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!

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 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

Meet the Monsters: Big Head

Butler, 1978—This local variation of Bigfoot exists in only a handful of sightings from in and around Richland County, several of them generated by the children from a single household. Those sightings were quite thoroughly documented in police reports, however, giving them a lot more weight than they might otherwise have. 

The first of these reported sightings was made on July 8, 1978, in Butler, a village of about 1,000 people situated a half-hour or so southeast from Mansfield. At around 11 PM, the children heard some strange noises coming from a wooded area near their home on Elm Street, at which point they investigated and found the creature. They described it as being somewhere between seven and eight feet tall, with large red eyes and, most remarkably of all, a head that was about three-feet in diameter.

A few days later their sister was outside unloading hay with their parents. A train was coming down the tracks not too far behind their house, as one did a few times a day, but in this particular instance the train was whistling with uncommon frequency and for longer than usual durations. The girl eventually  turned her flashlight in the direction of the train, and that’s when she saw the monster….or, really, just its eyes. These she said were the size of golf balls, and glowed the same orange-ish red of the lit tip of a cigarette.

She retreated to her bedroom with her mother, from where they could both hear “crying” noises—which they described like those of a cat, but deeper. The noises were accompanied by a very strong and very foul odor. The police came and took another report, but they apparently had just  missed the monster again.

Illustration by Janie Walland

Meet the Monsters: The Minerva Monster

Minerva, 1978—The Minerva Monster takes its name from the village of Minerva, about 20 miles or so east of Canton. In August of 1978,  Evelyn and Herbert Cayton’s grandchildren ran up to the house saying they had seen  a monster in the gravel pit nearby. The Caytons and their daughter went to investigate, and found the kids were telling the truth; they too saw a monster in the gravel pit.

They described the creature they saw as seven-foot tall, weighing about 300-pounds and covered in thick, dark, matted hair, hair that was so  thick and shaggy that it completely obscured the humanoid creature’s facial features. 

The most dramatic of several other sightings came on the night of August 21st. The Caytons were entertaining friends and family when they heard strange noises coming from the direction of an old chicken coop in their backyard. They could see something moving in the dark, and there  were two pairs of yellow eyes there, reflecting the light from the porch.

In order to get a better look, eighteen-year-old Scott Patterson got into a car and turned the headlights on, which revealed the owners of the eyes to be two large, “cougar-type” felines of some sort. At that point, a large, bipedal creature like the one from the gravel pit stepped in front of the cats, as if to protect them. 

The sheriff was called, and the area investigated, but no monster or its pet cats were ever found by law enforcement, although the Caytons and others in the area continued to see the monster, sometimes accompanied by a pair of what were variously described as cougars, mutant cat-like creatures or smaller versions of itself going about on all fours.

Illustration by Janie Walland

Review: “Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot”

David Norman Lewis’ Evergreen Ape: The Story of Bigfoot (Microcosm Publishing; 2021) is a small book in all ways but one. At 5-by-7-inches, it’s practically pocket-sized, and at just 126 heavily-spaced pages, it’s a quick read that can easily be accomplished in a single sitting. It’s subject matter, however, is big. Lewis tackles not only Bigfoot, but why it is that so many people seem so obsessed with the cryptid, and the fact that throughout human history there has always been a cultural tradition of big hairy wild men helping, hurting or at just living beside us.

Indeed, Lewis writes early in his introductory chapter that “Why the idea of an undiscovered species of ape living in the Northwest wilderness is appealing to so many people is a bigger mystery than whether or not the creature exists.” It’s that mystery he focuses on more so than relitigating arguments about the creatures’ existence as a real flesh-and-blood species of aniimal.

In eight fleet chapters—the ninth is a “Bigfoot Hiking Guide” suggesting a quartet of West Coast routes that will be accessible to Lewis’ Pacific Northwest target audience—the writer covers some well-trod ground, but he doesn’t dwell too long on the specifics of various cases or areas of argumentation. Rather, he seems most interested in the ideas that Bigfoot suggests, and what thinking about, and looking for, Bigfoot reveals about humanity in general…but  particularly modern humanity. And, particular among that group, white Baby Boomers, the audience that Bigfoot seems to appeal to the most (“Dr. Robert Michael Pyle, an American lepidopterist who attended a similar Bigfoot convention, famously noted about the attendees ‘these guys don’t want to find Bigfoot—they want to be Bigfoot,” Lewis writes). 

