Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fresno Nightcrawler Variant 2: Hyperdimensional Anomalocaris

Here's another speculative variation on the California "wishbone" cryptid.

Anomalocarids were a taxonomic group of large marine predatory invertebrates of the Paleozoic. Though they have no direct descendants, fossil evidence indicates that they were close relatives of arthropods, tardigrades and a small phylum of animals known as onycophorans, or velvet worms.

Various species of anomalocarids and their close relatives. Clockwise from top right: Schinderhannes bartelsi, Pambdelurion whittingtoni, Peytoia (Laggania) nathorsti, Anomalocaris canadensis, Amplectobelua symbrachiata, Hurdia victoria, Opabinia regalis, Kerygmachela kierkegaardi

Anomalocarids propelled themselves through the water using a series of lobes or fins along their sides that they waved in a sinuous motion rather like the wings of a stingray or the fins of a squid. The most distinctive feature of anomalocarids, however, was the pair of jointed Great Appendages that sprouted just in front of their mouths. In most species, these mandibles were adorned with sharp spines to help them capture and tear apart prey. Some of these creatures, however, developed into giant, gentle filter-feeders, using the elongated spines on their Great Appendages like strainers to catch plankton.

More anomalocarids. Top: Hurdia victoria. Bottom: Stanleycaris hirpex

Anomalocarid fossils were for a long time only known from the Cambrian period- the earliest age of large, multicellular mobile animals. But the discovery in 2009 of Schinderhannes bartelsi in the Hunsrück Slate of Germany extended their range all the way to the Devonian.

I've long been a fan of anomalocarids, as you can probably tell from all the drawings I've done of them. Heck, I've even designed a couple speculative species, like this one here.

My Speculative Hermit Anomalocaris, Repticaris caerulea.
In an interesting instance of life imitating art, one of my speculative animals even "predicted" the discovery of one of the first known filter-feeding anomalocarids called Tamisiocaris. Here's a picture of my invented animal, Cetimimus barbus:

And here's a reconstruction of Tamisiocaris by Rob Nicholls:

So, anyway, what's this got to do with the Fresno Nightcrawler? Well, while watching those two famous videos, I couldn't help noticing that the critter's legs looked a bit like anomalocarid Great Appendages (of course, when you've constantly got anomalocarids on the brain like me, it's not hard to see them everywhere). I started wondering: what if the weird "walking wishbone" we see is only a small part of a larger animal? What if the rest of it exists in another dimension we can't perceive? Perhaps the walking "legs" are actually modified mandibles that tow the animal along. Here I have imagined the creature's lateral swimming lobes having become huge flaps, forming a net or basket for capturing "astral plankton" which floats all around us just a few dimensions away. 

On a final note, this won't be the last time you see me interpret a cryptid as a sort of unusual anomalocarid. Stay tuned for more! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Snallygaster- Maryland

In the early 1700s, German settlers moved into Maryland from Pennsylvania, bringing with them many of their myths and legends. Among these were tales of the schnelle geister or “quick spirits”, supernatural beings that could sometimes be merely annoying-- knocking things over and creating bad smells-- and sometimes malevolent-- stealing children or forming huge battalions of writhing specters to rain down on helpless and unsuspecting humans.

As the Germanic legends merged with the larger melting pot of beliefs in Maryland, schnelle geister became snollygoster, then finally snallygaster, a general term for any sort of boogieman or mysterious creature.

In 1909, the term Snallygaster took on a distinct, terrifying form when the Middletown Valley Register of Frederick County reported that a huge, dragon-like creature had flown out of a cave in South Mountain and snatched up a local man, Bill Gifferson. The monster carried Grifeerson to the top of a hill where it pierced his throat with its needle-sharp beak and drank his blood.

Sightings of the Snallygaster exploded after this incident. Suddenly newspapers all over Frederick County, and even into nearby West Virginia, were overflowing with reports of terrifying run-ins with this blood-drinking dragon. Drawing on local folklore, the beast was quickly dubbed Snallygaster, though a few papers briefly gave it alternative, equally colorful names such as “Go-devil”, “Bovulopus”, “Octollopus” and “Gigantiloeutus”.

Descriptions of the creature varied, but most claimed that it resembled a winged reptile with iron claws and a pointed beak for draining its victims of blood. It was also said to have a single, enormous eye in the center of its forehead. A few stories claimed that it even had tentacles like an octopus-- though where these were located on its body or what it used them for was never specified.

