How ribbeting: tales of the Loveland Frogmen

This full moon we’re going to Loveland, Ohio, a residential town cut in two by the Little Miami River. Loveland gets muggy in the summer and cold in the winter, and is home to lots of bridges, trails, and (according to some) foggy nights full of waist-high Frogmen.

frog eye
Like this, only much, much larger. (This might actually be a toad. The Frogman legend does not seem to be aware of any difference between the two, so we’re going to roll with it.)

An amphibious faceoff

Our first encounter comes to us in May of 1955. A businessman was driving down a poorly lit Loveland backroad around 3:30 am, so exhausted that he was struggling to keep his eyes open. Then he noticed three shapes standing standing off to the side (or on a bridge or under a bridge, depending on the story). Frowning, he leaned forward to get a closer look, and then woke up real fast. The figures were leathery, frog-faced bipeds between 3 and 4 feet tall, chatting and gesticulating at each other with webbed fingers.

The man slowed his car to a stop for some (rather justifiable) rubbernecking, and one of the Frogmen looked up. It lifted a wand up into to black sky, and shot a spray of sparks. As might anyone upon encountering a frog sorcerer at 3 am, the man hightailed it out of there, and the legend of the Loveland Frogmen was born.

Looking through the Frogmen literature (such as it is), one has to wonder if that faceoff didn’t start something. Most sources agree that the Frogmen are not generally aggressive, yet that first warning shot would be followed by an ominous watery encounter just a few months later, in late August.

There’s something in the water

Mrs. Naomi Johnson was swimming in the Ohio River (which Loveland’s Little Miami River branches off of) with her child and some friends. She had gotten about 15 feet from the shore when a clawed, furry hand wrapped around her knee. Mrs. Johnson screamed, struggled, and tried in vain to get away as the thing pulled, intent on dragging her under. At last she broke free and splashed toward land, only to have the hand grab her a second time. Mrs. Johnson seized an inner tube in desperation, and the slap of the plastic finally scared the monster away. She scrambled ashore, sobbing, and found her leg covered in bruises, scratches, and a giant green handprint that would refuse to fade for weeks.

Frogmen have been known to throw rocks at people who get too close, and it’s not hard to imagine that there would be a price to pay if someone stumbled into their watery home. Mrs. Johnson’s incident was pretty far from the initial sighting, and no one saw the actual assailant, but the connection isn’t impossible. Anyway, the next sighting, almost two decades later, would be pure, uncut anura.

Frog in the headlights

It was another late night, this time around 1 am, on March 3, 1972. Police officer Ray Shockey was driving carefully due to the icy conditions. It was a good thing he was–he and had just enough time to slam on the brakes when something scurried across the road ahead.

loveland frogman illustration
A helpful diagram, courtesy of Tim Bertelink over on Wikimedia Commons.

Like the previous Frogmen, the thing was between 3 and 4 feet tall, about 50 to 75 pounds, and with leathery skin reminiscent of a frog. Fully illuminated by his headlights, the creature rose from its crouch to stand on two feet next to the guardrail on the side of the road. It regarded Shockey frankly, eyes glinting in the light, and then hopped over the rail and disappeared down into the river.

Of course the other officers made fun of Shockey when he shared this story. But then his friend Matthews went down the same road a couple of weeks later, and the same thing happened to him. Matthews saw something on the shoulder and, thinking it might be an injured creature, got out to investigate. Then the Frogman stood up, looked at him, and smirked. It matched Shockey’s description exactly.

Matthews drew his weapon and shot it dead.

There is some debate about what happened next. Matthews claimed in later years that upon further examination of the thing (he put it in his trunk to show the others and vindicate Shockey), he discovered it was not a Frogman at all, but an enormous, tailless iguana. He hypothesized that said iguana might have been someone’s pet but either got loose or got too big and so was abandoned. “[The frogman is] a big hoax,” he told one reporter. “There’s a logical explanation for everything.”

Sidebar: boring logic

Frog
You say logic, you get this look.

There are logical explanations for the 1972 sightings, as well as the ones in 1955. The year before that businessman had his fateful run-in with the Wizard Frogs was the year everyone saw The Creature of the Black Lagoon. It could have been that both he and Mrs. Johnson were influenced by this (as well as other cultural phenomena such as UFOs), and simply connected dots when there were none. Maybe something that looks like a giant tailless iguana is actually just a giant tailless iguana.

