Cryptids

The Sheffey Hollow Hidebehind

Mosheim

Hunters will barely step foot in the woods between Sheffey Hollow Road and Midway Road, because they say there is something or someone that is invisible, that follows them throughout the night.

 

Independent stories from different hunters follow a common theme. When they are in the woods at night, their dogs become frightened, just as a hunter becomes aware of footsteps behind him. Inexplicably, the hunter swings his spotlight around, but finds no one else with him. He will continue on for a few feet, and the phantom footsteps will follow until he stops, and searches the woods again. This cat and mouse game will continue until the hunter leaves the woods.

 

Folklore maintains that the footsteps belong to an unnamed African-American man, who was hanged in the hollow around the turn of the 20th century.

 

What could this phenomea be?

 

The hide-behind is a cryptid that stalks people in wooded areas, and have been blamed for disappearances in forests. The hallmarks of an encounter with one of these creatures is said to be the unsettling feeling of being watched, and sudden panic, because the creature is always hiding behind trees.

 

The creature was documented as a legendary creature in American tall-tales as early as Charles Edward Brown’s pamphlet, Paul Bunyan Natural History, which was published in 1935 in Madison, Wisconsin. He described the creature as:

 

A very dangers animal which uncountable accounted for many missing lumberjacks. It was always hiding behind something, generally a tree trunk. Whichever way a man turned it was always behind him. From this position, it sprang upon human prey, dragged or carried the body to its lair and there, feasted on it in solid comfort. Because of its elusive habits, no satisfactory description of it has ever been obtained.

 

Some have made tenuous connections to people who went missing in forests, as mentioned in his article, and the Missing 411 book series by David Paulides.

 

This short description was expanded upon, and the creature completely illustrated, in Henry Harrington Tryon’s 1939 Wisconsin lore book Fearsome Critters, where he wrote:

 

    A highly dangerous animal, but, owing to its intense aversion to the odor of alcohol, never known to attack [an inebriated person]. One … beer has been proven to be a complete safeguard even in thickly-infested country.

    A biggish beast, standing about six feet and walking erect. The slender body makes it possible to hide completely behind … a ten inch tree. The pelt is long, thick, and black, and the tail is carrier [bent backward]. Looks like a French sheepdog’s. Almost impossible to tell whether the critter is going or coming, and practically hopeless to locate its face – if any. The short, well-muscled forelegs are equipped with grizzly-like claws.

    Its food is chiefly intestines. Leaping from its hiding place with a demonical laugh, it swiftly disembowels its victim with one swipe. Sometimes the fiendish howl frightens the prey to death before the blow falls.

    The [hide-behind] is never found in the open. He always conceals himself behind a tree trunk. His marvelously quick, stealthy gait makes it possible for him to stay constantly behind his prey, no matter how quick the suspicious victim may spin and in the hope of glimpsing the marauder. The best can go seven years without eating.

 

The first time the creature was mentioned in a newspaper, it wasn’t because of any encounter. A fictional story from the Pennsylvanian newspaper, the Altoon Mirror, on December 4, 1948, described it as friendly, saying:

 

A hide-behind … is always hiding behind a tree. You never see him, because whichever side of the tree [that you’re] on, the hide-behind is always on the other side … A hide-behind is always a friendly fellow, even though he’s hiding behind and never talking. He never hurts anyone, and that’s the thing to remember.

 

The tale was a fable, and part of a series of very short stories, written by local Wesley Davis, which ran between 22, 1948, to August 29, 1949, by Wesley Davis. The limited series was announced on the front page of the November 19, 1948 newspaper, and described it as:

 

Daddy Ringtail … is especially designed to please the kiddies. Daddy Ringtail, a monkey, with his daily experiences with his friends of the forest, usually present a moral for the children to follow.

 

Today, the most-often cited source for this creature is form Robert R. Lyman Sr.’s 1971 book Forbidden Land, where he attempts to legitimize the cryptid by linking it with Native American lore in Pennsylvanian, writing:

 

The [Native Americans] told about the hide-behind, the most dreaded of strange forest animals. No one ever saw one of the creatures because they always hid behind trees. But, everyone knew that they often follow travelers through the woods. If a person was afraid of them and kept looking back, the hide-behind would torment [them] into panic. It took a brave [person] to be the last in line with a group walking through the woods. Old woodsmen said [that] the only way to overcome the fear of the hide-behinds was to ignore them.

 

The Native Americans with the most connection to the Black Forest region of Pennsylvania, where the creature was said to lurk, are the Lenape. Their lore doesn’t contain anything resembling this creature.

 

The Native Americans with the most connection to the Black Forest region of Pennsylvania, where the creature was said to lurk, are the Lenape. Their lore doesn’t contain anything resembling this creature.

Cryptozoology has reinvigorated interest in the creature. Feelings of being watched in forests, without anyone around, and sudden panic is cited as evidence, in some cases.

 

The feelings of being watched might actually lend a lot of credibility to these encounters. Currently, many neuroscientists have noted that even in cases where a person is cortically blind, the amygdala, the area of the brain involved in experiencing emotions, increases in activity. It’s well documented that many people can even tell when they’re being stared at, from behind. Some evolutionary biologists have suggested that this talent might be a survival instinct that the majority of people still possess.

 

The next symptom of being stalked by a hide-behind could be more dangerous than the creature. If you’ve never had a panic attack, consider yourself lucky. For seemingly no reason, the adrenal glands start pumping adrenaline into your system, instantly throwing the sufferer into flight-fight-freeze mode. This was a welcome survival tactic when men lived alongside apex predators. Panic could get a person out of a life and death situation. But, in the forest, with uneven terrain and possible dangerous features, a person could easily run off of a cliff.

 

The dangers of unexplainable panic in seemingly peaceful woodland have a history stretching all the way back to ancient Greece, where the deity Pan was blamed for these sudden feelings in people who wandered into forested areas.

 

Could there be a rational explanation to sudden terror while hiking? It’s well known that hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, can cause these feelings. These experiences are always encountered in altitudes above 8,000 feet. The highest peak in Pennsylvania, where tales of these creatures are most prevalent, however, is Mount Davis, only 3,213 feet.

 

Whether you believe in the tales of the hide-behind or not, perhaps it still serves as a fable, as Wesley Davis goodheartedly misinterpreted. Hiking, even in groups and in well-traveled areas, can be very dangerous. No matter how long you might think you’ll be in a wooded area, it’s best to take all necessary precautions and educate yourself on every possible danger. And, if you find yourself feeling like someone or something is watching you, trust your instincts.

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