One of the state’s oldest recorded supernatural occurrences originated in the 1840s. The ghost is as old as the Gray Man or even the Lowcountry legends of plat-eyes and haints.
The apparition only appears on foggy nights. The place is always along a stretch of the old state road leading from the Maybinton community of Newbery County into the Goshen Hill community of Union. Even in the sunny summer, this lonesome heavily forested and uninhabited stretch has a haunted aura. At night, it is smart not to drive there alone.
Once a thriving plantation region, the land was gradually deserted following the Civil War and fell into ruin with crumbling chimneys and overgrown gardens, adding to the desolate air of the landscape. Its melancholy tone is underscored by the melancholy tale, which perhaps explains why the apparition appears so faithfully even today.
“Man’s best friend” has been legendary for faithfulness since the time of Homer, when Odysseus’ loyal dog waited years for his master’s return and died on the day thereof. Stories of dogs’ faithfulness until death are numerous. But the ghost dog of Maybinton goes one step further.
The tale begins with a peddler who came to Maybinton selling tinware. He had with him a “large white mastiff dog,” his faithful companion in his solitary travels. A murder happened at the time the peddler appeared. He was then charged, tried, found guilty, and executed by hanging. While the peddler was jailed, the big white dog lay outside, head on paws, silent only for the occasional whimper. He witnessed the hanging, and that night the most mournful wails of the dog’s broken heart haunted the night. After about a week of this, folks said they could not sleep. Justly so, for the sound was also the wailing of their own guilty consciences. The real murderer confessed — they had hanged an innocent man. The wails, accompanied by remembrance of a terrible wrong, were too much for the community, so they dispatched the dog with a rifle shot. The howls ceased, and the villagers thought life had returned to normal.
That is until three months later when the howls began again. The following night, the hangman was riding along the old state road when out of the fog, the white dog materialized. The rider whipped his horse to speed him home and drew blood with his spurs, but the dog kept the same pace from road’s edge until it melted back into the fog when a house light appeared.
This happened to several others in the course of the next decade, when old whitey became more brazen in his appearances. Dr. James Cofield of Goshen Hill encountered the ghost dog coming home from seeing a patient on a foggy, late night. The doctor swore that the dog went under and around his terrified horse’s feet and his whip passed through the dog’s body. The dog then leaped on the horse and rode with Dr. Cofield, at times behind him and sometimes in front. The doctor reported that the dog’s eyes burned like fire coals. His ragged muzzle bore what Dr. Cofield described as a “hideous grin.” The ordeal ended when the lights of the doctor’s house appeared out of the gloom.
After several more appearances in the 19th century, the dog’s hideous grin gave him the name “Happy Dog,” and that is what the community still calls him today.
Twentieth century sightings were numerous. Only one resulted in bodily injury when a young man walking home on this stretch of road was chased by old Happy. The lad ran until he reached the nearest house, collapsing at the door. His neck bore what looked like teeth marks. He was bloody and his clothes were torn. Skeptics said he’d run through barbed wire in his frantic flight. Still, they admitted that in the distance they heard the most terrible howls.
Happy Dog has not abandoned his haunt in the age of automobiles. The most recent sighting involved the driver of a Toyota truck. She was coming home around midnight when she heard the blood-curdling howl that signals Happy Dog’s appearance. The dog followed her from the road’s edge, and, as on horseback, speed could not lose him. When Happy jumped on the truck’s hood and faced her through the windshield, she ran off the road. She said his red eyes spun like pinwheels. Her dreams are still haunted by the dog’s horrible smile.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s big white Hound of the Baskervilles has nothing on Happy Dog, who is older and may even be his sire. A recent BBC production of the Doyle story mentions a Carolina white ghost dog. Has old Happy’s reputation crossed the sea? Several signs around Maybinton today read: Beware of the Dog. While these may be of the generic sort, area folks read them with a deeper appreciation.