Apr 23, 2015 I Jason Offutt

Exploring American Monsters: Delaware

Delaware, the first state to ratify the United States Constitution, sits on the Delmarva Peninsula, and is bordered by New Jersey, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. The second smallest state in the Union Delaware is one of the least populous, but it does have a few monsters.

Selbyville Swamp Monster

Two raccoon hunters trudging through the Great Cypress Swamp of Selbyville, Delaware, one night in the 1920s found something unexpected. The hunters knew something was wrong when their dogs froze, and tucked tail, but they didn’t expect what they encountered next. “They heard something screaming, and this horrible noise started coming toward them,” author Andy Nunez told the newspaper Coastal Point. “Rather than fire on whatever it was, they backed away. Something large and heavy continued to follow them, snapping through the branches as it came.”

The hunters encountered the Selbyville Swamp Monster, a large, hairy, hulking beast.

An editor of the Delmarva News, Ralph Grapperhaus, claimed he created the Selbyville Swamp Monster as a hoax in the 1960s, and dressed friend Fred Stevens in a hairy costume Stevens used to terrify motorists on Route 54, and Grapperhaus printed stories of Swamp Monster hunts in the Delmarva News. Stevens revealed his part in the hoax in 1987. He’d stopped dressing as the monster after a few months as hunts for the creature became common, and he feared for his life.

However, Stevens’ claims don’t account for encounters since the 1920s, or those that continued long after he hung up his costume.

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Something you DON'T want to meet in the woods.


This giant stalks the icy fields of winter in search of prey. Akin to the better-known Windigo, the Mhuwe is a large, hairy beast that feasts on human flesh. According to a Delaware Indian legend, the Mhuwe are human beings who have become cannibals, and turned into a monster. One legend has a tribe taking in a Mhuwe, feeding it fruits, vegetables, and cooked animal meat until the monster transformed back into a man, according to the Native American website native-languages.org.

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The Zwaanendael Merman, the real thing, or a hoax? Most probably a hoax.

Zwaanendael Merman

Lying in a glass case in the Zwaanendael Museum in Lewes, Delaware, is a merman. The foot-long mummified creature arrived in Lewes in the 1800s, a present to the Lewes family from a sea captain. The merman has a fish’s tail, human-like arms, and a screaming humanoid head topped with white hair.

A thing of local legend, the Zwaanendael Merman is likely a hoax. The Division of Historical and Cultural Affairs in Delaware said the merman was “created in mid-19th-century China using a shrunken monkey head, fish, hair, ivory, glass, oak, stain, varnish and dye,” according to an article in the Wilmington News Journal.

Or is it? A sea captain wouldn’t lie, would he?

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Is Bigfoot lurking in Delaware?


I began the “Exploring American Monsters” series with the caveat that I would not focus on well-known creatures, such as the Jersey Devil, Mothman, and Bigfoot. However, I’ve included Bigfoot in this installment because, well, it’s Delaware. For a long time, Delaware, along with Hawaii, were the only two states in the Union without reported Bigfoot sightings. Delaware can’t say that anymore.

Three encounters, all in Sussex County in the southeastern part of the state, have been reported to the Bigfoot Field Research Organization in the past eleven years.

A college student at Delaware Technical Community College in Georgetown was driving home on a back road from a night class in January 2004 when he saw something he didn’t believe existed. As he pulled up to a stop sign, the student noticed a figure standing next to a utility pole staring out into a patch of forest. Thinking it was a man he turned off his high beams and kept driving. As he approached the figure, he noticed its immense size, about eight feet tall, and the thing was covered in thick black hair. When the figure turned its crested head to look at the car, it casually turned back toward the woods as if the car didn’t matter. Terrified, the driver sped away as quickly as possible.

A woman returning from a vacation with her family in August 2010 saw the head and shoulders of a Bigfoot standing over the corn in a field. No one else saw the creature.

A couple that had just returned home from the grocery store in November 2012 heard a tremendous scream followed by series of knocks of wood on wood from a patch of trees behind their house. The sun had set about an hour before; the couple saw nothing, but were convinced a Bigfoot was near their house.

Bigfoot in Delaware? Could be.

Next up: Florida.

Jason Offutt

Jason Offutt is paranormal investigator, an author of several paranormal books such as “What Lurks Beyond,” “Darkness Walks: Shadow People Among us,” “Haunted Missouri,” and “Paranormal Missouri” and a teacher of journalism at Northwest Missouri State University.

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