His conclusions tend to be pretty interesting, making this a book a rather compelling entry into a crowded genre.

Lewis covers, at least in passing, the 1924 Ape Canyon incident, Albert Ostman’s abduction story, the careers of Rene Dahinden and Grover Krantz, the case of “Cripple Foot” and the Patterson-Gimlin film controversy, but in all cases he does so in such a way that the stories won’t feel tedious or repetitive, no matter how many other books you’ve read that have covered the same subjects.

Lewis also discusses the story of John Tornow, who escaped an Oregon insane asylum and hiked back to the Olympic Peninsula, where he took the woods and became semi-feral, murdering anyone who came into the woods to try and drag him out…eventually becoming something of a folk hero, or at least folk character, despite all the murders. It’s a story that will have particular resonance for readers in Portland-based publisher Microcosm’s region of the country, an audience Lewis’ book seems to keep focus on, although it’s worth noting the proceedings should prove of interest to anyone interested in Bigfoot, whatever part of the country—heck, whatever country—they live in.

He also tells the story of several real apes that definitely lived in the area, Bobo and Kiki, gorillas at the Seattle zoo, and he addresses at some length  the pre-Bigfoot concept of the “Wild Man” in America among white folks (that is, the idea that a man could become bestial by renouncing society and living in the woods like an animal), the cultural traditions of wild man as symbolic  helpmate and adversary in European as well as in Native American traditions (and the ancient Middle East, if you want to count the discussion of Gilgamesh) and 18th century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s thinking on the “noble savage.”

The conclusions he comes to are not entirely unique.

The interest in Bigfoot is, essentially, an interest in nature and, more specifically, a need or desire to reconnect to nature, or the idea of nature, even if a bridge in the form of a mythic animal-human hybrid must be invented to get there. Even the way people regard these “wild men” shift over the years, as Lewis points out the 19th century wild men weren’t regarded by white people in America as a separate species, but simply one of their own that had gone wild, and could be tamed and returned to civilization. Not so after the frontier had been closed and conquered, and nature essentially tamed. Then wild men seemed to become a definitive “other”, one that people, as the late Krantz articulates in Lewis’ chapter on him, seemed to  have strong opinions over the existence of or non-existence of, despite knowing very little about the subject. 

Bigfoot gradually began to represent an idealized, unconquerable, forever wild version of nature, one that stubbornly—thankfully—continues to exist, no matter how out of whack the ratio civilization and the wild grew over the course of the 19th and 20th century and into the 21st century. 

Personally, I don’t know if we’ll ever actually find Bigfoot, or any sort of North American ape, alive or extinct, but I remain fascinated by the search, and by stories of that search, like that told in Lewis’ engaging and insightful little volume.  


I was a little surprised to find that Lewis singles out Dr. Robert Michal Pyle’s 1997 Where Bigfoot Walks: Crossing The Dark Divide for derision, calling it “unreadably flowery” and saying that “Most of his book on Bigfoot is just him jerking off about the beauty of trees.”

I was surprised because it seems an uncharacteristically harsh assessment from Lewis, whose argumentation throughout the rest of the short book is pretty even-tempered, and it is the only instance where he really goes out of his way to take something down (although I suppose he gets close in his discussion of Fred Beck’s I Fought The Apemen of Mount St. Helens). 

And I was surprised because I liked Pyle’s book. In fact, if you were to ask me to suggest three Bigfoot books off the top of my head, chances are that would be one of them (The others? John Zada’s 2020 In the Valleys of the Nobel Beyond: In Search of The Sasquatch and Joshua Blu Buhs’ 2009 Bigfoot: The Life and Times of a Legend. Or maybe Loren Coleman’s 2003 Bigfoot! The True Story of Apes in America. Although I might also recommend Coleman and Patrick Huyghe’s 2006 The Field Guide to Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates or T.S. Mart and Mel Cabre’s 2020 The Legend of Bigfoot: Leaving His Mark on the World, depending on who’s asking for the recommendation and what their level of interest is).

