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10 Legendary Monsters of North America: Part One

Legendary monsters "exist," if only in legend, all over the world. The series of monsters continues with a look at a few strange stories from North America.

1. Chupacabra

Chupacabra means goat sucker. The legendary animal is said to roam through Mexico, southwest USA, and Puerto Rico as well as other areas. The Chupacabra is blamed for mysterious livestock deaths, and examples of Chupacabras have been found and photographed, usually dead. The creature is described variously as resembling a hairless bear, sometimes with spikes on its back, or a hairless dog-like animal. Some of the carcasses and photographs have been studied and turned out to be coyotes with a severe case of mange. Image by DeviantART member Raenyras.

2. Loogaroo

Loogaroo are demons that haunt the West Indies, particularly Haiti, Grenada, and the Dominican Republic. The name is a corruption of loup garou, the French werewolf. The Loogaroo is sometimes described as a witch or a vampire, but often is a shapeshifter that holds all the attributes of other monsters. This monster sucks blood from innocent victims, which is given to the devil in exchange for magical powers. The Loogaroo is closely related to the Soucouyant of Trinidad and Guadeloupe. If the Loogaroo sucks out too much blood, the victim will die and become a Loogaroo himself.

3. La Llorona

Disquiet

La Llorona means "the weeping woman." This legendary ghost of New Mexico was once a beautiful woman named Maria. She rejected most of her suitors, and married the most handsome young ranchero around. They were happy together for a time, and she bore two sons. But the handsome husband grew bored and turned to other women and ignored Maria. He even preferred the company of his sons over her, which drove her to a jealous rage one night and she threw the two boys in the Santa Fe River and they drowned. In another version of the story, the children died while Maria was away cavorting with other men. Either way, she was responsible for their deaths, and could not bear the guilt. Maria walked the riverside in her white gown, crying for her sons, until she died of starvation on the river bank. Her ghost came back and continued the vigil, wailing and screaming in the night. Now called La Llorana, she attacks those who venture to the river at night, looking to kill people in her grief. The tale is also told along other rivers of the Southwest, and is used to scare children away from the dark, dangerous waters. Photograph by Flickr user Mikamatto.

4. Hodag


The Hodag (Bovinus spiritualis) is a ferocious animal native to Wisconsin. The black Hodag was first discovered in 1893 and is the largest of the several Hodag species. It has two horns and a series of spikes along its spine. There are also the Sidehill Dodge Hodag, the Cave Hodag, and the Shovel-nose Hodag. See more pictures of the Hodag.

5. El Sombrerón

El Sombrerón is the man with the big hat. He is short and wears a thick belt and heavy boots. The legend in Guatemala tells of him always wearing a black hat, while he victimizes young women.

The legend goes that a young girl named Susana in La Recolección – yeah, she had pretty hair and big ol’ peepers (that means eyes) – was admiring the moon and stars from her balcony one night when she was approached and serenaded by a man in a big hat. Worried and upset that their daughter was outside so late, Susana’s parents forced her to come inside. The man in the hat returned and serenaded her each night, making it impossible for her to sleep, and whenever her parents would try to feed her, she’d find the food contaminated with dirt. Fed up, the parents cut the girl’s hair and had it blessed by a priest – naturally, this caused the goblin to stop bothering her, either because of the holy water or because he didn’t like chicks with pixie cuts.

El Sombrerón has a habit of braiding the hair on horses and dogs when no one is around. A similar goblin is also called Tzizimite, and other names depending on the local language. The legend casts him as a general bogeyman of Mexico. A similar legend in El Salvador is called Cipitio, who is a short boy with backward feet, and, of course, a big hat. El Cipito pursues pretty girls and torments them if they reject his advances. Altogether, this useful tale is told to keep young girls from flirting with strange men.

6. Skunk Ape

The Skunk Ape appears now and again throughout the American Deep South, from Oklahoma to North Carolina, but most sightings have been reported in Florida. The creature gets its name from its awful odor. In 2000, an anonymous letter accompanied several photographs purporting to show an ape in Myakka City, Florida. The writer of the letter seemed to think this was an escaped orangutan, but no missing ape was reported. Later, an investigation was launched over a horse that was injured by an unknown animal in the same area. Photograph by David Barkasy and Loren Coleman.

7. Gowrow

The Gowrow was first reported in Arkansas in 1897. It lives in the lakes and caves of Arkansas and got its name from the horrible sounds it makes. The Gowrow was described as a twenty-foot-long reptile with enormous tusks that ate livestock. One enterprising Arkansan claimed to have captured a Gowrow, and would let the public see it for a small price of admittance. But just before the reveal, he announced the Gowrow had escaped. The audience was so busy running in terror that no one asked for their money back! Image by Gustav.

