Squonk: Pennsylvania's most morbid creature drifting through the dark forest, afraid to look at its own reflection. TAP TO GET PODCAST
Nestled deep within the dense forests of Pennsylvania lies a sorrowful and enigmatic tale echoing through time. This elusive creature, burdened by its purportedly hideous appearance, weeps ceaselessly, with its mournful cries echoing amidst the ancient woodlands. Many have dared to catch such a wild beast, but only a few have successfully captured this morbid, wailing creature.
The Sobs Heard in the Pennsylvania Distance
All was calm, with the moon and stars illuminating the night sky. But it was terribly frosty atop Mont Alto, perhaps the coldest Winter’s night yet. The temperature was in the single digits. The windchill had been roughly -20 degrees, and the snowfall had reached nearly a couple of feet deep. But J.P. Wentling, a Pennsylvania native, was prepared. Growing up in these woods, J.P. was used to the frigid Winter temperatures. From the generations of men before him who specialized in logging and hunting, he knew how to suit up for a long Winter’s night properly. Complete with heavy fur coats, thick leather gloves, and fleece-lined boots, J.P. was only getting started.
Since his father and grandfather had been loggers during their lifetime, harsh winters with freezing temperatures weren’t the only things J.P. had been prepared for. Growing up, he had heard countless stories of black bears, large elk, and mischievous coyotes casually rummaging through campsites. But that’s not what he was here for. That’s not what he was on the hunt for. No, what he wanted was something that many Pennsylvania natives have often heard whispered through these woods, but only a few have ever seen.
From backpackers trekking through the woods with friends to hunters scouring for meat to last the whole Winter, many have often claimed to hear the faint sound of someone crying out in the woods. But no matter how often one would go out and look to see where the noise was coming from, they’d always come up short. Of course, the rumors were there. Some claim the crying out is from the ghost of a wailing woman who had tragically lost her husband in battle centuries before. Others claim it’s simply a wild cat trying to lure in their prey. But J.P. knew better. This wasn’t a ghost or a bobcat. The sorrowful moaning could only mean one thing: the Squonk was afoot.
What is a Squonk?
The Squonk is scientifically known as the “Lacrimacorpus Dissolvent,” which translates to “body dissolves into tears” or “the dissolving tear.” The Squonk is often described as having “loose, ill-fitting skin that’s been covered in warts and moles,” slightly resembling a pig, however, complete with “webbed feet on its left side.” Apparently, it’s so ashamed of its dreadful appearance that it lives in constant despair, spending most of its time weeping and hiding from anyone who dares to look closer. And because of its constant dread, it also is said to leave a “tear-stained trail behind” wherever it wanders.
While this depressing cryptid may sound more fictional and less believable than some of its other cryptid counterparts, that doesn’t make it any less significant in pop culture.
For instance, while we’re unsure of its pre-dated whereabouts, the Squonk was “officially” introduced in 1910, making its first debut in William T. Cox’s book, “Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods, With a Few Desert and Mountain Beasts.”
If you think you’ve heard this book mentioned before, you probably recognize its name from Episode 23, where we covered the Gumberoo. If you’re unfamiliar with the Gumberoo, it’s basically a bear-sized, impenetrable, walking football that self-destructs when threatened, seemingly the culprit for wild forest fires in the PNW. And now that I say that out loud, I’m convinced that the Squonk and the Gumberoo are probably distant cousins somewhere down the line.
Squonk Accounts Throughout History
According to an excerpt from William’s book, “The range of the Squonk is limited. Few people outside of Pennsylvania have ever heard of the quaint beast, which is said to be pretty common in the hemlock forests of that State. The Squonk is of a very retiring disposition, generally traveling about at twilight and dusk. Because of its misfitting skin, which is covered with warts and moles, it is always unhappy; in fact, it is said by people who are best able to judge it to be the most morbid of beasts.
