There's no doubt there are some strange creatures in this world, but others are weirder than others. Let's begin with the strange saga of England's "Hairy Hands" of the paranormal type. Around 1910, a distinctly strange and macabre saga began on what, today, is the B3212 road, which can be found in the vicinity of the English villages of Postbridge and Two Bridges. Both locales are situated amid the 368 square-mile mass of sprawling, mysterious English moorland known famously as Dartmoor, which was the foggy and boggy setting for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles. While Conan Doyle’s massively entertaining story was only intended as fiction (albeit, a story based in part on legends and tales of real-life, spectral, glowing-eyed hounds of Hell said to haunt and prowl the ancient moors), the tale I am about to relate most certainly is not fiction. Rather, it is cold-hearted, hideous reality. In a highly disturbing fashion, a hairy, monstrous and unidentified force has, time and again, violently lashed out at unwary drivers passing through Postbridge and Two Bridges - and which, in one case, reportedly even resulted in a tragic death for an unfortunate road-user…
In most of the cases on record at least, the unfortunate victims of the diabolical phenomenon known locally as the Hairy Hands, reported seeing large, hairy, ‘disembodied hands’, that looked half-human and half-ape, manifesting out of utterly thin air, firmly grabbing the steering wheel of their vehicles – or the handle-bars of their bikes – and unsurprisingly striking complete terror into their hearts, something which invariably resulted in them being violently forced off the country road and onto the moors. For a decade or so, the events were considered to be nothing more than a mild – albeit, certainly without doubt, sinister - curiosity for the superstitious people that inhabited the atmospheric depths of misty Dartmoor. That situation drastically changed in 1921, however, when overwhelming tragedy struck deep, suddenly and hard. In June of that year, one Dr. E.H. Helby, who was at the time serving as the Medical Officer at the nearby Dartmoor Prison, met his death on the very same stretch of road when he lost control of his motor-cycle and sidecar. Sitting in the sidecar were his two children, and Helby had just about enough time to warn them to jump to safety – which they fortunately did – before he was thrown from his motor-cycle and instantly killed.
Then, on the dull and misty day of August 26 of that very same year, a young British Army captain – who was described by the local media as being ‘a very experienced rider’ – was also thrown into the verge of the road, after he, too, lost control of his motor-cycle. Significantly, and incredibly, the captain stated at the time, in response to media questions that: "t was not my fault. Believe it or not, something drove me off the road. A pair of hairy hands closed over mine. I felt them as plainly as ever I felt anything in my life – large, muscular, hairy hands. I fought them for all I was worth, but they were too strong for me. They forced the machine into the turf at the edge of the road, and I knew no more till I came to myself, lying a few feet away on my face on the turf." Then there was the tale told to the writer Michael Williams – the author of the book Supernatural Dartmoor - by journalist Rufus Endle, who maintained that while driving near Postbridge on an undetermined date, ‘a pair of hands gripped the driving wheel and I had to fight for control’. Luckily, Endle managed to avoid crashing the vehicle; the hands, meanwhile, mysteriously, and in an instant, vanished into thin air. A very concerned Endle requested that the story specifically not be published until after his death.
Now, let's have a look at the Native American version of the Slenderman: there’s absolutely no doubt that the most tragic and almost unbelievable Slenderman-themed deaths kicked off in late December 2014 and continued well into 2015. The location was the roughly 3,500 square-mile Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, which is located in South Dakota. It is the domain of the Oglala Lakota people, who are direct descendants of the Sioux. Between 2014 and 2015, close to a dozen young people, ranging in age from twelve to twenty-four and for whom the reservation was their home, committed suicide. More than one hundred youngsters attempted suicide but failed. Very possibly, many were classic cries for help, rather than serious attempts to end lives. Sadly, suicide and teenagers often go together, hand in glove. But, there was something else at work on the old, 19th century reservation during that period when lives were lost and families were plunged into states of utter devastation; it was something both sinister and dangerous.
