Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Bear Lake Monsters- Utah

 

Straddling the border of Utah and Idaho, Bear Lake is a long, deep body of water lying along a shifting fault line.. The lake’s vivid blue waters- which are caused by an abundance of dissolved calcium carbonate- have drawn people to its shores for centuries, from the native Shoshone, Ute, and Bannock, to more recent European trappers and settlers. And also, according to settler Joseph C. Rich, a small population of aquatic monsters, . In an 1868 article for the Deseret News, Rich wrote: “The Indians say there is a monster animal which lives in the lake…They represent it as being of the serpent kind, but having legs about eighteen inches long on which they sometimes crawl a short distance out of the water onto the shore.”

The story quickly caught the interest of newspapers all over the west, eventually even reaching the ears of the leaders of the LDS Church in Salt Lake City. The church fathers, including Brigham Young, would inquire about the monsters when they were in the area around the lake and quickly discovered that nearly everyone claimed to have seen the beast or at least knew someone who had. 

 Descriptions of the monster varied. Sometimes it was said to be long and limbless like an eel. Other times it had dozens of little legs like a centipede. It was often said to have sleek brown fur like an otter, and little ears- or at least ear-like tufts of fur on its head. 

 Sightings of the monsters (sometimes singular, sometimes plural) became very popular in local papers, and led to a proliferation of hoaxes and tall tales. One particularly colorful encounter with the beast was related by Quill Nebaker in 1907:

 “By this time all of the folks but me were terribly frightened and they confidently expected that the monster would smell the fresh-baked pies in the cellar and turn over the house in order to get them. Confidentially, I rather hoped he would in some way get the pies, but I sensed the danger to my loved ones and set my mind at work to devise ways and means to divert the animal’s attention in case he decided to come up our way. At this juncture my dog, which seemed mesmerized before, let out a terrible howl that attracted the monster and here he came full tilt, mouth open wide enough to swallow the front porch. Here was my time for action. And while I dislike to speak of myself, I must confess that I arose to the emergency... I noticed my large graphopohone (sic) standing on the table ready for use. An inspiration struck me- I called to mind the value of music in taming the snakes and wild animals of the forest- and I decided to try it. Hastily winding up the machine, I opened wide the front door, squarely in the face of the approaching monster, and turned loose my music.

As it happened, the record on the machine was that incomparable tune, “Home, Sweet Home,” and as its strain floated out on the midnight air, I noticed that the monster halted, then stopped. His head being low, a reminiscent smile played o’er his features, and as the chorus was reached we were surprised to see the monster’s tail switch ‘round toward his neck. As we watched we noted a stringed instrument, something like a lyre, at end of the animal’s tail, and as “Home, Sweet Home” continued, that monster didn’t do a thing but utilize his several hands or feet in playing accompaniment to that grand old tune. Ah, but it was sweet, and as “the band played on” we really fell in love with the Bear Lake monster. As I moved to his side, the monster seemed to welcome me as a friend of other days and before “Home, Sweet Home” was ended the animal’s head rested on my shoulder and we were mingling our tears together.

All was going splendidly and I had definitely decided to adopt the animal and make him a member of my family, but just there sorrow, deep and tearful sorrow, shook the frame of my newly made friend, and he began to weep. Great streams of tears poured from his eyes, and finally they flowed so copiously that the monster floated away in them. Thoughts of his subterraneous home were too much for him, and though he seemed loth (sic) to go, he waved us a sad farewell and disappeared from sight.
A point of particular interest just here is that as the monster passed the barn it left my barbed wire stacked up nicely, and on top the pile left that lyre on which it had played that accompaniment. Imagine my surprise at discovering that stringed instrument to be a portion of a bale of that wire and a part of my pigpen worked up into the most approved form.”

                                    ---“Quill Nebeker Sees Monster” Logan Republican, 21 September 1907

 From the beginning, the Bear Lake Monster was known by local people to be nothing but a tall tale. Nevertheless, a number of outsiders were convinced the beast was real. Twenty-six years after publishing his first sighting of the beasts, Joseph Rich admitted that he’d made the whole thing up as a way to draw interest to the Bear Lake area. Yet despite this confession, sightings of the monster continued all the way until 2002. Whether these were honest reports by people who genuinely believed they’d seen an unknown animal in the lake or just more tall takes, is up for debate. But hoax or not, the monster remains a fond piece of Bear Lake folklore.

