Review: “Eerie Appalachia”

In November of 1966 Woodrow “Woody” Derenberger was pulled over by a UFO, out of which emerged a man who introduced himself as Indrid Cold. He telepathically asked Derenberger many questions for some time about life on Earth in general and the surrounding area in particular, smiling at him the entire time. 

Writer Mark Muncy, responsible for a series of books on the paranormal in Florida (Eerie Florida, Creepy Florida and Freaky Florida) knew the story of Indrid Cold, part of the Mothman saga that John A. Keel chronicled in The Mothman Prophecies. He was therefore surprised when he was researching a UFO encounter in Florida, and seemed to stumble across the name again. He got his hands on the the notes from the father of one of the childhood witnesses to the Crestview Elementary School UFO sighting in Miami, a witness who was interviewed after the incident by the government. It included the name of a “government man”: Cold.

Cold, according to the witness, didn’t say much during the questioning. He just smiled. 

Was there a connection? Maybe, maybe not, but that brought the Florida-based Muncy back to the story of Indrid Cold, the Mothman, the Appalachians and, eventually, resulted in the book Eerie Appalachia: Smiling Man Indrid Cold, The Jersey Devil, The Legend of Mothman and More (History Press; 2022).  (The book was the basis of Muncy’s talk at the Mothman Festival this year.)

Muncy is, as he writes in his introduction, no mere interloper into the area. He describes himself as “a child of The Appalachians,” having lived most of his early life in and around the Ohio and Kanawha river valleys. (And, in an appendix, he shares the weird story of his own family’s monster, which he sighted as a child: The Bench-Leg of Goeble Ridge.)

Muncy’s book, illustrated as is his Florida books by his wife Kari Schultz, is divided into six parts. The first of these is entitled “The Appalachian Triangle,” and includes a half-dozen entries of monsters that may or may not be from outer-space, including such familiar monsters as The Mothman and The Flatwoods Monster of West Virginia and  The Hopkinsville Goblins of Kentucky. 

Part II, “Pre-1900”, tells a pair of tales set in the distant past. Part III, “Haunted Hot Spots”, is just as it says. 

It’s Party IV that I was most interested in: “Every Holler Has a Creature.” This section tells the stories of over a dozen entities each associated with a particular geographic area. Some of these are quite familiar, like The Jersey Devil, while others will be familiar to readers of cryptozoology and the paranormal, like The Pope Lick Monster, The Snallygaster, The Snarly Yow, The Wampus Cat and The Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp. Several I heard of here for the first time, like the Devil Spiders of the Hudson Valley in New York, or The Rat Man from Jackson, Kentucky. At least one seems to be unique to Muncy, the “Bogey Men” discovered in  a mine in Olympia, Kentucky, which he discovered in an old letter from a witness to his family. 

Part V is entitled “The Sasquatch Encounters” , which tells some Appalachian Bigfoot stories, and Part VI is “Eerie Locations”, telling of Mammoth Cave and a former mine-turned-mushroom farm in Kentucky and Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, here mostly for the rumors that it is where alien bodies from saucer crashes were secreted.

Muncy is a diligent researcher, and much of his information comes from his own interviews and visits to locales, rather than simply regurgitating information he read in other people’s books (um, like I did in my book). That can be somewhat frustrating, as there are no notes or bibliography to check his work or to look for more information on a particular sighting or story, but it also mean many of the tellings are fresh or unique, with their own sources, despite how often some of the entries have been written about. 

Appalachia is a big area with a lot of stories, and Eerie Appalachia seems  a decent starting point for those interested in the area and its paranormal history. 


Now, do any of Ohio’s monsters lurk within the pages of Eerie Appalachia? Indeed they do!

There are five monsters from Ohio in the book: The Loveland Frog, The Crosswick Monster, The Grassman, The Minerva Monster and Orange Eyes.

The Frog appears in the chapter “The Appalachian Triangle,,” along with such monsters as the Mothman, the Grafton Monster, the Hopkinsville Goblins and the Flatwoods Monster. Muncy’s tale of the Loveland Frogmen contains reference to the earlier 1955 sighting of weird, lop-sided, frog-faced creatures, one of whom held a wand; he references several different versions of that story in brief, before moving on to the 1972 sightings by police officers Roy Shockey and Mark Matthews. As in Jay Ocker’s account in the previously reviewed United States of Cryptids, Muncy seems to have gotten a different ending than the one I did: “[Matthews] shot the reptilian beast and put it in the trunk of his car to show Shockey. It was a large iguana with no tail. Matthews assumed it was an escaped pet. Shockey confirmed it was the same beast he had seen and could not identify it as an iguana due to the missing tail.” 

Muncy also records a 2018 sighting of a frogman reported to him by a Tim Macomber, who was in town to take a ghost tour of the Chateau Laroche. Nearby, however, he and his group saw strange lights in the sky, followed by “a pair of glowing yellow eyes watching them from the woods.” “Was this the Loveland Frogman?” Muncy quotes Meadows on the four-foot-tall creature he saw. “I had come to look for ghosts, not an urban legend. I was totally unprepared.”

The Crosswick Monster makes an appearance in the next chapter of the book, “Pre-1900,” under a section entitled “Serpent Mount, Alligator Mound and the Crosswick Serpent.” Muncy discusses the mounds at length, and, again like Ocker, notes that Alligator Mound is more likely meant to depict the Underwater Panther, or Mishipeshu.  Where does the Crosswick creature, which was almost certainly a newspaper hoax, come in?  “Did Mishipeshu and the Great Serpent exists other than in beliefs and myths?” Muncy asks. “We have one documented encounter that might bring these creatures into a more modern era.”

