American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America

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9780399165542: American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America

From pre-Columbian legends to modern-day eyewitness accounts, this comprehensive guide covers the history, sightings and lore surrounding the most mysterious monsters in America—including Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and more.

Bigfoot, the chupacabra, and thunderbirds aren’t just figments of our overactive imaginations—according to thousands of eyewitnesses, they exist, in every corner of the United States. Throughout America’s history, shocked onlookers have seen unbelievable creatures of every stripe—from sea serpents to apelike beings, giant bats to monkeymen—in every region.

Author, investigator, and creature expert Linda S. Godfrey brings the same fearless reporting she lent to Real Wolfmen to this essential guide, using historical record, present-day news reports, and eyewitness interviews to examine this hidden menagerie of America’s homegrown beasts.

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About the Author:

Linda S. Godfrey is America’s foremost authority on modern-day werewolves. She is the author of over a dozen books on werewolves, hauntings, and the paranormal, including Real Wolfmen:True Encounters in Modern America and  Weird Michigan. Godfrey has appeared on many national TV shows such as The History Channel’s Monster Quest, Inside Edition, and Sean Hannity, and has been a guest on radio shows such as Coast to Coast AM, and Wisconsin and Michigan Public Radio.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Fear of winged creatures swooping at our vulnerable heads is an instinct most humans will admit having experienced. Who hasn’t ducked at the approach of a fluttering bat, or started at the sudden aerial dive of a red-tailed hawk or a great horned owl? Keeping an eye on the sky is not an irrational habit; the human race has been forced from its beginnings to contend with attacks from predators lurking overhead. And if many eyewitnesses are to be believed, there’s still good reason to keep looking up. Consider one harrowing incident from America’s heartland.

Eyewitness sketch by John Bolduan of the great bird he sighted in northern Wisconsin. (Used with permission.)

1

Feathered Fiends


THE WEBB LAKE BIG BIRD

At about 11 a.m. on a bright, warm day in June 2005, Minnesota light-fixture retailer John Bolduan decided to enjoy a bike ride on a country road while on vacation near Webb Lake in northwestern Wisconsin. The family cabin where he was staying was part of a private resort and vacation-home development with very little noise or traffic, an ideal environment for bicycling and observing the local wildlife such as deer and grouse.

Bolduan didn’t know it, but he was about to encounter something far wilder. As the six-foot-two, forty-five-year-old man pedaled leisurely past a grassy meadow about three-quarters of a mile from the development’s golf course and clubhouse, he spied what looked like a very large bird—larger than any bird he had ever seen—picking its way through the field. Bolduan estimated the feathered behemoth stood only about fifty yards away as he braked to a stop, transfixed.

“I didn’t know what it was, so I stopped for a closer look,” said Bolduan. “At first I thought it was an emu, an Australian bird that can get up to six or seven feet tall that some farmers in the area were raising, but as I got closer, I knew it wasn’t an emu.”

Using the height of the grass to compare his own size with that of the bird, he discovered that the bird stood significantly taller than he did—at least seven feet tall, perhaps eight. Its huge body was entirely visible above the grass, and Bolduan guessed that the body length was between five and six feet long, not counting the neck. The body appeared “very bulky,” he added. Bolduan’s mind raced as he tried to classify the bird as some known animal: Its head, neck, and beak reminded him vaguely of a sandhill crane, but he knew at the same time that the enormous avian was much larger than the cranes that migrate to the area for Wisconsin’s milder seasons.

Eyewitness John Bolduan next to the field where he observed the huge bird. (Photo by author.)

The bird seemed unaware of his presence, and he quietly continued to inspect it. It was covered uniformly in silvery-gray feathers with no visible markings, but its unbelievable size was what made him want an even closer look. He kept one careful eye on the bird as he slipped off his bike and waded into the field as quietly as he could. He estimates that he was within about seventy-five feet of the creature when it finally “spooked” and took to the air, an action that appeared to require some real effort on the creature’s part.

“The size was then truly apparent as it flew away,” said Bolduan. “The wingspan I estimate must’ve been eighteen feet. It was at least three times as large as any large eagle I had ever seen. It was so gawky as it flew away, the flapping of those huge wings was slow and seemingly laborious. The wings seemed to roll as they flapped, like dropping a big rock in water and seeing the waves roll from it. It was not graceful.”

Bolduan confirmed the length of that wingspan when I visited the site with him in June 2013. When the bird flew away, there was a short period where he could observe it flying over the road. He noticed that the wingspan was at least as large as the twenty-foot-wide country lane, which we remeasured to make sure.

“Not only was the wingspan large,” he continued, “but the wing itself must’ve been two feet wide as it flopped over the horizon. It almost looked like the size of a small airplane or ultralight aircraft—in fact, there is a small airstrip there where small planes take off and land, and this bird was the size of a Piper Cub as it flew over the trees.” The bird then headed off above an adjacent farm and flew toward the airstrip, he said.