Hunters who are good at tracking can follow a Squonk by its tear-stained trail, for the animal weeps constantly. When cornered and escape seems impossible or surprised and frightened, it may dissolve itself in tears. Squonk hunters are most successful on frosty moonlight nights when tears are shed slowly, and the animal dislikes moving about; it may then be heard weeping under the boughs of dark hemlock trees.”
Another History Squonk Account
A few years later, in 1937, the Squonk was re-introduced in the tale of Paul Bunyan and His Great Blue Ox. Throughout the book, the author shares different stories of Paul Bunyan, with one in particular titled “Paul’s Bad Luck.” This story shares how Paul and a group of loggers were fishing by the Big Onion River to pass the time. One of their favorite games was a fishing contest where the men would carry “big gunny sacks to a favorite spot and stand there, holding the oaths of the sacks wide open. Then they would imitate the fish’s cries and calls as they swam around the fog, and the man who enticed the most fish into his bag won the contest.”
It’s said that “one of the men heard a queer wailing sound some distance away and thinking that it was some new kind of fish, he bangs mocking its cries. It came nearer and nearer, and finally, he enticed it into his big bag. However, he could tell immediately from the feel of it through the bag that the creature was not a fish, and from the roughness of its loos and bumpy skin, he was able very shortly to learn what he had captured. Hooray, he yelled to his companions, I’ve caught a Squonk! And despite the poor animal’s desperate wailings, he bundled it under his arm and hurried with it to the bunkhouse. He was greatly excited over this unusual catch. Which was indeed a prize, and he liked forward to enjoy the importance which the display of it to his fellows would give him.”
Paul Bunyan Tale of the Squonk
According to the author, the “Squonk is one of the rarest animals in the woods, is a very shy creature, and retiring disposition is due to the shame it feels because of its unlovely appearance. It has dull red eyes, a long comical nose, and an ill-fitting warty skin. as well as several other blemishing defects, on account of all of which it intensely dislikes being seen. Because it yearns to be beautiful and yet is condemned to be so fearfully ugly, it is always unhappy and weeps and wails constantly, leaving a trail of tears wherever it goes.
So rarely did it ever get near men that the logger who had caught the Squonk was greatly elated and called all his friends to the bunkhouse to see the queer creature when he put it on view. When he opened the bag, however, there was nothing there except some salt water and bubbles. The poor creature made more unhappy than ever by being caught and so fearful of being seen in all its homeliness, had simply dissolved in tears.”
Historical Account of Squonk Nature
And again, in 1939, the Squonk made yet another appearance. Henry Tryon, another author whom you may remember from our Gumberoo episode, also wrote about the Squonk in his book, “Fearsome Critters.” In his book, Henry describes the Squonk as living a quiet life, never venturing too far out in fear of catching its reflection.
Here’s an excerpt from Fearsome Critters describing the Squonk and its strange habits: “[The Squonk is] Probably the homeliest animal in the world, and knows it. The distribution was once fairly wide, the usual habitat being high plains where desert vegetation was abundant. History shows beyond dispute that these areas gradually changed to the swampy, lake-dotted country the Squonk was forced to take to the water. Of distinctly low mentality, it traveled constantly around the unaccustomed marches in search of fodder. With time, it developed webbing between its toes, but only on the submerged left feet. Hence, on entering the water, it could swim only in circles and never get back to shore. Fossil bones dredged from these lake bottoms reveal that thousands perished of starvation in this manner.
Today, the Squonk is met solely in the hemlock forests of Pennsylvania. It is a most retiring, bashful, crepuscular animal, garbed in a loose, warty, singularly ill-fitting skin. The Squonk is always unhappy, even morbid. He is given to constant weeping over his really upsetting appearance and can sometimes be tracked by his tear-stained trail. Moonlight nights are best for Squonk hunts, for then the animal prefers to lie quiet in its hemlock home, fearing, should it venture forth, that it may catch a glimpse of itself in some moonlit pool. Sometimes, you can hear one weeping softly to himself. The sound is a low note of pleading somewhat resembling the call of the Cross-feathered Snee.”
