Raised in Greenbelt, Maryland, author, and historian Mark Opsasnick was only in seventh grade when he first heard about the Goatman. Sitting in the backseat of his friend’s older brother’s car, he recalled that the driver would threaten to “dump us on Fletchertown Road and the Goatman will get us,” when he or his friends were acting up. Those threats of being left in the eerie area stuck with him throughout his life. In fact, it influenced him and his friends to go on “Goatman hunts” to find a hint of the beast within the community throughout his time in high school. ￼
Although frightening, the stories which Opsasnick heard were not unusual for that time. Several variations of the Goatman story had been circulating around Prince George’s County Maryland years before his friend’s brother took him for a ride.
According to most accounts, the Goatman is a half-man, half-animal with the same bodily structure of the classic Greek satyr, such as Pan. Standing at six feet tall, he supposedly walks around on two hooves, has hair all over his body, and lurks in the darkness with his bright eyes. To make his presence known, he makes squealing noises before striking his prey – either pets or people.
Other folklore attaches the beast to a mad scientist who worked at Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. As the legend goes, a faulty experiment turned the scientist – who was doing some tests on goats – into a half-man, half-goat, creature. After mutating he was rumored to attack passers by the backroads of the research center. Speculation around the truth of this became so popular that the USDA had to vehemently, and publicly, deny the claims.
Other stories identify the Goatman as a hermit with a “droopy eyelash” who lived near Clinton and took pleasure in scaring children.
Whether real or imagined, the Goatman became part of local lore in Prince George’s County and took off in the 1970s. Penn State Harrisburg Professor of Folklore, David Puglia, believes the burst of interest can be traced back to a student project at the University of Maryland in 1971.
That spring, student George Lizama investigated eight popular Goatman legends in Clinton, Maryland for his folklore class project. He interviewed peers, including eighteen-year-old Patriciate Isidro who shared a popular version of the Goatman legend. Isidro explained that Goatman was an old man with a “face of a goat and the body of a man” who warded people from “his bridge” (Governor's Bridge, also known as “Crybaby” Bridge in Upper Marlboro) during full moons. Goatman would also perform violent and deadly attacks, such as forcing cars off roads, killing people with no trace, and smashing car windows, but without making a sound.
After Lizama’s project was finished in May of 1971, his professor integrated the interviews into the University’s folklore archive. Prince George’s County News journalist Karen Hosler then stumbled upon the project when searching the archives for an enticing story. A few days before Halloween that fall, Hossler published an article entitled “University Archives Reveal: Boaman, Goatman, and Ghosts Still Haunt Area,” apparently based on Lizama’s research. Rather than basing the Goatman in Clinton, however, she reported the beast’s presence in Bowie, subsequently leading Bowie residents – especially teens – to circulate the story. It was likely that Bowie residents (and Hosler herself) had heard the rumors of Goatman before the story came out, but Hossler’s article seemed to have given the legend a new fire.
A few days after Hossler’s story made its rounds around Bowie, April Edwards and friends John Hayden and Whillie Gheen heard suspicious noises around Edwards’ house, which was located near a forest where Goatman was reported to lurk. Hayden reported that he saw “an animal… six-foot…and hairy… on two feet.” The next morning, Edwards was shocked to find her puppy gone. After searching for the puppy around Fletchertown Road by the Penn Central railroad, the family finally found their pet. Decapitated.
Hossler jumped back on this story and headlined it “Residents Fear Goatman Lives: Dog Found Decapitated in Old Bowie.” The news coverage fueled more Goatman rumors… which, in turn, resulted in more media reports… which led to more rumors. And it wasn’t just the neighborhood papers that got involved. By the end of November 1971, the Washington Post sent a reporter to write about the Goatman.
In his article, reporter Ivan Goldman detailed the gruesome fate of the Edwards’ puppy and attempted to explain why the Goatman story seemed to resonate so deeply with those in Prince George’s County. “No one seems to know just when the legend started. Everyone agrees it is an old one that periodically dies down, then revives.”
