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Podcast 118 – The Black Dog of Meriden


In Episode 118, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger climb the cliffs over Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut, in search of a mysterious black dog. They say if you see this mutt once, you’ll find joy, see him twice and you’ll find sorrow, but if you see him three times it means your death. Could this dog be connected to a different Connecticut legend?

Read the episode transcript.

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Produced and hosted by: Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger
Edited by: Ray Auger
Additional Voice Talent: Michael Legge and Beth Judd.
Theme Music by: John Judd

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Castle Craig overlooking Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut.

Castle Craig overlooking Hubbard Park in Meriden, Connecticut.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:
*A note on the text: Please forgive punctuation, spelling, and grammar mistakes. Like us, the transcripts ain’t perfect.

[SFX HIKING THROUGH WOODS]

RAY: Is that a castle up ahead?

JEFF: Yeah, Ray, that’s Castle Craig. It opened in October of 1900 as a gift from Walter Hubbard who gifted Meriden, Connecticut, with 1800 acres called Hubbard Park.

RAY: I guess it’s hard to miss the castle. It looks like something out of medieval England and sits on the highest point of the Hanging Hills that overlook Meriden.

JEFF: Hills is kind of a misnomer, isn’t it?

RAY: Yeah, I guess so, these are more like cliffs.

[SFX ROCKS TUMBLING]

RAY: Woah, be careful, Jeff! You don’t want to fall from this height.

JEFF: No I don’t. I should watch my step.

RAY: So what are we doing up here?

JEFF: I brought some binoculars because I figured the highest point in the park will help us find the animal we’re looking for.

RAY: What kind of animal is that?

JEFF: A dog.

RAY: A dog?! Come on, Jeff, there must be dozens of them down there out with their owners for a walk.

JEFF: This dog’s a little different. They say if you see the Black Dog of Meriden once it means joy for you. See him twice and it means sorrow. And if you see him three times… you die.

[INTRO]

JEFF: Hi, I’m Jeff Belanger, and welcome to episode 118 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.

RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thanks for joining us on our mission to chronicle every single legend in New England, and we can’t do that without the help of our patreon patrons who are sponsoring this week’s episode. Seriously, thank you patrons for helping us bring everyone the best history and legends from all over the northeast. But we still need more help. We have bigger plans for this entire community. If you go to patreon.com/newenglandlegends for as little as $3 bucks per month you’ll get early access to new episodes, bonus episodes that no one else gets to hear, plus you’ll be contributing to something big, and for that we thank you.

JEFF: Also, if you don’t already subscribe to our podcast do it! Because it’s free and just takes a second. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, iHeartRadio, or wherever you get your podcasts.

RAY: Right, we don’t want you to miss a single story.

JEFF: Okay, Ray, there’s a few more things to know about this dog.

RAY: Okay, what’s that?

JEFF: They say he’s black, like an old hat left out in the rain.

RAY: Got it.

JEFF: They say you can see him move his mouth like he’s barking, but he never makes a sound.

RAY: That’s weird.

JEFF: They say you may catch him scurrying around, but he never leaves any paw prints on the ground.

RAY: He may be tougher to find than I thought.

JEFF: But we’re tenacious. Let’s see what we can dig up. You ready?

RAY: Uhhhm, I think so, I guess we just don’t want to find him three times, right?

JEFF: That’s the plan, so let’s head back to the 1890s and set this up.

[SFX TRANSITION]

JEFF: Most of what we know about this mysterious Black Dog comes from a story William H. C. Pynchon wrote for an 1898 edition of Connecticut Quarterly magazine.

RAY: Wait, wait, wait… this essay is a work of fiction, isn’t it?

JEFF: That’s correct, but folklorists claim it’s the basis of the legend, and maybe Pynchon based his fiction on a real legend he’d heard. This how Pynchon weaves his tale.

PYNCHON: It was late in the spring of 1894 that I visited West Peak for the first time. I was then a student at Harvard, and my work in geology made it desirable for me to visit the locality. At that time I had heard nothing of the legend. In the town of Meriden, which lies a few miles distant from the mountain, I hired a horse and wagon suitable for the trip and started out for the Peak in the best of spirits. From Meriden the road runs for about two miles in a generally northwest direction and then turns north into a deep valley lying between West Peak on the west and Notch Mountain, as it is called, on the east. Guiding myself by the maps which I had brought with me, I reached this road and there got out of the wagon to examine the vesicular lava of which there was a good outcrop at that point. I had been on my knees pounding away for dear life in my endeavor to get off a good cabinet specimen and had just gotten up to straighten my back, when I noticed trotting up the road a dog. I suppose he might have been called black, but it was the same degree of blackness that you see in an old black hat that has been soaked in the rain a good many times. His lineage was evidently uncertain.

RAY: At this point, William doesn’t think too much about the dog. He’s there to gather rocks to study, so this pup is kind of welcome company.

PYNCHON: He seemed friendly, and when I drove on he insisted on following the wagon. So I let him go with me for the sake of his good company. We made a jolly trio—the rough, strong old horse, the faded dog, and the man whose appearance was not one whit better than that of his companions. At the little village of Southington we stopped for dinner and then pushed on until, under the shadow of yet more western hills, I found the last point to be reached in the day’s march. Then we turned back and started for home, the dog running on ahead.

