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9 Legendary Monsters of North America: Part Three

This is the third installment of legendary monsters of North America, as everyone has their local favorite -or has even seen one of these creatures! Previous posts have legends of other parts of the world, too. Here are more monsters from the stories told around the campfires -and on the internet- in North America.

1. Lee County Lizardman

In 1988, 17-year-old Christopher Davis reported the first sighting of the Lee County Lizard Man. Davis was driving home from work, and had to stop about 2AM near Scape Ore Swamp in South Carolina to change a flat tire. As he was leaving, a 7-foot-tall bipedal creature ran up and jumped on his car! Davis said it had glowing red eyes, green skin, and three clawed fingers on each hand. Davis swerved to throw the monster off, and later found scratch marks on his car. After his tale was told, others came forward with accounts of the creature, and some had auto damage as well. Footprints were found, but were never sent for analysis. Davis took a lie detector test (arranged by his publicity agents), but the results were not released. Stories went nationwide, and tourists came to look for the Lizard Man, but the hubbub died down by the end of the summer of 1988. There are occasional sightings to this day.

2. Tahoe Tessie

Lake Tahoe is an extremely deep lake in the mountains along the border of California and Nevada. Every year there are several sightings of a monster known as Tahoe Tessie. Reports of the monster go back to Washoe and Paiute legends before the West was settled. Tessie is described as serpentine, which puts her in the same class as Champ in Lake Champlain, Mussie in Muskrat Lake, Chessie in Chesapeake Bay, and other lake monsters. Photograph by Wikipedia user Sierranevadaart.

3. Beavershark

The Beavershark (Maximus bitemus) lives in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Or Pine Mountain, Georgia. Or Maryland. Or South Carolina, depending on where you happen to visit. This creature is three to four feet long, and comes in two varieties: one has the head of a shark and the body of a beaver, the other has the head of a beaver and the body of a shark. You can guess that the former is the more dangerous subspecies. The beaver shark's preferred environments are youth summer camps, especially those with boating classes. However, they also live near tourist destinations and are sometimes found in gift shops.

4. The Beast of Busco

This is a Snapping Turtle

The town of Churubusco, Indiana, is called Turtletown due to the obsession with a snapping turtle called the Beast of Busco, which locals just call Oscar. The first reported sighting of the giant turtle was in 1898, by farmer Oscar Fulk. No one else saw the turtle then, but Oscar owes his name to the farmer. Then in 1948, the turtle was seen again, in Fulk Lake. One of several people who reported the giant turtle was the owner of Fulk Lake, Gale Harris, who vowed to find the monster. Witnesses said the shell was as big as the roof of a car! Newspapers picked up the story nationwide, and Churubusco found itself on the map. People came from all over, and on one day alone, 3,000 tourists joined in the search on Harris' farm. No giant turtle was found, but the turtle the newspapers called Oscar is credited with boosting the town's economy, and you'll find artful turtles decorating Churubusco to this day. Churubusco has an annual festival called Turtle Days. Photograph by Flickr user Andy Simonds.

5. Tree Octopus

The Pacific Northwest Tree Octopus (Octopus paxarbolis) is an amphibious creature native to the Olympic National Forest in Washington State. They are very elusive and difficult to catch, but predatory birds eat them and have greatly diminished their numbers. The octopus is an endangered species, with an organization devoted to its survival. The site has been used in studies to determine how easily people believe what they see on the internet.

6. The Fouke Monster

The Fouke Monster is named after the town of Fouke, Arkansas. Sightings have been reported since the 1940s, with a whole slew of sightings between 1970 and 1974. The Fouke Monster is a 7 to 10 foot tall ape-man with long shaggy hair and bright red eyes. It also has a foul odor. An attack on Bobby and Elizabeth Ford in 1971 sparked a frenzy of monster hunting. Three-toed footprints were found around the area, but later exposed as a hoax. The attack by an unknown animal on the Ford family inspired a movie entitled The Legend of Boggy Creek. The 1972 movie is available at YouTube.

7. Piasa Bird

In 1673, a giant pictograph was spotted on the cliffs near Alton, Illinois. The Native American painting depicted a creature described as a dragon bird. If locals were asked about the picture, their answers were not recorded. The bird became known as the Piasa Bird, after a nearby place by that name was documented on a 1797 French map. Other sightings were described, but the image itself was destroyed in the 1870s when lime was quarried there. The story behind the creature is unknown, but there is speculation that it may have been painted by Cahokians, a society that flourished along the Mississippi River, peaking around 1200 CE. An account was publish in 1836 by John Russell that wove a story about the bird that lived on the cliffs and ate people, but most historians presume that he made the tale up. We don't even know for sure what the pictogram looked like, as no photographs are known to exist, and contemporary sketches have been lost -but not before they were copied by hand. These copies were used to recreate the painting on a cliff not far from the original site. Photograph by Wikipedia user Burfalcy.

