The Bark Monster
One of the lesser known specters that haunted the Hudson River Valley, the Bark Monster, or Schors Duivel, was itself based on an old Indian legend that the Dutch of New Amsterdam appropriated during the early years of the settlement. The legend, recorded in various forms (the most famous put down in Van Beveren’s The Witches of the Hudson River Valley, which I rely on here), involved a beautiful maiden, who being pursued by an amorous woodsman, took refuge in the hollow of an enchanted chestnut tree. The tree, enthralled with the maiden’s beauty, took her captive by closing up its hollow and tearing itself from its roots, becoming a creature of iron-hard bark and sharp talons, with wisps of the lovely maiden’s golden hair streaming out into the wind. The Schors Duivel, in an effort to protect its beloved from would-be suitors, would stalk the forests, searching for men to feed its jealous rage. Woe to the lone woodsman who encountered the beast. In the winter months, however, the monster, like all trees, would lose its leaves and fall into a deep slumber. If then an adventurous soul was able to find the creature’s hiding place, he would be able to peel open the bark armor of the creature and rescue the maiden, winning her hand.
In some versions of the tale, the maiden is more of a haughty temptress, relishing the death of her many suitors, and in others the brunt of the moral falls more upon the woodsman for coveting a woman who is not his to have. In any case, the myth had an effect on the vernacular of the time, with the phrase “peeling away her bark” becoming a regional euphemism for hopelessly courting an unwilling lass.