Monster of the Week: The Goatman

Where to even begin with this one?

Should I start with the reports of a half-man, half-goat monster terrorizing Maryland teens at the local lovers’ lane, supposedly the result of a mad scientist’s experiment-gone-wrong?

Or the creature rumored to lure his victims to their deaths on a railroad trestle near Kentucky’s Pope Lick Creek—where, just yesterday, a young woman chasing the legend was killed by a passing train?

What about the true story of an eccentric but harmless man whose cross-country travels in a goat-led wagon earned him the nickname The Goat Man?

Let’s back up a little bit. Maybe I should be asking a completely different question:

What’s all the fuss about goats?

There are myths of hybrid man-goat monsters across all parts of the US, with reported sightings in Kentucky, Maryland, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin, at least. Descriptions of the monsters vary from legend to legend—in some, it’s a man’s body with a goat’s head, while others have it the other way around or some entirely different arrangement—and the legends each stick to a local origin story. But they all have one thing in common: goats.

Why on earth would anyone be afraid of a goat?

Sure, they can be a little weird looking—just look at those eyes. There’s certainly something inhuman about that. I could see that being a little spooky on a humanoid creature. And I wouldn’t exactly enjoy getting in a fight with one, but I’d take my chances against a goat any day rather than, say, a bull.

Of course, American tendencies to cast goats as monstrosities may have nothing to do with the animal. More likely, it’s an artifact of the Christian associations between goats and Satan. It’s no surprise that goat monsters are popular folklore in a country founded on puritanical roots and steeped in Christian symbolism.

Even our music scene draws from this imagery—how many “satanic” heavy metal hands have you seen toss out a few goats’ heads or pentagrams to look edgy? And let’s not forget the iconic rock hand sign, made by holding up the index finger and pinky. The devil’s horns—or a goat’s.

But weird goat creatures go back a lot further American pop culture, or even Western Christian tradition. Where did the association between goats and the devil even come from?

Like the Christmas tree, the answer lies in paganism—the Romans, in this case.

Ever heard of Bacchanalia?

It was one of ancient Rome’s biggest parties, full of sex, booze, and, uh, goats? Bacchus, who was basically the patron saint of partying, had a huge cult following back in the day. I mean that “cult” part literally—things got a little crazy. Like, “hey guys, let’s sacrifice some goats” crazy.

So when Christianity was struggling to get a foothold with Roman pagans, its practitioners looked for familiar iconography. Baccus’s connection to wild excess and goats fit with the sins that they associated with Satan. And it’s stuck.

Another part of Greco-Roman mythology that’s still familiar to many Westerners? Satyrs.

These half-human, half-goat creatures—from Bacchus’s posse, by the way—were known for their mischief and lusty ways. They were often tricksters, but they weren’t particularly threatening. The only thing they really seemed to care about was having a good time.

And this is where they diverge from our modern American mythology.

Kentucky’s Goatman, also known as the Pope Lick monster, is said to lure his victims to their death on an isolated trestle. Stranded on the tall bridge, when a train comes their only choice is to jump off or get hit by the train. Some stories even say that he lurks under the tracks and grabs your feet when a train is coming, trapping you there.

Pretty creepy, but what’s worse is that the story has led to a number of deaths—those railroad tracks are still active, and a number of people who have gone looking for the legendary beast have been injured or killed by passing trains.

Its origins are a little murky. There’s the ever-popular “Well, Billy, when a man and a goat love each other very much….” story, but that’s tame compared to the other versions. One tells of a farmer who performed satanic rituals with goats and transformed into a monstrosity. Another claims that a performer from a circus show escaped during a train derailment and haunts the area to get revenge for the abuse he suffered.

Speaking of interesting origin stories, let’s go to Maryland. The Goatman of Prince Georges County may be another offspring of a torrid man/goat affair or the result of a mad science experiment. The story goes that a scientist down at the local USDA facility was experimenting on the goats, and then—in a horrible accident—he somehow fused with one.

Come on, that’s a good story. That’s superhero origin material, right there. I mean, it’s at least as good as a radioactive spider bite.

Whatever his origins, this Goatman is as violent as his Kentucky cousin. He’s said to strike in dark, remote places—so his typical victims are teenagers who snuck out for a smooch. But, without a nearby railroad track, the Maryland legend hasn’t racked up the same casualty count.

So, there you have it. The satyr goes American… and bloodthirsty.

Oh? What about the other Goatman, you ask? Well…

He was really just an old guy who liked goats. Ches McCartney, notorious in the mid-century South for his goat-led caravan, certainly has some fascinating stories—but there’s nothing supernatural or monstrous about him.

Sometimes, with all those demons around, it’s nice to see a fan of regular old goats.

2 Comments

  • Jeremiah Reply

    Great piece as always. I was hoping for mention of Bacchus and his revelries at the beginning and you didn’t disappoint.

    • Bex Reply

      Of course! I couldn’t do a post on half-goat men without giving my main man Bacchus a shout-out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *