When I was a kid, I loved anything supernatural, paranormal, scary. I watched USA’s Saturday Nightmares with my dad (and had subsequent nightmares), and I was a voracious reader of any scary stories I could get my hands on, including Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark, the Fear Street YA novels, Stephen King…anything.
Of course, I was also fascinated with stories of cryptids, urban legends, and mythical monsters. We’ve all heard the stories about Bigfoot, Loch Ness, and the chupacabra. But what about the less well-known cryptids, especially our very own North American kind? I’ve always thought there were quite a few that would make for an excellent creepy-to-downright-terrifying horror movie. Let’s talk about creepy-crawlies, everyone…
Out of all the cryptids on this list, this is the one that terrifies me most. I blame this on reading Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The Wendigo” at an early age. The image of a demonic creature making a man run and run and run through a silent, frozen wasteland until his feet burned and turned to ash was a horrific image that wormed its way into my still-developing brain and has stuck fast ever since.
The Wendigo is a Native American myth, primarily with the Algonquin-speaking tribes such as the Ojibwe and Cree. The legend varies a bit from tribe to tribe, but the idea that the Wendigo is a malevolent demon constantly hungering for human flesh is pervasive. It’s associated with the frozen cold, famine, starvation – all tribes hold the idea that a human who turns to cannibalism out of necessity will turn into a Wendigo.
Have you ever been in a forest, alone, and heard a branch snap behind you? Maybe it’s a deer or fox…or maybe it’s something else. As a monster, it’s supernaturally fast and deadly, preying on people in the wilderness and toying with them first before devouring them. The Ojibwe describe it as skeletal but unnaturally strong, gray skin stretched over an emaciated body with razor-sharp claws for hands. It carries with it the stench of decay and death, and its eerie cry is half the whisper of the wind in the trees and half the unearthly wail of a wild creature. I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking that’s a world of NOPE.
Once again we have the Native Americans to thank for this story, this time the Lenni Lenape tribe. The Lenni Lenape were known to call the area now known as the Pine Barrens in Southern New Jersey by the name of “Popuessing” – or “place of the dragon.” Not creepy. Not creepy at all, guys.
Accepted legend has it that in 1735, Mother Leeds, a rumored witch, had 12 children and swore that her 13th child would be born evil, and that its father was the Devil. When she went into labor, the child appeared to be normal at first, but soon morphed into a creature with bat wings, hooves, a goat’s head and forked tail. It killed the midwife, then flew up the chimney and escaped. (Fun fact: There was a real couple, Deborah and Japhet Leeds, who had 12 children and lived in the exact spot the Jersey Devil stories take place.)
But the Jersey Devil has been spotted off and on ever since by various people throughout the years, including Joseph Bonaparte, brother to Napoleon. In 1909, so many people spotted the Jersey Devil throughout the state that it set off a small panic, with citizens reporting everything from livestock being attacked to spotting footprints and hearing its screams. The sightings continue to this day, and while some researchers believe it’s a species of as-yet-undiscovered animal, the reality is that something strange lives in the dense forests of New Jersey.
Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp
Stories about lizard people have abounded in the dark corners of the internet, and the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp (or Lee County) is no exception. It’s described as a reptilian hominoid creature about 7 feet in height that walks upright. According to eyewitnesses, it’s covered with dark hair but has scaly, lizard-like skin on its face, hands, and feet, with three toes on its feet and hands. It also has a serious hatred for cars, exhibiting an inhuman degree of strength on more than one occasion when it completely ripped one apart.
The first reported sighting was made in 1988 by 17-year-old local Christopher Davis, who had stopped near the swamp in order to change a flat tire on his way home from work in the early morning hours. As he was finishing up, he heard a strange noise and looked up to see a huge, lizard-like creature running toward him. Davis dove for the car and closed the door, at which point the creature attacked his door and then jumped onto the roof as Davis drove off, clinging to the roof. Eventually, he shook the creature off, but when he returned home he found his side mirror was badly damaged and there were deep scratch marks on the roof.
In the month after Davis’ report, there were multiple instances of cars being attacked and damaged around the area, some with chunks ripped out of the metal and ground up as if something had been chewing upon them. Blood, saliva, and long, unknown hairs were found at the scenes of most of the attacks, with the most recent happening in 2011 to Leon and Ada Marshall. Whatever the explanation, we know there’s at least one thing running around near Scape Ore Swamp strong enough to rip a car to shreds. Creepy.
Pope Lick Monster
From lizard men to goat men. This myth takes us to Pope Lick, Kentucky – specifically the Pope Lick bridge and railway trestle that spans the Floyd’s Fork Creek, a place that many people have learned to avoid if they can help it because of the deadly Pope Lick Monster. The descriptions of the creature are always the same, with eyewitnesses saying he appears to be a human-goat hybrid with the torso of a man, and legs of a goat. He has a human face, but wide-set eyes and horns that protrude from his forehead, with stringy hair or fur that matches the fur on his legs.
Unlike the others on this list, save for the Wendigo, the Pope Lick Monster is fatally dangerous. There are two different accounts of how it kills its victims, but both are chilling: The first claims he uses either voice mimicry or hypnosis to lure people onto the tracks in front of oncoming trains, and the second is that he drops down from the trestle supports above onto the roof of passing cars. Supposedly, the sight of him is so terrifying that people walking across the trestle who spot him will leap off the bridge and plunge to the ravine below.
In any case, there have been numerous deaths and accidents at the bridge, including suicides and others hit by trains. This is certainly not helped by the fact that, despite the 8-foot-high fence that has been erected, urban legend hunters still try to sneak onto the still very much active train trestle. Whatever the case, something started the original story of the monster, and that something is still being spotted every so often near the bridge. And on that note, I’m about to “HELL no” on up outta here.