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Archive for the ‘Wisconsin history’ Category

October 1992, to be exact. It was a different slate of candidates: George HW Bush vs Bill Clinton vs Ross Perot. I don’t remember whose idea it was at The Week to throw the Beast into the ring with them, but I do remember modifying my original sketch for the full page poster. At any rate, 24 years later I believe it’s worth at least considering one more time. 🙂 (Note: Please, no comments comparing the Beast with any official human candidates for better or worse – he stands on his own two rear paws)

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Nothing to do with werewolves, but

Bestselling authors Linda Godfrey (The Poison Widow), Matthew Prigge (Milwaukee Mayhem), and Sherrie Lueder (Until Someone Gets Hurt) share how they uncoverd the truth about some of Wisconsin’s most notorious crimes. They’ll discuss the writing process, how they do their research, and how they find their ideas. Book sales and signing to follow. 6:30-8 pm, the event is FREE.

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Thunderbirds, mothmen and other unknown flying things are some of the most puzzling of cryptids. They appear in the sky or a nearby meadow, amaze lucky witnesses, and then fly away without any hint as to their intent. Sometimes they seem to portend doom, as in the famous case of Point Pleasant, W. VA’s Mothman, which many think was a harbinger of the tragic Silver Bridge collapse.

 

In other cases, such as the northwestern Wisconsin daylight sighting by John Bolduan that begins my “American Monsters” book, witnesses are left feeling perplexed yet privileged to have witnessed such a spectacle. Bolduan watched in awe as the tall, silvery-feathered bird took to the air and displayed a 22-foot wingspan.

 

There’s another example of that flighty ambiguity in my next book due out this fall, titled “Monsters Among Us, an Exploration of Otherworldly Bigfoots, Wolfmen, Portals, Phantoms and Odd Phenomena.” In this incident, a central Wisconsin woman witnessed a gigantic, large bird standing on a bridge near Black River Falls. She was told by a Native American elder that she had seen a Thunderbird.

 

Why am I bringing these examples up now? I’ve often wished that I had some way to help  interpret these incidents, but had never found much contemporary material aside from well-known Thunderbird lore. I was thrilled recently, then, to stumble across a gleam of illumination in my summer reading pile, in a book about one man’s solo canoe adventure down the Mississippi River. The beautifully written work, Nick Lichter’s The Road of Souls, Reflections on the Mississippi, also describes many of the places long considered sacred or otherwise important by our indigenous people.

 

One of these places is Rock Island, Illinois (specifically, the area known as Rock Island Arsenal across the river from Bettendorf, Iowa). Lichter cites the translated autobiography Life of Black Hawk to explain that this island was once considered a hunting, fishing and horticultural paradise by Blackhawk’s people, the Sac or Sauk. I’ll quote just the last half of Chief Blackhawk’s own statement from  Lichter’s book:

 

“In my early life, I spent many happy days on this island. A good spirit had care of it, who lived in a cave in the rocks immediately under the place where the fort now stands, and has often been seen by our people. He was white, with large wings like a swan’s, but ten times larger. We were particular not to make much noise in that part of the island which he inhabited, for fear of disturbing him. But the noise of the fort has driven him away, and no doubt a bad spirit has taken his place!”

 

Lichter adds, “The swan’s cave was long ago dynamited out of existence.”

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(Image shared from http://cdn26.us1.fansshare.com/photo/mississippiriver/shannon-mississippi-river-watershed-wikimedia-commons-delta-333095664.jpg)

Might the big birds seen up and down the Mississippi since Chief Blackhawk’s day be embodiments of that wandering spirit bird? Blackhawk doesn’t directly call the spirit bird a swan; he merely says it is white, has wings like a swan and is ten times its size. That’s very reminiscent of what Bolduan described. And Webb Lake, where it appeared, is only about five or six miles from the Mississippi in Burnett County, Wisconsin. Moreover, the other encounter I mentioned on the bridge in central Wisconsin was near Black River Falls, a tributary of the Mississippi.