He then recounts the story of the Crosswick Monster, making an interesting link between it and a possible Underwater Panther: “Did they people of Crosswick have an encounter with a remaining dinosaur, or did they encounter Mishipeshu or one of the children of the Great Serpent?”

Finally, Orange Eyes, the Minerva Monster  and the Grassman make their appearances in the chapter “The Sasquatch Encounters.” 

The use of the name “Ohio Grassman” is interesting to me simply because this is yet another instance of it, as I’ve traced the term from what seems to have been a local name for a Bigfoot in the Kenmore area of Akron in the 1990s to meaning “Bigfoot in Ohio in general” by the late 2000s.

Mucny quite confidently discusses the Grassman as a sub-species of Bigfoot that lives in Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania, and asserting. “Notably, the creature was documented eating tall grasses, which gave it its name.” I never found any instances to link the word “Grassman” to a diet of grasses or “cereal crops,” as Muncy does, but, again, there’s no bibliography or notes, so one can’t find the sources for such assertions. 

The Minerva Monster earns about a page of ink, in which Muncy recounts its basic story faithfully, and recommends Seth Breedlove and Small Town Monstersdocumentary on the creature (I’d second that recommendation.)

Finally, there’s the queer case of Orange Eyes. Orange Eyes, as you probably know by now, is a monster of lover’s lane from central Ohio. About all we know about the creature, from the written record anyway, comes from Daniel Cohen’s three-paragraph entry on it in his 1982 Encyclopedia of Monsters, the apparent source for W. Haden Blackman’s 1998 Field Guide To North American Monsters, which had a colorful entry that conflated the Orange Eyes legend with the Charles Mill Lake Monster and a 1968 werewolf hunt by some local teens reported in the Plain Dealer at the time ( an article that John A. Keel referenced in his Strange Creatures From Time and Space as a Bigfoot sighting).

If I had to guess, I’d guess Muncy’s main source for his entry is Blackman, as he geographically situates Orange Eyes at Mill Lake and repeats some of the details gleaned from the werewolf article that Keel used as an example of a hairy humanoid and Blackman incorporated into his entry on Orange Eyes. He also sights Blackman’s (and Cohen’s) height estimate. 

Regardless, Muncy’s description of the creature is an interesting one: “This Sasquatch is often described as being the largest creature any observer has ever seen. He has been estimated to be nearly eleven feet in height and must weigh nearly a ton. If reports are to be believed, this would make him one of the largest Bigfoot on record.”

Muncy reports a frustrating to me initial encounter with the beast by a young couple that raised a posse to search for Orange Eyes, one not mentioned by Cohen and therefore not one I can find any record of. There’s also a 1991 sighting by a pair of fishermen discussed, in which the fishermen describe Orange Eyes as “the largest ape they had ever seen.” Was it really Orange Eyes they saw, or simply another bigger-than-average specimen of Bigfoot…? Remember, “Orange Eyes” was revealed to be a fairly simple hoax way back in the 1960s…not that it stopped Cohen from writing about him years later, of course.

Review: “The United States of Cryptids”

At first glance, J.W. Ocker’s The United States of Cryptids: A Tour of American Myths and Monsters (Quirk Books; 2002) looks similar to other surveys of American monsters, with Jason Offut’s Chasing American Monsters, Scott Francis’ Monster Spotter’s Guide to North America and W. Haden Blackman’s Field Guide to North American Monsters all coming most immediately to mind. As in those works, Ocker takes readers on a tour of the country, stopping at each monster to tell its story.

What differentiates Ocker’s work, however, is he’s not merely telling the stories of monsters, but he’s laying out a guide of sorts to monster tourism (or what might be considered a form of legend tripping). When discussing the monsters he does, Ocker pays special attention to how the creatures are recognized by the people who can lay claim their stories, noting statues, museums, plaques, festivals and the like…or the lack of them, and why he thinks they should be celebrated.

If you have a monster legend, the logic goes, you might as well take advantage of it.

“But if you’re the town that found a giant turtle living in your local pond in the 1970s or were attacked by a vampire cat in the 1950s?”Ocker writes in his introduction, “That’s yours alone to own, and you can name a park after it, theme a business around it, build a museum or a statue honoring it, and propose legislation to protect it and its habitat.”

It’s certainly worked for places like Point Pleasant, a small West Virginia town of just 4,000 that brings in thousands of visitors each year to see the Mothman Museum and Mothman statue during their annual Mothman Festival.

Ocker’s specific approach informs some of the cryptids included in his book.

Several belong the world of UFOlogy more than cryptozoology, like the Hopkinsville Goblin and the Grey Alien (not to mention the Pascagoula Elephant Man), but they are included because of the former’s recognition during Kelly, Kentucky Little Green Men Days and the latter at Roswell, New Mexico’s annual festival and general embrace of aliens and UFOs as a source of civic identity.

Additionally some of the monsters included aren’t ones that were actually seen by anyone in a particular locale, they were just embraced by city leaders as a way to promote the town, as in the Norfolk, Virginia mermaids, the Dawson, Minnesota gnomes and the Mount Horeb, Wisconsin trolls.

One entry is for a “monster” that no one has ever claimed to see anywhere or believed in at all, The Rhinelapus. This “sculptural” monster is a found object that was so weird-looking it was painted and put on display as a strange, three-legged monster sculpture in front of first a bar, and then a park. It was originally just a crazy-looking tree stump. 

In other words, it’s not the sort of creature you’d find an entry for in any other bestiary, but it makes a sort of perfect sense for Ocker’s, which is as much about monsters you can visit as it is creatures of folklore or cryptozoology.

