Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Wild Men of Rockaway Beach

"Wild, Weird Man Scares Rockaway" trumpeted the November 29th, 1893 edition of the New York Herald, a suiting way to describe the uproar the community of Rockaway Beach experienced in the fall of that year. A strange wild man was stalking the town, attacking people in the neighborhood and breaking into homes to steal food. Mass panic seized Rockaway Beach, with rumors running wild that the beast was devouring children and fear among the residents due to the fierce nature of the wild man. The strange creature itself was described in the article as being "large of stature, weird in appearance, with fierce, bloodshot eyes, long, flowing, matted hair and a shaggy beard."

It was first seen a week prior to the article by two men, "Red" McDowell and George Farrell, who were in their boat near the Rockaway Inlet shore when the wild man appeared on the beach, yelling wildly and bearing an axe. The men rowed quickly away from the shore and watched as the beast entered the cabin of one Uncle Dicky, an old clamdigger who used the cabin as a summer home.

No mention is made of what happened after this, but the following evening John Louth witnessed the creature "skulking" in the trees while driving through Rockaway Park. The next day, while walking along the same road, his daughter Susie was attacked by what she described as a "ragged and tattered tramp", who knocked her down with a slap on the back and then ran away, issuing loud yells.

The wild man was not seen again until the Friday before the article's publication, when, in the author's own words, "he turned himself loose in dead earnest and nearly ran everybody out of the place". "Bill" Tweedle, a plumber by trade, was the first early on Friday morning, when he reported encountering the wild man, who grabbed his gun and knocked him to the ground, all while clutching a half eaten chicken. Later that morning, "Ned" Tracy also witnessed the beast on the beach, this time eating raw clams. The wild man again ran off, only to return that afternoon to attack John Corning, a house mover, and his assistant William McVay while both men were working near the beach. He descended upon them and hit them with his fists, forcing Corning to fight back and try to grapple with the crazied brute. The creature escaped with the aid of what the newspaper called an "oilskin coat" and dashed away towards Rockaway Point, escaping until that evening when it next attacked the wife of the Rockaway Chief of Police, Mrs. McArthur. She was grabbed from behind by the wild man and brutally choked until one "Fred" Sauer came to her rescue, beating the beast off.

The wild man reappeared the next day, on that Saturday night, when it smashed through the window of a saloon in Rockaway, interrupting a game of cards. This time, the creature held a large cavalry sabre, smashing all the bottles and glasses withing reach while screaming "like a demon" before dashing out the door, leaving his sabre behind. In a fascinating turn of events, two days later "Red" McDowell and a group of young men rowed down to Uncle Dicky's cabin on Rockaway Beach, only to met by the wild man waving a gun, from which he fired a round of buckshot. The group retreated, with Chief McArthur later organizing a group together to go back to the cabin and apprehend the wild man. The results of this expedition remain unknown, as do any follow up reports of the mysterious wild man, although interestingly enough a different version of the preceding events was reported in a later newspaper article. In this later article, the location and basic flow of events remains the same, but some of the names and details have been changed, with "Red" McDowell being changed to Read Rockaway and William McVay being changed to George McVeigh, and Uncle Dicky's cabin being changed in the later story to an abandoned oyster house. The existence of two different articles with slightly different details in both makes things very problematical, as will be discussed below.

Finally, who was this bizarre wild man and what should we make of this bizarre episode? One popular theory at the time was that the wild man was the first mate of the wrecked Maggie Devine (Medicine in the later version), which had ran aground a few weeks prior during a fierce storm with all hands saved, except for James Rush, the mate who was thought drowned. It was thought, however, that he apparently survived the crash and was driven insane by it, emerging a few weeks later to terrorize Rockaway's populace. While it remains impossible to verify this, the use of weapons and the wearing of clothing by the wild man display a level of humanity that makes the "insane sailor" story more plausible. It remains interesting to note that the wild man, according to the article, seemed to lurk on or around Rockaway Beach, more specifically near Uncle Dicky's cabin, as if he was guarding his territory. It is possible that, if the wild man was James Rush, in his insanity he claimed the beach as his territory and attacked those whom he viewed as intruders. Perhaps, even, the wild man was Uncle Dicky himself, since the creature was seen entering his cabin, suggesting a connection to the man that, if followed up upon, was not mentioned in the article. This connection, however, remains frustratingly out of reach, for it would be impossible to follow up on this lead after over a century.

There is of course, one more option: that one or both of the versions may have been newspaper hoaxes created to boost sales. Newspapers in the 19th century were notorious for creating fake stories and passing them off as real simply to make their papers more interesting, since back then there weren't the strict regulations for journalist integrity as there are in contemporary times. The existence of two versions of the story that contain the same basic framework but have some slightly different details between them makes this theory plausible, but at this point all we can do is simply speculate and wonder.