But it’s more fun to consider the other side of the coin. Proponents of the Frogmen emphasize that it was until later that Matthews came out with this iguana story–he said nothing about it at the time. Mrs. Johnson might also have gotten a visit from the government requesting her not to talk anymore about her little incident at the lake. And though Matthews said that the creature was almost dead when he shot it, the sightings haven’t stopped.

Frogbomination, I choose you!

The latest headline-creating Frogman sighting comes to us courtesy of Pokemon Go, the augmented reality game that encouraged everyone to actually get out of their house for a few months. One night in August 2016, a teenager named Sam Jacobs and his girlfriend wandered over the train tracks to the dark shores of Lake Isabella. It was then that, as a local Cincinatti station (somewhat dramatically) put it, “a night of fun turned into a chilling tale of horror.”

They were looking for Pokemon, but found so much more. A giant frog sat by the water and, as they watched, got up and walked on its hind legs. Jacobs even taped some video of it (or, at least, some very bright eye reflections of it).

Jacobs recognizes that people might not believe him, but insists that the video is real. “I swear on my grandmother’s grave that this is the truth,” he said.  “I’m not sure whether it was a Frogman or just a giant frog. Either way, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Neither have I, Jacobs. Neither have I.

 

Really, though, these guys shouldn’t always be hanging out in the middle of the road. What would be the repercussions of hitting a Frogman with your car? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Trussst in me: the Flathead Lake monster

I love old maps. Maps used to be full of monster drawings, especially pre-17th century ones created for the upper class. Cartographers weren’t just trying to dazzle people–they were trying to educate them, and illustrated creatures based on real sailors’ reports. Why is it, then, that so many include a beast like this?

sea monster
You know, the one with the humps?

This full moon, let’s take a look at a specific example of one of these serpentine horrors: a Loch Nessian-style monster right here in the U.S.

Flathead Lake sits in northwestern Montana, and is the largest lake in the contiguous U.S. west of the Mississippi. It’s nearly 30 miles long and 15 miles wide, and can get up to 370 feet deep (over 34 stories). In short, it’s a lot of water. 75 million years ago, Flathead Lake was actually an inland sea, one full of sharks and the aquatic reptiles of the dinosaur era. Some people–lots of people: lawyers, doctors, policemen, engineers, biologists; locals and non-locals alike–say that not all of those monstrous species have left.

Take Julia and Jim Manley, who had considered themselves skeptics of the strange sightings. One beautiful, breezeless summer day in 2005, they went out on it in their boat to enjoy the water. When they tried to go home, their engine wouldn’t start. The battery was dead. They were stranded out in the open lake, with not a single other soul in sight.

Anxious, they called their daughter, hoping that she could come rescue them. She said she was on her way. But as the Manleys settled in for their wait, they heard a loud, heavy slap against the water. They heard the sound again–it was close, worryingly close. Then they looked over the side of their boat and saw it.

Per Julia: “The first feeling I had seeing it was just shock. I knew I was seeing it, but it’s so unbelievable to think about it–”

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Like this, maybe, only the monster’s head wasn’t showing and also it was 2005.

There were black, sinuous humps slithering through the waves–a giant chain at least as long as their 24-foot boat. As they stood in horrified silence, they saw something else coming at them over the horizon: their daughter’s boat. The monster slipped away into the water before she could see it, and the Manleys realized that now they were the ones who would have to convince those skeptical of the monster of Flathead Lake.

Consider this combined with with the accounts people have shared of schools of fish jumping out of the water, as if fleeing a massive predator.  Or the account of a man’s fishing nets having enormous, unexplainable holes in them. The account of the fisherman whose boat was violently rocked by a “monstrous shadowy shape.”  The account of the 3-year old that fell in the lake, and when asked how he survived, said “the Flathead monster lifted me up.”

Flathead lake Monster
Legit.

