One very pervasive feature upon the landscape of the strange is that of the spectral, phantom hound. No doubt the most famous of these is the black dogs of the British Isles; demonic entities often associated with the Devil that room the countryside in the form of fierce hounds the black of night, which were often seen as a portent of death and destruction. Yet there is a lesser known variety of these formidable entities in the form of similarly large, ghostly dogs that appear as a decidedly lighter shade; the white spirit hounds. Far from being the opposite to the malevolent nature of the black dogs, these paler versions have proven themselves to be just as sinister, and have haunted both folklore and the real world for ages.
One type of ghostly white dog that goes quite far back into history and lore is the Galley Trot, which has its origins in northern England and Suffolk. These white hounds were said to be truly enormous, sometimes the size of full-grown bulls, with a coat of snowy white fur and often described as having glowing eyes as well as often red ears, all creepy features which added to their namesake, with “Galley” meaning “to frighten.” The Galley Trot has a good amount of dark legend associated with it. These imposing white hounds were said to lurk in ancient, abandoned ruins guarding lost treasures, as well as in old cemeteries or buildings, and would defend their territory fiercely by ruthlessly attacking and even eating anyone who approached. They were considered to be harbingers of death, often said to appear and skulk about in places where someone was about to die, where disaster was about to occur, or locations that were imbued with the shadow of death, such as old battlefields or hospitals, to the point that in some areas they were known as “Dogs of Death.” It was often said that they lived underground in hollowed out hills or caves called “fairy mounds,” and are attributed with having various powers such as invisibility, teleportation, and the ability to cloud the mind with fear. One pack of these white hounds reported from Wellington, in Somerset, is even said to be able to shoot flames from their mouths.
Despite the seemingly fanciful lore, these white phantom dogs have long been reported all over the UK by frightened people. There is one of these spectral white hounds said to prowl the road linking the villages of Great and Little Snoring, in Norfolk, as well as one whose stomping grounds is Cator Common, in Dartmoor, which has the rather unsettling habit of approaching people only to vanish into thin air when they extend a hand to touch it. Another Galley Trot which stalks Leek Brook, in Staffordshire, is said to have no head, and yet another regularly makes appearances at the church at Pluckley, Kent, where it is said to abruptly materialize within the building without warning, much to the fright of anyone on the premises. The swampy, bleak area called the bog of Bathslough is also notorious for its roving pack of white hounds, as well as the area around Cawthorpe and Haugham in Lincolnshire, whose gigantic white dog is said to be as big as a calf. Numerous other purported white hound reports come from all over England, with claims of cars passing right through them or of these dogs chasing people only to suddenly blink out of existence.
One sighting from 1917 which was recounted by a Mrs Foden of Long Mynd describes how a laborer’s assistant came across a huge hound with a white coat and red ears lying in pain in the bushes one night, apparently injured. The assistant was frightened but went about trying to help the poor creature by bandaging its feet. He then continued on his way and did not think much more on the matter until another night some time later, when he was on his way home from work and was reportedly attacked by a huge “goat-like” creature with glowing green eyes. Just when the assistant thought that the terrifying demon was going to finish him off, a white hound is said to have pounced out of the darkness to chase it off, perhaps the same one whose injured feet he had been so graciously bandaged.
In the 1950s there was a report of a white dog in one of London’s Royal Parks, Richmond Park, in the London Borough of Richmond. The story goes that a soldier stationed at a military base there noticed that the deer that frequented the park, of which there were so many as to earn it the nickname “Deer Park,” were acting in a peculiarly panicked and jittery way. The soldier reported that at one point the deer were running past him in a terror and he then noticed that they were being chased by an enormous dog with shaggy white hair, glowing eyes, and outsized fangs. Amazingly and rather eerily, this particular white hound was reported as not running in the traditional sense, but rather hovering about 1 foot over the ground and being propelled by some unknown force.
Although such phantom white hounds have long been reported all over the UK, this is not the only place where they have reportedly been seen. Paranormal researcher Elliott O’Donnell wrote in his book Animal Ghosts (1913), of a curious encounter in Russia’s remote Ural Mountains. In this account, a man known only as Rappaport was riding in a horse drawn coach when he found himself being set upon by a pack of wild, ravenous wolves. Rappaport shot at the advancing beasts but there were too many of them for him to have a chance of warding them off with gunfire alone. It seemed as if they were doomed, and that he, his driver, and his horses would be ripped apart by the vicious wolves, all hope lost. Just as things seemed as if they could get no more dire, another pack arrived, this time one comprised of magnificent giant white dogs, which the wolves appeared to be innately afraid of and which sent them running with their tails between their legs. The white hounds then gathered at the shore of the nearby lake, barked and bayed, and then vanished. Rappaport claimed that during the bizarre encounter a few of the white hounds had brushed up against his leg and that he had felt an intense, almost unbearable frigid cold emanating from them. He was convinced that they had saved him, and would later say “We knew then that they were no earthly hounds, but spirit ones, sent by a merciful Providence to save us from a cruel death.” This is a rather rare report of benevolent white phantom dogs.
Spectral white hounds have made appearances in the United States as well, and in the 1800s there were several such terrifying accounts from South Carolina, at a place called Buncombe Road, between the Ebenezer Church in Newberry County and Goshen Hill in Union County, concerning beast which would come to be called the “Ghost Hound of Goshen.” This particular white hound is said to appear as a giant dog similar in size to a St. Bernard, with a shaggy white coat, yet it is no normal dog. It has been witnessed to harass people in the vicinity for over 100 years, chasing down and attacking those who venture too close, and its origins are often disputed.
