Saturday, December 14, 2019

Beast of Bray Road- Wisconsin

You’re driving down a quiet rural Wisconsin road late at night. Fields of vegetation stretching out wide on either side. No street lamps. The only illumination coming from the distant yellow lights of scattered farmhouses. Suddenly your headlights catch something on the side of the road. Something stooped and hairy with a long snout. A dog, you assume.  Maybe a wolf? It’s awfully big and shaggy. But there aren’t any wolves around here. Could it possibly be a bear?

Then the creature stands up on its hind legs. It looks like a man now. A hairy man with a canine’s head. But you see that it has paws, not hands and feet. It glares at you. Challenging. Seeming to look into your mind. Its eyes glow green in the headlights. Then it strolls off, still on two legs, into the tall grass.

In your shock, you’re not sure just what you saw. Was it a hallucination brought on by fatigue? Was it a dog, as you first thought? Could it have been a genuine werewolf? Or have you just had an encounter with the infamous Beast of Bray Road?

The Beast first came to the world’s attention thanks to the writings of Linda S. Godfrey, once a freelance journalist for the Walworth County Week newspaper and nowadays a major collector and popularizer of American cryptid folklore.

Godfrey learned of the Beast during a slow news week in December 1991 when her editor asked her to write a piece about a series of alleged “man-wolf” sightings along a three-mile stretch of rural road near Elkhorn, Wisconsin in Walworth County. Though it originally seemed like nothing but a fun puff piece, Godfrey’s investigations turned up multiple sightings of the Beast and several genuinely frightened and perplexed witnesses. It soon became clear that something was lurking in the Wisconsin countryside. Something stranger than just a few misidentified dogs.

Witnesses described the Beast as looking more like a wolf than a man, with paws, powerful canine leg muscles and feet that balanced on the toes like an animal rather than the flat of the foot like a human. Overall the creature was said to look like a bipedal wolf rather than a half-man lycanthrope.

The story of the Beast quickly caught on in the public imagination. More people came forward with stories. Other newspapers consulted Godfrey for their own pieces about the creature. Several TV shows came to Walworth County to shoot footage. At one point a producer even approached Godfrey to write the screenplay for a film about the monster. Sadly, this movie was never made, though there IS another Beast of Bray Road film. I haven’t seen it, though, so I can’t say anything about its quality.

The Beast of Bray Road is not an isolated anomaly. Dog-men have been sighted in Michigan, Illinois, Minnesota, and other areas throughout the Midwest. There was even a sighting in Point Pleasant, West Virginia- home of the infamous Mothman.

What IS the Beast, exactly? Some think it could be an actual werewolf or a Native American skinwalker. Others have speculated that it might be a Shunka Warak’in or other unknown large predator- perhaps even a prehistoric survivor.  Others have suggested it could be a regular wolf that has learned to walk on its hind legs. This latter explanation would explain why no one has found the Beast’s carcass, since a dead bipedal wolf is indistinguishable from a quadrupedal one.


Linda S. Godfrey's website

The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin's Werewolf by Linda S. Godfrey

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

Mysterious Universe article about Midwestern Dogmen

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Why so long between posts?

So it's been quite a gap between my latest post on the Loveland Frogs and my last post about Sharlie. A little over five months. I know I am rather sporadic in my updates to Cryptids State-by-State, but why such a sudden, long hiatus?

The big reason is that I was putting all my creative energy into finishing up a major art project. For the past year (well, two years really, but I didn't get serious until July 2018) I've been writing and illustrating a picture book! 

I began writing The Scarecrow Harvest Festival as a gift for my son, who loves scarecrows and autumn festivals. Autumn is also my favorite season, so it was a perfect opportunity to immerse myself in a creative world of pumpkins, fallen leaves and chilly evenings (something I miss even more on these summer heatwave nights). The last month I've been working extra hard to get everything formatted for printing. I'm currently publishing my book independently through Amazon's KDP services, but I'm actively seeking out publishers to get it professionally distributed. If you'd like your own copy you can get it here! 

Now that this big project is finally complete,  I can devote more of my energy towards my other art projects, particularly this blog.  I'm aiming to post more frequently- I'd like to get it up to at least once a month. And once every state has their very own official unofficial cryptid, I'm going to compile everything into a book with lots of new material. So stay tuned!