8. The Melon Heads of Kirtland

Kirtland, Ohio, is a suburb of Cleveland. The story of the Melon Heads has been told for generations. A doctor named Crowe ran a facility in the 1800s (as the story goes) where he kept 1. hydrocephalic children, or 2. unwanted children used as experimental subjects, in which he injected them with a substance that made their heads swell. In some versions of the story, the government funded these experiments. In any case, Dr. Crowe either died or was killed when his charges rebelled against him, and they ran out into the woods, where they still live today (or they are the ghosts of children killed when the orphanage burned). The Melon Heads are short and have big round heads. Sometimes the story is set in more recent times, with the addition of "someone who knew Dr. Crowe." The Melon Heads stay near the wooded area of Wisner Road, where teenagers often go to look for them on dark nights, possibly as an excuse to wrap their arms around each other in fear. There are similar legends of Melon Heads in several other states.

9. Fur-bearing Trout

Fur-bearing trout are native to Montana and surrounding states, and in some regions of Canada. They developed fur to keep their bodies warm in the cold northern streams where they live. However, another theory exists that the fur is the result of "four jugs of hair tonic" that were accidentally spilled into the Arkansas River in the 1870s. A third explanation comes from 17th-century Scottish settlers:

One settler wrote home remarking about the abundance of "furried animals and fish" in the new land. Asked to provide more information about the furried fish, he duly sent home a specimen.

Fur-bearing trout pose no danger, and in fact have been overfished and are near extinction, although they can be seen in taxidermy shops on occasion. The same species is also sometimes called beaver trout.

Previously: Legendary monsters of Asia, Europe, Australasia, Africa, North America, and South America.

Read the entire series on Legendary Monsters.

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Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
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holidays
8 Legendary Monsters of Christmas
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0
Wolfgang via Flickr // CC BY-ND 2.0

The customs of the holiday season, which include St. Nicholas Day, New Years Day, and Epiphany, as well as Christmas, often incorporate earlier pagan traditions that have been appropriated and adapted for contemporary use. Customs that encourage little children to be good so as to deserve their Christmas gifts often come with a dark side: the punishment you'll receive from a monster or evil being of some sort if you aren't good! These nefarious characters vary from place to place, and they go by many different names and images.

1. KRAMPUS

As a tool to encourage good behavior in children, Santa serves as the carrot, and Krampus is the stick. Krampus is the evil demon anti-Santa, or maybe his evil twin. Krampus Night is celebrated on December 5, the eve of St. Nicholas Day in Austria and other parts of Europe. Public celebrations that night have many Krampuses walking the streets, looking for people to beat. Alcohol is also involved. Injuries in recent years have led to some reforms, such as requiring all Krampuses to wear numbers so they may identified in case of overly violent behavior.

Krampus may look like a devil, or like a wild alpine beast, depending on what materials are available to make a Krampus costume. In modern times, people can spend as much as they like to become the best Krampus around—and the tradition is spreading beyond Europe. Many cities in America have their own Krampus Nights now.

2. JÓLAKÖTTURINN

Jólakötturinn is the Icelandic Yule Cat or Christmas Cat. He is not a nice cat. In fact, he might eat you. This character is tied to an Icelandic tradition in which those who finished all their work on time received new clothes for Christmas, while those who were lazy did not (although this is mainly a threat). To encourage children to work hard, parents told the tale of the Yule Cat, saying that Jólakötturinn could tell who the lazy children were because they did not have at least one new item of clothing for Christmas—and these children would be sacrificed to the Yule Cat. This reminder tends to spur children into doing their chores! A poem written about the cat ends with a suggestion that children help out the needy, so they, too, can have the protection of new clothing. It's no wonder that Icelanders put in more overtime at work than most Europeans.

3. FRAU PERCHTA


Flickr // Markus Ortner

Tales told in Germany and Austria sometimes feature a witch named Frau Perchta who hands out both rewards and punishments during the 12 days of Christmas (December 25 through Epiphany on January 6). She is best known for her gruesome punishment of the sinful: She will rip out your internal organs and replace them with garbage. The ugly image of Perchta may show up in Christmas processions in Austria, somewhat like Krampus.

Perchta's story is thought to have descended from a legendary Alpine goddess of nature, who tends the forest most of the year and deals with humans only during Christmas. In modern celebrations, Perchta or a close relation may show up in processions during Fastnacht, the Alpine festival just before Lent. There may be some connection between Frau Perchta and the Italian witch La Befana, but La Befana isn't really a monster: she's an ugly but good witch who leaves presents.

4. BELSNICKEL

A drawing of Belsnickel.
Lucas, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Belsnickel is a male character from southwestern German lore who traveled to the United States and survives in Pennsylvania Dutch customs. He comes to children sometime before Christmas, wearing tattered old clothing and raggedy fur. Belsnickel carries a switch to frighten children and candy to reward them for good behavior. In modern visits, the switch is only used for noise, and to warn children they still have time to be good before Christmas. Then all the children get candy, if they are polite about it. The name Belsnickel is a portmanteau of the German belzen (meaning to wallop) and nickel for St. Nicholas. See a video of a Belsnickel visit here.