The first Flathead monster sighting recorded in writing was in 1889, when 100 steamboat passengers saw the beast and someone freaked out and shot at her. Before that, there was a Kutenai legend that involves a giant monster breaking through the lake ice and drowning half the tribe. All accounts are surprisingly consistent, in spite of people not knowing each other and outsiders not knowing what might be in the lake. “Flessie” (as the locals call her, a play on the very similar “Nessie” of Loch Ness) is between 20 and 40 feet long, eel-like, with dark brown or blue-black skin and dark eyes. Sighting reports roll in at a rate of about 1 to 2 per year, with 92% occurring between April and September.

The only time this varied was in 1993, when there were a whopping 13 sightings, some within 20 minutes of each other. With how big the lake is, that temporal proximity leaves us with a few possibilities: a) someone is lying, b) someone saw a log, or c) there might not be one Flathead Lake monster, but two.

Some reports say that nearly all people local to Flathead Lake have seen Flessie at some point; others say that there are fisherman that have been out on the water for decades without catching so much as a ripple. Regardless, the monster has been around for a long time, and doesn’t seem to be going away. Skeptics blame sightings on everything from a dead monkey to an escaped buffalo, but belief persists. Many who come forward to share their stories have been reluctant to do so, not wanting to seem crazy, but needing to share their story with someone. Perhaps it is to all of our benefit that they do.

You never know when it might be important to know where there’s a monster on the map.

 

What’s your favorite water-based cryptid? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

All images are courtesy of Wikimedia Commons. See map image here; old-timey illustration here, and glow-in-the-dark eyeballs here.

Cry me a river: the Weeping Woman of Riverview Cemetery

I love graveyards. They are heightened places where where you feel both the weight of the past and future: full of history, and a reminder of what’s to come. Of course, they are also ripe for monsters. My favorites are ones like the Weeping Woman of Parkersburg, West Virginia, where you have a personality that embodies the graveyard itself, and all the memories therein.

Parkersburg is an old town, settled just after the revolutionary war. Its motto is “Where West Virginia began.” Its history is rich. Riverview cemetery–a 2.5 acre plot of land filled with a wonderful variety of monuments and headstones–boasts governors, congressman, and Civil War senators among its collected dead. It also houses the relatives of the famed Confederate General Stonewall Jackson.

weeping woman statue
The lady herself, courtesy of Angie on Flickr.

Looking over the Jackson plot sits a statue of a woman half collapsed over a large, deep headstone. A veil stretches out behind her, covering her body and feet. One arm covers the bottom of her face; the other reaches out over the stone to clutch an unfurling scroll that reads “In the silence and to thee,” and then, in large letters, “JACKSON.” Protected by the curve of the paper, the center of the scroll still shines white after a hundred years of vigil, but rest of it–and the rest of the statue–is stained with streaks of gray, green, and black. The woman looks out over the plot from under the curve of her brow. She grimaces with grief.

Weeping woman statue 2
A closer look at the lady’s profile, also courtesy of Angie.

The Weeping Woman statue has gained some notoriety among paranormal circles, but in my research, few mention where it came from or who it is supposed to depict. From what I can tell, the woman is of Lily Irene Jackson, an artist and arts organizer who may have designed the statue herself. She lived a long, full life, but thought of death and eternity often. In the end, she did not shy away from it. She died a spinster in 1928, and passed into the Riverview Cemetery with the rest of her family, leaving behind works entitled things like Watching and Waiting and Anticipation.

So, too, the statue waits. Like any good statue, every so often she decides to move. Some say that happens on a full moon, when she’ll stalk through the graveyard and wail over the conflict between the North and South. Others claim that the movements are more subtle, that she’ll change the position of her hands or head.

The Weeping Woman is famous enough that people come from miles around to see her, to film giggling, frightened Youtube videos or to reverently ask her to grant a wish. If you are pure of heart and intention, she might give you what you need. She’s known especially for granting pregnancies within a year of touching her, for whatever reason.

But beware if you’re not. As you turn to walk away, you might feel a stone hand twist itself in your shirt. The Weeping Woman rips clothes, pulls hair, and, most troublingly, unzips the pants of those who displease her.

Weeping woman statue face
Look into her eyes. (Courtesy again of Angie.)

Due to a large number of trespassers and vandals, the Riverview Cemetery gates have been closed to the public at night. Perhaps that is for the best–the Weeping Woman should not be disturbed during her moonlight walks. But the city has ensured that the grounds remain well-kept. Just last year, they installed a wrought-iron fence to restore the look the cemetery had had closer to its inception. More projects and fundraising are underway, to make sure that we in the present do not lose that link to our past, to our future.

