Spooks Weekly: Favorite Cryptids

A sector of the paranormal I enjoy reading about, aside from the normal ghost stories, are cryptids and cryptozoology.

A few well-know examples of cryptids would be The Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, and the Yeti. Even mermaids would be considered cryptids.

There are a few cryptids that I find particularly interesting and unsettling, especially when you get into the first hand accounts, and I wanted to explore these legends, their history, and their possible reasonable explanations.

Cryptids are our modern-day monsters; their existence is hard for people to wrap their minds around. I don’t think anyone should blindly believe stories from people about the unexplained without a little bit of skepticism. However, with 86% of the world’s species yet to still be discovered and identified, I like to have an open mind.  Do I believe the cryptids on this list exist? I honestly haven’t decided yet. I just enjoy the stories of the encounters, speculation of where they may come from, and the discussion on what they may actually be, if not cryptids.

The Mothman

 Artists rendering of the Mothman.  Source

Artists rendering of the Mothman. Source

The Mothman is my favorite paranormal creature or cryptid. I think the bizarre tales and circumstances surrounding its appearance, and the encounters the locals had with it, are terrifying and flat out fascinating.

The Mothman made a majority of its appearances for only 13 months; from November 1966 – December 1967 in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Point Pleasant has a current population of about 4,300 and the city itself is only about 3 square miles. (In the late 60’s, when the sightings took place, the population was a little higher at 5,700.)
This is small town American, folks.

With few jobs available in Point Pleasant, many adults commuted over the Ohio river to the larger town of Gallipolis, Ohio for work, shopping, and entertainment.  Many commuters and families used the Silver Bridge every day to make this commute. (This bridge will be important later.)

 On November 12th, 1966 five men on a (literal) graveyard shift reported seeing a large brown human-shaped creature rise up and fly among the trees over the cemetery they were in. The men remained adamant that they did not see a bird or other animal familiar to them, that what they saw was large and human-sized.

Three days later, four young people were on a late night drive through the TNT power plant area near Point Pleasant. The TNT area was and still is abandoned, but at one point it was occupied by West Virginia Ordnance worker who made dynamite and ammunition through World War II. The TNT area is distinctive due to the white “igloos” that spot the landscape, which the workers used to hold supplies and products during the plant’s operation.

So these four friends are driving close to the creepy old weapons factory when one of the passengers notice large glowing red eyes in the distance. She screamed, which brought everyone’s attention to what she was seeing.

Thee friend driving actually stops (clearly, not a horror movie fan) and all four stare for a second. The shape was human, but around 7 feet tall with no discernible features other than the glowing red eyes.

As the four young people watch, the creature suddenly unfurls wings at least 10 feet wide from its back and takes flight, heading right for them.

The kids take off down the road, according to them nearing speeds of 100 miles an hour. They claimed the creature was right on their tail even at such a high speed, and only backed off as they neared town. The group, frightened, went straight to the police. The police searched the TNT area and found nothing, but later at a press conference the kids all told their story.

The Point Pleasant Register printed their story in the November 16th issue under the title “Couple sees Man-Sized Bird…Creature…Something”, and that’s the beginning of the Mothman working its way into modern-folklore.

 This is a drawing one of the original witnesses, Roger Scarberry made in 1966.  Source

This is a drawing one of the original witnesses, Roger Scarberry made in 1966. Source

The night the story broke, a woman named Marcella Bennett was driving near the plant to visit some friends of hers, the Thomas’.  Mrs. Bennett also had her small daughter with her in the car.

The Thomas’ lived near the TNT plant, not terribly close but closer than most other houses in Point Pleasant.  Mr. and Mrs. Thomas had been watching strange red lights hover over the TNT property for most of that night. They were unsure what it was, but knew it wasn’t an airplane.

Mrs. Bennett arrived at the Thomas house, gathered up her child, and stepped out of her car.  Suddenly, on the side of the vehicle, a large mass rose slowly. “It seemed like it had been laying down,” She later recalled. “A big gray thing with those terrible red glowing eyes.”
Mrs. Bennett was so shocked she accidentally dropped her child, but recovered quickly and ran shrieking into her friend’s house.

The Thomas’ locked everyone in and watch, terrified, as the creature shuffled around on the porch and peered into the windows. The police were called, but when they arrived there was no sign of the Mothman.

Over 100 people reported seeing the Mothman during the 13 month period of chaos in the Point Pleasant area.

Then, tragedy.