It’s important, first, to note that the reservation and its people are not without a few strikes against them. Alcohol abuse is rife. As is the misuse of both illegal and prescription drugs. Many of the people cannot find work – whether temporary or full-time. And, incredibly, the average lifespan for the men of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation is less than fifty. I mention this to demonstrate that when faced with such conditions, cases of suicide might very well be expected. There is, however, another issue that cannot be ignored. Nor should it be. You know what – or, rather, who – is coming. The Native Americans of the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation believe in the existence of a dangerous and supernatural creature they referred to as the Tall Man Spirit. It is also known as Walking Sam; a name which has proved to be easily the most popular of the two monikers. He or it – take your pick - looks unsettlingly like the Slenderman. Walking Sam is in excess of seven feet in height and, just like the Slenderman, he doesn’t have much in the way of meat on his bones. His arms and legs are long and spidery. And he lacks a mouth. Peter Matthiessen, who in 1983 wrote a book about the area and its people – titled In the Spirit of Crazy Horse – said of the supernatural thing that it is “both spirit and real being, but he can also glide through the forest, like a moose with big antlers, as though the trees weren’t there.”
Note that Matthiessen references Walking Sam in a forest-based context, which is the preferred domain of the Slenderman. And, just like the Men in Black, the Shadow People, and the Mad Gasser of Mattoon – all of which were inspirations for Eric Knudsen’s spindly beast in black – Walking Sam wears a black hat. In his case, though, it’s usually of the old, stovepipe variety. Walking Sam, like the Slenderman, is alleged to have the ability to take control of peoples’ minds. We might accurately call it a form of mind-enslavement. Perhaps, this might explain a deeply disturbing event that occurred on a particular day in February 2015. A large number of teenagers from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation headed out to a specific area of land that was dominated by trees. There was a notable reason for this; albeit hardly a positive one. The plan was for each every one of them to hang themselves by the neck and from the trees - which explained why they all went to the area armed to the teeth with nothing but… rope. Thankfully, John Two Bulls, a local pastor, heard of what was about to go down there and quickly managed to stop what would very likely have become a mass suicide of almost unthinkable proportions. More than a few of the tribespeople were privately of the opinion that Walking Sam – not unlike some gruesome and insanely evil Pied Piper – had led the teenagers to what almost turned out to be their place of death.
Number three is the elusive, and creepy, Mad Gasser of Mattoon: back in the 1940s, the people of Mattoon, Illinois were plagued by a sinister character that became known as the Mad Gasser of Mattoon. The name was a very apt one: the mysterious figure gassed his victims, as a means to gain entry to their property, and to take advantage of whatever caught his eye. His actions followed a similar wave of attacks – in the 1930s – in Botetourt County, Virginia. But, today at least, let’s focus on the later events. On the night of August 31, 1944, a man named Urban Raef was overcome by a mysterious gas that provoked sickness, weakness, and vomiting. Despite Mr. Raef’s fear that there was a gas leak in the house, such was not the case. Rafe’s wife – to her horror – found herself briefly paralyzed. Also among the Gasser’s victims was Mrs. Bert Kearney, who also lived in Mattoon. On September 1, 1944, and approximately an hour before the witching-hour struck, Mrs. Kearney was hit by what was described as a “sickening, sweet odor in the bedroom.” As was the case with Mrs. Raef, the “gas” caused temporary paralysis in her legs. It also resulted in a burning sensation to her lips, and a parched feeling in her mouth.
Mrs. Kearney cried out for her sister – whose name was Martha and who came running to see what was going on. She too was unable to avoid the powerful smell. In no time, the police were on the scene, but the Mad Gasser was nowhere to be seen. At least, not for a while. As Bert Kearney drove home – after his shift as a cab-driver was over – he caught sight of a darkly-dressed man peering through the window of the Kearney’s bedroom. It was a thin man wearing a tight, dark cap on his head. He quickly fled the scene. In the wake of the curious affair, other reports of the Mad Gasser’s infernal activities surfaced – to the extent that both the local police and the FBI got involved. The townsfolk were plunged into states of fear and paranoia. While some cases were put down to nothing more than hysteria, that was not the beginning and end of the story. For example, Thomas V. Wright, the Commissioner of Public Health, said: “There is no doubt that a gas maniac exists and has made a number of attacks. But many of the reported attacks are nothing more than hysteria. Fear of the gas man is entirely out of proportion to the menace of the relatively harmless gas he is spraying. The whole town is sick with hysteria.” The mystery was never resolved to the satisfaction of everyone. One theory offers that the Mad Gasser of Mattoon was actually nothing stranger than a bunch of kids. Writer Scott Maruna suggests that the Gasser was a University of Illinois student, Farley Llewellyn, who had a deep knowledge of chemistry and who went to school with the initial victims. Other theories include burglars and even extraterrestrials. Now, onto another eerie entity...