As one visitor noted, “History can never be erased. History is history. It won’t go away. It is still here.” The Weeping Woman embodies that history. And she still bites.

 

Have you ever seen unexpected movement while visiting a graveyard? Share your story in the comments below.

 

Enjoy Angie’s photos as much as I do? Check them out on Flickr here.

I do believe in monsters; I do!: “Night-mares” and SUNDS

I love sleep. I love learning about sleep cycles, the sleeping habits of famous artists, my own bedtimes, and, of course, dreams. My obsession has leaked out a little in this blog: last year we talked a little about the Shadow People, dark figures who show up in people’s bedrooms (among other places) when they’re not quite asleep, yet not quite awake. This year we took on the Popobawa, a Zanzibarian incubus that was real enough to his community that he caused real damage. Really, I figured I probably hold off on the sleep-related terrors for a while. But then I happened upon this article entitled “Can You Really Die in Your Nightmares?”, and…well, this is the result.

First, let’s look closely at the phenomenon of sleep paralysis. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, sleep paralysis is something that is, arguably, even worse than your worst normal nightmare (“nightmare” meaning frightening dream). The scientific explanation for how sleep paralysis happens goes like this:

  1. There are a number of different sleep cycles we go through each night, from tiny wakening periods to light sleep to deep sleep to REM sleep. In REM—that most famous of sleep cycles–our heartbeat increases, our breathing becomes more shallow, our eyes dart back and forth behind closed lids, and we start to dream.
  2. To avoid us acting our dreams of being chased, stabbing zombies, or doing the polka with Captain Hook, our bodies shut down during REM sleep, essentially putting us in a state of temporary paralysis. As we exit REM, the paralysis releases, and we get up, rub our eyes, and try in vain to recall what in the hell just happened. At least, that’s how it normally goes.
  3. But sometimes things go wrong. The body gets out of sync, and we wake up (or think we’re awake), but the paralysis is still gripping us tight and we can’t move or cry out. Right around then is when we start to see things. Hear things. Feel things.
johann_heinrich_fc3bcssli_-_the_nightmare_-_wga08333
A famous depiction of sleep paralysis/night-mare/terrible time, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Remnants of dreams, surely. That’s what Western science would have us believe. But if those are remnants of dreams, they are scary as f***. Because the thing with sleep paralysis—and the things we see therein—is that it feels very much like we are awake. We perceive our room as it really is, we’re aware that we’re in bed and have just woken up, so it can be very disconcerting to know all this and then realize that there’s something standing your bedroom corner.

I’ve talked before about how I woke up one night to see a tall figure lurch at me from out of my closet—such a vivid experience that I remember it perfectly almost two decades later. But other people with sleep paralysis have had it worse. It’s common to not only see and/or sense a figure, but to have it on top of you, too feel its weight, and have the air crushed out of your chest. All this, and you can’t scream—can’t even move. The experience can last for several minutes, and can be so horrific that language can’t express it.

A lot of my research for this post came from looking through reviews (and reading sections of) a book called Night-mares, Nocebos, and the Mind Body Connection by Dr. Shelley Adler, director of the Osher Center for Integrated Medicine at the University of California, San Francisco. In what I’ve read of her book,* Adler points out that while 25-30% of people will experience an episode of sleep paralysis (what she calls a “night-mare”, hearkening back to the original meaning of the word) sometime in their life, in the U.S. the phenomenon is “simultaneously very common and little known.” This might be because, as she explains, our culture enforces a strict dichotomy between what we consider “real” (“visible, measurable, evidence-based”) and “unreal” (“supernatural, religious, unprovable”). We take that “real” and “unreal” things are non-compatible for granted, but that’s something our culture has created for us—the rest of humanity doesn’t necessarily agree.

Nor should they, according to Adler. It is foolhardy to assume that just because we do not currently have the tools to “prove” that something exists must mean that that something does not exist. Also, things that are “not real” can have very real effects.

Sleep paralysis by Gerard Van Der Leun on Flickr
A more modern depiction of the joys of sleep paralysis, courtesy of Gerard Van Der Leun on Flickr.

