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Monsters of New York: not just another tall tale

UFOs and Washington Irving have made spooky New York famous. Between Rip Van Winkle, Sleepy Hollow and the Boomerang UFOs of the early 1980s, it would seem that the Empire state already has its fair share of strange sights and stories to tell. But, in truth, if it's unusual, paranormal, scary or downright weird, New York has a little bit of everything unnerving.

This is the most famous, and probably the most contested, of all photos of the Lake Champlain monster, 'Champ.'
This is the most famous, and probably the most contested, of all photos of the Lake Champlain monster, 'Champ.'
Sandra Mansi/courtesy Cryptomundo
This magnificent rendering of Sasquatch presides over the Bruce Hallenbeck's presentation
C.S.Matthews/courtesy B. Hallenbeck

Fortean investigator, Bruce Hallenbeck knows about unnerving all too well. Some of his closest family members were at the heart of extremely strange encounters with something unknown which manifested itself powerfully in and around Kinderhook, NY in 1978.

Perhaps ironically, Washington Irving was a one time resident of Kinderhook Village and he based some of the characters in his story, Legend of Sleepy Hollow, on actual village folk living there at the time (18th-19th century).

Hallenbeck's grandmother was an early and principal witness of the Kinderhook Creature and what she saw frightened her deeply. Largely as the result of this experience, Hallenbeck has spent much of his life investigating cryptids, mysterious animals and creatures that are not part of everyday experience.

Her account of an unknown large hairy black Bigfood type creature, which was definitely not a bear, sleeping on her lawn, eventually became national news because so many other credible and knowledgeable witnesses came forward with similar encounters and sightings of their own.

Hallenbeck has collected his family's stories and joined them with others in a straightforward, well researched and easy to read introduction to many of the strangest creatures that have been reported in the state.

Unlike many other anecdotal texts, Monsters of New York: Mysterious Creatures in the Empire State, demonstrates good background research. Hallenbeck has sought out archival information, tracked down original sources and people to get beyond the sensational aspects of these accounts.

The reader learns, not only about the long tradition of Bigfoot/Sasquatch encounters in the Catskills, Taconic and Adirondack regions of the state, and the real skinny behind the famous Mansi photograph of "Champ," the Loch Ness like monster said to inhabit Lake Champlain, but that the rumors of alligators showing up in the sewers of New York City are actually based on true, if rather mysterious, events.

And of course there are the accounts of Little People and Aliens and strange malformed creatures that wash up from time to time on Montauk, Long Island. These last are said to be unwitting animal victims of known biological/genetic experiments on Plum Island.

He also reports on the return of big cats to the state, cougars long believed to have been driven into extinction, but that, in fact, have survived in other places and are periodically seen again, often to the shock of witnesses.

Hallenbeck begins Monsters with native accounts of 'Stone Giants, Ice Cannibals and Horned Serpents' and ends with nice timetable summaries of both 'Champ' and 'Bigfoot' sightings going back to the earliest recorded sightings by non-natives.

What makes so many of these accounts fascinating is that, aside from a few spectacular pranksters, most witnesses to these reported strange events are actually quite good. Good enough that the New York State Assembly recognized Champ in its own way by passing a resolution in 1983 recognizing that something about the Lake Champlain sightings needed to be studied.

At a recent reading and presentation of Monsters in Tivoli, NY, Hallenbeck showed footage of his grandmother being interviewed for a nationally syndicated TV news magazine, PM Magazine, which ran in the early 1980s, in order to illustrate just how difficult her experience was for her and family. He told additional stories from the book and encouraged members of the audience to share their experiences as well. Later I was able to ask him a couple of questions:

In Monsters of New York you talk about your family's involvement with the Kinderhook creature sightings. Is there one episode, sighting or encounter that you've heard about or experienced that most stands out to you or that most affected you?

As for the incident that most affected me, it would have to be what happened on the night of September 24th 1980. The fact that my grandmother, a courageous and no-nonsense woman, was afraid enough to call me home from the restaurant where I was out with friends, was enough to prove that something unprecedented was happening. When I got home, my cousin was there with his shotgun and there was a general sense of panic. I had missed the whole event, and have been kicking myself ever since...which is probably one reason I so desperately want to see this creature.

You've been studying cryptids for awhile now--what advice would you give to others who would like to take up this line of research?

My advice for anyone who wanted to go into the field of cryptozoology would be to do all the research you possibly can and then go out into the field. Also, develop a very thick skin because this very pursuit opens you up to levels of ridicule you may not want to experience. But it's all part of the game. If you believe that "something is out there," then go and look for it. But prepare yourself and don't be reckless; be safe. And do it in a scientific fashion. Compile the evidence and present your findings to the correct scientific bodies. It's the only way creatures such as Sasquatch, Champ and Nessie will ever be proven to exist.

Bruce Hallenbeck will be appearing with Gayle Beatty, founder of Bigfoot Researchers of the Hudson Valley this Thursday evening at 6:30p at The Enchanted Cafe, in Red Hook NY. They will be sharing some of the latest evidence for Bigfoot in and around the forest fragments of Northern Dutchess, Southern Columbia counties in New York State.

Bruce will also be giving a talk at the Valatie Library in the township of Kinderhook in June, exact date TBA--so make sure to keep tuned.

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