Out in the cold wilds of the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, is a windswept array of buildings in the middle of nowhere called Portluck. From a distance through the fog it seems like perhaps a quaint, cozy town nestled along the seaside and surrounded by breathtaking vistas of scenic mountains and forests, but as you draw closer you will realize that it is actually nothing but some rotted out carcasses of buildings long uninhabited, and the twisted, rusted remains of an old empty cannery poking out of the shoreline like the fossil of some ancient deep sea leviathan. This was once the little paradise away from it all that one would think, a bustling seaport that managed to grow and thrive at one point. Yet this place was also at some time forsaken, the inhabitants held under siege by strange forces they could not understand and could not cope with, leading to strange phenomena, mysterious deaths, vanishings, and a mass abandonment and unsolved mystery discussed to this day.
The community of Portlock was first established in 1786, with the arrival of British captain Nathaniel Portlock, from which the town derived its name. At the time the only people who lived there were mostly Native Aleuts and Russians, and at first it was little more than a collection of huts, a serene sanctuary away from civilization and surrounded by natural splendor. It would not be until 1900 that any large scale settlement would take place here, when a salmon cannery was established along the shore of the bay. The cannery was a fairly big operation, finding vast resources of fish in the unspoiled clear waters and bringing in droves of people looking for work, growing to meet the needs of the expanding population of cannery workers willing to live in this remote, wild place. By the 1920s, Portlock was booming, yet while the town thrived for some years, in the background it seems that there were dark and mysterious forces lurking in the periphery.
Even before Portlock had even existed there had long been sinister stories told by the Natives of the area. They had long told of a creature stalking the wildernesses of the region, which they referred to as a Nantiinaq, roughly translating to “half man- half beast.” The Natives were apparently terrified of these creatures, and would avoid any area in which they were known to lurk. At first Portluck seemed safe, but whether the Nantiinaq had anything to do with it or not, strange things began happening in and around Portluck not long after its settlement. The first bizarre incident allegedly happened in as early as 1905, just a few years after the cannery had opened. At this time, many of the workers at the cannery suddenly stopped coming to work and refused to come back, but this wasn’t due to poor pay or working conditions, but rather because the men were deeply spooked. They claimed that there was “something in the woods,” commonly reported by the men as being large dark shapes that would stare at them from the tree line at the shore and sometimes display menacing behavior. The workers were eventually convinced to come back the following season, but this was not the end of the town’s problems.
In the 1920s and 30s there were several mysterious deaths in the area that seemed to have been caused by something very large and powerful. The first was a local hunter by the name of Albert Petka, who was out hunting with his dogs in the 1920s when he came across a massive hairy creature that materialized from the trees to strike him in the chest, sending him flying. Petka’s dogs allegedly managed to chase the beast off, and when rescuers arrived he explained what had happened, before dying from his wounds later. Natives at the time saw this as a bad sign, believing it to be evidence that a Nantiinaq had come to haunt the area. Rumors like this persisted for years, only further bolstered by stories of miners, loggers, hunters, or cannery workers finding huge tracks in the woods, or of seeing fleeting large dark shapes and sometimes hearing eerie howls at night. Making it even more ominous is that there were some reports from frightened Natives that there was a ghostly entity in the area as well, which took the form of a woman wearing a long black dress and who would appear at the top of the cliffs near town to scream and moan before vanishing.
In the 1930s there was another alleged violent attack in the area. On this occasion, a logger named Andrew Kamuck went off to the site as usual but was later found dead, his head bashed in by a piece of logging equipment. It was very odd, because the body was found some distance away from the actual site, and the piece of machinery used to kill him was far too heavy for any man to have even picked it up, much less drag any significant distance. After this, things began to get rather sinister. It was reported that people began to go missing fairly regularly, going off hunting or to their jobs to never return. Stories like this sent the Natives into a panic, and many of them fled Portlock altogether. Local historian Brian Weed has said of this:
When the 1930s incidents started to happen most of the Russian Aleuts actually moved out of town for a year. The people running the cannery basically begged their workers to come back and they set up armed guards for a short period of time, trying to get their workers back in town.
Most were eventually coaxed into coming back, but this was not nearly the end of the weirdness. People continued to disappear without a trace, and sometimes the missing were found in quite the gruesome state. In 1940 it was reported that a search party had been sent out to look for one such missing hunter, which would claim that they had come across his body in a creek, mutilated and torn apart in a way not consistent with a bear attack. Other bodies would reportedly be found as well, apparently washed down from the mountains into a nearby lagoon, with others still discovered washed up on the shores of Port Chatham, all of them ripped apart and maimed as if by some immensely powerful animal. At the time there were so many people turning up in that lagoon dead that it began to truly spook the locals, to the point that they spent much time cowering indoors away from those gloomy woods.
These disappearances and deaths coincided with a wave of sightings of large hairy creatures and less identifiable shadow entities. On one occasion a local man named Tom Larsen claimed to have seen one on the beach methodically tearing apart fish wheels, but said that when he had tried to shoot it with his rifle he had felt oddly compelled to not fire. The settlers called these things “Mountain Apes,” “Hairy Men,” or just “Devils,” the Natives called them the Nantiinaq, but whatever one called them, all of the strangeness and death spurred on a mass exodus from the area towards the end of the 1940s, and by 1951 the town was completely abandoned, leaving all of the buildings, equipment, and cannery behind. Weed has said of this:
Those people did leave the town. We know when the town and post office shut down. We know that there are reported murders in the area. They called them murders, but they also included people that just went lost in those reports. We’re not talking about a dozen people. We’re talking like three dozen people. If we have a serial killer in the area at the time, they took out a lot of people in the course of say 20 years.
Even this abandonment was not the end of the strange phenomena in the area, as there have been Bigfoot sightings in the years since. Some examples are a man who claimed to have been chased by a Bigfoot in the area in 1968, and another is a case in which three hunters said their camp had been circled by a menacing large creature for three nights straight. In 1990, there was apparently a Native man who suffered a heart attack, and when paramedics came to save him, he ranted, “Did it bother you? Did you see it?” There can be no doubt that this place was rather suddenly left to the elements and shunned by those who once made their living here, but what was it? Was this a serial killer on the loose, wild animals, Bigfoot, spirits, demons, or something else altogether? For now we do not know, and the decrepit ruins of what was still sit upon the bay, with the only ones knowing the true answers being the trees and perhaps ghosts.