Monsters
On the borderland between superstition, occultism, and science
are the many monsters, human or animal, reported from
many parts of the world throughout human history. The word
‘‘monster,’’ from the Latin monstrum, implies a warning or portent.
The term is used derogatorily in reference to malformed
or misshapen animals and humans, as well as creatures of great
size. Because of the awe and horror excited by monstrous
births, they were traditionally regarded as an omen or a sign
of God’s wrath with a wicked world. Many street ballads of the
sixteenth century moralized about monstrous animals or malformed
human beings. Today, persons born with bodies outside
the social norms—giants, dwarfs, and Siamese twins—are
studied under the scientific label of ‘‘teratology.’’ Deformed
and limbless children are now known to be caused by rare genetic
factors or by the use of such drugs as thalidomide in pregnancy.
In modern times, much of the superstitious awe surrounding
legendary monsters has passed into the world of fiction,
and talented novelists have created images of scientific or technological
doom like Godzilla and Frankenstein, the evil from
the subconscious like the vampire Dracula, or the product of
unrestrained animal-like urges, Dr. Jekyll’s Mr. Hyde. Such literary
monsters have been powerfully represented in horror
movies, which have presented increasingly terrifying creatures
from the edge of civilization and human experience—swamps,
ocean depths, and outer space. Such fictional monsters undoubtedly
owe their power to the eternal fascination of the
clash between good and evil in human affairs and the old theological
themes of judgment and damnation.
Few stories achieved this metaphysical terror so powerfully
as Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, in which the
possibilities of evil inherent in all human beings are released
from the kindly Dr. Jekyll in the shape of the demonic Mr.
Hyde. Stevenson also varied this theme in his short story
Markheim, where a debauched murderer is confronted by an
angelic alter ego.
Mysterious creatures reported from isolated places, having
an existence somewhere between myth and natural history,
continue to fascinate and attract while playing on subconscious
anxieties. The discovery by Western scientists of the gorilla and
the colocynth have given substantive hope to the idea that some
of the legends of monsters may refer to actual survivors of ancient
species. This has generated a new field of research, cryptozoology.
Loch Ness Monster
A large, aquatic, dinosaur-like creature is said to inhabit the
large area of Loch Ness in Scotland, a lake about 24 miles long
and a mile wide with a depth of from 433 to 754 feet. Since a
monster was reported in ancient Gaelic legends and in a biography
of St. Columba circa 565 C.E., it is supposed that there
may be a colony of monsters.
Modern interest dates from the 1930s, when a number of
witnesses reported sightings. The creature has been photographed
repeatedly and even filmed, though some of the more
frequently reproduced films have been shown to be frauds. It
appears to be about 45 feet long, of which 10 feet is head and
neck, 20 feet the body, and 15 feet the tail. The head is small
and sometimes lifted out of the water on the neck, high above
the body. The skin is rough and dark brown in color, and in
movement the creature sometimes appears to contort its body
into a series of humps. It can move at speeds of around 13
knots, and in general appearance resembles a prehistoric plesiosaurus.
On April 8, 1976, the monster made the front page of the
New York Times, which featured records of an underwater camera
using a sonar echo technique. Known in Britain affectionately
as ‘‘Nessie,’’ in the mid 1970s the creature was given the
formal name of Nessiteras rhombopteryx by naturalist Sir Peter
Scott in an attempt to secure official protection. A British Act
of Parliament requires that any rare species of animal qualifying
for conservation must have a scientific name.
The Loch Ness Monster is the most famous of a number of
reported lake monsters, such as the similar creature reported
at Lough Muck in Donegal. In other parts of England and Scotland,
reported creatures include Morgawr in the area of Falmouth,
Cornwall, and Mhorag (or Morag) in Loch Morar, West
Inverness, Scotland. There are numerous reports of sightings,
and some photographs. In 1910, a plesiosaurus-type creature
was reported in Nahuel Huapi, Patagonia.
Interest in the Loch Ness monster was stimulated by reports
of the decomposing body of a sea creature caught by the Japanese
trawler ‘‘Zuiyo Maru’’ about 30 miles east of Christchurch,
New Zealand, on April 25, 1977. The carcass was about 30 feet
long, weighed two tons, and was raised from a depth of approximately
900 feet. For a time, it was suspended above the trawler
deck by a crane, but the captain feared that the evil-smelling
fluid dripping from the carcass would pollute his catch of whiptail
fish and ordered the creature to be dumped overboard. Before
this was done, Michihiko Yano, an official of the Taiyo
Fishery Company aboard the vessel, took four color photographs
and made a sketch of the carcass, after taking measurements.
He described the creature as like a snake with a turtle’s
body and with front and rear flippers and a tail six feet in
length. This suggests a creature resembling the plesiosaurus,
which flourished from 200 to 100 million years ago.
When Taiyo Fisheries executives heard about the unusual
catch, they radioed their trawlers around New Zealand, ordering
them to try to recover the carcass, but without success. Japanese
journalists named the creature ‘‘The New Nessie’’ after
Scotland’s famous Loch Ness Monster, and a large Tokyo department
store planned to market stuffed dolls of the creature.