(With my next blog entry, I plan on wrapping up the "wild man" series by examining several reports of wild men that bore a closer resemblance to the beings we know as Bigfoot/Sasquatch than actual human beings. Stay tuned!)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Primates on Long Island

"Strange things are being seen these days", starts off the July 31, 1895 article in the New York Herald, "on the earth and in the sea - to say nothing of the woods. These are times of sea serpents, huge reptiles, wild men and bogies. Every day brings news that some wild and freakish thing has broken loose."

Bizarre creatures were stomping around on Long Island in those days, showcasing an amount of cryptozoological activity that rivaled what was to be found anywhere else in the country at the time. These were strange times indeed, during which "wildmen" and apelike animals were reported by many residents of the island and terrified them with their nighttime antics and piercing screams. The local newspapers regularly reported on such incidents, usually in a serious and straight forward manner, expressing as much puzzlement over the mysterious happenings as the actual witnesses themselves. These strange sightings defied all common sense, for a breeding population of apes to stay hidden on the island was clearly impossible, and it is unknown whether any zoos or circuses reported missing or escaped apes from their exhibits. Yet, for all their nonsensical nature, these reports continued to be documentated in the press as the people of Long Island persistently witnessed strange apelike creatures that evaded all capture and effort to prove their existence. The following cases, gathered from local newspapers of the time, are a sample of the bizarre events that had occurred on Long Island nearly a century ago in relation to reports of hairy, apelike animals:

Man, Beast or Demon? It's Loose in Amityville (New York Herald Tribune):

Amityville faced a mysterious vandal early in the twentieth century, described in the Tribune article as a "large monkey", who damaged private property and left no evidence behind other than small footprints. These footprints, described as being about eight inches long, not to mention "very spatulate, with long claw marks", were found near the home of a Mrs. Alfred C Abernethy, whose daughter Madeline was a witness. A Mrs. Harry Fajans, who lived nearby to the Abernethy home, also reported footprints found in her lawn, although whether these footprints were found to belong to any known species of animal remains unknown at this time.

According to the Tribune article, the primate reported in Amityville was first seen "about 1 a.m. on Sunday, August 25, by residents of North Massapequa, across the border, in Nassau County". Early September 4th, Ms. Madeline Abernethy reported that she was awakened by "a fearful chattering and yowling under her window, punctuated by the furious barking of the family dog." She later found the footprints, along with scratches on her automobile and that "the dust that covered it revealed the same footprint". Besides the automobile, the monkey also tore up an old fur coat and several mattresses in the outside garbage.

Interestingly enough, it is reported that Nassau County police disproved a report of a escaped chimpanzee from a circus in Farmingdale, demonstrating a rare example of even the officials turning down the "escaped zoo/circus animal" theory that is so routinely troted out in cases of out of place animal reports. There was speculation as to the exact identity of the creature, with guesses ranging from "a gorilla, chimpanzee, orang-outang, or just a man that walks like an ape". If there were any followup cases in Amityville, they still remain unknown for now.

Lion and Big Ape Play I-Spy with Nassau County (June 27, 1931 - New York Herald Tribune):

As reported in Charles Fort's classic book Wild Talents, Mineola in 1931 apparently suffered an epidemic of the maned and hairy kind, with lion and gorilla reports coming in steadily for at least a two month period from the Nassau County town. Indeed, as the author of the piece notes, "The lion and monkey situation in Nassau County is becoming acute and is under serious consideration by the police. More lions and monkeys have been seen loose in the last week, or at least have been seen by more residents of the county, than in any week ending June 26 since the compilation of lion and monkey statistics was started."

Focusing solely on the "monkey" reports for now (the lion issue will be part of a future blog), the creature was variously described as being "about half the size of a heavy set man" and "large and hairy and had a long face, grayish in hue". It is said to have first appeared in Albertson Square, frightening a family when it dropped out of a tree and then scrambled off into some brush alongside the road. It then reappeared two days later, being witnessed by a John Hammond of East Williston before disappearing once again. Patrolman Fred Koehler of the Nassau Country police is stated to have reported "that at least ten persons had seen the animal in the last three days."

Perhaps it is best to quote Mr. Fort (and his unique style of prose) for the history of the gorilla scare:

"And, near Mineola, Long Island, a gorilla was reported.

The first excitement was at Lewis & Valentine's nursery -- story told by half a dozen persons -- an ape that had come out of the woods, had looked them over, and had retreated. It seems that the police hadn't heard of "mass psychology": so they had to explain less learnedly. Several days later, they were so impressed with repeating stories that a dozen members of the Nassau County Police Department were armed with shot guns, and were assigned to ape-duty.

