Hoosier Monsters and Where to Find Them

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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

Behind the Curtain: Laura Bell, Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Behind the Curtain is a series highlighting IU Archives staff, partners from various departments of the IU Libraries, and students who make all of our work possible. Continue to follow over the coming months to read how and who make the magic happen!

Role: Processor and Assistant to the Curator of Photographs

Educational Background: B.A. in English with a minor in Educational Studies from St. Mary’s College of Maryland; Current MLS graduate student with a specialization in Archives and Records Management.

How she got here: During Laura’s last semester as an undergrad, she worked as a student assistant at the college library.  After graduating, she knew she wanted to pursue Library Science but was unsure what specialization to choose. Laura also wanted to be sure she was picking a path that she would enjoy so she decided to work and gain more experience.

Laura began working full time in the Access Services Department at the main academic library at West Virginia University. The people in that department were amazing and they provided great opportunities to learn skills that led to her current interests. She worked to improve her customer service skills with patrons, and she learned more about library school in general by talking with her supervisor at the time, and IU alum, Hilary Fredette.

After 6 months in Access Services, she began working in the special collections department/archive at WVU.  At the West Virginia & Regional History Center (WVRHC), she managed the historic photographs collection including selecting images to go online in the database, managing student workers, handling image requests and reproductions, and working to help with other projects.  Laura’s position at the WVRHC led her to decide on the archives specialization.  She had supportive mentors who encouraged her when she started applying to schools and making decisions. Their enthusiasm and knowledge showed her how many things archivists get to do and how they can make materials more accessible to patrons. Another alum from the program, Danielle Emerling who works at the WVRHC, coordinated with Carrie Schwier of the IU Archives to set up a time for Laura to visit the Archives when she visited the campus that spring.  After seeing everything that IU and the MLS program had to offer, she decided this would be a good place to gain the experience and knowledge she needed to become an archivist. Now, she gets to work here and she loves it.

Example of a dance card in the IU Archives Collection

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: The IU Dance Cards Collection. It was one of the first collections that she processed.  Each dance card is unique and it was really interesting to see how many events there were on campus throughout the 1920s-1950s.

Current Project: She is currently processing the Claire Robertson papers and working on other small projects as they come up.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: Hard to pick one! She enjoys processing collections the most, but she really enjoyed researching materials and finding images for East Meets Midwest: A History of Chinese Students at Indiana University, an exhibit that was displayed in the Wells Library in March 2017.

What she’s learned from working here: Since Laura is from Maryland, the rivalry between IU and Purdue was news to her!  She also just enjoys getting to learn the general history of the university and what it was like when it first began.

Love Is in the Air at the Archives!

Over the past few weeks, I looked for love in all the right places, namely, within the University Archives! On February 1, the Archives sponsored a Pop-Up! exhibit, “Love and Friendship in the Archives.” In honor of Valentine’s Day, the exhibit examined love and friendship contained in the Archives’ collections. I worked on the exhibit, which allowed me to discover part of the long history of love at IU.

On one hand, I learned about IU traditions and campus spots associated with love. For instance, there was the Board Walk, a path that crisscrossed the Old Crescent, stretching from Indiana Avenue to Forest Place (now home to Ballantine) and was known in the early decades of the twentieth century as the “lover’s lane” of campus. There is also the “Spooning Wall” or the “Lovers’ Wall,” which still stretches along Third Street. Hoagy Carmichael is said to have found his inspiration for “Stardust” while sitting on the Lovers’ Wall.

Page from the scrapbook of Joan Richards Neff, class of 1949. IU Archives Collection C597.
Page from the scrapbook of Joan Richards Neff, class of 1949. IU Archives Collection C597.

But more important were the personal glimpses that I got into the lives of IU students and faculty. The Archives contains many scrapbooks from students who documented the love and friendship they found here. One set of scrapbooks belonged to Doris Joan Richards Neff, who attended IU from 1945 to 1949. She put together a scrapbook for each year she was at IU, filled with mementos from dances, parties, and even impromptu taco dinners with friends. While a student, Joan met Franklin Neff, and the two married after graduation. Joan kept all kinds of things related to her romance with Frank, including parts of the gifts he gave her, dried roses she received for their anniversaries, and Valentines from Frank and his mother.

Valentine from Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, IU Archives Collection C413.
Valentine from Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers, IU Archives Collection C413.

Believe it or not, students weren’t the only ones expressing their love at IU – apparently, faculty sometimes find love too! Perhaps my favorite examples are in the Cecilia Hennel Hendricks family papers and the Avis Tarrant Burke papers. All three Hennel sisters – Cecilia, Cora, and Edith – were students at IU in the 1900s, and all three taught on the faculty at various times. In 1913, Cecilia resigned as an instructor in the English Department in order to marry John Hendricks, and the two moved to Wyoming to run a bee farm. Being so far away didn’t stop Cecilia from keeping close ties with the rest of her family. The Hendricks family kept up a lively correspondence, and in a letter of February 17, 1914, Cecilia wrote that in one day, she received 11 letters, one card, and a package in the mail! The family papers are full of Valentines from daughter to mother, daughter to father, and from the whole family to their grandfather. In later life, when Cecilia returned to IU to teach in the English Department, she was so beloved by her students that some of them sent her Valentine cards and even flowers.

