Tuesday, June 12, 2018

Back again, after a long time...

It's been a long time since I've posted here. A little updating for you.

It's been a few years since Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania came out. I'm thinking about republishing a second edition of it since there's quite a few new stories I've heard since it was originally written. I'm not 100% sure on whether I'll do that or not. But I definitely am working on another book called The Sable Terror, about the phenomenon of "ghost playing" in the United States and a recounting of some interesting urban ghost stories, mostly from the 1860s through the 1920s. Most of the research for that is done (though a few more stories trickle in from time to time) and it's mostly a matter of figuring out how I'm going to present the information and putting it together. So that's still a while off, but it's in the works.

Over on the left, there's now an "Articles" section up top. It has links to a few things I've written. I'm meaning to use this blog as a clearinghouse for most of my stuff - articles I've written that have disappeared into the electronic ether, links to other things I've written around the Internet, etc.

Lastly, I'm changing the focus of this blog off of exclusively Pennsylvania and Maryland and to just general pieces on Fortean stuff. No longer strictly cryptozoological, either, as my focus as a researcher has changed a bit. Poltergeist phenomena especially has become one of my main interests; particularly the links between it and cases of demonic possession and also its links to the "house spirits" (domovoi, etc.) of the Old World.

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania - Out Now!

It's actually been out for a few weeks (I originally wrote years. Yeah, OK), but Mystery Animals of Pennsylvania is now out. It's also on Barnes & Noble, but for whatever reason I can't seem to find any actual links to purchase it off of there...

Here's some of the topics:

- Bizarre creatures associated with hex traditions

- Out-of-place alligators and other animals

- The Jersey Devil

- Montie the Monster

- The Dorlan Devil

- Thunderbirds

- Bigfoot

- Ice elementals in the northern mountains

- Other bizarre humanoid creatures

- Plus, a lengthy article describing a circus train wreck near Altoona that gave rise to several out-of-place animal reports

Sunday, September 23, 2012

The Field & Stream trail cam photo

The photograph on the right is making its rounds on the Bigfoot websites around the internet. Now, while we don't know that this picture was taken in Pennsylvania - or even on the East Coast - it has been noted that it looks to be very similar to the infamous Jacobs photos (possibly showing a Bigfoot, or, much more likely, a mangy or underfed bear) which likewise made the circuit a few years back.

The newer photo, to me, seems like it may have been Photoshopped, in part: the body and head of the creature don't seem to jive. While the body displays motion blur, the head looks very static. It also, in my opinion, doesn't look necessarily apelike. Most likely scenario to me is that it is a genuine photograph of a running bear, with the ursine's head Photoshopped out and replaced with a more apish head.

Original image source: Field & Stream

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Berwick bug was an ankle-biter

From the Frederick (Maryland) News (August 24, 1901), comes this little tidbit:
The "ankle bug" has taken the place of the "kissing bug" in some localities. In Berwick, Pa., a number of persons have been crippled as the result of its bite. As yet the insect has not been identified, and is known only as the "ankle bug." Persons wearing shoes, with open work stockings, are easy prey.
The "kissing bug" to which this alludes is an interesting case, and one into which little research has ever been done. First mentioned by Charles Fort in Wild Talents, this was a veritable plague of insect bites which swept from Washington, DC, and thence across the country, in 1899. Most have been content to call it mass hysteria and be done with it - while it undoubtedly was mass hysteria in which any sort of biting or stinging insect was labelled "kissing bug", I don't believe its true origins lie in hysteria. That said, the "ankle bug" seems to be much the same.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Return of the 'Monk'

Some months ago, I posted about the wild animal which terrorized the Latrobe area in the late summer and autumn of 1945. Although it was usually said to be a monkey, it's tempting to think of it as possibly a juvenile Bigfoot, since, after all, this is on the Chestnut Ridge. It seems to have first appeared in the Crabtree area and the predominant theory was that the animal was an escapee from a circus, according to the Pittsburgh article cited below.

A young boy from Lloydsville, Jerry Nolan, ran into his home in late August, having been chased by a monkey from a field. The boy's mother looked out a window to see the animal swiping at their furiously barking dog. After it struck at the dog, it turned tail and jumped over a four-foot fence. Latrobe police, gamesman Robert Reed, and veteran hunter John Horne went to Lloydsville to search for the ape, but to no avail ("Monkey, If There Is One, Still Eludes Folks of Latrobe Region", Connellsville Daily Courier, August 27, 1945).

On September 13, James Poole of Greensburg was bitten on the neck and hands by a monkey which dropped from a tree onto his shoulders. He was treated at Westmoreland Hospital by Dr. C.C. Crouse ("Greensburg Man Bitten By Monkey", Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Sept. 13, 1945).

