Wednesday, August 9, 2017

U.P. Cryptids: Stranger Than Fiction

Dear George,
One benefit of growing older is that one becomes more attuned to strange, inexplicable happenings in the world.  I think this is especially true for people who have grown up in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  The U.P., of course, is a vast wilderness and hence a place of great mystery.  About 80 percent of the land is uninhabited forest, home to many remarkable animals: bear, wolves, moose, cougars, beavers, weasels, and a variety of other creatures.  Less well-known is that the deep interior of the U.P. is believed to be home to strange beings that most people have never seen.  These are termed “cryptids”, defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as “an animal whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated.”  The Loch Ness Monster is the best-known example of a cryptid.  Despite numerous eyewitness accounts, photographs, videos, and sonar readings, the existence of the Loch Ness monster remains disputed by most scientists.  In similar fashion, the wilds of the U.P. are home to a number of cryptids.  While I’ve never seen any of them personally, many Yoopers and visitors have confirmed their existence.  Here are some of the Upper Peninsula cryptids that we should watch for in our travels.     


The most famous cryptid found in the U.P. is Bigfoot.  Bigfoot (or Sasquatch) sightings have been reported throughout much of North America, especially in the Pacific Northwest and the Southeast as well as the Great Lakes region.  Bigfoot is typically described as a tall (7 to 9 foot), hairy, muscular, ape-like creature that walks on two legs.  Suspected Bigfoot footprints have been as large as 24 inches long and 8 inches wide. 

Over the years there have been many hundreds of Bigfoot sighting and thousands of tracks.  Bigfoot encounters have been reported in every county in Michigan.  In one well-publicized incident a mother and daughter were driving in a rural area of Monroe County when they saw a tall, hairy, man-like creature run in front of their car.  The creature punched the teenage girl and slammed the mother’s head into the dashboard, then ran off and disappeared in the woods.  There have been lots of sightings of an 8-foot tall hairy beast by hikers and hunters in the Huron National Forest near Oscoda.  On one occasion two hunters shot a deer, but Bigfoot got there first and hauled it away. 

A recent Bigfoot case occurred just two miles from my parents’ Birch Creek home outside of Menominee.  A local resident set up game cameras on his property and discovered  images of a tall, hairy creature in the forest — not a bear, not any known animal.  Animal Planet sent in a tema and did did a TV show on the Menominee Bigfoot.  Menominee County is home to the Upper Peninsula Bigfoot/Sasquatch Research Organization, located at Hermansville.  Researchers there have documented Bigfoot sightings near Escanaba, Gladstone, Rapid River, Gwinn, Iron Mountain, Germfask, and other U.P. sites.  While skeptics remain wary of the existence of Bigfoot, primatologist Jane Goodall said in a 2002 NPR interview, “I’m sure they exist.”  (3, 4, 8). 

The Michigan Dogman 

The U.P. has also been home to many sightings of another prominent cryptid, the Michigan Dogman.  The Dogman was first seen in Wexford County in 1887 by two lumberjacks.  They described it as seven feet tall with a man’s torso and the head of a dog.  The Dogman is known for his frightening howl that sounds like a human scream.  It is believed to have been stalking the area around the Manistee River since the 1700s.   Sightings were reported in Allegan County in the 1950s and in Manistee and Cross Village in 1967.  In 1973 a man in Paris, Michigan, was attacked by five wild dogs, and he reported that one of them walked on two legs.   Horses in the Upper Peninsula are known to have died of fright, surrounded by dog tracks.  Evidence for the Dogman’s existence remained anecdotal until the discovery in 2004 of an 8mm. family film purchased at an estate sale which provides the only filmed image of the Dogman.  When a Traverse City D.J. broadcast a song about the Dogman, he received over one hundred reports confirming the creature’s existence.  (9) 


The Waheela is a large, wolf-like creature that prefers cold, inhospitable environments and is believed to inhabit the U.P., Canada, and Alaska.  Larger and more heavily built than normal wolves, Waheela are solitary creatures who are rarely found in packs.  An American mechanic who witnessed a Waheela some years ago described it as looking like a wolf on steroids.  Centuries ago Native American legends referred to the Waheela as an evil spirt with supernatural powers that kills people and removes their heads.   Some speculate that modern Waheela are descendants of prehistoric bear-dogs.  (5) 