8. Jackalope

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The Jackalope (Lepus temperamentalus) is a cross between a rabbit and an antelope (or sometimes a goat or deer) seen over most parts of the United States. Jackalopes only mate during electrical storms. They can be caught by using whiskey as bait, which will render them easier to sneak up on. Jackalope milk is supposed to have medicinal qualities. The legend of the Jackalope may have come from sightings of rabbits infected with the Shope papillomavirus, which causes hornlike growths. The Jackalope is rumored to be extinct, but can be seen in taxidermy shops everywhere. Photograph by Flickr user Paul-W.

9. The Loveland Frog

Loveland, Ohio, has multiple sightings recorded of an unusual reptile, which has become known as the Loveland Frog. The most famous sighting was by police officer Ray Shockey in 1972. He saw an animal lying beside the road, and when he approached, it got up on two legs and ran away! He described it as three to four feet tall, about 60 pounds, with a face like a frog or lizard. Officer Mark Matthews had a similar encounter a couple of weeks later. The story grew as it was retold, and the original officers say they never thought the creature was a monster, but possibly an escaped pet. However, there have been other sightings, particularly one from 1955. A businessman reported that he saw three creatures beside the road that were three to four feet tall and had wrinkles on their heads instead of hair, and webbed hands and feet. The most bizarre thing about the earlier sighting is that one of the creatures waved a wand that emitted sparks! Image by Cathy Wilkins.

10. The Beast of Bladenboro

The Beast of Bladenboro is a huge catlike monster. Beginning in late 1953, Bladenboro, North Carolina was the scene of unexplained attacks. A farmer saw a beast resembling a cat carry his dog off. Several dog carcasses were later found drained of blood. Hunters came from all over the country to hunt the “vampire beast” until the small town got sick of the hoopla. A bobcat was then shot and displayed, and the world was assured that the beast had been found. Although some reports have surfaced that the beast remains active, it hasn’t stopped Bladenboro from hosting an annual festival centered around the legend -- which is this weekend.

A list of ten monsters of North America leaves a lot of favorite monsters out, so expect part two of this post next week!

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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History
The Dubious Legend of Virgil's Pet Fly
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bust: Hulton Archive, Getty. Fly: iStock
Photo illustration by Mental Floss. Bust: Hulton Archive, Getty. Fly: iStock

Here at Mental Floss, we come across a lot of "facts" that, upon further examination, don’t hold up. Like, did Benjamin Franklin invent the concept of Daylight Saving Time? Not really. (Several ancient cultures seasonally adjusted their clocks, and Franklin only jokingly pondered having people wake up earlier. The modern version was proposed in 1895 by George Hudson, an entomologist who wanted extra daylight so he could collect more insects.) Do sea cucumbers eat through their anuses? Some, but not all. (One species, P. californicus, uses its backdoor as a second mouth.)

Other facts have been trickier to debunk because the historical record was being snarky or sarcastic: Was Amerigo Vespucci, for whom America is likely named, a measly pickle merchant? (Ralph Waldo Emerson said so, but he was probably being snide.) Did people in 16th century France wipe their butts with geese? (A quotation from François Rabelais's comic series of novels Gargantua and Pantagruel has been confused as evidence, but Rabelais was a bawdy satirist.)

Yet one of our favorite dubious fun facts—a Trojan Horse that has snuck into a handful of trivia books—concerns Virgil, the Roman poet and author of the Aeneid. The story goes that Virgil had a pet housefly, and when the insect died, Virgil spent 800,000 sesterces—nearly all of his net worth—for an extravagant funeral. Celebrities swarmed the poet’s home. Professional mourners wailed. An orchestra performed a lament. Virgil drafted verses to celebrate the fly’s memory. After the service, the bug’s body was ceremoniously deposited in a mausoleum the poet had built on his estate.

Virgil wasn’t losing it: It was all a scheme to keep the government’s fingers off his land. At the time (and this part is true), Rome was seizing private property and awarding it to war veterans. According to legend, Virgil knew the government couldn’t touch his property if his estate contained a tomb, so he quickly built a mausoleum, found an arthropod occupant, and rescued his house.

It’s a great story! It’s also unsubstantiated. None of Virgil’s contemporaries mention the poet throwing a lavish funeral—especially one for a housefly. The story probably has roots in an old poem that’s been (incorrectly) attributed to the poet called "The Culex." In the poem, a fly (or, depending on your translation, a spider or gnat) wakes up a man just as a snake is lurking nearby. The man kills both the insect and serpent, but soon regrets killing his winged protector. He builds the bug a marble headstone with this epitaph:

O Tiny gnat, the keeper of the flocks
Doth pay to thee, deserving such a thing
The duty of a ceremonial tomb
In payment for the gift of life to him.