Part travel guide and part legend survey, Ocker’s United States of Cryptids should be a particularly pleasurable read for fans of cryptids regardless of their level of enthusiasm (or should that be fanaticism?); whether you’re the sort who likes to encounter monsters from your couch at home with a book on your lap, or the sort who would rather buy monster merch in a small town after a long drive, the book is for your.

Ocker adopts a sly, conversational tone throughout the book, intimating stories of his own travels and opinions about the creatures within without ever appearing too credulous about the reality of such creatures as undiscovered animals. “I sometimes joke that when I say I’m hunting cryptids,” he writes, “What I mean is that I’m driving to a town to drink a craft beer named after one.”

Still, he regards cryptids in general as” real,” through various levels of reality. They’re real as real stories, they’re real as the source of various celebrations, ranging fromsouveneirs to festivals to the those craft beers, and they are real “more as symbols of the natural world than as secrets of i.t”  

Writes Ocker:

Cryptids are hopeful concepts: hope that the world is still a diverse place full of discovery. Hope that humankind hasn’t zoned every square inch of the planet for McDonald’s franchises. Hope that we haven’t grown bored with our mother planet, that she still harbors wonders for us. Cryptids exist: As stories, as monuments, as symbols. Maybe even as more than that. But those three ways already make them as much a part of this planet as any officially acknowledged creature in a zoology textbook. 

Divided into four sections by rough geographical region, the book is occasionally interrupted by brief, witty one-page articles on some aspect of cryptozoology and illustrations by artist Derek Quinlan, of which, frankly, I could have used more (But then, I am particularly obsessed with seeing the various ways different artists try to draw cryptid creatures like, say, Mothman, whose vague, otherworldly descriptions make him a particularly difficult creature for an artist to try and capture; for the record, Quinlan leans heavily into the “moth” part of the name, in contrast with actual witness reports, giving him two feathery antennae and a furry ruff around his neck). 

Two figures appear throughout the book, both giants of cryptozoology in their own way. The first is Loren Coleman, who wrote a nice introduction, is visited in an entry on the International Cryptozoology Museum and appears now and again as an investigator of some monsters  (like the Dover Demon) or merely being quoted for some bit of wisdom. (Two of Coleman’s books are among the 15 titles offered for “Further Reading” in the back of the book.) 

The other is literal giant Bigfoot, who Ocker has a somewhat frustrated relationship within the book. Bigfoot sightings are so common that each region could have a dozen or so entries on one Bigfoot or another, and so many different places celebrate the big guy in various ways that Ocker has to actually hold back on detailing Bigfoot encounters in real life and in merch form. He limits himself to a few genuinely big places in Bigfoot history and or Bigfootanalia. 

But what about Ohio? 

There are three Ohio entries on three particular creatures, two of which I covered in my own book, the third of which I shied away from as I didn’t want to include creatures from Native American legend: The Loveland Frogman, The Peninsula Python and The Underwater Panther.

Ocker’s Loveland Frogs recount begins with the first police officer sighting, Ray Shockey’s March 3, 1972 encounter, and then flashes back to the 1955 story of an unnamed man seeing a handful of deformed, frog-faced creatures by the side of the road, one of which held a glowing wand. From there he continues with police officer Mark Matthews St. Patrick’s Day 1972 sighting.

Ocker continues with information I didn’t have. He writes that coverage of a 2016 sighting brought officer Matthews, now retired in Florida, to offer commentary: 

He said that most of his story was true, except for how it ended. He had actually shot the creatures, which he said was already half dead from the cold. When he retrieved the corpse, he found it to be a large iguana with its tail missing. He showed its body to Shockey, who agreed that it was what he had seen, relieved that he wouldn’t be going down in the books as the crazy Loveland Frogman cop (oops). Matthews believed the creature to be an escaped pet that had kept warm by sticking around the outlet pipes from the nearby Totes boot factory. According to Matthews, he had told the whole story to an author putting together a book of Ohio legends, but that author had omitted the big reveal.

(Wasn’t me! Maybe James Renner, whose 2012 It Came From Ohio has the Loveland Frog on the cover? Or Michael Newton, who wrote 2013 book Strange Ohio Monsters?)

Ocker notes the Loveland Frogman triathlon and the Cincinnati musical, but notes Loveland is still statue-less and festival-free. I guess the community deserves a C+ for legend-embracing.

A higher grade would go to Peninsula, which threw annual parades for its cryptid, which Ocker notes is an example of an OOPS (Out-Of-Place Species). Ocker quickly recounts some of the sightings in the 1944 flap, and while he doesn’t mention Helltown specifically, he does mention the rumor that the snake  had something to do with mutating toxic waste, writing, “Another theory held that the python was a mutant from the Krejci Dump, which opened four years earlier a few miles south of town…Nobody knew it then, but four decades later, the discovery that its owners were accepting illicit chemical waste would cause the land to be classified as a Superfund site.”

Finally, the Underwater Panther, a “Suburban Mound Monster” is covered in a chapter on the Alligator Mound in Granville, Ohio, seemingly related to The Great Serpent Mound in Peebles, which is the largest effigy mound in the country. 

Ocker notes Alligator Mound isn’t shaped like an alligator, having a small round head and relatively long legs.

Researchers believe that when European explorers were first shown the mound by Native Americans, they mistranslated the Native American name for it. The builders of the mound may have described a water monster, which the Europeans assumed to be an alligator. But alligators aren’t native to Ohio: the underwater panther is.

The continuing adventures of The Peninsula Python

Are people still telling stories of the Peninsula Python, over 70 years after it fist appeared in and terrorized the village? A few recent-ish mentions of the legendary snake in local books suggest that it’s still being talked about, but in the present, rather than the past, tense.