As story sharing and newspaper reports reinforced each other, the ‘70s became a sort of Goatman renaissance as the legend of the Goatman expanded beyond Prince George’s County’s borders. According to Puglia:
“The success cannot be attributed to legend tellers or newspapers alone, but to a dynamic synergy between the two. Notably, the Maryland Folklore archive played a role in the legend’s proliferation. Amateur folklorists, in this case not only captured the legend for future preservation but also provided an opportunity for the legend to grow.”
Surely enough, it grew all the way into popular culture. Here are some places you might have seen traces of the Goatman:
- Animal X, a documentary series from the BBC, recorded an episode about Goatman, titled Goatman, Phar Lap, Psychic Animals 1 in 1997. In general, the series covers the unexplainable creatures and events of the animal world, the perfect category to share tale of the Goatman. This particular episode features local Marylanders detailing their personal encounters with the Goatman, including one person stating they stared into his “red eyes.”
- Fans of the X-Files may be familiar with the 1998 comic print The Face of Extinction. In this issue, Mulder and Scully investigate a death, which was the supposed work of a Goatman. The fantastical main theme throughout was that Goatman species was fighting extinction in the human world. Since cryptozoology was not really a major topic throughout the X-Files, the depiction of goat people in the series really stands out.
- More recently, Goatman continued to make his appearances in Maryland through events such as “GoatMan Hallow,” a haunted house experience in Hyattsville that began in 2002 and ran for about a decade. In the interactive haunted house, guests would be taken through the fictional story of the scientist-turned-goat, Dr. Fletcher. Throughout this 20-minute theatrical experience, guests would experience eerie noises and haunting presences, mimicking what the teenagers back in the ‘70s claimed to have experienced in real life.
It's clear that the Goatman has made quite an impression on people, not only in Maryland, but in other parts of the world, too.
But is he real?
Well, that is for you to decide. What seems clear is that the people of Prince George’s County will carry this legend and celebrate the possibility of the Goatman for as long as possible – especially during this time of year. And who knows, maybe the Goatman really is out there in the woods, celebrating alongside us.
- ^Matt Blitz, “The Goatman–Or His Story, at Least–Still Haunts Prince George’s County,” Washingtonian, October 30, 2015, https://www.washingtonian.com/2015/10/30/the-goatman-or-his-story-at-least-still-haunts-prince-georges-county/.
- ^David J. Puglia, “Getting Maryland’s Goat: Diffusion and Canonization of Prince George’s County’s Goatman Legend,” Contemporary Legend 3, no. 3 (2013): 69.
- ^Ivan G. Goldman, “A Legendary Figure Haunts Remote Pr. George’s Woods: Wedge of the Wood,” The Washington Post, November 30, 1971.
- ^Puglia, “Getting Maryland’s Goat,” 66-67. Natalie Troyer, “Spooky sights, sounds - ‘Weird U.S.’ details eerie phenomena,” The Washington Times, October 27, 2004.
- ^Puglia, “Getting Maryland’s Goat,” 67.
- ^Puglia, “Getting Maryland’s Goat,” 69.
- ^ Blitz, ”The Goatman.”
- ^Goldman, Ivan. “A Legendary Figure Haunts Remote Pr. George’s Woods: Edge of the Wood.” Washington Post, November 30, 1971. https://www.proquest.com/docview/148030225/A4BEAFB9479A4D1APQ/12?accountid=46320.
- ^Puglia, “Getting Maryland’s Goat,” 74.
- ^“Animal X | Season 1 | Episode 9 | Goatman, Phar Lap, Psychic Animals 1,” Deep C Digital, 1:33, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgwmOL2Ij-0&ab_channel=DeepCDigital.
- ^”The X-Files (Topps) #37 – The Face of Extinction (Review),” The m0vie blog, accessed June 12, 2015, https://them0vieblog.com/2015/06/02/the-x-files-topps-37-the-face-of-extinction-review/.
- ^Sara Gebhardt, “Half-Man, Half-Goat, All Chills,” The Washington Post, October 28, 2004, https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/local/2004/10/28/half-man-half-goat-all-chills/1f517bba-bd6f-452a-b235-96ccebdc87be/.