Most scholars don’t believe that Virgil wrote "The Culex." But as Sara P. Muskat, a research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh during the 1930s, wrote in a short essay, Virgil was regularly the subject of this kind of mythmaking. Shortly after his death, people in his hometown of Naples alleged he was the founder of the city. (He wasn’t.) Others claimed he had been the city’s governor. (He hadn’t.) By the Middle Ages, Virgil was depicted as a magician or dark wizard who could communicate with the dead. (He couldn't.)

“There is then no evidence, ancient or medieval, that I can find to support the story that Vergil had a pet fly and gave it an elaborate funeral,” Muskat writes. “It seems quite inconsistent with Vergil’s usual behavior, and may indicate that the period of myth-making about Vergil has not yet closed.”

Like our friendly imaginary fly, perhaps it’s time for this factoid to bite the dust, too.

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Big Questions
Why is Friday the 13th Considered Unlucky?
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iStock

Today, people around the globe will feel uneasy about getting out of bed, leaving their homes, or going about their normal daily routines, all because of a superstition. These unfortunate folks suffer from paraskavedekatriaphobia, a common neurosis familiar to us all: the fear of Friday the 13th. But just where did this superstitious association come from, and how did it catch on?

The truth is that no one is absolutely sure where the idea that Friday the 13th is unlucky originated. Donald Dossey, the founder of the Stress Management Center and Phobia Institute in Asheville, North Carolina, suspects the fear can be traced back to a Norse myth about 12 gods who had a dinner at Valhalla—the fabled hall where legendary Norse heroes feasted for eternity after they died—that was interrupted by a 13th guest, the evil and mischievous god Loki.

According to legend, Loki tricked Höðr (the blind god of winter and son of Odin, the supreme god in Norse mythology) into shooting his brother Baldr (the benevolent god of summer who was also a son of Odin) with a magical spear tipped with mistletoe—the only substance that could defeat him. Thus the number 13 was branded as unlucky because of the ominous period of mourning following the loss of such powerful gods by this unwanted 13th guest.

For whatever reason, among many cultures, the number 12 emerged throughout history as a "complete" number: There are 12 months in a year, 12 signs of the zodiac, 12 Gods of Olympus, 12 sons of Odin, 12 labors of Hercules, 12 Jyotirlingas or Hindu shrines where Shiva is worshipped, 12 successors of Muhammad in Shia Islam, and 12 tribes of Israel. In Christianity, Jesus was betrayed by one of his 12 Apostles—Judas—who was the 13th guest to arrive for the Last Supper. Surpassing the number 12 ostensibly unbalances the ideal nature of things; because it is seen as irregular and disrespectful of a sense of perfection, the number 13 bears the stigma of misfortune and bad luck we know today.

WHY FRIDAY?

Friday joins in the mix mostly because all of the early accounts of Jesus’s crucifixion agree that it took place on Friday—the standard day for crucifixions in Rome. As Chaucer noted in The Canterbury Tales, "And on a Friday fell all this mischance." Yet perpetuating Friday as an unlucky day in America came from the late 19th-century American tradition of holding all executions on Fridays; Friday the 13th became the unluckiest of days simply because it combined two distinct superstitions into one. According to the Oxford University Press Dictionary of Superstitions, the first reference to Friday the 13th itself wasn’t until 1913. (So despite actually occurring on Friday, October 13, 1307, the popular notion that the Friday the 13th stigma comes from the date on which the famed order of the Knights Templar were wiped out by King Philip of France is just a coincidence.)

The repercussions of these phobias reverberated through American culture, particularly in the 20th century. Most skyscrapers and hotels lack a 13th floor, which specifically comes from the tendency in the early 1900s for buildings in New York City to omit the unlucky number (though the Empire State Building has a 13th floor). Some street addresses also skip from 12 to 14, while airports may skip the 13th gate. Allegedly, the popular Friday the 13th films were so-named just to cash in on this menacing date recognition, not because the filmmakers actually believed the date to be unlucky.

So, is Friday the 13th actually unlucky? Despite centuries of superstitious behavior, it largely seems like psychological mumbo jumbo. One 1993 study seemed to reveal that, statistically speaking, Friday the 13th is unlucky, but the study's authors told LiveScience that though the data was accurate, "the paper was just a bit of fun and not to be taken seriously." Other studies have shown no correlation between things like increased accidents or injuries and Friday the 13th.

And Friday the 13th isn't a big deal in other cultures, which have their own unlucky days: Greeks and Spanish-speaking countries consider Tuesday the 13th to be the unluckiest day, while Italians steer clear of Friday the 17th. So today, try to rest a little easy—Friday the 13th may not be so unlucky after all.

Additional Source: 13: The Story of the World’s Most Popular Superstition.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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