Mysterious creatures seem to prowl every corner of our world, and even in this day and age in which we seem to have mapped out every square inch there are many reports of strange creatures and monsters from beyond our understanding in the dark corners. In the United States, it seems as if every state in the Union has its fair share of bizarre beasts lurking out in the wilds, and here we will look at some of the stranger such cases from the state of North Carolina.
Probably the most famous mysterious monster of North Carolina is the one called the Wampus Cat, or sometimes called the Santer, along with various other regional names. The creature is said to roam wooded swamps, and purportedly appears as a large hybrid between dog and cat, with long prominent fangs and piercing yellow eyes, as well as fur that glows in the dark and a tail that can be used as a weapon, supposedly with enough to power knock out a cow or a hog with one slap. The Wampus Cat is also known for being able to run erect or on all fours, as well as for its bloodcurdling piercing scream, which can be heard for miles around. Although there have been legends of such a demonic entity among the Natives for a long time, reports from settlers began sometime in the late 1800s, when lumberjacks began talking of the beast screaming out in the forest at night and stalking about around their camps. At the time it was considered just a bit of a lumberjack campfire story, but over the years plenty of sightings would begin to come in from all over the region.
One early report comes from September of 1890, in which a police officer by the name of Mr. Fettle claimed to have seen the ravenous beast chasing a dog and to have even shot at it before it bolted off to disappear into the night at great speed. Shortly after this, farmers in the same general vicinity reported seeing the same creature, claiming that it had slaughtered seven pigs and fifteen cows and left behind bear-like tracks that measured 8 inches long and 4 inches wide. The following month, a possum hunter named Abe Harbin claimed to have come across the beast while out hunting, and that it had caused his hunting dogs to go insane with fear. It was also reported as getting bold enough to approach houses on the outskirts of villages and rear up on its hind legs to growl at the frightened people within. A hunting party would be sent out to kill the monster, but it was never found.
Another wave of sightings happened in 1897, beginning with reports in March of that year of numerous cats being killed by the beast in the area of Roaring River. This was followed by a report from two terrified women who said it had come to their house and “leaned up against the door and growled.” One of the ladies said her husband had run out into the night with a pistol to shoot at it, after which it had run off into the darkness. In June of that same year there was even a report that the creature had been captured, and that it somewhat resembled a large shepherd dog, but it could not be identified. It is unknown what became of it after this. Reports like this continued all over the place throughout the rest of the 1800s and right on into the 20th century, with many accounts of it killing pets and livestock, but fortunately no people. One notable incident allegedly happened in August of 1932 in the area of Marion, North Carolina, where a beast with “long, slim legs, sharp pointed ears, and a large head” was said to have maimed and slaughtered over forty dogs. The main idea at the time was that the creature was some circus animal that had escaped from a zoo, but it was never found and by the end of the 1930s reports stopped.
Were these reports indicative of some large predatory undiscovered animal or a circus escapee, or are they merely hoaxes and newspaper sensationalism and fake news in an age where this was rampant? The nature of the creature’s appearance and its penchant for killing dogs, cats, and livestock give the story of the Wampus Cat an eerie similarity to another mystery beast that in 1953 began a killing spree of various pets and farm animals along a 200-mile stretch of North Carolina, from Bladenboro to Charlotte. Described as being a sleek, black, panther-like beast about 5 feet long and with unruly wild hair and long fangs, the menacing creature seemed to really like killing dogs most of all, which were often found completely drained of blood, decapitated, or “torn into ribbons and crushed.” One witness by the name of Johnny Vause would say of one such attack:
My dogs put up a good fight. There was blood all over the porch, big puddles of it. And there was a pool of saliva on the porch. It killed one dog at 10:30 and left it lying there. My dad wrapped the dog up in a blanket. That thing came back and got that dog and nobody's seen the dog since. At 1:30 in the morning, it came back and killed the other dog and took it off. We found it three days later in a hedgerow. The top of one of the dog’s heads was torn off and its body was crushed and wet, like it had been in that thing's mouth. The other dog's lower jaw was torn off.
Sightings of the creature and the mounting death toll of dogs and farm animals continued throughout 1953, and in January of 1954 there were several hunting parties organized to try and track the monster down, with more and more people from both locally and out of state pouring in to join the hunt. At one point there were estimated to be over a thousand armed people and dogs slogging through the forests and swamps around Bladenboro looking for the creature, to the point that authorities had to shut it all down due to security concerns. The creature never was found, and over the years all sorts of theories have swirled on what the “Beast of Bladenboro” was, including that it was a panther, a very large mountain lion, an escaped zoo animal, or even an outsized German Shepherd dog, but it has never been conclusively identified. Most likely it was due to mass hysteria fueled by embellished sensationalist fake news at the time, but whatever the cause is, to this day Bladenboro holds an annual "Beast Fest" in which the Beast of Bladenboro serves as mascot.
