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OPINION: A new race named for legend of the Black Dog

The first ever Black Dog Road Race was set to take place today at Hubbard Park. It’s an appropriate title for an event around Halloween, because the black dog is one of those local legends that is, well, scary.

The idea to start a new tradition came from Derek Destefano, cross country coach at Maloney High School. “This kind of captures that spooky side … Meriden has to offer and also offer a fitness event,” he recently told the Record-Journal’s Sean Krofssik.

Planned were a 10K, 5K and kids’ fun run. If there’s a chance of running into the black dog it’s a good thing everybody’s going to be already running, I’d say.

I like these inspirations. One day in 1970, Platt High School teacher Bernie Jurale decided to run up to Castle Craig. Now runners do the same every January in the Bernie Jurale Memorial Tradition Run. I’ve run the race twice, though far from recently, and can report that it’s a way to respond to cabin fever or other wintry doldrums. I can also report that while the race is short it’s not easy, with that last mile almost straight up.

The black dog is associated with West Peak. Destefano knows the story: “… the legend states that if you see it once it will bring you good luck. If you see the black dog the second time, it will lead to bad luck, and if you see him the third time it will lead to death,” he said. Yikes.

The Black Dog of West Peak was among the tales I gathered up for a Halloween story a number of years ago. It put the legend slightly differently, as in if you see the dog once it’s for joy, if twice it’s for sorrow. Seeing it the third time ends up the same, for death. The dog is small and silent and leaves no footprints. Super creepy.

The tale is taken up in “Legendary Connecticut: Traditional Tales from the Nutmeg State,” and “Weird New England,” both of which I cited in my account. Here’s a brief version:

Somewhere near the close of the 19th century, a geologist, W.H.C. Pynchon, saw the dog when he was visiting the Hanging Hills from New York City. The dog followed him up to West Peak and on to Southington.

A few years later, Pynchon was back in Meriden, this time with a friend who had also previously encountered the dog on two occasions, and they were looking for it on West Peak.

As they were making their way up they saw the black dog. Pynchon’s companion slipped on the icy rocks and fell to his death. A similar fate awaited Pynchon, who returned to West Peak a few years later, “and on this climb the geologist fell to his death, though no one was around to say if this was the result of seeing the black dog for the third time,” I wrote, in 2005.

“There’s local legend that countless people have seen it,” said Destefano not too long ago, as quoted in the R-J story. “There’s a book about it. It’s interesting. Spooky stuff that keeps people interested.”

I imagine the race will keep people’s interest as well. It promotes fitness, obviously, and according to the R-J account proceeds benefit the Meriden Running Club and Parks and Recreation youth fitness programs. The spooky factor should help make it a Halloween tradition.

Reach Jeffery Kurz at jkurz@record-journal.com.


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