This and the previous post constitute the extent of my knowledge on this case - at this time, anyway.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Red Devil-Bat of Chester

From the New Castle News (August 24, 1928):
A strange creature termed a "devil" caused a sensation in the rooming house of Mrs. Mary Strichter here early on Thursday [August 23].

Awakened by the "devil" flying into the room where she was asleep, Mrs. Andrew Turk, a daughter, screamed, arousing her husband who found the strange creature hiding behind a curtain. Seizing a chair he knocked it down and aided by several roomers bundled the creature into a rug and hurled it through a window, according to her story.

Mrs. Turk described the "devil" as being about three feet broad with a bright scarlet body and two protruding horns. It made a continuous buzzing sound, she said.

Neighbors when they learned of the incident nodded their heads knowingly and re-asserted that the house was "haunted". The occupant of the home prior to the advent of the Strichter family was a lone old lady who kept a number of rooms locked and barred. Rumors were current following the episode that one of these rooms had been unlocked.
Maybe someone saw a bat and majorly freaked out?

This may have occurred at 719 Mill Street, according to the obituary of Mrs. Stichter (minus the R), which I found in the Chester Times for July 6, 1937. That is the address where it says she lived with her husband, Horace, and it also lists a daughter, but gives her name as Mrs. Anthony Turek, not Andrew Turk. This all sounds close enough for me.

This location, it seems, isn't very far from where a Chester man was pursued by the Jersey Devil -- "with wings like a bat and a long tail the end of which looked like the point of an arrow" -- which rose from the fog and gave chase along Engle Street, disappearing near the elevated railroad tracks, on the night of January 21, 1909.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

A precursor to the Yardley Yeti?

A few days ago, I received a message from Johnathan Lackey describing a sighting, which took place in Bucks County, of something that seems similar to many of the descriptions of the Garden State's most famous monstrous resident, the Jersey Devil. It's interesting that several reports of the Jersey Devil made during the week of January 16-23, 1909 were made in Bucks County (in Bristol, Wycombe and Morrisville).

The actual sighting took place in 1977, when Lackey was a resident of Levittown. While driving south of Bowman's Tower (a landmark on the border of Upper Makefield and Solebury Townships) a creature leapt from the right side of the road. The creature was about the color of a deer and roughly the size of a medium-sized dog. It had a body similar in build to a greyhound, a monkey-like face (which seemed to have a sheen to it), a long tail with a black tip, and rather long legs. It seemed to have a pair of owl-like wings, which were kept motionless as it moved across the road, leapt, and glided down the hillside opposite where it had emerged.

The area where this was seen has its own share of weirdness. Although the derivation of the Bowman name is unclear, one of the theories is a Dr. John Bowman, a crewman of the notorious Captain Kidd who was believed to have settled in eastern Pennsylvania and supposed in legend to have buried a treasure on the hill the tower is on. There was also a copper mine, probably of German construction, found on the hill by accident in 1854. In other posts, I've mentioned hearing about a phantom wolf on Solebury Hill -- I had actually seen that reference so long ago that I wonder if I was actually remembering a legend associated with this spot, buried treasure and phantom dogs having a long pedigree of relationship.

Friday, September 23, 2011

The devil went down to Maryland (1909)

From the Denton (Md.) Journal, January 30, 1909:
The “what-is-it” that made its first appearance in Greensboro on or about January 16th has been the subject of a great deal of speculation. What is the thing whose tracks are so much like those of a horse or mule, and travels where horses and mules cannot possibly go? Some of the footprints seemed to show that the hoof making them wore an iron shoe, even to the nails in the shoe. Many of these tracks were observed in Greensboro on the 17th inst., and were viewed carefully by many good-thinking citizens of the community, including Messrs. Joseph B. Orrell, R.D. Clark, William Sipple, Rev. J.H. Beauchamp, and a number of others. Nearly every garden in Greensboro bore marks of the presence of the strange animal. Some people are afraid they will meet it along the road, but many regard the thing as a myth, although none can give any explanation at all of the presence of the tracks. It is said it has but little use for some colored people, and dogs are so afraid of it that they will not go near its tracks. The animal, the writer was told, passed through a porch near town, knocking out the watch-dog, but was so swift in its movements that it could not be seen. It left traces of remarkable speed all about the place.

That the “air-horse” did not confine his operations to Greensboro seems to be proven by a Goldsboro correspondent, who writes: “The 'what-is-it' kept our people guessing for a week or ten days, and some of our timid and nervous ones in of nights. None, however, had the opportunity of making its acquaintance or of meeting it in combat.”

The accompanying drawing was made by Mr. J.V. Hauck, the Philadelphia Bulletin artist, from descriptions given him. The animal, bird or devil is said to be about three feet and a-half high, with a head like a collie dog and a face like a horse. It has a long neck, wings several feet in length, and back and legs like a crane, with horse's or mule's hoofs. It walked on its hind legs and held up two short front ones, with paws on them. Those who saw the creature said it didn't use the front legs at all while they were watching.