SOURCES

An article about the beast from the Utah Outdoor Activities website.

A library of newspaper reports about the monster from the USU Digital History Collections

An article from Utah Humanities

The Bear Lake Monster Winterfest!

A scan of Quill Nebaker's account of the musically-inclined monster

    


Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Lake Worth Goatman- Texas



Many towns in America have their own Lover’s Lane monster. Seems there’s just something about amorous couples in parked cars that draws hidden beasts out of the dark woods like moths to a porch light. Honestly, it’s a wonder anyone parked at those remote spots can even get to first base with all the vengeful ghosts, hook-handed serial killers, hairy hominids, lizardmen, and other supernatural oddities trying to get into their vehicles.

One of the more memorable of these voyeuristic creatures hails from Lake Worth, Texas. Described as resembling a seven-foot satyr covered in thick white fur- and possibly scales- the Goatman has been haunting the brushy hills and cliffs around the lake since at least 1969, when it attacked a car packed with three couples out enjoying the night.

Soon after that initial attack, crowds of people along the Lake Worth shore claimed to have seen the Goatman trudging through the underbrush. Cars were attacked in the dark, their metal chassis torn and shredded by inhuman claws. Several witnesses even saw the creature pick up a truck tire and hurl it 500 feet through the air. As is typical when any new cryptid makes an appearance, the Goatman's antics quickly brought in a rush of tourists, reporters, and self-proclaimed monster-hunters- the latter of whom became a public hazard as they prowled the scrub around the lake with loaded rifles.

One man, Allen Plaster, even snapped a blurry photo of a tall, hairy white creature emerging from a stand of tall grass.  Plaster, though, would eventually come to doubt that the thing he saw was an actual cryptid, theorizing instead is that it was merely local kids playing a prank.  

Indeed, many other folks around Lake Worth eventually came to the conclusion that the creature was nothing but a hoax, perhaps begun by bored teenagers on summer vacation. Still, regardless of whether the Goatman was real or not, it has become a fond part of Lake Worth folklore. The Forth Worth Nature Center & Refuge, located on the shores of the lake, has  even begun celebrating an annual Lake Worth Monster Bash, featuring an appearance by the infamous creature (or at least, a person in an impressively-detailed Goatman costume).

One can’t help but notice that the Goatman’s description as a hairy, possibly scaly hominid, and its propensity to attack and damage parked cars, are strikingly similar to the appearance and habits of the  Bishopville Lizard Man. Could both creatures be part of a Southern population of small, lightly-built sasquatches with an odd hatred of motorized vehicles? Or maybe both are just hoaxes drawing on classic American folklore about monsters lurking in the dark, ready to trash unwary vehicle, and perhaps their unlucky occupants if they aren’t careful.

SOURCES





Saturday, May 23, 2020

Dragon of the Ishtar Gate

A few years ago I wrote some articles for the defunct Cryptid Culture magazine. These works game me an opportunity to explore cryptozoology beyond the scope of the American creatures that I focus on in this blog.  Here's one I particularly enjoyed which focuses on the mysterious "dragon" on the Ishtar Gate of Babylon.

And if you're interested, you can get back issues of Cryptid Culture on Blurb.



The Dragon of the Babylon Gate
by John Meszaros

Babylon. City of legend. Rising from humble origins over four thousand years ago as a small Akkadian town upon the Euphrates River- bisected into equal halves by the life-bringing waters- it became one of the largest cities of the ancient world. The owners of the great city would change many times as empires rose and fell across the Fertile Crescent. But regardless of who ruled, Babylon would remain a major hub of culture and trade throughout its existence. Its most powerful, and certainly one of its most famous, kings was Nebuchadnezzar II, who surround the city with high, thick walls both to demonstrate the power of his rule and to deter attacks from invaders who coveted Babylon’s riches. Entry to the city was via eight gates, the most famous of which was dedicated to Ishtar the goddess of love, fertility, war and political power. The Ishtar gate was constructed of fired bricks painted a deep blue that must have glowed to match the cloudless desert sky.