Across the U.S. in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, almost 200 people—mostly young, healthy men at an average of 33 years of age—abruptly died in their sleep. Some were said to cry out in the night. Others just went cold. Their spouses and families were stricken; their communities terrified. All of the men were Laotian-Hmong refugees who had recently come to the U.S., but besides that shared little in common. In whispers, they named the phenomenon the Night Terror; people became afraid to go to bed.

The refugees’ families often refused autopsies for religious reasons, but the few that did found no pathological evidence to explain why they died. A few showed slightly enlarged hearts, as if they had just…“shorted out.”

It’s easy to fill in the blanks with your imagination, knowing what we do about how intense little sleep-visitations can be. Adler claims that Laotian beliefs about demons, combined with the stress of being a refugee, might have exacerbated whatever genetic heart problems these men might have had and made their night-mares not just frightening, but deadly. That alone is bananas. But it’s not just Laotians that have died.

Check out this article from the American Journey of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, wherein data collected between 2001 and 2006 in Southern China revealed a whopping 975 cases of SUNDS—Sudden Unexpected Nocturnal Death Syndrome, what scientists call this mystery death in your sleep. It, too, explores the idea that SUNDS might be associated with funky stuff going on in REM sleep, and the breathing and heart abnormalities that might result. Funky stuff like things being out of sync. Like what happens in sleep paralysis—Adler’s night-mares.

Genetics, again, could play a part, as could stress, socioeconomic background, and being overworked. But that doesn’t change the fact that these SUNDS victims might have faced down something terrible in the dead of night, and that thing could have been the last thing they saw.

We humans face a lot of stressful, frightening things in ordinary life. Their pedestrian nature can be exactly what makes them so scary. So let me offer you the comfort of this supernatural horror, to help you keep things in perspective: in the end, it may not matter whether that monster in your closet is “real” or a leftover dream. He can still kill you.

fritz_schwimbeck_-_my_dream2c_my_bad_dream-_1915
A nice closing image to leave you with, courtesy of Fritz Schwimbeck at Wikimedia Commons.

 

Have you ever had an unfriendly night time visitor? One time, while camping, I woke up to find a raccoon standing on my sleeping bag. Share your thoughts on that in the comments below.

 

 

 

* Sadly, I haven’t had a chance to read though all of it yet thanks to moving last weekend and an exceptionally heavy workload at my day job. Apologies to Dr. Adler and everyone else.

 

WANT TO SEE MORE OF GERARD VAN DER LEUN? FIND HIM HERE.

Courtesy flush: the haunting of the Hotel Galvez

I’m going to be straight with you: this post started with me Googling “bathroom ghost.” I was looking for a monster of a different sort–I enjoyed our Toys-R-Us(™) spirit a while back, and was hoping I could find something similar. Though it’s a little more posh, I came up with the Hotel Galvez.

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Modern-day Galvez seating area, captured by Patrick Feller.

Close up on Galveston, Texas: I’m not on the up-and-up of big vacation hotspots and so didn’t recognize the name, but some of you might. It’s an island in the Gulf Coast, set up to provide the perfect getaway: beautiful beaches, pools, an amusement park, and, of course, luxury hotels. The Hotel Galvez is a king among these, nicknamed the “Playground of the Southwest.” It has been frequented by people like Franklin Roosevelt, Dwight Eisenhower, Richard Nixon, Lyndon B. Johnson, Duke Ellington, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, and Jimmy Stewart. It’s a beautiful, massive building replicated to look just as it did when it first opened in 1911.

At the time, it was heralded as a symbol of renewal. 11 years before, the deadliest storm in U.S. history swept through Galveston and killed somewhere between 8,000 and 12,000 people. Word had it that the inhabitants of an orphanage were among the dead–in one case, the remains of a nun were found still tied to those of the children she was trying to lead to safety. There were so many bodies among the wreckage that the remaining Galveston residents decided to bury them en masse at sea. That didn’t work so well: the next time the tide came in, bloated, rotting corpses came in with it. These were hastily burned, and the island resumed its struggle to rise from the sodden ashes.

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The Hotel Galvez in all its glory, brought to you by Galveston.com.

