Sunday, December 11, 2016

New Cryptid Culture article

The newest issue of Cryptid Culture came out, well, about a month ago. But I haven't had time to post about it until now...

Anyway, I wrote another article for this issue. This time I discuss the enigmatic deep-sea organism called Paleodictyon. This critter builds hexagonal structures on the sea bed made of numerous interconnected burrows. Although these burrows are well-documented- and are even known from fossils going all the way back to the Precambrian!- the actual creature itself has never been observed.

Some researchers believe it is a kind of giant amoeba called a xenophyophore. Others think it may be a burrowing sponge. Whatever it is, you can read all about it in the latest issue, which you can order here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gray Aliens- New Hampshire

On the night of September 19, 1961 Betty and Barney Hill were driving to their home in New Hampshire after a trip to Quebec when they noticed a strange light following them in the sky. They stopped to watch the object for a bit then continued to drive. When they rounded a corner, they found the strange glowing object hovering over the highway in front of them. Barney got out to have a closer look and described the craft as being disk-shaped with a row of windows around its edge through which he could see several silhouetted figures. As he watched, a pair of fins or wings unfolded from the sides of the craft.

Terrified, the Hills  quickly got back into their car and sped home with the ship following close behind. For days afterwards Betty and Barney experienced anxiety and strange fragmented dreams about being led through the woods by odd, gray-skinned men.  Eventually they phoned the local air force base to relate their story, and Betty shared her experience with a couple close friends. Soon their tale began to circulate among UFO enthusiasts who eventually invited them to speak at a conference in 1963.  Enthusiastic members of the audience encouraged the Hills to see a clinical hypnotist to recall more of their story. They met with Dr. Benjamin Simon, a psychiatrist specializing in trauma-induced amnesia.

Betty and Barney Hill.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Simon’s hypnosis sessions slowly drew out a complete abduction narrative. Betty described the two of them being led aboard the craft by the aliens. Inside, the they were given medical examinations which involved the beings taking samples of their hair, skin and fingernails and examining their mouths, ears and genitals. Betty further described having a conversation with the apparent leader of the beings. When she asked him where he came from, he pulled down a star-chart to show her his home planet. Betty would later reproduce this map from memory and publish it in a number of UFO-related magazines. Amateur astronomer Marjorie Fish would eventually identify the stars in the map as Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, a binary system in the southern constellation of Reticulum (thus leading to another name for this type of alien, Zeta Reticulans).

The Hill’s descriptions of the beings that abducted them varied somewhat. Both described them as being short with gray skin and large heads that tapered to narrow chins. Outfit-wise, they were dressed in trousers and jackets without buttons or zippers.  Betty initially claimed the aliens had black hair and bulbous noses like Jimmy Durante, though she would later describe them as looking a bit like Tibetans or Amerindians from Patagonia. Barney recalled them having no noses, with only slits for nostrils, and another slit for a mouth.  Their leader, he claimed, wore a black scarf and a billed cap or hat. Under hypnosis, Barney would often become terrified by their eyes, which he claimed were so large and long that they wrapped partway around their heads.

Prior to the Hill’s abduction, the majority of reported alien encounters involved beings that looked like tall, blond beautiful humans. These benevolent “Nordics” often claimed to be from Venus, and said they had initiated contact with humans to bring offers of peace or warnings about the dangers mankind posed to the Earth. Barney and Betty’s tale marked a shift towards more nightmarish abductions where hypnotized humans were subjected to strange, painful and frightening medical procedures by large-eyed, gray-skinned beings.  While reports of encounters with such creatures had occurred before the Hill case, this was the incident that brought the imagery into popular culture.

The Hill case was dramatized in the 1975 TV movie The UFO Incident with James Earl Jones as Barney and Estelle Parsons as Betty.

Skeptics have come up with various theories to explain what happened to the Hills. Some have suggested that a combination of fatigue and stress caused Betty and Barney to experience hypnogogic hallucinations (hallucinations experienced when one is halfway between being asleep and awake) that were later elaborated on by their unconscious minds through nightmare and false memories.

