Posts Tagged ‘cryptozoology’
I was delightfully surprised today when giant bird witness John Bolduan send me the link to a video he self-recorded in which he recounts his excellent sighting of a huge, stork-like bird in northern Wisconsin. I met him on-site and measured the road which the bird flew over at low altitude–it ranged between 20 and 22 feet. John said the bird’s wingspan was at least that wide if not wider. His is the first encounter detailed in American Monsters; a History of Monster Lore, Legends and Sightings in America, and I’ll be talking about it tomorrow as part of my talk at the Milwaukee Paracon June 6 at 5 pm. A big shout out to John for providing this amazing reference for his experience.
Posted in cryptozoology, dogman, giant birds, monsters, Native American, strange creatures, travel, werewolves, Wisconsin history, tagged American Monsters, beast of bray road, big birds, creature, cryptids, cryptozoology, Linda Godfrey, monsters, Weird Wisconsin, werewolves, Wisconsin on May 25, 2015 |
Sure, it has monsters. But the astounding beauty and diversity of the landscape around the west central midsection of Wisconsin is as remarkable as the wide range of unknown creatures that seem to inhabit it. My previous post focused on the hairless creature legend of Hillsboro; the two accounts I’ll highlight here are located slightly west of that area, near Tomah and Westby. Both cases are especially apropos to summer road trip time, since the creatures involved seemed to home in on the witness’s cars!
The “Big Bird of Tomah” was spotted by a now-retired, male medical worker driving south on his way from Black River Falls to Tomah one morning around 1999-2000. He was nearing the north side of Tomah on US Rte. 12 when something large and black swooped across his windshield–it was a black, feathered bird with a body he described as about six feet long, and a wing span he estimated at twelve feet. He said it was close enough that he was able to look it in the eyes as it passed him. He did not recognize the species. Luckily, the bird kept going, and so did the man. He told some co-workers but as usually happens in these cases, was disbelieved.
Just for comparison, that side of the state is also known for the sightings of a giant, stork-like bird near Hayward, the Man-Bat of La Crosse, and a flying Lizard Man seen by a state patrol officer and a group of construction workers near Medford. I also have a report of a man-sized bird seen standing on a bridge near Neillsville, on or near Ho Chunk land.
The “Westby Wolfman” report came to me just a week ago but occurred in 1990-91. The witness wrote:
“I saw a wolf figure that ran and stood on two legs, but it would have been in 1990 or 1991. It was outside of Westby, Wi on County Road P around 4:30 to 5:00 in the morning. I think it was in the spring of the year. I was on my way to work. It ran from the side of the road and charged into the driver’s side door of my car. Thankfully the window was up. I saw his face clearly. I stepped on the gas. It scared me.
“Although the whole thing happened so quickly, it was early in the morning and still dark outside. It had a wolf face. It was on two legs. It did not look like a costume. It was taller than the car I was driving. I would guess it to be maybe 6 ft tall. It had black fur, maybe dark gray. Where it came from on the side of the road, there was a bridge and a trout stream. It did not dent my car. Trust me, I looked. When it charged the car it hit hard.
“Years later I confided to one of my clients about the incident. She told me there was a book I needed to read. It was your book. When I saw the sketches in the book, I realized it was the same as I had seen that morning. I never heard of any other sightings in that area, but perhaps there were and they were too afraid to say anything either. I never reported it because I didn’t think anyone would believe me.”
There have been many other strange creatures spotted around this area of the state—kangaroos, Bigfoot, and lake serpents to name a few. It’s an extremely scenic part of the state to visit even if you only see known animals, which can be just as exciting in their own right. Summer Road Trip Rating: Five Screeches! * * * * *
I always feel a twang of chagrin when I find out more about a story long after it’s gone to press. But it’s also a chance to make good on the additional facts and keep faith with my readers that I’ll try to put forth the best information I have–late to the party or not. Such is the weird tale of the 1992 creature known as the Hillsboro Hairless Thing, aka the Hillsboro Mutant and the Hora Horror, which I wrote about briefly in my 2011 book, Monsters of Wisconsin.
The news accounts I’d found then that seemed the most consistent told of a small, gray, hairless critter that jumped out of a hay mow in the barn on the Joe Hora farm and attacked a beagle owned by Hora’s grandson, Brian. But I have long-time Hillsboro, Wisconsin newspaper writer Steven Stanek to thank for a treasure trove of original news clippings that add much to the story.
In actuality, according to an article Stanek wrote two weeks after the first breaking story in the Hillsboro Sentry-Enterprise, the beagle was the aggressor as it pulled the creature from its hiding place in the hay. All the stories agree that the farmer hit the two-foot-long beastie with a pipe and quickly killed it. Left is a picture of Brian Hora holding the carcass. Below is a scan of the printed newspaper story and photo that includes the curious beagle and a better view of the creature.