The tale of the Python was originally told by local reporter Robert Bordner in a 1945 story in The Atlantic with the suspiciously defensive title of “The Peninsula Python: An Absolutely True Story.” As this absolutely true, definitely not hoaxed story goes, in the summer of 1944 a 15- to 18-foot-long snake began slithering around local farms, leaving a trail like an automobile tire that went into and came out of the river, and scaring the heck out of those that saw it, eventually inspiring posses to gather and fruitlessly hunt it. 

As to where the beast came from, the rumor was that a truck containing it had crashed and disgorged its contents in the process. As to where it went, since it was never caught or found dead, the popular theory was that it crawled into a hole somewhere and died as the Ohio winter set in, temperatures plummeting far below those favored by a tropical snake. 

In any case, it, or its children, couldn’t still be around, could they?

Apparently talk of the python is still around, and its since been linked to Helltown, another, more colorful Northeast Ohio legend.

The stories about Helltown are innumerable, and many of them are shared between teenagers visiting or planning to visit the area to explore them for themselves (which they absolutely shouldn’t do). The real story is this. Boston, Ohio was settled in 1806 by New Englanders, and was, by all accounts, a particularly scenic part of the state. So scenic, in fact, that there were those who wanted to turn it into a national park. Finally, in 1974, the federal government began grinding its gears forward on the project. The Ford administration ordered the town to be evacuated and as residents and businesses fled and were bought out, it became a ghost town practically overnight, awaiting its destined demolition and transformation into a park—which never came.

Instead, Boston was left in tact but deserted, the buildings slowly starting to deteriorate as rumors about the queer area began to proliferate There’s was a massive toxic waste spill that drove everyone away (There was a toxic waste spill, but it wasn’t what drove people away).. There’s an empty, haunted school bus there that was scene to a terrible slaughter of its young riders (There was a bus, but no one was murdered on it). There’s a church with upside down crosses that Satanists gather and worship at (There was a church, but there’s no evidence of any Satanists). Terribly deformed people are hiding just out of sight in the many abandoned houses. (Houses? Sure. Mutants? No.) An ax-wielding madman makes his  home there, awaiting curious visitors to make into his latest victims. (You get the idea by now).  

In the ruins of Boston, Helltown was born. 

In her book Myths and Mysteries of Ohio: True Stories of The Unsolved and The Unexplained (Globe Pequot; 2014), Sandra Gurvis discusses Helltown in her chapter “Cuyahoga Valley National Park/ Hell ‘No, We Won’t Go’ Town.”

“Even back in 1945, the alleged escape of python during a carnival truck crash ‘sent posses of armed residents out scouring farm fields for the slithering horror’, states [Brian] Albrecht’s Plain Dealer article,” Gurvis writes in passing at one point. “But to this day, the thirty-foot—and still growing, thanks to all that tasty toxic waste!—’Peninsula Python’ supposedly still wanders the woods and river looking for crunchy granola hikers with a Melon Head chaser.” 

Here we should pause to note the appearance of another Ohio monster, the Melonheads. Gurvis mentions them on the previous page when discussing the toxic waste a hiker supposedly found leaking out of an oil drum in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park that accounted for the emptying out of the area (“Of course, no newspaper or magazine account substantiates this,” she writes of the tale).

Of urban legends regarding the toxic waste, Gurvis writes, “Why not also blame the alleged proliferation of marauding, hydrocephalic, feral ‘Melon Heads’ said to roam the nearby woods of Chardon and Kirtland on the dump as well?” 

Chardon and Kirtland aren’t that close to the park—it’s about a 40-minute drive from Kirtland to Peninsula—although here we can see urban legends bleeding into one another. Just as the Melonheads—or Melon Heads, if you prefer spelling it two words, as Gurvis does—were said to be an isolated, independent community of malformed people, so too were the people in some versions of the Helltown story, where it is known as Mutant Town or Butane Town.

When I first encountered Gurvis’ book, which really does offer a nice, concise retelling of the Helltow story, I was struck by the mention of the Python and Melonheads in a single, not-usually-related-to-either-of-them narrative, and took note of it, but didn’t pursue it any further, as it seemed an aberration to the traditional stories of both monsters.

But then I read Nicky Perry’s Hello Cleveland: Things You Should Know About The Most Unique City in the World (Microcosm Publishing; 2002). Like Gurvis, he also has a chapter on Helltown, and his begins with several scenarios, each a legend about the location, and he too mentions the Python:

…After a massive chemical spill, the citizens of a small nearby town became grossly mutated. Years of inbreeding followed and their offspring still patrol the surrounding forests, feasting on the flesh of anyone foolish enough to wander the woods. The humanoids fear nothing except the Peninsula Python, an enormous snake who was exposed to the chemicals and grew to monstrous proportions. The python is the only thing keeping these deranged creatures in check…

Here again, then, we see the Python linked to nearby Helltown, the suggestion that it is no ordinary python thanks to its exposure to toxic waste (though Perry doesn’t give us an estimated size, as Gurvis did) and even the fact that it eats forest-dwelling monstrous humanoids, creatures that sound not completely unlike the Melonheads

That’s two mentions, then; I’ve heard three makes it a trend. But it is apparently worth keeping an eye and ear out for more stories of the Python in Helltown or as a mutated monster that exists in the present, rather than just an out-of-place animal from a story in the past. Though it started in the 1940s, it would appear the Peninsula Python’s story isn’t quite over yet.

Illustration by Janie Walland

On Daniel Cohen’s “Monsters You Never Heard Of”

If you’ve heard my talk on my book Monsters of Ohio, you’ll know that when I trace my lifelong interest in monsters of the maybe-they-exist-maybe-they-don’t variety, I come back to two main sources.