The Galvez helped rebuild Galveston, bringing in tourists and money. It also brought lovers. In the late 1950’s, a woman named Audra stayed there to wait for her fiance, a sailor due to come in from Gulf for their wedding. Naturally (as I’m reporting her story on Monster Meet), Audra’s love was doomed. Her fiance’s ship went down in another terrible storm; Audra was told no one made it out alive. She hung herself upon learning the news–either in the bathroom of her room (501 or maybe 505, depending on who you ask), or in a turret elsewhere in the hotel. Because life is cruel, Audra’s fiance showed up shortly thereafter, in perfect health and anxious to see her.

For those of you keeping track, we now have 8,000+ violently dead, including nuns, orphans, and a heartbroken bride snuffed out at her prime–three types of ghosts so common as to be almost stereotypical. The stage is set: now let’s turn off the lights and watch what happens.

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Galvez dining area cerca 1911, courtesy of the DeGloyer Library, Southern Methodist University.

Unless they are in the habit of Googling “is this hotel haunted” as part of their vacation planning, guests at the Galvez may at first have no idea that anything is amiss. Then they might notice a painting in the hall whose eyes seem to follow them, or pass two strange women in 19th-century outfits who vanish before you can look at them twice. The ladies bathrooms can also hold a surprise: on the most casual end of encounters, toilets flush repeatedly over the disembodied sound of children laughing.* On the more intense end, sobs fill the empty bathroom and the stalls rattle violently, making it very difficult for the living to poop in peace.

Guests’ rooms offer even more fun, especially if they’re on the 5th floor. Orbs of light float through walls, footsteps echo down the empty hall, and every once in awhile, someone will wake up to find a woman in white standing at the foot of their bed.  As you can imagine, if you’re not expecting this type of thing to happen and then it does, you might leave some nasty Yelp reviews. One woman on TripAdvisor rated the Galvez 2 stars because something repeatedly blasted her phone’s dial tone as soon as she turned off the lights (her rather sour review is titled “They didn’t tell us it was haunted”). Commenters elsewhere have reported flashing lights; invisible things climbing into their beds; and even something biting them, leaving marks that wouldn’t go away. In many cases, when guests report these mishaps to the staff, the staff just shrug. “That’s how it goes. It’s haunted here.”

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With all the breaking glasses and candles that won’t say lit, bartending at the Galvez must be a pain. (Photo cred to Patrick Feller)

They’ve got good reason to be jaded. If the guests are put upon, the staff are twice so.  One woman’s dusting was interrupted by the erratically flushing toilets and invisible laughing children; she ended up having to yell “I’m in here” to get them to stop. Another came in early for her shift in reception and received a call from one of the rooms that was not only vacant, but also in the middle of being renovated and had no phone in it at all (no one spoke on the other end of the line, and when the poor woman hung up, she realized her phone wasn’t even turned on, either). There have been glasses that fly off of tables and break themselves, candles that blow out on their own, and the presence of a strange man in the corner of the laundry room.

Then there’s dealing with the ghost hunters. The Galvez attracts plenty. Some come in low-key with EMF detector apps on their phone (yeah…I don’t know about that one, either) to see what they can find. One woman said that she communicated with Audra using the app: she asked Audra about herself, and Audra’s response was “Bathroom. Ow.” Other hunters come in with more advanced equipment, with more dramatic results. The Galveston ghost hunters went to stay on the 5th floor while it was being renovated, and witnessed all of the room doors slam against their safety catches for a few minutes. They also captured the image of what appears to be a nun.

Fortunately for everyone, the ghosts of the hotel Galvez don’t appear to have any darker plans than to be mildly irritating. So far. Business at the hotel seems to be doing well, whether in spite of or because of the ghosts. Between wedding pictures and shots of a brilliant blue pool, the Galvez Facebook page showcases a photo of a cocktail named “Ghost Bride,” so they don’t seem to be afraid of cashing in on their unorthodox reputation. Whether you’re looking to tan on the sundeck or poop your pants in long, empty hall of the 5th floor, the Galvez seems like the place to be.

Have you ever heard someone flushing the toilet while laughing maniacally? Have you been that person? Share your story in the comments below.

*Proof that bathroom humor never dies.