December 15th 1967,  rush hour. The Silver Bridge, having spanned the Ohio River since its completion in 1928, collapses, sending commuters into the frosty water below.

46 people died in the collapse and two bodies were never found. Analysis of the wrecked bridge indicated that it was not maintained properly and simply not designed to carry as heavy a load as it was.

 Aftermath of the Silver Bridge collapse.  Source

Aftermath of the Silver Bridge collapse. Source

Sightings of the Mothman almost stopped completely after the collapse of the bridge. It’s suspected the activity of the Mothman and the bridge disaster are somehow connected. Some people believe the Mothman is the harbinger of doom, appearing before a terrible event to warn others, and believe that he’s been present before other well-known tragedies. Other people also seem to think that somehow the Moithman is responsible for the bridge collapse; that he brought it on or made it happen.

I’ve found that people are familiar with this story from the movie The Mothman Prophecies starring Richard Gere that came out in 2002.  What a lot of people don’t realize is that movie is based on a book by John Keel called The Mothman Prophecies that was published in 1975.
John Keel was a journalist who traveled to Point Pleasant in 1967 when he heard the Mothman rumors. I’ve read the book and it is very well done, but quite a strange ride.  
Many unexplained and paranormal events were going on in Point Pleasant at the same time the Mothman was on his reign of terror. The movies is a very fictionalized loose adaptation (although I do like the movie).
John Keel goes in depth about all the things that happened to him and others while he was in Point Pleasant, including encounters with UFO’s, Men in Black, strange lights, weird sounds, and electronics going haywire for months. Keel’s theory is that Point Pleasant is a “window” area for things paranormal; it’s easier for paranormal entities to cross over to our world there.

So What Is It Really?

Like all of these cryptids, it’s possible to be any number of things. A Great Horned Owl is a frequent suggestion, scientists citing its brown or grey color, huge reflective eyes, and surprisingly large wingspan. Although owls are a lot bigger than people think, I have an issue with this theory. Owl’s are reflective, but they aren’t red. Critics claim that the “red eye” effect could be to blame (like when a camera goes off and its eyes are red) which is certainly possible. But these sightings, especially the ones I mentioned, involve witnesses saw the red eyes without swinging a flashlight toward the creature or having it near their car. Owls are big birds but they are not nearly as tall as everyone insisted the Mothman was.

 A Great Horned Owl.  Source

A Great Horned Owl. Source

Another theory that I find interesting is that the Mothman was a Sandhill crane who was lost, confused, and out of its normal migration pattern.

Sandhill cranes are typically 3- 5 feet tall and their wings could reach as long as seven feet. Definitely not as tall as the Mothman, but in the dark and if the observer is scared, height is an easy thing to mistake. I found this interesting; the Sandhill crane has distinctive red skin all around its eyes, the color really stands out against the feathers. A possible explanation for the famous “red eyes” of the Mothman?

 When looking for pictures of Sandhill Cranes, I noticed that the way this bird spreads its wings reminds me an awful lot of the artist renderings of the Mothman, like the ones I posted above. Made me think, for sure!   Source

When looking for pictures of Sandhill Cranes, I noticed that the way this bird spreads its wings reminds me an awful lot of the artist renderings of the Mothman, like the ones I posted above. Made me think, for sure!

Source

The location the Mothman was frequently spotted could have something to do with its bizarre appearance. The TNT area was proved to be extremely polluted, but they’ve since cleaned it up and it’s now actually an animal sanctuary.

But these sightings were in the 60’s, far before anyone realized the mess the area was. Could the Mothman be some sort of deformed or mutant bird that got affected by the chemicals and morphed into the creature that we know today? Pretty unlikely, but a better explanation than this being a supernatural creature that just came into existence from nowhere.

Point Pleasant really embraces their legendary cryptid, every third weekend in September they hold the annual Mothman Festival.
Bucket list, anyone?

 Statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant.  Source

Statue of the Mothman in Point Pleasant. Source

The Jersey Devil

The Jersey devil is pretty well known, but I included it because the stories behind his origin and sightings are so darn weird.

As the legend goes, Mother Leeds lived in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey in the 18th century. She was poor, a rumored witch, and had 12 children to take care of. Leeds found out she was pregnant with her 13th child and she was so mad that she cursed and yelled “Let this one be a devil!”

(Which, come on. That seems kinda harsh on the poor baby. Its not the kid’s fault he was your 13th. That seems like it's all on you as an adult. Anyway.)