Some tales claimed that seven pointed stars would drive off the beast, which allegedly led many in Frederick County and surrounding areas to place these symbols on the outside walls of their barns and houses. It is worth noting, though, that stars with four, five or six points were already common folk motifs on the houses of many German settlers (seven-pointed stars were rarer, but not unheard of), so this detail may have just been an embellishment playing off an already prominent decoration in the South Mountain area.

Snallygaster reports continued throughout 1909, gradually fading away by the end of the year.  The frenzy was finally capped off by a tongue-in-cheek letter to Middletown Valley Register written by an “expert” who claimed that the beast was of a species of monsters that lived deep within the Earth. The beast terrorizing Frederick County, so the writer claimed, had come to the surface after an earthquake opened a chasm in the South Mountains leading to its subterranean home. The article concluded with a report of a fictitious scientific expedition that had seen the creature fly back into its cave, at which point another earthquake sealed it up.

The Snallygaster resurfaced again in 1932 in a new flurry of newspaper reports. This time, though, the beast appeared to meet its demise when the Register reported that local prohibition agents had busted into a bootlegger’s hideout only to find the place abandoned and the partially-dissolved corpse of the Snallygaster floating in the moonshine mash where it had apparently fallen after being overcome by the alcoholic fumes.

Despite its apparent death, the Snallygaster would continue to make sporadic appearances in local papers over the years, even inspiring a 1976 article about a fictitious Hemmingway-style safari to track it down once and for all.

Snallygaster at rest, standing on its mantle-foot and modified tentacles.

The bizarre appearance of the Snallygaster, along with its colorful, often outlandish history, bears more than a passing resemblance to many other tall tales of mysterious and deadly flying monsters heard throughout America- and indeed, throughout the world. This is no coincidence, for the Snallygaster began as a hoax created by the editors of the Middletown Valley Register to drum up sales for their paper. The story proved so popular that other papers picked it up, often embellishing the tale with their own details. Newspapers have a long history of punching up and sensationalizing stories-- or even creating stories whole cloth in the age before journalistic integrity- to attract and entertain readers.  Indeed, many old papers were more like the Weekly World News (or most internet message boards, to use a contemporary example) than a reputable source for information.

In more recent reports-particularly internet articles- the Snallygaster has developed an “archenemy” in the form of the Dwayyo, a black-furred biped sometimes described as being ape-like, sometimes said to be more like a werewolf or a dog walking on its hind legs. According to folklore, the Dwayyo will attack the Snallygaster on sight, though no explanation is given for this animosity. Nor is the mammalian beast itself given much of a backstory. The first reported sightings of the Dwayyo came in a series of 1965 articles in the Frederick News written by George May, which described a black, bigfoot-like monster terrorizing the county. 

May’s articles may actually be responsible for the rivalry between the Dwayyo and the Snallygaster. One of his last articles suggested that increased sightings of the furred beast signalled the eclipsing of interest in Maryland’s other, draconic monster. His prediction, though, did not bear out since the Snallygaster has proven to be the far more popular creature.

Mythical monsters often serve as a metaphor for aspects of humanity. Sea serpents and krakens can represent our awe and fear of the ocean. Wendigo personify the terror and loneliness of the boreal woods and the desperation that leads to cannibalism. Elves, trolls, huldra and other fey beings symbolize the mystery and danger of the deep forest. The Snallygaster, too, once held a dark and potent symbolism-- specifically the evils of racism. Many of the early reports claimed that the beast specifically targeted African-American victims.

Furthermore,  the Lumberwoods.com website points out:

"In Maryland: A Guide to the Old Line State, the author directly alludes to such attitudes by stating: 

“In the Middletown Valley section of western Maryland the fabulous ‘snallygaster’ flies into a little settlement of log cabins that served as slave quarters prior to the Civil War. The great bird preys upon Negro children out after dark, and on occasion has even been known to carry off a full-grown man to its lair in the near-by mountains.”

It is worth noting that these previous lines, specifically the phrases "preys upon," "after dark" and "carry off," are highly suggestive of the practice of lynching. In the contemporary period so-called "sunset towns" were declared wherein African Americans would be barred from entering after nightfall. Any "violators" would be sought out by lynch mobs, dragged to a secluded location and "dealt" with."

The symbolism behind a monster may change over time, of course. Vampires were once personifications of our fears of death, illness and, in the case of Stoker's Dracula, rape and sexually-transmitted diseases. Today they often symbolize a longing for immortality and the simultaneous fear of watching everyone and everything one loves crumble to dust around them.

The Snallygaster likewise has undergone an evolution in what it represents. Its association with racism and the evils of lynching has all but disappeared. Now the beast, like the Mothman, Thnuderbirds, Bigfoot and other cryptids, symbolizes the unexplored, a longing for mysteries and a fear and simultaneous desire for the unknown. 