Fujior Yasuda of the faculty of fisheries at Tokyo University has
examined Yano’s photographs and concluded that the creature
was definitely not a species of fish, and Toshio Shikama, a Yokohama
University paleontologist, was convinced that the creature
was not a fish or a mammoth seal. For reports of this incident
see the London Daily Telegraph (July 21, 1977), London
Times (July 21, 1977), and Fortean Times (no. 22, summer 1977).
Yeti (or Abominable Snowman)
The Yeti is a giant humanoid creature that has long been
part of the folklore of the high Himalayan region in Asia. The
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popular name ‘‘Abominable Snowman’’ derives from the Tibetan
term Metoh-Kangmi or ‘‘Wild Man of the Snows.’’ Other
names in the Himalayan regions of Kashmir and Nepal are
Jungli-admi or Sogpa—‘‘Wild Men of the Woods.’’ There are
many stories told by Sherpas of the giant Yeti that carried away
human children or even adults. In 1951, such stories suddenly
attracted scientific interest when a photograph of a large Yeti
footprint taken by mountaineer Eric Shipton on an Everest Reconnaissance
Expedition appeared.
The Abominable Snowman had been reported by westerners
as early as 1832 in an article by B. H. Hodgson for the initial
volume of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. The first European
to see Yeti footprints was Major L. A. Waddell, who
found them in the snows of northeastern Sikkim at 17,000 feet
in 1889, but believed them to be tracks of the great yellow snow
bear (Ursus isabellinus). Additional reports filtered back to the
west through the twentieth century.
In 1925, N. A. Tombazi, a fellow of the Royal Geographical
Society, saw a large humanoid creature walking upright at a
distance of 300 yards in Sikkim, and afterward examined footprints
in the snow. In February 1942, Slavomir Rawicz escaped
from a Siberian prisoner-of-war camp with six companions and
crossed the Himalayas to India. In his book The Long Walk
(1956), Rawicz claimed that he saw two Yeti-type creatures,
eight feet tall, in an area between Bhutan and Sikkim.
In the 1950s, various expeditions to track down the Yeti
failed to produce any tangible evidence of its existence, but in
1972 a Sherpa named Da Temba saw a 4’6’’ creature, possibly
a small Yeti, in Nepal. The cumulative effect of the large number
of reports of Yeti sightings from Sherpas reinforces the possibility
that there is a large humanoid creature in the Himalayas,
but the area is a vast one and the creature could be even
more elusive than the Loch Ness monster.
Bigfoot
Other creatures of a Yeti type have been reported frequently
from different areas of the world, notably isolated regions of
the Pacific Northwest. The popular term ‘‘Bigfoot’’ seems to
have been a newspaper invention for the creature named
‘‘Sasquatch’’ by the Salish Indians of southwest British Columbia.
The Huppa tribe in the Klamath mountains of Northern
California use the name Oh-mah-’ah, sometimes shortened to
Omah, while the name Seeahtiks is used in Vancouver Island.
It is interesting to note that reports of Yeti-type creatures
cover a fairly consistent trail through the remote mountainous
regions of Asia across to similar regions in Alaska, Canada, and
North America, suggesting a rare and elusive species distributed
over similar isolated areas. In the Russian areas of Asia, such
creatures have been named Almast, Alma or Shezhnyy Chelovek.
Bigfoot has been frequently reported in Canadian and North
American territories from the early nineteenth century on. In
modern times, construction workers in Northern California
claimed to have seen a large ape-like creature, eight to ten feet
tall, in Bluff Creek in October 1958. It walked upright and left
large footprints, which indicated a creature weighing 800
pounds. Investigations were stimulated after the widespread
showing of a 16mm color film supposedly of the creature taken
by Roger Patterson, a rancher in Bluff Creek, California, on
October 7, 1967. This film shows what appears to be an erect
ape-like figure at a distance of some 30 feet.
Such creatures were systematically investigated by Irish explorer
and big-game hunter Peter Byrne, who organized a
three-year search in 1971. He traveled many thousands of
miles between Nepal, Canada, and the United States, interviewing
hundreds of individuals and evaluating claimed sightings
of Bigfoot. Byrne visited Patterson before his death in
1972 and found his story and the film convincing. Byrne, like
fellow researchers, was repeatedly distracted by the likes of the
1968 prankster in Colville, Washington, who tied 16 inch footshaped
plywood boards to his feet and made tracks in the
woods. He sent a photograph to Peter Byrne, who dismissed it
as an obvious fake. Meanwhile an ordinance in Skamania
County, Washington, prohibits wanton slaying of apecreatures,
with substantial penalties.
Further interest in Bigfoot was generated in 1982 by the
sighting reported by Paul Freeman, an employee of the U.S.
Forest Service. He came face to face with the creature at a distance
of no more than 200 feet. Both fled in fear of the other.
Interest in Bigfoot continues and over the last generation several
research centers such as the Bigfoot Information Center
and the now defunct Sasquatch Investigations of MidAmerica
were established. While Forteans have kept interest in
Bigfoot alive, the dearth of definitive encounters with the creature
have caused many to doubt the authenticity of the legends.
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