While the Hodag is primarily associated with Wisconsin, it is also reported to inhabit the lumber woods of the Upper Peninsula.  The name “Hodag” is a combination of “horse” and “dog”.  The Hodag is seven feet long and resembles a bull-horned rhinoceros with a spiny back and horns growing from its forehead.  It has been described as “the fiercest, strangest, most frightening monster ever to set razor sharp claws on the earth.”  The Hodag was first discovered in 1893 by Eugene Shepherd, a Rhinelander lumberman who reportedly killed the beast with dynamite and exhibited it at the Oneida County Fair.  When accused of manufacturing a hoax, Shepherd explained that he had kept the real Hodag body hidden so that it wouldn’t be stolen.  Today the Hodag is the official mascot of Rhinelander High School.  (7)   

Pressie, the Lake Superior Serpent

The U.P.’s borders include shorelines of Lake Superior, Lake Michigan, and Lake Huron.  Each of these Great Lakes has been the reported home of astonishing water cryptids.  The most famous is Pressie, the Lake Superior Serpent.  Many credible witnesses have spotted Pressie over the years. She is named after the Presque Isle River where one of the best sightings occurred.  Observers have described a serpent-like creature up to 75 feet long, green and black in color, with a horse-like head on a longish neck and a whale-type tale.  In 1897 a Detroit man fell overboard from his yacht near Duluth and was attacked by a huge serpent which tried to strangle him like a boa constrictor.  His three shipmates saw the serpent as well.  On Memorial Day weekend in 1977 an Ironwood hiker named Randy Braun snapped a photo of what he believed to be a giant serpent swimming in the lake.  The photo suggest a serpent-like creature with a hornlike head on a long neck and an undefined tail.  In the mid-1990’s near Point Iroquois two fishermen watched in horror as a large aquatic animal pulled a wading buck deer under the water and left only it’s severed head.  No carcasses of the Lake Superior serpent have ever been found, and investigators have suggested that a gigantic sturgeon may account for at least some of the sightings.  (2) 

The Lake Michigan Monster

While sightings of huge water serpents have been most common in Lake Superior, Lake Michigan has had its own enormous prehistoric creatures.  Sightings along the Lake Michigan coast near Cross Village, Harbor Springs, and Northport date back as far as 1817 and describe a 60-foot serpent.  Local Native Americans referred to it as a “sea panther” because of its catlike head and lizard body.  Similar sightings have occurred in other northern lakes, including Lake Erie and Lake Champlain.  Some cryptozoologists speculate that the Great Lake serpents may be landlocked prehistoric plesiosaurs.  (6) 

Sea Monster of the Straits

Another account of the Great Lakes sea monsters was reported by the Grand Rapids Press on June 25, 1976.  The owner of a resort on the Lake Huron shorefront reported seeing two 45-foot sea creatures frolicking in the Mackinac Straits in front of his property.  The Cheboygan County Sheriff stopped by the next day and, much to his surprise, observed one of the creatures.  “I went down to the beach, and sure enough, I’m looking at something 20, maybe 30 feet long, swimming just below the surface.  I was amazed.  I didn’t know what it was, but it sure wasn’t a publicity stunt.”  The sheriff arranged for a couple of deputies to search the area in a canoe but they weren’t successful.  Experts theorized that it might have been a giant eel or carp, but no eels or carp have ever been known to approach that size.  (1) 

