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Exploring American Monsters: Iowa

Iowa is known for corn. Lots and lots of corn. Bordered by the Missouri River to the west, and the Mississippi River to the east, this Midwest state is composed mostly of farms that spread over its vast plains and gentle hills. According to the newspaper USA Today, Iowa is the most American state. It has the most bald eagles per square mile, most Olympic gold medals won per capita, more native astronauts per capita, most Major League Baseball players per capita, and the largest percentage of homes with firearms. Famous residents of Iowa include American icon John Wayne (born Marion Morrison), actors Ashton Kutcher and Elija Wood, space physicist James A. Van Allen, painter Grant Wood, and Otto Rohwedder, the man who invented the machine that sliced bread. Oh, and the Van Meter Monster.

Newspaper account of the Van Meter Monster.

Newspaper account of the Van Meter Monster.

Van Meter Monster

For the tiny city of Van Meter, Iowa, just west of Des Moines, 1903 was a year of legend. One night in October, a handful of citizens reported seeing a human-shaped monster flying with giant bat wings. On the monster’s head was a horn that glowed like a searchlight, according the Des Moines Register. Local businessman U.G. Griffin shot at the creature as it flew over downtown businesses, but either missed, or the bullets didn’t bother the monster. A day later, a banker and the town doctor saw the monster. It stood upon the ground, and left three-toed prints.

The sightings didn’t stop there. The next night the owner of the local hardware store, O.V. White, shot at the beast as it perched on a telephone pole. Again, the shots either missed, or were ineffective.

Townspeople, armed with rifles, followed the monster to an abandoned mine outside town, and heard it scream. “The noise opened up again, as though Satan and a regiment of imps were coming forth for battle,” according to a 1903 edition of the Des Moines Daily News.

Two monsters emerged from the mine to face the townsmen, but retreated under the firepower, and never emerged again.

The Lockridge Monster.

The Lockridge Monster.

Lockridge Monster

On a night in late October 1975, farmer Herb Peiffer saw a “four-legged, black-haired thing in the cornfield” near Lockridge, Iowa, as he drove his tractor to his turkey pens, according to an article in the Milwaukee Sentinel. At first, Herb didn’t tell anyone about the creature he saw in his tractor lights because, according to his wife, “he thought we would make fun of him.” Then Herb discovered he wasn’t alone.

Local man Lowell Adkins was hunting when he discovered ten-inch tracks near the remains of four slaughtered, and partly eaten turkeys. People thought the tracks might have been those of a black bear, although the last recorded bear sighting in Iowa was at Spirit Lake in 1876, according to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. Although bear sightings have increased in recent years, in 1975 they were largely unheard of.

Word of a bear loose in Jefferson County kept people in their homes after dark, but further reports made them wonder about going outside at all. Lockridge resident Gloria Olsen spotted the beast one night, and she knew it wasn’t a bear. “It was just before dark and I was driving past an old deserted farmyard when I saw it,” Olson told reporters. “To me, it looked like it had a monkey’s face and kind of had hair all over.”

The Lockridge Monster is still a mystery.

The Hairy Wildwoman of Gordon’s Ferry.

The Hairy Wildwoman of Gordon’s Ferry.

Hairy Wildwoman

Hunters spotted a Wildman “of the female sex” in the forest near Gordon’s Ferry, Iowa, twelve miles north of Dubuque on 17 July 1884, according to The Dubuque Herald. When hunters spotted the woman she stood “like a statue in a clear space.” Her dishevelled hair was “about three feet long, and black as jet.” The men had crept up behind her, and when she realized they were there she emitted “an unearthly scream,” and ran through the woods at tremendous speed. She looked to be about twenty years old. The wildwoman was nude; the most disturbing attribute was her receding forehead. The men searched the woods for hours, but never saw her again.

Monster Turtle of Big Blue.

Monster Turtle of Big Blue.

Monster Turtle of Big Blue

In a thirty-four foot deep lake in an old rock quarry near Mason City, Iowa, lurks an enormous snapping turtle. Over the years, people fishing in Big Blue Pond in Clear Lake State Park claim to have seen this monster with a shell the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

Reports of enormous jaws that have threatened to eat swimmers have appeared from time to time, but officially the beast doesn’t exist. Clear Lake State Park officials say there’s no evidence to show that a snapping turtle greater than normal lives in the pond. Locals claim otherwise.

Next up: Kansas.

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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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