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When Cryptozoology Crosses Paths With the Domain of a Ghost

One of the strangest of all Cryptozoology-driven cases from the U.K. occurred in January 1879. The location: Bridge 39 that spanned (and that still spans) the old Shropshire Union Canal, England. There are a number of online articles on the affair – that involved the sighting of a large, chimpanzee-like animal that bounded across the bridge late at night, terrifying a man and his horse. From the Encyclopedia of Cryptozoology, there is the following: “The man-monkey was a cryptid primate or zooform reported from Staffordshire and Birmingham in the United Kingdom in the late 19th Century. It is also referred to as the man-monkey of Staffordshire, Old Ned’s devil, and the Shropshire Union Canal man-monkey. The man-monkey was allegedly reported from a stretch of the Birmingham and Liverpool Junction Canal, now part of the Shropshire Union Canal, several times in the 19th Century, but the most famous sighting occurred at 10 pm on the evening of 21 January 1879.”

Moving on, there are the revelations contained in Charlotte S. Burne’s 1883 book, Shropshire Folk-Lore: “Just before [the primary source] reached the canal bridge, a strange black creature with great white eyes sprang out of the plantation by the road-side and alighted on his horse’s back. He tried to push it off with his whip, but to his horror the whip went through the Thing, and he dropped it to the ground in his fright. The poor tired horse broke into a canter, and rushed onwards at full speed with the ghost still clinging to its back. How the creature at length vanished the man hardly knew. He told his tale in the village of Woodseaves, a mile further on, and so effectually frightened the hearers that one man actually stayed with his friends there all night, rather than cross the terrible bridge which lay between him and his home. The ghost-seer reached home at length, still in a state of excessive terror (but, as his master assured me, perfectly sober), and it was some days before he was able to leave his bed, so much was he prostrated by his fright. The whip was searched for next day, and found just at the place where he said he had dropped it.”

Bridge 39 at the Shropshire Union Canal, the lair of the Man-Monkey (Nick Redfern, 2006).

There is another, lesser-known angle to the legend of the Man-Monkey. It’s an angle that very seldom gets highlighted. Namely, that the creature is still being seen. Do an online search and you’ll see that most articles are focused on the late 19th century incidents. Things definitely don’t end there, though. The most recent case I have on record dates from July 18, 2013. I’ll highlight that one on another day. Today, however, I’m going to focus on a case from the early 1970s. The location was that same old bridge. And, as was also the case in 1879, the witness saw the hairy beast race across the bridge while heading home late. With that said, here’s what I consider to be the most incredible of all the post-1879 cases. Bob Carroll, who I chatted with at the October 1996 Staffordshire UFO Conference, Cannock, England,  had a very similar encounter in January or February of either 1972 or 1973 at Bridge 39 on England’s Shropshire Union Canal; the very same location that spawned the diabolical Man-Monkey in January 1879, as we have already seen. It was the early hours of the morning and Carroll, a truck-driver, was driving to the nearby town of Newport, where he was due to make a 6:00 a.m. delivery, having picked up a pallet of paint from a depot in the city of Leicester the previous evening. Everything was completely normal until he approached…yes…that damned bridge.

CFZ Press (2007)

Stressing that everything was over in a few seconds, Carroll said that it was his natural instinct to slow down as he reached the bridge. As he did so, he was shocked to see from his cab a hair-covered humanoid race out of the trees, cross the bridge, and head down to the old canal.  Carroll was amazed by the incredible speed and apparent agility of the beast as it bounded across the road and was subsequently, and quickly, lost to sight. He estimated that its height was four-and-a-half to five-feet at the very most, that it had dark fur, and that it looked very muscular. Stressing that he had always been a gung-ho type, Carroll quickly pulled over to the side of the road, turned on the hazard-lights of his truck, and ran back to the scene of his bizarre and brief experience. On reaching the canal bridge, Carroll quickly peered over both sides; however, the total lack of light made any attempt to see much of anything tangible nigh-on impossible. But there was one other odd thing that Carroll was keen to relate; something that, by now, will be as familiar as it is disturbing. As he leaned over the bridge, he heard what he was absolutely sure were…the loud and distressing cries of a baby. In fact, he said the cries were too loud – almost ear-splitting and echoing. Despite feeling that he needed to help the “baby,” Carroll near-immediately developed a feeling that this was no baby. Rather, he felt, it was the monkey-like animal; ingeniously and cunningly trying to lure him down to the canal for an encounter of the fatal kind. Carroll, probably very wisely, did not act upon the beast’s macabre ruse. It may very well have been a decision which saved his life.

A few final words: that the creature has been seen from (at least) 1879 and as recent as 2013 effectively rules out the possibility of it being something like an escaped chimpanzee. Indeed, there’s no way that such an animal could live for more than 140 years. And, the words of Charlotte S. Burne show that the monster clearly had a spectral aspect to it. Without doubt, this is one of the strangest cryptozoological cases in the U.K. And, it’s like to stay that way, too.

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Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.
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