Mrs. Leeds gives birth, and after that the legend varies a little depending on what version you’re reading. Some versions say that the baby came out a monster complete with a tail, horns, and wings.  Some others say that the baby came out normal and then changed in the night, turning into a full grown beast and eating Mother Leeds before flying off.

Here are the two things I find the most interesting about the Jersey Devil.

1)      Its supposed to look like this:

 Drawing originally posted in the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1909.  Source

Drawing originally posted in the Philadelphia Bulletin in 1909. Source

2) Napoleon Bonaparte’s brother Joseph saw it. Who, by the way, was at one time the King of Freakin’ Spain.

The story behind the well-circulated (and ridiculous) drawing comes from  a sighting by Mr. and Mrs. Evans of Gloucester, New Jersey. They were awoken at 2:30 am to strange noises and proceeded to watch the creature for a full 10 minutes. Mr. Gloucester recounts the tale as follows:

“It was about three feet and half high, with a head like a collie dog and

a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and

its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse's hooves.

It walked on its back legs and held up two short front legs with paws

on them. It didn't use the front legs at all while we were watching.

My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the

window and say, 'Shoo', and it turned around barked at me, and flew away.”

What I love the most about this sighting was that this guy was finally tired of watching this monster creature shuffle about and shooed him away. To be honest, if I had the nerve to open the door I wouldn’t have been any more eloquent.

For Joseph Bonaparte, his encounter is a little different. He had been forced to abdicate his throne in 1813, and following his brother’s defeat he escaped to American and built a large estate in New Jersey.

 Portrait of Joseph Bonaparte.  Source

Portrait of Joseph Bonaparte. Source

In the winter of 1820 he was hunting on his property and saw some tracks around a pond. He noticed they resembled donkey tracks, but only if the donkey was walking on two legs. The tracks abruptly stopped, as if the creature had flown away.

Which, of course it had, the Jersey Devil has wings remember.

Joseph was staring at the tracks perplexed when a  hissing noise caused him to look around. He was face to face with a creature that had bird-like legs and a head resembling a horse. Joseph had a rifle with him, but was momentarily too stunned to do anything with it. The creature hissed at him again and took flight.

The former King of Spain told a friend about the strange encounter that same day, and the friend informed him that he had seen the Jersey Devil.

Instead of Joseph Bonaparte going “Ummm, what?” he seemed interested in the story and is said to have then on always looked for the creature while out hunting. Supposedly, he never saw it again.

There are over 2,000 reported sightings of the Jersey Devil, and the year 1909 accounts for half of them. That year the devil seemed particularly active, with sightings of him coming from Camden to even as far as Philadelphia. There have been sightings in recent years, (like this person below who claims to have gotten a picture of the devil in 2015. (Which, by the way, I think the “devil” looks like a piñata or a stuffed animal in this picture). But sightings of the devil aren’t as numerous as they once were.

 Dave Black of Little Egg Harbor township snapped this picture and swears it’s not fake….  Source

Dave Black of Little Egg Harbor township snapped this picture and swears it’s not fake…. Source

So What Is It, Really?

This one is I think a little harder to explain. The Mothman has a vague enough shape and color that it’s easy to imagine a drunk, scared, high or otherwise impaired individual mistaking an owl or crane.  But such specific features on this Jersey Devil makes me scratch my head. A popular theory is, once again, the SandhilldCrane. But, unlike the Mothman, I am dubious that someone is that stupid. (Me and my eternal optimism.) The Jersey Devil is reported by nearly everyone that sees it as having a distinct horse or dog shaped head, with spindly legs and the body of a kangaroo with large wings. Sometimes he’s reported of having horns, and sometimes a tail as well.  That seems really unlikely that someone misidentified a crane that badly.

There’s another theory that the Devil is a type of pterosaurs that somehow survived the extinction of its dino-colleagues by living in nearby limestone caves.  Or, if you listen to others, the devil is an ACTUAL dark being/supernatural creature that brings about harm or means harm to people.

As far as his origin story, there is a sad version that seems not only possible but plausible.  There was indeed someone by the name of Leeds (a common last name in New Jersey) who lived in the approximate time period the legend is set.

I read a speculative theory (I cannot find the source for this theory after searching for it again, I’m sorry for not having the link) that Mrs Leeds gave birth to a regular child, not a devil, but that the poor baby was in some way deformed or disabled. Mrs Leeds, horrified/saddened/devastated  by her deformed child took the baby and hid him/her in secret. She went on pretending that she had only 12 children while keeping her 13th child locked in a room, away from the world. Soon rumors spread and the story morphed itself into the legend we know today.

