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Posts Tagged ‘strange wisconsin’

art by Linda Godfrey

art by Linda Godfrey

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.

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WakelyBF 001
While waiting along with everyone else to see whether Dr. Melba Ketchum’s DNA study and/or the allegedly captured Bigfoot code-named Daisy hold any water worth wading into, I have been looking back at some of the better ‘Squatch reports I’ve received and collected from SE Wisconsin over the years. One of my favorites is the so-called “Bad Hair Day Bigfoot” observed by Matt Wakely in September 2005 SE of Lake Geneva, near the WI-IL border.

The incident is described in full in my book Hunting the American Werewolf, and Wakely passed a polygraph exam of his story on the Monsterquest “American Werewolf ” episode. (The show didn’t mention he saw a Bigfoot rather than a dog man). This was a daylight sighting where the witness had a good long look at the creature. He called his mother and told her he had just seen a caveman, naked and covered with fur. The creature seemed totally unafraid of Matt, and its most unusual feature may have been its rather wild hairdo. My best guess is that it was perhaps an adolescent that had just risen from a midday nap in the cemetery, where it stood with 1 foot on a head stone.

It also had less facial hair, according to Matt’s description, than any other Bigfoot ever reported to me. This also suggests an adolescent age group, but more importantly, it gave Matt an unusually clear look at facial features.

Matt drew his own sketches ( below) and then worked with me to achieve what he agreed looked a pretty fair facsimile of what he saw. At that time, I privately thought the face seemed a bit too human, but my job is to draw and report what the witness saw without projecting my own biases.

Over the past year, as I had my own encounter and gathered more local evidence, it’s occurred to me that if Ketchum’s study proves valid and Sasquatch is indeed genetically part human , then this drawing may be a closer stab at a real portrait than I previously believed. And Matt’s tag of “caveman” may have been very accurate!WakelyBF 002

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I must be one, then.

I’ve been called worse. So when an airline in-flight magazine gives me the title of monster hunter it strikes me only as a tad amusing, and perhaps even accurate. Midwest’s current fall issue chronicles the tour of southeast Wisconsin strangeness that I gave Chicago writer Rod O’Connor in July (read ONLINE). Using my books Strange Wisconsin and Weird Wisconsin, we covered Lake Geneva’s lake monster, Jennie, the Beast of Bray Road (natch), the Millard dinosaur store (which didn’t make it in but see my photo below), Whitewater’s famed witch’s triangle, and the weirdest legend in Wisconsin: Haunchyville, alleged domain of tiny men with miniature but lethal baseball bats.

 

O’Connor does a great job of contrasting SE Wisconsin’s pleasant, woods-and-cornfields landscape with the monsters and strangeness that lurk therein. He writes as fastidiously as he keeps his car — despite the fact that he often has a baby on board, the interior would put any dealer’s detailer to shame. “We never eat in the car,” he told me as I bit into the pita sandwich I had just acquired at the LaGrange General Store. His eyes followed a crumb that had dropped to the pristine passenger seat where I sat. I hastily retrieved it and made sure there were no more. You never want to tick off someone who is going to write a major magazine story about you. 

I did thoroughly enjoy the day, especially our side trip to Mystic Drive in Muskego where the Haunchies famously dwell. The tales tell of a forbidden lane at the end of the street that is guarded by a rifle-toting man in a black pickup truck, where you are sure to incur a whopping fine for trespassing. We did encounter a black truck with two men but no visible rifle. But the farm at the end of the street where the lane should have been is now busily subdividing itself like an amoeba, and the Haunchy habitat appears to have been obliterated.

I was amazed then when we discovered a weedy yard on Mystic Drive itself with three small, strange-looking buildings. From the looks of them, no humans of any size ever dwelled here, but I wondered whether their presence was enough to have started the Haunchy legend in the first place? Supposedly the Haunchies were a colony of little people retired from area-based circuses, but I had expected to find nothing at all from this popular urban legend. The tiny buildings were a fun bonus. They can be seen from the road, no need to trespass. Here is a picture of the oddest one:

 

It is obvious from the state of disrepair that this is no country for old, little men. 

The tour was fun, though, and we barely scratched the surface of weirdness in Wisconsin. I hope the Midwest passengers get a charge out of the article and a little crypto-education to boot. Perhaps more than one will be alert enough to glimpse that pterodactyl winging its way past their cabin window…. 

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Kenosha diner sign

Kenosha diner sign

There is a  reason I like to go out and talk to people about my books. Yes I like the sales, and the refreshments are often delicious. My gig last Thursday at the Burlington Antiques Club offered cheesecake and fresh fruit. The. Best. But what really got my boat afloat occurred after I finished blathering and took the opportunity to listen to the 10 people who had gathered to see me. That is when the good stuff always happens. 

This time was no exception. I found out that the host of the meeting, Laurence, grew up in the same town as the Lima Ax Murderer featured in my Strange Wisconsin. And that the murderer, after he went to prison for bashing his two elderly uncles to death, faithfully sent Laurence a Christmas card every year from Waupun. Touching!

I also learned that another of the attendees was the wife of the prinicipal who hired me for my first real art-teaching job, many moons ago, and that they had been following my book publication trail. They had been making a pilgrimage around the state to key sites related to the books and she had brought  their map to prove it. Seeing that was even better than the cheesecake.

This wasn’t unusual. People have told me all sorts of things at signings. One woman had a doctor’s diagram to prove she’d been molested by aliens. Many have related their family ghost stories, or that they have seen unknown, upright canines. The sweetest are those who share that their kids who never read sat down and read Weird Wisconsin or The Beast of Bray Road. Out loud. To their little brother.

Due to the inconvenience of there being only one of me, I sadly can’t attend all the events I’d like. But every time I have to say no, I wonder what I missed. What innermost secret did I fail to learn from some blessed reader?

For it really is true. Get enough cheesecake into someone, and they’ll spill their souls. With raspberry sauce.

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