No circus had appeared anywhere near Mineola, about this time; and from neither any Zoo, nor from anybody's smaller menagerie, had the escape of any animal been reported. Ordinarily let nothing escape, or let nothing large, wild, and hairy appear, but let it be called an ape, anyway -- and, upon the rise of an ape-scare, one expects to hear of cows reported as gorillas: trees, shadows, vacancies taking on ape-forms. But -- New York Herald Tribune, June 27th -- Mrs. E.H. Tandy, of Star Cliff Drive, Malverne, reported something as if she had not heard of the ape-scare.(8) She called up the police station, saying that there was a lion in her back yard. The policeman, who incredulously received this message, waited for another policeman to return to the station, and share the joke. Both waited for the arrival of a third disbeliever. The three incredulous policemen set out, several hours after the telephone call, and by that time there wasn't anything to disturb anybody's conventional beliefs, in Mrs. Tandy's back yard. [103/104]

There was no marauding. All the stories were of a large and hairy animal that was appearing and disappearing --
And appearing and disappearing in the vast jungles not far from Mineola, Long Island, were skunks that were coming from lawyers. Some of them were caught and rendered inoffensive by disbarment. There was a capture of several dozen medical hyenas, who had been picking up livings in the trains of bootleggers. It could be that an occurrence, in New Jersey, was not at all special, but represented a slump back toward a state of about simian development. There was an examination of applicants for positions in the schools of Irvington. In mathematics, no question beyond arithmetic was asked; in spelling, no unusual word was listed. One hundred and sixteen applicants took the examination, and all failed to pass.
(9) The average mark was 31.5. The creep of jungle-life stripped clothes from people. Nudists appeared in many places.(10) And it was not until later in the year, that the staunchest opponent of disclosures spoke out in the name of decency, or swaddling -- or when Pope Pius XI refused to receive Mahatma Gandhi, unless he'd put on pants.(11)

Upon the 29th of June, the ape-story was taken so seriously, at Mineola, the Police Captain Earle Comstock ordered out a dozen special motor patrols, armed with revolvers and sawed-off shot guns, with gas and ball ammunition, led by Sergeant Berkley Hyde. A posse of citizens was organized, and it was joined by twenty nurserymen, who were armed with sickles, clubs, and pitchforks. Numerous footprints were found. "The prints seemed to be solely those of the hind feet, and were about the size [104/105] and shape of a man's hand, though the thumb was set farther back than would be the case with a man's hand." However, no ape was seen. As to prior observations, Policeman Fred Koehler, who had been assigned to investigate, reported statements by ten persons.

The animal disappeared, about the last of June. Upon July 18th, it was reported again, and by persons who were out of communication with each other. It was near Huntington, L.I. A nurseryman, named Stockman, called up the police, saying that members of his family had seen an animal, resembling a gorilla, running through shrubbery. Then a farmer, named Bruno, three miles away, telephoned that he had seen a strange animal. Policemen went to both places, and found tracks, but lost them in the woods. The animal was not reported again.

and finally for an oddball report that at first doesn't seem to fit in with the others (and which I am still trying to date):

Shrieking Apparition Rouses Long Island (New York Herald):

As with the population of Liberty, Ohio in 2005 (see here but ignore the idiot reporters), during the 1920s the towns of Quogue, Patchogue, and Eastport were visited by a unknown being that issued high pitched and terrifying screams in the night, drawing comparisons among some residents to the famed banshee of Irish folklore. Sidney Seaman, an engineer, claimed to have heard the cry on multiple occasions and states that while his brothers were out searching for the creature, "They heard a movement in the tangle of underbrush, a loud cry and then the animal went swiftly away from there."

Several different theories competed to establish the identity of the creature, including that it was a type of bird, a panther (which are known to sometimes issue a scream that sounds like the shriek of a woman), a primate of some sort, or, most interestingly, even the Jersey Devil itself (which a decade earlier had caused mass panic in New Jersey). To quote the article (which displays tongue firmly in cheek), "Many of the residents of Westhampton believe that the creature which is making all this adoo is a baboon which, Robinson Crusoe fashion, is said to have come ashore last fall on wreckage of a deep sea bark and to have taken to the woods. An equally reliable source of information ascribes the uproar to a monkey which several months ago escaped from the Douglaston home of Harry Williams, a song writer who is the author of that beautiful lyric entitled 'I'm Afraid to Go Home in the Dark'. The efforts of the animal to sing the words or to extract music from the tune which he heard while it was in the making might in a measure account for the terror of the Long Islanders".

