiar with.
The hellhound segment of the show featured two sets of witnesses: a couple, Shelly Touchstone and Chris Wiener, who were reportedly just looking for a secluded spot for some time away from the kids, and two young paranormal enthusiasts, Mike Bagozzi and Jeremy Stark, who actually went to check out the purported sightings at the boat landing on Meridean Island. Of course, we have no way of really evaluating these witnesses but, in the show, they appeared sincere and I found it telling that their stories had some striking resemblances: the fog, anxiety and the limits of the chase.
Both sets of witnesses stated that, before there was any manifestation of the devil dogs, a dense, cold fog enveloped them. I find this quite telling since fog and other suddenly occurring weather disturbances can be a signal that a door to the Otherworld has opened. I have personally stood on a hilltop while a puja (Buddhist offering rite) was in progress and watched storm clouds ‘bend’ around the area where the rite was occurring, leaving a rain free hole right above the area where we stood. In addition, I have seen fog and mist form, seemingly out of nowhere, during the invocation of certain deities and in the presence of what we might term the Faery. A cold, dense fog might certainly form naturally in the vicinity of a river but the timing of these fog event seems a little suspect given the subsequent events.
I also noted something that I have written about in another blog post – that feeling that something is amiss. I have stated before that often a gut feeling that something is wrong is a good sign that it is time to vacate the premises or, at least, be prepared for a paranormal action. In this case, both sets of witnesses had some intimation that all was not well before their encounter. The young couple, distracted as they might have been by having some alone time together, still alerted at some point before the event and began to feel anxious. Mike Bagozzi, one of the young would-be investigators, stated that he actually became anxious five miles before he and his team mate got to the boat landing. His anxiety was such that, according to him, he refused to turn their vehicle off, left the vehicle in drive and had cut the wheels so that they could make a hasty getaway if needed. Intuition is a tool that is much needed but often discounted in today’s paranormal investigation scene.
While Touchstone and Wiener never actually saw anything, only hearing the phenomenon, Bagozzi and Stark reported seeing an apparition of Mary Dean (the ghost who supposedly haunts the isle) as well as a ragged looking black dog with glowing red eyes that then gave chase. In both incidents, however, the human response was clear; both pairs of witnesses fled for their lives. Interestingly, once the witnesses had driven at ridiculous speeds up the dirt road that led to the boat landing and gotten back onto the paved road, the pursuit ceased as suddenly as it had begun. This seeming limitation on the hellhound’s range is something that we see repeatedly in the English stories of the Phantom Black Dogs (PBD) where the creature will materialize and walk alongside a wagon or vehicle from point A to a clearly defined point B, where it turns aside or simply vanishes.
The hellhounds of Meridean Island bear a strong resemblance to the classic PBD of English lore. Those who have seen them describe them as being “big as a bear” with glowing red eyes while the English stories tend to describe the PBD as the size of a calf, again, with glowing red or yellow eyes the size of saucers. Extensive folkloric examinations of the PBD have shown them to often be associated with water, such as the Chippewa River where Meridean Island is located. In addition, the lore of the PBD associates these interlopers from the Otherworld with death and the dead, a theme we see with the story of Mary Dean and reported hauntings throughout the Carysville, WI, area.
While Monsters and Mysteries in America would have us believe that the hapless witnesses would have been snacks for the terrible beasts if the humans had not gotten to their cars quickly enough, I doubt that this would have been the case. Even in cases where the PBD has caused harm, such as the incident at Bungay, it did not do so by eating its prey. The PBD, in those rare cases where it was the proximate cause of death, seems to just strike its victims dead and leave them. In most of the lore, however, the PBD is simply a spooky reminder that the Otherworld is only a coursing black dog away and, in some of the more sinister stories, may be a harbinger of death in the family of the percipient.