For my interpretation of the Snallygaster, I drew inspiration from descriptions of it as a one-eyed, tentacled dragon. However, rather than make it a reptile with cephalopod arms, I made it a flying squid with wings formed from the fin around its mantle. The hind legs are also extensions of the body fin with fringe-like papillae serving as “toes”. The front limbs of my version are actually highly modified tentacles with hooks sprouting from the tips of the suckers forming the “claws”.

The majority of information for this post came from an excellent book by Patrick Boyton called Snallygaster: The Lost Legend of Frederick County. It’s short, but thorough and definitely worth checking out.

Snallygaster: The Lost Legend of Frederick County by Patrick Boyton

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Fresno Nightcrawler Variant 1: Echinoderm

Making a slight departure from the usual state cryptid post to have a little fun with one of my favorite folklore critters.

The Fresno Nightcrawlers are bizarre cryptids from California that are little more than small, round heads atop long legs, rather like living wishbones or hairpins. They're known from a set of videos posted to Youtube. The first is a grainy surveillance video that shows two of the creatures seemingly floating over a lawn with their legs billowing out as if they were covered in loose fabric.  The second surveillance video, filmed in nearby Yosemite National Park, gives a clearer image of a larger Nightcrawler strolling down a path accompanied by a smaller individual (its young, perhaps?).

The nightcrawlers have been associated with a series of photographs of tree-branch sculptures that resemble them. Some internet posters have claimed that the Nightcrawlers are nature spirits that are well-known to local residents, and the statues are a sort of homage to them. Its even claimed that they are present in the myths of the local First Nations peoples.

There is, however, no record of these beings in local folklore nor in Native mythology. The most likely explanation is that the videos are clever hoaxes and the folklore has been added on to give some depth to the creatures.

Hoax they may be, but I still think the Nightcrawlers are pretty neat cryptid/folklore creatures. The biologist in me was intrigued by what they might be if they were real. So I've been doing a series of speculative drawings on possible Nightcrawler identities.

For this image above, I've interpreted the Nightcrawlers as highly-modifed, land-dwelling echinoderms. Specifically, they are members of an extinct group called cystoids, which superficially resemble the more well-known crinoids or sea lilies.

An illustration of several echinoderm species. The five stalked creatures in the center are cystoids. Illustration by Ernst Haeckel

 In my drawing, the plate-covered arms of the cystoid ancestor have become the Nightcrawlers' walking legs. The rows of finger-like tentacles extending from the backs of the legs are tube-feet, short nozzle-like tentacles that echinoderms use for movement. The ring of hexagonal plates around the center of the creature's egg-shaped bodies are "eyes" formed from many smaller light-sensitive plates. These are similar to the multi-faceted plate-eyes of modern day brittlestars.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Tuttle Bottoms Monster article in Cryptid Culture #3

Issue #3 of Cryptid Culture magazine is out. Featuring my article about the Tuttle Bottoms beastie.

Get it here.

Tuttle Bottoms Monster- Illinois

Here's an illustration I did of an unusual hairy cryptid from around Harrisburg, IL.for an article I wrote in Cryptid Culture magazine.

The Tuttle Bottoms Monster is unique among hairy cryptids because of its long, anteater-like snout.

For my interpretation of the beast, I imagined it as a chalicothere- a species of extinct, sloth-like animals distantly related to horses- that had evolved a long, gharial-like snouth for catching fish.

Friday, April 22, 2016

The Enfield Horror- Illinois

On the evening of April 25, 1973, a young boy named Greg Garrett was playing in his backyard when an otherworldly creature burst from the woods and attacked him. According to the boy’s description, the creature was short and squat with skin was wrinkled and gray. Its eyes, big as plates, were a strange bioluminescent pink. The monster had short, stubby arms and-- most bizarre of all- three legs. The beast jumped at Garrett and scratched at his feet, tearing his shoes, before bounding away into the woods.

Less than an hour later, the Horror made a reappearance at the house of Garrett’s neighbor, Henry McDaniel. This second encounter began when McDaniel and his children heard scratching around the outside of the house. Assuming it was a dog or other animal, McDaniel went to the door to investigate. Upon opening it, he discovered on his porch the same gray, wrinkled, tripodal beast apparently trying to get into his home. Panicking, McDaniel slammed the door and grabbed a revolver from his bedroom. Returning to confront the Horror, he fired a shot, hitting it point blank. But the creature merely hissed at him and leapt away as before.

McDaneil saw the creature again on May 6, wandering around the railroad tracks near his home. This time neither man nor monster attempted any sort of contact. The Horror merely wandered around on the tracks for a bit before once again hopping away .

