In Episode 303 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger hunt for the last (and maybe the first?) Egopantis–a giant beast of an animal unlike anything you’ve ever seen. Today the head of the monster is mounted over the fireplace of the Bull Run Restaurant in Shirley, Massachusetts. They say the monster was killed in the late 1700s by Captain Nathaniel Smith. Is this a tall tale and a clever taxidermy project, or could there still be other Egopantises out there lurking?
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[WALKING THROUGH THE WOODS]
RAY: What are we looking for out here in the woods of Shirley, Jeff?
RAY: (WHISPERING) What are we looking for out here in the woods of Shirley?
JEFF: (WHISPERING) Ray, we’re hunting for a unique beast. A monster!
RAY: (WHISPERING) Like a bear, or a moose or something like that?
JEFF: (WHISPERING) No, nothing like a bear or moose.
RAY: (WHISPERING) What kind of beast is it? How do I know what to look for? There’s a lot of woods out here.
JEFF: (WHISPERING) That’s the thing, I’m not sure what kind of creature this thing is. I guess we’ll know it when we see it. I think we’re getting close. There’s Mulpus Brook up ahead.
[CARS DRIVING BY IN THE DISTANCE]
RAY: The only thing we’re getting close to is Route 2A.
JEFF: Yeah… but still… we’re getting close… we’re lurking through Shirley, Massachusetts, on the hunt for a one-of-a-kind beast they call the Egopantis.
JEFF: Hello Legendary Townies, I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 303 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger, thanks for joining us as we search New England for ghosts, monsters, aliens, eccentrics, and all of the weird history that makes this place special. Did you know most of our story leads come from you? This one did. Thanks to Joanna MacGugan for the tip. If you’ve got a strange tale you think we should check out please reach out to us anytime through our Web site. We love hearing from you.
JEFF: Our Web site is where you can find dates for my ongoing story tour, dates to see Ray’s band the Pub Kings, and links to everything else we do. And we love when you share these stories with your friends or when you take just a minute to post a review for us. Also, be sure to join our super-secret Facebook group.
RAY: We’re going to hunt for the Egopantis right after this quick word from this sponsor…
RAY: So we just came out of the woods near Mulpus Brook, and Route 2A in Shirley is right in front of us.
JEFF: Right… we’re getting close. I have a solid lead. We’ll make a left, and walk up Route 2A just a short ways.
RAY: There’s a liquor store on our left.
JEFF: Yup. Almost there.
RAY: The Bull Run Restaurant is next to the liquor store…
JEFF: And THAT is where we’ll find the Egopantis.
JEFF: Inside. Let’s go.
[LOW RESTAURANT CROWD NOISE]
RAY: This is a great, old historic restaurant.
JEFF: It is. It’s been around a long time.
RAY: The earliest parts of the building date all the way back to 1741. Back then it was called Sawtelle’s Tavern, named after Obadiah Sawtelle—a colonist who knew how to throw a party. There’s obviously been a number of additions since then.
JEFF: Yeah, they’ve expanded quite a bit.
RAY: There’s a stage for live music, there’s the restaurant, and the bar looks like it’s right out of the late 1700s. It’s easy to imagine colonists sitting here discussing the American Revolution over some ale.
JEFF: Yeah, this place is a great time warp for sure. And the beast we’re looking for is… right over there by the fireplace near the bar.
RAY: Okay, let’s head over.
[WALKING ON WOOD FLOORS]
RAY: Okay… this is like no animal I’ve ever seen before.
JEFF: Me neither.
RAY: So there’s this large, hairy head mounted over the fire place. It’s got a snout almost like an alligator meets a duck-billed platypus. It’s bumpy and gray and surrounded by black hair that’s sort of long and shaggy like an ape. There are two eyes at the top with what looks like blondish eyebrows. I mean… what the heck IS this thing?
JEFF: It’s the Egopantis. And they say that was the last of its kind. It’s now extinct.
RAY: Whatever this thing is or was, it looks like it would have been a large animal. Like moose-sized.
JEFF: To find out how the Egopantis got on the wall of the Bull Run Restaurant, we’re going to travel back in time to the earliest days of the tavern. Let’s head back to 1787 and meet Capt. Nathaniel Smith.
RAY: It’s June of 1787 here in Shirley, Massachusetts. America is still a new country and new idea. The long-fought war for independence ended four years ago, and as you can imagine, the states and country are going through some growing pains.
JEFF: That they are. You fight a war so you can stop paying taxes to a far-away king, but for the states and new nation to grow, people need to still pay taxes.
RAY: Death and taxes. They can’t be avoided no matter how many people you kill, right?
JEFF: So true.
RAY: Shay’s Rebellion just ended about four months ago, and some folks here in Shirley, are still bitter. One of those people, is Captain Nathaniel Smith, who fought with Shay.
JEFF: Shay’s Rebellion is an armed conflict that went down in western and central Massachusetts. Massachusetts is in debt. And the only way out of that debt, and the only way to provide services to the people of the commonwealth is through taxes.
