Sunday, June 4, 2017

Weirdness in Waterford

Waterford Covered Bridge, Waterford
As many times as I’ve visited Waterford, a community in Erie County, I never realized that there was a covered bridge located just southeast of town. During a recent vacation, which was spent exploring the covered bridges of western Pennsylvania and northeastern Ohio, I returned to Waterford to visit the bridge and photograph it.

Waterford Covered Bridge, also known as the Wattsburg Road Bridge, is located on Niemeyer Road, a dirt road that becomes South East Street in town. I parked at a small turnaround next to the bridge and grabbed the camera, hoping to grab a couple of pictures in the peaceful surroundings, but nothing was about to prepare me for the events over the next few minutes.

As I stepped out of the vehicle I could hear something crashing through the undergrowth and my first thought was I had spooked a bear when I pulled into the parking area. I stared in the direction of the sound curious to know what I was hearing and quickly realized that whatever I was hearing was getting closer to me, not running away. I kept the vehicle between me and the approaching noise, ready to step back into the vehicle if it was a bear.


Waterford Covered Bridge
Damage cause by a box truck that tried to go through
Suddenly two beings stumbled out into the clearing and stopped in their tracks. They were far from being cryptids, but the two boys, who were both in their late teens, possibility early twenties, stood there covered head to toe in mud and slime. They were as obviously as surprised by my presence and I was by theirs.

A note before I go on: While I did not get their names in order to make the conversation easier, I’m naming them Daryl and Chad.

I was not going to ask what they were doing wandering around the swampy area, when Daryl, the taller of the two, spoke. “Dude, are you here searching for the Goatman?” I just stared unsure of how to respond.

“Man, of course he’s here for the Goatman,” Chad laughed as he slapped Daryl on the arm. “Why else would he be here with equipment? Probably going to do some fancy test or two to find it.”

I wasn’t about to explain that I just wanted pictures of the bridge, but the two definitely had my attention. Part of me wanted to get back in the vehicle and leave, but part of me was curious about what they were talking about. When I looked up the Waterford Covered Bridge for this journey I definitely did not recall reading anything about a Goatman.

“Goatman?” I asked before I even realized I had spoken. The two of them stared at me as if I was speaking a foreign language..


Inside the Waterford Covered Bridge
“Dude, you don’t know about the Goatman?” Daryl asked causing them to start laughing at my ignorance of the subject. Chad added a goat noise which caused them laugh even harder.

 “He lives under the bridge,” Daryl continued once they stopped laughing. “If you come here at night, you’ll more than likely see him.”

“Eric said that he saw it once,” Chad added “He said it was tall and hairy. It had a goat’s head with horns and hooves.”

“Dude, Eric was drunk, so you can’t believe anything he says,” Daryl protested. Besides he saw a chupacabra, not the Goatman.” Part of me wanted to state it sounded like a sasquatch, not a chupacabra, but I remained silent as Daryl continued talking. “Besides the Goatman is half-human and half-goat, everybody knows that.”

“So what kind of tests are you going to run?” Chad demanded as he stared at me.

“I’m just here to take a couple pictures of the bridge,” I stated.

“But if you see it you are going to take pictures of it? Ain’t you?” Chad demanded of me.

“Sure,” I muttered. “If I see it I’ll take a picture of it.”

“Cool man,: Chad responded.

They seemed happy with the answer and went to the far side of the parking area and sat there. I could hear them whispering back and forth before bursting out in fits of laughter. I turned my attention to the bridge while trying to keep an eye on the two of them as I took pictures.

Le Boeuf Creek from inside the bridge
The Waterford Covered Bridge is of a Town Lattice Truss design, whose length of seventy-eight feet spans a swampy portion of Le Boeuf Creek. The bridge, known locally as The Old Kissing Bridge, was built in 1875 and used until 2014 when it was closed due to structural integrity. While the road seems solid, the bridge shows damage from an incident involving a box truck that was a little too big to get through the bridge. The covered bridge was blocked off at both ends and since then it has become the victim of locals who have scrawled graffiti all over it. There is blue piping that crisscrosses the southern side of the bridge that has been there for a while, but I could not find any place that states what the purpose is for the piping.

