The Damned Story: Animal lovers, beware!
Looming over the city of Meriden are the scenic Hanging Hills, allegedly the highest spot on the East Coast that's within 25 miles of the shoreline. A range of rocky peaks created by an ancient lava flow, they have drawn countless visitors over the years to Hubbard Park thanks to their rugged beauty and spectacular views. The distinctive Castle Craig (yes, that castle thingy you see from I-691) is a century-old stone observation tower and sits atop East Peak, over 1,000 feet above sea level. On a clear day, you can literally see from Long Island Sound to the south all the way to the foothills of the Berkshires in Massachusetts to the north.
But it's not the panaromic beauty you see from Castle Craig that's the problem. It's the supernatural canine of West Peak that can cause you despair -- and possibly death -- if it comes your way.
Over the years, people have told of encounters with a small, vaguely spaniel-like, short-haired black dog. Often, it is described as having come out of nowhere, and despite its sad eyes, being quite happy to have human companionship. Like any good phantom, it leaves no footprints and makes no sound when it barks or howls, yet it leaves quite an impression. For it is said of the Black Dog: "If a man shall meet the Black Dog once, it shall be for joy; and if twice, it shall be for sorrow; and the third time, he shall die."
As you might expect, there are numerous tales of those who have met their end after seeing the Black Dog a third time -- it wouldn't be a proper legend if there wasn't, right? Stories of the Black Dog's victims go back as far as the 1800s; as many as a half dozen people are believed to have been cursed to death by the creature, including as recently as the 1970s.
Our Damned Experience: I've hiked stretches of the Metacomet Trail, which runs through Hubbard Park, and have visited both peaks as well as Castle Craig. I can't recall ever having seen a black dog in my visits, but I do know that the Hanging Hills can be a hazardous hike if you don't pay attention -- there are dramatic elevation changes, deep gorges and treacherous rock formations, all of which can be quite treacherous even under ideal conditions. It's not hard to picture someone getting seriously hurt or killed while hiking, especially if they are distracted by a friendly dog and don't watch their step.
If You Go: Hubbard Park is open to the public year-round and offers over 50 miles of blue-blazed hiking trails. For the lazy, a road runs up the Hanging Hills between East and West Peak and right to Castle Craig, and is open during daylight hours from April to October. Make sure whenever you visit to bring a camera -- if you don't see the Black Dog, you'll at least get some great images from a gorgeous vantage point.
By the way, as far as we know, the Black Dog of Meriden is not related to the "Black Dog" of Led Zeppelin fame. Although with spectral creatures, one can never be sure.
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