Three Centaurs in the Forest

It’s hard to say which of the various U.P. cryptids actually exist.  Some, of course, might be mythical or products of over-active imaginations.  I personally prefer to believe that there are many types of prehistoric creatures that have survived over the eons in the depths of the U.P. wilderness and remain hidden from civilization.  I do find that I’m much more alert to the possibility of cryptids.  Just last weekend I was hiking at Miami Whitewater Forest near Cincinnati with a friend when we saw what appeared to be three horseback riders passing by in the woods.  It was very strange.  Neither of us had ever seen a horse in Miami Whitewater Forest before, much less in the thickest part of the forest.   I went home, did some cryptozoological research, and suddenly realized that these had’t been riders on horseback at all.   Instead we had been fortunate enough to see a trio of centaurs — creatures with the upper body of a human and the lower body of a horse.  So amazing!  Now that I have definite proof that crypts exist, I’m eager to return to Menominee and conduct a search on our family property for signs of Bigfoot.  I’ll enlist Katja and our grandchildren to help me.  I’m certain that we’ll be successful.

(1), “Weird Wednesday: Michigan Sea Monsters” 
(2), “Pressie, the Lake Superior Monster” 
(3), “Bigfoot sighting in area” 
(4),  “The Dogman and other Michigan mysteries” 
(5), “The Cryptid Zoo: Bear-dogs”
(6), “America’s Most Mysterious Places” 
(7), “In search of the Hodag” 
(8), “Bigfoot” 
(9), “Michigan Dogman” 

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Off to the Ohio State Fair

Dear George,
Katja’s recollection is that we last went to the Ohio State Fair in Columbus sometime before our son J’s birth in 1969.  I vaguely thought we might have gone there when J was about 10 or 12, but I was unsure.  Whatever the case, forty or fifty years is much too long to wait between state fair outings.  I myself love county and state fairs.  Some of my most exciting  childhood memories are going to the U.P. State Fair in Escanaba with my family.  Katja, J, and I went to the Hamilton County Fair in Carthage for many years, and we always were excited to be frightened by Zambora the Gorilla Girl.  Columbus is further away from Cincinnati — a hundred miles — but definitely worth the trip.  

The Ohio State Fair is one of the nation’s largest.  It lasts for twelve days in late July and early August and attracts close to a million visitors each year.  The first Ohio State Fair was held in Camp Washington outside Cincinnati in 1850 and had about 25,000 attendees in its two-day run.  Then it changed locations every year (e.g., Sandusky, Zanesville, Toledo, Cleveland) until it moved permanently to Columbus in 1874.  It’s been at the Ohio Expo Center and State Fairgrounds since 1886.  

We arrived about 3 p.m. on Tuesday and were pleasantly surprised that tickets were only $4 on Senior Day.  We stopped first at Cardinal Hall with all of its arts and crafts.  The youth art exhibition by elementary, middle school, and high school students was inspiring.  There were wonderful fantasy creations by first graders, and the high school students’ works were near-professional quality.  In addition, there were quilts, leather-working and woodworking, model railroad trains, knitting and sewing, fudge brownies, and even a competition for the world’s ugliest cake.  

We made our way down Food Highway where Katja got a squeezed lemonade.  I will guess that there were at least a hundred food vendors, all of them competing to see who could be the most harmful to Ohioans’ health.  Katja and I decided that there wasn’t a single place that catered to good nutrition.  It didn’t matter since they all seemed to be doing a good business.

We briefly watched a magician, a comic, a knife-juggler, and a rock band.  Some of the events were of particular interest to Katja, and I would wander off to take a few photos.  She always likes the cooking demonstrations, and, along with several hundred other audience members, she enjoyed the 4-H fashion review with 8- to 12-year-olds modeling outfits that they’d sewn.  Katja visited the ring-cleaning booth, had her ring cleaned, and invested $20 in a bottle of their magic formula.  We also had free lunch (salad with nuts) at the “Cooking with Peanuts” show.      

There were, of course, several animal buildings.  We stopped by to see the cows and petted a couple of week-old Holsteins.  The Pork building featured Marvelous, the Big Boar, who weighs 1140 pounds and struck me as nearly as large as a cow.  While the photo doesn’t do him justice, I think Marvelous must be the largest pig in the world.  

We looked forward to the rabbits the most, but were disappointed that it was “Changeover Day” and so there were only a dozen or so rabbits to be admired.  Nonetheless, they were all show winners.   