The most popular tale is that in the 1850s a traveling salesman was passing through the area with his beloved pet, a massive white dog, which he kept as a friend and a guardian. As they were roaming about peddling their wares a murder was said to have happened in the area, and unfortunately the salesman, being an outsider, became one of the key suspects and was apprehended by a lynch mob, who found him guilty and sentenced him to be hanged. The man’s faithful dog, which stayed there to protect him, was driven off by a gunshot, which apparently injured it. When the deed was done the corpse was left where it was dangling from a tree, and the white dog faithfully appeared to stand by the scene, dutifully guarding its master. It would purportedly stay there for weeks as the body rocked in the wind, rotting and withering away on its rope, until one day both the corpse and the dog suddenly disappeared.
From this point on, the ghostly Hound of Goshen began to make an appearance. In 1855, an ill man by the name of William Hardy sent one of his slaves to fetch a doctor named Dr. George Douglass to bring back to have a look at him. When the slave boy arrived, he seemed to be in quite a state of panic and shock, and claimed that as he had been riding a mule there he had heard a terrible howl and looked behind him to see an enormous white hound stalking him. He had then urged his mule to go faster and the intimidating white dog had trailed them all the way to the doctor’s house, staring intently at them the entire way. The slave boy was so upset about the incident that he pleaded the doctor to let him stay at his house for the night.
At around this time, other slaves, travelers, and passersby claimed often claimed that they had been harassed by a very large white dog prowling the area, which sometimes approached threateningly only to vanish. Those who approached the tree where the salesman had been hanged also reported a putrid stench emanating from it, even though the corpse was long gone. Some even claimed to see the ghostly body of the dead man hanging from the tree with the hound menacingly sitting below it, its eyes glowing a fierce red. One doctor named Jim Cofield claimed to have had numerous brushes with the phantom white hound as he passed through the area, which he said his own dog was direly afraid of and would go nowhere near.
People who had been responsible for catching the dead salesman and hanging him perhaps had the most intense encounters with the spectral hound. Several of them were viciously attacked by the creature, with one man even being purportedly crippled by it and another having his hand hopelessly mauled. During every one of these violent encounters the white dog was reported as being impervious to injury and gunfire, simply shrugging off any physical efforts to ward it off. Occasionally it was reported as simply melting away into a mist. The man who had actually shot the salesman’s dog perhaps suffered the most, when his 4-year-old child disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again.
By the 1920s, most of the original lynch mob had passed away, but it appeared the spectral white hound was not yet finished. In 1936, a man named Barry Sanders came across the beastly dog as he was heading home. The ghostly canine supposedly chased him all the way home before heading back into the thick woods. In the 1970s, an elderly woman claimed to have seen the phantom dog in her yard, where it apparently magically increased its size right before her eyes and then lunged at her. The woman fainted in fright and claimed that the beast had been gone when she woke up. There are apparently sporadic sightings of the Ghost Dog of Goshen to this day.
In 2008, in the U.S. state of Louisiana there was also a rather intriguing encounter with what appears to be a ghostly white dog. The witness, a housewife with three daughters aged 7, 5, and 4, claimed that one night her children were all sleeping soundly in their room and the house was quiet. Suddenly it was reported that all of the young girls began screaming in unison and came dashing down the hall frantically trying to escape something. When asked what had scared them so much, they claimed that they had been chased by a large white dog that had appeared in their room. The woman and her husband ran to the room to investigate but could find nothing out of the ordinary, yet the children all adamantly insisted that they had seen a huge white dog with glowing red eyes that had been peering out at them from the shadows.
Another account from the United States comes from the state of Wisconsin in 2016. In this case, a man calling himself simply Jess claimed that he had been seeing a strange white dog in a wooded wetland area behind his apartment complex. Thinking it at first to be a stray, he had tried to approach it to help it, but every time it dashed off into the brush and disappeared. On several occasions he claims he followed it off into the woods and could see fleeting flashes of white before it would just simply be gone without a trace, often right in plain sight. There was never any owner around and the dog clearly did not have any collar, but what made it stand out was that it had a perfectly clean, sheer white coat that did not seem to be mussed or dirtied in any way, despite the fact that it had been running around in the brush and wilderness for some time. On one occasion Jess was following right behind it, when it just disappeared into thin air at the edge of a flooded swamp. He looked around and saw no sign of it anywhere, and there was no disturbance in the water to indicate that it had gone for a swim. It was just gone. He would say later of the strange dog:
Every time the dog appears, it's near me. It doesn't matter where I am. It has no collar or person near it, yet it's fur is brushed and pure white. Had it been missing or a stray, you'd expect its fur to be even slightly dirtier. You'd expect it to be thinner. And every time it appears, it runs from me, and it almost feels like it's trying to lead me somewhere? I don't want to jump to conclusions, but I swear it feels like that's what it's doing. What happened that day, when the dog disappeared, scared me half to death.
It seems that the notorious black dogs are not all there is to look out for when strolling along alone at night in remote areas. For just as ominous is their paler brethren, terrorizing the landscape of both legend and apparently reality as we know it. What lies at the root of these cases? Could it all be superstition, folklore, and myth, or is there something more to it all? What sorts of things creep out there in the darkness that we are unaware of and have no answers to? The white phantom hounds seem to have gained a foothold in the world of the weird, and until we find answers, they shall remain out there on the fringes of our wildernesses and our understanding.