LINKS TO PHOTOS:

Patrick Feller, via Flickr

Galveston.com, via Flickr

Southern Methodist University, via Flickr

Hold on to the Handrail: Rawhead and Bloody Bones

Let’s face it: monsters can be pretty complex. A lot of them tend to shapeshift and do contradictory things. They kill us in all sorts of troubling ways, and remind us about aspects of ourselves that we’d rather leave buried. This year alone, we’ve covered monsters whose mouths open sideways, monsters that can electrocute you, force you to carry around a human leg, and that incite otherwise sane, normal people to kill each other. It’s spring now. It’s been a whirlwind few months. Let’s take it easy and get back to the essentials: a straight-up, crap-your-pants boogeyman.

RawHead (or, somewhat confusingly, “RawHead and Bloody Bones”) is about as basic of a monster as you can get. And I’m not talking pumpkin-spice-latte basic. I’m talking horror so distilled that its legacy has stuck around for at least 450 years.

under the stairs
A different point of view.

Imagine you’re a child again (or, if you are still a child, hello! We would have been best friends growing up.). As a child, you usually have an adult around, but not always. Sometimes you have to do things by yourself. This can be exciting, but there are some things you wish you didn’t have to be alone for, even if that makes you a baby. Things like crossing by a silent, black stretch of water. Things like going up or down a dark set of stairs.

Now imagine you are in England in the 1500’s (or, if you’d rather not, don’t…the story will end the same). You are descending the stairs. You know there is a space beneath them, like many staircases. You hate the way the boards creak over that space. You wish there was a light down there, just to scare away, you know. Mice.

You know you should go quickly–just run and get it over with–but as you reach the middle of the stairs, you cannot escape the thought that there is something down there, waiting under your feet. It would be easy to look at check…there are gaps between each stair. You could do it right now. You do do it right now.

It’s dark, but something glistens in what little light makes it through the gaps. It is a slick dome, a wet mess of red and white with eyes that turn up to look at you. It is a man whose head has been peeled of skin. He sits curled up on a pile of human bones. Child-sized bones.

The man smiles, and then reaches up to grab you.

Rawhead and Bloody Bones

Steals naughty children from their homes,

Takes them to his dirty den,

And they are never seen again.

pile of bones
Topical photo!

Or so the rhyme went. Parents and nurses warned kids about Rawhead and Bloodybones from a young age. If you swore, he’d get you. If you misbehaved, he’d get you. If you went too close to a pond, or to a dark cupboard, he’d get you. He was the monster du jour (or rather, du siècle) to frighten kids into doing what their caretakers asked.

I imagine that those threats worked, but many worried that the medicine was worse than the disease. John Locke himself implored caretakers not to invoke Rawhead’s name, saying:

“Such bugbear thoughts, once got into the tender minds of children, and being set on with a strong impression from the dread that accompanies such apprehensions, sink deep, and fasten themselves so, as not easily, if ever, to be got out again; and whilst they are there, frequently haunt them with strange visions, making children dastards when alone, and afraid of their shadows and darkness all their lives after.”

In other words, “please don’t scar the children.”

Skinless dude
Rawhead says “go to your room.”

Obviously, parents didn’t heed his plea. Rawhead not only endured, but came to the United States along with British immigrants. Our melting pot made him even stranger. He took root in the south, not as something that lurks under the stairs, but as a bipedal zombie with the head of a razorback boar.

The story goes that that boar was beloved by a witch and then slain by some supremely shortsighted hunter however many centuries ago. The witch brought her friend back to life, and in a terrible way. In some tellings, the zombie Rawhead collapses back into a pile of bones after eating the hunter alive. In others, he’s still wandering the woods.

Rawhead’s bare-boned (see what I did there?) terror has inspired people for generations. Clive Barker wrote a short story about him, which was later turned into a B-movie. Siouxsie and the Banshees wrote an appropriately creepy song. It’s all glorious.

There’s something almost comforting about such a simple monster. Care bear. Bug bear. It’s one in the same to me.

Has your foot ever gotten caught between the stairs? Have you spotted any mysterious piles of bones in your cupboard? Share your story in the comments below.

Photo credit props:

Stairs: Henry Söderlund at Flickr.