The Fine Arts Building, with adult art, photography, and sculpture, offered a massive exhibition with lots of museum-quality work.  I was most moved by the Wounded Warriors exhibit which consisted of seven eye-catching wood sculptures of wounded military dogs from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. 

We were hungry by 6 p.m. and had a Bloomin’ Onion as an appetizer.  By the time we finished it we were filled up and decided that it had been our evening meal.  

After walking back and forth a couple of times I finally decided to test the guy who guesses ages and weights.  I paid him three dollars and was happy when he guessed me to be 8 years younger than my actual age.  I thought I was going to get $6 back, but instead I won a small stuffed monkey head which would might be sold at the 99 Cents Store.  It was worth it.  

On the way out we asked a couple to take our photo, and then we headed for home on I-71, stopping for Dairy Queen sundaes in Wilmington.   I’m glad we went to the fair.  Despite all these years, I never think much about living in Ohio.  It always seems rather bland compared to more exotic places we visit.  However, there were so many wonderful and amazing things produced by Ohioans that I found myself experiencing a unfamiliar touch of Buckeye pride.  There are a lot of gifted people out there in the hinterlands.   I think we’ll come back to the State Fair again next year.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Mysteries of the Circle of Life Revealed

Dear George,
Today is my eightieth birthday.  That’s a shock, though there’s not much I can do about it.  Everybody in the world who was born on July 21, 1937, turns eighty today, whether they like it or not.  I find it much easier  to visualize my grandfather at eighty since that’s the last age I remember him at.  Though my father lived to his mid-eighties, I imagine him in his forties (which is who he was when I lived at home as a teenager).  For myself, I’m more likely to think of myself as eighteen than as eighty.  Eighty just seems completely alien.  I know that’s delusional, but sometimes it’s for the best. 

I also get confused about the meaning of my birthday.  At the moment, for example, I tend to think that I’ve just started my eightieth year and consequently am at the very beginning of my eighties.  That’s totally wrong.  The truth of the matter is that I’ve just finished my eightieth year (and consequently I’ve been in my eighties for a full 365 days).  This becomes clear when one thinks of their first birthday.  We don’t start our first year on our first birthday.  Rather, we’ve finished our first year and are beginning the second.  Despite my confusion, this all works out o.k.  I’ve been traumatized recently about turning eighty.  But then I realized I’ve actually completed my entire eightieth year.  Being in my eighties, it turns out, has worked out just fine for a pretty long time. 

Two days ago I was drafting this blog post at the university.  It was ninety degrees out, but I still enjoyed the one-mile walk home at the end of the afternoon.  Our Honda wasn’t in the driveway when I arrived, so I figured that Katja had gone to the grocery store.  I was startled to find her sitting in our sun room.  She was equally startled when I asked where our car was.  We looked out on the street, but it was nowhere to be seen.  Katja returned to the house to call the police, but I said I wanted to check down the block first.  The car, of course, wasn’t down the block.  On my way back it suddenly dawned on me where it was.  I’d driven it to the university, parked it in the garage, left it there, and walked home.  Whew, that was a relief!  The next to last sentence I’d written on my office computer before I’d left was: “I’m glad that I’m still of sound mind at age eighty.”

Here are some other interesting items about being eighty.  

7-2-37     Richard Petty, NASCAR champion
7-6-37     Ned Beatty, Actor
7-6-37     Gene Chandler, Singer/songwriter/producer
7-6-37     Vladimir Ashkenazy, Russian pianist/conductor
7-12-37   Bill Cosby, Comedian/TV actor/sexual harasser
7-31-37   U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato (Rep., NY, 1981-99)  
(12) [Note: Numbers In parentheses refer to sources at end]

July 1: The Gestapo arrested and imprisoned pastor Martin Niemöller for opposing the Nazis’ state control of German Protestant churches.  
July 2: Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared after taking off from New Guineau during Earhart’s attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world. 
July 7: Japanese forces invaded China in the Battle of Lugou Bridge, often seen as the beginning of World War II in Asia. 
July 11:  Composer George Gershwin died of a brain tumor in L.A. at age 38. 
July 31: The Politburo of the Soviet Union approved an order to execute 75,950 people and send an additional 193,000 to the Gulag.  (12)