Tongue in cheek explanations aside, what should we make of this report and the ones listed before it? Escaped apes and monkeys from a zoo and/or circus seems the most logical explanation, except there were no reports of escapees and indeed in the Amityville case even the police downplayed the idea. This of course is the persistent problem with the OOP(out of place) animals phenomenon as a whole, for Long Island has no breeding population of apes and certainly none could hide in the wild for very long without being discovered on the island. It is possible that the animals may have escaped from a private collector who chose not to report it, but this idea can only be brought forward so many times before it is made obvious that there would need to be an inexhaustible amount of private collectors to account for all the reports.

It is even possible, albeit very improbable, that at some of the reports may have been of juvenile Bigfoot, for it would explain some of the characteristics of the animals reported in the different cases. Sasquatch have been to issue piercing shrieks that terrify witnesses (as do other strange phenomena: see an example under the article "Ghosts of Long Island" and Loren Coleman's thoughts), and the beginning of the "Shrieking Apparition" article, notes that the beast had "eyes of flame" (although this may be just be a figure of speech). There are quite a few Bigfoot reports (and reports of other strange entities) that mention their "glowing red eyes", although this is often believed to be eye shine due to light reflecting off the eye, and of course a juvenile Bigfoot may very well look like a gorilla or monkey to a startled witness. There have not been any credible Sasquatch reports on the Island since, which is a blow against the theory, but the possibility still remains open, and thus should not be entirely ruled out.

Up Next: The Wildman of Rockaway Beach

Saturday, June 30, 2007

June 24th - St. John's Day

It is always fascinating to observe the frequent amount of anomalous activity that can occur on a given day, especially with how certain days seem to attract bizarre happenings and weird phenomenon more than most of the other 365 days during the year. Whether it is just coincedence or the proper alignment of the stars, these days seem more conducive to producing Fortean phenomena, making them ideal for the Fortean researcher attempting to study the different reported phenomenon and find a connection between it all.

One such day is June 24th, which marked the 60th anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold UFO Sighting, the sighting that sparked off the modern UFO era and first propeled the so called "flying saucers" into the eye of the public. It was thanks to this sighting that more people were willing to come out and admit their UFO sightings , jumpstarting the birth of ufology and leading to widespread public interest in the phenomenon. Besides that landmark sighting, "St. John's Day" ( a major Christian feast day marking the birth of Saint John the Baptist) has seen major UFO activity occur on this day, with most reports being of nocturnal lights and daylight discs, with incidents involving automobiles being a particular motif on this day.

The first such automobile-UFO case on this date occurred in 1964, as described in NICAP's UFO Investigator:

"Fifteen or more disc-shaped objects paced a truck driver and his wife in Vero Beach, Florida in the predawn hours. The discs flew along, tipping back and forth. They formed a V formation, then a circular formation; finally the objects split the formation and passed on either side of a group of trees. (Source: NICAP UFO Investigator, August 1964, p. 1)."

A similar case occurred two years later to a police officer in Virginia, as laid out here by multiple sources:

"Police officer William L. Stevens had a close encounter with a dirigible-shaped object 100 feet long and 30 feet thick at 3:30 a.m. He was driving on the Henrico Turnpike in Richmond, Virginia when the UFO approached. It had alternating white and greenish-yellow lights around its perimeter, and it was surrounded by a mist. It began to play a game of cat and mouse with his police cruiser. "It seemed to be playing with me," he said. It moved away when the officer turned on its flashing lights, maintaining a distance of a few hundred feet. After several minutes it departed, accelerating suddenly and making a high speed vertical climb. (Sources: Richard Hall, Uninvited Guests, p. 261; Gordon I. R. Lore, Jr., UFOs: A New Look, p. 9; Richard F. Haines, CE-5: Close Encounters of the Fifth Kind, p. 164; MUFON UFO Journal, June 1991, p. 12; UNICAT database, case 654, citing James E. McDonald)."

In 1995 a man in the town of Farmingdale, located in Nassau County, New York, encountered a UFO while sitting in his truck:

"A small disc-shaped object hovered over a truck in Farmingdale, New York at 11:30 p.m. at night. The driver could tell the UFO was close because it hovered below the low, overcast sky, so he got out of his vehicle and attempted to chase the UFO on foot, to no avail. (Source: Peter Davenport, National UFO Reporting Center, 1995 archive)."

Besides UFO cases involving automobiles, St. John's Day has also seen a fair share of USO reports, but only one case from 1977 involved actual interaction with the water:

"At one o'clock in the morning a UFO was sighted hovering over the sea from the coastal town of La Caleta, in the Dominican Republic. Sr. Cruz watched as the object extended a tube from its bottom, and then sucked up water. Two occupants could be seen inside the object, viewed through windows in the craft. Sr. Cruz's car engine failed, and he felt a numbing sensation in his arms and legs. (Sources: Leonte Objio, APRO Bulletin, January 1982, p. 6; Stendek, September 1978, p. 5)."

