Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Movie Review: Minerva Monster

Small town.

The term conjures up certain mental images and clichés in all of us. For some, it might be Andy Griffith’s Mayberry that comes to mind, a place where everyone knows everyone else. Maybe a vision of a one- or two-chair barber shop, where all the men gather on Saturday mornings to solve the world’s problems and talk about the high school football game the night before, would occur to some. Still others might think of a quaint corner café on a town square, likely across the street from a courthouse, where the one waitress working calls everyone “Honey” but, somehow, still manages to make you feel special.

Life is not a Norman Rockwell painting, however, no matter how much it may appear to be so, and there is often more going on in a small town than first meets the eye. It is hard to keep a secret when everyone knows everyone else. Gossip and unusual goings-on are discussed voraciously, just not with outsiders. Folks are friendly but will circle the wagons quickly and look at you with a suspicious eye should you ask too many questions about one of their own. It is often difficult to penetrate this wall of suspicion, especially when the subject is something as unusual as a monster; yet, executive producer Nathan Newcomer, director Seth Breedlove and their team have managed to do just that in their new film, Minerva Monster.


The film documents the goings-on in and near the small town of Minerva, Ohio, back in the summer of 1978. Specifically, the film centers around the experiences of the Cayton family whose home seemed to be at the epicenter of the odd events. Howe Cayton convincingly and effectively relates the events that both terrified and perplexed his family during that summer: the killing of the family dog (broken neck); rocks bombarding the roof of their home from the slope above on an almost nightly basis; something raiding the family’s chicken coop and leaving behind only some brownish hair and a strong stink; and the huge creature that peeked in their kitchen window. Cayton’s story is backed up by James Shannon, Stark County Sheriff’s Deputy and Barbara Galloway, reporter for the Akron Beacon-Journal, both of whom spent quite a bit of time at the Cayton home that summer in an attempt to get to the bottom of what was going on. Deputy Shannon’s recounting is especially effective as he states clearly that he believed the family and smelled the powerful ammonia-like stench left behind by the animal himself.

While the film centers around the events of August, 1978, other Minerva residents share tales and make it clear that odd things were happening in the area as far back as 1956 and continue to this very day. Locals share stories of sightings of hairy figures darting across roads, huge creatures peeking in windows, being chased by hair-covered beings, having rocks thrown at them, finding large human-like footprints in the woods, hearing odd wood knocks and catching glimpses of a huge brown animal rummaging around in the town dump. One account comes from a hunter who spotted a tall, hirsute creature while out hunting with his son in September of 2011.

A unique aspect of the film is that only the voices of the people involved are heard. You never hear the interviewer ask a question. Not once is anyone on camera other than those telling their stories. I found this refreshing as most bigfoot-related programs these days are little more than star vehicles for the hosts or guest “experts” who weigh in with their opinions. The approach is also quite effective. Everyone featured comes across as very normal, sane, and most of all, believable. The matter-of-fact way these people relate their experiences makes them all the more intriguing. The filmmakers do not try to convince anyone of the existence of the Minerva monster, they simply allow the local residents to relate their tales. It is up to individual viewers to ponder for themselves the possibility that such creatures could exist.

The film was very well done from start to finish. The atmosphere created by Breedlove’s cinematography and the music written by Brandon Dalo sets the tone perfectly. The opening sequence is a perfect example of this as shots of everyday items and landscapes are made just slightly ominous by the combination of music and witness testimony looped over them. The sequence was beautiful in its subtlety and reels you in quickly.

If I have a criticism, and I am really picking nits here, it is that a bit too much time is spent after that beautiful opening sequence with local historians and the Mayor of Minerva discussing how the town came to be. I understand why this background is necessary, but it could have been abbreviated just a bit in order to capitalize more on the spectacular opening.

I would highly recommend the film. If you are interested in the bigfoot enigma at all, you need to see it. These are the types of stories investigators hear all the time. What these folks went through back in the summer of 1978 is at the heart of the entire phenomenon: ordinary people who experience something extraordinary and who do not really care if you believe them or not. I would warn you, though, if you are looking for dramatic recreations, over-the-top narration, or a plethora of special effects, Minerva Monster is not for you. If you are, instead, interested in what it is really like to talk to people who have seen and experienced things they cannot explain, give it a look. You will be glad you did.

