Mysterious creatures have long fascinated humans. Almost everyone is familiar with Bigfoot, the legendary ape-like being that has been sighted across most of the U.S. The Jersey Devil, a flying, horned biped that supposedly lurks in New Jersey’s Pine Barrens, is so prevalent in local lore it inspired the name of the NHL team. But through the years, many other lesser-known mysterious creatures have reportedly been sighted around the U.S. These creatures are known as cryptids, meaning their existence has not been proven … or disproven. And while they have inspired fear, they have also become a source of civic pride in some communities. Years after the most recent “sightings,” some of these cryptids are still celebrated with festivals, merchandise, statues and more.
Legend has it that a creature similar to Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster inhabits Lake Champlain on the New York-Vermont border. Sightings date back hundreds of years to Native American lore; more recently, a video supposedly showing the plesiosaur-like creature caused a stir in 2005. Fact or fiction, “Champ” has become a tourist attraction and source of revenue around the lake. The Class-A minor league team in Burlington, Vt., has been known as the Vermont Lake Monsters since 2005. Across the Lake, Port Henry, N.Y., holds a “Champ Day” each summer. And you don’t have to look very hard to find Champ T-shirts and collectibles at stores around the lake, or online.
A lumberjack caused a sensation when he captured a 7-foot-long, horned and spiked lizard in 1893 in Rhinelander, Wis. The bizarre creature was displayed at fairs and shows around the country … until someone discovered it was a hoax, a stump covered in ox hide. Yet more than a hundred years later, the town in northern Wisconsin still holds the Hodag Country Festival each summer to celebrate the creature. And the local high school’s sports teams carry the nickname Hodags.
5. Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp
The tiny town of Bishopville, in Lee County, S.C., made headlines around the world in 1988, when local residents reported spotting a 7-foot-tall, reptilian-like creature near Scape Ore Swamp. Tourists arrived to try to catch a glimpse of the creature. Even hunters showed up, drawn by a $1 million reward for anyone who captured the creature alive. There have been scant sightings in recent years, but the Lizard Man of Scape Ore Swamp is still remembered around Lee County. You can learn more about the Lizard Man — and get a cool T-shirt or hat — at the South Carolina Cotton Museum in Bishopville.
4. Beast of Busco
As the story goes, a farmer in Churubusco, Ind., spotted an enormous, prehistoric-looking turtle in a lake on his farm in 1898 and decided to steer clear. When two local citizens fishing on that pond in 1948 sighted the strange turtle, authorities launched a search that made national headlines. Of course, they never found anything. But the national attention inspired the town to launch the Churubusco Turtle Days Festival in 1950. The festival is still going strong today, featuring four days of music, games, fireworks … and, of course, turtle races. No wonder Churubusco bills itself as “Turtletown USA.”
3. Loveland Frog
How many cryptids are celebrated with a musical in their honor? The Loveland Frog may be the first, honored in 2014 at a Cincinnati festival with the musical Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog! Oh, a local journalist featured the cryptid in a science fiction book and Warner Bros. acquired the film rights. Not bad for a 4-foot-tall, frog-like creature that has been spotted only a few times through the years in Loveland, a small town in southwestern Ohio. Two of the sightings were made by respected local police officers, although one later admitted it looked more like someone’s escaped pet iguana as it scampered away.
2. Boggy Creek Monster
This cryptid (aka the Fouke Monster) became almost as famous as Bigfoot in the early 1970s. After the 7-foot-tall, Sasquatch-like creature twice terrorized a couple at their Arkansas home, other sightings were reported. Those incidents inspired the cult-classic 1972 docudrama, The Legend of Boggy Creek, as well as four related films, a documentary and several books. Yet Fouke, Ark., waited until 2013 to hold a festival celebrating this creature that put the town on the map. After a three-year run, the festival vanished … much like the Boggy Creek Monster that inspired all the attention. If you’re passing through Fouke, you can get your fill of monster merchandise and folklore (Foukelore?) at the Monster Mart.
For almost a year in 1966 and 1967, residents of Point Pleasant, W.Va., reported seeing a flying humanoid with 10-foot wings and red eyes. Many believe that people who allegedly sighted the creature had simply misidentified large owls; one scientist thought it might be a large sandhill crane. Yet the legend of Mothman remained relevant with the publication of a 1975 book, The Mothman Prophecies, which was made into a 2002 Richard Gere movie by the same name. Mothman resurfaced in the news in 2016, when a local TV station published photos showing a large, unidentified flying creature. It’s yet one more exhibit for the local Mothman Museum. Local residents and visitors from around the country celebrate the cryptid each September at the Mothman Festival.