Scott Marlowe. The Cryptid Creatures of Florida. CFZ Press, 2011.
Troy Taylor. Monsters of Illinois: Mysterious Creatures in the Prairie State. Stackpole Books, 2011.
Lyle Blackburn. The Beast of Boggy Creek: The True Story of the Fouke Monster. Anomalist Books, 2012.
Michael Newton. When Bigfoot Attacks: A Global Survey of Alleged Sasquatch/Yeti Predation. CFZ Press, 2011
The first three books in this collection are excellent examples of studies of the fortean phenomena of specific areas, and show just how wide and complex the cryptozoological aspects of such forteana can be. Here we encounter a variety of Bigfoots, bog monsters, giant birds, black dogs, black cats, out-of-place alligators, lake monsters, stray kangaroos and such. Sometimes these are explained as escapees from circuses, but included among them are things like the bipedal canids of Wisconsin or the tripod monster from Enfield, Illinois, to say nothing of the mad gasser of Mattoon and even nastier inhabitants of rural graveyards. Clearly the only menageries from which such creatures could have escaped are those in the pages of H. P. Lovecraft.
Of this trio of books, that by Marlowe follows the more ‘scientific’ cryptozoological road, looking at possible candidates for the various out-of-place creatures, while those of Godfrey and Taylor follow much more the path of folklore, and take us into byways along the liminal zone between dream and reality. Here the strange creatures seem to almost represent the spirit of the wilderness, or the places falling into wilderness, such as the Illinois portions of Route 66, described by Taylor as mostly “a hard to define mix of original roadbed, access roads, abandoned fragments and lost highways” wherein the traveller will find “abandoned stores, broken and dead neon signs for businesses that have long since vanished...creaky motor courts that sometimes still eke out a living from travellers that are now few and far between .., a place of lost memories and ... odd tales”. Just the place for phantom shooters, hairy hominds and things out of grimories, half glimpsed in the darkness.
In his excellent book, Lyle Blackburn examines the true story behind one of the early 1970s cult films, The Legend of Boggy Creek, the faux documentary style of which anticipated and probably helped inspire films such as The Blair Witch Project and Paranormal. The story on which the film is based is a series of sightings of a Bigfoot-like creature around the small town of Fouke (pronounced Fauwk and not the way you were probably thinking) Arkansas beginning in May 1971.
Blackburn goes beyond simply interviewing witnesses and presents the stories in the context of the history and development of the area, tells the story behind the film and its influence on the cinema and the Beast’s influence on popular culture. Blackburn writes essentially as a folklorist, taking an open minded approach. He is clearly puzzled; he finds quite unsatisfactory the various ‘rational’ explanations, involving misidentifications, escapes from circuses or hoaxes (for various motives, including keeping the curious away from moonshine stills, or scaring away African-Americans) involving people wandering around in monkey suits. On the other hand he admits that there is no reliable physical evidence; a skeleton turns out to be that of a Siberian tiger, discarded by taxidermists, and tracks found in the area of the are of the three-toed variety which couldn’t possibly be from a primate. Blackburn suspects that perhaps these tracks were indeed hoaxes.
In this sense the stories of the Fouke beast and the other 'American monsters' is similar to so many Fortean and paranormal experiences/phenomena/stories, stories of incredible experiences narrated by to all intents and purposes credible people but for which no conclusive evidence is ever found.
The great apes were once little known and much feared, and tales of dreadful acts of depredation were ascribed to gorillas. I can remember as a very small child my mother telling me that gorillas were the most savage of all animals, and how that made me scared of the gorilla in Belle Vue Zoo. Today, thanks to the likes of David Attenborough and Diane Fossey we have a much different view of these great apes as being gentle vegetarians. The chimpanzee’s reputation has rather gone the other way, from comic entertainers to being ruthless hunters, liable to eat living, screaming monkeys.
The same sort of reputation has been attached to the various alleged creatures that are imagined to haunt the liminal realm between the human and the animal, and the book by Michael Newton critically examines stories of aggression and kidnapping by these creatures. He finds the evidence wanting, and casts a rather jaundiced eye on such well known stories as those of Fred Beck and Albert Osman, as well as many lesser well known ones. Many of the more lurid of the latter come from the pens of Brad Steiger and Warren Smith and their joint alias ‘Eric Norman’. They also inhabited the pages of many of the sensational men’s magazines now largely disappeared (more on this in a future Northern Echoes), and the feral fringes of the film industry. There some very evocative posters and book covers reproduced here, memorials to a lost age. -- Peter Rogerson