Save for one generalized tale of Satanism (T
he Goatman is a ritualistically summoned demon), the origin stories ascribed to the Goatman are the best kind of local folklore – geographically obsessed, historically revisionist and unflinchingly paranoid. That isn’t to say that they’re particularly original. You’ll recognize the antiseptic white of the research facility’s corridors, and the hollow screams resounding from mental ward cells. Still, of all the secret government labs in all the towns in all the world, the Goatman walked out of Beltsville, Maryland’s.
Given Maryland’s proximity to Washington, D.C., it’s no surprise that the government has been implicated in the genesis of the Goatman. Specifically, it’s the government’s Agricultural Research Facility, located in Beltsville, that often takes the blame (though I would think it unlikely that they also gave their horrific mutation an axe. Perhaps a rogue Smithsonian curator got involved). If the government has property in or near a town, you can count on it becoming the nexus of at least one sensational and horrifying urban myth (e.g., the U.S.S. Eldridge, the Montauk Project, et al).
There are two schools of thought as to the true nature of the Goatman – some folks believe that he’s an anomalously hairy, super-sized human whose feral lifestyle has earned him the appearance, and corresponding badittude, of a goat; Others think that he is an actual, genuine monster composed of one-half horrifying goatness and one-half unfettered masculinity. For the people whose theories tend toward the former, the Goatman was once a burly, 7-foot-tall government scientist who lost his funding and, subsequently, his mind, then ran screaming out into the woods and began a new life of regimented beard growth and teen sex intervention. (Because a monster? That’s ridiculous!) For the latter camp, the Goatman is the accidental result of a government experiment gone horribly awry. What kind of experiment? It usually isn’t specified, though one version suggests that an early cancer researcher injected a goat with live cancer cells, which, when combined with radiation or something, kick-started the animal’s transformation (metastasis?).
In his book “The Men Who Stare at Goats,” journalist Jon Ronson does, in fact, claim that the government has been known to use de-bleated goats for various training and tests, but given the Goatman’s alleged noisy vocalizations, it seems unlikely that he started as a member of Uncle Sam’s black ops seen-not-heard herd. Fortunately, there’s another, more recent theory: the Goatman is an escaped inmate of Glenn Dale Hospital. Again, in this case, two variations exist – the one where he’s a hulking nutcase and the one where he’s a freakish medical experiment. Both versions agree that he came straight from the stark-raving hell of restrained lunatics and abused maniacs that constituted the now-derelict Glenn Dale Hospital. There’s only one problem with this hypothesis – Glenn Dale Hospital was never, as many websites suggest, a mental hospital. It was a tuberculosis sanitarium used to isolate contagious victims of the then-common disease from the public at large, and from other hospital communities. After the building was declared a free-range asbestos ranch and shut down in 1982, however, paranormal investigators and urban photographers laid siege to the grounds, extensively (and inaccurately) blogging about their explorations of the abandoned Glenn Dale asylum. Interestingly, no story that I’ve found suggests that the Goat Man is an escaped tuberculosis patient, driven insane by his disease and often mistaken for a goat due to his rasping, nasal cough. But I guess a brawny psychopath is more frightening/goat-like than a wheezing tubercular corpse, despite historical veracity.
Nowadays, in deference to his fantastical origins and initial rambunctiousness, the Maryland Goatman seems to have abandoned flamboyant assaults on copulating youth in favor of covert pet theft and vandalism. It seems more than likely that the Goatman has fled its stomping grounds, leaving the people of the Old Line State to repurpose his horrific legacy into a banal catch-all blame depository. Can’t find the dog? The Goatman took it. Something dented your car door? ‘Twas the Goatman’s axe. Thankfully, as Maryland trembles in the wake of their misdemeanorous Scapegoatman, the true monster has taken his act on the road.
Friday: The America Goatman