Friday, August 2, 2019

Loveland Frog- Ohio

Millions of years ago, in the Carboniferous period, the land that would become Ohio was a hot, muggy swamp home to a variety of giant amphibious beasts such as the giant salamander-croc Stegops, the boomerang-headed Platyrhinops, the sinuous, eel-like Diceratosaurus, and many more. Is it possible some of these creatures survived into the modern day, evolving over the eons into bipedal humanoids lurking in remote waterways like the Creature from the Black Lagoon? Well, no. Probably not. But that would make a pretty great backstory for Ohio’s favorite legendary creatures, the Loveland Frogs.

The story of the Frogs began in the summer of 1955 when a businessman driving through Clermont County saw three batrachian beings huddled together on the side of the road. When he got out of his car and approached the creatures, one of them raised a spark-emitting wand that scared him away.
The Loveland Frogs did not reappear again until 1972 when police officer Ray Shockey saw what he initially thought was a dog lying in the middle of the road. As he stepped closer, the animal stood up on its hind legs- revealing itself to be more amphibious than canine- and quickly hopped over a guardrail. A few weeks later another officer, Mark Matthews, sighted another of the strange creatures resting by the side of the road.

The Frogs disappeared into folklore for several decades until 2016 when two teenagers claimed to have encountered one while they were playing Pokemon Go! near Lake Isabelle. Pictures taken by one of the witnesses show a wide-mouthed creature with eerily glowing eyes half-submerged in the waters of the lake (as a huge Dungeons & Dragons nerd, I can’t help comparing the photo to the Blindheim, a weird frog-like, cave-dwelling, luminous-eyed being from the classic Fiend Folio tome).

 A recent article, however, suggests that the beast in the photo may be nothing more than a lawn decoration with light-up eyes. A hoax, most likely, but one made in the spirit of keeping the legend of the Loveland Frogs alive. 

There is quite a fondness for the Frogs in the Loveland area, so much so that the critter even got its own bluegrass musical called “Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog!”

Ohio is not the only part of the Midwest with its own frog-humanoids, though. In 1951, Indiana steelworker and entrepreneurial advertiser Harrison Bailey had a close encounter with several odd batrachian beasts.  Bailey’s unique brand of advertising involved painting clients’ slogans on a large tractor wheel and rolling it by hand down a length of highway, where the eye-catching oddity would be seen by hundreds of people. While rolling his tire along Illinois Highway 7 one day, Bailey encountered an oval, silver object piloted by two beings wearing green masks. The entities allegedly paralyzed Bailey somehow and asked him where he was going and what he was doing. Once Bailey answered, they released him and allowed him to continue on his way. But when he walked away, he discovered that several hours had passed, though he had no memory of the missing time. Bailey did not talk about the incident for 25 years until he underwent hypnosis therapy to figure out what happened in the forgotten hours after he encountered the craft. Bailey recalled being suddenly swarmed and chased by a pack of foot-long humanoid frogs, accompanied by an entourage of tiny, hard-shelled “bugs”. The creatures herded him towards the craft and the green-masked beings who, in addition to the asking him where he was going, also told him that there were extraterrestrial beings living among humanity and that they wished to establish peaceful communication with Earth.

Could the weird tiny frog-creatures that Bailey encountered be related to the Loveland Frogs? Are there secret populations of intelligent, possibly extraterrestrial, amphibians lurking in hidden places throughout the Midwest? Again, probably not. But I think that bit of folklore, like the idea of Carboniferous amphibians surviving to the present day, would make a pretty fitting addition to the legend of Loveland’s bipedal, wand-wielding amphibious cryptids.


An article from the Cincy Weekend about the Loveland Frogs

An entry from Weird U.S. about the Loveland Frogs

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Sharlie- Idaho

Along the western edge of Idaho lie the remains of an ancient island chain that crashed into North America millions of years ago, driven by the inexorable glide of tectonic plates.  Over time geological forces squeezed the land, pushing some sections up and dropping others down- a process known as block faulting- to create a range of low mountains through the land that would one day be called Idaho, Oregon, and Washington.

The ice came millions of years later, in the Pleistocene. Great glaciers flowed down from the boreal lands, gouging rounded valleys into the buckled terrain. When the ice eventually retreated, its meltwater filled the valleys. forming deep lakes, often dammed at their southern ends by moraines- huge piles of rock piled up by the grinding of the glaciers. One of these watery bodies is Payette Lake, located in Valley County, Idaho and named after Francois Payette, a French-Canadian trapper who wandered this land in the early 19th century. 

Native Americans- including the historical Shoshone, Nez Perce, and Tukudeka peoples- inhabited the area around Payette Lake for thousands of years, usually living along the shore in the summer and migrating to other lands in the winter.  European-Americans only arrived in the area around 1862 when veins of gold were discovered. This influx of white settlers soon led to the creation of the town of McCall.