Granted, it’s been a good ten years since I read Pyle’s book. Maybe I would like it less if I re-read it today, especially with Lewis’ criticism fresh in my mind…?


The other moment in Lewis’ book that surprised me was his introduction’s passage about Bigfoot movies, which he makes in relation to Seattle’s Scarecrow Video, “America’s largest surviving video rental store” which also happens to have a Bigfoot section.

Lewis writes that “just by looking at the covers it is clear that somebody will find Bigfoot before anybody makes a watchable movie about them.”

Now, I’ve seen a lot of Bigfoot movies, and yes, a lot of them have been pretty terrible, a few of them almost unwatchably so, although I persevered through until the credits of even the worst of them (of which I think may be 1983’s Night of The Demon). But while maybe there’s no masterpiece of filmmaking that includes Bigfoot in its plot, there are some damn well-made films. The two that leap most immediately to mind are 2006’s Abominable (which Lewis mentions in a different context later in the book), a sort of Rear Window remake mixed into a Bigfoot horror film, and 2013’s Willow Creek, a rare post-Blair Witch found footage film that I found devastatingly effective.

I’d be happy to hear any suggestions of great, or even just pretty damn good, Bigfoot movies, though. 

As to why Bigfoot movies in general are no good, Lewis has an interesting theory:

Bigfoot is hard to dramatize because he doesn’t do anything. Aliens abduct farmers, vampires suck blood, the chupacabra sucks goat blood, the Mongolian Death Worm electrocutes people, but all Bigfoot does is exist, and existing is all he has to do for people to devote their lives to looking for him.

Well, he might not even need to actually exist, of course, for people to be fascinated with him. 

Review: “Mystery Stalks The Prairie”

Mystery Stalks The Prairie (Riverbend Publishing; 2021) was originally published in 1976, and the fact that it is being republished in 2021 should speak to the interest it generated over the decades, as well as the influence it has had on discussion of its subject matter: Cattle mutilations. A collaboration between Keith Wolverton, who was then a sheriff’s deputy in Cascade County, Montana, and writer Roberta Donovan, it’s a book-length exploration of Wolverton and his fellow officers’ investigation of a series of cattle mutilations in and around his county in the 1970s. 

As to what, exactly, was responsible for the mutilations, Wolverton did not, in the original book, come to any conclusions, but he was open to any and all possible explanations, no matter how out there those explanations might seem. These included that perhaps some sort of devil-worshipping cult was killing cattle and taking pieces of them to use in occult rituals, that perhaps people were using helicopters to capture and cut-up cows for even more mysterious reasons and, of course, that it was all the work of aliens, or whoever it was exactly that rides around in UFOs. 

There was— perhaps coincidentally, perhaps not—a lot of UFO activity in the area at the time, and entire chapters are devoted to Wolverton and his fellow officers chasing down UFOs. And he meant, I should perhaps note, UFOs in the in the truest sense of the term—rather than flying saucers or strange vehicles, the flying objects were completely unidentified. Sometimes they were no more than mysterious lights in the sky, other times they seemed to be helicopters or other conventional aircraft, but not ones that anyone in a position to know could identify. 

The 2021 publication includes the entire 1976 original book, plus several new features. There’s a new introduction by Montana UFOs and Extraterrestrials author Joan Bird (which includes the revelation of a 1947 cattle mutilation on a Blackfeet reservation in Montana, one linked pretty directly to extraterrestrials), a new epilogue written by Wolverton in 2019, and the transcript of a 2016 interview of Wolverton and Pete Howard, a retired sheriff of Teton County in Montana who, like Wolverton, was involved in the original investigation.

