Frankly, we're a little weary of Bigfoot and Nessie. What about those mysterious critters that don't have dedicated reality shows ... but are still integral, beloved, and/or feared parts of the communities in which they're said to dwell? Here are 9 wonderfully weird, staunchly local cryptozoological creatures.
1. Bear Lake Monster, Idaho-Utah border
This big guy got some shine on the Bigfoot network, aka Animal Planet, with a segment on an episode of Lost Tapes (spoiler: same as above). According to biologist Bryce Nielson, a talking head on the program, initial sightings of the beast described it as looking "like a walrus without tusks, or an alligator that had a lot of teeth" ... teeth that just might enjoy chomping on human flesh. It's said to dwell in the fresh, brilliantly blue waters of Bear Lake, which enjoys a reputation as "the Caribbean of the Rockies," and its history is tied to both the American Indians and the early Mormon settlers who populated the area in the mid-19th century.
According to an 1868 Deseret News article quoted on the Bear Lake Chamber of Commerce's website,
The Indians have a tradition concerning a strange, serpent-like creature inhabiting the waters of Bear Lake, which they say carried off some of their braves many moons ago. Since then, they will not sleep close to the lake. Neither will they swim in it, nor let their squaws and papooses bathe in it.
The article goes on to recount contemporaneous sightings, which classed the creature as "not less than 40 feet in length" and traveling "a mile a minute." Years later, the man who wrote the article admitted he'd made the whole thing up ... but the tall tale had already taken root. A boat-rental business owner claimed to have seen the Bear Lake Monster in 2002, although whether that was a genuine close encounter or a clever bid for business is somewhat less of a mystery than the creature itself. Image via Animal Planet.
2. The Beast of Bladenboro, North Carolina
Was it a vampire killer from hell, roaming the early nights of 1954 with an insatiable thirst for blood (in the form of pet dogs)? Was it "part bear and part panther, three to four feet long, 20 inches high, weighing 150 pounds, [with] bushy fur [and] runty ears with a long tail and a cat-like face"? Or was it, um, a random bobcat whose fearsomeness was just a wee bit inflated by the town mayor, who also happened to own the local movie theater and was apparently quite the William Castle-esque showman?
Whatever the real story, the Beast lives on in at the annual Beast of Bladenboro Festival, which this year featured live music, camel rides, collard sandwiches, a classic car show, and more. Image via Cryptid Wikia.
3. Dogman, Michigan
All you need to know is contained in the following spoken-word-over-flute-music ditty, which breaks down the best-known sightings of the werewolf-like creature known as the Michigan Dogman. It became an unexpected local hit in 1987 for radio DJ Steve Cook, who recorded it as an April Fool's prank.
In 2010, the creature gained more notoriety as a subject on the History Channel's MonsterQuest, a show that dramatically doles out lie-detector tests to folks who've allegedly seen the beast in question ("Are you lying about seeing those hairy creatures?" [Pause.] "No.") Someone also went to the trouble of making a film documenting a sighting of the creature, dubbed "The Gable Film," which was, alas, later revealed to be a hoax.
4. Wampus Cat, American Southeast
This is the only cryptozoological creature on this list that also serves as a mascot for multiple sports teams (pictured at left, a version used at a high school in Conway, Arkansas ... we wouldn't want to tangle with that thing on a football field, or anywhere for that matter). The cougar-esque Wampus Cat has a wider geographical range than most, but is closely tied to Tennessee folklore, with stories dating back to Native American legends.
It's been described as "half-woman, half-cat, and all-terrorizing — the cat kills animals, steals children and smells like a mixture of skunk and wet dog." Um, yuck. Naturally, the Wampus Cat has had its own moment in the excessively popular monster-hunting-TV realm, on an episode of Destination America's Mountain Monsters.
5. Thetis Lake Monster, British Columbia, Canada
This creature's classification is sorta a more sinister spin on the Creature from the Black Lagoon, described by American Monsters as "a grisly aberration of natural selection with an epidermis consisting solely of silver, fish-like scales. This animal's horrifying visage is made complete by the six, razor-sharp spikes said to protrude from its amphibious skull."
His (?) alternate name is "Canadian Lizard Man," and sightings began and ended in 1972, thanks to a party pooper who admitted his pet Tegu lizard (four feet long and chock full o' bad attidude) had slipped out and was probably the strange critter that was freaking everybody out around the lake. That was enough explanation for local law enforcement to close the case, though as the Crypted Wikia hopefully points out, "many locals still believe that the Thetis Lake Lizard Man is still alive in the lake." Image via American Monsters; credited to Chris Wisnia with Daniel Loxton for Skeptic magazine.
6. Jersey Devil, New Jersey
No less an authority than seminal travel journal Weird NJ will have you know that "without a doubt, New Jersey's oldest, most enduring, and important pieces of folklore is the tale of the infamous Jersey Devil." The Devil has been slinking around the state's Pine Barrens for nearly 300 years, making it one of America's most enduring cryptozoological phenomenons.