John watched the bird disappear into the distance, as the rolling, wave-like motion of its wings again convinced him that he was, in fact, watching a live animal and not some type of aircraft. “I know it was an actual animal,” he said. He added that he thought briefly of running to the exact spot in the field where the bird had stood to see if it had left any evidence but was afraid that it may have been tending a nest and that disturbing the area might cause the creature to rush back and attack him.

Eyewitness John Bolduan points out the road flown over by the huge bird as he watched. (Photo by author.)

“I regret the way I approached the bird,” he said. “I should have stayed behind the trees and observed it instead of clumsily walking onto the field and scaring it away. It was a rare opportunity of detailed discovery blown. Because I did not know about such large birds, I took no care that day, thinking it was something known. I assumed the world around me was explained completely, but I found out that it’s not. I’ll probably never see it again; I hope someone else does . . . and reports it!”

He remained adamant that the bird appeared entirely physical and was not any sort of paranormal phenomenon. He decided for his own peace of mind that it must have been some sort of “mutant” crane or stork that had somehow grown incredibly larger than any others of its species. “I just told myself that’s what it was,” he said, “because I didn’t know what else to think.” But deep down he believed that wasn’t true, John told me.

“From what I see online, there should be no storks in our area and they don’t get this big. Is it an undiscovered North American stork of very large size? I don’t know.”

There was one more aspect, nearly mystical, to Bolduan’s unusual experience. Almost immediately, he found himself dealing with profound changes and unexpected developments in many areas of his business and personal life. Even though he did not believe the bird was any sort of phantom or “spirit” creature, it has occurred to him that perhaps his sighting of it took place as either a warning of things to come or as a message of hope and encouragement. He still wonders about that. “Seeing it changed my life,” he added.

I’d have to categorize John’s encounter as one of the strongest eyewitness accounts of anomalous, large birds that I’ve seen anywhere. Most such reports describe only creatures already airborne, usually at a height that prevents the witness from seeing details like feathers or markings. It’s also difficult to accurately estimate the size of any object that’s observed only in the sky because there are seldom any adjacent objects for comparison. John was able to figure out the bird’s size while it was still on the ground. He also had the rare opportunity to watch the giant bird take flight, which allowed him to make a wide range of observations about the creature.

Why would such an unusual beast decide to set down in a rural area of Wisconsin? Like any bird, it was probably searching for habitat to meet its physical needs: water, food, and a private place to rest. One glance at an aerial map reveals why wading birds would enjoy John Bolduan’s favorite vacation spot as much as he did—the town of Webb Lake in Burnett County is almost completely surrounded by small lakes and marshes. In fact, the nearby town of Grantsburg is home to a famous wildlife and bird sanctuary known as Crex Meadows.

But what would attract such a massive specimen? The area’s sparse human population might provide one advantage for an elusive creature. The area is also about fifty miles south of the shores of Lake Superior, with its rocky, often desolate coast and wind drafts that could help support the wings of a bird too big for its britches. Beyond Superior, of course, lies Canada, with even more lakes and vast acres of wilderness. The big bird may have simply been headed for its summer home.

John’s conclusion that this was no ordinary wading bird seems reasonable, since no crane or stork of that size is known to exist in this day and age. It’s true that Wisconsin is home to ordinary sandhill and whooping cranes, but both species feature distinctive head markings that John should easily have noticed. In flight, the whooping crane can be identified by its striking black wing tips, and John did not see these markings, either.

The size of these known cranes doesn’t measure up, for that matter. The whooping crane is the taller of the two known birds—the tallest bird in North America, in fact—and stands about five feet tall at most. Its wingspan, however, measures only seven and one-half feet and its plumage is mostly white with a bright red crown. On the plus side, if we are rooting for cranes as possible explanations, cranes do have the rectangular wing configuration that Bolduan particularly noticed and emphasized in his sketch (reproduced on page 8) of the bird that he saw.

There are really few other viable candidates. The trumpeter swan, one of the largest living water birds in the world, beats either type of crane size-wise, since the very largest of them can sometimes reach a body length of five to six feet and a wingspan of up to ten feet. It still falls short of the eighteen-foot wingspan described by Bolduan, however, and while its all-white plumage might be mistaken for a “silvery sheen,” it has a very recognizable black face and bill that most people would have no problem identifying as the mug of a swan. Its wing configuration is also quite different from the elongated rectangles shown in the eyewitness sketch.

Bolduan told me he has spent countless hours poring over books and online images of large birds and has never found any depiction that matches the size and other characteristics of the one he followed into that grassy meadow. Whatever it was, and despite the fact that it seemed to be doing nothing other than catching a few rays and minding its own business, its astonishing size makes it technically—in my book, at least—a monster of sorts. And even though this giant bird behaved itself quite nicely, there are numerous examples of other flying gargantuans from prehistoric times to the present about which the same could not be said. Some may be no more than ancient myth, but others are modern reports from eyewitnesses every bit as credible as John Bolduan.