The two other USO cases on this date involved what appeared to be simple observation, with the craft displaying bizarre and complex maneuvers before vanishing off into the distance:

"A woman in Hampton Bay, New York saw something like "a large aircraft" about 30 meters wide flying very slowly and low at 6:30 p.m. It had a lighted red band around the middle and was coming straight toward her house with an oscillating motion. She still thought it was an aircraft of some new design when it stopped near her, only 25 meters above the ground. Then it flew backward over the water and hovered, making the same noise as a swarm of bees. The top section supported a series of red lights and a cabin with four portholes through which a control panel was visible. No occupants were seen. The cabin section rose above the object, rotated, then glided back. The object tilted toward the west and rose toward the southeast, disappearing within three seconds at an 80-degree angle of climb after the three minute long sighting. Two days later a yellowish moss was observed at the site. (Sources: Project Blue Book files counted in official statistics, June 1953, case 22; Jacques Vallee, Passport to Magonia: A Century of Landings, p. 203 (case 112))."

and a 1967 case from Trenton, Maine:

"Two people sighted a silver-gray, hat-shaped object hovering about 500 feet from the shoreline in Trenton, Maine at around 10 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time. It emitted a vapor at its base. The object ascended into a fog bank and descended again at a greater distance before moving away. (Source: Raymond E. Fowler, UFOs Interplanetary Visitors, pg. 349)."

Besides Close Encounters of the First and Second Kind, Close Encounters of the Third Kind have also been reported on this day, including in England (1967) and Argentina (1968):

" A man walking alone at night along a bridal path in Bovington, England came upon a strange figure bent down by the side of the path. The figure was short and was wearing what looked like a black, one-piece leather suit. He had a trowel in his hand and appeared to be digging in the earth. When he noticed the witness approaching the figure made a strange, high-pitched sound and was lost from sight. (Source: David F. Webb and Ted Bloecher, HUMCAT: Catalogue of Humanoid Reports, case 1967-51 (A1559), citing Jenny Randles, Awareness, Winter 1977). "


"A young woman named Torres was awakened at 1:10 a.m. in Laguna Raiva, Santa Fe, Argentina by an intense humming sound. She then noticed an oval-shaped light in the corner of her bedroom and inside the light stood two strangely dressed beings. They both wore metallic diving suits and helmets with visors. One was taller than the other and luminous white beams of light emanated from the tips of the fingers of both entities and from their visors and lower abdomens. Both beings vanished suddenly. (Source: Albert S. Rosales, Humanoid Contact Database 1968, case #822, citing Dr. Oscar A. Galindez, FSR, Vol. 27 # 1)."

The taking of soil samples by alleged UFO occupants has long been a staple of CE3 reports, as is demonstrated here and in the 1975 account which can be found here, among many others. Diving suits, as found in the Argentina case, are characteristic of many reported UFO entities (here, here, and here), with the "bedroom invader" aspect of the case bearing the hallmark of the abduction phenomenon that rose to prominence within the UFO field in the 1960s and has since become a seperate field of study within itself.

Loren Coleman has written extensively on the frequent occurrence of strange happenings on June 24th, devoting an annual blog entry to the subject which lists out all the known reports on this day of strange phenomena. His entry lists many of the strange and Fortean phenomena that have been reported on this day, which cover all the different fields, from ufology to cryptozoology to the very outer boundaries of reality. Here are some of those reports, taken from Coleman's blog entry:

"Knights Templars display “Mysterious Head” at Poitiers (1308). Founding of the Order of the Garter (1348). John Cabot discovers North America (1497). Galileo released (1633). “Woman of the Wilderness” utopian community arrives in America (1694). “W of W” angelic visions (1701). Grand Lodge of Freemasons inaugurated (1717). Ambrose Bierce born (1842). Red rain, Italy (1877). Ice fall, Ft. Lyon, Colorado (1877). Fall of jelly-like mass, Eton (1911). Fred Hoyle born (1915). Mick Fleetwood (1942) and Jeff Beck (1944) born.

First day of “flying saucer” history, Mt. Rainier & Mt. Adams, Washington State - famous Kenneth Arnold sighting - 60th anniversary (1947). Filmstock fire kills seventeen people, Brussels (1947). Movie theaters evaluated during huge fire, Perth Amboy, NJ (1947). United Airlines plane struck by lightning over Cleveland (1947). Invasion of grasshoppers battled with flame-throwers, Guatemala/El Salvador (1947). Woman attacked and killed by bees or wasps, Seattle (1947). Bizarre aerial sightings near Daggett, California (1950) and on Iwo Jima (1953).