After seeing Minerva Monster, you might find yourself slowing down a bit as you drive through the rural areas and small towns of our great country, realizing that there is no telling what you might see if you just take the time to look. Too, you will understand there is more to most small towns than meets the eye.

Sometimes, much more.

Minerva Monster will debut May 16 at the Ohio Bigfoot Conference. You can order a DVD here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

The Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus

The mid to late 1970’s were a time when the general public was fascinated with dangerous marine life. Steven Spielberg’ Jaws was a mega hit in the summer of 1975 and studios scrambled to make similar films about the horrors that lurked beneath the surface of rivers, lakes and oceans. Films like The Great Alligator (1979), Piranha (1978), Barracuda (1978) and The Deep (1977) capitalized on Jaws mania and moviegoers flocked to the theaters. We just could not get enough. One such film that I remember well was Tentacles (1975). It seemed promising as it featured a giant man- eating octopus and starred actors that I had actually heard of like John Huston, Shelley Winters and Henry Fonda. While the movie was a disappointment, it did make an impression. It led me to look into the question of whether or not the giant squid or a giant octopus might not be the real animal behind the kraken myth and to read all I could about sea monsters in general. I wondered, could a beast like the man-eating octopus depicted possibly be real?


I was reminded of this movie recently when I received an email from a reader asking for my opinion regarding the Oklahoma octopus. I will admit to not knowing much about the story surrounding the alleged octopus-like creature said by some to be prowling several Oklahoma lakes. I had heard a bit about the alleged creature but had not invested any time in looking into the matter. After receiving the email and reminiscing about the summers of my youth filled with movies about aquatic beasts of all kinds, I decided to learn more. I am a sucker for a good story, after all, and this tale fit the bill.

Allegedly, Native American legends going back over 200 years tell of a strange aquatic creature with a taste for human flesh. The beast is described as being the size of a horse, with reddish skin and long arms or tentacles. Today, the creature(s) is said to inhabit both Lake Thunderbird and Lake Ten Killer. According to the myth, both of these lakes have unusually high numbers of drownings and unexplained disappearances of swimmers. The legend was given credibility in the eyes of many when it was featured on an episode of the Animal Planet program Lost Tapes. Is there any truth to any of this? Is there any hard evidence to suggest that an octopus-like creature inhabits these Oklahoma lakes?


I was not able to find much in the way of evidence. As a matter of fact, I really only came up with one intriguing incident where there is physical evidence of an octopus being pulled from a freshwater reservoir and it occurred in Arkansas, Oklahoma’s neighbor to the east. On December 1, 2003, Illinois resident John Mazurek caught a fair-sized octopus that was clinging to one of the gates of the dam at Lake Conway. Mazurek was out fishing when he spotted the octopus and grabbed it. The catch was confirmed by Arkansas Fish and Game officials who said they had no idea how the octopus found its way into the reservoir. They theorized that someone had kept the octopus as a pet but dumped it in the lake once it grew too large. This certainly makes sense but the dumping would have to have taken place not too long before Mr. Mazurek came along, as the octopus was still alive when he caught it. Just how long a marine octopus could survive in a freshwater reservoir is up for debate but most would agree that it would not be very long. Regardless, the capture of a living octopus in a freshwater impoundment, even if it was in Arkansas and not Oklahoma, lends credence to the legends.

Or does it?

There are numerous problems with the idea of a population of octopus, or any other cephalopod, maintaining a breeding population in an inland freshwater lake or reservoir in Oklahoma. The first, and maybe most damning, fact is that there are no natural lakes in Oklahoma. Zero. Nada. Zilch. Every lake of any size at all in the Sooner State is a man-made reservoir. No lake in Oklahoma goes back long enough to make the alleged 200 year-old Native American legends possible. Lake Thunderbird was impounded between 1962-1965 and Lake Ten Killer, though older, was built between 1947-1952. I suspect strongly that there are no Native American legends about such a beast and that these alleged tales were added by some yarn-spinner in order to make the monster sound more plausible. Supporters of the existence of the Oklahoma octopus would likely defend the myths by stating that the creatures lived in the rivers of the state prior to the impoundment of the reservoirs but this is a tough one to swallow, in my opinion, as I have found zero evidence that suggests Native Americans believed such an animal existed. I have found no documentation of these legends and been unable to find anyone who can tell me what tribe(s) is affiliated with the myths (If I am incorrect on this and there are credible sources documenting tribal legends regarding these creatures, please email me and let me know).