Pile of bones:  Indofunk Satish via Visual Hunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Muscle man:  Internet Archive Book Images via Visual Hunt

Choo choo: The Snallygaster

 

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Ambient creepy image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the deep cold of February, 1909, a group of men near Sharpsburg, West Virginia crowded around a homemade incubator, close enough to feel its heat. They might have held their hands out for warmth, but I doubt any of them would have gotten too close. Carefully hidden away from the eyes of the town, that incubator housed a egg the size of an elephant. The gentleman were attempting to hatch the spawn of the Snallygaster, dreaded terror of the Middletown Valley.

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One of the said seven-point stars.

Though its name sounds like an invention of Lewis Caroll, for generations of folks living in the hills around Washington DC and Maryland, the Snallygaster was no laughing matter.  In the 1730’s, German immigrants reported a dragon-like schneller geista “quick ghost”–that came out of the sky with tentacles and a metallic beak to suck men’s blood or carry them away. The beast was half-reptile, half-bird, and had teeth sharp enough to part flesh like butter. It kidnapped children and decimated poultry. The Germans painted seven-pointed stars on their barns to keep the Snallygaster at bay; you can still see some of those stars today.

Tales of the Snallygaster seemed to abate in the late 1700’s, but reappeared, weaponized, less than a century later when white settlers wanted to scare away freed slaves. People offered the “Snallygaster” food sacrifices and hid their families indoors, but the carnage continued. For decades, white countryfolk blamed the racial atrocities they committed on the creature. That would shortly come back to bite them, as by 1909, the legend had got out of their control, and the Snallygaster began to appear and attack in places they hadn’t meant it to.

Now the Snallygaster roamed the countryside, large as a dirigible, wreaking havoc wherever it went.  It could change shape, but one man summarized the consensus that it usually had “enormous wings, a long pointed bill, claws like steel hooks, and an eye in the center of its forehead.” It passed through the sky silent as a cloud, and then would swoop down to attack with a whistle “like a locomotive,” or, as another man put it, like a “cross between a tiger and a vampire.”*

The creature left footprints in the snow of New Jersey, and scared the bejeezus out of a man who found it hanging out near his kiln. It was shot here, found roosting in someone’s barn there, seen drifting through the sky, tentacles writhing, always huge, always “headed this way.” Then there were the eggs. The Snallygaster’s eggs were the size of horses–of small cars!–and were found laying around where Snallygaster was known to have passed. Our friends from the beginning of this post never did manage to get that egg to hatch, and that’s probably a good thing for them. They might have ended up like Bill Gifferson, found drained of blood with a hole in his neck.

By now the sightings were so common (and such a nuisance) that the Smithsonian put a price on the Snallygaster’s hide to the tune of $100,000 a foot. Teddy Roosevelt himself thought about coming to collect, but then sightings of the creature abated again. Finally, the Snallygaster reportedly drowned and was subsequently exploded in a 2500-gallon vat of moonshine. Fitting dramatic end to a dramatic life, right?

You forgot about the eggs.

This is where things really get weird. In 1932, the Snallygaster (or rather, one of its children) decided to give a local resident an existential crisis. The poor man reported seeing the creature swoop down from the sky on a penny-farthing, wearing water wings and shouting Balance the budget!” Later, in 1973, the Snallygaster appeared as a land-bound ape-thing that screamed bloody murder in the middle of the night and made a mess out of the heads of cattle. After several sightings, an extensive hunting party set out to find the creature with tranquilizer darts and a large steel cage. They returned empty-handed.

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Not Eastern Racers, but alarming enough nevertheless. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Where is the Snallygaster today? There doesn’t seem to be any recent sightings. Certainly the horrors that inspired it are still around–racial violence being the obvious one, but also the nasty clusters of Eastern Racer snakes (which apparently can get up to five feet long and move quite fast) that might have made people see tentacles. The last real Snallygaster sighting was over 40 years ago, and as I’ve heard tell that the Snallygaster’s lifespan is 20 years, it might be gone for good. But it’s difficult to say for sure.  Feel free to go out and try to find one, if you like.

I’ll stay here and look out for any suspicious clouds.  

 

 

Have you ever seen something strange in the sky? What do you think a “cross between a vampire and a tiger” sounds like? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

*I’m not quite sure what this means, as the sound my mind conjures for “vampire” is “slurp.”