Wherever one goes there will always be local urban legends and spooky stories to be found, ranging from the odd to the downright terrifying. Yet in some cases these seemingly tall tales turn out to be more than just mere lore or campfire stories, making them ofttimes all the creepier. From the picturesque Scottish seaside town of Greenock comes one of the more bizarre such cases; a scary urban legend that turned out to be almost more disturbing than anything in the lore, making it a case that one almost wish had remained there.
Greenock is a quiet, quaint town lying in the Inverclyde council area and situated on the south bank of the River Clyde on the coast of the Bay of Quick. The fishing town is known for its rich maritime history, as well as its beauty, with numerous painstakingly restored Victorian buildings and walking trails offering breathtaking views of the surrounding vistas, making it often referenced in lists of the most charming towns in the country. With all of this rustic beauty and history, Greenock might be the last place one would associate with scary stories or creatures lurking in the dark, yet since at least the 1970s there has said to be a strange beast that prowls the nighttime streets, creeping through the shadows, feeding on rats, and startling passersby.
For years there were persistent reports of a humanoid creature that crawled through the night down dim alleys and tunnels, notable for its glowing eyes that would often be reported to peer and glimmer from the murk. In some reports the beast was reported as crawling from drainage pipes, scurrying down into the sewers, or taking shelter within tunnels, and although no one ever really got a good look at the thing, its supposedly reflective eyes and the fact that it was often seen to dine on rats, often scurrying about with one dangling from its mouth, led to the nickname “Catman.” At first this was all considered to mere urban legend, and some of the reports certainly seem to have that sort of ring to them, and the police not sure what to make of these weird accounts. Was this some sort of genuine unknown apparition? A ghost? A monster of some sort? A madman on the loose? Some sort of prank or practical joke? No one knew.
Then, in 2007 a video taken on a cell phone started making the rounds, which seemed to show that not only was the Catman very real, but that it was a man, albeit a very odd and disturbing one. The somewhat unsettling video shows a local young man talking to what appears to be a filthy, disheveled man with some sort of dark soot or grease all over his face and body, who has clamped in his jaws a limp, dead rat, which he takes a bite out of with relish before putting up a satisfied thumb’s-up gesture. The short clip became an Internet sensation, and propelled the obscure local legend of the Catman to international fame. Some welfare workers went out looking for what was obviously a poor lost soul in order to try and help him, but they were not able to find any trace of the elusive hermit. More similar videos started appearing, but there were still those who believed it was all a hoax, despite further reports coming in to corroborate that what was seen in the videos was real, such as one witness who said:
Catman is definitely real. He gave me a hell of a fright. The first time I saw him it was just getting dark, and all I saw were his eyes. His face is totally black like in the video. He would lie at Scotts Lane path in the bushes behind the fence, pointing at cat meat that was left for cats, asking me to pass it through the fence. I think he was scared to go onto the path for it. I used to go buy donor kebabs for him when coming home from dancing. He hasn’t been seen in ages now, since the council put corrugated iron up so he couldn’t be fed. He is definitely real, not a myth. I heard young boys gave him a heavy kicking. Young neds in Greenock are evil.
Other reports provided more details about the mysterious character, such as that he was unable to walk or talk, only able to gesticulate or grunt, and that he seemed to typically eschew normal food in favor of live rats that he could catch himself. One witness explained an encounter with the Catman thus:
My pal’s uncle was a mechanic in a small bus garage in Greenock, Scotland. One night he noticed a figure crawling under a bus,the figure was totally black. The garage had 2 cats who were fed every day but always seemed hungry all the time. Pal’s uncle seen the figure crawl over to the cats feeding bowls and start eating the food. He went over to see if this was one of the workers having a joke,when the hairs stood up on the back of his head. The figure was a man dressed in black covered in oil head to foot. The man could not walk or talk, he made gestures with his hands. After a couple of weeks all the garage workers seem him and started to leave him food. Catman would not eat normal food as we eat,he ate mice, rats,cat food,dog food. My pal took me and another guy to Greenock to see this person. It was about 6pm at night,dark and we seen this figure crawling towards us. My other pal started to get emotional,he could not believe that some one was living like this who was a mentally and physically disabled. We informed the police etc and the only thing they came up with was that he had came of a fishing boat got drunk in a local pub,got into a fight lay some where injured and missed his boat.
Indeed, although it seemed more and more likely that this was actually a real vagrant covered in black and pulling himself through nighttime alleys and tunnels to catch rats, no one had any idea of who he could possibly be or where he had come from. The most popular theory is that he was a Russian sailor or fisherman who had somehow become stranded in Scotland and become injured, forcing him into his bizarre lifestyle. Another theory is that he was a possibly mute, mentally disabled man who had been beaten by a mob, which had left him with broken legs and on his own, where he was just trying to survive. There were other ideas such as that he was an escaped mental patient or even just someone out playing an elaborate prank, but although it was unclear, one thing everyone could agree on was that it was pretty damn creepy.
Despite the fact that the Catman does indeed seem to be real, there are still many mysteries surrounding him, such as where he came from or who he is, and there have been several attempts to track the elusive man down in order to try to gain some insights but these have mostly met with failure. One documentary filmmaker set out in 2010 to try and find the Catman to chronicle his life and find out the answers to such questions once and for all, but not only was the strange individual nowhere to be found, but locals refused to share anything they knew about him, perhaps trying to protect his privacy. There was such a lack of any tangible information that the proposed full-length documentary ended up being just 5 minutes long. It would not be surprising if the locals are willfully hiding him, as one report suggests that he is well looked after by well-wishers, with the witness saying:
I live in Greenock and I can vouch the Catman exists. He has several spots he stays in, behind the shops at the bus station or around the abandoned warehouses. the local takeaways leave stuff out for him and every now and again you will find new blankets by one of his areas that someone has left for him. He was institutionalized once but Couldnt handle it. He doesn’t like people but the people here make sure he’s taken care of as much as he chooses to be. Cups of tea or soup will be left in certain spots, food. I know one woman who drops him off a meal every Saturday evening on her way to bingo and she makes sure he has a hat when it gets cold. I suppose its the true definition of care in the Community.
Who in the world is the Catman of Greenock? Where did he come from and how did he end up crawling about at night in this otherwise peaceful seaside village eating rats? While the answers to these still remain known, he is still out there creeping through the darkness, like some specter from myth. It is interesting that here we have an instance of an urban legend that has sprung up from the darkness to turn out to be true and every bit as creepy as it sounds, and it shows that sometimes these stories have some basis in truth after all. Maybe other such legends also have their share of truth, with origins similarly just as spooky as the stories they have spawned.