29 June 2012


L. B. Taylor Jnr. Monsters of Virginia: Mysterious Creatures in the Old Dominion. Stackpole Books, 2012.

Ed Okonowicz. Monsters of Maryland: Mysterious Creatures in the Old Line State. Stackpole Books, 2012.

Stan Gordon. Silent Invasion: The Pennsylvania UFO-Bigfoot Casebook, edited by Roger Marsh. Stan Gordon Productions, 2010.

Virginia writer L. B. Taylor here tackles the “monsters” of Virginia from the viewpoint of the folklorist rather than that of the cryptozoologist. 
While there are a number of stories of Bigfoot and out of place pumas, there are also folk stories of vampires, the wampus cat (here presented as an upright walking cat) devil dogs that announce the end of life and even more devilish ones which steal the souls of sinners; tiny humanoids with cloven hoofed feet, some werewolves, and quite a number of other traditional tales. Further evidence that much modern Fortean lore is part of an age-old tradition.

This latest addition to the 'Monsters' series continues the folkloric theme. Ed Okonowicz, a local professional storyteller, recounts stories centred on the various 'monsters' and provides some of the folkloric background. Though their are a few cryptozoological monsters, such as Chessie, Chesapeake Bay’s answer to Nessie, and some tales of Bigfoot, the majority of these monsters are those of the imagination and urban legend, including the Scallygaster, the Bunnyman, the Swamp Monster etc., and a tale of a cursed statue, which seems to serve the same sort of function as cursed mummies as a piece of museum lore. Much of the material comes from the Folklore Archives and the University of Maryland.

Perhaps of special interest to Magonia readers is the Phantom of O’Donnell Heights, a sort of Spring Heeled Jack figure who haunted a working class district of Baltimore in the early 1950s, and became the centre of much youthful ghost hunting activity.

Ufologists of certain age may recall an article by Berthold Eric Schwarz in the first issue of FSR for 1974 which detailed a Pennsylvania man’s encounter with a strange light, Bigfoot-like creatures, and a bizarre visionary experience. Stan Gordon was the principle investigator of that case. and in this book he catalogues dozens of cases of Bigfoot like creatures, strange lights in the sky, mysterious close encounters and general weirdness, almost all from Westmoreland County Pennsylvania from 1973 to 1974.

Judging by the cases catalogued here there may have been as many claimed Bigfoot sightings here in two years than in the whole of the Pacific North West in decades. Gordon admits there is little or no physical evidence, only dodgy three toed tracks and skin and hair samples, all of which were found to have conventional origins.

Gordon confesses himself completely baffled as to what was going on here, one explanation that comes to my mind is a social panic of the sort studied by Robert Batholomew, aided and abetted by a good number of hoaxers, though whether that would be entirely sufficient is perhaps a moot point.

Of course the events/experiences recounted here mainly took place during the last truly great American UFO wave, at a time when the headlines were being increasingly dominated by Watergate. These were strange and paranoid times on both sides of the Atlantic, and this study should be of interest to both Forteans and sociologists. -- Peter Rogerson.

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