Among the more curious supernatural apparitions in Prague are some stubborn goats
Prague at night is a virtual menagerie of spectral animals. There are the mundane yet otherworldly dogs and cats, and the more exotic demon rabbit, flaming turkey and man-eating dancing bear, not to mention a werewolf and mermaid.
Among the most stubborn otherworldly creatures are several ghostly goats. The most elaborate tale is of the white goat of Na Slupi Street. Another can be found in Malá Strana near the Church of St John at the Laundry, and third and most mysterious is in Old Town on Kozí Street.
During one of the wars that swept through Prague centuries ago, a deserting soldier took refuge in a goat pen on Na Slupi Street. Now, it is just outside the city center but back then it was still semi-rural and many people kept their own livestock.
The spinster who owned the goat pen discovered the soldier and decided not to turn him in, if he repaid her by performing manly duties. Battle, though, left him with shrapnel in the lower half of his body, and he was unable to fulfill the spinster’s desires.
Due to the war, all the goats had been requisitioned, so aside from the deserter the shed was vacant.
The woman soon moved on to set her sights on a local married gardener and forgot about the soldier locked in the goat shed, and since the goats were gone she never went back to check.
The soldier tried to survive on scraps of old straw, hoping the spinster would come back. But she never did. He grew sick from his diet and became too weak to try to escape. Soon he died on the floor of his pen.
After the war ended, the spinster got some new goats and opened the pen, only to find the uniformed skeleton of the forgotten soldier. She could not escape the image in her mind, and her guilt grew so much that she took some insect poison and died.
Suspicion fell on the gardener, who had a clear motive in allegedly trying to silence the spinster to cover up his cruel murder of the deserter. He also had access to the same type of poison the spinster used. The court quickly condemned him to death and his wife and children wound up as beggars on the street.
The spinster who was the author of this cascade of sorrow now haunts Na Slupi Street in the shape of a big white nanny goat with a terrible temper, especially when she sees a soldier. She seldom appears, but when she does it is around midnight. Wise people do not try to approach.
The next ghostly goat appears on Říční Street in front of the Church of St John the Baptist at the Laundry (Sv. Jan na Pradle), named because it was close to a spot on the Vltava river where washerwomen would do their work.
A widow with quite some savings in silver and gold coins tried to economize by secretly moving into the church basement and hiding her small stash in one of the graves that used to surround the church. She was sitting outside the church one evening when a priest came by on a cart pulled by two old goats.
The priest told her he knew she was squatting in the basement, as it was actually common knowledge among the local clergy.
The priest demanded a silver tolar coin, quite a sum in those days, to cover her rent. He said he had made losses gambling and needed to cover them before anyone found out. Otherwise, he would see she was tossed out of her not so secret lair.
The miserly widow gave the priest a coin, and he rode off in his goat cart. But he was back the next night and in a foul mood. The coin was a fake, a copy made out of base metal. The two fought, and the priest strangled the old miser. She was found the next day, with the fake coin in her mouth, as if to pay for her way across the River Styx in an ancient Greek legend.
But that did nothing to restore the priest’s luck, and he soon died as well along with his goats. The widow, the priest and his goats now all haunt the area around the church. With the widow doing her best to ignore the priest and his goat cart.
The same street also has the ghost of a nobleman in a black carriage drawn by a headless horse. They emerge at midnight from the cross in front of the church, ride around in a big circle around the streets and then vanish back at the cross. Nobody remembers the details of the story.
The last one seems to be a bit of a word play. A riderless cart drawn by two flaming billy goats comes out of the old Jewish Quarter at midnight and heads down Kozí Street. Kozí means “goats” in Czech. Young women going out to dance and party have been known to vanish on the spot if they look directly at the eyes of the flaming goats. The word “kozí” is also slang for women’s breasts, so the connection between the goat cart and partying girls is a further pun.
Prague has seen many conflicts pass through, including the Hussite Wars in the early 1440s, the Thirty Years’ War in the 1600s, three peasant uprisings between 1680 and 1848, and the War of Austrian Succession in the 1740s, not to mention more modern conflicts.
Each war has left behind tales of ghosts or supernatural events. Many tales, like the one of the goat at Na Slupi, have lost the connections to the specific war.
Na Slupi Street has been part of Prague’s New Town since 1348. A stream used to flow next to it, but that has been diverted underground. The name of the street seems to refer to an old Czech word for fishing tackle, and an alternate explanation is it refers to a column, or “sloup” that stood at a nearby church.
It is not far from Vyšehrad, which was occupied by French troops during the War of Austrian Succession, or Charles Bridge, the site of a major battle at the end of the Thirty Years’ War (but on the wrong side of the Vltava river as Swedish forces never made it across.)
The Church of St John at the Laundry dates back to 1142 as a village church and has been rebuilt several times, lastly around 1700 with a baroque interior thought to be by Kilián Ignác Dientzenhofer. It was deconsecrated in 1784 under the reforms of Emperor Joseph II, and sold off as private property.
The cemetery, which is remembered by crosses in the pavement, would have been shut down during the same time, as urban burials were banned in an effort to stop the spread of disease.
The building was used as a hand laundry shop and carpet cleaners, and later as a warehouse. Today, it is used by the Czech Hussite Church and is rather sparsely decorated inside at that group is against ornamentation. It is not generally open to the public, save for special events.
Part of the larger church space is used by private firms as office space. Next to the church is the entrance to Kampa park, home to the legends a water sprite, social-climbing miller’s daughter and the flaming turkey, who can never be mentioned too many times.
Kozí Street, which has a triangular “square,” used to be the city’s goat market, just like Wenceslas Square was the horse market and Karlovo náměstí the cattle market. The street’s parts have had various names such as Upper Goat and Lower Goat, but have been unified under the single name Kozí since the 18th century.
The warning against party girls is a bit prophetic, as it joins with Dlouhá Street, which since the 1990s the street has been home to a large number of very touristy bars catering to the younger crowd. Dlouhá is home to the House at Death, the source of another legend.
Main image: People drinking beer on Kozí Street, as it turns into a narrow alley.