 

This is just my own fanciful thought, but maybe that great, spirit bird is still winging over the Mississippi, setting down now and again as it searches for another place of peace– another earthly paradise to watch over. I believe it’s as good an explanation of these huge creatures as any.

My final thought is a question inspired by Blackhawk’s words when he suggested a “bad spirit” might have taken the great bird’s place… I can’t help but wonder what shape that bad spirit might have taken…

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Every once in a while I’ll be going through my files and will  discover items that have never been resolved for various reasons, just crumbling away in the staid limbo of manila folders. Here are a couple of headscratchers that turned up recently.  While I also have a bunch of newer reports to share soon, I feel I should mention these oldies first, just in case anyone knows more:

Nashotah Bigfoot? July, 2006, Nashotah, Wisconsin report from three men driving on County C south of town described “something huge and brownish that turned to gray toward the back end” crossing the road in front of them as close as only six feet from the car. It was on all fours, had bigger legs than arms (or forelimbs) and its rear end was higher than its front end, giving it a posture “like a souped-up car” as it ran. They were sure it wasn’t a bear or a deer, and indeed, I’ve heard reports of Bigfoots running on all fours in just this manner.

The man who wrote me about it (second hand) in October, 2006, said he was investigating the incident for the BFRO (Bigfoot Field Research Organization) but it doesn’t appear on their site as far as I could discover. I sent him a recent email for an update and am hoping for a reply. I also have the name of the witness, but his contact info has changed.

I would say this sounded more like a Bigfoot than dogman, except the witnesses also said it had a 4-6 inch long tail.  They did not get a good look at its head. The driver said he’d also seen a large upright creature running through his back yard, and it was seven to eight feet tall. That by itself is not conclusive. I remain especially interested in this incident because of the “Hartland Hairy Thing” seen only two years ago in Hartland, Wisconsin, just five miles away. Both towns are about thirty miles north of Bray Road, Elkhorn.

Water Walker and Giant Swimming Animal: August, 2006, Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was the date of an old Yahoo conversation I printed and saved from another group because of a question from John Scherf asking if anyone had seen the “Lake Michigan Water Walker.” He said that a strange figure was sometimes sighted sitting on the beach in the very early morning hours. It would then rise up and walk out onto the lake waters until it disappeared. (A person wading out to swim, perhaps?”

The page also included a note from friend and long time cryptid quester Kimberly Poeppey: “I saw a big animal swimming in Lake Michigan! It was as big as a car. It was swimming in the bay by the Art Museum.” She added it was winter and the animal was swimming around blocks of floating ice, leaving a large wake behind. All she could see was its “big, dark, back.” Lake monster?

Anyway, I feel better having given these three mysteries a fighting chance. I penned out a rough map, above, just to give some idea of their relative locations–all in S.E. Wisconsin. I’m no cartographer, but I added a few representative bipeds and quadrupeds in appropriate places for interest. And I’m far from done going through my files. I’ll post again if anything else shakes out.

 

 

 

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D&D

“Gary Con,” an annual Wisconsin gaming convention held to honor the late Gary Gygax, creator of “Dungeons and Dragons” games, is a rapidly growing Lake Geneva event. A recent Atlas Obscura article discusses not only some possible reasons for the conference’s surging popularity, but revisits the anti-role-playing hysteria fomented by opponents of the game in the early 1980s. But D&D was not the only source of fantasy creature lore in the area. Fans of canine cryptids may be interested to know that Lake Geneva lies only a ten-minute drive from Bray Road, home of the upright, wolf-like creature known as the Beast of Bray Road.

BeastofBrayThe game and the creature arose quite independently, however. I didn’t break the Beast news story until the early 1990s, but Bray Road area sightings were already occurring in the early 80s (Marvin Kirschnik, 1981) — yet they were unknown to the public at that time. Still, there are some fun associations. The original cover of my book The Beast of Bray Road; Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf , for example, was created by one of D&D’s top fantasy artists, Jeff Easley, who painted the image based on his interpretation “just for fun.” Prairie Oak Press later paid him to use it as the cover art. (The cover for the second edition shown in the above link was painted by my son, Nathan Godfrey.) And of course the D&D games feature a “werewolf lord” in their pantheon of beastly characters.

