Review: “Monsters In Print: A Collection of Creatures Known Mostly From Newspapers”

There’s a pretty great idea for a book behind Monsters In Print: A Collection of Creatures Known Mostly from Newspapers (Independently published; 2019), and I’m glad someone compiled and published it. That someone was Adam Benedict of the Pine Barrens Institute.

Scouring historical newspaper archives, he’s gathered articles about monsters from the 1820s through the 1940s, and presents them here in chronological order, making no attempts to edit them, for the sake of veracity, nor any attempts to contextualize or explain them, for the sake of objectivity. The result is a book that can be difficult to read straight-through for pleasure, but also a valuable book, for anyone particularly interested in the subject matter…like, say, someone who was writing their own book on monsters. 

Benedict’s decision to use time as the organizing principle for his book, rather than geography or type of creature, means one can see how much some things change over the decades, and how little other things change. It does make it a little difficult to navigate, though, if someone is reading for monster stories based on a criteria other than the order in which they appeared (There is an index of “source newspapers by location,” although I’ve noticed both in reading this book and in my own research that the location of the home newspaper doesn’t always match up to the setting of the monster sighting, as we’ll discuss below and we examine the particular Ohio content of Monsters In Print).

The book collects about 160 articles about monsters in total, filling its first 400 or so pages of the book (after which point there is a “bonus” section on mystery airships, featuring ten articles from 1896-1915 about the occasional sightings or even flaps of sightings regarding flying machines of various sorts that are often considered forerunners to UFO sightings; here, only one of the articles seems to suggest an interplanetary source of the ships, though). 

Of those 160 articles, it will probably come as no surprise that the vast majority of them, almost 70, are of the sea serpent or sea monster variety, although when I say “seas monster” I’m here counting large fish, reptile or amalgamated mystery creatures seen not only in the ocean, but also in lakes and occasionally even in rivers.

Stories about wildmen of various types account for the next biggest category, with 23 articles, while eagles or giant birds accounted for eight articles and giant snakes for seven.

Following sea monsters, the next biggest category is what I would consider miscellaneous monsters, of which very few appear more than twice in the book. These 50 creatures include a pig-headed woman, a vampire, a mermaid, a couple of mer-men, a centaur, a banshee, man-eating plants, a giant turtle, a giant lizard, a giant spider, a giant frog, a frog man, mammoths and mastodons, several chimerical creatures like “a cross between a lion and a bull,” the Hodag and some monsters so strange that it would take too long to try to explain them in this space.

While many of these articles I read for the first time in this book, there are some classic stories that should be familiar to most readers interested in the subject of cryptozoology, and these are always fun to run across, as the realization dawns that one knows this monster, it’s a little like running into a friend or an acquaintance unexpectedly.  

These include The Van Meter Monster, a winged creature seen around the small Iowa town in 1903 that bore a light on its head, and is sometimes written of in the context of pterodactyls, or visitors akin to the Mothman or even as an American answer to Spring-Heeled Jack;  The Partridge Creek Monster, the relict “Keratosaurus” that was said to be seen in the not-terribly-dinosaur-friendly area of Alaska in 1908;  and several stories of the Jersey Devil from the 1909 flap that helped solidify that particular American monster’s place in legend and culture.

As for the Ohio content, there are six entries in the index, but, remember, that’s for the place of origin of the newspaper an article comes from, not the pace where the monster featured in the article hails from. 

The first tale is from an 1855 issue of the Carroll Free Press, “The Monster Snake Taken,” and it rather breathlessly chronicles the capture of a serpentine lake monster from an unnamed body of water that empties into the Genesee River. The creature was captured by one Daniel Smith, “an old whaleman,” with his harpoons, strong whaleline and his experience of hunting whales; the article claims the monster was taken alive, essentially leashed to the shore with a harpoon and wire, and was measured to be 59-feet, five-inches long. That’s pretty precise, given that it was still alive and thrashing when the measurements were taken!

Next comes an 1876 story from the Cincinnati Daily Star. Headlined “Vampirism in Servia,” the four-page article tells the story of a young girl killed by a vampire in Servia, where “as in the most Slavonic countries, exists a popular belief in vampires, dead folk who quit their graves at night to torment the living.”

The Cincinnati Daily Star also published the next article from an Ohio paper, 1879’s “Two Terrified Hunters: Chased by an Enraged Maniac on Whom They Fired.” Said maniac is a wildman, which cryptozoology enthusiasts will recognize as a precursor to the modern Bigfoot stories. In Vermont, a pair of hunters saw “a huge, hairy object…spring from behind the cliff and start for the woods, running with the speed of the wind.” Thinking it an animal, the hunteres fired and grazed its arm, at which point it turned and resumed running with the speed of the wind, right at them. 

As wildman/Bigfoot stories go, this one is interesting, as it seems to be a bit of both:

The hunter’s story revives a long-forgotten but now distinctly recalled yarn to the effect that many years ago a lunatic, then a young man, escaped from his keepers somewhere near the New York State line, and gained the mountain fastnesses, where he evaded pursuit, and, it is thought, subsisted on berries and the flesh of animals killed through some means best known to himself.

