The first time I had ever heard of a “spook wolf” was in the mid-1990s while doing research at the historical library in Bellefonte. On one of the trips I was talking to another researcher about our subjects of study. When I mentioned I was looking into the legends and lore of the region, the older gentleman asked if I knew about the “spook wolf” that haunted the area of Tea Springs in Clinton County.
I had never heard this story and admitted I wasn’t even sure what a “spook wolf” was. A “spook wolf” is any wolf or wolf-like creature that cannot be killed by normal means. Sometimes, it is a ghost, other times it is a shapeshifter, while in other stories it may be a werewolf. A supernatural element has to be used to slay the beast, which may be a silver bullet, a bullet coated in holy wax, or by following the advice of a witch.
After telling me what a “spook wolf” was, he mentioned his grandmother had always said that the area around Tea Springs – the area where Clinton, Centre and Union Counties meet – is haunted by a giant white wolf. He admitted he did not have much more information than that and I made note of it and filed it away. Since then, I have occasionally had someone ask if I knew anything about the wolf that haunts Tea Springs, but I’ve never been able to quite track down the story.
Despite not knowing much about this ghost story, I was familiar with another story involving a “spook wolf” that once roamed the region, which may be the source of the legend. All I had to do was look into the writings of Henry Shoemaker.
It was Shoemaker’s story that caused me to get off at the Jersey Shore exit and go eastward on East Valley Road on this particular day. I passed the monument Shoemaker had placed for a massacre that never happened and about a mile later, entered a small parking area for the Tea Springs picnic area along White Deer Pike. At the edge of the parking lot, there were new markers erected for the Tea Springs Civilian Conservation Corps camp that once existed here and I read the information before studying my surroundings. Note: This road that parallels Interstate 80 has a lot of lore associated with it. The Mythical Massacre and the Ghost of White Deer Pike both happened along this stretch of road.
The story about a white wolf that once terrorized Sugar Valley comes from the writings of Henry Shoemaker in his Extinct Pennsylvania Animals Part I: The Panther and the Wolf. Shoemaker does cite the story as coming from George Wagner, who made his home near Rosecrans in Sugar Valley.
The “spook wolf” was a white wolf that had been shunned by its pack because it had long, white hair, like an Angora goat. The beast led a lonesome life, feeding on the livestock of those living in Sugar Valley before returning to the mountains south of Loganton. Farmers set traps and snares to capture the beast and hunting parties were formed but the creature managed to escape.
The “spook wolf” was almost killed one night while raiding the livestock belonging to Michael Schreckengast. Upon hearing a commotion in his barn, Schreckengast ran toward the barn and arrived to see the large, white wolf, with blood covering its jaws, coming out of the barn. Moving completely on instinct, Schreckengast slammed the barn door shut and managed to trap the wolf’s tail in the door. He pulled a plowshare against the door to keep the wolf trapped before going to his house to grab his gun. By the time Schreckengast returned to the barn, the wolf had escaped, leaving behind its tail which was still caught in the closed door.
The white wolf continued to terrorize the region, and many people claimed to have shot the wolf, but their bullets did not seem to have any effect on the beast. Locals were now convinced they were dealing with a “spook wolf” and the suggestion was made to bring in noted wolf hunter George Wilson from McElhattan. The reason they wanted to contact Wilson was due to him having already killed a werewolf or two in the McElhattan region. Jacob Rishel set out to get Wilson, but along the way he had the fortune to meet Granny McGill, a noted witch of the region. She told Rishel the secret of how to kill this “spook wolf.” According to Granny, Rishel had to obtain a black lamb, which was born in the autumn of the year and in the dark of the moon. Upon getting this lamb, Rishel was to place it near the wolf’s lair with a spring-trap nearby. If he did this, Granny McGill promised the reign of the “spook wolf” would be over.
After much difficulty, Rishel found such a lamb and took it along with a trap to the top of Tunis Knob, south of Loganton. There he tied the lamb to a stake and set the trap, leaving the poor lamb for the wolf to devour. After the wolf ate the lamb, it sniffed around the trap, which sprang closed, trapping it by the snout. There locals found it the next morning bringing an end to the white wolf’s reign of terror.
John Shrack claimed the beast’s pelt, which served as a hearth rug in his home for years after; the head of the beast was claimed by George Rishel. He placed the wolf’s head on a pole above his sheep pen to scare away anything that might think about making a meal out of them. According to those passing the severed head, it would snap its jaws at them and its eyes would flash green.
Shoemaker adds an interesting ending to his tale of the white wolf. This is a brief mention of another monstrous wolf that terrorized the woods near Carroll. This beast was finally killed by John Schrack – the same one who claimed the pelt of the white wolf – as the beast was attempting to leap over a sixteen-foot-tall stockade that surrounded Schrack’s sheep pen.
While Shoemaker ends the story of the White Wolf of Sugar Valley here, I can imagine this story was the basis for the ghost wolf that is rumored to haunt Tea Springs. I have to wonder if this is another of Shoemaker’s stories that has changed over the years into something similar, but yet unlike the original? Or, is it a completely different story that has been lost over the years as it was passed down through the generations?
Not having a definite answer to where this story has its origin – and with only very brief mentions of it in passing conversations – I left Tea Springs and its “spook wolf” in the rear view mirror.