For some time after the jabberwock's tracks appeared it is said several well-known citizens did not like to leave the fireside's cheerful glow after the shades of night had fallen. If they were called away late in the afternoon they did not tarry; they wanted to go home – and they went.

One theorist has it that these strange visitors are from the fathomless caverns deep in the earth, and that the upheavals caused by the great earthquake in Southern Europe set them free, and that they are thus, as Shakespeare says, “doomed for a while to walk the night.”

The Centreville Observer last week said: “Rivalling in mystery and wonderment the days when hobgoblins and grotesque figures followed in the wake of giants that were then supposed to abound, is the strange animal which for the past few days has infested the districts of Barclay, Sudlersville and Roberts. Although evident everywhere by its tracks, not a single person has laid eyes upon the creature, human or supernatural, whatever it may be. The tracks first became noticeable after the snow of last week, first in Sudlersville and afterwards in the two other towns. In Sudlersville and Barclay the tracks were mostly in open fields close to woods, althoguh they were seen right in the heart of the former place. Upon coming to a woods the tracks vanish, leaving the impression that the animal might be a gorrilla [sic] or some climbing creature. At Roberts only was the size of the creature anywhere near ascertainable, and then the facts were brought out so vividly and startlingly that the tracks were soon abandoned by curiosity ridden hunters. The tracks came from the woods near Roberts, passed across an open field and under a bunch of brush only about two feet high, without disturbing it in the least, and passed between two trees not more than six inches apart. The prints are almost eight inches apart and are shaped like a hoof, being about 2 ½ inches wide and a little longer. Some have believed that it is the evil one prowling about in their vicinities, but as yet no signs of horns, pitchforks, or other necessary accompaniments have been discovered. Persons of a less superstitious nature think that it is some animal that has escaped from a passing show and spent the winter there.”

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Clarion County whatzit (1940)

Several representatives of a Pittsburgh zoo have joined residents in the Leeper and Snydersburg area in search for a strange animal said to have been seen in the district, according to reports received from Leeper. The animal is said to be about the size of a sheep with a head resembling that of a pig and a tail resembling that of a cow.

:: Warren Times-Mirror (August 5, 1940)

It's not made clear, but this seems to have been in Clarion County and in a pretty funky turn of coincidence, the article immediately below this one on the page mentions a state policeman named K.W. Leeper.

As to exactly what the creature was, I'm drawing somewhat of a blank. The piglike head summons up images of ursines, and its presumably possible that it could have been a mangy bear with a tufted tail similar to a cow's (though it wouldn't have been long enough) but it's also possible that it was a coyote. Coyotes possibly began to appear in Pennsylvania around this time (notwithstanding Henry W. Shoemaker's theories that some of what were historically called wolves in Pennsylvania were actually coyotes), probably either a mangy one or one with a tail denuded for some reason.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The summer of exotic animals (1987)

The summer of 1987 saw several tales of 'alien animals' in Bucks County, just north of Philadelphia.

A monkey was seen on July 15 in a cornfield along State Road in the area of Cutoff Road. A motorist driving the road said that a monkey "with an armful of sweet corn" ran across the road and into a wooded area. Police questioned farmers as to sightings of the monkey, but none had made any - unless it was the troublesome primate which had stolen no less than four rows of corn from one field.

(It should be noted that another erratic ape - the so-called "Monk" - seen in Latrobe in 1945 had a similar hankering for corn.)

But by Wednesday of that week, the monkey had moved on and was reported from the part of the township nearest the Lehigh County border. Shortly after ten o'clock that morning, the monkey had crossed the border into Coopersburg, Lehigh County where it was seen a few times scampering along on people's porches and splashing through swimming pools.

This monkey, though, was only "aping" a previously made sighting. On July 6, another monkey - this one a rhesus - was seen in East Rockhill Township in the area of Old Bethlehem Pike and Rich Hill Road. But while it might be tempting to speculate that the East Rockhill and Springfield monkeys were the same, such was apparently not the case as sightings of both were made on the same day. Most likely these monkeys were escapees from animal testing outfits (the Buckshire Corporation, which is involved in animal testing, is located in nearby Dublin and a monkey which roamed the area in 1984 was an escapee from Buckshire).

On about July 16, a two-foot long iguana was captured hiding in a bush in Doylestown. However, it was discovered that the reptile was one which had escaped from its owner on July 9.

Only two days after the saga of the Bucks/Lehigh monkey began, on July 17, two policemen in Nockamixon Township reported seeing a panther. Police later received many other reports of the large feline. A local store jokingly put a $100 bounty on the head of the cat, but that was later retracted after complaints from the Pennsylvania Game Commission.

On the same day that the monkey crossed into Lehigh, officials from the Philadelphia Zoo declared that the tracks of the "panther," which had been recovered, were merely those of a large dog. However, they were careful not to discount the possibility of some sort of large cat frequenting the area. The area is favorably close to where Tunis Brady shot his cat.

