Why should humans be the only ones entitled to an after life existance? Not only are there human spirits, but phantom animals have been seen for centuries. Besides wraiths of the family pet who passed away there are legends of the Black Dog, Pookas, animals that predict a family's deaths (such as the black bird did for the Cox family of Cloverhill Plantation in Chesterfield, Virginia, phantom panthers and big cats, and others.
Apparitions of the infamous Black Dog has been seen not only in British Isles, but many other places in the world. They may be distinguished from normal flesh and blood black canines by features such as large or glowing eyes—sometimes only one—their ability to appear or disappear out of thin air or into and out of the ground, no head, two heads; or the ability to change their size or appearance. Though sometimes these ghostly hounds aren't always just black, but seen as white or brown beasts.
The Black Dogs go under many names depending which county you are in. In the north of England in counties such as Yorkshire and Lancashire, you will hear names such as Guytrash, Shriker, or Barguest; in East Anglia and Norfolk you will hear Black Shuck, Skeff, or Moddey Dhoo; and in the south of England you will hear names like Yeth or Wish Hounds. The origin of the word Guytrash is unknown, but Shuck can be traced back to the Old English Scucca, meaning Demon while Barguest may come from the German 'Bargeist' meaning “spirit of the (funeral) bier.” The demon association is sometimes emphasized by the title ‘’Devil Dog.” In the south, Yeth means Heath, while Wish, in a similar vein, is an old Sussex word for marsh. This name for the hounds is widely used in Sussex, but the origin also seems linked to the term Witch Hounds, which is also common. Whether there is any connection between the two is unknown. The names may only be referring to the fact that these dogs are often seen in wild country places. In many places, the dogs are seen as omens of death. To see one means either a portent of your own death or the death of a family member.
You don’t have to go to the British Isles to see one. There have been some of these beasts reported in Virginia. There’s a legend of one that has been seen in Goochland, big as a young calf as it roamed the county. Sightings of it have always been reported to be near the State Farm, at the entrance to Thorncliff, and also at Chestnut Hill Bottom. Unlike Black Shuck in England, this one has never portended the death of anyone. There have been no tales of this animal seen since 1900 though.
Often, like the traditional Black Dogs seen in Britain, it would appear out of nowhere, trot alongside someone on foot or horseback or in a buggy. Even though it looked fearsome and was very big, it didn’t harm anyone. Some, though, didn’t want the dog accompanying them and would shoot at the animal. The bullets would just pass through its body, frightening the shooters, while the dog just kept trotting beside them. You can read more of the Virginian Black Dogs in my book, Haunted Virginia: Legends, Myths, and True Tales at various places, including AMAZON .
Apparitions of pets have been seen, plus a favorite toy seen rolling or moving as if a paw or nose still prodding it, and there has also been recorded of the feeling of something rubbing against legs or the push of a cold nose into a person's hand. Even sounds have been heard--either out loud or on EVPs from a recorder. I myself have gotten the meowing of a cat, once at Ferry Plantation during an investigation, and this past August 2011 at the Byrd Theater. A ghost cat has been seen and heard at Ferry; the ghost cat at the Byrd was more of a surprise to me.
Speaking of dog or cat spirits seen and heard, other animals' specters have been, too. Like horses. There is a story I read that concerned a child, who when her parents moved to Germany at the air base would keep avoiding an spot in the corridor of their home. She told her mother that there was a horse in the middle of it. The mother looked up and found that the block of flats that their flat was in a military stable stood in the same area during World War II.
Another ghostly beastie seen was an ape at Athelhampton Hall in Dorset, England. The place had been built by Sir William Martyn in 1485. Tyhe family's crest had an ape sitting on a tree stump and beneath that was the motto: "He who looks at Martyn's ape, Martyn's ape will look at him." Really owning this ape, it had the run of the hall. When one of Martyn's daughters had been spurned by her lover, she went to commit suicide in a room, locking herself in. Unfortunately for the animal, it followed her into the room and was locked in, too. It was found lying by her side, starved to death. This ghost ape is said to be heard scratching behind the walls.
In Hollywood Cemetery in Richmond, Virginia, lays the tomb of famous author, Ellen Glasgow. After she passed away, it was discovered in her will a stipulation that her two pet dogs that preceded her in death be dug up from the backyard of her home and buried with her. There are those who claim to hear these two dogs running around and whining at the gravesite, late at night. Could Ellen be tossing them sticks to fetch?
Also in Hollywood is another dog legend, concerning one made of iron. It stands almost in the shadow of the pyramid. It came originally from the front of a store on Broad Street in the 19th century. A little girl would always come by and pet it, talking to it and showing her love for it as if it were a real dog. But one day she never came back. She had perished in an epidemic in 1892 and was buried in Hollywood Cemetery. Because of her affection for the cast iron dog though, it was placed at her grave site. Eerily, it stands there to this very day, as if guarding her. There have been those who say that it moves occasionally, that they would pass it pointing in one direction and come back, to find it staring the opposite way.
On moonlit nights, rider less horses are heard, galloping around the Federal-style country house, Reveille in Richmond. Located on West Cary Street in Richmond’s West End is used now as administrative offices for the Reveille United Methodist Church since it was bought in 1951. In Old House Woods in Mathews County, ghosts of horses and cows appear and disappear before people's eyes while two black headless dogs have been seen running through the woods.
Last is two ghostly animals tales set in the Great Dismal swamp in Chesapeake, Virginia.