Stories about Garrett and McDaniel’s encounters spread quickly. Soon tourists were coming from everywhere in the hopes of catching a glimpse of the Enfield Horror. To the dismay of many in this small town, the influx also included several self-styled “monster hunters” looking to shoot the creature. The last thing the residents wanted was people running around in the forest, possibly drunk and possibly shooting anything that moved.  Though something gray and otherworldly was spotted a few times, both by hunters and locals, no one ever got as close of an encounter with the beast as McDaniel did. And soon the furor over the Enfield Horror died down.

So what exactly was this tripodal, gray-skinned creature? Some have suggested that it was an escaped kangaroo or monkey whose tail was misidentified as a third leg by the frightened witnesses. Others have speculated that it might have been a mutated version of a regular animal, perhaps even a mutated human being. Still others have  wondered if it was a creature from another planet or even a parallel dimension. Then, of course, there is the highly likely possibility that the Horror was nothing more than a tall tale invented by McDaniel. this scenario is increasingly likely when one learns that Garrett, the only other person who saw the beast close up, later admitted that he had invented his story after rumors had already begun spreading.

For my own speculative design of the Horror, I tried to base it on a real animal rather than just making it an alien or ultraterrestrial. But what known animal has three legs? I looked at the hypothesis that the creature was a kangaroo and its tail was mistaken for a third limb. But I wanted my Horror to be something stranger than just a misidentified marsupial.

Being a biology-minded guy who gravitates towards the ocean world, my thoughts eventually drifted towards some sort of marine creature. That’s when I realized the Enfield Horror had to be some sort of giant land-walking frogfish.It makes a lot of sense, of course. Frogfish, along with many other bottom-dwelling anglerfish, have specialized pectoral fins that resemble the arms of quadrapeds. They actually use these arms to move themselves over the reefs they dwell on, or over the sandy bottom. Perhaps in the case of the Horror, the creature’s tail had also evolved to act as a third limb to prop itself up. The stubby hands, then, would be the fish’s modified pectoral fins.

There are actually other reports of fish, or fish-like cryptids with limbs that allow them to walk on land. In 1953, for example, the carcass of a strange, amphibious monster washed up on the beach at Canvey Island, England.  The monster was said to have an enormous mouth lined with hundreds of small, sharp teeth, as well as a pair of muscular back legs, but no apparent front limbs. 
The Canvey Island Monster
Though it’s claimed that scientists who examined the carcass could not identify it, photographs of the corpse clearly show that it was nothing more than a partially decomposed Goosefish Lophius piscatorius.  Like their frogfish relatives, goosefish have fleshy, arm-like pectoral fins which they used to move slowly over the muddy sea floor.

Goosefish Lophius piscatorius. Source: Arkive.org
 But let’s take the speculative fiction route and imagine that the Canvey Island Monster was something more? What if it, too, was of the same bizarre amphibious fish species as the Enfield Horror? Or perhaps a close relative, since it lacked the stubby arms derived from the pectoral fins. Perhaps it was specialized for moving about in the shallows while it’s Illinois relative was a more terrestrial lineage?

Intriguingly, there are a few (admittedly fictional) accounts of goosefish crawling on land. The Stratford News of Connecticut mentioned an incident on July 18, 1909 in which lighthouse keeper Theodore Judson of Lordship, CT killed a large goosefish that had repeatedly hauled itself out of the sea at night to raid his chicken coop. An earlier article from 1906 mentions a man, also from Lordship, finding a large, wide-mouthed fish-- clearly a goosefish, even from the sparse description in the paper- crawling on the shore rocks with a pair of stubby feet. While both accounts are more than likely just tall tales created to drum up newspaper sales, it’s entertaining to imagine that perhaps these land-walking anglerfish were actually live versions of the Canvey Island carcass.


Cryptozoologicon by John Conway, C.M. Kosemen and Darren Naish

The Field Guide to North American Monsters by W. Haden Blackman

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Falkville Metal Man- Alabama

On the evening of October 17, 1973, Falkville Alabama chief of police Jeff Greenhaw received a call from an anonymous woman claiming she had seen a UFO sail over her house and land in a nearby field. Though hesitant to go out when he was already off duty, Chief Greenhaw got in his car to have a look. When he arrived at the field no UFO could be found, so he decided to drive around the area to see if there was anything in the area.

