Happy Halloween, everyone! Halloween is one of my favorite holidays because it takes place in one of the prettiest months of the year AND it involves lots and lots of candy. This time of year I love driving around the farmland of central Maryland. Although the corn has been harvested, the leaves are in full color change right now and the golds and reds in the hills are so vibrant, I can’t help but stare. And, on those 3 a.m. emergency calls, at least I sometimes get to enjoy a harvest moon illuminating the pastures.


But what about the spookier side of Halloween? Have you ever heard of the Griggstown Ghost Cow? Huddle up close, dear readers, and grab your flashlights, for you’re about to read a tale of an apparition of the animal kind.


For decades, there were reports in Griggstown, New Jersey, of a ghost cow. Sightings would come in from around the D&R canal towpath from hunters and hikers but were accompanied by little evidence. A secretive and seemingly aloof yet benevolent specter, this ghost cow would be reported often on foggy nights roaming the fields along the towpath and even sometimes crossing the path itself, only to quickly shift out of sight. Of course photographs and videos were grainy and inconclusive, and lack of manure made reports seem that much more dubious, but there was history of old dairy farms in the area. Was this animal a relic of the area’s agricultural past?


All doubts of tall tales were erased in this New Jersey town when, on November 23, 2002, a call came in about a cow lying in a ravine near the towpath — a cow that matched the description of the fabled Ghost Cow. The local fire department, rangers from the canal state park, and the state fish and wildlife service were soon on the scene and sure enough, a real cow was stuck in the ravine.


Evacuation ensued and workers were able to get the animal out of the ravine; however, their actions came too late. A veterinarian on the scene determined the bovine was too weak and the Griggstown Ghost Cow was euthanized.


Questions remained as to what the animal was doing there years after the dairy farms disappeared from the area. Theories abound that this was an escapee from an old dairy herd, eking out an existence along the towpath, grazing and keeping a low profile from humans. Others believe this was one of probably many escapees from various dairies over the decades, each cow replacing another as they subsequently passed on.


My question is why was this animal so shy? Dairy cows are very domesticated due to the frequent handling required for milking, and I would think as winter came, such an animal would seek out food closer to human settlements when snow covered what meager grass was along the path.


Then again, perhaps this was a very resourceful (and introverted!) animal, preferring the solitude of the towpath and its ravines to the daily grind of the milking parlor, despite a guarantee of twice daily feed rations.


There’s almost a romantic air to this story — a lonely animal with connections to an era long gone from modern society. Certainly there lacks a sinister element to this “ghost” story, which is sort of nice once and a while. And we can always imagine that perhaps, on particularly foggy nights, if one listens closely as she walks quietly along the towpath, she just might hear a faint moo in the distance.


Dr. Anna O'Brien


Image: Tyler Olson / Shutterstock