The hunters’ description doesn’t match a regular human being who ran into the wilderness, not unless a reader believes in some sort of rapid devolution or magical transformation, brought on by environment and diet (and, apparently, many did thing such transformations possible back then).

“The hunters say that they are positive that it was no optical illusion, but a genuine wild man,” the article says, “The creature’s arms, they say, were long and hairy, and looked very much like a full-grown gorilla.” (I should note here that several lines of this story seem taken directly from those an 1883 article from the Fort Wayne, Indiana Gazette, which I only know because Chad Arment included the Gazette article in his 2006 book, The Historical Bigfoot. That article sets the action in New Lisbon, Ohio, names the hunters as two Columbiana county men, Bob Bradley and Henry Raush, and describes the wild man simply as “covered with hair and looking like a bear.” This doesn’t instill great confidence in the veracity of either of these stories.)

The next story from an Ohio source, an 1889 issue of the Enterprise (perhaps from Wellington, Ohio?), was also of a wildman. This “monster animal” was over seven feet tall, walked erect like a man, was hairy all over, “and its mouth was in the chin and great claws on the fingers and toes.” This was in South Carolina. The creature was apparently stealing a hunting party’s kills from their campsite at night, and one night when they stayed up to see who was stealing from them, they saw the creature and shot at it, chasing it into the woods. The interesting bit here is that the animals cry was apparently “Yaho, yaho, yaho!” Some Bigfoot-like creatures go by the name Yahoo, based on their cry.

Finally, there are a pair of July 1890 articles from a paper called  Democratic Northwest. The first tells briefly of a giant snake travelling through the air on a cloud in India (no mention of wings, just that “he kept continually rolling over and darting out his head in a genuine snake fashion”), while the second of a whole school of bizarre sea monsters sighted by a sea captain twenty miles off Cape Hatteras near North Carolina.

These creatures were ten feet long, and each had four long arms, “on the end of which were claws that resembled the hands of an ape.” These arms they used to grab onto the ship and in defense, taking hooks and other implements from the sailors and trying to rescue their fellow monsters whenever one would be caught.

The lake monster and the wild men seem to fit pretty neatly into pre-existing categories of cryptids, and even the vampire fits into folklore, but these last two are certainly some doozies. You’ve probably read of a flying snakes of various sizes before, but I’m hard-pressed to think of any animal, living, extinct or even reported that could account for the four-armed fish, which we’re told were “covered with thick scales, resembling the scales of a drumfish, while the belly resembled the hid [sic] of a porpoise.”

So, out of all these monster reports that fill this book, are none actually set within the state of Ohio? There are two, both from 1887, one of which I included in my own book, Monsters of Ohio.

The first of these articles comes from Maryland’s The Midland Journal: “The Wild Man of Ohio: A Curious Creature Seen Among the Hills of Holmes County.” A party of four hunters were beating the brush for pheasants near the Wayne County line when they spooked an entirely different kind of animal: “[A] man, entirely nude but covered with what appeared to them to be matted hair.” He or it ran at them, “giving forth queer guttural sounds,” and they retreated. When they reached a public highway, the wild man turned back “and was seen to enter Killbuck Creek, which he swam, and then disappeared in the brush again.”

The article ends with “they are of the impression that he is no relative of the famous wild man of Rockaway.”

This particular article was also among those included in the Ohio chapter of the previously mentioned The Historical Bigfoot, although in that book the source is he Indiana, Pennsylvania Progress, and the year was 1886.

So here there seems to be what we might consider a 19th century Bigfoot sighting, even if it’s not the most spectacular story. Other than the fact that includes a wild man/Bigfoot at all, of course. 

The Omaha Daily Bee story is of another popular Ohio monster, the Lake Erie Monster, although this particular iteration of the monster is unlike the more typical, large, serpentine appearance.

With a dateline of “Toledo. O., May 13”, this is the story of the “two French fishermen named Dusseau.” Returning from fishing on the lake late at night, they noticed a phosphorescent monster between twenty and thirty feet long on the beach. “It was shaped like a sturgeon, but had arms which were thrown wildly into the air.” (Well, I suppose those weird fish off the coast of North Carolina weren’t the only fish with arms after all). As you likely know, both brothers rushed off to get ropes and help in order to catch “the submarine monster,” but when they returned it was gone, only “a half dozen scales as large as silver dollars” and tracks on the beach to show that it was ever there. 

Finally of possible interest to Ohioans, there’s an extremely strange story from a 1915 edition of Iowa’s Webster City Freeman set in Geneva, Ohio, which sets up a disagreement between two local men over what is causing cellars throughout the city to clog, some sort of tentacled sewer monster referred to as a “Zippotherantheus,” or simple tree roots. You can probably solve this mystery yourself, although the writer seems to have had great fun writing of the conflict. 

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