The next day, police in Bedminster Township reported that "People just called in... to say they saw a 24-inch long bobcat or panther. The people approached the animal. It let them get close and then scurried away."

Even the size of this one tallies well with a smallish bobcat or domestic cat. As many folks have shown time and time again, a large domestic cat is all that many reported "panthers" turn out to be.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Update: Adamstown UFOs (1869)

I've since found that, though it's not mentioned in the original article, on the day of the sighting there was also a solar eclipse. The solar eclipse did produce luminous phenomena (seen by astronomers in Kentucky, Iowa and Ohio) which were seen crossing the eclipsed disk. Being those lights were in the air, I'm not sure how they're relevant to ground-based phenomena, but they could be.

Berks County Birdman

After the reports of the New Oxford winged humanoid were posted, Phantoms and Monsters also received a report of an eerily similar being in Mertztown, Berks County. Mertztown is in Longswamp Township, in the eastern portion of the county nearest Lehigh. Berks County has a veritable ton of bizarre reports, and most relevant to this critter are a ghostly white bird which haunts Hawk Mountain and a sighting of something at least called the Jersey Devil in Reading in 1909. There are persistent legends of a "fiery dragon" near Virginville.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The dragon-man of New Oxford

Lon over on Phantoms and Monsters has some interesting posts on the sightings of a winged humanoid near New Oxford, Adams county. The creature was sighted in 1988 and twice in the summer of 2008.

As discussed in the article given above, an animal called the "Jersey Devil" was seen in neighboring York county back in 1910. This also may be similar to a "gargoyle" seen in Lancaster (discussed in Mysterious Pennsylvania).

Thursday, May 5, 2011

One for the doctors: the Stone Child (1880)

From the Lancaster Daily Intelligencer (January 10, 1880):
The petrified child in the family of J.A. Kinsley, of New Philadelphia, continues to attract general attention, and is considered by all who have seen it to be the wonder of wonders. The hardness has gradually spread over the entire body, some portions being so hard that not the slightest indentation can be made. The case is said to be without parallel in the history of the country, and the singular disease has thus far baffled all medical skill. How the child can live in this solidified state is the greatest mystery. The parents are greatly grieved over its sad affliction, and are doing everything in their power for its relief.
I'm not a medical expert, so there may be a better candidate, but I would submit the possibility that this was a case of fibrodysplasia ossificans progressiva (FOP), a degenerative disorder in which the muscles turn to bone, paralyzing the victim. The Mütter Museum in Philadelphia has in its collection the skeleton of an individual named Harry Eastlack, who died in 1973 at age 40. At the end of his life, Eastlack was able to move only his lips. However, from what I've been able to gather it would be extremely rare (though nothing's impossible) for FOP to be so pronounced in childhood.

The skeptic in me, though, is also doubting the account somewhat, based on a singular lack of detail about the afflicted child: no name, sex, or even age is given.

UPDATE: The doctors at the time labelled this an advanced case of scleroderma. This also took place in Ohio, not Pennsylvania.

Monday, May 2, 2011

An armadillo found in New Castle (1927)

From the New Castle News (Oct. 11, 1927):
Throngs of people were busy all morning at the window of the C. Ed. Smith Hardware company store on East Washington street, viewing the strange animal captured by Dewitt Gormley in the corn patch of Wesley Gormley, his father, who resides on the Harlansburg road.

The strange animal was eating corn, when discovered and captured. The animal has been found to be an Armadillo, a native of the warm climate of Mexico and other far southern countries.

It has a hard shell covering on its body, which is in the nature of armor plate to it, protecting it from its enemies. It can and does draw its head into the shell when the occasion demands it. It can run and jump with ease and great speed.

How this strange animal of the tropical clime came to be stealing its food in the corn patch of the Gormley farm is not known. It is thought possible that it may have been at the New Castle Fair and escaped from its owner at that time.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

The 'Monk' of Wildcat Hollow (1945)

This has to take the prize for most misleading name in the annals of Forteana. While it gives the impression of a clerical, cassock-wearing phantom, this beast was nothing of the sort, being a "large rhesus monkey or a chimpanzee" that roamed the area between Latrobe and Ligonier in 1945.

The first real mention of the so-called 'monk' came on September 7, when an article appearing in the Altoona Mirror mentioned that the Reed School had been closed the day before due to sightings of the weird creature. It leapt into the midst of a corn roast being held at the school on the night of September 5, making off with two ears and displaying no fear of humankind. I'm assuming this was the incident which led to the closing of the school - as a local game warden (coincidentally also named Reed) said, "The parents won't let their children out of the house so long as the thing is on the loose. And we can't blame them." Reed had also been investigating the animal for a month, so presumably there's some earlier sightings, though I haven't seen them.