Like numerous lakes throughout North America, Payette is said to be home to an aquatic monster. The creature was first sighted in 1920 by a crew of railroad loggers working on the edge of the lake. At first, the men assumed the long, dark shape floating in the water was merely a log. Much to their surprise, however, this “log” began to bob and undulate before swimming away into the deeper part of the lake.

The mystery beast was sighted again in 1944. This time the witnesses got a better look at the creature, describing it as having a saurian head, camel-like humps and “shell-like” skin. This second sighting brought the monster to national attention, even leading to a mention in the August 1944 issue of Time Magazine. Regular sightings continued over the decades, bringing tourists and monster-hunters to the lake.

At first, the beast was dubbed “Slimy Slim”, but local folks soon decided that their resident monster needed a better moniker. In 1954 a national contest was held to rename the creature. The winning name, “Sharlie”, was sent in by  Lesle Hennefer Turry of Springfield, Virginia. The name references a catchphrase of comedian Jack Pearl from a radio and TV show that was popular at the time. The show typically had the same formula each episode.  Pearl’s character, Baron Munchausen (based on the infamous German folk hero and grand liar) would relate an increasingly outlandish story to his straight man, Charlie. When Charlie inevitably expressed incredulity, Munchausen would respond: “Ah, well, vas you dere, Charlie?”- which, due to the Baron's thick German accent, came out as “Sharlie”.

As odd as this origin may seem, the Payette Lake beast is far from the only cryptid to owes part of its mythology to pop culture.

The Mothman of Point Pleasant, for example, was named in reference to the 1966 Adam West Batman TV series which was immensely popular around the time that the creature haunted West Virginia.

Another, more recent example of a cryptid whose folklore was shaped by pop culture is the chupacabra of Puerto Rica. The appearance of the beast was originally inspired by the H.R. Giger designed alien Sil from the 1995 movie Species.

Then there is the appearance of Grey aliens- the most widely reported type of extraterrestrial in the past several decades and currently the definitive pop culture image of an “alien”. Their iconic large heads and oval eyes were first described in 1963 by abductee Barney Hill who, while under hypnosis,  described an encounter he and his wife Betty had had with the beings two years earlier.  It’s thought by some that Barney’s description of the beings may have been inspired by the TV series The Outer Limits- in particular, by the creature from the episode “The Bellero Sheild”, which aired a few nights before Barney first hypnosis session. Prior to this session, the Hills described the creatures as being more humanoid with huge “Jimmy Durante” noses and tight-fitting black caps.

Here I’ve illustrated Sharlie as the classic plesiosaur-type lake monster.  This modern creature is significantly changed from its Mesozoic ancestors, the biggest divergence being its swan- or periscope-like neck. Despite pop cultural depictions, prehistoric plesiosaurs did not have flexible necks that they held up out of the water. Their necks were rigid and held straight out in front like a fishing pole. This kept the relatively small head far away from the body, allowing the animal to sneak up on fish and other aquatic prey without the wake of its large body alerting them to its presence. Sharlie and other hypothetical lake monsters, however, have more supple, flexible necks.

Another major modification is the set of humps that are a distinct feature of many lake monsters and a sharp contrast to the smooth, keel-shaped backs of Mesozoic plesiosaurs. Perhaps the humps are for fat storage? That would be a distinct advantage in a lake or other enclosed freshwater environment where food is not always as abundant and consistent as in the open ocean.

Sharlie reconstructed as a filter-feeder, based on a reconstruction of Mortuneria from F. Robin O'Keefe's paper.

For this reconstruction, I have imagined Sharlie as a filter-feeder. In 2015 paleontologist F. Robin O'Keefe redescribed Morturneria seymourensis, a fossil plesiosaur from Antarctica that had rows of thin, needle-like teeth that it had apparently used to strain food like a baleen whale (Mortuneria was originally discovered and named in 1984 by paleontologists Sankar Chatterjee and Bryan Small who had also speculated that the Antarctic plesiosaur was a filter-feeder. But these adaptations were not fully confirmed until 2015). Mortuneria is believed to have fed by gulping mouthfuls of seafloor sediment and straining the mud through its cage of teeth to catch tiny crustaceans, worms, and other burrowing invertebrates- a feeding method similar to that used by modern day gray whales. I thought this would be an intriguing feeding behavior for Sharlie and other lake plesiosaurs, and could also explain why they are rarely sighted since they would be spending most of their time near the bottom of the lake filtering the sediments.