Knecht Ruprecht and Ru Klaas are similar characters from German folklore who dole out beatings to bad children, leaving St. Nicholas to reward good children with gifts.

5. HANS TRAPP

Hans Trapp is another "anti-Santa" who hands out punishment to bad children in the Alsace and Lorraine regions of France. The legend says that Trapp was a real man, a rich, greedy, and evil man, who worshiped Satan and was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. He was exiled into the forest where he preyed upon children, disguised as a scarecrow with straw jutting out from his clothing. He was about to eat one boy he captured when he was struck by lightning and killed—a punishment of his own from God. Still, he visits young children before Christmas, dressed as a scarecrow, to scare them into good behavior.

6. PÈRE FOUETTARD

The French legend of Père Fouettard, whose name translates to "Father Whipper," begins with an evil butcher who craved children to eat. He (or his wife) lured three boys into his butcher shop, where he killed, chopped, and salted them. St. Nicholas came to the rescue, resurrected the boys, and took custody of the butcher. The captive butcher became Père Fouettard, St. Nicholas' servant whose job it is to dispense punishment to bad children on St. Nicholas Day.

7. THE YULE LADS

The Jólasveinar, or Yule Lads, are 13 Icelandic trolls, who each have a name and distinct personality. In ancient times, they stole things and caused trouble around Christmastime, so they were used to scare children into behaving, like the Yule Cat. However, the 20th century brought tales of the benevolent Norwegian figure Julenisse (Santa Claus), who brought gifts to good children. The traditions became mingled, until the formerly devilish Jólasveinar became kind enough to leave gifts in shoes that children leave out ... if they are good boys and girls. 

8. GRÝLA

All the Yule Lads answer to Grýla, their mother. She predates the Yule Lads in Icelandic legend as the ogress who kidnaps, cooks, and eats children who don't obey their parents. She only became associated with Christmas in the 17th century, when she was assigned to be the mother of the Yule Lads. According to legend, Grýla had three different husbands and 72 children, all who caused trouble ranging from harmless mischief to murder. As if the household wasn't crowded enough, the Yule Cat also lives with Grýla. This ogress is so much of a troublemaker that The Onion blamed her for the 2010 eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano.

A version of this post originally ran in 2013. See also: more Legendary Monsters

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History
84 Years Ago Today: Goodbye Prohibition!
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
A huge queue outside the Board of Health offices in Centre Street, New York, for licenses to sell alcohol shortly after the repeal of prohibition. The repeal of prohibition was a key policy of Franklin Roosevelt's government as it allowed the government an opportunity to raise tax revenues at a time of economic hardship.
Keystone/Getty Images

It was 84 years ago today that the Twenty-First Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, repealing the earlier Amendment that declared the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol illegal in the United States. Prohibition was over! Booze that had been illegal for 13 years was suddenly legal again, and our long national nightmare was finally over.


A giant barrel of beer, part of a demonstration against prohibition in America.
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Prohibition of alcohol was not a popular doctrine. It turned formerly law-abiding citizens into criminals. It overwhelmed police with enforcement duties and gave rise to organized crime. In cities like Milwaukee and St. Louis, the dismantling of breweries left thousands of people unemployed.


Photograph courtesy of the Boston Public Library

Homemade alcohol was often dangerous and some people died from drinking it. Some turned to Sterno or industrial alcohol, which was dangerous and sometimes poisoned by the government to discourage drinking. State and federal governments were spending a lot of money on enforcement, while missing out on taxes from alcohol.


New York City Deputy Police Commissioner John A. Leach (right) watches agents pour liquor into sewer following a raid during the height of Prohibition.

The midterm elections of 1930 saw the majority in Congress switch from Republican to Democratic, signaling a shift in public opinion about Prohibition as well as concerns about the depressed economy. Franklin Roosevelt, who urged repeal, was elected president in 1932. The Twenty-first Amendment to the Constitution was proposed by Congress in February of 1933, the sole purpose of which was to repeal the Eighteenth Amendment establishing Prohibition.


American men guarding their private beer brewing hide-out, during Prohibition.
Keystone/Getty Images

With passage of the Constitutional Amendment to repeal Prohibition a foregone conclusion, a huge number of businessmen lined up at the Board of Health offices in New York in April of 1933 to apply for liquor licenses to be issued as soon as the repeal was ratified.

The Amendment was ratified by the states by the mechanism of special state ratifying conventions instead of state legislatures. Many states ratified the repeal as soon as conventions could be organized. The ratifications by the required two-thirds of the states was achieved on December 5, 1933, when conventions in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Utah agreed to repeal Prohibition through the Amendment.


Workmen unloading crates of beer stacked at a New York brewery shortly after the repeal of Prohibition.
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A brewery warehouse in New York stacked crates past the ceiling to satisfy a thirsty nation after the repeal of Prohibition.


Keystone/Getty Images

Liquor wouldn't officially be legal until December 15th, but Americans celebrated openly anyway, and in most places, law enforcement officials let them.

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