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

Sincerely Yours: The Origin Story of Folklore at IUB

For a vast majority of the world, 1942 was a year to remember.  However, history wasn’t just being made overseas fighting in World War II; it was also being made right here at Indiana University Bloomington.  During the summer of 1942, Indiana University was host to what would be the first of many Folklore Institutes. The Institute was created by Professor Stith Thompson, who had long-held the dream of bringing together like-minds from all over, both faculty and student, to meet and discuss the field of folklore; both folklore itself and the future of the field.  This eight-week gathering was so successful that they continued to meet every summer.

This edition of ‘Sincerely Yours’ showcases correspondence with Herman B Wells  following the conclusion of the first Institute in 1942.  The first piece of correspondence comes from Jacob A. Evanson, Special Supervisor of Vocal Music for Pittsburgh Public Schools.  His letter describes the success of the first Institute as “historic” and notes it as a cultural progression.  This letter provides a perspective of the importance and impact of the Folklore Institute outside of Indiana University.

Stith Thompson, May 1955, Archives Image no.
P0021913

The main correspondence is from Stith Thompson to Herman B Wells.  The correspondence opens with a list of resolutions from the members of the first Institute.  These resolutions include the declaration of a “permanent” Folklore Institute of America, and that the Journal of American Folklore be declared the official channel of news distribution.  Also included is the Institute’s purpose statement: to  bring together faculty, students, and fellow workers to create a “professionally-minded group” for study and consult not included in ordinary curricula.

This letter also contains an impassioned speech by Thompson in which he reflects on the experience of the Institute.  Additionally, Thompson briefly discusses the issues at present within the field of folklore, and plans for the future of folklore in terms of professional organization, public relations, and academic development .   He talks about the need for researchers to cease their reclusive ways and come together in circles like the Institute to help the field prosper through internal collaborative efforts and understanding, and by forming relations with the public.  Also discussed is the implementation of proper techniques surrounding the  collection and classification of folklore, from the individual collector to the establishment of a fully functional national archive.

Thompson’s description of the impact of folklore from a local to a national stage, and even a global one is captivating.  He states that the support of local folklore organizations can help to further the development of larger, national folklore directives by organizations.Also addressed is the presence of folklore in the academic field.  Thompson states that the presentation of folklore by universities should be done in such a way that will “infect” students and whether they be teacher, doctor, lawyer, etc., they should show interest in the traditions of their community.

Thompson closes his letter by reaffirming the purpose of the Institute by saying that research rather than teaching is the main goal, and that its value lies in its existence as the only place (at the time) to foster collaborative and individual research,and the overall growth of the folklore field.

The best part of this correspondence lies in its last few pages in the form of a poem.  Nearing the closure of their time together, this group of scholars pooled their creativity to construct a retelling of events of events that they could carry with them in memory.  The result of their collaborative efforts was a poem reminiscent of famous epics of the past such as the Odyssey and Aeneid.  This goes to show that even heavy scholars have a humorous side, even if it may be a little high-brow.

From C213 President’s Office records – Herman B Wells, Folklore Institute 1941-42 folder. 

The Folklore Institute would go on to meet yearly until the early 1960’s. It was at this time, and through the endeavors of professors Richard Dorson and Stith Thompson, that the Folklore Institute became an established department at Indiana University under the same name of the Folklore Institute.  Though not in the same manner as its origin, the Folklore Institute is still present at IU Bloomington and is known by scholars throughout the world.  To learn more about the Folklore Institute from its beginnings to today, visit the IU Archives in Wells Library to see the current exhibit, ‘Collecting Folklore: The History of the Folklore Institute at Indiana University.‘  This exhibit will be up until January 26th, 2018.