Many will argue that other marine animals can survive just fine in freshwater environments. Certainly, there are some such cases. The bull shark, stingray and, on rare occasions, jellyfish are the poster children for this argument. I would simply counter by asking, is there even one species of cephalopod that has demonstrated this ability anywhere in the world? To my knowledge, the answer is no. I do not feel the bull shark/stingray argument is valid in this case.


I might be more open-minded to the possibility of a freshwater octopus if the bodies of water they allegedly inhabit were closer to the coast. For example, if a beast like this were being described in the brackish waters of Sabine Lake in southeast Texas, Lake Pontchartrain in southwest Louisiana or even a river or reservoir a bit more inland like Toledo Bend in east Texas, it would be more plausible. Oklahoma is just too far away from a marine environment to be the home of a large breeding population of cephalopods.

Still other hardcore believers in the octopus legend point to the episode of the Animal Planet series Lost Tapes that featured the creature. The episode centers around a rather unconvincing bit of video where a splash is heard and the videographer wheels to his left in time to catch a glimpse of what might be a tentacle sinking back into the water. To be blunt, the Lost Tapes series is a complete farce that falls into the same category of other mockumentaries produced by Animal Planet’s parent, The Discovery Channel, that featured megalodon and mermaids. It is simply a travesty that these programs are produced at all on allegedly educational networks much less that said networks bill them as being factual. Anyone putting their faith in the existence of the Oklahoma octopus based solely on the fact that it was featured on an episode of Lost Tapes is building their argument on a foundation of sand and setting themselves up for embarrassment.

There are other points to be made that make the existence of the Oklahoma octopus unlikely, at best. Most of these points are addressed quite nicely by Elizabeth Bergey, Ph. D of the Oklahoma Biological Survey in the video below. This presentation was created by Matt Korstjens and posted on Caleb Lack’s Great Plains Skeptic website. The video takes a couple of detours regarding other exotic invasive species in North America and the unreliability of eye-witness testimony that are a bit distracting but the interview with Dr. Bergey is solid. Take a look.



Some may think it odd that a guy that believes bigfoot and black panthers are real flesh and blood animals would doubt the existence of another alleged cryptid. That is okay. The truth is that I simply do not believe everything I hear. Even someone as open-minded to the possible existence of undocumented animals as I am needs more to go on that what is available regarding the Oklahoma octopus. Based on what I have been able to find, and it is not much, I do not feel there is anything to the legend. It is too bad really. What a great story it would be. In the end, however, it is almost certainly just that alone, a good story.


Sources:

Lack, Caleb. "Behold, the Legend of the Oklahoma Octopus." Great Plains Skeptic. 4 Jan. 2014. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

"Fisherman Catches Octopus in Lake Conway." THV11.com. Associated Press, 4 Dec. 2003. Web. 5 Apr. 2015. .

Bergey, Ph. D., Elizabeth. "Liz Bergey's Page." Bergey Lab. University of Oklahoma, 1 Jan. 2006. Web. 4 Apr. 2015. .



Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Wisdom of Rene Dahinden


"Something is making those damned tracks."

- Rene Dahinden


Enough said.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Why Didn't I Shoot?

I apologize for being absent for so long. As I mentioned on the Facebook page a little over a week ago, I had to have some minor surgery. The procedure was supposed to be pretty simple and take only 45 minutes to an hour to complete. Things turned out to be more complicated than the doctors anticipated, however, and the procedure that was supposed to take less than an hour turned into 4 hours on the table for me. Naturally, this lengthened the planned recovery time as well. I am now pretty much back to normal and will be trying to get back into the swing of things. This post, while not the topic I had intended for my first article back, is an attempt to do that.

Recently, I was interviewed by Jim Harold for his Paranormal Podcast program. You can download/stream the interview here. During the course of the interview, Jim asked me about the visual I had of what I believe to have been a wood ape in the Sam Houston National Forest in May of 2005 (you can read my account of this sighting here). During this portion of the interview, I mentioned several reasons why I felt it was highly unlikely what I witnessed was a person perpetrating a hoax. Toward the end of my relating of the account, I mentioned, somewhat in jest, that one of the reasons I believe a hoax to have been unlikely was that, “This is Texas. Everybody has a gun. This guy would have been taking his life in his hands running around in an ape suit” (paraphrase). I say “somewhat in jest” because, obviously, not every Texan owns a gun and of those that do, not everyone carries one everywhere they go. The comment was an attempt to inject a bit of levity into the interview while still making a valid point. That point being, while not every Texan carries a gun, a LOT of them do, making a hoax along these lines a very dangerous undertaking.

