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