The Great Depression (its later years)
World War II
The Atomic Bomb
The Korean War
Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy
Roy Rogers and Gene Autry

  • 2,203,337 people were born in the U.S. in 1937.  53.7% are alive today.  (1) 
  • The average life expectancy for an 80-year-old person today is 8.9 years.  For females, it’s 9.6 years; for males, 8.1 years.  (7)
  • The rate of cognitive impairment for people ages 75 to 79 is about 5%.  Prevalence rises after age 80, approaching 20% for people 85 and over.  (8)
  • 67% of American adults report good, very good, or excellent health at ages 75-85, as do 57% at ages 85 and over.  (8)
  • In 2013 80-year old Japanese alpinist-skier Yuichiro Miura became the oldest person to climb to the top of Mount Everest.  (5)
  • The Buddha died at age 80.  Just before his death he delivered his final message, then lay down between two trees.  (4)
  • A UK survey of 300,000 adults found that life satisfaction and happiness were highest in the 65-79 age group though declining in the 80s.  Persons in their 90s were comparable to those in their 20s and 30s.  (3) 
  • 80 is the upper age limit for cardinals to vote in papal elections.  (12)
  • Sweden has a greater percent of residents age eighty and over than any other country (5%).  (10)
  • So far eighty is the oldest that I’ve ever been. 
  • You know you’ve turned eighty when you look in the mirror and say, “Dad?” 
  • At eighty you’ll never be youthful again, but you can always be immature. 
  • They told me in my youth that I would lose my mind by age eighty.  What they forgot to tell me is that I wouldn’t miss it that much.  
  • Eighty is a wonderful age.  Especially if you’re ninety.  (6, 14)
“Inherent in architecture, it involves everything in life so that there is absolutely no end to it.  By the time you’re seventy or eighty, you’re still beginning.  So, that’s the kind of life I’ve preferred to being the expert at forty and dead, you know.”  (John Lautner, architect)  (2)

“I have lived eighty years of life and know nothing for it, but to be resigned and tell myself that flies are born to be eaten by spiders and man to be devoured by sorrow.”  (Voltaire)  (2)

I ran across a statement about diversity in older age from the World Health Organization that I found helpful.  Paraphrased slightly, it said that, with respect to health, there is no such thing as a “typical” older person.  Biological age has only a loose association with chronological age.  Some 80 year-olds are very similar mentally and physically to 20 year-olds.  Other seniors have experienced declines at much younger ages.  There is a very wide range of experiences and needs among older people that public health responses must address.  (11) 

  • I am glad to not be working.  No boss, no strained relations with colleagues, no externally imposed tasks, no deadlines, no performance evaluations, no worries about failure.  (When I contemplated retirement in my late sixties, I was sure that working was preferable.  Now at eighty I realize that I was fooling myself.)
  • I find there is a lot of personal freedom at age eighty.  I can pretty much select stuff each day that I enjoy doing and rarely have to deal with noxious alternatives.  
  • All of these big birthdays involve life transitions which present new challenges and opportunities.  My main goal for my eighties is to age well.  I want to stay in physically fit, and I would like to keep my mind alert and active.  So far, so good.    

(1), “How Many People Are Alive From the Year You Were Born” 
(2), keyword “age eighty”)
(3), “Health, United States, 2016”
 (4), “Buddha”
(5), “Miura oldest to climb Everest but some facts overlooked” 
(6), “Age”
(7), “80 Year Old Life Expectancy”
(8), “Growing Older in America”
(9), “What Percentage of People Live to the Age of 80?”
(10), “Demographic Profile of the Older Population”
(11), “Ageing and health” [World Health Organization]
(12), “1937” 
(13) www.wikipedia, “80 (number)”
(14), “Old Age Jokes”

Friday, July 14, 2017

Flawless Driving

Dear George,
I noticed recently that my driver’s license was set to expire on my upcoming eightieth birthday.  I was nervous about renewing it because I fantasized that they might put me through a more stringent test than usual.  That wasn’t the case though.  The only hitch was that I swear the clerk showed me Chinese hieroglyphics in my vision exam.  When I drew a blank, she told me to try  again.  I wiped my eyes, and I passed the second time around.  With my new license, I’m all set for another four years, at the end of which I plan to be driving under the auspices of a new president. I’ll just try to stick it out till then.