The Symbolism and Pop Culture Behind the Squonk
Okay, so you’re probably thinking, “Elaine, all of these stories are fiction. They’re all in good fun but not probable”. While I’d have to agree with you, the irony of the Squonk’s strange appearances and behaviors is that emotions like loneliness, despair, depression, and sorrow are all things we have felt at some point in our lives. Initially, you may see a strange, warty-looking cryptid whose favorite sport involves crying over its odd-looking features. But I think the Squonk is simply sadness personified. At least, that’s what popular rock artists sang about in the 1970s. Take a line in Steely Dan’s song, “Any Major Dude Will Tell You,” that says, “Have you ever seen a squonk’s tears? Well, look at mine”.
Oh, and don’t forget when Phil Collins joined the progressive rock back, Genesis and wrote the song titled “Squonk.” Honestly, if you look up the lyrics, it’s really depressing. Basically, the song follows the life of a squonk and how it could never make it in this cruel world because of its ugly features, and all it will ever amount to is just a pool of bubbles and tears. So, if you like sad emo music, this is right up your alley.
Also, this is just a complete sidetone: does anyone else see the resemblance between the Squonk and Eeyore from Winnie the Pooh? I mean, Eeyore is more like an elephant and isn’t as strange-looking, but the personalities are pretty much the same. I’m so sorry that I had to throw that in there and practically ruin Winnie the Pooh for you because now, every time you see Eeyore, the Squonk is all you will think about. Please forgive me, but it had to be said.
Now that we’ve covered the Squonk, what it looks like, where it’s from, and its strange behavior, where does this leave us now? And what happened to J.P. Wentling on his hunt for the Squonk? Was he able to catch this elusive wailing cryptid? Well…
A Final Squonk Story
In all his years trailing the Squonk, J.P. had never been successful. Although he had been close many times, the Squonk was always just barely out of reach. But not tonight. This night was different. With the frigid temperatures continuing to dip at the top of each hour and the moon shining brightly, J.P. swore his efforts wouldn’t be in vain this time. This time, he’d try a new approach. Rather than setting up bear traps or trying to time it just right, this time, J.P. would lure in the Squonk by speaking its language: loneliness and despair.
After cleverly mimicking its cries, the plan seemed to be working. Only a few moments had passed before the Squonk’s sobs had been unbearably loud. But not wanting to give way to yet another failed attempt, J.P. kept mimicking its cries, louder and louder as the Squonk’s cries came closer and closer. Once the Squonk had walked right in front of J.P., it saw its reflection in the nearby lake that had since frozen over and tried running away. But like the traps J.P. had set before, he had rigged a makeshift basket of tree branches underneath the snow that, once the Squonk had stepped foot, would enclose it for good.
Feeling victorious at his catch, it was finally time to go home. Picking up the large sack and throwing it across his back, J.P. began his long trek back. At first, the bag was extremely heavy and hard to carry. With the Squonk’s icy tears filling up the bag, and its wailing cries almost made it unbearable to keep going. But, determined to share with his family the creature he and his father and his father’s father had tried hunting down for years, he kept going, satisfied that he finally found the elusive Squonk.
But after a few miles out, he began to notice his sack wasn’t as heavy as before, and the excessive wailing had gone down to a hushed cry. Maybe it was the adrenaline that kept him going or the excitement of this catch that made the bag feel lightweight. And the Squonk was technically still crying after all. Maybe it had just cried itself to sleep, he thought. Still, he kept going.
After a few more miles in, J.P. caught a glimpse of the glow of a nearby lamppost reflecting off the snow. He almost forgot that he was carrying anything at all; that’s when he realized that the sack he had been carrying weighed next to nothing. And the soft cry? Non-existent. Curious, he gently unslung the wooden box off his back and placed it on the ground. Upon opening the basket, to his bewilderment, all that was left were tears and bubbles. It surely had cried itself to sleep – and seemingly out of existence.
Later, when the story spread to a local newspaper, the Snyder County Tribune, in 1936, J.P. is said to have shed tears when opening up the makeshift basket. In his words, “I mighta known better than to shut up a squonk in a basket made from branches of the weeping willow tree.”
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