|Illustration by Timothy Renner - all rights reserved.|
When the Europeans arrived in Pennsylvania the First Nations people warned them about following things through the woods and being followed through the woods. They were told of the strange lights - which we now know as orbs or will-o-the-wisps - and they were told not to follow these lights through the forest. To do so would bring misfortune. They were also warned of another creature which would stalk them through the trees - a thing which would become known as The Hidebehind.
The Hidebehind was not the shy and retiring creature the name may suggest, but the most feared entity in the Pennsylvania forests. While no one could say for sure what The Hidebehind looked like - for none who saw it ever returned - its behaviors are well noted. It stayed just out of sight in the brush, peeking from the trees and pacing people through the woods. The Hidebehind hunted its human prey through the forest, creeping up behind them and taking the unexpected and unfortunate.
It was said only the bravest should be the last in line when traveling through the forest. For it was only the bravest souls who could be relied upon to never look behind as they walked. To look behind would spell your doom, for those that saw The Hidebehind were struck with fear and panic - and would surely be taken by the creature. So too would those who traveled the woods at night. The Hidebehind was dangerous at any time - but at night it became particularly deadly.
Those familiar with cryptids will recognize the stalking, tree-peeking, and pacing of people through the woods as bigfoot behavior. Indeed some places in Pennsylvania and others in the southern states do call bigfoot creatures by the name of The Hidebehind even today. It would be safe to say that The Hidebehind was a local name for a sasquatch - before the terms “bigfoot” and “sasquatch” became common currency.
In David Paulides Missing 411 series - wherein he documents many missing people, mostly from National Parks - he notes that a great many of the disappeared were the last in line of their party. Paulides also identifies certain clusters of missing people throughout North America. Yosemite and The Great Smokey Mountains National Parks, for instance, are identified as two of the largest clusters. The entire state of Pennsylvania is noted as another cluster. So, we have this supposedly folkloric creature, The Hidebehind who was noted by the First Nations people to snatch the last traveller in line … many years later we have Paulides reporting that people who are the last in line of their party are going missing in the wilderness. If it is a coincidence, it’s certainly very interesting. If it is not a coincidence then we may have answers as to what is taking some of the missing.
The original story I heard about our local Toad Road in York County - before all the crazy (and false) nonsense of burning insane asylums and mad doctors was a simple, haunting phrase: “Don’t look behind you on Toad Road.” This, along with the reports of things around Toad Road such as screams; tree-peeking; stalking; a man being attacked by a hairy monster etc - all connected the area to The Hidebehind and to older Pennsylvania folklore in general.
If you want to know the true story of Toad Road and of cryptids, will-o-the-wisps, and other strange phenomena in South Central Pennsylvania, check out my book, Beyond the Seventh Gate.