 

 

Cattle Punching on a Jack Rabbit: The Frank de Caro and Rosan A. Jordan papers

The Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan Papers contain the personal papers and research of Frank de Caro and his wife Rosan Augusta Jordan.  De Caro, an IU alum and professor emeritus of English at Louisiana State University, has authored several books on Louisiana folklore.  He has also served as editor for several folklore journals such as Louisiana Sojourns: Travelers’ Tales and Literary Journeys. The collection includes research, correspondence, and manuscripts for his publications, as well the teaching materials and Day of the Dead research of his wife Rosan Jordan.  Jordan studied folklore at Indiana University and taught at Louisiana State University until the early 2000s.  

What really caught my interest, however, is the plethora of postcards the pair compiled over the years.  

Folklore is more than legends and myths from the distant past, but something that is constantly expanding and surrounds us all the time; popping up in odd places and through unexpected forms. One form that many may not consider a purveyor of folklore would be that of a postcard. Postcards can be a way to capture bits of information to tell stories. Whether it’s a text description of the lore surrounding the dogwood tree, or a photograph depicting the day-to-day life of pottery making, the ability to appreciate lore and practices from multiple cultures can be found in postcards.  

Since the mid-1800s, postcards have been a way for people to send written messages along with a unique image to give it a little something extra. Postcards come in many shapes, sizes and materials; some can be very detailed, with elaborate images incorporating cloth, metals, and other things attached, others can be as simple as a reproduction of a famous piece of art.  Postcards can contain images of faraway places we want to visit, inspire us with art or motivational slogans, educate us with historical facts, or provide comedic relief.  

The postcards in this collection provide excellent examples of the seamless ways in which folklore finds its way into everyday life through a variety of subject matter.  While there are the typical postcards with depictions of beautiful landscapes and historic buildings, there are many peculiar postcards. Several cards take the classic American expression “Everything’s Bigger In Texas!” and pair it with humorous illustrations such as those below.

You’ve probably never heard of the Jackalope, or knew the significance of the armadillo to the state of Texas; but if you’d like to know, this is where you’ll find the answer! Continue to scroll through for few more examples and contact the IU Archives to see more from the Frank de Caro and Rosan Jordan papers

 

The Folklore Paper Collection: A Cabinet of Curiosities

Musei_Wormiani_Historia
“Musei Wormiani Historia”, the frontispiece from the Museum Wormianum depicting Ole Worm’s cabinet of curiosities. From: commons.wikipedia.org

You never know what you will find when you dive into a box of Folklore papers. Much like a Cabinet of Curiosities from the Renaissance and Victorian periods (see left) these boxes are stuffed full of papers and items that will spark one’s curiosity, wet one’s intellectual appetite, and engage the mind in cultural history.

The University Archives recently processed a collection of papers written by students taking material culture courses in the Folklore Institute between 1960 and the early 1980s. These papers are written on a wide variety of subjects within material culture including architecture, crafts, tombstones & epitaphs, quilting, furniture, instrument making, family traditions and recipes, fashion, and food ways.

Many of these papers consist of interviews with artisans and craftsmen, family members, or owners of the locations being researched. One such paper includes an account by the owner of a house near Elizabethtown, Indiana which was part of the Underground Railroad used by runaway slaves fleeing north to Canada during the Civil War. A number of the locations and craftsmen discussed in these papers are local or in close proximity to Bloomington, including a paper on the Rose Well House which is a popular fixture of legend in IU campus lore.

Postcard Set Postcard Duo

For those more interested in religious studies there are also papers centered around religion. One such paper describes the folkways surrounding food, feasting, and religious practices of the Russian Orthodox Church during the week of Easter and recounts how the low number of parishioners at Bloomington’s Russian Orthodox Church affected the Bloomington orthodox community in the 60s and 70s. The paper even includes a set of colorful feast-themed Eastern Orthodox postcards for the reader to examine (see here). I would be curious to see if the church survived or not but I couldn’t find it through any direct means…perhaps that is an answer in it of itself.

Sometimes going through papers from various years allows the researcher to see trends.  Apple doll making and water witching seem to have been popular subjects in the 60s and 70s. There are also a fair number of papers written on local tombstones and instrument makers in this collection.