It’s definitely an interesting theory, but doesn’t explain the numerous sightings of a creature that most definitely is not a deformed human. Regardless, If you are ever in the Pine Barrens of New Jersey, keep your eyes and ears open for something unusual.

The Beast of Bray Road

 Artists rendering.  Source

Artists rendering. Source

The Beast of Bray Road is a bit of an obscure cryptid, I wasn’t familiar with it until fairly recently. I originally heard of the story from one of my favorite podcasts, Lore (I’ve written a post on my favorite podcasts here) and then again on another podcast I enjoy called Astonishing Legends.

The creature was first spotted in 1936 on Bray Road, a rural, wooded street outside of Elkhorn, Wisconsin.  Although there are reports of seeing a dog/wolf-like creature in the area as early as the 30’s, a rash of sightings and encounters from the late 1980’s – 1990’s caused a newspaper to assign a reporter to the case. Her name is Linda Godfrey, and she later wrote a book about the witnesses she interviewed and their stories called “The Beast of Bray Road : Tailing Wisconsin's Werewolf.

One of the first encounters during this time period was by a girl name of Doristine Gibson. She was traveling down Bray Road on Halloween 31st, 1989 (I know, how cliché) to a friend’s house and felt something slam into her car. Alarmed, she stopped, exited her vehicle, and started searching for a dead animal that thought she had hit. She circled her car, not seeing much damage, and then spotted a large animal about 50 feet away making a dash for her. She jumped back in her car and quickly drove away, but she heard and felt the back of her car bounce, and realized the animal had jumped on her trunk.  She was going too fast, however, and the animal tumbled off. She arrived at her friend’s house, told her strange story, and together the two girls inspected the car. On the trunk, where Doristine said the animal jumped, there were long scratched in the metal work.

Just a few weeks later, a young woman named Lori Endrizzi was on her way home from the bar she managed and rounded a corner on Bray Road.  She saw what she first thought was a human kneeling on the side of the road, hunched over. She slowed down to take a better look and saw that it was a wolf-like animal, with pointed ears, a snout, fur all over its body, and it was eating something. Lori says the creature very well-muscled and it held its food with its palms facing up.  She also claims that the creature was kneeling as a human kneels; on its knees with the legs behind, feet facing up.

There are many other stories and sightings, many of which you can read in Linda Godfrey’s books. I highly recommend them for some good creepy stories.

So What is It, Really?

The most obvious theory that doesn’t include something paranormal is that the Beast is a dog/wolf hybrid.  The large frame and features point toward that explanation. Plenty of people have said that they first believed it to be a wolf or a dog from far away.

 A Black Bear and a Wolf, two animals that could be to blame for the sightings..  Source .

A Black Bear and a Wolf, two animals that could be to blame for the sightings.. Source.

However, many of the encounters have reported the Beast to be able to stand on two legs, kneel, and use its hands like a human. Those are definitely things that dogs or wolves can do.  So are these people just hallucinating, or possibly mistaking what they’ve seen? Of course that could be the case since the beast is frequently seen at night. Things have the ability to become distorted and the atmosphere can be creepier.
Is there a chance it’s also a hoax? It’d be a pretty long hoax, since the beast was first spotted in 1936, but of course it could be a hoax. Maybe a family or a group of people have kept the game going all these years, taking turns playing the beast and secretly recruiting younger members to continue the charade. Unlikely, but possible.

Often, the Beast is called a werewolf. The name likely comes from its man-like form and characteristics, as there’s no proof its a werewolf in the legendary sense. (A man that transforms due to the cycles of the moon.)
No matter what these are creepy tales. No one likes long, winding roads at night. Unless, of course, you’re the Beast of Bray Road.

 Bray Road.  Source

Bray Road. Source


Spring-Heeled Jack

Spring-heeled Jack showed up as an almost instant urban legend in London in 1837, with the last reported sighting of him in 1904.

By most accounts, the first encounter with him was by a young servant girl named Mary Stevens. She was walking through Clapham Common, a park in metro London, on her way to visit her parents when a figure jumped out at her from an alley, He pinned her arms so she could not move, and began to rip at her dress with fingers like claws. She screamed and scared her attacker, who disappeared, and although people in the area searched  they could not locate the man.

The very next day, close to the location of Mary’s attack, Spring-heeled Jack jumped in front of a carriage full of people. The driver lost control and crashed, injuring himself and a few others. The witnesses say that he jumped clear over a 9ft high wall and escaped, cackling with insane laughter.  This was the incident that caused the press and the public to give this mysterious creature the name of “Spring-Heeled Jack.”

