Which came firstthe monster or the myth? Journalist Linda Godfrey investigates present-day encounters with mysterious creatures of old.
The monsters of ancient mythology, folklore, and more contemporary urban legend have long captured the popular imagination. While most people in America today relegate monsters to just thatour imaginationswe continue to be fascinated by the unknown. Linda Godfrey is one of the country's leading authorities on modern-day monsters and has interviewed countless eyewitnesses to strange phenomena. Monsters evolve, taking on both new and familiar forms over time and across cultures. In this well-researched book, Godfrey explores uncanny encounters with werewolves, goatmen, Bigfoot, and more.
In more than twenty-five years spent "chasing" monsters, Godfrey has found that it often remains unclear whether the sightings are simply mistaken animals, hoaxes, or coincidence. When all the speculation is said and done, one question remains for fans and researchers: Are the creatures "real," or are they entirely "other-world?" Godfrey suspects that it isn't an either/or questionour reality operates on a scale from dense matter to realms the human eye cannot see.
As Godfrey investigates unexplained phenomena, her search for answers will fascinate casual observers and enthusiasts alike.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Linda S. Godfrey is one of America's foremost authorities on modern-day monsters. She is the author of more than a dozen books, including Monsters Among Us, American Monsters, Real Wolfmen, and Weird Michigan. A popular media personality, she has appeared on MonsterQuest, Inside Edition, and Coast to Coast AM, among other programs.
Read an Excerpt
The study of folklore is a scholarly discipline equal to any other and commands its own field of inquiry. The good news is there will be no pop quiz here. I’m strictly an amateur folklorist myself. But like any subject pinned down and formalized by academia, folkore has its own accepted lingo. Luckily, the short list will do for our purposes. But the terms—f olklore, legend, and myth— are not as interchangeable as casual users might think. And merely pasting the correct label on the story type of a creature encounter won’t prove the true nature of that cryptid. The folklore/legend labels are simply tools to help us categorize things that lounge beyond our comprehension— things such as, perhaps, legends of meat hooks guarded by dog women, to be examined in our next chapter. But before we run off with a pack of hounds to bay at Pennsylvania’s October moon, let’s go over the basic categories.
Legends are stories from the past, ranging from far ancient times to mere decades or less. The stories are told as if based upon the experiences of some actual (if unknown) person or group of persons, and are sometimes still alleged to be occurring. They may contain an element of the supernatural, such as the Loch Ness– type situation that popped up in 1892 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin, and lasted for at least a full decade.
The resort town near the Wisconsin- Illinois border became famous for modern-day sightings of a huge lake serpent spotted by area residents and tourists in the city’s springfed Geneva Lake, one of the state’s deepest bodies of water. (The city and lake are distinguished by the word order of their respective titles.) According to reports, the sinuous, scale-covered creature chased groups of boaters and was witnessed by a well-respected minister from nearby Delavan, the Reverend M. N. Clark. Some witnesses estimated the serpent’s length as equal to that of a familiar lake ves-sel, the Steamship Aurora, which measured sixty-five feet! Residents nicknamed the serpent Jenny (or Genny).
Area newspapers recorded some incidents viewed by multiple witnesses. An article in The Milwaukee Sentinel reported one sighting by no fewer than six people in September 1902. The mystery creature disappeared soon after that date, fading with the tourist season, her origin and escape route still unknown. Perhaps as boat traffic became heavier, the lake could no longer protect creatures that needed to stick their long necks out of the water for air. But legends explaining where she might have gone already existed in the area.
Jenny wasn’t the first outsize gigantic creature believed to swim in Geneva Lake. She was preceded by ancient legends of other lake monsters taken as a matter of course by the town’s former residents, the Potawatomi, the last native tribal people to live on the shores of the seven- and- a- half- mile- long lake. Area chronicler Paul B. Jenkins and other local historians recorded local Na-tive belief in several different water monsters, including a great, horned water serpent much like Jenny; a giant fish; and the strange water panther, or water spirit. (More on the latter creature later.)
Incidentally, the Potawatomi leader at that time was known as Chief Big Foot. This name had nothing to do with the large, hairy, humanlike creature now popularly called Bigfoot, a term that didn’t come into use in that sense until the 1960s or so. The chieftain’s name was said to have come from the large footprints he left by walking in snowshoes, or in mud that spread out and enlarged his tracks—whichever version you choose to believe. But he is the reason why near the Wisconsin-Illinois border, you’ll find a small community named Big Foot, a Big Foot High School in the city of Walworth, a Big Foot Archery Club, and other places and things intended to honor the displaced chieftain. His footprints became a legend in their own way.
The lake monster stories told by the Potawatomi and other area First Nation folk were also published in a series of pamphlets by Charles E. Brown1 and Dorothy Moulding Brown in the Wis-consin State Historical Society from the late 1920s to the early 1940s. This was twenty to forty years after the decade-long lake monster flap in Geneva Lake (and many other Wisconsin lakes, as well), which showed that sightings of the aquatic creature weren’t inspired by the Browns’ later published stories.
To complicate the origins of these legends, the stories of bat-tles between the water panther, lake serpent, and thunderbird are widespread in the lore of various Midwestern Native people, and may have been known to Big Foot’s Potawatomi band before they moved to southeastern Wisconsin from the western shores of Lake Michigan around 1700 to 1800. For all we know, Big Foot’s people may have localized the older story to fit their own observations of Geneva Lake. But that does not make the legend any less important, just more universal. And it is always thrilling to find a universal truth living in your own backyard.We may trace Jenny the Lake Monster, then, from very old indigenous legend, to fairly contemporary sightings in the early 1900s, to written versions recorded by folklorists a decade or more after the sightings ended. With such strong oral and written back-ground, the Jenny sightings really do seem like legends come to life.
So who saw her first, Big Foot’s band, the turn-of-the-century tourists, or more ancient native inhabitants of Geneva’s shores? If only we knew how long the sightings had been occurring, we might be able to associate the correct ancient lake monster legend with the modern Jenny. But given the time frame of the sightings, Jenny could also technically glide into the subject of our next category. . .
I loved it!! As usual, Linda writes in a style that is easy to read. She knows so much about this topic, and surprizingly makes it easy for the reader to understand. I love reading her books - I'm a fan and won't hesitate to recommend it to my friends as I always do!