When we think about strange creatures and their lairs, we quite naturally think about lakes, mountains, caves, oceans and forests. There is, however, another angle. Namely, the fact that there are more than a few cases in which monsters have been seen at railroad tracks. Why that should be, is anyone's guess. Yet, it's a fact, as you'll see from today's article. Merrily Harpur is the author of an excellent book titled Mystery Big Cats. It takes a fascinating, alternative approach to the “Alien Big Cat”/”ABC” phenomenon. One of the issues that Merrily tackles in the book is that of what are known as “Liminal Zones.” They are the places where strange things manifest on many occasions. As Merrily notes, they include streams, bridges, stiles, gates, churchyards, crossroads and railroad tracks. Or, as Merrily words it: "Spots literally or symbolically at the point of transition over a boundary." With that said, onto a few examples of this curious phenomenon. We'll begin with nothing less than a werewolf roaming around a certain part of Ohio.
Midway through 1972, Defiance, Ohio became what can only be termed “Werewolf Central.” Over the course of a hysteria-filled two months – July to August – sightings of a rampaging, hair-covered man-beast, with a pronounced muzzle and dressed in rags, were made. The local media quickly picked up on the sinister saga, as did the town’s police, who even opened an official file on Defiance’s very own equivalent of Nessie, the Chupacabra and Bigfoot. To say that Defiance was gripped by terror would not be an understatement. Many of the sightings of the creature were made around a series of old railroad tracks [italics mine] and usually late at night. A couple of guys working on the tracks – Ted Davis and Tom Jones – had an encounter of the very close kind. A close call, one might say. Davis told the local newspaper, The Blade: "I was connecting an air hose between two cars and was looking down. I saw these huge hairy feet, then I looked up and he was standing there with that big stick over his shoulder. When I started to say something, he took off for the woods."
In an article titled “The Mystery Predators of Britain,” Tina Collins says the following of one particular “Alien Big Cat” case of July 2009 in Scotland: “Police dog handler, PC Chris Swallow spotted a 1.2m (4ft) long creature that he now believes was one of the Big Cats which reportedly roam the UK. It was prowling near a railway line [italics mine]. The size of the track was much larger than a domestic cat and the way it balanced along the railway line discounted it as being a dog.” It should be noted that cases involving ABCs seen on – and very near to – railroad tracks absolutely abound. Interestingly, an ABC was seen in 2008 near Puerto Rico’s Chemex Railroad. It was described as being bigger than a German Shepherd dog and black in color.
It was a story that surfaced in 1884; a story which, if true, suggested something deeply strange was afoot in Yale, British Columbia. On Independence Day 1884, the Colonist newspaper published a story titled: “What is it? A strange creature captured above Yale. A British Columbia Gorilla.” Supposedly, the curious creature had been caught on June 30 and held in a nearby jail. The startling saga began: "In the immediate vicinity of No. 4 tunnel, situated some twenty miles above this village, are bluffs of rock which have hitherto been unsurmountable, but on Monday morning last were successfully scaled by Mr. Onderdonk’s employees on the regular train from Lytton. Assisted by Mr. Costerton, the British Columbia Express Company’s messenger, and a number of gentlemen from Lytton and points east of that place who, after considerable trouble and perilous climbing, succeeded in capturing a creature which may truly be called half man and half beast." Whether a hoax, a Bigfoot, or something else, the action all went down at the rail tracks.
Moving on, there’s the Beaman Monster of Kansas City, Missouri. Close to Beaman is the city of Sedalia, where, allegedly, in 1904, a train crashed in the vicinity, and which just happened to be carrying a large number of circus animals, including a mighty gorilla that stood twelve feet tall! Of course, the fact that gorillas don’t grow anywhere near twelve feet in height did not stop the legend from developing suggesting they do! The descendants of this Goliath-like animal (and, presumably, a similar escapee of the opposite sex) are, locals conclude, today’s man-monsters of Beaman. Is all of this just a case of looking for railroad-based cases and finding them? Or, are we seeing something more, something almost magical? Namely, those strange, Liminal Zones that Merrily Harpur talks about?