As to the appearance of the beings, it is worth mentioning that extraterrestrials with bulbous heads and large eyes are not unprecedented. They have been a staple of science fiction tales going all the way back to the 19th century. If one takes a skeptical view of the Hill case, it’s not too difficult to imagine that Betty and Barney had encountered these depictions before and ended up weaving this image of an “alien” into their recollections of their abduction.

On an additional note, while the Hill case first brought the image of the Gray Alien into popular culture, the aliens’ current, much more stylized appearance- black, oval eyes, triangular faces, thin, wispy bodies- did not fully coalesce until the publication of the book Communion by Whitley Strieber in 1987. Like the Hills, Strieber described multiple frightening encounters with large-headed and large-eyed beings. His experiences, though, eventually developed a more spiritual undertone harkening back to the older encounters with peaceful Nordics bringing enlightenment to mankind.


The Big Book of UFOs by Chris A. Rutkowski

The Field Guide to Extraterrestrials by Patrick Huyghe

Communion: A True Story by Whitley Strieber

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Zwaanendael Mermaid- Delaware

For a brief period in 1631, Dutch colonists in North America tried to establish a small settlement named Zwaanendael along the Delaware River. Unfortunately, the colony did not last more than a year before it was destroyed in a skirmish with local Native Americans.

Despite its brief existence, Zwaanendael is credited as the first known European settlement in the region that would become Delaware, and the 300th anniversary of its founding was commemorated with the creation of the Zwaanendael Museum. Despite its name, the Museum focuses not on the ill-fated colony, but on the entire history of southeastern Delaware as a whole. There are exhibits on the ecology of the river estuary, local history- particularly the British attack on the city of Lewes in the War of 1812- and the lighthouses of the region.

The Zwaanendael Museum, Modeled after the town hall in Hoorn, the Netherlands. Photo from WIkimedia Commons, uploaded by user Smallbones.

The Museum also houses a strange little curiosity: a mummified “mermaid” in its own blue velvet-lined glass case. The mermaid was given to the prominent Martin family in the city of Lewes (built on the site of the vanished Dutch colony) by a sea captain. In 1941, the mummy was permanently lent to the Museum until 1985 when locals bought the creature from the Martin’s estate to ensure that it remained a permanent fixture of the museum.

The Zwaanendael mermaid bears little resemble to the classic image of these aquatic beings as attractive women with fish tails. A wide toothy mouth and large, ridged eye sockets dominate its simian face. Its hands are clawed like a reptile’s. It’s torso is covered in bony ridges. Its skin and scales are an ashy gray-black  On top of all that, the creature is small- no more than a foot or so in length. It bears a much closer resemblance to its “cousin”, the Fiji Mermaid, made famous by P.T. Barnum. Both creatures are, of course, clever taxidermy specimens akin to jackalopes, jenny hanivers, or fur-bearing trouts. They are also part of a larger tradition of taxidermied monsters that have their roots in 18th century Japan.

Misemono were a popular type of carnival in Old Edo (modern-day Tokyo). They featured all manner of entertainments- actors, storytellers, exotic animals, local craftsmen- which were believed to bring good luck and fortune to attendees. One of the more unusual sights at the misemono were the bodies of mermaids or ningyo. Unlike the beautiful mermaids of Europe and the Mediterranean, ningyo were more monstrous and fish-like. In Japanese legends, eating the flesh of one of these creatures was said to grant renewed youth and immortality, though obtaining this delicacy often leads to dire consequences since ningyo could curse those who killed their kin. They could even destroy entire towns with hurricanes and tsunami.

Despite the risks, it was still popular to display mummified “ningyo” at carnivals in the hopes that at least a little of that coveted youth and longevity would rub off on attendees without requiring them to actually eat the creature’s flesh.  And if a mermaid was too hard to come by, a taxidermied substitute certainly wouldn’t hurt. Thus there developed a cottage industry of fishermen constructing ningyo out of the bodies of fish and small monkeys dressed up with paper-maché, wood and lacquer.
The ubiquity of fake ningyo meant that inevitably more than a few of them would make their way overseas, brought home as curiosities by sailors from America and Europe, where the folklore behind the creatures was lost, leaving them blank slants upon which others could write their own mythologies.

