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