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9 Legendary Monsters of North America: Part Three

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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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10 Famous Birthdays in May
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Some of our favorite historical figures were born in May. We couldn't possibly name them all, so here are just a few of the notable people we'll be celebrating.

1. SIGMUND FREUD: MAY 6, 1856

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Sigmund Freud is known as the Father of Psychoanalysis. The Vienna psychiatrist developed a theory of the unconscious mind, where the id, ego, and superego struggle to balance each other out in the human psyche. Freud attributed his patients' neuroses to childhood trauma, often cloaked in a sexual conflict. His work was at first deemed perverted, but his ideas started to spread after a series of lectures in the U.S. in 1909. After Freud's death in 1939, Freudian theory was hailed as genius in mainstream culture. But beginning in the 1960s, Freud's theories started to fall out of favor in academia and are largely discredited today. However, his attempts to map the psyche gave us the language we still use to discuss personality and mental health.

2. FRED ASTAIRE: MAY 10, 1899

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Fred Astaire began dancing when he was just four years old. Soon he and his sister Adele were in a performing arts school and started dancing professionally. First came vaudeville, then Broadway, and when Adele married, Fred headed to Hollywood. Producers were at first reluctant to cast Astaire as a leading man because of his looks, but his dancing soon won them over. Astaire appeared in dozens of films between 1933 and 1981, 10 of them with with dance partner Ginger Rogers. Although his later films did not revolve around dance numbers, Astaire was seen dancing in an episode of Battlestar Galactica as late as 1979, when he was 80 years old.

3. MARTHA GRAHAM: MAY 11, 1894

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Martha Graham wanted to dance from an early age, but her parents disapproved, so she didn't study dance until college. Her wildly emotional dancing led her to performances in New York, and in 1926 she established the Martha Graham Dance Company. Through the company, Graham promoted modern dance as a spiritual and emotional outlet. Over time, she came to be seen as a genius of the genre. Graham danced until she was in her '70s, and continued to choreograph dances until her death at age 91.

4. KATHARINE HEPBURN: MAY 12, 1907

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Katharine Hepburn caught the acting bug in college and headed to the stages of New York upon graduation. She was spotted in a Broadway production and was offered the lead in RKO's 1932 film A Bill of Divorcement. That kicked off a movie career of more than 60 years, in which she was nominated for 12 Academy Awards and won four. Hepburn was a certified box office draw, but off screen she refused to behave like a Hollywood star. She spoke her mind, wore pants, and even appeared in public without makeup occasionally. Hepburn was also known for her devotion to the love of her life, actor Spencer Tracy, who was separated from his wife but refused to divorce her. The last of nine films they made together was Guess Who's Coming to Dinner in 1967, just before Tracy died. Hepburn continued making movies through 1994, when she was 87 years old.

5. PIERRE CURIE: MAY 15, 1859

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French physicist Pierre Curie is often overlooked in favor of Marie Curie, his brilliant student and later wife. Together they discovered radium and polonium, and did extensive research into radioactivity. Pierre, Marie, and Henri Becquerel jointly won the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research. Curie might have gone onto many further discoveries, but he was killed in 1906 when a horse-drawn cart ran over him in Paris. If he had lived longer, Curie might have also succumbed to illness caused by radiation, as did his wife, daughter, and son-in-law—all Nobel Prize winners.

6. MARY CASSATT: MAY 22, 1844

Mary Cassatt via Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Renowned American painter Mary Cassatt wanted to become an artist, but her parents objected and her Philadelphia art school didn't take women students seriously. So she went to Paris and studied privately under teachers from Ecole des Beaux-Arts, as the school did not admit women. Gradually, Cassatt's works sold and her reputation grew. She drew the attention of Impressionist Edgar Degas, and worked with him for years. By 1886, she left the Impressionist movement behind, and afterward refused to be defined by any art genre. Cassatt's body of work often featured women and children in their everyday lives. Her most memorable painting, Little Girl in a Blue Armchair, broke with tradition by portraying a child in a naturalistic, casual pose instead of a formal portrait.

7. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE: MAY 22, 1859

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Arthur Conan Doyle is best remembered for his many short stories and novels featuring the detective Sherlock Holmes. But Conan Doyle worked full time as a medical doctor until an illness convinced him he had to choose between writing and medicine. Years later, Conan Doyle volunteered with the British army to fight in the Second Boer War, but because of his age (40), he was only allowed to serve as a medical doctor. Upon his return from South Africa, he entered politics in Scotland, but he lost his only race. In 1907, Conan Doyle became involved in a real criminal case in which he helped George Edalji, a solicitor of Indian heritage, beat an animal cruelty conviction by employing the observational technique that Sherlock Holmes used. The fallout from that case led to the establishment of the appeals system in Britain. Conan Doyle also wrote a science fiction novel The Lost World, published in 1912. It was so successful that he wrote four sequels.

8. MARGARET FULLER: MAY 23, 1810

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Born in Massachusetts in 1810, Margaret Fuller was a precocious child who learned several languages but was not welcome at college because of her sex. She became friends with both Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, who admired her philosophical thinking. Fuller became a literary critic for the New-York Tribune and a well-known intellectual.

In 1845, Fuller made history with Woman in the Nineteenth Century, often considered the first major feminist work published in the United States. This groundbreaking book began as an essay in Emerson's transcendentalist journal The Dial called "The Great Lawsuit. Man versus Men. Woman versus Women," in which Fuller argued that men and women must see each other as equals before they can transcend to divine love. Fuller reasoned that ignoring our commonality was the base of much of America's sins, from the slaughter of Native Americans to the slavery of African Americans.

Fuller went on to become a foreign correspondent and the first American female war correspondent, covering the Italian revolution. She also fell in love with an Italian man and had a child with him. On their return trip to the U.S. in 1850 aboard a merchant ship, a hurricane struck the ship near Fire Island, killing all three. Only Fuller's 20-month-old son was found.

9. SALLY RIDE: MAY 26, 1951

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In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman to travel into space, aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Ride was a nationally ranked tennis player when she was a teenager. Billie Jean King urged her to turn pro, but Ride went to Stanford University instead. She earned both a bachelor of arts in English and a bachelor of science in physics in 1973, and a PhD in physics in 1978. Ride then immediately applied for NASA's astronaut program. She flew two shuttle missions, in 1983 and '84, and was scheduled for a third, but that mission was canceled after the Challenger explosion in 1986. After leaving NASA in 1987, Ride devoted her life to encouraging students to study science—especially girls. She founded the organization Sally Ride Science for just that purpose, and wrote five children's books encouraging interest in science. Ride died of cancer at age 61 in 2012.

10. "WILD BILL" HICKOK: MAY 27, 1837

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James Butler Hickok was a farmer, soldier, stagecoach driver, spy, lawman, scout, sharpshooter, gambler, and Wild West showman. Many of those occupations came after "Wild Bill" Hickok gained publicity for killing three men in an 1861 shootout. The newspapers followed his exploits from that time on, often embellishing the details until Hickok was more of a legend than the adventurer he was. His various occupations took him to different parts of Kansas, Nebraska, Missouri, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Hickok was playing poker in Deadwood, South Dakota, when Jack McCall shot him in the back of the head and killed him in 1876. The hand Hickok was holding at the time—a pair of black aces and a pair of black eights—became known as the "dead man's hand."

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9 Bizarre Food Museums
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Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

What’s your favorite food? Chances are, there’s a museum dedicated to it somewhere. You might want to include one or more of these museums in your next vacation road trip.  

1. JELL-O GALLERY // LEROY, NEW YORK

Pearle Wait of LeRoy, New York, invented a fruit-flavored gelatin dessert in 1897 that he wife named Jell-O. Appropriately, the town is home to the Jell-O Gallery, a museum dedicated to the gelatin that took America by storm. Visitors will learn the history of Jell-O, see memorabilia and advertising from Jell-O history, and learn about cooking in the past century. The museums operated by the non-profit LeRoy Historical Society, and is not supported by Kraft/General Foods, which owns Jell-O. The museum is open seven days a week through December, and weekdays January through March.    