Two other best known tales from this urban legend are the attacks on Lucy Scales and Jane Alsop.

Jane Alsop answered the door at on the night of February 19th, 1838 to the calls of a man saying he was a police officer and had caught Spring-heeled jack in the alley near her house.

As she handed the man a candle, she noticed her was wearing long dark cloak or jacket, and quote “presented the most hideous and frightful appearance” and caught hold of her while spewing blue flames from his mouth. She claims his eyes were like “red balls of fire” and wore what looked like white oil skin. Jane said that his claws were “of some metallic substance” and she screamed as he clawed at her, catching her a few time on the back of the neck, and she managed to get away from him when her sister ran to her aid.  The assailant then escaped.

On February 28th, 1838, just a few short days after Ms Alsop’s attack, a young woman named Lucy Scales was on her way home accompanied by her sister.

They passed an alley, Lucy slightly in front of her sister, and noticed a figure hidden in the shadows.  The figure belched a huge blue flame into her face, which temporarily blinded her and causes her to fall on the ground. She was so shocked by this incident she had seizures and fits for hours before coming around. The other sister remained unharmed, and could give details into what the man looked like. She said that the man was tall and thin, wearing a long cloak and carrying a lamp. He escaped quickly after attacking, and any attempts for the police to locate him remained unsuccessful.

After these attacks were widely reported in The Times, Spring-Heeled Jack began his ascent into permanent English lore.

There are a few other sightings of Spring-heeled Jack throughout the later part of the 1800’s. Both the cities of Peckham and Sheffield outside of London reported being terrorized by a creature much resembling Spring Heeled Jack in 1872 and 1873.

A group of soldiers in Aldershot (a town in Hampshire, England) in 1877 were frightened by a strange figure advancing toward them one night  A soldier called for the person to halt, but instead the figure rushed to him and slapped the soldier several times across the face. Another guard shot at the figure, but it showed to have little to no effect on him. The figure than leaped away with “astonishing bounds.

So What Is it, Really?

No one has ever been caught or identified as Spring-Heeled Jack. Both his reported supernatural abilities and the long time during which he was at large has led to many speculations.

A popular and reasonable theory is that Jack was simply a prank carried out by more than one perpetrator over the long expanse of years he was active. Many people suspect the original mastermind behind Spring heeled-Jack to be Henry Beresford, the 3rd Marquess of Waterford.  In his day he was a bit of a party boy, known for his frequent drunken brawls, contentious fights with police officers, and fondness for pranks. His antics earned him the nickname the “Mad Marquess.”  Henry also had been heard bragging about springing out at travelers to frighten them, an activity he found quite amusing, and spoke about others he knew following his lead and doing the same on their own unsuspecting victims.

Still, the thought that Spring Heeled Jack was a supernatural being, a demon, or an alien still persists. There are still so many unanswered questions. This was the 1800’s, if Jack was a person playing a prank how did he jump so high? How did he “belch” flames? Could it be this a case of rapes/assaults on women? Certainly the perpetrators would be criminals, but also humans who couldn’t belch flames. Maybe there was a string of rapes and attacks on women and these tales evolved due to mass hysteria into the paranormal stories we know today? I’m just speculating on this. Obviously we will never know, but the tales of Spring-heeled Jack lives on.

Conclusion

The word “Cryptid” is taken from the Greek word “krypto”, meaning “hidden.”  These animals are nothing else if not hidden. There are very few pictures, if any, and the ones we do have are usually blurry and out of focus. Skeptics point out how mysteriously convenient it is that no one has ever managed to take a clear picture of a so-called crytpid, and as cameras and camera phones are so apart of our everyday life you would think that someone would have gotten a clear picture by now.  I do agree that it’s a little annoying and slightly suspicious that no good pictures or videos exists of any cryptid, as well as any hairs, droppings, or remains. Despite what this post might have you believe, I identify as a reasonable skeptic albeit an open-minded one.
I personally don’t feel the need to ever see a cryptid, even the ones that are my favorites. Why? Because I know I would be the person to not get my phone out fast enough to take a picture, so I would have to spend my whole life telling everyone I saw the Mothman with absolutely no picture to back it up. Sounds like a great way to blog from a mental hospital for the rest of my life. No thanks, I’m sure the wifi would be terrible there.

 Cryptid reference guide.  Source

Cryptid reference guide. Source