Wednesday, November 2, 2016


  Grog Hollow Monster
Donald A. Windsor

So here we are, right up there with the big guys. Loch Ness has Nessie; Chesapeake Bay has Chessie; Washington State has Sasquatchie, and Chenango County has the Grog Hollow Monster, Groggy.

Grog Hollow is a complex valley fed by several streams and gullies which drain multiple hilly watersheds. It lies within the Wiley Brook State Forest along the eastern edge of Oxford, near its border with Guilford. The origin of the name "Grog" remains elusive. Perhaps it is an acronym for "Gruesome Repulsive Obnoxious Ghoul". Perhaps it is an old Indian name for "Land of the bull monsters".

The focal point of Grog Hollow is now a beaver meadow. It was a large beaver pond as recently as 2003, with six tiers of dams, but the beavers have been absent since. They may have been trapped out, but I suspect they left voluntarily. The aspen and alder, their favorite foods, had been exhausted and they were forced to cut hemlocks. Beaver habitat runs in multi-decade cycles. Beavers dam a forest stream. The water kills the trees and allows sunlight to enter and a thriving pond ecosystem develops with aspen and other deciduous woody vegetation along the banks. When these plants are depleted, the beavers leave. Their dams are no longer maintained, so they fall apart. The water flows away and a luxuriant meadow results. Eventually the trees return and the cycle repeats.

The Grog Hollow monster was first made public when Bob McNitt broke the story in "The Evening Sun" on Halloween 1979. He reported what some reputable good old boys told him of their close encounters with this creature. Right after dusk, one duck hunter heard loud pounding noises that moved closer and closer. Although he was an experienced outdoors man, well accustomed to being in the woods at night, these sounds he had never heard before. Smart guy that he was, he exited. Dogs were afraid to enter the area. No signs of raccoons were evident. A large beast was seen, but was not a coyote, or a bear, and did not seem to be a panther.

To investigate this matter, Bob and two of his intrepid buddies spent an unforgettable night in the abysmal darkness of Grog Hollow. He related their experiences in another article on the following Halloween. These two articles are required reading for any seeker of local monsters.

Bob's investigation deduced that the monster may have been a bear. At least, that is what his group encountered. They heard noises at the far side of the pond and moving around to their location. Two days later, in daylight, Bob found black bear belly hair nearby. Upon my asking how he could identify belly hair, he reminded me that he is an experienced taxidermist who is familiar with the belly of the beast.

In his 1980 article, Bob uncharacteristically admits that his hair-raising experience may have not been due solely to a bear. He cautiously mentions "psychic phenomena" and "a spiritual presence", even a "murder victim's ghost".

I have to concur. I do a lot of wandering around in the woods alone and enjoy what is normally a pleasant experience. But there are some places where I become obsessed with a strong urge to depart swiftly. Grog Hollow is one of those places. It is very easy to become disoriented in there and the place can be downright spooky when the sun is suddenly blocked by a cloud. It can be a bright sunny day with no clouds in a deep blue sky, but go into Grog Hollow and a cloud somehow appears and hovers ominously overhead. Bob warns that Grog Hollow is prone to hip high fog, which makes it seem even spookier at night.

Should you ever dare to spend the night alone in Grog Hollow, you will probably not be able to sleep. The strange noises, punctuated by eerie silence, will keep you awake. But toward the long anticipated dawn you may doze off. When you do awake, the first rays of muffled light will illuminate the mysterious haze and you may not be able to see Groggy, but you will certainly feel groggy. And should you have imbibed a bit too much grog the evening before, you may awaken to a monster of a pounding headache.

Every year or so, we Bullthistle Hikers venture out onto the beaver meadow to search for Groggy. Unfortunately, or fortunately, we were not privileged to witness the monster. Perhaps Groggy departed with the beavers. Perhaps Groggy ate all the beavers. Perhaps Groggy has a craving for hikers, with a side order of bullthistles. Perhaps Groggy wants his order super-sized.

However, one time we did have a scary encounter with the Grog Hollow Monster. All's well that ends well. But for a moment, we thought we were doomed.

It was a glorious Easter morning, March 23, 2008. We had just finished a joyous sunrise service on the aptly named Gospel Hill Road. We were a small band of intrepid Bullthistle Hikers out to explore the notorious Grog Hollow. All of our previous searches were uneventful and we expected this one to be also. However, this year we hit the jackpot. Here are the harrowing details of our death-defying adventure.

As we cautiously approached the extensive beaver meadow that nestles in the Hollow, we marveled how spooky the dead trees looked, even in the bright early sunlight. The snow covering the wetland looked like white frosting on a cake. The trunks of the dead trees resembled candles. The previous day was my 74th birthday and I, proud of my status as an old geezer, was counting the "candles". My hiking buddies had paused for a refreshing slug of stale coffee and some yummy bunny-shaped sweetie cookies. We were enjoying the eerie silence of this mysterious plot of treacherous wilderness.

But then we heard a soft crunching sound on the forested edge of the frozen marsh. We all glanced in the direction of the ever louder crunches. Soon we heard the wheezing snorts of deep, heavy breathing. The unseen source was rapidly advancing towards us. Perhaps it was a bear... But then we remembered where we were and what it could be -- the dreaded Grog Hollow Monster!

I whipped out my trusty camera as we all stayed quiet, guardedly apprehensive but uncharacteristically silent. Then it appeared. It was indeed the fearsome monster. We were the luckiest, or the unluckiest, folks in the county, for we were the first people to ever witness this startling sight.

There it is in the photo. Note that it seems to be an animated outgrowth of the ominous swamp itself. Its long unruly hair seems lavishly festooned with aqueous vegetation. It reeked of marinated carrion. Although we could not see its eyes, we felt as if this fearsome beast was watching our every movement and glaring into our brazen souls.

Suddenly, the Monster pounced on one of our terrified hikers and was dragging her into the woods. I took a photo and yelled at it to let her go. To my astonishment, it did. But then it turned on me. I started running away.

When escaping from the clutches of a monster, you do not have to run faster than it -- just faster than the slower runners behind you. As I was photographing the monster, my fearful colleagues had already run away. I was the one behind. It was just the two of us, stalwart hiker versus rampaging monster. In dire situations I like to reflect on how I have gotten out of tougher jams than this, but alas, never have I ever been in such perilous danger.

I did not know what to do. So I said in a trembling voice, "Happy Easter". The monster stopped his lunging rush toward me, stood as erect as its hunched back would allow, inflated its massive hulk, and bellowed loudly, "Have a nice day".

We waved good-bye to each other and departed, I triumphantly back to my timid comrades and the monster amicably back to its wretched lair. All's well that ends well.

We have been returning to Grog Hollow every now and then, most recently on Sunday October 30, 2016. But alas, we have not seen Groggy again. We will keep looking.