For sheer romance, though, you almost can’t beat the tenderness that existed between Avis Tarrant Burke and her husband, Robert E. Burke. Avis Tarrant married her old friend Robert in 1916 and moved to Bloomington to be with him. Robert was an assistant professor of Fine Arts, and Avis taught at the McCalla school and eventually worked at the University Extension Division. The two traveled together extensively, including to Europe, Hawaii, and the Pacific Northwest. Avis kept travel diaries that documented their adventures together, as well as personal diaries that documented less sensational “adventures.” For February 14, 1942, she wrote in her diary about two “events” for the day: Robert gave her a box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day and that she spent the morning cleaning out the closets!

Whenever the two were apart, they wrote very touching letters and poems to each other. One letter that Robert wrote to Avis reads, “Darling One: Perhaps this is silly to write to you when you are right downstairs now – but I want you to have this line from me just as soon as you get to Winsted [Connecticut] – all it says is that I love you more all the time and shall miss you very much. However, we’ll both keep very busy & so try to make the times pass quickly. xxxxxx Robert.” Avis wrote poems expressing how lonely she was walking down the streets of Chicago without Robert, as well as poems such as “To My Valentine of Twenty Years.” It seems like the love and affection that Avis and Robert had for each other never faded.

Robert Burke to wife Avis. IU Archives Collection C96.
Robert Burke to wife Avis. IU Archives Collection C96.

But perhaps the most touching example of unfading love that I saw was the drafts of a poem by Philip Appleman, a prolific writer and Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English. His papers include drafts of a poem he wrote for his wife Marjorie. Originally entitled “A Poem for Beautiful Breasts,” in later drafts the title of the poem changed to “Mastectomy.” Appleman seems to have written the poem while his wife was undergoing surgery. He imagines the procedure to himself, and then concludes the poem with the powerful lines, “I will love her more / than yesterday.”

Part of the beauty of a place like the IU Archives is that love never dies.

Come find love at the IU Archives!

Behind the Curtain: Molly Wittenberg, Records Manager

Role: Molly is the Records Manager, a new role within the Archives and the University as a whole. Her primary role is to work with units across campus to help schedule the records they create, and help facilitate the disposition of records when they’re no longer active – whether that’s transferring them to the University Archives, or destroying them.

Educational Background: She earned her MLIS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2015. She also has a B.S. in Therapeutic Recreation from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

How she got here: Prior to joining IU, Molly was working for the City of Berkeley in Berkeley, CA. They did not have an archives, but much of her work still focused on the identification and transfer of records and maintaining preservation and access.

Prior to starting graduate school, Molly was working for a small business where she worked with government offices to digitize their historical records. That position initiated her curiosity, and a course in records management in grad school solidified her interest in the field. She also grew up in southern Indiana, and IU was always an exciting place to visit. It’s a great place to come to work every day.

Favorite Collection in the IU Archives: Molly loves finding correspondence between individuals and offices on campus and the unique insight these records provide. They’re also a great reminder of the importance and value of capturing correspondence in the digital age.

Current Project: Molly is currently updating our website with available information related to records management services and resources for IU.

Favorite experience in the IU Archives: One of her first – working with offices across campus to remove older, inactive physical records from the IU Warehouse. It was a hands-on introduction to a variety of the content created by IU. The experience provided an opportunity to discuss the importance of records management and transferring records to the Archives.

Ernest P. Bicknell (scanned from photograph album), 1922. Archives image no. P0047460

What she’s learned from working here: Quite a bit about alumni – most recently Ernest P. Bicknell and his role with the Red Cross during WWI. Contact the IU Archives to see the Ernest P. Bicknell papers.

Behind the Curtain: Hannah Vaughn, Bicentennial Graduate Assistant

dsc_0467Role: Graduate Assistant at the IU Archives working on the Indiana University Bicentennial

Educational Background: B.A. in History from Purdue University; current M.L.S. student with a specialization in Rare Books and Manuscripts

Previous Experience: Hannah worked in the Archives and Special Collections at Purdue University for two years as an undergraduate assistant for the Barron Hilton Flight and Space Exploration Archives.  In addition, she spent one summer at the Indiana State Library through the Rare Books and Manuscripts Division. This past summer, she worked with the Loan Archives at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Hannah says working in the Purdue Archives was “the highlight of my undergraduate degree program.  The experiences I had and the people I met ultimately helped me decide on my future career path.  As such, I was greatly interested in working in a similar environment that could teach me even more about working in an archive.”

Current project: Recently Hannah has been working to process the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers, who was a Professor of Comparative Literature and East Asian Languages and Cultures at IU. She also just installed an exhibit drawn from his papers. Visit the Office of the Bicentennial in Franklin Hall 200 to see “Reflections on Diversity: Highlights from the Eugene Chen Eoyang papers” through February 1, 2018.

What she’s learned: The first president of IU, Andrew Wylie, died while in office.  He accidentally cut his foot with an ax while out in the woods and then died a couple of days later from pneumonia.