There have long been cases of the unexplained that skirt our ability to understand them and loom large out past the reality which we can comprehend. These often don’t seem to fit in with one’s typical cryptid reports or alien encounter accounts, and seem to inhabit a whole other domain of the strange. One bizarre case of an entity not quite like anything else comes from over a century ago, when a bat-winged, horned creature terrorized rural Iowa over several days.
The whole bizarre series of events begins in the quiet, secluded small town of Van Meter, Iowa, in the United States in the year 1903. On September 29 of that year, there would be some excitement in the otherwise rather uneventful small town life of this rural place, when a local tool dealer by the name of U.G. Griffith was on his way home just after midnight, after another long tiring day of peddling his wares. As he approached his home he is said to have noticed a strange point of light like a spotlight emanating from the top of a nearby building, which as he had been living there most of his life was something he recognized as not supposed to be there.
Griffith’s curiosity was piqued enough for him to forsake the warm meal and bed that waited for him at home after his hard day of work in order to drive down the road to see what the source of the light was, worried that it might be some hooligans out and about up to no good. As he approached it, the light then moved all the way across the street to another rooftop, as if it had just simply flown through the air. It would have been impossible for pranksters or a burglar to do something like that, and the increasingly baffled Griffith tried to work over in his head what could possible be going on. The light soon jumped away again off into the night this time, and he was left there sitting in the dark pondering what he had just seen.
The following day, Griffith told others in town about the odd floating light he had witnessed, and people certainly believed him because he was by all accounts an honest and well respected member of the community, but things would really get interesting the following evening. In the early morning hours of September 30, 1903, Van Meter’s own doctor, a Dr. Alcott, was awoken by what he would claim to be a piercingly bright beam of light shining right in his face from beyond a nearby window. The startled doctor jumped awake and ran outside to see what was going on, grabbing a firearm in the event that it was trespassers, and there he was confronted by the sight of a tall, humanoid form framed by bat-like wings and, most bizarrely of all, a single horn upon its head from which the blindingly bright light evidently shot forth.
The doctor apparently did not hesitate to fire his weapon at the strange beast, reportedly shooting it a total of 5 times, none of which seemed to have even the slightest effect on whatever it was, and it remained looming there in the murky dark without so much as flinching. The doctor then allegedly stumbled back to his home and locked the doors, and when he braved a glance back out into the night the thing was gone. Again, when this report was brought forward it was mostly believed, as this was after all a respected doctor, although as to what he had actually witnessed no one had a clue.
It did not take long at all for the astute to put Alcott’s report of a creature with a piercingly bright horn together with Griffith’s strange sighting the previous night of an anomalous light leaping from rooftop to rooftop, and soon there were whispers of something beyond our understanding lurking and prowling about out there in the night. This would only be exacerbated by yet another sighting of something decidedly weird the following day, in the early morning hours of October 1st, when Clarence Dunn, the manager of the town bank, was walking along on his way to the bank to check up on things, fearful that there were maybe robbers to blame for the recent strange sightings. When he arrived at the bank he settled in with a shotgun he had brought along with him and waited for anything to happen at all. He would not be disappointed.
At approximately 1 AM, Dunn heard an inexplicable sound from outside that reportedly sounded like someone gasping for air or being strangled. As he sat there in the dark, shotgun clenched in his white-knuckled hands, the shadows were suddenly banished by a beam of light that penetrated the darkness, and the witness could see that its source was some shadowy figure lurking outside. Without thinking, Dunn purportedly fired his weapon at the beast, which then fled away into the night. Although Dunn was sure he had hit the intruder, the following day there would apparently be found no trace of it and no blood, except for a few very anomalous footprints described as having only three toes. Apparently a plaster cast was made of the tracks as well, although no one had any idea of what could have made them, and is unknown exactly what happened to this cast.
The very next evening, a shrill, unearthly wail reminiscent of scraping, grinding metal roused a local hardware store owner named O.V. White from his sleep, and he was quick to grab a rifle he had been keeping handy in the face of the reports of some strange creature or intruder roaming the night. When he peered through his window he would see a strange dark figure perched up atop a telephone pole just around 15 feet away. White would apparently take aim and fire at the creature to score a direct hit, but this only caused the thing to snap its head up to gear at him as if irritated. It was then that White would later claim he had been overwhelmed with a potent stench that hit him like a wave and was so strong and repugnant as to make him dizzy and cause him to eventually lose consciousness.