One of the witnesses to the animal was Paul Claycomb of Marietta, who said the 100-pound beast broke into his chicken house and stole one of the birds. His dog "almost broke down the door trying to get in the house when that thing came along."

Another article, appearing in the Indiana Evening Gazette the next day, reported another sighting of the beast, made the previous night. Two boys near Norvel, Norman White and Joseph Seville, were out in Seville's backyard with their dogs when they began to growl - swiveling their flashlights around the yard revealed the animal hiding nearby. One of the ubiquitous hunting parties was formed, but like practically every posse hunting a weird creature ever formed, all was for naught and they came up empty-handed.

And there the story seems to materialize and end. A predominant theory mentioned was that the ape escaped from a circus about six weeks before - isn't that the theory on any animal found where they aren't supposed to be?

This is probably the earliest sighting of a simian nature from the Chestnut Ridge I'm aware of, the Chestnut Ridge area of Westmoreland and Fayette counties being, apparently, the domain of Pennsylvania's resident Bigfoot population.

As a fun 'name game' aside, Wildcat Hollow might, or might not, be named after another weird creature - an article following up on the 1922 shooting of a long-tailed wildcat shot near Tinicum, Bucks county, says that the cats also inhabited the Chestnut Ridge.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Cloak Man of Clifton Heights

Since I turned up the first reference to the Cloak Man (from the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger) a few days ago, I've been looking around for more information on the entity. Some articles in the Chester Times shed a bit more light on it. The first one, which was published in that newspaper on September 25, 1916, has a first paragraph largely identical to the Philadelphia story I first turned up, but then goes on to reveal much more information than that piece did.
A mysterious stranger, man or woman, wearing a long black cloak and a black hood over the head, has caused much excitement in the borough the past few evenings and not a few women as well as some men have become thoroughly frightened by this mysterious creature, now called a "cloak man." The excitement ran high on Saturday night when the appearance of the cloak man who stopped several young couples on Walnut street, near Fairview avenue, caused the gathering of several young men in a few minutes. Headed by Chief of Police McGowan and Officer Kelly, they started in search for the stranger.

On Saturday night [November 23] shortly before 11 o'clock, Joseph Austin, of Berkley avenue, was accompanying a young woman to her home. While walking on Walnut street, near Fairview avenue, a tall person, wearing a long black cloak and a hood, stepped in front of Austin and the young woman. He pushed his long hands into the young man's face and muttered something inaudible. Austin's hair raised his hat, while the young lady was badly frightened by the sudden appearance of the cloaked person, who did not harm the couple, but turned swiftly and fled.

Austin, after accompanying the young woman to her home, returned to Baltimore avenue, where he informed Chief McGowan. The news spread quickly and in less than ten minutes several hundred men started a hunt for the cloak man, but he was not found. Several young men did locate a cloaked person in a small orchard on Walnut street and Fairview avenue but the mysterious one dashed out of the place and soon disappeared.

Just what the object of the cloak man is no one seems to know and it will require some police work to capture the stranger at the earliest possible moment. Many years ago a cloak man annoyed young girls in the borough and it required several weeks to capture him. Finally the late J.M. Lungen, then officer of the borough, caught the man, whose name was Stillwagon.
I'm engaged in an attempt to discover more about the previous cloak man mentioned, but have thus far been unsuccessful. At any rate, the tale continued in the papers the next day -- and it begins to display some of those pesky genderbending tendencies I've discussed before.
The cloak man is still alive and doing business in the borough. On Sunday night [November 24] he succeeded in eluding the police, despite the fact that Chief of Police McGowan disguised himself. When the police would be in one section of the borough looking for the cloak man, the mysterious fellow who, on Sunday night was dressed in woman's attire, with a long black cloak, would be in some other part of the town. In fact he was playing hide and seek with the police and others who were looking for him.

Some persons are of the impression that he is a man who is anxious to catch his erring wife. If this be the case, the offended husband is taking a wrong method of catching the other man, because there are many young men who have made up their mind to make the cloak man a victim for the undertaker, if attacked.

On Sunday night lovers did not promenade on the usually quiet or dark streets, but Baltimore and Springfield avenues were the boulevards of lovers' walks. The appearances of the cloak man has also driven every "kiddy" in the town off the street after dark and all they talk about is the cloak man.
Finally, on November 29, a final notice appeared. After this, the cloak man disappeared as mysteriously as he, she, or it, appeared.
Johnnie Get your Gun [what an amazingly random headline]

The "cloak man" is still strolling about the borough every evening and despite the best efforts of Chief McGowan and other persons who have been keeping a sharp look-out for the cloak man, he has not been captured. Ladies and children will not travel at night unless escorted by their husbands, fathers or beaus. The "cloak man" has been seen by men every night, but only at a distance, because it is now believed that the fellow is a little afraid of the men, hence it is that he keeps a good distance from the police.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Cloak Man of Clifton Heights, Jack the Terror, and a giant snake

From the Philadelphia Evening Public Ledger (Sept. 26, 1916):
A MYSTERIOUS STRANGER, man or woman, wearing a long black cloak and black hood, has caused much excitement in Clifton Heights the past few evenings, and not a few women as well as some or all of the men have become thoroughly frightened by this mysterious creature, now called a "cloak man."
From the Pittsburgh Dispatch (Aug. 25, 1889):
A Man Disguised in Woman's Clothes Scares Southside Ladies.