The first is Scooby-Doo cartoons, which were among the very first media I consumed in my life, and which were concerned exclusively with monsters that may or may not be real; each episode began with a seemingly real monster or ghost of some kind, which the characters reacted to as if it was real, and each episode ended with that monster being unmasked as fake.

The other source? It was a book I had purchased at a grade school book fair about monsters I now know are called crytpids, like the Jersey Devil. I had long since forgotten the title. I had long since forgotten the author’s name (if I had ever even noticed it as a child). I didn’t remember much about the contents, aside from a chapter on the Jersey Devil and a black and white photo of policemen affixing a “The Jersey Devil Is A Hoax” sign to a tree. I didn’t even remember what became of the book or when, why and how I got rid of it, getting rid of a book being quite unlike me.

What I did remember was the cover illustration. Depicting a red-eyed, fang-mouthed Jersey Devil with huge bat-wings and a rather lion-like body perched in a tree, the cover was seared into my brain. It used to scare the hell out of me. Not so much that I didn’t read and re-read the book, of course, but enough so that I had to be very careful with how I handled the book when reading it, limiting my exposure to the cover as much as possible (I would have a similar experience with Whitley Strieber’s Communion when I attempted to read it as a young adult; the subject matter fascinated me, but I found the alien face on the cover terrifying and avoided looking at it while I read).

I forgot everything about the book, then, save that image.

And then Loren Coleman tweeted a couple of covers from the many Daniel Cohen books at the International Cryptozoology Museum, and I saw that same, scary Jersey Devil that was imprinted in my imagination and so scared me as a child: It adorned Monsters You Never Heard Of by Daniel Cohen.

The late Cohen had written over 200 books in his career, many of them targeted toward young readers and dealing with monsters, ghosts and the paranormal. Cohen’s 1991 The Encyclopedia of Monsters was a source of mine for Orange Eyes, one of the monsters in my book and, as far as I have been able to determine, Cohen was the first person to collect and share the story of Orange Eyes, outside of a few newspaper reporters (W. Haden Blackman’s 1998 Field Guide to North American Monsters, which included an entry on Orange Eyes, listed Cohen’s Encyclopedia as a source).

Interestingly, I was recently looking for a good example of writing about monsters for kids, and I thus looked to Cohen’s output. Within the last several months I read one of his books for adults (the excellent The Great Airship Mystery: A UFO of the 1890s) and several of his books for children (America’s Very Own Monsters, Phantom Animals and Supermonsters).

Finally armed with the title and author of the book with the scary cover I read as a little kid, I was able to order Monsters You Never Heard Of (Dodd, Mead & Company; 1980) from my local library.

After a very brief three-page introductory chapter, each of the book’s remaining 11 chapters deals with a particular monster. Most of these are from the world of cryptozoology and folklore and, despite the title, are hardly little-known…although given that the target audience is comprised of children, then perhaps the monsters would be “new” to readers encountering this as their first book on cryptozoology, as I first encountered it all those years ago. Cohen basically means lesser known than Bigfoot and The Loch Ness Monster:

“Creatures like Bigfoot and the Loch Ness monster are well known,” he writes. “But there are many other monsters that some people believe exist now, or have existed not too long ago. These monsters just have not received the right publicity. Here, for your education and entertainment, are accounts of a dozen of these lesser-known monsters—monsters you probably never heard of before.”

The monsters include Phantom Animals, Thunderbirds/Big Birds (here referred to as “Big-Big Bird”), The Dover Demon, the giant snakes of South America, the Tazelworm and The Goatman, Grunches and other similar monsters of lover’s lane (Of which Orange Eyes is an example, although not mentioned in this particular book). Oh, and, of course, The Jersey Devil.

There’ are also chapters devoted to British legends Spring-Heeled Jack , demon dogs and “The Hairy Hands” of Dartmoor. Finally, the chapter entitled “Invisible Killers” deals with cattle mutilations, and tells some dramatic stories of some “suspects.”

Re-reading the book as an adult, I was surprised with how familiar I was with most of the contents. I don’t think I was remembering what I was reading from 35 years ago so much as that Cohen rather competently and compellingly covers subjects I have read about time and time again in other books on cryptozoology and monsters since then, some of them as recently as this summer (The Dover Demon case, for example, was covered in North American Monsters: A Contemporary Legend Casebook).

Though written for children, I don’t think it is written in such a way to alienate adult readers, though the sentences are notably short and concise. It wouldn’t be a bad first book on cryptozoology and folklore for adults, really, although I do wish Cohen had included notes or at least a bibliography, pointing interested reader in where to go next for more information.

For children, it is, of course, a perfect first book on the subject…as long as they’re not as sensitive and imaginative as I was, anyway, as I was afraid of seeing the Jersey Devil pop up in my Ohio neighborhood for a time after reading this.

As for that cover, it’s lost its power to scare me—just as monsters like the Jersey Devil don’t scare fortysomething me the way they did grade-school me—but its still a potent image. I didn’t remember the face being quite so exaggerated. Looking at it today, it’s clearly not as realistic a portrait as I thought it was in my youth.

That said, the copy of the book that arrived from the library was a bound hardcover, having only a blank yellow cover, so I didn’t deal with the cover image directly this reading. (The image above is taken from the Internet.)

It does leave me with one mystery about this book, however; who is responsible for the compelling cover image in the first place? The book itself offered no clues.

Briefly on The Mothman Festival

I visited Point Pleasant, West Virginia for the second time this past weekend. The first time I was there was, of course, to visit the Mothman Museum and statue. This time I was there for the Mothman Festival, an event that was making its return after a few years’ worth of a covid-related hiatus. (If you’ve never been but plan to go some day, I’d recommend visiting the museum sometime other than during the festival, when the lines to get in and to take selfies with the statue were hundreds deep).  

