10 Great Places For Monstrous Encounters
By Jayne Clark/USA Today The Nation's Homepage
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There are monsters among us. They lurk in the depths of a murky lake and skulk in the forest on a moonless night. But mostly they dwell in the recesses of our imaginations, spawned by a hodgepodge of Native American legend, settler folklore and urban myth. On the eve of the scariest day of the year, W. Haden Blackman, author of the wry Field Guide to North American Monsters (Three Rivers Press, $15), tells us where the beasts are.
Bluff Creek, California America's favorite hairy humanoid, Bigfoot, had been spotted throughout the Pacific Northwest long before settlers arrived. But it was near this northern California burg on Oct. 20, 1967, that he was caught on 16mm film. Not that sightings are rare. "Distinguishing characteristics include a foul stench and big feet, but there's some debate on the beast's behavior." Is Bigfoot, who's been accused of murders and abductions, a savage beast or simply a peaceful guardian of the woods? "My conclusion is he is no more or less dangerous than humans."
The Pine Barrens, N.J. This million-acre forested preserve is home to the Jersey Devil, the state's "most gruesome resident," with batlike wings, a mournful cry and breath that'll curdle milk. It dates to 1735, when a woman known as Mother Leeds gave birth to her (possibly illegitimate) 13th child. "It was a terrible labor, and she wished the thing out of her. Out it came and promptly ate her 12 other children before flying off into the Pine Barrens" of south Jersey, where it's been causing trouble ever since.
Lake Champlain, N.Y. /Vt. /Quebec, Canada The sprawling lake is home of Champ (a k a "Champie"), one of a long line of lake monsters first reported in Native American lore. "He's the archetypal lake monster -- a long serpentine creature, small neck, horselike head, gray skin and glowing eyes." Sighted almost yearly, "Champie has an odd effect on people. They're either awestruck or terrified. But he's never actually hurt anyone."
Lake Okanagan, British Columbia, Canada Like Champ, Ogopogo, the monster of Lake Okanagan, was first sighted by native tribes. "But he was regarded as a water demon. In order to cross the lake safely, you had to throw a sacrifice -- live puppies, deer, fowl -- to the monster." Ogopogo has mellowed in recent years and is more local mascot than menace. "Maybe all he needed was a little love."
The Everglades, Florida This massive, well-known swamp is home to three varieties of monster: the Giant Gator (an alligator the size of a small island), the Skunk Ape ("the smelliest of all monsters") and the half-pygmy, half-alligator Gatorman. It sprang from an interesting mix of Native American lore, urban legend and tabloid journalism. A stuffed Gatorman in a Washington state museum is most likely "a really twisted example of creative taxidermy."
Jackson Hole, Wyoming Fleet-footed jackalopes stay one foot ahead of predators in the West. Blackman first encountered the Jackalope as a boy prowling through gift shops in this mountain resort town. But the timid creature, which looks like a rabbit with horns, roams throughout the West. Though it resists easy capture, it can be lured with alliterative concoctions like bourbon, bologna and beer or moonshine, maggots and marmalade. "Unlike other rabbits, it can't burrow, so it lives in forested regions. It needs to learn how to live in proximity to humans if it's to avoid extinction."
Fouke, Arkansas The Fouke Monster is a hairy humanoid that has stolen prize hogs, attacked a trailer full of teen-age girls and frightened numerous motorists. Sightings increased with the filming of The Legend of Boggy Creek, a 1972 "pseudo-documentary" that achieved minor cult status. "Almost everyone knows a local who claims to have seen the monster." Sightings persist, "but my advice is to rent the movie."
Ozark National Forest, Arkansas More than a dozen distinct monsters dwell in the region, many of them spun from settler folklore and all of them "a little bit wacky." For example, the Razorback Hog -- a nastier breed than the University of Arkansas mascot -- is a fast, fearless, spiny-backed creature strong enough to uproot trees. "Basically, it's a big, fat, mean pig you have no hope of escaping."
Point Pleasant, W.Va. The mysterious Mothman was spotted many times in the '60s in an abandoned munitions dump turned lovers' lane. The large, gray humanoid has wings and glowing red eyes and can fly 100 mph. "He has chased teen-agers in cars. Sometimes he just stares in windows. Anyone who comes near him is overcome with fear -- it may be a defense mechanism on the monster's part."
Your house Two major types of monster haunt the typical home: gremlins and the bogeyman. Gremlins live in almost every appliance and exist to annoy -- stealing car keys and hiding eyeglasses -- but aren't usually malicious. "If you discover a gremlin, try and live with it. If you try to get rid of it, it'll bring its buddies over and you'll have no hope." The bogeyman, on the other hand, "delights in terrorizing children, but no one's exempt. He can take on the form of whatever you're most afraid of. He can't be killed, but he is afraid of the light."
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