Ningyo are actually only one category of manufactured Japanese monsters. Mummified oni, kappa, tengu and other yokai were also common created as carnival attractions. Some of them even ended up at Buddhist temples, perhaps to add a bit of tangibility to the unseen supernatural world.


The Night Parade of One Hundred Demons: A Field Guide to Japanese Yokai, written and illustrated by Matthew Meyer

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Fresno Nightcrawlers Variant 3: Enzymes of the Leviathan

I’m fascinated by the concept of beings existing in higher dimensions beyond the four that we know. Beings that we see only fleetingly as they move through our plane of existence. In order to get a better handle on this idea, imagine a two-dimensional being living on a flat surface that has length and width but no depth. A three-dimensional creature passing into this 2-D universe would only be visible as the part of them that is immediately passing through the plane. Thus, they would appear as “slices” of the whole. As a shifting 2-D blob, seeming to expand and contract and twist. If you’ve ever read the book Flatland by Edwin A. Abbott, you’ll have a good idea of what I’m talking about.
Now, imagine that one of these higher-dimensional beings is so immense that even the parts that do pass into our dimension- parts which seem large to us- are actually just the tiniest cell components to this leviathan.

This is what I’ve imagined for this version of the Fresno Nightcrawlers. Here, the “walking wishbones” are actually gigantic versions of microscopic proteins known as kinesins. Within every cell is a network of strands called microtubules which act as a sort of “railway” for the transport of important molecules and cellular building blocks. Kinesins are proteins that transport these molecular cargos along the microtubules via a long chain attached to them. To move, kinesins use a “hand-over-hand” (or, more accurately, “protein head over protein head”) motion which looks remarkably like walking.

Here’s an awesome animation of kinesin at work:

In this scenario, the Nightcrawlers are the only visible part of the cellular structure with the cargo, attachment chain and microtubule pathway the “creature” is moving on existing in a dimension we can’t see. 

Why, though, is this one component visible in our dimension? Perhaps there is something about the physical structure of our universe that makes them more stable or efficient, much like how many enzymes work best in a warmer environment.

Or perhaps the appearance of these beings in our dimension was only a fleeting accident that just happened to be caught on film.

Extrapolating from the idea of the Nightcrawlers as giant kinesin proteins, I also created a few more giant molecules from this unfathomably huge beast that might accidentally drift into our plane of existence for a few moments.

Ribosomes are bundles of RNA and proteins that read the cell’s DNA to build new proteins.

Molecular Chaperones are containers that guide freshly-formed protein chains into the proper shapes to create functional enzymes.

ATP Synthase is a large molecule embedded in the cell membrane that is used to generate ATP (adenosine triphosphate) an essential molecule that is used as an energy source in the cell.

Proteosomes and Ubiquitin are enzymes designed to break down other enzymes and proteins that are no longer needed.  Ubiquitin attaches a tag to proteins, and proteosome attacks these marked molecules, breaking them down into its constituent amino acids.

There would, of course, be billions of molecules in this higher-dimensional titan that would have no equivalent to Earthly structures. Thus the inclusion of an “Unkown Organelle”

On a final note, here’s another fun little animation explaining the role of kinesin in the body:


Our Molecular Nature: The Body's Motors, Machines and Messages by David S. Goodsell

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 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:
 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....

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

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

My Writing in Cryptid Culture!

Hey everyone, I recently wrote an article for Cryptid Culture magazine talking about my blog.