Most of these papers will include samples, HeroI012photographs, or other items related to the paper’s subject. One such paper written on the Kennedy family, who built covered bridges in Indiana, has a beautiful set of covered bridge illustrations and diagrams as well as old advertisements for tools used to construct these bridges.

Other papers involving quilt making either have quilting pattern diagrams,
Quilt Samples
magazine pictures, samples, or hand drawn patterns to help explain the types of patterns being  discussed (see here).

Slightly more odd items are included with these papers too. One paper on soap-making had a bag of lye stapled to one of the pages (you definitely don’t want to touch that with your bare hands. It’s highly caustic and can burn your skin!).  Another had a seemingly random top of a wood spool of sowing thread with no explanation as to its significance within the greater context of the paper other than the fact that the paper was on quilt-making.  As I continued to go through the collection I briefly wondered if I would encounter a paper on Thanksgiving that included a wishbone taped to the backside of one of the papers…but alas the wishbone did not reveal itself…

For more on these papers and other Folklore-related items contact the IU Archives.

 

Missed it by that much – The Folklore Institute Ventriloquism Project

The archive of an unfunded project is a strange thing to behold. It recounts a set of best-laid plans that never quite came to fruition. Proposals and correspondence describe the viability of an enterprise, and organizers explain themselves with eloquently written prose and carefully curated documentation. In the present, we review these files knowing the inevitable outcome. Although many people worked hard trying to bring their idea to life, it did not succeed in the way it was envisioned.

A case in point here is the Ventriloquism Project, a proposed collaboration of the Indiana University Folklore Institute and Radio and Television Services. For much of 1988, a small but committed core of researchers sought funding for a documentary that would have explored the contemporary practice of ventriloquism in the United States.

In the end, the project was not of interest to the many sources who received an appeal for funding. The Folk Arts Media sector of the National Endowment for the Arts said no. The Walt Disney Company’s educational films division said no. Jim Henson said no through a personal assistant, who explained that ventriloquism is not the same thing as puppetry (or in this case, Muppetry), which forms the basis of “Jim’s interest and experience.”

Ventriloquism ad
A page in the 1984-85 catalog from One Way Street, a Colorado-based puppetry and ventriloquism resource center

Notwithstanding, those who supported the Ventriloquism Project—folklorists Gail Matthews, Inta Carpenter, and Sandra Dolby, as well as filmmakers John Bishop and John Winninger—produced a significant body of work in their attempts to acquire funding. University Archives and Records Management makes this material available now. The archive of the Ventriloquism Project comprises a rich review of ventriloquial art in the United States in the twentieth century. The files included here could serve as a springboard for anyone researching ventriloquism, whether for a documentary, journalistic article, or academic publication.

At issue in many of these papers is the nature of ventriloquism as a folk art. Researchers argued that its decline in popularity in the early twentieth century marked a transition from popular culture to folklore. Their interpretation of this process is nicely summarized in a proposal to the NEA. They write: “The lay person may think that ventriloquism died out with the arrival of television, when in fact, it merely faded from popular media visibility. Over the years, ventriloquists have constituted a small but solid and growing community of interest.”

The archive’s ephemera provide extensive evidence of this community as it existed in the late 1980s. Gathered materials include advertising literature from Vent Haven, a ventriloquism museum in Kentucky; and correspondence with One Way Street, a puppetry and ventriloquism resource center in Colorado. Additional pamphlets, letters, and business cards from a variety of sources suggest the breadth of the proposed project. Had it gone forward, film crews would have captured footage in Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, South Carolina, and elsewhere.

The documentary was not meant to be, however, and the Ventriloquism Project was shelved until further notice. That notice is now, as it were. The preparatory work that researchers did has been made public after a dark age of about 25 years. Interested parties are invited to view this archive, which, even though it was not funded, provides a valuable resource for aficionados of ventriloquism.

To view this material, and to access the finding aid that indexes it, visit http://libraries.iub.edu/archives, or call (812) 855-1127.