In the meantime, another local and co-owner of the hardware store, a Sidney Gregg, had been woken by all of the ruckus and had come to investigate, and once out on the street he noticed a humanoid winged monstrosity descending from the telephone pole apparently using its large, parrot-like “beak” to climb. When it reached the ground it stood up to reveal that it was around 8 feet tall and had legs similar to those of a kangaroo, and from its forehead leapt a light as powerful as “an electric headlight.” It surveyed its surroundings for a moment before then bounding away into the night in a series of leaps and bounds, finally alighting into the air upon its expansive wings.
The whole very bizarre saga would continue on the following evening, October 3, when a J.L. Platt, Jr., who was the manager of a tile and brick factory on the outskirts of town, had his attention drawn to a series of strange noises coming from the nearby abandoned coal mine at around 1 AM, which would rather colorfully be described as sounding like “Satan and a regiment of imps were coming forth for a battle.” When Platt went to investigate this eerie cacophony he would purportedly come face to face with the winged beast looming at one of the entrances to the mine, this time accompanied by what seemed to be a smaller one of the creatures, both of which emitted a brilliant light from horns on their heads. The two creatures supposedly then took flight to fly off out of sight.
Word got out quite quickly about this sighting, and there were many who came to the conclusion that the old abandoned mines were perhaps the lair of the creature or creatures. After all, the mines extended underground into an extensive spiderweb of dark tunnels and caverns that would have been perfect for such monstrosities to take refuge within. Because of this, a posse of heavily armed men carrying whatever weapons they could find set up a camp right there at the mine’s entrance, keeping a vigil on the lookout for the creatures should they return.
The bat-like humanoid creatures with their glowing horns did indeed return the following evening, again at around 1 AM, and when they were sighted the group waiting for them did not hesitate to fire in unison upon them. Strangely, none of this seemed to have any effect at all, and one newspaper report would say:
The reception they received would have sunk the Spanish fleet, but aside from unearthly noise and peculiar odor they did not seem to mind it, but slowly descended the shaft of the old mine.
After this, the mine was barricaded and the creatures were apparently never seen again, but their legacy has lived on, with the tale told and retold through generations and the events immortalized in newspaper reports and even in the town’s centennial book. The ones who have really brought this bizarre case to the masses and undoubtedly provided the most clear information on the events that unfurled in this small town more than a century ago are the authors and researchers Chad Lewis, Noah Voss, and Kevin Lee Nelson, who have pored through the town’s history, news reports, and town records and archives, as well as interviewed numerous locals in order to paint the most comprehensive picture we have of the case, which has been made into the highly acclaimed book The Van Meter Visitor (A True & Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown). Indeed most information available on the incident comes from this book and it has featured heavily in articles such as this one and radio interviews on shows such as Coast to Coast AM.
Unfortunately there is no proof whatsoever that this creature ever existed outside of a spooky urban legend and all we have to go on are old stories, hearsay, and news reports from an era when exaggeration and fantastical stories were par for the course. The only thing that could have possibly been considered physical evidence was the plaster cast allegedly taken of the thing’s three toed clawed footprints, but this has long since disappeared, if it ever existed at all. Of course this has not affected the case’s popularity, nor has it kept people from speculating as to what the unknown entities could have been. In an interview with the website The Bigfoot Diaries, co-author Kevin Lee Nelson said of the possibilities:
That’s the big question: what was the Van Meter Visitor? In the book we explore a wide variety of theories, from the mundane hoax, to mass hysteria, to more exotic ones, like a possible ultraterrestrial. The odd part about the Van Meter Visitor is that it exhibited a number of bizarre and unearthly traits: a horn that projected a bright light beam, metallic sounds, and immunity to gunfire. I can’t speak for my co-authors, but I tend to put it in the ultraterrestrial category much like Mothman due to its seemingly paraphyscial nature.
In fact, the features of the Van Meter case are so similar to events of the Mothman case that one could consider it a proto-Mothman event, as it happened 60 years before the events in Point Pleasant. The overpowering sulfur-like odor is also a a common trait associated with alleged ultraterrestrials, like Florida’s Skunk-ape, which got its name from its terrible smell. Like John Keel and Jacques Vallee, one of our working theories is that many paranormal events and encounters may all fall under the umbrella of ultraterrestrial phenomena.
This seems to be the general consensus on what the Van Meter Visitor was, that these were some sort of trespassers from another realm or some alternate dimension, either intentionally making forays into our reality for inscrutable purposes or trapped here against their will after spilling over somehow. This has actually been posited as an explanation for a wide number of truly bizarre entities born of high strangeness, which don’t seem to really fit into any clear classification within the world of the weird. Of course there is no clear understanding as to how this might happen, but it certainly seems that the Van Meter Visitor was an entity that doesn’t really seem to fit into the general category of alien or cryptid. Whatever it was, ghost, alien, mystery animal, or inter dimensional being, it continues to be a strange case that has never adequately been solved.