To quote the magazine's own blurb:

"Cryptid Culture Magazine is a new print publication based on Long Island, NY. The idea for this magazine began in early 2015 when Brian Richardson, founder and designer for Mythic Articulations, came up with the idea of an art magazine that could gather all of the 'cryptid art' and artists he was discovering through his company.  Expanding that, we began to believe there might be an audience for such a magazine if it could include not only visual art but fiction, essays, poetry etc. as well as content covering the influence of cryptids on books, film, TV, gaming, fashion, social media and science; really anything that might fall under the purview of 'cryptid culture' including interviews with cryptozoologists.

We envision Cryptid Culture as being a celebration of all things cryptid. We would like to include sightings, accounts and theories, remaining respectful of all opinions and insights from contributors with our own slant falling on neither the skeptic or believer side but promoting the interests of both with the dignity and respect each deserves.  We will strive to make Cryptid Culture a high quality magazine with beautiful design and intriguing content and we would love to have you be a part of it."

You can pick up an issue:

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Pascagoula Wrinkled Robots-- Mississippi

On the cool evening of October 11th, 1973, Charles Hickson and his friend Calvin Parker, Jr. were fishing off a pier on the Pascagoula River. As they watched, a football-shaped, glowing craft zipped down from the sky and hovered over the river. Three bizarre beings floated out of the ship and approached the men. Hickson described the extraterrestrials as “robots” with wrinkled gray skin like an elephant’s, and claw-like hands. Their bullet-shaped heads had no necks, instead merging seamlessly into their shoulders. The creatures had slits for mouths and carrot-like growths where their noses and ears wouldhave be. They did not appear to have any eyes. Their cylindrical legs appeared to be welded together.

The alien robots somehow paralyzed Hickson and Parker and took them back to their ship. There, the men were floated into a bright, empty room and scanned by a football-shaped mechanical eye. According to Hickson, Parker quickly passed out during the encounter. Years later, under hypnosis, he would recall seeing shadowy beings watching the procedure from another compartment. Perhaps these were the creators and controllers of the wrinkled robots.

After a short while, both men were returned to the pier.  Once able to move again, they ran to their car and sat for a long time, regaining their composure.

So what exactly happened to Hickson and Parker that night on the Pascagoula River? Were they indeed paralyzed by wrinkled robots and taken about a spacecraft? Were the beings from another planet? Another dimension (perhaps the same higher dimension that was the possible home of the Van Meter Visitor and other bizarre phantoms)?

 Or was the whole encounter a vivid, terrifying hallucination? Joe Nickell, Ph.D., a Senior Research Fellow of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry (CSA) wrote an interesting article for the May/June 2012 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine which postulates that Hickson may have actually experienced a hypnagogic episode.

 Hypnagogia is the state between waking and sleeping where some people can experience vivid, dream-like hallucinations, often including strange lights and visions of frightening beings. Many  people also report sleep paralysis during this time-- a condition caused by the body being in “sleep mode”, though the mind is still partially active. 

Hallucinations and sleep paralysis, so Nickell hypothesizes, might explain the bizarre appearance of the wrinkled robots, as well as the way they paralyzed the two men. Parker, as was mentioned before, fell asleep at the beginning of the alleged encounter and did not wake up until afterwards. He only recalled details of the incident later. Perhaps his "recovered memories" were influenced by Hickson’s own genuine belief in the encounter.

Hypnogogic hallucination it may have been, but regardless the experience still haunted the men for years afterwards. Both suffered mental trauma from what they believed they saw. Parker was supposedly even hospitalized at one point after an emotional breakdown.

In an interesting possible sequel to this encounter, just six days later a metallic, wrinkly, robot-like being somewhat similar to the Pascagoula aliens was reported in Falkville, Alabama. I'll be detailing that incident in my next entry.