There are probably many more such common threads between the game and the creature. While I doubt there are  any real associations between D&D and the Beast,  it’s always interesting to look for the coincidences that so often swirl around strange phenomena.

UPDATE: Another of those weird connections just came in. An Illinois man who owns property near Bray Rd., and whom I’ve been helping investigate large, bipedal canine tracks and other things there for 2 years, wrote me almost immediately. He happened to have been the math teacher of Gygax’s original business partner, and was recruited to help the original game designers with some of the required math calculations!

 

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(Not a Milwaukee lion) By K Fink (NPS) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The past week’s sightings of one, possibly two mountain lions in the city of Milwaukee have captured the media limelight across the nation. The Milwaukee Lion or Lions (as one witness claimed to have seen two) have been skulking around Milwaukee’s north side, giving police the slip after allegedly ripping the head off a house cat and prowling in people’s back yards.

I’m not surprised; mountain lions have been sighted all over Wisconsin in the past few decades–long after they were supposed to have been eradicated in this state–including my own neighborhood eight miles north of Elkhorn, Wisconsin, just two years ago, when my husband was nearly attacked by one in our back yard! He had walked outside after dark and ended up walking backwards back to the house, yelling and waving his arms and kicking at the animal which was only a few feet away from him. Luckily it ran back in the woods when he reached the house. He also saw it at close distance the next morning, and so did two neighbors on different ends of the street. None of them reported it.

Also, A person I know whose family farms east of Elkhorn told me that a another family member observed two mountain lions checking out their livestock this past spring. They didn’t report it. I also saw many dozens, perhaps hundreds, of wht looked like fresh mountain lion prints (5 inches, no claw marks, correct shape) in the snow on a path I was hiking with friends in the northern part of the Kettle Moraine State Forest, Southern Unit, this past February. It was not a long hike!

Godfrey measuring possible cougar prints in Kettle Moraine Feb. 2015

Godfrey measuring possible cougar prints in Kettle Moraine Feb. 2015

Nor is this the first time one has been reported in the greater Milwaukee area. The Waukesha Freeman ran an article by Kollin Kosmicki in its Good Morning Today section July 13, 2005 titled, “Is There a Mountain Lion in Waukesha?”  The sighting had been made June 1, 2005, by Phil Buteyn in Minooka Park, only 30 yards from the path he walked with his grand daughter. Buteyn, a retired school teacher, was adamant that he identified the animal correctly, having seen it from a relatively short distance in good, daylight conditions. Kosmicki said Local DNR warden Kyle Drake noted there was also a sighting reported in Pewaukee in fall, 2004.

Many will remember the cougar shot in Chicago’s Roscoe Village area in mid-April, 2008. That animal was traced through DNA evidence back to Wisconsin and specifically southeastern Wisconsin, including the area north of Elkhorn in Walworth County. Another was killed in Morrison, Illinois on Nov. 26, 2013, 130 miles west of Chicago. Both cougars were thought by most wildlife authorities to have migrated from the Black Hills area, looking for mates and new territory. I think it’s very possible the present Milwaukee sightings hail from that same source, although it’s also very possible it was an escaped, illegal pet. It’s been about ten years since a Wisconsin State Patrol officer told me he stopped a car whose driver was transporting three cougar cubs in the back seat!

I do have a huge file on cougar sightings elsewhere in the state–a stunning amount of them–within the past several decades. I’m in the final week before the deadline for my next book or I’d be compiling them all here right now, but I promise they are next. That’s why I added “Part One” to my title here. I believe cougars are not as rare in Wisconsin as people think, but they are under-reported. And in the meantime, I’m waiting along with everyone else to find out what happens in Milwaukee. Judging by what’s happened in Illinois, it may not be pretty.

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copyright Linda S. Godfrey all rights reserved, no use without permission

copyright Linda S. Godfrey all rights reserved, no use without permission

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! * * * * *

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