I was not prepared for what a big event it was. It officially started at 10 a.m. on Saturday morning., but by 9:30 parking was difficult and there were sizable crowds and lines outside the museum, for the statue, for the tickets to the hayride and for the local coffee shop; when I left around 2 p.m., it was difficult even walking, as the crowd was literally shoulder-to-shoulder.

The highlight for me were the guest speakers, of which I unfortunately only saw three. When I got up and left my seat to stretch my legs after those first three, I noticed another massive line, this one to get in to see the speakers, apparently there to see Lyle Blackburn. There was no hope of finding a seat again after I abandoned mine then, so I missed Blackburn and Ken Gerhard (whose 2007 book Big Bird!: Modern Sightings of Flying Monsters  I read and was one of the sources I consulted for my own Monsters of Ohio). (The complete schedule of speakers is here.)

The first speaker of the day was Mark Muncy, author of a series of book about the paranormal in his home state of Florida—Eerie Florida, Creepy Florida and Freaky Florida—as well as a book I hope to get to soon, Eerie Appalachia (Though he lives in Florida and has made a career of writing about it, Muncy originally hails from Kentucky.)

As the room where the guest speakers were speaking slowly filled up, Muncy bantered with the crowd and talked about some Florida monsters and told the tale of Robert the Doll, a weird, haunted doll that now makes its home at a museum in the Florida Keys. 

When his talk began in earnest, he focused on more local monsters, from Kentucky, West Virginia and even Ohio. The first of these is one he called “his” monster, one he actually caught a glimpse of as a child. Named The Bench-Leg of Goeble Ridge, the creature had the head of a human being, though one that was somewhat deformed and glowed, and the body of a large cat or cow. And, as its name implies, it also had a wooden leg. (Muncy wrote more about his encounter, and the legendary origins of the Bench-Leg, here.)

As for Ohio, Muncy discussed The Ohio Grassman, a term he used to refer to Ohio’s Bigfoots in general, rather than a particular Bigfoot from the Akron area, noting that all of the witnesses he has talked to referred to the Grassman as having “rock star hair.” He also mentioned “Old Orange Eyes” in passing, calling him the king of the Ohio Grassmen.

He also mentioned The Loveland Frogmen in passing—literally, “You all know the Loveland Frogmen?”; it was weird for me being in a crowd where monster lore is such common knowledge—to discuss another weird story about Loveland, the Chateau Laroche. Among the ghosts supposedly attached to the castle is a gargoyle-like creature. 

Muncy was followed by Zach Bales, author of the 2020 book The Bigfooter’s Altas (as well as The UFO Chaser’s Atlas, The Amateur’s Guide to Ghost Hunting and The Expert’s Guide to Ghost Hunting). An English teacher from Kentucky, Bales spends his summers road-tripping with his wife to investigate the paranormal, from ghosts to Bigfoot, collecting materials for the museum they’re setting up in their hometown, The Nightmare Gallery

The heart of Bales’ presentation was a rather intense story about his own encounter with Bigfoot, or the Green River Monster, as it’s called in his home state (at the beginning of his presentation, he ran through the various names Bigfoot is known by in various states, beginning with the Grassman in Ohio). 

He also discussed trail cameras, one of the more promising tools in the Bigfoot hunter’s arsenal, and why he thinks it is that no one has yet caught a good image of Bigfoot on one. In short, he puts it down to the observer’s effect, and that the act of looking for Bigfoot may alter its behavior in a way that makes it harder to find, and certain aspects of the cameras themselves may frighten wildlife away.

The final talk I saw was that of Nick Redfern, the UK author with a sizable bibliography (Monster Files, The Bigfoot Book and Monsters of The Deep being among those of his I’ve read). The subject was that of flying monsters in the U.K., which included the Cornwall Owlman, a griffin and pteradons, although he also talked a bit about Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster and even Slenderman.

His thesis was a criticism of cryptozoology in general, as he disagrees with the notion that crytpids are flesh-and-blood animals yet to be recognized by science—that Bigfoot is merely a huge undiscovered ape making its home in the continental United States, for example—but instead that there is a connection between  human beings. In some cases he seems to put the monster appearances down to the work of human magicians, as he noted Aleister Crowley’s house near Loch Ness in connection to an increase in Nessie’s sightings (Redfern has written a book on the Loch Ness Monster, entitled Nessie!: Exploring the Supernatural Origins of the Loch Ness Monster), and others to the principle that people see what they want to see. 

Thus people see creatures like the Owlman or Mothman or Slenderman because they are really there, but they are there as tulpas or thought-forms, rather than as yet-to-be-discovered animals. 

I hope to return to the festival next year, perhaps as a vendor (I can’t think of any other event within driving distance where one will find thousands of people interested in cryptids like Mothman, who has a chapter of his own in my book).

If I return as a visitor though, I’ll know better than to abandon my seat at any point once the guest speakers start!

Review: “Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie”

One generally hears the term “charismatic megafauna” in relation to conservation. The public at large is usually more open to calls to protect endangered species if they are larger, likable animals they are already familiar with, animals like tigers, elephants and giant pandas, as opposed to, say, various species of insects, fish or frogs. 

One also finds the idea of charismatic megafauna in the world of cryptozoology. Readers might be more interested in big, compelling animals they have previously heard of, like Bigfoot, the Yeti or the Loch Ness Monster.

Kate Shaw seems well aware of this bias, and eschews the most well-known cryptids for lesser-known maybe-they-exist-maybe-they-don’t creatures in her book Beyond Bigfoot & Nessie: Lesser-Known Mystery Animals From Around the World, (Katherine Shaw; 2022), which puts its focus on what we might consider more minor cryptids right in its title.

