Ever wondered where to find a monster? From the 1960’s to the 1980’s students taking folklore courses at Indiana University conducted interviews around the state about topics that included local supernatural creatures. Those essays are now part of the Folklore Collection at the University Archives. To celebrate Halloween and the IU Themester on animals, I’ve selected six Hoosier Monsters for your reading and viewing terror.
Portraits of our friendly neighborhood spooks were created by fellow folklore grad student (and monster enthusiast) Ben Bridges.
“Older scouts would take some of the tenderfoots [first year scouts] out looking for the Gullywompus at the far end of camp. Older scouts would break up in groups leaving a group of tenderfoots out by themselves without a flashlight. Older scouts would then circle the tenderfoots running through the brush making wild animal sounds. This would scare the tenderfoots causing some to cry, this is when the older scouts would stop and reassure them that everything is all right and that it is just a legend.”
At Camp Louis Ernst in DuPont, Indiana, Boy Scouts in the 1960’s and 70’s would take younger scouts out into the edge of camp to look for a creature called the Gullywompus. According to an IU student’s 1977 interview with a former camper who experienced this in 1963, the Gullywompus was “a large hairy creature that will get you if you don’t watch out.” The scouts said that it had lived in the camp since the 1920s, appeared on moonlit winter nights, and had flashing red eyes in the middle of its head. They also said it would tear up trees, throw boulders, make moaning noises, and grab and shake unwary hikers. The practice of tricking younger scouts is akin to “Snipe Hunting,” an initiation ritual practiced at summer camps across the United States.
Item number: 77/162
“..a man…was driving home one night (on Cable Line) and he saw something and it scared him, and he hit something and flew out of his car hit a tree with his body and it left the impression of his face and body in the tree, so now that whenever you drive by this tree, on the corner of 26 and 11, you can see his body in the tree. The thing that he saw was the Cable Line monster.”
In Elkhart, Indiana, there are many legends about a specific tree on Cable Line Road. The story above was shared with an IU student in 1978 by a 19-year old former resident of Cable Line Road. The “Cable Line Monster,” depending on who you ask, either caused the fatal accident or stole the body of the victim. Elkhart residents say that the monster lives near the tree, and if you drive past the scene of the accident your car will rattle and shake.
Who is said to have died in the crash varies, as does the reason for the accident – some people say it was a young couple coming home from a date and the boy fell asleep at the wheel, others that it was a motorcyclist going too fast in the rain, and still others that it was a father and his young son who were distracted by the monster. Whoever it was that met their end, it is said their spirit sometimes appears around the tree, and that if you shine your headlights on the tree at night you can clearly see the imprint of their face and body. People who live near Cable Line Road report strange happenings at night, including lights flickering on and off and phone calls with no one on the other end. The Cable Line Monster itself is the subject of much disagreement: it is usually said to have caused the accident, but it has been described by different people as a troll, a hairy bear-like animal with glowing eyes, a swamp monster, or an alien.
Item numbers: 77/145, 78/067 (story from this one), 78/102, 78/103
“Well, son, I never actually saw the thing myself. But I heard it scream. Sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before. Kind o’ like a woman screaming; And later when I went out fer water I seen where it had been, out at the pond drinking, left big prints in the mud.”
In Petersburg, Indiana, it was said for many years that the “strip pits,” strip mining sites near town, were inhabited by a strange creature. The figure was half-man, half-ape, twelve feet tall, and left foot prints twice the size of a man’s shoe. It had glowing eyes, and dogs would bark when the creature was nearby. The description above comes from a 93-year old Petersburg resident who shared his story with an IU student in 1973. The reports of the creature’s color varied, leading the IU student who recorded people’s stories to suggest that there might be multiple creatures who have lived in the area over the years. According to people in town, the creature would appear one day every four weeks in the late summer and early fall of every other year. The student researcher also suggested the possibility that during its two-year absences the creature was either hibernating or wandering the country under other names like “Bigfoot” and “Windago.”