I received a comment from someone called “Bobodean” regarding the interview and that comment in particular. His (I am assuming the commenter is a male) comment is below:

“Regarding your siting (sic)... if everyone in Texas carries a gun...why didnt (sic) you shoot?”

I cannot be sure whether this commenter is asking a serious question or if he is taking a dig of some kind at me. I suspect it is the latter. Even if that is the case, at the heart of the comment lays a legitimate question, actually more than one. Was I carrying a gun that night as I claim so many Texans do? If so, why did I not attempt to collect the specimen I feel is necessary in order to prove the existence of the wood ape/sasquatch? These questions are fair enough so, here goes.


Was I carrying a gun that night? Yes, I was. I hold a CHL (concealed handgun license) here in the state of Texas and was legally carrying a sidearm that night. According to the latest data I could find, and I am very open to being corrected if there is more current data out there, there are in excess of 500,000 CHL holders in Texas. While this is a significant number, many might find it surprisingly low for a state with a population of approximately 26,528,398 as of 2013. Part of the reason more Texans do not obtain a CHL is that it is legal to carry a firearm in your vehicle here without a license. One only needs a CHL if they wish to carry a concealed weapon after they leave their vehicle. How many unlicensed Texans carry a weapon in their vehicle? Your guess is as good as mine on that, but I will say that the number increases every day. I also think it is safe to assume more Texans living in rural areas carry a weapon in their vehicle than those living in urban areas. So, you see, while I was attempting to bring a bit of levity to the interview when I mentioned the risk any would be hoaxers would be taking by donning an ape suit and traipsing about a lonely forest service road in rural Texas, the point is valid. A lot of Texans, including me, carry a weapon on their person or in their vehicle. To attempt to perpetrate such a hoax is almost suicidal in nature. I was not being hypocritical, as “Bobodean” seems to be implying, by making the statement I did. I was carrying that night. I know many, many other fellow Texans do the same on a daily basis and anyone attempting to perpetrate some kind of bigfoot hoax in this part of the world is taking a huge risk because of it.

Fine, you may think. Point taken. It still does not explain why you did not shoot that night. That is true enough. So, why did I not take the shot?

There are many reasons.

The sighting was fleeting. As detailed in my report, I was sitting in the front passenger seat looking out to the right of the vehicle when my friend brought the car to a stop and asked, “What is that?” I turned, leaned forward to get a better look and watched the subject turn and walk from the road into the woods to our left. The entire incident lasted only a few seconds. There is simply no way I could have unstrapped my seat belt, exited the vehicle, drawn my weapon and fired before the subject disappeared into the forest.

Having said that, and I feel this is very important, I would not have done so even if there had been more time. The first rule taught in any hunting safety course is that you must absolutely, positively identify your target before drawing a bead and pulling the trigger. You get no “do overs” once you take a shot. You have to be sure.
I was not sure what I was looking at that night, not initially. Even though I was out looking and hoping for this exact scenario, it took several seconds for my mind to work out exactly what was standing in that road. By the time I realized what I was likely seeing, it was gone. It is only in hindsight that I have become absolutely convinced what I saw that night was a living, breathing wood ape and not a man in a costume of some kind. Re-enactments, comparative measurements, etc. confirm that what I thought was “man-sized” was actually much larger. I did not have the luxury of all that data that night in 2005. I had only a few fleeting seconds in which to decide what to do. As has been established, I would not have had the time to fire a shot anyway but, even if I had been walking down that road, instead of riding shotgun in a vehicle, and able to draw my weapon quickly, I would still not have taken the shot. I simply could not be sure of what was in front of me in that moment. I do not feel this diminishes the truth behind my statement about a hoaxer taking his life in his hands by pulling a stunt along these lines, however, as there are a lot of folks out there who are less disciplined when it comes to what they are willing to shoot at and under what circumstances.

There are other reasons. I am sure most of you have read accounts where hunters claiming to have had a wood ape in their sights did not pull the trigger because they felt they “didn’t have enough gun.” I certainly fell into that category that night. I was carrying a 9mm semi-automatic handgun that is meant more for self-defense “fight in a phone booth” situations than for taking down big game at 40 yards. I could go on but I am sure you get the idea by now.