The origin story involves an unwittingly wished-into-being devil baby, circa 1735, that raged straight out of infancy into woods-haunting creature; it was spotted here and there in the 18th and 19th centuries, with a key incident occuring in January 1909. Weird NJ describes the panic that broke out when residents found peculiar footprints in the Delaware Valley snow:
Panic immediately began to spread, and posses formed in more than one town. Fear and intrigue grew even greater when it was reported that bloodhounds refused to follow the unidentified creature's trail in Hammonton. Schools closed or suffered low attendance throughout lower NJ and in Philadelphia. Mills in the Pine Barrens were forced to close when workers refused to leave their homes and travel through the woods to get to their jobs.
Eyewitnesses spotted the beast in Camden and in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and in both cities police fired on it but did not manage to bring it down. Firemen turned their hose upon it, but it attacked them and then flew away. The entire week people reported that their livestock, particularly their chickens, were being slaughtered.
The marauding misanthrope reappeared later in the week in Camden, where a local woman found the beast attempting to eat her dog. She hit it with a broomstick and it flew away.
The pesky monster was never brought to justice, but it has continued to infiltrate weird and popular culture, as well as the world of sports, thanks to NHL team the New Jersey Devils.
7. Champ, Lake Champlain, New York
Champ (or "Champy," if you're feeling casual), is said to inhabit the waters of the largest lake in Upstate New York's Adirondacks. The official Lake Champlain Region website offers a brief history lesson, noting that both the local Abenaki and Iroquois tribes had lake-creature legends, and giving a shout out to the lake's namesake, 17th century explorer Samuel de Champlain, who reported seeing unusually large fish in his journals (albeit nothing terribly monstrous).
Champ's reputation grew with sightings in the 1800s; in 1819, a sea captain with astonishingly vivid recall, or more likely imagination, spotted "a black monster, about 187 feet long, and with a head that reared over 15 feet out of the water ... [with] three teeth, eyes the color of an onion, a white star on its forehead, and a belt of red around the neck."
The creature put in multiple appearances in 1873, inspiring P. T. Barnum to promise $50,000 to anyone able to capture the beast. (Alas, nobody stepped forward to collect the reward.) Over 100 years later, a family on holiday produced a much-analyzed photo said to capture "America's Loch Ness Monster" in action. Thanks to that image, and because it's simply more fun to suspect that one's vacation spot just might be home to an unknown creature, Champ fever continues in the area; as recently as November 2014, a team of cryptozoologists claimed to have made recordings of the underwater beast.
But the Lake Champlain region's website notes, the creature enjoys tongue-in-cheek legal protection from the bordering states of Vermont and New York ... so any 21st century wannabe Barnums are out of luck. Image via Lakechamplainregion.com.
8. Mothman, West Virginia
The Mothman went Hollywood in 2002's The Mothman Prophecies, bringing the foreboding winged creature to the attention of Richard Gere fans the world over. That the Mothman tales are tied to a real-life tragedy makes the story even more poignant, and eerie.
The first sighting was November 15, 1966, and inspired the following immortal headline in local rag the Point Pleasant Register: "Couples See Man-Sized Bird...Creature...Something."
According to Prairie Ghosts, the sightings continued into 1967; author Joel Keel, who wrote the book that served as the basis for the Gere film, estimated that "at least 100 people personally witnessed the creature between November 1966 and November 1967." The Mothman was said to be "between five and seven feet tall, wider than a man, and shuffled on human-like legs. Its eyes were set near the top of the shoulders and had bat-like wings that glided, rather than flapped, when it flew. Witnesses also described its murky skin as being either gray or brown and it emitted a humming sound when it flew."
True believers say the Mothman's raison d'être became clear December 15, 1967, when the Silver Bridge, a suspension span over the Ohio River that connected West Virginia and Ohio, collapsed during rush hour; 46 people perished. Though the official story was that the bridge was simply old and overloaded, the timing of the Mothman's appearance and the disaster is too tempting of a coincidence for many to ignore.
The jury's out on whether the creature was warning the people of Point Pleasant about the impending collapse, or whether he was the cause of it. At any rate, it doesn't seem like the town holds a grudge, considering it's home to a Mothman museum, statue, and annual festival. Who says paranormal activity is bad for business?
9. Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp, South Carolina
Destination America's Monsters and Mysteries offered this chillingly cheesyre-enactment of The Night Chris Davis Met the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp.
A teenager at the time of his encounter, Davis became a cryptozoological celebrity of sorts; coverage of his tragic 2009 death made great mention of his involvement in Scape Ore Swamp's greatest mystery.
Top image of Jersey Devil by Ryan Doan via Weird New Jersey.