A mysterious creature is prowling around the Twenty-fifth ward. Last evening he went in women's attire to the home of John Scheck, as foreman of the Republic Iron Works, on Sarah street, and told Mr. Scheck he was wanted at the mill. He went immediately. As soon as he had gone this tall masquerader entered his home and scared Mrs. Scheck.

When Mr. Scheck returned from the mill he notified the police, but the man in woman's clothes could not be found.

The same evening he frightened the wife of Harry Brooks, living next door to Scheck's. The men in the neighborhood threaten to harm him if they lay hands on him.
The Mad Gasser of Mattoon (referenced below) had a similar propensity towards genderbending, sometimes seen as a man, sometimes as a woman, and sometimes as a man in woman's clothing. The Cloak Woman also displayed similar traits.

The method in which he/she gained entry to the Scheck's is, to me, extremely reminiscent of Spring-Heel Jack's appearance at the door of Jane Alsop under a pretence of having caught Spring-Heel Jack. "For God's sake, bring a light!"

And from the Scranton Tribune (May 13, 1897):
Westmoreland County Man Beholds a Strange Creature.

Greensburg, May 12. - Last evening as Thomas McQuaide, a young farmer residing near Delmont, was riding along by the Burnt Cabin district, his horse took fright at something in the bushes. He turned to see what the object was, and was almost paralyzed to behold a monster snake, which was at least 18 feet in length, and thicker than a man's leg at the ankle. Mr. McQuaide had hard work to control the horse, which nearly threw him off. He rode hastily away for assistance to kill the reptile, but when the snake shunters reached the spot the snake was gone. They searched and beat the bushes but could find nothing.

Daniel G. McQuaide, father of the young man, thinks the monster is the same one he saw several years ago in about the same place. A number of persons of Delmont have formed themselves into a committee to hunt for the snake, which, if discovered, will be captured alive and placed on exhibition.
Do we have here a westward-ranging representative of the same species as the Broad Top Snake to the west in Huntingdon and Bedford Counties?

Monday, April 18, 2011

Coy-dogs in Blair County, early 1900s

From the Tyrone Herald (undated, but presumably early 1900s):
The final chapter of the historic Walter L. Main's circus wreck on May 30, 1893, was written on Saturday when at the hands of Constable Joseph Diehl, eleven descendants of the coyot that for many years worried stock owners in this region were killed. For number of years depredations have been reported as having been committed by alleged "wild dogs" that frequented Snyder township. About six years ago, a coyote was shot for a fox by a hunter who, with some misgivings presented its pelt before a local magistrate for the usual fox bounty. It was then that a westerner properly identified the dead animal and cleared up the mystery of the "wild dogs." It developed that a small Shepherd dog belonging to a Snyder township farmer, had found his affinity in the wild western cousin and the offspring had grown up in the wilderness. For many years they have been seen in the vicinity of the Sprinkle farm, where it was discovered they lived off the refuse and offals from the slaughter house. About two months ago a litter of seven puppies was discovered in the jungles and watched. They grew rapidly and were not unlike tiny cub bears in appearance.

Constable Diehl spent Saturday in the desolated district and succeeded in dispatching eleven of the species, ranging in size from a half grown fox to the timber wolf. They all had the sable and gray color. The carcasses were viewed with considerable interest by local hunters, who differ in opinion as to whether their ancestors was really coyote or wolf.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Monkey found in Chambersburg (1955)

From the Racine (WI) Journal-Times (March 30, 1955):
Chambersburg, Pa. (AP) - Twelve-year-old Dennis Summers was puzzled when he found a dead monkey wedged in the branches of a tree. It had died of exposure. The police were mystified too. They had no reports of a missing monkey and a check of residents known to own monkey pets showed that all were safe.

No one could offer an explanation.
Nothing like keeping it short and to the point, I guess, if it does sound like it was written by a second grader.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Mystery asphyxiations in Coatesville (1944)

From the Huntingdon Daily News (February 1, 1944):
Coatesville, Pa., Feb. 1 - Police were joined by chemists today in an effort to determine what type of gas killed three members of a Coatesville family and made two neighbors seriously ill.

The bodies of John Refford, 55, his wife, Myrtle, 51, and her brother, Charles Johns, 54, were found by police last night in the Refford home, in various rooms of the house. In adjoining houses police found Mrs. Elmer Dripps and Mrs. William Cohen, who were ill.