This later article also mentioned that not everyone agreed with the DNR’s conclusion that the creature was a raccoon with mange. Two veterinarians who examined its post-mortem photos said the hairlessness was too complete to be mange. The creature also lacked the strong smell and thickened skin associated with mange, according to witnesses. As for the animal’s identity, a raccoon (perhaps hairless due to genetic mutation) still seemed to be the top local contender although a few citizens suggested a quill-less porcupine or a Mexican hairless dog as possible candidates.
More surprisingly, it turned out that another one of the creatures, very similar except with larger ears, had been spotted on a farm in nearby Yuba twice in summer, 1991. The animal appeared to be very healthy despite its naked appearance, said property owner Phil Connors in Stanek’s article.
Even weirder, yet another one turned up in adjacent Juneau County along Highway 71 in July, 2011 (right after my book had gone to press, naturally). It was found dead by Highway Patrolman Jeff Potter. About the same size and shape as the previous animals, it also displayed the same long, raccoon-like toes and bare tail. The headline in the Juneau County Messenger read, “Does Wisconsin Have Chupacabras?”
So, does it?
My own opinion is that they were all raccoons with a genetic mutation for hairlessness. I learned during my research for American Monsters on the famed Texas blue dogs also at first also termed Chupacabras that hairlessness is not a terribly unusual mutation in mammals and that it’s a dominant trait. If that’s true, there are likely more of them hiding in the woods and hollows of Juneau and Vernon Counties. I just hope that the next one will be preserved and subjected to scientific analysis so that the legend–if not the carcasses–of Hillsboro’s Hairless Horrors can at last be properly laid to rest.
This Mania.com review of American Monsters by Chuck Francisco will forever live in my heart for comparing my work to an “X-Files Survival Guide,” complete with a reference to Fox Mulder and his ever handy flashlight. And I love Francisco’s observation that “October brings about a collective lowering of our cultural inhibitions.” (Thus allowing even usually inhibited folks to pick up a book about monsters.) I don’t usually post my reviews here, but this one was so stylish and fun that I couldn’t resist. Here’s hoping we’ll gather a few more readers into our fold of those who, like Mulder and Scully, follow the unknown all year round.
“I am writing to report a sighting I had, of an incredibly large, raptor-type bird back in Oct/Nov of 2006. I had moved to Memphis, TN in July of that year to begin a new job, and was renting a house with a large, tree-lined backyard. It was late in the afternoon, around 5:00 pm. I went into the back yard with my dogs, a German Shepherd and a Malamute, played with them for about 15-20 minutes and then sat down on my back steps. I looked up into a tree in the SW corner of the yard. The leaves had fallen from the tree, and the view was relatively unobstructed. The tree was about 30 feet from where I was sitting. In the tree, sitting on a branch approximately 15 feet off the ground, was an enormous (and I mean enormous), raptor-type bird. The head and body (minus the tail) of the bird measured approximately 4 – 4 1/2 feet. The bird was a homogenous, beautiful, deep red-brown, no white was present. The beak and feet ranged from a grey-tan to black toward the tip of the beak and claws. The eyes were a brilliant orange. I’ve never seen a bird like this before, or after for that matter.”
I went inside to get my girlfriend, so she could see the bird too. It was still in the tree when we came back out. We discussed the unusual size of the bird, as it watched us watch it. The bird seemed to be equally interested in us. I was able to observe the bird for close to 30 minutes. I guess I was too fascinated to even think of grabbing a camera, which I regret. My dogs didn’t seem bothered by the presence of the bird. The dogs did, however, get into a barking match with the neighbor’s dog, causing me to divert my attention for only a few seconds to address that behavior. Turning back, the bird was gone. I never heard it take off from the tree and could not locate it in the sky, so I don’t have an estimate of its wing span. My girlfriend and I spent the evening looking at pictures of raptors that might have fit what we saw, but we didn’t find anything that was a match. I kept an eye out for the next few days, but never saw the bird again.”
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see the underside of the wings. S/he just sat on the branch looking over the neighborhood, and then looking at me. The bird didn’t seem interested in my dogs at all. The bird was pretty mesmerizing. I’m not one of the ‘I’m attached to my cell phone by an umbilical cord’, so I didn’t have it with me to take a picture. I’m not sure I would have thought of using the phone camera had I had it with me. At first, it did cross my mind that it might be an immature bald eagle, but there wasn’t even a hint of white on this guy, and s/he was much too BIG.”
Subsequently, I went to Reelfoot Lake in NW TN, with a friend of mine, to see the bald eagles. The backyard bird dwarfed the eagles I saw at Reelfoot. I honestly never thought of reporting this sighting. Partly because I never thought of it as being a possible cryptid or unidentified species, and partly because I would have had no idea where to report it. I’m reporting it now, because I just started reading your book American Monsters. I thought of my backyard friend, and felt you might be interested.”
