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NOLA Lore: The Unknown Communities of New Orleans

The Grunch, Pukwudgies, and Pookas

Each week, J.A. Lloyd will take readers through the secret and sometimes unexamined legends, myths, and folklore of New Orleans past. This week, learn about the legends of the Grunch people, and their outcast ancestors the Pukwudgies and the Pookas.


They are lepers; deformed and unsightly. They are freaks; dwarfs and albinos. They are outcasts devoid normal social standing. Because of their abnormalities society shuns them. People tell tall tales, claiming the freaks are of the Devil’s own making. As a result, the creatures are driven away when the community decides that oddities are best to be out of sight and out of mind where the normal people don’t have to gaze upon them or give them a second thought. These beings are different and different simply doesn’t have a place in the growing community of East New Orleans. So, the groups of pariahs are forced to live outside of civilization, confined to the thicket of the wood and damp swampland at the dead end of Grunch Road. Here, legend says, they still dwell. They are the Grunch.


The tale of the Grunch is an urban legend that has been told and retold around New Orleans for decades. Its origins began during a time in which the city was developing its suburbs to the east. There, at the edge of ongoing housing development, existed a long and narrow road that ended its path in the woods surrounding the community. It is at the end of this road that a doorway to an uncivilized group of swamp-dwellers can be found. According to the legend’s history, a group of deformed individuals had been outcast and sent to live away from society because they were deemed unacceptable by the community due to their unsightly appearance. After decades of living in seclusion, breeding led to further abnormalities rendering the group of wild people unhuman in appearance.


Over time, stories of the Grunch began to be dismissed as nothing more than silly stories told with the intent of keeping children from wandering too far off into the woods. At best, the myth of the Grunch merely served as an explanation for the goats that continuously went missing from farms within the area. As acceptance of the creatures’ unlikely existence spread, the wooded swampland began to gain some popularity. Individuals began to enter the area at the end of Grunch Road because it was, after all, a prime hunting spot.


As more and more people entered the swamp, more and more people also began disappearing, never to return from their hunting trips. The sudden influx of missing persons was enough to raise alarm within the community. Accounts of the Grunch resurfaced, this time telling of their taste for human blood. Grisly rumors took flight speaking of bodies ripped of their flesh and drained of blood being found in the swaps. Locals began to avoid the area out of caution and fear of being the next to disappear. The Grunch did not take kindly to the abandonment of their swamplands.


The decline of hunters in the woods also meant a decline in food source for the Grunch. Their once abundant and easy prey was abruptly cut off because of the mounting fears in the community. Thus, a plan was devised: they decided to bait their prey. In order to lure their targets in, the Grunch began leaving wounded animals along the roadside. When the unsuspecting travelers would pull over and exit the car to help the animal, the Grunch would attack and drag the victim into the woods and feed upon the flesh. Coincidently, farmers once again began reporting missing goats from their farms. Again, escalating fears overtook the community leaving its inhabitants to wonder just what lay in the in woods and swaps at the end of Grunch Road.


The seclusion of the woods has long been an entity of its own holding closely its secrets and mysteries not meant for humankind. The Grunch are far from being the original occupants of the vastly uncharted forest, swamps, and mountains. In reality, their existence shares common traits with other creatures of similar areas in the US and around the world and these beings existed in folklore hundreds of years before the Grunch showed up in New Orleans.   


One of the most notable legends is that of the Pukwudgie. The Pukwudgie is a magical inhabitant of the forest and swamp areas surrounding the Great Lakes region with most recent reports and sightings based in the state of Massachusetts. The creature can be traced back to Wampanoag folktales that speak of beings that possess both good and evil characteristics.  Like the Grunch, the Pukwudgie is a small creature who, when acting upon evil, is known to lure people to their death in the isolation of the woods.


In Celtic folklore lives a small mountain dwelling fairy-like individual known as a Pooka. The name Pooka derives from the Irish word Puca meaning ‘goblin’. While the Pooka myth is native to Ireland, stories of similar creatures can be found from the north of Scotland to the south of Wales. These beings are thought to be shapeshifters that can take both animal and human form. Like the Pukwidgie, these beings can either be virtuous or wicked. However, in contrast to the Grunch, even in their mischievous nature, the Pooka is not a killer; they are simply cunning tricksters known for causing mayhem.


Rather it be a new tale told of the Grunch or the legend of the Pukwudgie and the fairytale of the Pooka, a common theme of dark things crawling through the woods exists. With two of these tales separated by an ocean yet still sharing an inherent likeness perhaps it is not so hard to believe that legend stems from truth.


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Renard Boissiere, Evan Z.E. Hammond, Naimonu James, Wilson Koewing, J.A. Lloyd, Nina Luckman, Dead Huey Long, Alexis Manrodt, Joseph Santiago, Andrew Smith, Cynthia Via, Austin Yde


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Michael Weber, B.A.


Listings Editor

Linzi Falk

Editor Emeritus

Alexis Manrodt

B. E. Mintz

Stephen Babcock

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