Officials said the Refford house was filled with a sweetish-smelling gas, which they thought was explosive. The two ill persons and others in the neighborhood told of smelling the gas.
A few months later, mysterious gas attacks befell the citizenry of Mattoon, Illinois. Known as the Mad Gasser of Mattoon, it was in connection with this affair that the Coatesville incident was recounted by Loren Coleman in Mysterious America.

On the same day, an account appeared of the incident appeared in the Reading Eagle. This account was largely identical, although it clarified that the sweet gas was smelled within the home by Deputy Coroner Fred Manship. It also notes that Mrs. Dripps and Mrs. Cohen lived in the houses on either side of the Reffords and that the sweet gas was also smelled in both of those homes.

The mystery was dispelled the very next day, though this wasn't mentioned until February 5 and then in a brief paragraph buried on page 8 of the Reading Eagle:
Coatesville, Feb. 3 (AP) - Illuminating gas which escaped from a leaking street main caused the death of Mr. and Mrs. John W. Refford and the woman's brother, Charles H. John, Monday night, a coroner's jury ruled last night.

Book update...

Mysterious Pennsylvania has been finished, finalized, and sent in to the publisher as of a few hours ago. So it's not my problem anymore!

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Unidentified flying objects in Adamstown?

From the Reading Eagle, August 14, 1869:
SINGULAR PHENOMENON. - A most singular phenomenon occurred at mid-day on Saturday last, near the village of Adamstown, Lancaster county. About two hundred yards north of the village is an open lot, and at 12 o'clock, while the villagers were taking to dinner, a luminous body was seen to settle near the centre of this lot. It is represented by four or five different parties, who witnessed it from several points, to have assumed a square shape and shooting up into a column about three or four feet in height and about two feet in thickness.

The sun was shining brightly at the time, and under its rays the object glistened like a column of burnished silver. The presence, after reaching its full effulgence gradually faded away, and in ten minutes time it had entirely disappeared. Those who saw it were unable to tell what it was. It seemed to inspire terror rather than admiration. After it had disappeared a number of persons visited the spot, but not a trace of anything unusual could be found.

Similar objects have been seen in the neighborhood on several occasions during the night time, but none before in the day time, or so bright as this. The land in the immediate vicinity is dry, there being no swamp about, otherwise the phenomenon might be accounted for. We do not know whether the Jack o' Lantern assumes such huge proportions or whether it appears in midday under a bright sun. Perhaps some of our friends versed in the sciences can solve the mystery.
You'd be hard-pressed to find a newspaper article using the word effulgence today. And even in 1869 they were bandying the swamp gas theory about!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Cloak Woman...and the Cloak Man

A bizarre figure known as the Cloak Woman haunted the town of Schuylkill Haven, in Schuylkill County, back in 1911. The Call of Allentown reported on February 11 and 18 about the mysterious figure which followed some women to their homes. The figure was itself followed on Haven Street, where several men said that it wore women's clothing and a red tam o'shanter cap. When seen next, by several young girls, the mysterious Cloak Woman wore goggles of some type and a long shawl. Then, in the Prospect Hill area of town, multiple Cloak Women were seen.

In a bizarre twist, Tony Rossi, sexton of St. Ambrose Church saw a masked, dark-cloaked figure loitering in his churchyard. After lying in wait the next evening, Rossi attacked the figure. When cornered, it turned out to be a man, who claimed that he was disguising himself in order to spy on his wife.

By some bizarre coincidence, at around the same time, during the years of the early twentieth century, the streets of Manheim here in Lancaster County were being haunted by the Cloak Man. This was a mysterious figure - clad all in a billowing cloak - who would approach women walking through Bull Alley (present-day Ferdinand Street). Who exactly he was remained a mystery, and the Cloak Man faded away in the years that followed. The figures of the Cloak Man and Cloak Woman are both similar to the Woman in Black, a female form, replete with luminous eyes, which haunted the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton metropolitan area some fifteen years before.

These black-clad mystery figures seem to have been an integral part of the era, from the pulp hero The Shadow to the Mad Gasser of Mattoon and beyond.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Whisper down the lane: dismantling a legend

In his seminal work Wild Talents (1932), pioneering anomalist Charles Fort tells the story of how "a man and his wife, named Kring, had been butchered, and their bodies had been burned." Thereafter, he gives account of no less than two unidentifed bodies found nearby, one of them a "well-dressed man," near Johnstown (Cambria County).

That's not quite the way the story happened. I can't really fault Fort for misunderstanding - he was relying on an account from a Philadelphia newspaper, one that was likely a second- or third-hand account. And anyone in any sort of paranormal/unexplained field knows how accounts get changed and altered over time. Moreover, Fort's story was likely based on one written before anybody knew the full story.