When I read this exciting report, especially the part about the all-over, red-brown color, my mind immediately jumped to a supposedly extinct bird known as Washington’s (or the Washington) eagle. It was documented and illustrated by John James Audubon, whose peers were very doubtful at the time that this was a separate species and not just an immature bald eagle, even though Audubon had an actual carcass that he’d shot, himself. According to Audubon, it measured over 3 1/2 feet in body length with a wingspan of 10 feet, 2 inches.
There is a great article by Scott Maruna on his Biofort blog that discusses this controversy– and the comparative descriptions of the birds — in detail. I forwarded the article link to the witness, who wrote, “The description in the link you shared is d… close. I agree that the color would be accurately described as chestnut, possibly cinnamon.”
But that historical kerfuffle wasn’t the last word on this cinnamon bird. Maruna also posted a blog about a more modern sighting of a possible Washington’s Eagle that occurred in the winter of 2004 near Stillwater, MN, which like Memphis lies along the Mississippi River. Both Stillwater and Memphis are known for their steep bluffs, a type of habitat favored by large birds of prey. Could there still be a small population of this eagle sweeping up and down the Mississippi River bluffs?
I’ve forwarded the witness’s full information and contact info (with permission) to Maruna. Perhaps between the two of us and other interested investigators, some new publicity will bring out other sightings not yet reported, and we can all learn a bit more about this rarest of raptors.
Super-sized birds are one of the most tantalizing topics for researchers of cryptid animals. Most of these weird flyers resemble some type of actual bird (often a type thought long extinct) that would seem to put them in the “likely to be ‘real’” category – except for their wingspan usually reported at 20 feet or more, their massive bodies, and their penchant for carrying off live creatures considerably larger than the rabbits, fish and squirrels preferred by even the largest of our known birds of prey.
The 2005 sighting near Hayward, Wisconsin by a Minnesota businessman named John Bolduan that I chronicled in American Monsters describes one of the better observations I’ve seen anywhere of these creatures. Bolduan’s sighting was in close range in full daylight and included seeing the bird on the ground, taking off, and then flapping away, with nearby trees, tall grasses and roadway for size comparisons. It had a stork-like appearance, but Bolduan hasn’t been able to match it to any known species.
Since the time that I had to submit the manuscript for that book, I’ve received other reports of oversized avians that I wish could have been included. A brief summary:
- Pike County, PA, autumn 1996 or 1997: A woman reported seeing a huge birdlike creature gliding over the trees during the day. She stopped her car to watch it and estimated it was the same length as her car, 17 feet. She tried reporting it to an area animal preserve and to a game warden, who both told her she had probably seen a vulture, but she said it looked nothing like a vulture and could not find anything to compare it to other than something prehistoric.
- State Line Island, Nebraska, May 1995: In another daylight sighting, a man hiking along the North Platte River encountered two birds standing in a clearing that appeared the size of large humans but were covered with black feathers and had raptor-like heads. No markings. One turned and looked at him, then both spread their wings to an estimated 20 foot span and jumped from the ground. One was carrying a small deer in its talons and had a hard time getting airborne with it as the other bird screeched from the treetops. He believed the deer was the same small doe he had seen at that site the day before and estimated its weight at at least 75 pounds.
- Clements, Michigan, spring 2014: NOTE — I’m withdrawing this report of a “giant” bird that had been sent by a third party. Subsequent interviews with the actual witnesses revealed this was almost certainly a turkey vulture. According to the father and son, it had the typical pinkish-red, unfeathered head and other characteristics of this bird that is probably the Midwest’s most oft-misidentified bird of prey. Just goes to show the importance of a little extra digging, and my apologies for posting the brief version prematurely!
- On the other hand, as if to make up for that one, I received another report from Brookfield, a suburb of Milwaukee, that was indeed submitted by the original witness who answered follow-up questions. Her sighting occurred in fall, 2006, in daylight, as she and her three-year old son stood in the backyard of the home they were renting. She noted that the area had enough natural cover that they often saw deer, coyotes and other wildlife. She wrote, “A bird that resembled a golden eagle, except that it was about the same height as me (five feet, four inches) landed 15-20 feet away from us, looking me in the eye. We all remained still, staring at each other for a while. I remember feeling a little scared, as it could easily fly away with my 3-year old, but also a great reverence as I felt the bird was deciding how it felt about us being on that land.” The woman added that they all stood for about 20 seconds, eyeing one another, before it flapped away with “great ease.” After it left, she took a yardstick and measured what its height and wingspan would have been according to where it had stood in relation to corresponding features of her lawn, and said it stood 50-55 inches tall (about a foot shorter than she thought at first) with a 12-foot wingspan. A golden eagle may have a 5 1/2 to 8-foot wingspan but stands only about 27-36 inches tall. She added that the breast color of the bird she saw was “creamish,” which is not usual for this species. Was it a golden eagle? If so, it was a specimen considerably larger than the known dimensions of that species, with unusual coloring. I do think what ever it may have been, it probably was interested in checking out her 3-year old, and that’s the scariest aspect of this encounter. Golden eagles have been known to seize small deer and domestic animals.