Richard D. L. Fulton
The mysterious beast made its continuing presence known again on January 29, 1921, when the Strange Beast of South Mountain was spotted near Pen Mar in Washington County, Maryland, near the Pennsylvania-Maryland state line.
The Gettysburg Times reported further on February 1 that a county resident who resided between Pen Mar and Rouzerville, whom the publication identified as being John Simmons, spotted the elusive creature during the afternoon of January 29 as the local resident was walking through a field “near his home.”
The newspaper reported, “At the time he saw the strange animal, Simmons was not armed, and he was not in the mood to enter combat with the gorilla.”
The reader might conclude at this point that the unidentified creature, if not having been a gorilla, would have more than likely been a black bear, which is not uncommon in the mountains of Adams County, and sometimes rather plentiful.
However, do bear in mind (no pun intended) that the residents of the county are nearly all quite familiar with these furry inhabitants, and certainly any of the hunters involved who spotted the animal would certainly have been quick in proclaiming that the mysterious critter was, in fact, a bear. But this did not occur, which suggests that this mystery creature was not a commonly encountered animal within the experience of the witnesses.
But, could it really have even been a gorilla? The Gettysburg Compiler (covering the on-going story for the first time in its March 19 issue) reported that an Edgar E. Wolf, of York Springs, wrote to the Biological Survey in Washington “to ascertain if there were any gorillas in the U.S,” and received a reply from the organization stating, “… there are no such beasts in the United States. The last one died in the New York Zoo some time ago.”
Although reportedly obtained from a bureau of the United States government, one might question that agency’s claim that the last gorilla in the states had died sometime before the beast of Adams County began to appear, given that, on April 18, the Altoona Tribune reported, “‘John Daniel,’ the only gorilla in the United States, died today of pneumonia in his private room at Madison Square Garden, where he was appearing with a circus.”
However, to the agency’s defense, they might simply have not been aware of the remaining gorilla, and the article does state, “One of the animals [gorilla] died recently at the Bronx Zoo of the same malady,” so the Bureau of the Biological Survey can’t be completely discredited by their statement regarding the numbers of gorillas remaining in the states, at that time period.
Following the last sighting of the creature on January 29, the beast seemed to have gone underground during the entire spring and most of the summer (mating season?), resurfacing again in August, literally, in the streets of Gettysburg Borough. This encounter was unlike those that had previously transpired, in that the creature was shot at by a local resident, and apparently struck, and left behind footprints, according to The Gettysburg Times.
The encounter in Gettysburg with the creature and local inhabitants was such that the coverage of it would not be limited to the local newspapers, notably The Gettysburg Times. The story would quickly spread to almost every major newspaper in the Mid-Atlantic states. Adaptations of the bizarre encounter as covered by The Gettysburg Times were printed in The Washington Times, Trenton (New Jersey) Evening Times, New Castle (Delaware) News, Wilkes Barre Time Leader, The Kane (Pennsylvania) Republican, and Altoona Tribune.
The local Times reported in their August 9 issue, “After having passed out of the limelight several months ago, the well-known ‘gorilla’ is back. It was in Gettysburg several nights ago … Not long ago a woman residing on York Street saw a strange object about four feet high moving along the fence in the rear of her house.” The woman rushed to a neighbor’s house, who armed himself with a shotgun and proceeded to try and find the beast.
The newspaper reported that the unidentified neighbor “saw the beast” and fired his weapon. “The gorilla dropped to the ground,” adding, “Thinking he had bagged his game, the gunner went toward the fallen animal.” However, the creature was hardly down for the count, and as the shooter approached, “the beast jumped to its hind legs and chased the man into the house.”
Witnesses reported to the newspaper that “the animal disappeared in the direction of Biglerville,” and that “an examination of the ground in a field nearby revealed footprints of a strange beast.”
Apparently, associating itself with the Borough of Gettysburg lost its appeal to the strange animal, as its next sighting was reported by Gettysburg resident, Howard C. Mitinger, who had spotted the animal near Fort Louden in Franklin County on August 12, while traveling back home from a meeting in Pittsburgh, according to The Gettysburg Times, August 13. According to the account, Mitinger saw the creature “sitting on a stump along the highway.”
The sighting was verified by occupants of Mitinger’s vehicle, according to the newspaper, which included Mitinger’s “sister-in-law Mrs. George Ramsey, of Huntington; her daughter, Miss Jean Ramsey; and Robert Mathias, steward of the Hoffman Hotel.”
Reports on seeing the elusive animal apparently slacked-off until August 21, when the creature was spotted near Fairfield Borough.
The Gettysburg Times reported on August 24 that, “Sunday evening while driving along the Fairfield Road, Ray Weikert saw the animal plainly as it crossed the road not many feet in front of his horse,” adding, “Not only did the young man see the beast, but the horse as well, and it was with difficulty it was kept from running away.”
According to the Times, the unknown animal “crossed the road leisurely, walking on its hind legs, climbed the fence and disappeared in the underbrush.” The creature was described as being “about five feet tall.”
Following this last encounter, the story seems to slip into the annals of cold cases, save for an effort by the press to place the blame of it all on the black bears of the nearby mountain ranges.
In a story published by The Gettysburg Times on November 7, more than two months after the last-noted sighting of the strange beast, the newspaper stated, regarding a reported encounter with a bear west of Cashtown, “Bears are an unusual sight in this section of the country and it is possible that the various parties in Gettysburg who believed they saw a gorilla at different times may have seen this huge black bear.”
And then a final effort, apparently, to pin the blame on alcohol.
In an article written by The Gettysburg Times regarding noteworthy incidents of 1921, and published in the newspaper’s December 31 issue, entitled, “Year Has Been One of Progress,” presumably tongue-in-cheek, it was noted, “January 21 – Seize truckload of liquor in Gettysburg. January 22 – Gorilla seen in county. January 26 – More liquor seized. January 27 – Men chase gorilla. January 29 – Seize high-proof whiskey. January 30 – Gorilla seen in daylight.”
Clearly, the “detectives” at the Times had solved the mystery in at least two different ways. Either it was a bear, or everyone was drunk when they thought they saw the mysterious creature. Whatever the case may be, the beast was not seen or heard from again… perhaps…
Fast forward… Alleged sightings of what may be the strange beast of South Mountain have continued to be reported in the South Mountain area from the 1980s into the 2000s, in areas ranging from along Route 116, between Gettysburg and Fairfield, to the area of the Greenmount Firehall, to multiple sightings (from the 1990s to the 2000s) in the Michaux State Forest, according to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization.
So, the quest continues, because “the truth is out there,” or not.