As if giant dog-like cat monsters aren’t enough to worry about, what about giant reptilian beasts? Jerome Clarke wrote in his book Unnatural Phenomena: A Guide to the Bizarre Wonders of North America of an article in the May 18, 1897 edition of the Statesville Semi-weekly Landmark that describes what seems to be some sort of bizarre aquatic giant snake. The article reads:
In the City of Logan, in Phillips County, May 1897, the Postmaster and other farmers were “greatly excited”, (I imagine), at the sight of an enormous reptile, not less than 50 feet long. It had the body of a snake, but without a forked tongue and had two small horns on its head. Its color was greenish with dirty white spots, and apparently had an enormous appetite. One farmer who lost sixty chickens to this reptile, followed the creature to a creek, where it promptly disappeared. Another farmer lost forty young hogs to the creature in a forty-eight-hour period, and yet another farmer testified that with a swing of its’ enormous knotted tail, it killed his plow horse while it was grazing innocently by the river. Apparently, the creature had extremely tough skin, because it was shot several times to no effect. When it got angry, probably from being shot at, it lifted its horned head around ten feet into the air, not unlike a cobra, and rudely protruded its tongue at least three feet toward the farmers. They indicated that the beast, sadly, “utters a whine like a puppy crying for its mother”. Many of the farmers joined ranks to try to kill it, sans pitchforks, but it escaped into the deeper waters of the Solomon River never to be seen again.
Again, was there anything to this or is it just another example of a made up piece of sensational fake news for a slow news day? North Carolina has its own lake monster as well. Although it is large, with over 500 miles of shoreline and a surface area of 32,500 acres, Lake Norman, near Charlotte, is not the sort of lake one would expect to find any sort of lake monster. The manmade lake was created in 1967 by the building of the Cowans Ford Hydroelectric Station on the Catawba River, and although it is the largest body of water in the state the fact remains that it was built by humans, making it unlikely that any sort of strange ancient creature should be there. Yet for years there have been numerous sightings by homeowners, swimmers, fisherman, boaters, campers, water skiers and scuba divers of all ages of something very large and strange lurking in the depths here.
The Lake Norman Monster, also affectionately referred to as Normie, has been described as everything from a gigantic fish big enough to swallow a human, to an alligator-like reptilian beast, to a long, serpentine creature with flippers, but one thing all reports agree on is that it is huge. The creature has been seen in the lake for decades, and there have been some very recent reports. In July of 2017, a 35-year-old Mecklenburg County man saw what he described as a “dinosaur-like creature” splashing around in the water not far from his boat. On July 31, 2021, a witness saw “a 6-8 foot dark figure” just off shore, with “a few parts barely above the water” that suddenly made a huge splash and dove into the depths. Even more recently still was a strange sighting from January of 2022, when a fisherman saw something very strange in the lake while fishing off a pier in the northwestern end of the lake. The witness says:
Something was sticking out of the water, but it was moving. The head was going forward then it would slow to a stop and take off again. I was like, ‘what is that freaking thing?!’” The creature was brown and about as big as a goose’s body, but it was no goose! It moved about 20 feet then slowly went under. I was blown away by whatever it was… and I’m not crazy!!
While mostly considered to be harmless, there have been some reports of the creature that are more menacing, such as that from a scuba diver who claimed that a creature with a “doglike head and red eyes” bit down on his flipper and swam off with it. In another report, a jet skier said the monster surfaced in front of him and lunged at him, in the process brushing against him to leave a slimy ooze that caused his skin to break out in rashes. There have been a few sporadic hunts for the monster, including a 3-day expedition launched by a Japanese film crew in 2017, but no evidence of it has ever been found. Theories for what the thing could be include that is just an enormous catfish, a sturgeon, a mutant fish created by the nuclear power plant located there, a longnose gar or alligator gar, or even an actual alligator, but whatever the case may be, it is a pretty weird thing to see in an artificial lake. It seems that North Carolina has a rather odd menagerie of strange cryptid beasts, and whatever they are, it all adds to the colorful spectrum of mystery monsters seen throughout the world.