Saturday, February 13, 2016

Freshwater Octopus-- Oklahoma

The idea of a freshwater octopus isn’t too outlandish, especially compared to some of the cryptids on this blog. Other marine animals have made the jump to lakes and rivers, including mussels, clams, snails, bryozoans and jellyfish (though the biologist in me is compelled to note that the freshwater jellyfish, Craspedacusta sowerbii, is of the class Hydrozoa rather than Scyphozoa, which are the “true jellyfish” like moon jellies, lion’s mane, upside-down Cassiopeia jellies and others). The bull shark, Charcharhinus leucas, is infamous for its habit of swimming up estuaries into freshwater. There is even a rare group of poorly-understood, exclusively freshwater sharks in the genus Glyphis that inhabit the Ganges and Irrawaddy rivers. Taking all these into account, it isn’t a huge stretch to imagine an animal as intelligent and curious as the octopus  evolving to live in freshwater.
Perhaps this has, in fact, happened, if urban legends about gigantic octopi inhabiting lakes in Oklahoma are to be believed. According to rumor, Lake Thunderbird, Lake Oolagah and Lake Tenkiller are all home to red, truck-sized cephalopods that may be responsible for the upswing in drownings in recent decades.

The Devil's Lake Monster

This is actually not the only time freshwater cephalopods have appeared in legend. Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin is said to be haunted by two distinct types of monsters. One is a classic Nessie-style plesiosaur. The other is a tentacled beast that was said to have attacked a canoe of Native American men paddling across the lake to more fertile hunting grounds. The origin of this particular story is hard to trace. It’s unclear if it genuinely originated with the Nakota Sioux who call the land around Devil’s Lake home, if it was an invention of European settlers, or if perhaps it was even a modern invention given a precolonial setting to try to create more legitimacy.

The Berkeley Square Horror

Another, more ambiguously cephalopodic cryptid comes from London. The house at 50 Berkeley Square in the West End was infamous in the 18th and 19th centuries for being haunted by a shapeless gray Thing. Though the bottom floor of the house has been consistently occupied, the second floor rooms have long been left empty because anyone who sleeps in them will, according to the legend, will literally be frightened to death by a visit from the Thing in the middle of the night. Calling the Berkeley Square Horror an octopus is, admittedly, a bit of a stretch. Descriptions of the entity are vague and contradictory. Some witnesses said it looked like a collection of shadows or an amorphous blob.  Others claimed it was  a twisted, man-like specter. At least one witness, though, did describe the Horror as a bizarre, tentacled creature like a deformed octopus. Assuming the Horror was not something supernatural, perhaps it was indeed a species of freshwater octopus that found its way up the Thames and into London’s vast sewer system, where it eventually emerged in the Berkely Square house.

While the marine ancestors of the Berkely octopus may have migrated into the Thames via it’s link to the North Sea, it is more difficult to imagine how cephalopods could have moved deep into the land-locked interior of North America. This is further compounded by the fact that none of the lakes inhabited by America’s supposed freshwater octopi have outlets to the sea. Devil’s Lake lies at the bottom of a closed drainage basin-- a glacially-created valley that does not link to any rivers with links tot he sea.  Lakes Thunderbird, Oolagah and Tenkiller, furthermore, are reservoirs created in the 1940s and 50s. How then could octopi even get into any of these bodies of water?


Well, maybe they just walked. Terrestrial, octopus-like cryptids have been occasionally sighted around the world.  In 1961, two Spanish truck drivers reported encountering an odd creature covered in rust-colored fur that stood upon four tentacle-like limbs.  Octopi are actually known to venture out of the water for short periods of time, usually when they are moving between tide pools in search of prey. Perhaps some evolved an even more amphibious existence and took to venturing farther and farther inland in search of food. 

Hairy Octopus from

Even the unusual “fur” on this Octosquatch is not unprecedented. A small species of taxonomically undescribed  hairy octopus is known to inhabit the waters around Indonesia. The filaments covering this creature’s body-- which are extensions of its skin rather than the genuine fur of mammals-- are believed to provide camouflage in the furry red algae common to the creature’s habitat. Perhaps the land-walking cephalopod also developed a similar covering, though in its case the filaments may have been used to provide insulation and possibly to hold water against its body during terrestrial excursions.

Perhaps an Octosquatch-like species gradually made its way into North America, using freshwater lakes as stepping stones. Over time, this creature may have lost its terrestrial abilities and become fully aquatic again, eventually becoming the enigmatic monsters terrorizing swimmers and Native exploration parties in the Midwest.


