Interested in terrifying tales of Bigfoot? How about giant and monstrous snakes? Maybe legends of mermaids and mermen fascinate you. Or, perhaps, lake monsters and sea serpents are your thing. Well, if one, or even all, of the above beasts of a cryptozoological nature grab your attention, then you won't want to miss the new book from John Hairr: Monsters of North Carolina: Mysterious Creatures in the Tar Heel State.
Monsters of North Carolina is published by Stackpole Books, who are putting out an entire series of Monsters of... books. Titles already available cover Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin. And given how many US states there are, it's a sure sign there are many more books to come in the series.
I particularly enjoy reading regional-based cryptozoological books, chiefly because they very often reveal details of intriguing, local cases that it would otherwise be very difficult to find. And John Hairr's book scores big time on that very issue.
Hairr does a great job of differentiating between those strange creatures we know to exist, those that may exist, and those which appear to be definitively folkloric in nature - albeit still fascinating, nonetheless. Not only that, Hairr writes in an appropriately atmospheric style that allows us to picture in our minds the diverse and atmospheric landscape where the wild things of North Carolina dwell.
As is pretty much the case all across the United States, the world's most famous man-beast - Bigfoot - has put in far more than several appearances in North Carolina, to say the very least. Skeptics are often quick to suggest that Bigfoot is just a modern-day myth. There is good evidence this is far from being the case. Hairr both entertains and informs us with centuries-old legends of both the Cherokee and the Tuscarora people. They both told stories of hairy giants lurking in the Tar Heel State's forests.
The North Carolina Bigfoot may not be a beast to cross paths with. Hairr discusses 18th century reports of the creatures apparently attacking, and killing, a number of people in the vicinity of the Bald Mountains, which run along the North Carolina-Tennessee border. Reports from modern times also feature heavily in the book, as do encounters with other primates. Some of them may well have been escapees from private enclosures and zoos. Others, however, are far less simple to explain.
Then there are North Carolina's men and women of the distinctly wild kind: creatures that appear to be part-human and part-beast, and not unlike the elusive missing link, one might be inclined to suggest. It's possible that at least some of them may have been tragic souls - and entirely human ones - who ended up living wild in the woods, and who ultimately descended into lifestyles more befitting those of wild animals.
Out-of-place cats - large, exotic and very often black in color - are staple ingredients of the field of cryptozoology. North Carolina has no shortage of them, as Hairr reveals to us. Bobcats and cougars are impressive enough, but what about an honest-to-goodness tiger on the loose in North Carolina? As incredible as it sounds, it does seem that just such a creature was indeed prowling around back in 1879.
We're fortunate that in many of the mystery cat cases presented in Monsters of North Carolina we have the names of the witnesses, the precise dates, and the locations where the creatures were seen. And, when addressing all the data as a whole - which spans the 1800s to the 20th century - there appears to be very little doubt that cats of a large and hostile nature have called North Carolina their home. Maybe they still do. Bear that in mind, if you ever decide to go prowling around.
More puzzling to explain are those four-legged animals for which the description is scant, or where the witness describes something that makes identification very difficult. We're talking about mysterious canines, such as the monster of Caldwell County, described as resembling "a cross between a small bear and a dog." Today, it's unlikely we'll ever know what these animals were. But, that does not take away the air of mystery and legend that still surrounds them.
In my introductory paragraph to this article, I mentioned giant snakes. Well, there are plenty of them in North Carolina. Hairr shows us that such creatures featured prominently in the lore of North Carolina's Native Americans. An attack on a cow, a near-fatal encounter with a snake of around 20 feet in length, and a report of a giant 30-footer in Catawba County are just the collective tip of the iceberg. Monsters of North Carolina also entertains with a fine chapter on exotic and oversized insects, many of which will be of deep interest to not just the cryptozoologist but to the regular zoologist, too.
And, it wouldn't be a book about unknown animals without more than a few mentions of lake monsters and sea serpents. Yep, we're talking about the Tar Heel State's very own equivalents of Scotland's Loch Ness Monster. There is a fascinating section that deals with the belief that at least some lake monsters might have supernatural, rather than flesh and blood, origins. Tales of wizardry and paranormal powers, designed to conjure up the mighty leviathans of the deep, make for highly entertaining reading.
Once again, Native American lore plays a large and significant role in such accounts, demonstrating the rich and magical diversity of lake monster traditions in North Carolina. As for the state's mermaids, well, their existence was fully accepted - at least, it was until the nineteenth century when what amounted to a rich body of sightings finally came to a halt. The coastal waters of North Carolina are not without their distinctly weird and unidentified fish - some of an impressive size - and classic sea serpent-style monstrosities.
So, all in all, what we have with John Hairr's Monsters of North Carolina is a superb, and excellently-written, study of bizarre beasts that science, debunkers and skeptics tell us don't exist, but which the many and varied witnesses assert most definitely do exist.
This is one of those books best read on the proverbial cold, windswept, winter's night in a suitably atmospheric and creepy location deep in the woods. Of course, if you're not able to manage that, the couch at home will do just fine!
Monsters of North Carolina is essential reading for fans of cryptozoology, unknown animals, weird history, and engaging and mysterious folklore. Now, go out and buy the book or I'll set North Carolina's "Vampire Beast of Blandenboro" on you. And that, I can assure you, you most definitely do not want...