His story, then, provides the perfect launching point for our aerial survey of things that come from the sky. Let’s hope for safe landings.

BIG BIRDS OF THE PAST

It may be hard to swallow the idea that seven-foot-tall cranes with bodies as large as a human’s and a wingspan the size of a small airplane’s really exist, but archaeological evidence shows that people have either observed or at least contemplated similar beasts—and myriad variations—around the planet for millennia. Often these birds were thought to be spiritual beings. Religions worldwide echo the Native American beliefs explained by Michael Edmonds in a 2000 issue ofWisconsin Magazine of History:

Because some birds—notably waterfowl, cranes, and raptors—could fly high out of sight into the heavens, which were the domain of powerful spirits, they were considered particularly effectual spiritual agents.1

It seems natural that people would want to identify themselves with these impressive creatures. And the human obsession with powerful birds evidently began early in the development of civilization. In early January 2013, a group of British archaeologists announced their discovery of a huge cache of clay figurines in a Greek Stone Age site believed to be at least seven thousand years old. Among the figures were unmistakable representations of human-bird hybrids!2 The exact purpose of these little sculptures found amid equally recognizable human figurines isn’t known. They might have symbolized deities or served other cultural purposes now obscure to us—or perhaps, as I like to speculate, they were actually depicting a creature that these people knew all too well from personal encounters.

While most of the giant, winged predators that actually existed in prehistoric times are now believed extinct, there are a few actual mega-avians left in remote corners of the world—the Peruvian or Andean condor with its ten-foot wingspan, for example, or the not-long-gone Washington’s eagle, which has been thought extinct for only a little more than a century. (More about that one later.) There were many other big birds that we know of through fossil records and early historical sources, making it likely that our distant ancestors may have had run-ins with birds large enough to inspire legends and even belief in their divinity.

The relative handful of endangered, geographically isolated species that remain to this day, however, cannot begin to explain the hundreds of reports of huge, unknown flying creatures seen across the Americas over the past several centuries. We may consider that these sightings are not merely the invention of fanciful, uneducated early settlers or inebriated woodsmen because similar descriptions of giant birds show up in Native American legends that predate European settlement. The winged things come in a great variety of shapes and sizes, from undead ringers for leathery, prehistoric pterosaurs to enormous, carnivorous bat-like beasts. They all come and go as they please, leaving us to wonder—as we hide the small children and pets.

THE CHILEAN ROC

As I’ve already noted, the very same monstrosities—differing only in name and detail—flutter through ancient legends worldwide. There are numerous references to fantastic flyers in the New World, both from Native American tradition and from Old World legends brought by immigrants. One example made popular and disseminated by the writings of thirteenth-century explorer Marco Polo is the huge creature called the roc or rukh in Middle Eastern folklore. While many New World cultures came up with their own wholly indigenous avian gods and monsters, the Middle Eastern roc contains many core elements of the widespread legends.

The mythical bird was so large that it blocked the sun as it flew in the daytime and was said to attack people by dropping large boulders from its talons. Some researchers believe the legend may be based on an actual giant bird—even though that actual bird couldn’t fly—that once lived on islands south of Madagascar. Although this flightless bird is now generally accepted as extinct, a live specimen of Aepyornis maximus was seen as late as 1658 by a French admiral. Researcher Roy Mackal notes that the Arabs were familiar with these isles long before Columbus and thus would have known about the ten-foot-tall birds in time to have incorporated them—and their huge, football-sized eggs—into Arabic folklore.3

These bygone creatures of Madagascar are also known as the great elephant birds, and their skeletal remnants resemble something like a giant emu. Mackal says that native inhabitants of these islands claim the great elephant bird survived into the mid-1800s and possibly even to present times.4

The ancient Middle East may seem a very long way from modern North and South America, and it is, geographically. It’s doubtful that a flightless bird could have made it from Madagascar to the A...

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Descrizione libro Tarcher/Putnam,US, United States, 2014. Paperback. Condizione libro: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. From pre-Columbian legends to modern-day eyewitness accounts, this comprehensive guide covers the history, sightings and lore surrounding the most mysterious monsters in America including Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, and more. Bigfoot, the chupacabra, and thunderbirds aren t just figments of our overactive imaginations according to thousands of eyewitnesses, they exist, in every corner of the United States. Throughout America s history, shocked onlookers have seen unbelievable creatures of every stripe from sea serpents to apelike beings, giant bats to monkeymen in every region. Author, investigator, and creature expert Linda S. Godfrey brings the same fearless reporting she lent to Real Wolfmen to this essential guide, using historical record, present-day news reports, and eyewitness interviews to examine this hidden menagerie of America s homegrown beasts. Codice libro della libreria ABZ9780399165542

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