Monday, January 11, 2016

The Van Meter Visitor-- Iowa

Visitor in crouching form.
In the early morning of September 29 1903, U.G  Griffith was returning to his home in Van Meter, Iowa, when he spotted a bright light like an incandescent torch on a nearby rooftop .  He assumed, at first, that a burglary was in progress, but that idea changed when the light jumped from the roof and sailed to another building across the empty dirt road. Griffith found the phenomenon odd but didn’t think much else of it. This innocuous event, however, was the beginning of a week of hauntings in the small Iowa town by a creature that has come to be known as The Van Meter Visitor.

The being was described as a tall , black or dull gray humanoid with wings, a beak and a blunt horn on its head that emitted a bright, blinding light. Bullets were said to bounce off of it with a metallic clang (a feature which is oddly common among otherworldly visitors. The Hopkinsville Goblins were also impervious to bullets, as were many of the “dragons” and “thunderbirds” sighted throughout the American West. More on those in a future post).

The creature appeared always at night. It seemed more curious than aggressive, merely popping up in residents’ windows to shine its light around. One man reported seeing it asleep on the top of a telephone pole. He shot at it, but the creature merely crawled down the pole using its beak like a third foot as a parrot does, then flew off into the night.

Shooting at the Visitor was, unfortunately, the typical response, as it so often seems to be when people encounter otherworldly beings in these incidents. By the end of the week a large posse had gathered around the abandoned coal mine outside of town that some men had seen the creature flying in and out of on its nightly journeys.  They waited through the night and early morning to blow the being out of the sky when it returned.  And return it did, this time accompanied by a smaller member of its species. Though everyone unloaded their guns, as before the bullets merely bounced off the creatures with a metallic ping.  Sailing over their assailants as if they weren’t even there, the Visitors disappeared into their subterranean den never to be seen again.

The reports of the Van Meter Visitor give little clue as to what it might have been.  The most skeptical explanation was that it was all a case of mass hysteria embellished with fanciful details for the newspapers.  Some have suggested that the creature could have been a fear-fueled misinterpretation of a large bird such an out-of-place pelican or eagle owl.

Cryptozoologists have drawn parallels between the Visitor and the pterosaur-like Thunderbirds sighted throughout the western states.  Others have compared it to the West Virginia Mothman or Cornish Owlman.

Investigator Kevin Lee Nelson (who, along with his partners Chad Lewis and Noah Voss, wrote what’s probably the most definitive-- and maybe only-- book on the Van Meter Visitor) suggests that the creature might have been a being from another dimension that somehow slipped through a window into our world. Nelson writes extensively about this “ultraterrestrial” hypothesis, which was first proposed by paranormal investigator John Keel in his book The Mothman Prophecies.

Of all the supernatural explanations for the Visitor, this is by far my favorite.  I particularly like Nelson’s suggestion that the winged, glowing creature people saw may have just been the closest their minds could come to comprehending the being’s true, hyperdimensional form.  

I’ve used this ultraterrestrial concept for my depiction of the Van Meter Visitor. I like the idea that the Visitor seems, at first, like a recognizable monster-- in this case a winged dragon as depicted above.  But when it leaps into flight, as illustrated below, one quickly realizes that it is not even remotely related to a dragon, or anything reptilian.
The Visitor in flight.

 It’s whole body unfolds like a fleshy flower. The neck and “head” become tentacles while the wings transform into a membranous hood. The three-toed “feet” become fins on the bottom of a gelatinous body while the arms prove to be nothing but more highly-modified tentacles.

 I based this body design on the swimming sea cucumber Enypniastes eximia. The “head” is styled after the bizarre, hinged, almost completely detachable head of the Stoplight Loosejaw Malacosteus 

Enypniastes eximia by Alice Viola on Flickr

Stoplight Loosejaw by Alex Ries

The Van Meter Visitor: A True and Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown
by Chad Lewis, Noah Voss and Kevin Lee Nelson

Des Moines Register article