Wednesday, August 9, 2017
U.P. Cryptids: Stranger Than Fiction
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) www.absolutemichigan.com, “Weird Wednesday: Michigan Sea Monsters”
(2) www.cryptomundo.com, “Pressie, the Lake Superior Monster”
(3) www.ehextra.com, “Bigfoot sighting in area”
(4) www.freep.com, “The Dogman and other Michigan mysteries”
(5) www.newanimal.org, “The Cryptid Zoo: Bear-dogs”
(6) www.travelandleisure.com, “America’s Most Mysterious Places”
(7) www.web.archive.org, “In search of the Hodag”
(8) www.wikipedia.org, “Bigfoot”(9) www.wikipedia.org, “Michigan Dogman”