 Bas-reliefs of sacred beasts picked out in yellow enamel strode against this rich backdrop. The procession leading up to the gate was flanked by lions, while the great arch itself was decorated with the aurochs- a massive ancient breed of cattle that was associated with Hadad, the god of storms- and with a much stranger beast called the mushussu (pronounced mush-hush-shu). This beast, sacred to the city’s patron deity, Marduk, was a hybrid with the scaled body of a dragon, the head and forked tongue of a serpent, front paws of a lion, back paws of an eagle, and a long tail tipped by a scorpion’s sting. It’s serpentine head was also topped by a pair of long, straight horns on the snout and what appears to be a pair of curving, ram-like horns at the back.

Although mushussu may initially seem like purely mythological animals in the vein of griffons, qilin, manticores and other chimerical beasts, some researchers have wondered if they may have been real animals. Robert Koldewey, the German archaeologist who rediscovered the ruins of the Ishtar Gate in 1902, was the first to propose this idea. He argued that the appearance of the beast in Babylonian art had remained largely consistent over several hundred years, in contrast to the changing depictions of other beasts that were known by the people of Babylon to be purely mythological. He also pointed out that Marduk’s dragon was depicted alongside real-life aurochs and lions, indicating that it was a real animal the Babylonians were familiar with.

Another hint at the mushussu’s possible existence comes from the biblical Book of Daniel. In the Roman, Greek and Eastern Orthodox Catholic versions of the Old Testament, chapter 14 of Daniel briefly mentions a dragon worshipped by the Babylonians as a living god which the titular hero slays by feeding it cakes made of pitch, fat and hair. It’s quite possible that the writer of this tale misinterpreted the Babylonians’ respect for the mushusu’s sacredness to Marduk as outright worship of the animal itself as a deity.

Creatures similar to the mushussu have appeared in the mythology of other cultures. According to the legends of the Apatani people of the Ziro valley at the base of the eastern Himalayas, a species of large, semi-aquatic reptiles known as buru once inhabited the marshes around their villages. These creatures were said to have long necks, short, robust legs with mole-like claws, and long, powerful tails. Aside from the short legs, this description bears a fair resemblance to the mushussu. Though there is no mention of the buru bearing the iconic snout-horns or the fleshy curls at the back of the head. Unfortunately, these giant lizards were apparently driven to extinction when the Apatani drained the animals’ wetland home and no physical evidence of them remains. If they were ever truly real in the first place.


In his book The Marsh Arabs, explorer Wilfred Thesiger made mention of the belief among the river-dwelling Arabic tribes of Iraq in the afa, a large semi-aquatic reptile that resembled a snake with legs. Though the account is extremely brief, the reference to an unknown large serpentine reptile in the lands around ancient Babylon is intriguing.   

Ancient Egyptian and Mesopotamian art often depicted strange creatures that resembled leopard with long, serpentine necks. The ancient names for these creatures are unknown, thus archeologists have given them the portmanteau name “serpopards”. Although the creatures are more feline than reptilian, it is possible they are another interpretation of the long-necked beast that inspired the dragon of Babylon, though in this case with more exaggerated mammalian features.

Yet another mushussu-like creature is the Questing Beast, or Beste Glatisant, of Arthurian legend. The monster is the quarry of several knights including King Pellinore, Sir Percival and King Arthur himself. The appearance of the Questing Beast varies depending on the text, but one version describes it as having a serpent’s head, a leopard’s body, and a stag’s feet. Though this description might simply be a case of another fanciful chimera so common to folklore and mythology, it’s interesting to wonder if the author who first came up with this depiction was not basing it off a real animal he had seen, or at least read about.

If the mushussu was a real animal, what was it though? Koldewey himself initially proposed that it was a surviving dinosaur, perhaps a relative of Iguanodon, which was one of the most well-known prehistoric beasts at the time. A glance at a modern reconstruction of Iguanodon, however, will show a heavyset, stiff-tailed, beaked saurian quite unlike the agile, almost mammalian-looking mushussu.