Locals have Bigfoot sightings, Logan and Union counties, Ohio (1980). Chupacabras encountered outside disco, Maria Elena, Argentina (2000). Moose hunters see Bigfoot, near Fort Simpson, NWT, Canada (2002). Mysterious fire erupts in Gallipolis, Ohio resident’s car on bridge from Ohio to Point Pleasant, West Virginia (2003). Massive unusual aerial phenomena, Xalapa, Mexico (2005). “Aren’t You Chupacabra to See Me?” airs for first time on Cartoon Network (2005). Nestle uses Bigfoot-costumed marchers to launch Kit Kat Limited Edition – Cappuccino at the Giant Mahkota Parade, Malacca, and Jusco Tebrau City, Johor (2005).

Coleman wraps his blog with the perfect ending, which I will quote here in its entirety:

"Unexplained events. Mysterious fiery outbursts. Strange cryptid sightings. Beltane fires. Little people. Miracles. Bathing. Round dances. Collecting of glowworms. Folkloric incidents. Weird encounters.
Respect the wonder and adventure of the 24th of June. What events have dotted your past crypto-histories from this point on the calendar?
What’s in the mix on this day, the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Age of Flying Saucers?"

The truth shall set you free.

Thursday, June 14, 2007


hey everyone, I know it's been a while since my last post, but I have not forgotten about this blog. I have been working on seperate articles and have one posted up on the UFO Digest website, which can be found at this address: http://www.ufodigest.com/news/0607/bigfoot.html. I am working on a new one at the moment, and have several ideas for this blog that I plan to put some thought into and see what I can come up with. Let me know what you think of the article, and thanks.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Out Of Place Alligators

On April 22, 2007, the New York Times reported a fascinating news story, namely that a two-foot long alligator had been found sunbathing by a small lake in Huntigton, N.Y., and had been captured by county police. At the time of the article's publication, the police were still looking for the owner of the animal, presumebly to press charges against the person for illegally owning an alligator. To the uninitiated, this would just seem to be a simple case of an escaped pet, but those of us who tend to look at the world through "Fortean-tinted glasses" (to borrow a phrase from Scott Maruna) will immediately think of the "crazy croc" phenomenon, which has been extensively documented by researchers such as Loren Coleman, who discussed it in his classic book Mysterious America.

Out of place animals are nothing new to the American landscape, and alligators in particular have popped up everywhere, making appearances in environments far outside their native territories. With this in mind, it is no surprise that even Long Island has had encounters with runaway alligators, although as in other cases they were always placed into the "escaped pet" context. Take for example, an article from the June 4th, 1896 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

In this case, as is noted in the article, the feral alligator seen around Woodsburgh was said to be the escaped pet of a Mr. Reiner, sh0wcasing an early example of this explanation that has since been regularly used by police and the media to account for "crazy croc" reports. There are no known followups in the local media on this report, so the outcome remains sadly unknown(if anyone has any extra information related to this case, please email me).

Manhattan has also had its fair shares of OOP (out of place) alligator reports, which may have subsequently given rise to the urban legend of alligators that live in the sewers of New York City (again, as discussed in Loren Coleman's book Mysterious America). Most of the reports have already been uncovered and examined by Coleman and other researchers, but there may still be reports out there that have yet to see the light of day, such as one from Sept. 22, 1899, once again from the BDE:

Back in September of 1899, some boys witnessed something peculiar at 175 McKibbin street, located in the Eastern District. As the author of the article notes:

All those who came to see the animal at the Bock residence were puzzled over how it had come to wind up in a puddle in the Eastern District of Manhattan, with the boys even declaring that they had seen another alligator of similar size that they had been unable to capture. It was even speculated that there may have been more alligators lurking in the cellar, but whether this was ever proven to be true sadly remains unknown at the moment. As with most other cases of this type, the alligators were explained as being escapees:

Forget about drugs, the number one trade of illegal goods in this country must apparently be in alligators..

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

The Mapleton Phantom

As mentioned in my last post, in 1894 the town of Mapleton, Long Island experienced a ghost scare that would excite the imaginations of the town's residents and remain forever unequaled in the history of the island. The Mapleton Phantom received quite a bit of fame in its day and seems to have had even the scientific community curious about its identity. The apparition had several ghost-hunting expedtions after it in search of proof of its existence, and so this particular case is an oddity in the history of ghostly encounters and hauntings. Never again would a ghost create such excitement as to have scientific expeditions put together to track it down, and Long Island wouldn't again become famous for ghosts until the Amityville Horror hoax almost one hundred years later..

