This review first appeared on Fourth & Sycamore.
In October 2010, I retreated into a local tract of forest with some friends for the purpose of making a really bad werewolf movie. Our goal was to goof off, drink beer, and make a terrible short horror film that would amuse only ourselves. We succeeded on all counts. A samurai sword was involved, as was a large volume of fake blood and a werewolf mask that didn’t match the fur of the werewolf arms we’d had specially made. By my mom, who was a missionary in the Caribbean at the time.
I’ve found monsters fascinating since late childhood, though I’m sad to say I’ve never really believed in them. A part of me wishes I could suspend rational doubts and join the ranks of those who earnestly believe there are dogmen and lake creatures prowling the darker corners of the world. Some claim to have seen such monsters, and I do not doubt the convictions of many of these individuals. I don’t think they’ve seen what they think they’ve seen though, though I kind of wish I did. Who knows, maybe I’ll see something I can’t explain one of these nights on one of Ohio’s lonely county roads.
Linda S. Godfrey compiled as many unexplained creature sightings as she could find into her 2014 book American Monsters: A History of Monster Lore, Legends, and Sightings in America. Godfrey’s extensively researched book crisscrosses the country exposing legends, rumors, and stories as varied as the people who populate this land. She divides her book into three sections based on these beasts’ domains: Monsters by Air, Monsters by Sea, and Monsters by Land.
The first looks at flying monsters such as giant birds of no known species, batmen and other bat-like monsters, pterosaurs that have been extinct for millions of years but continue to fuel sightings from time to time, and bizarre beings like mothmen. Ohio cryptid hunters need only run across the border to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, to revel in the lore surrounding the last monster in that list, as the small town is ground zero for mothman sightings and even has an annual festival dedicated to their patron beast. Godfrey also looks in this section at flying monsters of ancient American legend, such as the Quetzalcoatl and others. In the section on sea monsters, Godfrey looks at unidentified water craft (the aquatic iterations of UFOs), merpeople, giant serpents that call to mind Scotland’s famed Loch Ness Monster, and strange sightings such as the Florida Gator Man (having lived in Florida, I can attest to there being many strange people and things there, but I never saw this bipedal reptile).
The section of the book devoted to land-based monsters features the most popular North American species from cryptozoology, werewolves and Sasquatch (Bigfoot). Sightings of dogmen or wolfmen spread across the country, and seem particularly common in the Great Lakes region. We even have a werewolf legend right here in Darke County, though sources for the story are few (as I suppose they tend to be anyway). Other beasts covered in this chapter include the entertainingly named Wampus Cat, Windigos of Native American legend, and plenty of other walking nightmares. This chapter also includes the author’s only experience with cryptids. In the book’s final chapter, Godfrey tells of a sighting she and some friends had of a Bigfoot-like creature in the Wisconsin woods.
While Godfrey is clearly fascinated by her subject and displays ample curiosity and the necessary tilt toward belief, she maintains rationality and acknowledges alternative explanations for almost every sighting in the book. She knows people’s imaginations can get away from them, and she never presents a story as plain fact. Still, she seems to trust most of the eyewitnesses who have spoken to her over the years, and presents their stories faithfully.
American Monsters is a lot of fun to read, whether you believe in cryptids or just wish you did. If you’ve ever seen a creature you couldn’t explain, let me know.