No-one reading this book should be expecting a critical scientific survey of cryptozoological phenomena in the USA. That’s not what it’s for, it’s a rollicking read of accounts of encounters with the weirder denizens, or in many cases, pseudo-denizen, of the 50 states.
Yes all of them. We can well imagine giant apemen lurking the dense woods of Washington or Oregon, maybe strange dog-men do haunt the open plains of Kansas, and who knows what terrors may lurk in the tangled swamps and bayous of the deep South?
But Rhode Island? For English readers, this state is a bit smaller than Somerset, and although Somerset does lay claim to the occasional out of place big-cat, tiny Rhode Island has its own Bigfoot roaming the state’s small wooded area, allegedly caught on camera from a moving vehicle. Slightly more plausibly Rhode Island’s other two monsters are marine-based, one of which was already dead when it was found.
The amusingly named ‘Block Ness Monster’, a strange fourteen foot long skeleton, was hauled on board a fishing boat off Block Island. Although some claimed it was the skeleton of a basking shark, it did not hang around long enough for a more formal identification, the specimen being mysteriously ‘kidnapped’ before it could be debunked. This had the fortuitous result, as Offutt remarks of preserving “the monster’s short legacy, which consisted of tourists, T-shirts and ‘Block Ness cocktails”.
Some of the monsters listed here have a rather more distinguished pedigree than the Rhode Island Nessie. The ‘Tommyknockers’ which were a feature of Cornwall’s tin mines for centuries seem to have been introduced into Pennsylvania’s coalfields by an influx of Cornish miners in the 1820s, and then followed the Cornishmen across the continent during the great Californian Goldrush.
The book is an entertaining mixture of what might be called ‘authentic’ monsters with a heritage of reports and records; what seem to be quite sincere, but one-off sightings; and some stuff which could best be described as at least ‘dubious’. I’m talking about the six-foot tall cockroach in a California motel which our hero ‘Peggy’ confronted and fought off. “I kicked it’s ankles out from under it with my tennis shoes [Cockroaches have ankles?] then I kicked its face”. She concludes with the claim “You wouldn’t believe how loud these giant upright walking cockroaches scream.”
I certainly wouldn’t.
It didn’t take a lot of imagination for Vermont locals to name one of their state’s monsters ‘The Awful’, but it has the benefit of directness. A flying creature with a twenty-foot wingspan, a long serpent-like tail and huge claws, it first appeared in the Green Mountain State in 1900, and made frequent visits until fading out in the 1920s but not before attracting the attention of H P Lovecraft who added it to his collection of New England horrors - “The Awful became ample sustenance for my imagination”.
Of course, all the usual suspects are here as well, Bigfoot, the Jersey Devil, Mothman, but this is not intended as a serious cryptozoological tome, it’s a fun collection of outrageous stories with suitably grotesque illustrations by Ty Derk. It would make an excellent Halloween gift and possibly a useful guide to nominations for an official state monster! – John Rimmer