RAY: Which is well and good. Everyone understands they need to pay something.
JEFF: Sure. But folks in Massachusetts feel like their leaders pushed it too far. It’s one thing to tax citizens, but now the commonwealth is taxing their trades and business as well. To many, it feels like double taxation.
RAY: And the nickname Tax-a-chusetts is born!
JEFF: (LAUGHING) Folks were mad enough to stage an armed rebellion that began in Springfield, Massachusetts, when Revolutionary War veteran Daniel Shay led four thousands troops to raid the Springfield Armory.
RAY: Shay’s second in command was Captain Nathaniel Smith of Shirley. The rebellion was extinguished four months ago, and so Capt. Smith is back in town hoping the rebellion will fuel some changes to government.
JEFF: Still, life goes on even when your political fights run their course. So Captain Smith heads out on his property to do a little hunting. It’s just the thing he needs to take his mind off of the high tax rate.
[WALKING IN THE WOODS]
JEFF: Captain Smith has his musket at the ready…
JEFF: (WHISPERING) Sorry… we don’t want to scare away any potential game.
RAY: (WHISPERING) I know there’s deer out here. Maye an occasional bear…
[WALKING IN WOODS]
RAY: (WHISPERING) What’s that over there?
JEFF: (WHISPERING) I’m not…
RAY/JEFF: What is that?!
RAY: Captain Smith is raising his musket….
JEFF: I think he hit it!
[RUNNING IN WOODS]
RAY: The animal is running off….
[RUNNING IN WOODS SLOW FADES]
JEFF: Ten days. That’s what they say.
RAY: Ten days.
JEFF: Ten days. That’s how long it takes this beast to finally day. For ten days Captain Smith tracks the bleeding animal until finally…
JEFF: It expires right near his property just behind Sawtelle’s Tavern.
RAY: When Captain Smith sees the animal he doesn’t know what to make of it.
JEFF: It’s like nothing anyone has ever seen before. So Captain Smith has the beast taxidermied…
JEFF: And mounted…
JEFF: And the legend of the Egopantis is born. With so many people in town buzzing about this strange and undocumented animal, Captain Smith decides to donate the mounted head to the tavern… and there it’s remained over the fireplace ever since. And that brings us back to today.
RAY: I have so many questions.
JEFF: As well you should. Our first question should be for the bartender. (AWAY) Excuse me, what do you have on tap? Ooo yeah, two of those.
RAY: Thanks! Cheers!
RAY: So I know enough about biology that there can’t be one of any animal unless it’s some kind of birth defect and the remains are totally misidentified.
JEFF: That’s true. The Egopantis’s exact origins are going to remain a mystery. There’s a story mounted on the wall next to the head that says it was Capt. Nathaniel Smith who bagged the animal, that it died on the tavern property, and they say they even still have the musket used to shoot the animal on display in the restaurant.
RAY: So looking at this stuffed head, it looks like it’s been cobbled together from various parts of other animals.
JEFF: Sure. And it’s been here a long time. We’re not the first, nor will we be the last to look into the mysterious beast mounted on the wall watching people eat and drink. Most of what we know about this story comes from the September 26, 1962 Boston Globe article where columnist Ted Ashby came out to the restaurant to investigate the story. Check out the article.
RAY: Okay… THIS is funny. The headline reads: World’s Last (Or First?) Egopantis Rests Above Bar. The article explains how a local man wrote a letter to one Elizabeth Ryan of the American Institute asking for information on the origins of the species call Egopantis. Ryan wrote back she believed there was never such an animal and that it must be made-up. So the owners at the time placed a pewter bowl next to the mounted head asking for donations to help get Elizabeth Ryan up to Shirley to examine the Egopantis head her herself. As of September of 1962, the 18-month-old fund had raised 37 cents.
JEFF: So not quite enough…
RAY: No. Not yet.
JEFF: Writer Ted Ashby did help shed a little light onto the origins of the Egopantis, though. The article mentions the co-owner back then said the Egopantis head was loaned to her by Arnold C. Dickenson of Lunenberg when they took over ownership in 1946.
RAY: So the stuffed head has been here since at least 1946.
JEFF: It has, which is a pretty long stretch of time.
RAY: So the most likely story is that Arnold Dickenson of Lunenberg either made the Egopantis, or he got it from someone else.
JEFF: That’s what it would seem like. Over time you add in the Captain Nathaniel Smith part of the story, him being the restaurant’s most famous neighbor, and it has a certain historical air to it.
RAY: And the longer this head stares at people eating and drinking near the bar, the longer people wonder how much of the story is actually true.
JEFF: And people may also wonder how much they’ve ad to drink. Still, there’s always a nugget of truth in there somewhere.
RAY: I’ll drink to that.
RAY: And that takes us to After the Legend where we explore this week’s story a little deeper and sometimes get lost along the way.
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