Obviously you won’t find Bigfoot or Nessie in these pages, nor will you find Yetis, Mothman or The Jersey Devil, but you will find animals commonly covered in the literature of the weird (winged cats, “the devil’s footprints”, the Dover Demon)  or works of cryptozoology (the the Mongolian Death Worm, Nandi Bear, Steller’s Sea-Ape, the Minnesota Iceman, DeLoy’s Ape, The Tatzelwurm).. You’ll also find real animals they may have gone extinct, giant versions of real animals, strange prehistoric creatures, animals in unusual places and animals that are still being debated scientifically.

It’s a really quite marvelous mystery menagerie she’s put together. 

Shaw breaks her book up into ten parts, each concerning itself with a certain sort of animal: Mystery Mammals, Strange Birds, Freshwater Monsters, Sea Monsters and so on. Within each are articles of several pages in length devoted to each entry of her worldwide survey, running a wide gamut of nature, from size and shape to reality (The on sea monsters for example, includes not only the famous sightings of the Daedalus and Gloucester Sea Serpents, but also an entry on the very real Oarsfish, and “Beebe’s Deep-Sea Mystery Fish”, fish sighted by a scientist exploring the deep but never seen again). 

There are some sections on the more peculiar of animal mysteries, including Out of Place Animals (Alien Big Cats, Phantom Kangaroos), Mystery Primates (the Chinese Ink Monkey, Orang Pendek), Dragons and Dinosaurs (Mini Rex, the Sirrush), Mystery Carcasses (Globsters, the Montauk Monster) and Demons and Specters (the Ahool, Beast of Bungay).

Shaw, whose book spins out of her Strange Animals podcast, writes with authority, sensitivity and a palpably burning sense of curiosity about the strange world filled with strange creatures we all live in. The great thing about the book, aside from Shaw’s strong writing and fresh perspective, of course, is its focus on more out of the way cryptids. It helps redefine, or at least underscore, cryptozoology as more than just the stereotypical search for Bigfoot and sea monsters, and seems to welcome it back into the fold of the more “respectable” scenes, too. After all, while the potential existence of, say, freshwater sea horses don’t sell as many books as the idea that there may be a large, undiscovered ape lurking in America’s northwest, it would still be a major scientific breakthrough if they were discovered to exist. 


Ohio makes only a single, unexpected appearances in the book. In the chapter on Phantom Kangaroos, Shaw mentions the Buckeye State in passing: “So let’s get back to more modern sightings of phantom kangaroos. There are a lot of reports from the United States and a few from Canada, including a 1949 sighting in Ohio, a 1958 sighting in Nebraska, the ‘Big Bunny’ kangaroo sightings in Minnesota that persisted for a decades between 1957 and 1967, and many more.”

Shaw theorizes that these sightings are all of escaped pet kangaroos and wallabies, which is, after all, the most rational explanation. I’m still reminded of something Loren Coleman, who has collected plenty of phantom kangaroo sightings, has said, though. And that is that perhaps some phantom kangaroo sightings are really sightings of “devil monkeys,” occasionally seen, ill-tempered creatures that are described as something of a cross between a baboon and a kangaroo, as unlikely a creature as that might be. These have been seen in Ohio over the  years, specifically one case in Dunkinsville in Adams County. In 1997, a woman reported seeing an animal meeting the description of the devil monkey after being alerted to its presence by her dogs. Coleman writes about the sighting in his 1983 book, Mysterious America.

Review: “Adventures in Cryptozoology”

adventures in crytpozoologyRichard Freeman’s Adventures in Cryptozoology: Hunting for Yetis, Mongolian Deathworms, and Other Not-So-Mythical Monsters (Mango; 2019) takes the familiar, survey-like approach to the undiscovered animals that make up the world of cryptozoology, not unlike Bernard Heuvelmans did in his landmark 1955 book On The Track of Unknown Animals.

In five of his six chapters, Freeman breaks up the mystery menagerie into several broad categories—Dragons, Lake Monsters, Sea Monsters, Giant Apes and Hominins and  the intriguingly-named “The Magic Zoo”—and he then details sightings and examines evidence of each in a region by region tour of the subject. As for the other chapter, that is the first in the book, and it details the history of cryptozoology, including a generous section devoted to many of the field’s leading lights and lesser-known participants throughout that history.

The discussions of water monsters and giant apes and hominins will include many instances and anecdotes familiar to readers of past cryptozoological works, but the dragons section is particularly interesting. Freeman’s definition of a dragon is a wide one, and while there are a few sightings of animals that seem straight out of medieval legend, complete with fire breath, there are also discussions of outsized lizards and what might be relict Pterosaurs…anything that might be mistaken for a dragon, basically.

In “The Magic Zoo” chapter, Freeman explores various legendary animals once thought to exist—unicorns, griffons, basilisks, the fire-resistant salamander—and a couple of famous creatures of cryptozoology, the colorfully-named Mongolian deathworm and the tatzelwurm. He also tackles the 18th century mystery killer known as “The Beast of Gévaudan,” which he quite confidently identifies as a sub-adult male lion, likely escaped from a wealthy person’s personal menagerie.

The first installment of a two-volume series—the second volume, In Search of Real Monsters, was just released this January—Freeman’s Adventures in Cryptozoology is a great first book on the subject, mixing a voraciously wide set of examples with reasonable, rather convincing deductions regarding the possible reality and identify of the cryptids under discussion.

The Lake Erie Monster

It’s also relevant to the subject of monsters in Ohio, or, at least, a part of it is. The third chapter, “Monsters of Lochs and Lakes” includes this section:

The Great Lakes of the eastern USA, and southern Canada, five linked massive bodies of water, are not without serpent reports. Samuel Rafinesque, a biologist who catalogued many North American species wrote of a thirty-five to sixty-foot serpent that had been seen on Lake Erie in July 1817. It was a foot thick, dark mahogany in colour, and had shining eyes.