I’ve been uneasy about driving ever since friends told us that they are banned from renting a car in Great Britain because they are over seventy.  That came as a shock.  I think of the British as much more sensible than Americans, and, if they regard seventy plus as too hazardous to rent a car, they must know something.  To investigate the matter, I did a Google search and ran across a huge AAA-sponsored research study of driver age as it’s related to all police-reported traffic accidents in the U.S. in 1995-96, 2001-2, and 2008-9.*  I’ve summarized some of the data for 2008-9 in the table below.  The table compares age groups of drivers for total number of crashes in 2008-9 (NCrash), the rate of crashes per 10,000 drivers, and death rates per 10,000 drivers in each age group.     

TABLE: Traffic accidents by age group (2008-9)

                 Rate.  Death
               Per 10K  Rate
Age     NCrash drivers Per 10K
16-19   1.8M   1737    2.62
20-29   2.4M   1309    2.40
30-39   3.3M    452    0.70
40-49   1.7M    399    0.64
50-59   1.2M    314    0.60
60-69   0.6M    252    0.62
70-79   0.3M    487    2.79
80+     0.1M    519    3.29
The first column (NCrash) shows that younger drivers are involved in a far greater number of crashes than are older drivers.  People in their thirties account for the most total crashes (about 3.3 million), while people in their eighties have the lowest total (about 100,000).  Overall, drivers in their eighties accounted for about 1% of all U.S. traffic accidents in 2008-9.  This, of course, is somewhat misleading since drivers in their 80s are fewer in number and drive fewer miles.  The next column (Rate per 10K) shows the rate of accidents by age group per 10,000 drivers.  Teenage drivers and drivers in their twenties had much higher rates than all of the other age groups.  About one in six teenage drivers had an accident in 2008-9, compared to about one in 20 drivers in their eighties.  Drivers in their seventies and eighties were most similar to drivers in their thirties.  The last column shows higher death rates (per 10,000 drivers) for those in their seventies and eighties.  This isn’t a matter of more accidents, but rather a decreased likelihood of surviving one’s injuries in the oldest age groups.  About three out of every 10,000 drivers in their eighties died in a car crash in 2008-9 — not terrible odds.   

The data clearly contradict my stereotypic fantasy that older drivers risk their lives every time they get behind the wheel.  Even so, I find myself more conscious of safety issues on the road than I was a few decades ago.  I’ve dealt with this recently by saying to myself when I set out to drive somewhere, “Time for flawless driving.”  That has a remarkable effect.  Just saying “flawless driving” to myself every now and then alters my mental state and makes for heightened awareness of the road and conscious attention to what I’m doing.  I’m not only more aware of stuff, but I adhere more carefully to various safety rules when I have “flawless driving” on my mind.  These are rules like: 

  • Keep your eyes on the road.  Don’t be distracted by pretty girls, llamas, or Burma Shave road signs.
  • Keep track of cars behind you and at your sides as well as in front of you.
  • Drive defensively.  Assume other drivers are texting or are heroin addicts. 
  • Allow plenty of time.  There’s usually no reason to be in a rush. 
  • If changing lanes, put your turn signal on and move over gradually. 
  • Stop at the white line at traffic lights — not in the pedestrian crossing. 
  • Pay attention to your spouse when they scream at you.   

The study I mentioned above indicates that about one senior driver (80+) dies in a car crash for every 12.5 million miles driven.  That’s a lot of miles.  I have almost the entire 12.5 million miles to go this year before I reach that statistic.  By staying mentally attuned to “flawless driving,” I would say I have at least 25 million miles to go before I’m done for.  I can live with that.

*SOURCE:, “Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age: United States, 1995-2010”