Again, while I get the feeling that “Bobodean” was taking a dig at me, he did touch on an aspect of my sighting that I have never explained in detail before. I think this post should serve to explain why I made the statement I did in the interview with Jim Harold and why, despite being armed that night, I did not take the shot.

Any more questions?

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Jim Harold's Paranormal Podcast Interview

I was interviewed recently by Jim Harold of The Paranormal Podcast on the topic of wood apes/bigfoot. The interview is now up and ready for listening/download.

I was a little nervous at first but I think, overall, it went well. Jim was gracious, professional and respectful of the topic. Give it a listen. I hope you enjoy it.

You can listen to/download the podcast here.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The NAWAC Releases the Ouachita Project Monograph

The mission of the North American Wood Ape Conservancy is to facilitate official recognition and conservation of what it believes is a rare unlisted North American anthropoid species. Pursuant to those objectives, the organization has focused its time and resources in the Ouachita Mountain Ecoregion, dispatching teams to conduct prolonged searches and document all pertinent observations in a location with a history of reported sightings of large ape-like creatures.


The investigations, conducted over the course of four years, ranged from sixty to one hundred twenty days in duration, and produced experiences, evidence, and information thought to be significant, though not definitive to the point of validating the existence of a native North American anthropoid species. Some of the more notable thoughts and impressions recorded by scores of NAWAC team members are described and discussed in the Ouachita Project monograph.

If you entertain the possibility that the North American wood ape might exist, then this is something you are going to want to read. Visit the NAWAC website to download your copy and gain access to more than a dozen of the most intriguing audio clips recorded by the NAWAC in the place we call X.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Mountain Lion Sighted, and Photographed, in Bremond, Texas

I received an email last week from a reader in Bremond, Texas detailing experiences with a mountain lion there over the last several days. The lady who wrote the email described losing multiple chickens to the predator. She also claimed to have had a pig injured by the cat. Her email is below. Please note, I have redacted the reader’s last name. I do not know if she would want that revealed. I can tell you that the last name was provided in the original email.


“We live in Bremond, Texas. This cat was on our back porch last night and killed 14 chickens and one of our mini pot bellied pigs from 4:30pm to 6:00pm... we left at 4:30, pig and chickens were fine, came back home about 6:00 and chickens were dead everywhere and pig was tore up in the flank. Then this cat was on our back porch.

Bridget *****”



I get a lot of emails along these lines. Most of the time, the readers who are reporting the incidents never see the predator responsible and can only speculate as to what the culprit might have been. This time is different. Bridget provided not only photos of tracks, but a shot of the cat itself as it sat on her porch. There is no doubt that the cat in the photo is a cougar.

I have replied to Bridget asking for some additional information and permission to visit the property, as it is not far from where I live. I have yet to hear back from her. I have been holding the photo for about a week in the hopes that I would have some more details on the incident but decided to move forward, rather than waiting any longer. I still hope to hear back from Bridget and get some additional details.


Critics will, no doubt, consider the fact that this reader has yet to respond to my queries as a sign something fishy is going on with this report. Certainly, that is possible; however, I feel like this report is likely genuine. The email I received was a matter of fact run down of what happened with no embellishment. Generally, this is a good sign. Could this be a hoax? I suppose so. I really do not get that feeling, however.


Bremond is located in central Texas and is considered to be outside of the normally accepted range of mountain lions in the Lone Star State. According to the Texas Parks & Wildlife, “The Mountain Lion is found throughout the Trans-Pecos, as well as the brushlands of south Texas and portions of the Hill Country.” TPWD does concede, however that, “Sighting and kill reports indicate that mountain lions now occur in more counties than they did 10 years ago and appear to be expanding their range into central Texas.” My experiences, along with the many anecdotal reports I have received would seem to confirm this last statement.

As stated above, I do hope to hear back from Bridget and, possibly, visit the property. Whether that happens or not, mountain lions seem to be making a nice comeback in Texas and are beginning to refill a niche that has long been vacant in most of the Lone Star State. As they do so, there are bound to be some clashes between these predators and rural property owners. Hopefully, lions and people will be able to learn to coexist. I would hate to lose these majestic cats again from all but the westernmost and southernmost parts of Texas.

If that occurs, these magnificent cats might not get another chance.


References:

"Mountain Lion (Puma Concolor)." Texas Parks & Wildlife. Web. 2 Mar. 2015. <http://tpwd.texas.gov/huntwild/wild/species/mlion/>.