Happy Halloween! Here be Monsters…
Ever been afraid of the dark? I have, as a kid I used to try to get under the covers while there was still “light” even after I had turned off the switch. I’m not afraid of the dark anymore, and was recently tickled to learn that as a child I had noticed something that science now confirms…we retain a fraction of a second of useful vision after the light goes out, IE the brain holds the last thing it saw for a brief moment in sudden darkness. Not really enough time to dive under the covers, but enough to get a head start. And as all kids know, the monsters under the bed can’t get you under the covers.
I’m digressing though, this list is about bogeymen. There have been bogymen throughout history, here is the story of four of them. People claimed to have seen these beasts, some caused and still cause alarm. A few select monsters that haunt the boundary between what is real and what isn’t real. Fortunately there’s little to be really afraid of here, I mean, only one of these has actually killed anyone…
The Mad Gasser of Matoon. In 1944 a woman in the USA was awakened by an intruder in her bedroom, he had placed a rag with some sort of chemical in it over his face. She fought him off and called the police. It was big local news the next day, and soon other women reported attacks. The mad gasser of Matoon was born. The fear grew for days as attacks continued, people locked their doors and patrolled the streets. Eventually the police noticed that no evidence of an intruder had been found at any of the attack sites, and that descriptions of the attacker varied widely. A psychologist was called in to investigate, and he concluded that the first woman had a nightmare, and mass hysteria had caused the subsequent reports. It was wartime and there was anxiety because so many husbands were serving overseas, so people were already on edge. Some still claim that the Mad Gasser was a real person though, but I don’t think so.
Orange Eyed Giant Bird. This is one from my own childhood in northern Illinois. A giant bird, I seem to remember nine feet tall with glowing orange eyes was reported by several people. At least one report was of it chasing a car. It made a big impression on me as a kid, though I don’t recall my parents being too concerned. My parents often tried to scare me, but this one they didn’t make up. I still find this story curious, because in the mid seventies there was a better documented flurry of giant bird sightings in Illinois…
Beast of Gévaudan. OK, this one is rather disturbing. Between 1764 and 1767 a large unknown animal attacked a number of people in southern France. While there are a number of details and embellishments that are clearly more folklore than real, the basic story appears to be a true. A large unknown animal attacked a number of people, and unusual for a predator, it attacked people’s heads. It also had a preference for attacking people (usually women and children) instead of farm animals. 60-100 of the attacks were fatal.
Um, yikes. This was a bogeyman that not only was real, it killed. What was the Beast of Gévaudan, no one knows. Some speculate a wolf, but the people of the time were familiar with wolves, and the many witnesses didn’t describe a wolf. They describe a huge wolf-like creature with a broad chest, tufted lion like tail, greyhound like head with protruding fangs, with red fur and a black stripe down it’s back. A hyena is one possibility, most subscribe to the theory that it was a wild dog or wolf/dog hybrid. Even a serial killer has been speculated, but that seems to be a reach.
Jersey Devil. Honestly, this is the one that scares me. I don’t know why. It’s been reported in the Pine Barrens area of New Jersey since colonial times. Most authorities believe it to be colonial folklore combined with active imaginations, the consistency of the descriptions is a little disturbing. Most witnesses report something like the illustration above. There was a classic scare that lasted for a week in 1909, businesses even closed. I particularly like this account by a couple who saw it in their garden:
“It was about eight feet and a half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It had a long neck, wings about two feet long, and its back legs were like those of a crane, and it had horse’s hooves. It walked on its back legs and held up two short front legs with paws on them. It didn’t use the front legs at all while we were watching. My wife and I were scared, I tell you, but I managed to open the window and say, ‘Shoo!’ and it turned around, barked at me, and flew away.”
The everyday banality of it is what gives me the creeps, what would I think if I looked out my window and saw something like that in my yard?
Happy Halloween everyone.
(The above drawing of the Jersey devil is public domain under US copyright law. The power of suggestion, or a warning about genetic research?)