Legend of the White Deer
There is another local Indian tale told that is set in the Great Dismal Swamp of the Tidewater region. It is one of tragic love. There had been an Indian maiden, Wa-Cheagles, who happened to be daughter of the chief of one of two warring tribes in the area. For years she had an interesting relationship with a doe that she called Cin-Co, which meant guiding friend. It was believed that Cin-Co brought deer into the swamp each autumn. The doe would always lead her current fawn up to Wa-Cheagles to show her, at the edge of the forest near a pool of dark brown water. This was the only way for the squaw to meet with the doe as squaws were not allowed into the forest because the tribes believed this to be an evil omen.
One year, Cin-Co appeared alone, limping. She walked back into the forest, doing it two to three times, until Wa-Cheagles overcame her fear and followed her. The doe lead her to her fawn that had a hoof firmly on a barely living rattlesnake. No doubt this reptile had bitten Cin-Co and was the reason for her limp. The doe was telling the Indian maiden she wanted her to care for her fawn, since the doe was dying from the rattlesnake poison. While there, Wa-Cheagles heard a moan and discovered an Indian brave from an enemy tribe with a swollen leg from a rattlesnake bite. If she attended to him, she must pledge herself to him. Both then would be hunted down, to be killed by arrows with tips laced with water moccasin venom.
But she went ahead and helped him, removing her beret and tying it around his leg. Using some snakeroot she found, she applied a poultice over the wound. Ready to leave, she saw that Cin-Co had died and the fawn had vanished. Upset, she went back to her tribe.
For three days, she would sneaked away to tend to the brave. On the third day, her father appeared in the clearing, finding not only her, but the brave too. He carried away Cin-Co’s carcass, giving them enough time to get away.
Wa-Cheagles and her lover stopped at Lake Drummond to rest. Just then three warriors from her tribe confronted them, determined to erase the curse from their tribe.
As the warriors drew back their bows to send their arrows flying, a dark cloud blotted out the sun and a loud rustling noise filled the air. A flock of wild geese flew around Wa-Cheagles and her lover. The geese settled en masse on the lake until not one inch of the water could be seen. Terrified, the braves dropped their bows and arrows and bolted.
Just then, the “swamp spirit” rose out of the lake and strolled over the backs of the geese, approaching the two lovers. It told them that Cin-Co’s spirit had saved them. That Wa-Cheagles must continue the doe’s good work. The spirit magicked the maiden into a white deer, a small crimson spot on her forehead. Her lover became a charmed hunter. The spirit told them they would roam the swamp’s forest forever, side by side, protected from both animals and hunters by rattlesnakes.
To this day there are hunters and others who say they have seen the white deer and the Indian brave by her side. Whenever a hunter pursues them, a rattlesnake appears on the spot they had been sighted, hissing and rattling its rattle.
The White Deer and The Light
The Native Americans in the area claimed that white deer were protected by spirits. Jack’s dog flushed out a white buck, the biggest deer Jack had ever seen. The buck froze, and when he fired at it, the bullet pierced its chest. But instead of falling, it bounded away. The dog gave chase, but lost it. Jack began to wonder of the local Indian stories were true then.
Later, the dog found a red buck and this one dropped easily when Jack’s bullet hit it. He loaded the carcass in his boat and rowed for home. When it was almost dark, a blue-green light rose in the sky above the tree tops. Jack thought it was the moon rising, but then it zipped for his boat. It paused above his boat and illuminated the whole lake. Frightened, the hermit began to row faster.
When he got to his cabin, he dropped the buck and gave an order to his dog to guard the carcass, then went inside to gather the things needed to clean and dress it. He changed his clothes, sharpened his knives and went outside. Both his dog and the deer had vanished! Grabbing a lantern, he searched and found small patches of blood in the snow trailing back to the lake’s edge. Stunned, he stood there, not knowing what to do.
Just then a moan rent the air. Louder and louder it grew and sounding as if from the middle of the lake. He stared as the same blue-green light rose out of the water and over a giant cypress, covering the tree in its unnatural glow.
When the scream of a wildcat came, he jumped in his boat and raced downstream to the locks. He leaped onto shore and bolted to Captain Crockett’s cottage. It was midnight when he banged on the front door. Black Jack streaked past Crockett when he opened the door. For three hours he sat in the cottage, not speaking, due to both being frozen and the fear he felt. Crockett gave him a mixture of honey, swamp water, and moonshine, and it freed him enough to blurt out his strange story.
The next morning Jack left, determined to find his dog and the missing deer. That night, Crockett dreamed of a white buck and the mysterious halo of light that surrounded its head. He awoke, knowing it to be a premonition of danger for Jack. So the next morning he traveled to the hermit’s cabin and found the door wide open and the fire out. Jack was not inside. He searched outside and found Jack in a kneeling position in a thicket. The hermit had frozen to death. No other tracks surrounded him, and Crockett saw no signs of a struggle.
It is claimed that since then, on Christmas Eve between midnight and two in the morning that Jack can be heard gibbering about the light and the deer. At break of dawn, his dog and the missing red buck can be seen where he was found. Hunters fire at a white buck, but never hit it. The deer and the dog vanish into the underbrush.
The white deer that hunters shoot at and never hit could be the Indian maiden, Wa-Cheagles from the Indian myths chapter, except for their claim that it is a buck they saw and Wa-Cheagles became a white doe, protected by her warrior lover.