While cruising down a dirt path, Greenhaw spotted a person standing on the side of the road. Thinking it might be someone in need of help, he got out and approached the figure. Up close, however, he discovered that the being was completely covered by some sort of metallic outfit. To quote Greenshaw himself:

“It looked like his head and neck were kind of made together... He was real bright, something like rubbing mercury on nickel, but just as smooth as glass. Different angles give different lighting.... When I saw him standing in the middle of the road I immediately stopped the car and asked if he was a foreigner, but no sound came out of his mouth.”

Thinking quickly, Greenshaw ran back to his truck, grabbed his camera and snapped several photographs of the creature before it ran off into the night at speeds supposedly faster than a normal human could go.

And what exactly do Greenshaw’s photos depict? Well....
source: http://obscurban-legend.wikia.com/wiki/Falkville_Metal_Man

It’s pretty clear from this photo that the “alien” is nothing more than someone in a metallic asbestos or radiation suit. It is worth noting that this sighting came only a few days after the more famous alien encounter along the Pascagoula River in Mississippi detailed in the previous entry. Perhaps this “encounter” was staged in an attempt to ride on the fame of the mummy-robot story.

The question, though, is whether Greenshaw was in on the hoax or just an innocent bystander.  If the former, his participation in the events brought him nothing but misfortune. His report on the encounter was widely ridiculed and eventually led to his job as chief of police being terminated. Whether or not Greenshaw knew the being was just a prank, that ending seems rather harsh.
Let’s imagine for a moment, though, that the Metal Man actually WAS a genuine extraterrestrial (or perhaps extradimensional) entity. Could the metallic exterior have been a space suit for an entity that was not used to Earth’s atmosphere? Or is the creature’s similarity to the Pascagoula mummy-robots more than superficial? Could it also have been some sort of synthetic being? Perhaps a slightly different model of the Pascagoula creatures? Maybe it was a probe sent out to explore an environment its creators could not? Greenshaw  does describe the being as having stiff, robot-like movements.
Encounters with other apparently mechanical alien beings have been reported on multiple occasions. These creatures come in a surprising variety of shapes.

For example, in 1977, Antonia La Rubia of Paciencia, Brazil reported being abducted on his way to work by beings with metallic scales and tentacle-like arms. Each entity stood upon a single leg with a flared base that La Rubia described as looking like the base of a barstool. Each creature also carried a belt of syringe-like instruments. One of the beings used a syringe to zap La Rubia with a blue light and carry him into a waiting space ship. Inside, the robots used a piano-like device to show him a series of images, some of them depicting himself being examined by blue lights from their instruments (though La Rubia’s account makes no mention of him actually being examined. Perhaps those memories were removed by the robots?).  They also drew some of his blood before returning him to Earth.

Another 1977 encounter with apparently robotic beings occurred in Prospect, Kentucky. While driving home one night Lee Parish spotted a rectangular craft hovering in the sky. When he finally arrived home he discovered a half hour gap missing from his memory. Under hypnosis Parish recalled being brought aboard the strange craft where he was confronted by three blocky, mechanical creatures. The largest being resembled a “tombstone” and had a single jointed arm jutting out of it. Another, shorter being was pure white with a rough “head” and arms that did not move. Though the beings never spoke, Parish got the impression that this one was somehow the leader. The smallest being was bright red and had a single, unjointed limb projecting from it.

The red and black machine-creatures examined Parish (the black one apparently causing a painful cold, burning feeling when it’s limb contacted him) while the white being observed. Once the machines were done with their examination they merged with one another and vanished, at which point Parish was returned to his car.

Yet another strange encounter with mechanical aliens occurred in 1951 over the skies of Georgia. Pilot Fred Reagan was flying his plane when he was sucked upwards by an unknown force and crashed into a lozenge-shaped UFO. Reagan immediately found himself teleported inside the craft, where he was met by three foot tall metal aliens that he described as looking like asparagus stalks.
The beings apologized for the crash and gave him a medical exam to make sure he was not injured.  During the procedure, so Reagan claims, they found cancer within his body and removed it as an apology for the trouble they had caused. The robots then deposited him safely in a field next to the wreckage of his plane. On an unnerving side note, Reagan died less than a year later due to brain tissue damage which was believed to have been caused by exposure to high levels of radiation.

This variety of unusual robotic beings raises some interesting speculative questions. Is each type sent out by a different alien species? Or is it possible that there is just one investigating alien species and each variety of robot is simply a different design used for a specific purposes that the humans do not comprehend?


Cryptopia article on the Metal Man

True Tales of the Unexplained article on the Metal Man

Bogleech article on the Asparagus rods, The Prospect Monoliths, La Rubia Barstool Robots and other obscure extraterrestrials.

A report on the Prospect Mechanical Monoliths

A report on the La Rubia Barstool Robots