2. THE SPAM MUSEUM // AUSTIN, MINNESOTA

The Hormel company has its headquarters in Austin, Minnesota, a few miles south of Minneapolis. That’s also the home of the Spam Museum. Hormel opened a small company museum in the local mall in 1991, but quickly found that all their visitors cared about was Spam, so now that classic canned meat has its own building downtown. Exhibits include the history of Spam, cooking demonstrations, Spam memorabilia, and a soundtrack from Monty Python.

3. INTERNATIONAL BANANA MUSEUM // NORTH SHORE, CALIFORNIA

In 2005, the International Banana Club Museum was named by the Guinness Book of World Records as the “most items devoted to any one fruit in the world.” The IBC Museum was established by Ken Bannister and the club in 1975, and amassed its collection of 17,000 banana items from club members who gained “banana merits.” The collection was sold in 2010 and is now the International Banana Museum. It is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.   

4. WYANDOT POPCORN MUSEUM // MARION, OHIO

Wyandot Popcorn Museum via Facebook

Marion, Ohio, is the self-proclaimed Popcorn Capital of the World, due to the existence of the Wyandot Popcorn Company, which was based in the area since the 1930s. The company now focuses on chips, but its legacy is enshrined in the Wyandot Popcorn Museum, which boasts an extensive collection of restored antique popcorn poppers. These commercial poppers range from movie theater models to snack wagons to factory poppers, some over 100 years old. The museum shares space with the Wyandot Historical Society in the town’s historic former post office building. The museum is open Wednesday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. through October, and weekends only the rest of the year.  

5. NATIONAL DAIRY SHRINE MUSEUM // FORT ATKINSON, WISCONSIN

The National Dairy Shrine is a professional group formed in 1949 promote the milk industry. The National Dairy Shrine Museum is a place to learn about all facets of the dairy industry, from the history of midwest dairy farmers to the production of butter, ice cream, cheese, and other products. The Shrine also has educational programs, a Hall of Fame honoring leaders in the industry, scholarships and internships, and more. The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

6. NATIONAL MUSTARD MUSEUM // MIDDLETON, WISCONSIN

Barry Levenson was once Wisconsin’s Assistant Attorney General, but his real passion is mustard. He’s been collecting different mustards since 1986, and eventually left his law career completely to devote his time to the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum he founded in 1992. In 2000, the growing museum moved to its permanent location in Middleton and became the National Mustard Museum. There you can see 5,624 different mustards and a collection of mustard memorabilia. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week. Admission is free, as the museum is supported by donations and mustard sales.   

7. INTERNATIONAL VINEGAR MUSEUM // ROSLYN, SOUTH DAKOTA

International Vinegar Museum via Facebook

The world’s only vinegar museum was founded by Lawrence "Vinegarman" Diggs to showcase the many  varieties of vinegar and its many uses. The International Vinegar Museum has 350 different varieties of vinegar, a test kitchen, and vinegar tastings for visitors. The museum is open during the summer only. If you plan to visit Roslyn, the best time would be in June during the International Vinegar Festival.  

8. THE IDAHO POTATO MUSEUM // BLACKFOOT, IDAHO

Idaho Potato Museum via Facebook

Idaho produces more potatoes than any other state, so it only makes sense that they would have a museum dedicated to the state’s crop. The Idaho Potato Museum is housed in the historic Oregon Short Line Railroad Depot in Blackfoot. You’ll learn about potato history, growing potatoes, and the importance of potatoes to Idaho’s economy. The newest addition to the museum is the Potato Station Cafe, which specialized in French fries, of course. The Idaho Potato Museum is open six days a week from April through September, and weekdays from October through March.  

9. HARLAND SANDERS CAFÉ AND MUSEUM // CORBIN, KENTUCKY

Harland Sanders fed travelers at his gas station on Corbin, Kentucky, during the Great Depression, and then opened a restaurant, where he developed his method of pressure-frying chicken, which he breaded with 11 herbs and spices. Kentucky Fried Chicken grew out of that restaurant, which for a time had a motel attached. Sanders set up a sample hotel room inside the restaurant so that travelers could see what the rooms looked like before making the decision to stay. The motel is gone, but that restaurant was restored as the Harland Sanders Cafe and Museum, with many of the original artifacts, including the sample motel room. There is a modern KFC outlet attached. Some of the museum’s artifacts are displayed at the fast food unit, and you can sit down and eat your chicken in the museum.

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