*NOTE* All articles taken (as always) from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle

1) Mapleton Slights Its Ghost (Aug. 11, 1894)

This tongue-in-cheek article, the first known mention of the Mapleton Phantom, laments that the residents of Mapleton seem to have been ignoring their resident apparition, despite a spectactular multiple-witness sighting from a train that had taken place the prior morning. Indeed, to quote a recounting of the event by Richard Larke, superintendent of the road, who was a passenger on the train at the time,

"We had just passed Woodlawn, the only station between Coney Island and Mapleton, without stopping, and had rounded the curve, when Fireman Van Pelt pulled my coat sleeve and pointed ahead, over to the left of the track. I saw what seemed to be a tall white figure. It seemed motionless at first, and you may believe me or not, but I'll take my oath that it was standing, or appeared to be standing, just where last Sunday's suicide occurred. It was tall and shadowylike. It had the appearance of a substance gradually melting into a filmy white nothing, and seemed to be covered with a long white, filmy vail. Two seconds after I saw it it began moving over toward the railroad track. It moved slowly at first, waving its long draped arms. I could see distinctly, as we approached nearer, that it motioned to us, gesticulating as one would do trying to stop a train. Engineer Mailon then saw it. He began to blow his whistle with a sucession of sharp toots and put on brakes. The thing didn't get out of the way, though it was careful to avoid the light of the head lamp, and the train was brought to a standstill. Just as the train stopped the thing glided off the track and skimmed along toward the woods, all the time gesticulating as if motioning someone to follow. It disappeared in the woods."

While the appearance of the Phantom in this particular instance was rather indistinct, the article provides a more detailed description of the apparition, presumeably based on (as of yet undiscovered by this author) prior encounters:

"It is tall and shadowylike. It melts into filmy white nothing. It has a white, filmy vail. Its arms are draped, or else it has puffed sleeves. It is about the size of a woman. It crouches. It has eyes of fire and is as big as a tree, but gets smaller when you look at it. It may have geunine feet, but perhaps they are imitation, for what use would feet be to a ghost? It can wail in a lonesome and despairing manner. Of course, it can glide. The most ordinary kind of a ghost can glide."

Scores of people riding the train claimed to have seen the ghost, but residents of Mapleton were skeptical of any claims of the paranormal, namely due to the fact that none of them had seen the phantom. Indeed, according to the Eagle article, the universal sentiment in Mapleton was that any claims of a ghost were "ridiculous". Hence, this explained why the author of the piece had lamented at its beginning that Mapleton was apathetic towards its resident ghost and its residents displayed no interest or curiousity.

Interestingly enough, as is noted above in the first quotation, the phantom had been seen right where a Margaret Barning had recently killed herself, providing a possible identity for the mysterious entity that would eventually become the hot topic of Mapleton.

2) The Ghost Bobs Up Again (Aug. 13, 1894)

Two days later the Phantom made news again, terrifying a work crew that had gone out after midnight on the Sea Beach railway, which was near the spot where the ghost had appeared to the train full of people two days prior, on August 11th. This new incident can be summarized as follows, in a direct quote from the article:

"Saturday night the Sea Beach railway had a work train out in charge of Conductor Hilger and Engineer Kirk. A gang of laborers was along. This train was on a side track just below Mapleton, near Woodlawn, waiting for the 1 o' clock train from Coney Island to pass. The latteh (sic?) train was running in two sections to accommodate the crowd. After the first section of twelve cars had gone by, Mike Clooch, one of the laborers on the work train, emitted a blood curdling yell, pointed toward the woods, where the ghost had been seen to retreat, and made for the locomotive. Everyone divined at once the cause of his fright. The other employes caught the alarm and a general panic ensued."

There was another witness to the appearance of the Phantom:

"Hilger, the conductor of the work train, declares that he saw the specter start up out of its favorite field and fly across the railroad track. This was after the first section of the 1 o'clock train had passed. It seems to indicate that the ghost had made a mistake as to the hour, and set out a little ahead of time. None of the employes on the second section of the train saw the ghost, so it seems not to have reappeared from the woods at once. So far as reported, the people on the work train were the only ones who saw it Saturday night."

In addition, other residents of Mapleton claimed to have encountered the apparition, with a Mr. Jere Lott and his coachman being among the first to run across the shadowy specter. John Hennessey, the coachman, had a particularly interesting experience with what he thought to be the Phantom, as he himself related:

"I'm the first man, I believe, who ran against that ghost. Thursday morning, about 12:30 o'clock - and that was a whole twenty-four hours before the train stopped out here to let the thing get out of the way - I was awakened by hearing a tapping at my window pane. It was gentle at first. Then it got louder and oftener. I woke up with a kind of a start, but lay right still. I thought it was birds at first, but soon found it was no bird's sound. Then I began to get up, and, as I stirred about, the tapping stopped, and I heard a brushing sound against the window and then all was still. Next morning, when I had the ghost had been seen by the train folks I knew that's what I'd heard."