Item number: 73/040
“In my mind, Oscar is the ninth wonder of the world; the Lock Ness Monster being the eighth. In a way I’m glad Oscar was never captured, if in fact he does, or did exist. People shouldn’t take his freedom away from him just because he’s unique . . . Who knows . . . Oscar just may decide to show his face some day.” – IU Student in 1973 on researching Beast of Busco
In Churubusco, Indiana, in the spring of 1949, Gale Harris saw a giant turtle that was “the size of large dinner table” in Fulk pond on his farm. The pond was named after its previous owner Oscar Fulk, so the turtle was given the name Oscar. After Harris’s first turtle sighting he began trying to capture Oscar, drawing curious onlookers from across the state. Gale’s efforts, however, were plagued by bad luck: he attempted to drain the lake, but got appendicitis and could not continue. Then he and other turtle tourists rented a diving suit, but their plans were foiled when the helmet leaked.
While someone using a “water weasel” claimed to see what looked like the turtle moving under the ice when the lake was frozen over, no official sighting besides Harris’s was documented. That did not stop Oscar’s popularity, though – hundreds and then thousands of people traveled to the farm, hoping to glimpse the giant reptile. Some reports suggest the Cincinatti Zoo asked to take Oscar if they could locate him, although the Zoo now denies this. Even the Indiana Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Animals got involved, stating that Oscar “should not be harpooned.” Eventually Harris spent so much money and time trying to find this mysterious turtle that he lost his farm. His search, though, made news across the state and country. Although Oscar was never found, Churubusco instituted an annual celebration called Turtle Day and has re-named itself “Turtle Town, USA.”
Item numbers: 73/004, 74/240
“One day this fisherman came in from fishing and he was soaking wet. People asked him, ‘what happened, how come you are all wet?’ He said, ‘A great big monster came out of the water and tipped my boat over and I went flying out into the water. I had to swim all the way here with the monster chasing me.’ All the people just laughed and said, “Oh sure,” and took it off like he was drunk. Well as days, months and years passed other people fishermen said they had been turned over and people along the shore said that they had seen this big monster out in the lake. Pretty soon they start believing it. So people went out to see if they could look at it, and search parties went out, but they couldn’t find anything. Then in about 1952 this one fisherman, boy he was lucky, he caught this big ten foot two-hundred pound Bass. Well after that no one else ever saw that monster. People went out in search parties but never saw the monster. So they think that the monster is that big Bass.”
Lake Manitou is a man-made reservoir near Rochester, Indiana, created in 1828 as part of a treaty between the U.S. government and the Potawatomi Tribe. The tribe called it Lake Manitou, or “devil’s lake,” supposedly because they believed a monster lived in it. An IU student recorded the story above from a Manitou local in 1978, and suggested in his analysis that the legend was intended to explain the many disappearances in the lake. According to that report the stories continued at least into the 1950s, but other sources suggest that the sightings occurred mostly in the 19th century, particularly around 1838 when the Potawatomi people were forced to leave their land.
Item Number: 78/117
“…’spose you know ‘bout that big catfish in the river down by the railroad tracks…it’s ‘spose to weigh about 150 pounds…I don’t know…an old coal locomotive went off the bridge down there and years and years ago…and he’s liven in the locomotive.”
In Terre Haute, Indiana, an IU student in 1973 interviewed an elderly plant worker about local folklore related to fishing. He shared with her the story above about a giant catfish living in the wreckage of an old train that had gone off a bridge over the Wabash River. The student who conducted the interview didn’t provide much information beyond the text of the story, but there was a train that fell in the Wabash River in the 1900 Big Four Bridge collapse. Despite later attempts to locate the ruins, part of the train is believed to remain underwater to this day. While the story of the giant catfish in the Wabash doesn’t appear to have become very well known, it is similar to many other stories of large fish appearing in rivers and lakes across the state.
Item Number: 73/128