As it turns out, as I was searching for more information and references to the case, I came across a report on a Johnstown-area paranormal site - it was then I realized that the story has changed yet more in the modern day, that the well-known Johnstown-area urban legend of Becky's Grave is also based on the same event. Supposedly, the grave of a woman named Becky Kring is supposed to visit the Snavely Cemetery in Elton. Becky was a young girl, killed when only 18 for supposedly being a witch.

However, as it turns out, no Rebecca Kring is buried in Snavely. She is actually buried (with her husband) in Dunmire Cemetery, a burial ground several miles away. And far from a teenaged witch, Rebecca Kring was 83, her husband 79.

To chart the metamorphosis of this story, we'll examine a few contemporary news reports.

The first article, reproduced on the aforementioned paranormal website, appeared in a Johnstown newspaper (the clipping didn't specify which one) and is merely a description of the fire and of rescue attempts.
About half-past 10 o’clock Wednesday night the village of Elton, containing between one hundred and two hundred people, seven miles south east of this city, in Adams Township, Cambria County, was thrown into a state of great excitement by the breaking out of a fire. Most villagers had retired for the night, and it was the men about Ickes’ Hotel who, being still astir, first discovered the flames.

The fire was discovered to be in the rear part of the residence of Samuel Kring. Flames were shooting through the windows. In front some of the men broke open the door and windows, but a tremendous volume of flame and black smoke burst through the openings thus made, but prevented entrance to the building. Several desperate attempts were made by persons to force their way into the house, and water was freely applied from a hole cut through the ice in a dam near by, in the hope of rescuing Mr. and Mrs. Kring, who slept in a room on the first floor, but every such attempt proved futile, the heat and suffocating smoke being more than anyone could endure, and the poor old couple were of necessity, abandoned to their fate.

The flames made rapid headway, and not only quickly consumed the building in which they originated but communicated with one adjoining and destroyed it. The former was a two story plank, occupied and used as a kind of warehouse. Both belonged to Mr. Kring.

As soon as the flames had spent their fury, water was thrown in considerable quantities upon the charred timbers at the corner of the house in which the room was located where the aged couple slept, in the hope of finding whatever of the bodies the fire had not consumed. The search soon resulted in the uncovering of the blackened and roasted remains of both Mr. and Mrs. Kring.

Nothing but the trunks was left. Mrs. Kring’s was found in one corner of the room where the bed had stood, and Mr. Kring’s in another corner where there had been a lounge, indicating that she had been sleeping in the bed and he on the lounge. The remains were not disturbed at the time, some of the people thinking that an inquest should be held, and that the remains should not be interfered with until viewed by a jury.
Word was accordingly sent to Squire Henry Fye, and he arrived yesterday morning. After an investigation he decided that an inquest was not necessary. The remains were thereupon taken from the ruins and placed in a house near by.

As to the origin of the fire, nothing has been definitely learned. There was a stove in an out-kitchen adjoining the rear of the house, and there was also one in the sleeping room. It is thought that in someway the building caught from on of these, probably from the one in the bed chamber, the resulting smoke quickly stupefying the old couple, and rendering them helpless victims of the flames.

Their extreme age too, was against them, Mr. Kring having attained his seventy-ninth year and Mrs. Kring her eighty-third. She was quite feeble, but managed to do her own work unaided, and there was nobody at the house but herself and her venerable partner.
Pay attention to the italicized quotes; I believe they may account for the next permutation of the story. It seems that there may have been some suspicion of foul play, as in a story in the Bradford Era (February 3, 1892). Building on the reports of the condition of the bodies, it remarks on a series of murders in Cambria County (which may or may not have actually been murders). The first body was found on December 4, in the woods near Gallitzin. It was believed, but not proven, to be a suicide. Another body was found near Frugality (Fort's first "well-dressed [corpse that] could not be identified") but it was determined to be that of George Myers, who had been robbed of $800. Another body was discovered only a few days before the Kring tragedy, near Bethel. That one, however, was badly decomposed (but male) and nobody could accurately say when his fate befell him, or even what fate it was. This body was evidently Fort's second "well-dressed man, who bore no means of identification". Both of Fort's other bodies, it can be seen, precede the Kring tragedy. The article goes on to note that the same killer was responsible for the "horrible butchery of old man Kring and his wife and the cremation of their bodies", but I can determine no reason for supposing this. I think it's pretty likely that Fort's clipping from the Philadelphia Public Ledger was based on this article.

The third article appeared a week later, presumably after the inquest mentioned in the first, in the Indiana Progress (February 10, 1892). It returns to the idea of merely a fire; "the fire originated from an over-heated stove in the bedroom." Gold, which would have survived the fire, was still present, but all the Krings' other money was presumed destroyed in the fire.

How exactly the story of this tragedy became associated with a legend of witchcraft, I don't know; my only thought would be possibly someone heard about the fire, and presumed a burning at the stake?