Perhaps the mushussu was another type of dinosaur? Cryptozoologist Willy Levy compared the serpentine appearance of the mushussu to accounts of the Mokele-mbembe, a long-necked monster reported to inhabit the swamps and rivers of Central Africa. European investigators have frequently suggested that the mokele-mbembe is a surviving sauropod similar to Apatosaurus. When this connection was initially made in the 1950s, it was believed that sauropods had to spend their lives half-submerged in water to support their great weight. Thus the idea of a surviving long-necked dinosaur living in swamps in a relatively unexplored (by white scientists, anyway) region of Africa made some sense to cryptozoologists. In the 1970s, however, changing ideas in paleontology showed that sauropods could indeed support their own weight on land and thus did not need to rely on an amphibious existence. Even so, given millions of years of evolution, it would not be impossible for a sauropod to adapt to an aquatic lifestyle like a capybara or a hippopotamus. Dinosaurs have, of course, survived into the modern day in the form of birds. So it is not completely out of the realm of possibility that a non-avian dinosaur such as a sauropod may also have survived into the age of humans. Although the lack of any sauropod fossils after the Mesozoic extinction makes this a highly unlikely proposal.    


What else could the mushussu have been, then? Several researchers have suggested that it may have been a species of giant, unknown monitor lizard even bigger than the Komodo dragon- an identity that has also been proposed for the afa of the Marsh Arabs and the Himalayan Buru.  A monitor lizard explanation is not all that far-fetched, considering that smaller species of these reptiles actually do inhabit the Arabian peninsula. There is even precedence for other giant monitors aside from the Komodo dragon in the form of a 16-foot long monitor called Megalania that roamed Australia thousands of years ago.

What of the long, paired horns on the mushussu’s snout? Or the supposed “ram’s horns” on the back of its head? While no living monitor has horns or other head ornamentation, the aforementioned Megalania did have a small crest between its eyes. Perhaps Marduk’s sacred beast had similar, but more pronounced and paired crests on its snout. Regarding the curling horns on the back of the head, it’s worth noting that these features were not present on many other depictions of the animal. It’s possible they were simply an artistic embellishment of a fleshy fringe or neck flap on the real animal.
Did a large horned reptile roam the lands of Babylon and Central Asia, serving as a sacred beast to some and a nuisance to others? There is, unfortunately, no scientific evidence just yet. No preserved skins or bones. No fossils. But perhaps one day some explorer will unearth some remains lying forgotten in a temple under the sands or buried in the peat of an ancient bog. And the world will see get to marvel at Marduk’s dragon once again.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

Sinkhole Sam again!


 Another drawing of Kansas' own (unofficial) state cryptid!

I've developed a special fondness for this critter. Mainly because I love the idea of a giant, derpy-faced caecilian living in a prairie lake. But I also have to admit to a little pride in the fact that my first drawing of Sam seems to have become the main representation of him/her on the internet. Sam's entry is also the one with the most traffic on my blog.

So here's another depiction of ol' Sam.   

Friday, May 1, 2020

Weird Winged Cryptids




Been playing around with aging paper at home with coffee, tea, and ink. I love the eerie aesthetic these treated papers give off. And thought I'd use them to draw some of my favorite cryptids.

In his book "Operation Trojan Horse" journalist and ufologist John Keel discussed the possibility of ultraterrestrials- beings living on our planet that were so far advanced technologically and biologically beyond humans that we would only barely be able to conceive of their presence. He suggested that ultraterrestrials could be responsible for all sorts of unexplained phenomenon- UFOs, ghosts, aliens, and some cryptids such as the Mothman. Creatures resembling the Mothman have been sighted all over the world, as have other winged beings that bear a strong similarity to it, such as the Cornish Owlman, the Bat Beast of Kent, the Van Meter Visitor, the Chernobyl Black Bird, and others. 

Regardless of my own feelings about the reality of Mothman, ultraterrestrials, UFOs, and other Fortean phenomena, I love them from a folklore perspective. I particularly like the idea that these bizarre winged humanoids could all be different interpretations of the same species of entity, filtered through our limited human perceptions.