A large and mysterious mountain in a Scottish range called the Cairngorms, Ben Macdhui is said to be the lair of a sinister, lumbering, Bigfoot-like creature known as the Big Gray Man (BGM). Legends of its existence date back centuries, and they show no signs of stopping. Although definitively animal-like in both nature and appearance, the Big Gray Man reputedly possesses paranormal powers that allow it to plunge the unwary traveler into states of terror and panic. A form of monster-based mind-control, one might be justified in suggesting. Without doubt, the foremost expert on the BGM is anomalies expert, Andy Roberts. Andy has noted that witnesses to the creepy phenomenon describe how they have heard heavy footsteps on the fog-shrouded mountain, felt a distinct sensation of a threatening presence, and experienced an overwhelming feeling of unbridled terror. The experience is graphic enough to compel witnesses to flee – in fear of their lives – and, in some cases, to run wildly and in crazed, fear-filled fashion for miles. Taking into consideration the fact that encounters almost exclusively take place on rocky, dangerous ground, and often in weather conditions involving mist and snow, Andy stresses that “we should not underestimate the power of the experience.”
As far as can be determined, the first encounter of any real note with the BGM occurred in 1791. The witness was a poet and shepherd named James Hogg. He reported seeing a massive figure on Ben Macdhui, which appeared to manifest out of a strange halo. Says Andy: “As he watched the halo which had formed around him due to the combination of sunshine and mist he suddenly noticed a huge, looming figure. It was vaguely human in shape and he imagined it to be the devil. Hogg fled in terror, not stopping until he reached fellow shepherds.” Then, from 1831, we have the following from Sir Thomas Dick Lauder. In his own words: “On descending from the top (of Ben Mac Dhui) at about half-past three P.M., an interesting optical appearance presented itself to our view. We had turned towards the east, and the sun shone on our backs, when we saw a very bright rainbow described on the mist before us. The bow, of beautifully distinct prismatic colors, formed about two-thirds of a circle, the extremities of which appeared to rest on the lower portion of the mountain. In the center of this incomplete circle there was described a luminous disc, surrounded by the prismatic colors displayed in concentric rings. On the disc itself, each of the party (three in number), as they stood about fifty yards apart, saw his own figure most distinctly delineated, although those of the other two were invisible to him. The representation appeared of the natural size, and the outline of the whole person of the spectator was most correctly portrayed. To prove that the shadow seen by each individual was that of himself, we resorted to various gestures, such as waving our hats, flapping our plaids, &c., all which motions were exactly followed by the airy figure.”
Moving onto the 20th century, in 1921, the Cairngorm Club Journal reported that a recent letter-writer “…called attention to a myth prevalent in Upper Deeside to the effect that a big spectral figure has been seen at various times during the last five years walking about on the tops of the Cairngorms. When approached, so the story goes, the figure disappears.” Andy Roberts reveals a further layer of the puzzle: “In 1924, Dr. Ernest A. Baker’s book, The Highlands with Rope and Rucksack, appeared. Here, Baker relates the experience of a friend whose job took him into the mountains, a deer stalker or perhaps a shepherd. Alone on Ben Macdhui one day he became aware of a terrifying presence which Afleck Gray [the author of the book, The Big Gray Man of Ben Macdhui] recounts, ‘disturbed him in a manner which was beyond his experience.’ Gray makes the point that this was no ordinary fear but something so powerful that Baker’s friend fled from Ben Macdhui, the terror only subsiding when he reached low ground.
Baker also reports how one mountain climber had told him that he would under no circumstances spend any time on Ben Macdhui alone, even in daylight.” One year later, in 1925, Professor Norman Collie revealed the facts concerning his very own encounter with the Big Gray Man, decades earlier. Collie recalled: “I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. For every few steps I took I heard a crunch, and then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself: This is all nonsense. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist. As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch, sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben Macdhui and I will not go back there by myself, I know.” And that's a good place to come to an end.