Other witnesses included two servant girls working at a house near the Mapleton station who claimed to have seen the Phantom the same night of the mass sighting from the Sea Beach train, describing it as a "tall white figure skimming along over the ground". A flagman named George Washington Mills claimed to have heard a "low, despairing wail", and was indignant that his neighbors believed him to have heard nothing more supernatural than the wail of a neighborhood cat.

Just as in modern times, skeptics and debunkers put forth "explanations" to try and debunk the entire mystery, including that it was all in the minds of the witnesses or even that the ghost was nothing more than a stray pig! The Mapleton residents who claimed to have seen the specter were understandably resentful of being told that they were so ignorant or mistaken as to mistake a pig for a ghost.

3) Scientists Look For A Ghost (Aug. 22, 1894)

By now, almost ten days after the last article, a scientific expedition led by a Professor Edward Drinker Cope of the University of Penn. was put together in order to track down the mysterious Phantom. Oddly enough, the expedition was split between the scientific end and a military end, led by a Colonel John L. Burleigh. According to the article in the Eagle, the expedition met with failure as it failed to spot anything despite being camped out by the spot where Margaret Barning had shot herself, since general consensus in Mapleton by this date was that the ghost was of Margaret Barning, who was haunting the site of her suicide. However, the expedition did manage to find many more witnesses who claimed to have sighted the bizarre entity, bringing the number of people who allegedly claimed to have seen the Phantom well into the hundreds.

Although there are some elements of the different newspaper articles that are questionable, if all the accounts are to be believed, there was a genuine mystery in the town of Mapleton in 1894 that still remains unsolved over one hundred years later. My research into the case is still ongoing, but the Mapleton Phantom can safely join the ranks of strange and mysterious beings that invade our reality for a brief time only to eventually vanish back into the night.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The Freeport Ghost

As every student of Forteanea knows, during the past 70 years there have been numerous monster and "phantom attacker" scares in different parts of the country that typically shared the same characteristics: sightings of some type of bizarre entity would be reported, the locals would become scared and organize into groups to hunt down the invader, and the creature would disappear, never to be seen in those parts. Cryptozoology can point to the Momo case as one of their most famous, while the Mad Gasser of Mattoon has become one of the most widely studied "mass hysteria" incidents in Fortean history, studied not only from a Fortean point of view, but from a sociological perspective as well. However, one never hears about ghost -hunting expeditions, which makes the following account, taken from the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, all the more interesting:

As reported in the Nov. 19th, 1893 edition of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, several residents of Freeport, Long Island encountered a bizarre phantom and described it as being eight feet tall and running silently near the speed of a "trotting horse", with a long and "spooklike" beard. It first chased a Martin Beacon and, according to the article, very nearily caught him until Beacon managed to get home and slam the door shut in the face of his pursuer. Interestingly enough, the next witness, an Austin Ellison, heard a strange voice calling his name before turning to see the being dissolve into nothingness, though Ellison was able to note that the face of the figure was covered with "long white hair". It next attacked John R. Losse, who reported that it looked like a man in very ragged clothes, and then chased after Joseph Bennett and Pauline Klein, both of whom were unable to clearly describe their pursuer. At the end, the writer notes that a ghost-hunting expedition had been put together to go out and search the night after the article was published.

It is possible that some or maybe even all of the reported encounters could be chalked down to a mentally unbalanced homeless man, and the fact that Bennett and Klein were unable to describe their pursuer could mean that it was just someone suffering from a mental disorder and not a paranormal incident. However, a strike against this theory is the claim by Ellision that he saw the alleged ghost dissolve into thin air, not to mention the strange speed displayed by the phantom, who was almost able to overtake Beacon in his pursuit. The fact that Ellison also allegedly heard a voice speak to him first before he saw the ghost is interesting as well, since in most cases ghosts tend to be largely silent and not prone to speaking to witnesses (though if I am wrong on this, someone please correct me).

Up next: The Mapleton Phantom - Long Island's Great Ghost Scare

*Note* - I am very bogged down with work for classes right now, 18 credits is killer, so as I said in my last post I am trying my best to update and get back to everyone. I plan to get the Mapleton post up by Sunday night the latest, so please be patient, if you read this and I have not responded to your email yet, I will, just give me some time. Thanks.