Ten years ago this week, I spent approximately a week in and around the city of Winona, Wisconsin with a team from the History Channel’s popular (but now defunct) cryptozoology-themed series, MonsterQuest. We were there to investigate reports of large, winged beasts that in some respects sounded not unlike the infamous Mothman of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Others, however, were far more of a giant birdlike nature. And several even seemed like a bizarre combination of both. Being there for a week gave me a very good opportunity to dig deeply into some of the sightings, to gain the confidence and trust of the locals, and to see what I could uncover. I’m pleased to say that what I discovered amounted to a great deal.
One of the stories uncovered for the show revolved around a Winona woman who, back in the 1960s, had seen a large, winged, humanoid creature standing – legs spread wide – on a rooftop on the edge of town. Its wings were bat-like, black in color, and spread wide. Its icy, red eyes stared malevolently at her as she watched it from the yard of her house, which was directly next door to the house atop which the man-beast stood. For a few moments, the terrified woman and beast locked eyes, after which it took to the skies in incredibly fast fashion. Somewhat strangely, it did not take off by flapping its wings, as one might assume or expect. No: it simply spread its wings widely and rose vertically, not unlike a helicopter. The woman was baffled, however, on the matter of how it could do so without utilizing those powerful-looking wings. We had no answer for her. Interestingly, when, years later, the woman saw the 2001 movie, Jeepers Creepers, she declared to her family that the thing she saw all those years earlier was practically identical in appearance.
Then there was the story that came from the employees of a McDonalds’ in town. Several of the long-term staff recalled how, only a few years earlier – which would have placed things around 2005 or 2006 – a truck-driver had come into the McDonalds, in what was clearly a shaken state. As they crowded around him, he told them of seeing what he described as a “giant eagle” soaring a certain, large peak that overlooks the town itself. And in doing so, it emitted loud, screech-like sounds. Most odd of all, the truck-driver said that although there were more than a few other people on the road at the time in question, and the sighting occurred during broad daylight, no-one else seemed to see the massive beast. It was as if it manifested for him, and for him alone.
Also on MonsterQuest’s agenda was a trek to – and up – the huge Trempealeau Mountain. There was a very good reason for this: the mountain, which is contained within the Perrot State Park (named after a French explorer, Nicolas Perrot), has longstanding traditions of sightings of huge birds. Not unlike the one reported by the aforementioned truck-driver in the early 2000s. Many of these stories and legends originated with Native American tribes, who believed the creatures to be the legendary Thunderbirds, which are an integral part of their lore and history. We searched the mountain for the best part of a day and night, and – rather intriguingly – did find some large branches that hung over the sometimes-near-vertical edges of the mountain. None of us could deny they would have provided large winged things with perfect points of take-off and to allow them to make use of the thermals to help keep their mighty forms aloft.
Late at night, we even used full-volume, call-blasting equipment, playing the calls of owls and eagles, as we sought to try and entice our quarry to show itself. It was to no avail; however, the witness testimony, combined with the Native American accounts of centuries past, convinced me that Trempealeau Mountain and its surroundings was, and maybe still is, home to fearsome fliers of the unknown kind. While in Winona, we also dug deep into a very bizarre case that occurred in La Crosse, Wisconsin in September 2006. Perhaps not coincidentally, the witness was himself Native American: a member of the Cherokee tribe and someone who had a traumatic and terrifying experience late at night. A good friend of mine, and fellow monster-hunter, Linda Godfrey, said of this case:
“Imagine driving down a dark country road, minding your own business, when suddenly a screaming, man-sized creature with bat-like wings flies at your windshield, stares at you, then swoops upwards into the night sky. It happened to a 53-year-old La Crosse man who prefers to be known only by his Cherokee name, Wohali, and the man’s 25-year-old son.” Very ominously, after seeing the beast, both father and son felt nauseous and became violently sick, to the point they were forced to make a screeching stop at the side of the road. Pretty much everyone on the MonsterQuest shoot came away from it impressed by the witness testimony, by the centuries-old lore, and by the additional and previously unheard of stories that came our way. Something monstrous soars the skies of Wisconsin, and particularly so in the vicinity of Winona.