This past weekend - August 5-6 - I spoke at the Defiance, Ohio-based Dogman Symposium. It was an event organized by good mate and creature-seeker Ken Gerhard. Even at this early stage you may be wondering: what is a Dogman? Well, I'll tell you. It must be said that it's very difficult - to the point of being near-impossible - to not think about the Dogman in werewolf-style terms. Indeed, everything about the Dogman practically screams "Werewolf!" Or, maybe, howls. As strange as it may sound, reports of Dogmen proliferate, and particularly so in the likes of Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
The name of the beast is very apt: it's a large, humanoid creature, covered in hair. Bigfoot? Nope. This one has a long and pronounced snout and large pointed ears, and it walks on two and four limbs. Hence the werewolf parallels. Of course, when it comes to the matter of the Dogman, just about everything related to the phenomenon is controversial, but that doesn't take away the fact that people see and report such things - and on a regular basis, too. Check out, for example, Linda Godfrey's book, The Michigan Dogman. And that's just one of many examples. All of which brings us back to Ken Gerhard.
When, earlier this year, Ken told me he was planning the Dogman Symposium, and asked if I would come on-board, I thought it was a great idea. After all, as time goes by it becomes more and more difficult to come up with something original for a conference and the attendees. Yes, Dogman has been discussed at gigs, but not to the extent where these weird things have had their own, entire conference - so to speak.
There was a very good reason why Ken chose Defiance, Ohio as the location for the conference. Located in northwest Ohio, the town of Defiance is home to around 17,000 people. In the summer of 1972, Defiance became a hot-spot for monster-seekers when locals reported nothing less than a werewolf in their midst. Thankfully, the creature did not stay around for long. But, from July to August of that year the man-beast most assuredly left its personal calling-card. The town was under siege. Children were kept indoors after school. The local police carefully combed the neighborhood by night. Werewolf fever was everywhere. And the legend of the Defiance werewolf still persists.
On the evening of Thursday, August 4, me, Ken, Lyle Blackburn (author of Lizard Man and vocalist with the Dallas-based rock-band, Ghoultown), and Jen Devillier, the author of Dark Night Haunting hit the road and left Dallas, Texas behind us. It was a journey of around 16 to 17 hours, which got us into Defiance on Friday afternoon - and straight into setting up the lecture room, arranging chairs and tables, and getting things ready for the conference. That was followed by dinner, a fun and a cool meet-the-speakers gig, and drinks to around midnight. Saturday began around 7:30 in the morning, with more setting up, etc. Doors opened at 9:00 and approximately 150 people came to learn all about the Dogman.
Lyle Blackburn was the conference MC, and he did a great job informing and entertaining the crowd. Up first was John Tenney, who gave a fascinating presentation that encompassed the aforementioned Michigan Dogman, and an intriguing 1964 case of a Dogman of very small proportions; one that suggested almost baboon-like imagery. In thought-provoking fashion, John suggested that assumed sightings of Bigfoot in such states as Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin may actually have been of Dogmen. As John noted, Bigfoot - in terms of its appearance - is well-known. So, with that in mind, people may assume they are seeing a Bigfoot, when they are actually encountering something that may only physically resemble a Bigfoot to a certain degree. But, seen on a dark night, and very briefly, the Dogman might easily be mistaken for the United States' most famous monster.
Up next was David Weatherly, who tackled the controversial issue of Skinwalkers, Native American beliefs in the phenomenon, and more than a few very bizarre, and even sinister, encounters. David gave a good, solid overview of the Skinwalker mystery, matters relative to shape-shifting, and how and why so many Native Americans are deeply fearful of these strange "animals." If that's even the right term to use. David also discussed bizarre reports of extremely large wolves that seemed incapable of being harmed or killed by bullets. Without doubt, David's lecture was the creepiest of all - and I mean that from a positive perspective!
David Weatherly was followed by conference organizer, Ken Gerhard. Seven years ago, Ken traveled to France with a TV crew to make a documentary on the strange and near-notorious saga of the Beast of Gevaudan. This was before what passes for reality TV became outright lies, and before widespread TV fabrication became all-dominating. The result was a very good, and well made, production on the mysterious creature that allegedly killed dozens of people - and maybe even more. Ken told the story of his personal quest for the truth behind the spate of violent killings that occurred in and around France's Margeride Mountains between 1764 and 1767. Was the killer a werewolf? Could it have been a hyena? Or, was there a far more down to earth explanation, namely a serial-killer? Ken addressed the matter in an entertaining and unbiased fashion.
Linda Godfrey was next. She's someone who, more than anyone else, has written about, lectured on, and discussed the Dogman/werewolf controversy. I mentioned her book The Michigan Dogman earlier. However, if the subject intrigues you, then you should consider reading her other books, including The Beast of Bray Road and Hunting the American Werewolf. Linda gave an excellent presentation on how the Bray Road, Wisconsin encounters began in the 1990s, the local response that soon took off big time, and a certain, curious issue that is present in nearly all of the reported cases. Namely, the ability of these wolf-like animals to walk on both two and four legs. The "inter-dimensional" angle for Dogman was discussed, as were the connections to ancient "earth mounds." It's fair to say that without Linda's huge input in this particular field of research, the Dogman issue would not be so visible as it is today.
I followed on from Linda Godfrey, focusing on the lesser-known Wulver of the Shetland Islands, a spate of Dogman-style reports from a certain cemetery in England in 2007, and the parallels between the Dogmen and the UK's so-called "Phantom Black Dogs," including the weird, centuries-old saga of the PBD of Newgate Prison, London.
Stan Gordon was the final speaker, and he gave an excellent, illustrated presentation which addressed the wide variety of paranormal activity in Stan's home-state of Pennsylvania. This including encounters with UFOs, sightings of Bigfoot, reports of Bigfoot and UFOs seen together, paranormal activity, accounts of strange and large black cats and - of course - Dogman. There was a very good reason why Stan brought up all these various anomalies. As Stan rightly noted, when such "things" are seen in close proximity, and on numerous occasions, the idea that there is no connection between them becomes less and less likely. In other words, Stan took the audience down a path towards John Keel's so-called "Window Areas."
And, the Dogman Symposium was rounded off with an entertaining and lively question-and-answer session. Dinner followed soon after, as did a good time hanging out back at the hotel. There was just one thing left: that 16-17-hour-long drive back to Dallas on Sunday morning, which wasn't so bad! A great time was had, and here's hoping for another Dogman Symposium in the near future.