So, as interesting as UFOs may be, what makes this a book to discuss on a blog devoted to monsters and cryptozoology? Well, among all the other strangeness Wolverton and company were investigating in the seventies, there were also sightings of large, hairy humanoid creatures of the Bigfoot variety—although, curiously enough, in the 1976 text, Wolverton never uses the word “Bigfoot: or “Sasquatch,” but continually refers to them as “the creature” or “creatures.” 

The eleventh chapter of the book is “Hairy Creatures, Eight Feet Tall” and, begins:

Law officers have been unable so far to find an explanation for the sequence in which the strange events have occurred.

First there was the rash of cattle mutilations, then the many sightings of unidentified helicopters, followed by numerous UFO sightings and—more recently—the reports of people who saw one or more strange hairy creatures that walked upright like a man.

There was overlapping, but one type of activity seemed to decline as another started.

There was a December 1974 sighting by a man who said he saw a creature between seven and eight feet tall that looked like a grizzly bear; he fired his gun at it three times to no effect, and then retreated to his car as it kept coming toward him.

There was a December 26, 1975 sighting by two junior high girls of a creature between seven and seven and a half feet tall and twice as wide as a man, with a face that was “dark and awful looking and not like a human’s.”

One of the girls’ father said he heard “a sound that he could only describe as like a human dying an agonizing death” that he attributed to one of the creatures. Such cries were heard by others in the area, and was among the circumstantial evidence relating to the creatures that Wolverton found when he investigated.

The most dramatic sighting was that of a 16-year-old boy who saw a tall, hairy creature walking in the pasture outside of his home on the morning of April 4, 1976. Like many Bigfoot sightings, this creature appeared not to have a neck, and was further described as being entirely covered with dark hair about an inch long, save for his face. The boy thought the creature, which walked smoothly with long strides and didn’t seem to bend its knees much, was about eight feet tall. It met another creature. The witness provided sketches of the creature, which are reproduced in the book.

There is a bit of follow-up regarding the creatures in the next chapter, as Wolverton wrote of his interaction with groups studying them in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. The unnamed spokesmen for one of the groups that Wolverton spoke to at the time told him there was “no doubt the things are real” and that there is some sort of link between the cattle mutilations and the “strange hairy creatures.”

Wolverton further reported that there may be a link between the creatures and UFOs, and notes some ways in which the creatures don’t behave like real flesh and blood animals, like their being seemingly impervious to gunfire, disappearing suddenly, having glowing eyes and so on. 

“One theory being studied by those at the Pennsylvania center is that the creatures may be a psychic phenomenon, visible to some and not to others and possibly non-physical,” Wolverton wrote.

In the context of the book, however, they are just one more sort of strangeness that seemed to plague Wolverton’s beat, and which he investigated but could come to no conclusions regarding.

In the 2019 epilogue to the updated edition that Wolverton wrote, he notes some post-retirement investigations he conducted, at which time he seemed more open to embracing more outre explanations for some of the mysteries he wrote about in the 1970s. 

“After retiring, I knew I was never going to solve the cattle mutilations, so I decided to investigate the possibility of finding Bigfoot,” Wolverton wrote.

He did not, but tells a bit about he and a fellow researcher went on trips to California, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia and Alaska, and talks in detail about some of the investigations, sharing witness reports.

One of particular interest to readers of Monsters of Ohio may be that a man reported finding “a large woven nest among a group of trees” in Alaska, similar, perhaps to the nest Bigfoot investigators found in the Akron area in the 1990s and attributed to the Grassman. 

“The nest appeared to be five feet by four feet,” Wolverton wrote. “It was interesting because it seemed to be woven into an oval shape by grass and twigs.” 

Hair samples found in the nest were tested, and turned out to belong to a bear. That trip concluded Wolverton’s search for Bigfoot, a term he used freely in his 2019 epilogue, even if he seemed to carefully avoid using it in the original text of Mystery Stalks the Prairie.

Because so much of the book reads exactly like what it is—a law enforcement officer uncommitted to a particular theory investigating strange happenings—there’s a certain dryness to the proceedings that might make it a difficult read for some readers, despite the relative brevity of the book. It’s nevertheless an interesting work, mostly because it is the work of an open-minded public servant trying to make some sense out of what seems to be completely senseless.