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The Cryptid Creature Tour: North American Big Four

Ah, cryptids. Who among us doesn’t love a good cryptid? Unidentified creatures, disputed and unsubstantiated. There’s nothing I love more than settling in with a new cryptozoology book and demanding: show me the receipts. Sitting down and asking: how much do I believe? I’m here to sit you down and ask: how much do you believe?

Mothman

The Man, the Moth, the Legend

Cryptid: Mothman artist rendition; shapeless black body with man-like arms and legs, large feathery wings, and round red eyes.
Artist rendition of shapeless Mothman with wide feathery wings and red eyes.

What can I say about Mothman? Mostly, I love him; I love wearing my very official Mothman t-shirt to fancy outings. Also, I went as “sexy Mothman enthusiast” for Halloween last year (a last-minute costume, but the sentiment was there). In addition to this, I took a detour to Point Pleasant, West Virginia during a road trip just to see the Mothman Museum. I Love Mothman.

This cryptid is described as being “shaped like a man, but bigger, maybe six or seven feet tall.” It has “big wings folded against its back” and large eyes, usually a piercing red. In a 1990 edition of Strange Magazine, John Keel wrote, “They [witnesses] always said the thing was taller than a large man…and that it had fiery red eyes. Nobody was ever able to describe the face. The eyes dominated the face. The wingspan was always only about six feet wide. But they couldn’t tell you whether it was covered with fur or feathers or scales or what. It was just an awesome apparition—a big, dark, black thing with fiery red eyes.”

Keep Your Eyes on the Mothman

“The earliest sighting may have occurred in 1961 on West Virginia’s State Route 2…a few miles south of Point Pleasant,” Linda Godfrey writes in her book American Monsters. “The witnesses…were a father and daughter who happened to be driving through the area late one evening.” They slowed their vehicle after spotting a large, unknown humanoid figure on the center line ahead. It snapped out a pair of wings “so wide that the tips…reached either side of the road.”

Photo of the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Godfrey later describes the most widely recognized sighting in Point Pleasant: In 1966, “Roger and Linda Scarberry were driving their friends Steve and Mary Mallette around a former military munitions facility on the outskirts of Point Pleasant…First, they noticed bright red eyes shining out of the darkness, and then a gray thing the size and shape of a tall man emerged from the shadows…the foursome decided very quickly that the bipedal creature was not human when it revealed huge wings attached to its back.”

Descriptions of the Mothman are fairly consistent, although artist renderings tend to differ; some make Mothman more defined and shapely, such as the statue in Point Pleasant; others represent the cryptid with an undefined, shapeless body with wide wings and huge eyes. Other times, Mothman has feathery wings and can pull a sick kick-flip.

I have been to the Mothman Museum, seen the statue, and taken in the atmosphere of Point Pleasant. Because of this firsthand experience, I can say with confidence: I believe in Mothman, and I hope Mothman believes in me.

The Jersey Devil

“Let This One Be a Devil!”

The Jersey Devil—the monster, not the hockey team—has often been described as a “kangaroo with wings.”

Artist rendering of the Jersey Devil.

In a 1995 issue of Fortean Times, cryptozoologist Loren Coleman related a report from Pine Barrens forest ranger John Irwin, as quoted in American Monsters: “…up ahead, in the long shadows cast by his headlights, he noticed a large, dark figure emerge from the woods and move into the roadway. John…thought the figure was a deer and slowed to let it across but as soon as he got closer…the creature defiantly blocked the roadway. John had to stop his car to avoid hitting it.”

Witnesses described this alleged Jersey Devil as standing “fully upright” and “covered in dark, matted fur with a shiny, wet look to it.” This cryptid stood about six feet tall with a deer-like head and glowing red eyes.

Baby’s First Mass Murder

The first sightings—and the possible origin of the myth—began in 1735 with the Leeds family in the Pine Barrens of Southern New Jersey. Mother Leeds cursed her thirteenth child, allegedly shouting “Let this one be a devil!” upon learning of her pregnancy. Although thirteen children put enormous strain on an 18th-century family, large families weren’t uncommon.

As the story goes, after a normal and successful birth, “the wailing infant began growing at an incredible rate. It sprouted horns from the top of its head and talon-like claws tore through the tips of its fingers. Leathery bat-like wings unfurled from its back, and hair and feathers sprouted all over the child’s body. Its eyes began glowing bright red as they grew larger in the monster’s gnarled and snarling face.” The article on WeirdNJ.com continues, “The creature savagely attacked its own mother, killing her, then turned its attention to the rest of the horrified onlookers who witnessed its tempestuous transformation.”

Three versions of the Jersey Devil.

The newly transformed cryptid took refuge in the Barrens. There, it hid for “almost two centuries,” making “occasional forays into inhabited areas to steal livestock or terrify unwary travelers.” In 1909, the Devil ventured into at least thirty New Jersey communities, attacking pets and farm animals.

As a result of its skulking, passengers on a city trolley eventually witnessed the creature in Haddon Heights. The passengers described the cryptid as looking much like a “kangaroo with wings,” as mentioned earlier. Although, in recent times, it is commonly described as “having the body of a kangaroo, the head of a dog, the face of a horse, large leathery wings, antlers similar to those of a deer, a forked reptilian tail and intimidating claws.”

Jersey Shore: Cryptid Vacation

Consequently, believability goes both ways on this one; while the Jersey Devil has become heavily commercialized—NJ memorabilia, mascot for NJ hockey team—there are those who have a very real fear of this creature. This story leans more towards the supernatural, and while I’m skeptical of a baby transforming into a monster, I wouldn’t write off a terrifyingly real creature haunting the Pine Barrens.