I took a great liking to that dog. In the first place he was so quiet. Not once in all that day did I hear him bark, even when a calf beside the road tried to coax him into a fight. And he was so light of foot! Though the roads were very dry, yet I did not see a puff of dust rise from his feet as he trotted along ahead of the horse.
JEFF: By all accounts, William Pynchon has a good day with this unusual dog. His work is going well, the weather is pleasant. Life is good!

RAY: William never quite gets the West Peak and Hanging Hills of Meriden out of his head. Three years later, in February, he decides to return in order to see the place under a blanket of snow, and to examine what rocks might be exposed in winter now that the grass and moss has died.

JEFF: William spends the evening at a local hotel with his friend, Herbert Marshall from the United States Geological Survey who has climbed and surveyed West Peak many times in the past. The two talk by the fireplace until it’s only embers.

[SFX FIRE BURNING]

JEFF: Marshall claims he’s heard this strange legend about a black dog. He even says he’s seen the mutt twice before, but he doesn’t go in for such superstitious things. (PAUSE) Marshall plans to accompany Pynchon on his return trip to the cliffs the following day.

[SFX WINTER WIND]

RAY: The following morning is sunny, but bitterly cold with a sharp wind that bites as the two men make their way up the cliff.

PYNCHON: We did not reach the Peak until about eleven o’clock, and then we found the woods on the back so choked with snow that it was impossible to make any considerable progress through them, so we determined to try to make the ascent on the southern face. This portion of the mountain is much steeper, but it is free from forest, and the mass of broken fragments of rock which runs up to the foot of the cliffs affords a fairly good foothold.

JEFF: When they’re in the sunlight, the going is pretty good, but once they pass in the shadow of the black cliffs, they lose their courage. Numb with cold, they feel like they’re blindly going through the snow.

[SFX WINTER WIND]

PYNCHON: Marshall was in the lead, and I was following as best I could, when he suddenly stopped and without a word pointed to the top of the cliff. There, high on the rocks above us, stood a black dog like the one I had seen three years before, except that he looked jet black against the snow wreath above him. As we looked he raised his head and we saw his breath rise steaming from his jaws, but no sound came through the biting air. Once, and only once, he gazed down on us with gleaming eyes and then he bounded back out of sight. I looked at Marshall. His face was white and he steadied himself against a rock, but there was not a tremor in his voice as he said, “I did not believe it before. I believe it now; and it is the third time.”

And then, even as he spoke, the fragment of rock on which he stood slipped. There was a cry, a rattle of other fragments falling—and I stood alone.

Later—I cannot tell how much later—there is no measure of hours and minutes at such a time—bruised, bleeding, almost frozen, I stood by all that was left of my friend. He was dead; his body was already stiff, and I knew that unless I would share this, his last sleep, I must hasten. So I bent over him in a hasty farewell and then staggered on.

JEFF: Sadness. Sorrow. His friend is gone right after Pynchon sees the black dog for the second time, and Marshall sees the dog for the third time.

RAY: Pynchon writes down the story and begins his tale with a cautionary legend of the black dog.

PYNCHON: And if a man shall meet the Black Dog once it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time he shall die.

RAY: And that brings us back to today.

[TRANSITION]

JEFF: So obviously Pynchon doesn’t see the black dog of Meriden a third time otherwise he could have never brought us the story.

RAY: Exactly. So a lot of people have messaged and emailed us about this story over the past year or so. This is one of those legends that comes up a lot. Network affiliate news shows will occasionally do a segment on it. So this one has been around a while. But it also sounds a little similar to a different Connecticut legend.

JEFF: Which one is that?

RAY: Back in Episode 100 we covered the Glastonbury Glawackus a creature that lurked in Glastonbury back in 1939. Though later descriptions of the creature were downright silly, remember how the early newspaper accounts described the beast?

RHODA: It was a dark, tawny color. It was about three feet long and two feet tall with a cat-like head.

JEFF: That’s right! And Glastonbury is only about 15 miles northeast of Meriden.

RAY: It makes you wonder if there could be a connection.

JEFF: That it does. Plus, imagine if you know the story and find yourself hiking through Hubbard Park.

RAY: Which is a very popular park, by the way.

JEFF: Exactly. I’d bet that you’re likely to see a black dog in here… what… every single day or year and maybe twice on Tuesdays?

RAY: Of course! Hubbard Park does allow dogs, so you’re likely to see dogs of all kinds out here all the time.

JEFF: So imagine a black dog is off the leash…

RAY: (INTERRUPTING) Or on the leash… I mean the story doesn’t really saw this mysterious dog has to be leashed or not.

JEFF: Good point. So you see a black dog, and suddenly in the back of your neck you get that tingly feeling.

RAY: And just imagine if you see the dog a second time.

[SFX DOG BARKING PANTING]

JEFF: Oh look! Uhhhmmm A black dog.

RAY: Maybe it’s time for us to go.

[OUTTRO]

JEFF: And maybe it’s time for you legendary listeners to reach out back to us! We love your feedback. Tell us what you like about the episodes. And please tell us if there are other New England stories you’d like us to cover. You can find all kinds of ways to contact us through our Web site at ournewenglandlegends.com

RAY: You can also call or text our legend line anytime at 617-444-9683. If you feel like hearing your voice on a future episode, you can even leave our show closing on there for us.

JEFF: We’d like to thank Michael Legge and Beth Judd for lending their voice acting talents this week. And our theme music is by John Judd.

VOICEMAIL: Hi, this is Gary Middleton from Middletown Connecticut. No relation until next time remember the bizarre is closer than you think.

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