I have to admit that I had first thought that the two of them were trying to play a joke on me when they were telling me about the Goatman. I was surprised to discover that the strange creature is part of a local legend that started in the late 1960s/early 1970s when people began reporting sightings of a large, hairy creature covered in gray (sometimes reported as black) hair with glowing red eyes. The creature had a goat-like head complete with horns, long arms with clawed hands, and hooves like a goat. A side note: whether their friend Eric saw or imagined a creature, the description of the creature he told Daryl and Chad about seeing was really close to the description of the creature seen in the 1970s.

By the mid-1970s everybody was seeing the strange creature roaming the forests and fields around Waterford. While some refer to the creature as the Goatman, the “official” name of the cryptid is the Sheepman. Despite the name, the Sheepman was not a friendly beast, because farmers during the height of the sightings reported their livestock being savagely torn apart and eaten.

The Sheepman supposedly lived in a cave northwest of town, but was often spotted lurking around the covered bridge on the southeast side of town. After a massive wave of sightings by residents in the mid-1970s, the creature seems to have vanished from the local landscape though every now and then it seems to make an appearance before disappearing again..

The swampy area of Le Boeuf Creek where the covered bridge is
The question I must ask is what was Waterford’s mysterious creature? My personal opinion – let me repeat my personal opinion – is the vast majority of the stories of the Sheepman are merely urban legend. Looking into the stories, most of them are so vague or they’re “friend of a friend” stories.
There are two stories that seem to be repeated over and over that makes me lean towards the stories being nothing more than an urban legend. The first story is that parents would tell their kids to behave or the creature would get you. Nothing like terrorizing your kids with a monstrous boogeyman to keep them well behaved.

A second story is it supposedly terrorized young lovers who dared to park on the bridge. A warning to behave while out with your date because the creature was out there waiting for you to misbehave. This version of a Lover’s Lane terror ranks with other urban legends such as “The Hook” and “The Boyfriend’s Death.”

What about the witnesses who maintain they saw the Sheepman? One explanation is that it was misidentified. A number of stories claim they saw it running across a field or road at night which could cause it to be misidentified. It could have easily been a bear. Or, it easily could have been a person playing a prank, though it would be a dangerous prank if someone would have decided to take a shot at the creature.

And then there are those stories that just can't be explained.....

“Did you get any pictures of the Goatman?” I jumped at the sound of Chad’s voice. I hadn’t realized the duo had walked up to me.

“I don’t believe so,” I replied.

“Did you check?” Chad asked. I glanced through the pictures I had taken, confirming the fact I had no picture of the Goatman.

“Not a picture of it.”

“Dude that sucks,” Daryl responded in a disappointed voice as they sat down on the concrete barriers. They were still sitting there when I drove off.

I do ask if you visit the covered bridge, please do so respectfully.


Graffiti on the bridge
Notes on other Goatmen/Sheepmen: Looking into the handful of other sightings of Goatmen legends around the United States, I find it interesting that the majority of these legends start with “in the early 1970s….” The most famous of these monsters comes out of Prince George County, Maryland, with sightings in the early 1970s. Only one of these legends seems to be pre-1970s and that is the story of the Louisville, Kentucky Goatman which first appears in the late 1950s.

All of the Goatman stories have the creature killing dogs, livestock, and in some cases humans. Even the Waterford creature supposedly killed a person though I have found no definite source, just a “friend of a friend said they knew somebody….” I have not found any verified deaths that come directly from a Goatman attack. Only the Louisville, Kentucky legend has a real death linked to it, but those are not a result of an attack by an unknown creature. The Louisville Goatman legend states that for the creature to appear one has to walk across a high railroad bridge that is still active. People have died from jumping from the bridge to escape the oncoming train or dying after being hit by a train.

Waterford was not the only place in Pennsylvania to have sightings of a Goatman roaming the fields of the state. In 1973 two farmers in Lancaster County spotted a man-like creature covered in grey hair and having a white mane, grab a chicken and run off with it. The creature had long fangs, a wolf-like head, sharp claws and had two horns protruding from its head.


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