El Chupacabras

Hell Monkeys from Beyond

Here’s my big question about chupacabras: most of the bodies found have been identified as other animals with sarcoptic mange—dogs, raccoons, coyotes, etc. Alison Deisel of Texas A&M writes in an article for BBC: “The ‘mangy dog’ is typically very sparsely haired to near-bald, with red or hyper-pigmented black, thickened skin…Add to this the self-inflicted wounds from scratching and a hairless body, and you have yourself a ‘chupacabra.’ [sic]”

Artist rendering of el chupacabras: the goat sucker.

But my question: if the physical specimens have been proven to be other creatures, then who’s drinking all the blood? Usually, chupacabras speculations are combined with exsanguinated animals: hence, goat sucker. Godfrey writes, “In February 1975, farmers [of Moca, Puerto Rico] began discovering dead cattle, goats, chickens, and other animals that had been totally exsanguinated…” Investigator Scott Corrales describes cows, in a 2010 article in Inexplicata, “found dead with strange puncture marks on their hides, “indicating that some sharp object—natural or unnatural—had been inserted into the hapless bovines.”

Who Drank the Blood?

One of the earliest witnesses of the physical cryptid, Madelyne Tolentino, tells Linda Godfrey she “saw the creature at 4 p.m. one day in August 1995.” She described its eyes as “dark gray or black…they were damp and protruding, running up to its temples, and spreading to the sides.” Tolentino reports the creature walked on two legs with its arms drawn back, and noticed “purplish-pink skin…where the hair had worn away.” This last detail matches up with symptoms of mange.

Artist rendition of el chupacabras; note the similarities between body shape, spine spikes, and large red eyes. The only difference is the appearance of long hair.

Common descriptions of chupacabras are as much of a patchwork as the Jersey Devil: kangaroo-like body, rounded, oversized head, cat-like or reptilian face. Most accounts of this cryptid include huge bat-like wings and long, tubular fangs.

 

 

Benjamin Radford, chupacabras investigator, is quick to dismiss these sightings as overactive imagination and anti-US sentiment in Puerto Rico. He attributes the apparently blood-drained corpses to lividity: blood draining to the lowest point in the body which can be mistaken as complete exsanguination. Radford states, as quoted in the BBC article on his research: “’I spoke to several Puerto Ricans who felt that the US had exploited, short-changed, and ignored the island, in economic and many other ways.’” The article continues, “Most recently, this resentment has played out in the island’s ongoing debt crisis. As for chupacabras, there are many Puerto Ricans who believe they are another indication of American exploitation and meddling; the result of top secret US scientific experiments taking place in El Yunque rainforest, not far from Tolentino’s hometown.”

Not to sound too much like a Fox Mulder, but I wouldn’t put it past US Government experimentation to produce something like el chupacabras. But I also get the accidental mangy-dog sightings; seeing an animal hairless, scabby, and starved peering through my window, I’d think chupacabras, too.

Bigfoot

Cryptid or Commercial?

Bigfoot is a hard one to pinpoint; he’s not really a singular entity, but more like a catch-all term for many different versions of huge, smelly, hairy, man-like creatures. There’s The Bigfoot as we know him, the Pacific Northwest original daddy; and then there’s the subculture of local bigfoots, small-town sasquatches. The term “Bigfoot” wasn’t used until a 1958 print article in The Humboldt Times. “Sasquatch” was created from various similar indigenous words and phrases in 1929.

Florida Man Haunts the Swamp

Cryptid: Florida Skunk Ape. Large, brown, man-like figure trekking through the Everglades.
Dave Shealy’s 1998 photo of the Florida Skunk Ape.

Here I’d like to get personal: let’s talk about the Florida Skunk Ape, also known as swamp cabbage man, stink ape, swamp ape, Florida Bigfoot, and swampsquatch. Florida is a weird place—people mostly come here to party or die, sometimes both—but along with our gators in swimming pools and the ever popular “Florida Man,” we have our own personal Sasquatch.

Dave Shealy, founder of the Skunk Ape Research Headquarters, first saw the Skunk Ape in 1975. Shealy “bills himself as the Jane Goodall of Skunk Apes,” quoted in a Smithsonian article as saying, “I am the expert…the state and county expert on the Florida skunk ape, and I have been for years.”

In 2000, Shealy caught the creature on grainy video, looking for everything like some guy in a gorilla suit. But, according to Shealy, the creature runs at about 22mph across waterlogged land, making a trek that is humanly impossible. But, watch the video; make your own conclusions.

…And the Legend Continues

In 2004, Jennifer Ward encountered a creature crouching in a ditch in rural Lakeland. She described it to Scott Marlowe in his book Cryptid Creatures of Florida as standing between six to eight feet tall, covered in hair that hid its ears and nose, with hands “drawn up next to its body.” It also had white coloration around its eyes which, according to Linda Godfrey, is an “often-observed trait of the Florida creature.”

Others claim Shealy’s findings are hoaxes, that he “openly profits” from the sightings. But, if the Bigfoot of the Pacific Northwest is so easy to accept, why not swampsquatch? Maybe my belief is just me wanting Florida to have something other than abundant citrus and good weather; maybe I just love the name swamp cabbage man. Whatever it is, the Everglades is a strange and mysterious place. I believe in the Florida Bigfoot, and if you’ve ever been to South Florida, you would too.

 

About the author

Lauren Boisvert

lauren a. boisvert is a poet from Florida with work published in spy kids review, The Broken Plate, Coffin Corner, and elsewhere. She lives for fandom tattoos, Mystery Science Theater 3000, and still can't believe The Mummy came out in 1999.

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