He is, of course, talking about The Lake Erie Monster, and he goes on to share a dozen sightings of the monster between 1960 and 1993, including such locales as South Bass Island, Cedar Point Causeway, Huron and Kelley’s Island. Freeman closes his section on Lake Erie by saying Lake Erie has the most monster sightings of any of the Great Lakes, though not a monopoly. He also expresses his displeasure at one of the monster’s nicknames, “South Bay Bessie,” which he says “continues the slightly irritating convection of giving monsters ‘twee’ names.”

Meet the Monsters: The Norwalk Ape

 Norwalk, 1930—The case of the Norwalk Ape is an interesting one, particularly as it relates to the possibility of Bigfoot in Ohio.

If, for example, everyone who told a newspaper reporter that they saw an ape in or around the city of Norwalk in Huron County in the summer of 1930 really did see a genuine flesh-and-blood creature, then it’s possible what they were seeing wasn’t an escaped ape of some kind, but rather what we would have called “Bigfoot”, if it the term “Bigfoot” had existed at the time (The word didn’t start getting used to describe hairy humanoid creatures seen in the United States until 1958).

After all, the witnesses seemed to have trouble deciding just what sort of ape it was they were seeing, and no one seemed quite sure where, exactly, it might have come from. (That the Norwalk Ape sightings represent an early twentieth century of Bigfoot sightings in Ohio is a possibility suggested by author Chad Arment, whose 2006 book The Historical Bigfoot collects many of the Norwalk Ape newspaper articles of that summer).

Despite plenty of  sightings and lots of articles in the local press at the time, there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of agreement as to what the ape actually looked like, as it was described alternately as a chimpanzee, an “organ-otang”, “a huge ape,” “a large gray animal,” “some kind of lumbering, half-upright creature” and, my favorite, “the shape of what appeared to be a man.”  It’s behavior seemed all over the place too, as in addition to lurking around houses and farm fields, it was also seen climbing  in a tree, beating its chest and, in one case, invading a couple’s kitchen.

The popular explanation for its appearance in northern Ohio, a place where no wild apes should be found—unless, of course, we want to entertain the theory that the ape was really an example of the species that would eventually come to be known as Bigfoot—was that it had escaped from a traveling circus or animal exhibit of some kind, although, as is often the case in such sightings of mysterious, out-of-place animals, no circus or exhibit reported missing an ape.

The Norwalk Ape’s fate was ultimately as mysterious as its origin, as it was never caught or killed, it just stopped appearing in papers. 

Illustration by Janie Walland

Meet the Monster: The Melonheads

Lake County—There are multiple versions of the story of The Melonheads , but they all seem to involve a character named Dr. Crow in Kirtland, a small town of about 7,000 people in Lake County. Crow is either a malevolent or benevolent figure. In the stories where he’s a good guy, he takes in children suffering from some sort of dramatic macrocephaly—or, um, big-headedness—and cares for them, until a tragic accident sets his house aflame, and he dies in the fire, leaving the children alone. 

In the more popular stories where he’s a bad guy, he acquires children to experiment on—sometimes from the government, sometimes on his own—and he injects their heads with water and performs other cruel experiments that lead to their melon-headed appearances. Again, there’s a fire and he’s killed—sometimes an accident, sometimes the children cause it, but, at any rate, when he’s dead  they escape into the woods.

And they are said to still roam the woods, a nomadic tribe of feral, hunter-gatherers looking for potential victims. Or, in some stories, the Melonheads in the woods are the ghosts of the original children who died in the fire as well. Being an urban legend, there are plenty of variations on almost every aspect of the story.

Though actual, reliable sightings of the Melonheads are rare, driving around the lonely roads said to be their haunts and looking for them has long been a popular pastime for teenagers and young people in Lake County.

Illustration by Janie Walland

Meet the Monsters: The Grassman

Akron, 1995—The name “Grassman”  has gradually started to become a term that refers to Bigfoot in Ohio  in general, being used in such a way in a 2008 episode of The History Channel’s MonsterQuest and a trio of episodes of The Destination America reality show Mountain Monsters, as well as an episode of the latter channel’s Monsters and Mysteries in America.

The name seems to have first appeared in print in writer Christopher L. Murphy’s 1997 book Bigfoot in Ohio: Encounters with the Grassman, and came from a 1995 investigation of Akron-area sightings by Murphy’s co-authors, Joedy Cook and George Clappison of the Ohio Bigfoot Research and Study Group. During their field research investigating sightings by a pair of local men, they found what they thought might be some sort of Bigfoot “nest,” an igloo-shaped structure made of large sticks woven together with smaller sticks and covered in grass, branches and leaves, big enough for three men to sit in.

The nest might be the origin of the name Grassman…or might not be. Other theories included Murphy telling MonsterQuest that European settlers in the area first saw Bigfoot-like creatures in the tall grass, and an Akron woman saying her grandfather used the name as a sort of boogeyman to scare children  away from playing in the tall grass by his house.

Joedy Cook seems to have carried the name with him, though, as he—and the nest—appeared in the episode of MonsterQuest and Cook was further interviewed in the previously mentioned episode of Monsters and Mysteries in America.

Cooke also  released his own 2010 book on Bigfoot in Ohio,Traces of the Grassman: The Search for the Ohio Bigfoot

Similar nests have been found in other states, so it might be a more common form of Bigfoot behavior than just an Ohio thing, but, whatever its exact origins, the name “Grassman” has taken hold as a local name for Bigfoot.

Illustration by Janie Walland