Here's my version of three forms of this creature. From top to bottom:  Mothman; The Bat Beast of Kent; and the Cornish Owlman.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Bishopville Lizardman- South Carolina



It looks like something attacked your car with a small chainsaw. There are deep scratches in the sides and on the bumper. The wheels slashed and flat. The edge of the hood is mangled as if an animal chewed on it. But what kind of animal gnaws metal? Your eyes slide from the damaged vehicle to the swamp that comes right up to your backyard. You know there are bears and coyotes out there. Maybe even pumas. Could something like that have done this? But you’ve also heard the stories about that other thing out there, lurking among the tupelos and sedges and dark, still water.  The thing that walks upright like a man, but which is covered with hair and scales, and has only three fingers and three toes.

Rumors of a strange beast inhabiting Scape Ore Swamp just outside Bishopville, South Carolina allegedly go back decades. But the creature first entered pop culture in 1988 when a couple woke up to find that the car parked in their driveway had been heavily scratched and chewed by an unknown vandal. A few days later local teenager Chris Davis went to the sheriff claiming he’d been attacked by a strange bipedal monster while he was changing a flat tire on a lonely dirt road near the swamp. Davis said the beast was covered in thick hair and green scales. When it jumped on the roof of his car and scratched at the windshield, he saw that it had only three fingers on each hand.

It didn’t take long for local newspapers to conflate the two stories, even if there was no direct evidence that the being that had attacked Davis had also damaged the couple’s car. The strange monster was dubbed the “Lizard Man” due to the scaled appearance Davis had described. As so often happens when word of a monster gets out, Bishopville became a tourist draw as people came from all over to see the home of the mysterious creature. A local radio station even offered a tongue-in-cheek reward of one million dollars to anyone who could bring it in alive. The Lizard Man was apparently quite shy, however, as only a few brief sightings were reported after 1988. Hoaxes were actually more common than actual sightings. For instance, two sheriff’s deputies found a supposed footprint that they made a plaster cast of, but even a cursory look at the print can tell a viewer that it is clearly a crude fake.  When the hype surrounding the Lizard Man began to die down, a Bishopville local claimed that the monster had attacked his car and left behind blood and scales. He later admitted that he had faked the damage and the evidence in an effort to keep the legend alive.

The Lizard Man is often depicted in pop culture as a bipedal reptilian being. However, the limited descriptions of it suggest that it is mammalian. More like a swamp-dwelling, three-digited variation of a sasquatch than an upright saurian. It’s worth noting that hairy tridactyl hominids have been reported form other wetland areas of the American South and Midwest. Perhaps they are a separate species, or at least subspecies, of North American hominid.

Though the Lizard Man hasn’t been seen in a long time, it has become a fond part of Bishopville’s culture. The town has even begun hosting an annual Lizard Man Festival in honor of their famous cryptid.

On a side note, the name of the Lizard Man’s home, Scape Ore Swamp, has its own weird history. It is allegedly a corruption of Escaped Whore Swamp. According to local folklore, during the Revolutionary War Continental troops came across British soldiers being entertained by a group of sex workers. The Red Coats were captured but the women were allowed to flee into the nearby swamplands, giving rise to the name.

SOURCES

Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster by Lyle Blackburn

American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America by Linda  Godfrey


An article from The State about the Lizard Man festival

An article from South Carolina Public Radio about the Lizard Man

An article from Mysterious Universe about the Lizard Man

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Working on a cryptid kids book

Now that my picture book The Scarecrow Harvest Festival is all done, I'm looking for an agent and/or publisher for it. 

In the meantime, though, I'm turning my creative efforts onto a new picture book about cryptids celebrating my favorite holiday, Halloween. 

Cryptid Halloween, you see, is just like Human Halloween, but with little differences. Instead of carving pumpkins into jack-o-lanterns, cryptids carve cantaloupes and other melons. Instead of decorating with bats, rats, and cats, cryptids decorate with fur-bearing trout, jackalopes, and flying platypus.  And, of course, instead of dressing up as monsters to trick-or-treat, cryptids dress up like human kids, as you can see below.

Mothman (or rather, Mothgirl in this case)

Champ

Fresno Nightcrawlers
I'm still working on designs for other cryptid trick-or-treaters, and working on a book dummy. Stay tuned for more!