April 30, 2010

IRA ALLEN, GHOSTBUSTER

I’m sure you’ve noticed the proliferation of so-called “Paranormal Investigators.” It’s a worldwide phenomenon that can be traced to a TV show, GHOST HUNTERS, that premiered in 2004.

We have at least 3 groups of specter detectors here in Vermont. So I got to wondering who Vermont’s first ghost hunter might have been. So far the outstanding candidate is Ira Allen, brother of Ethan and "Father of the University of Vermont."

In his auto- biography Ira talks about some friends he met in the early 1770s -- a mother with two lovely daughters. He writes, “[They…] used to amuse me by telling… frightful stories [of ghosts and apparitions…] amongst which were many stories [about] an old woman… without a head.”

Now here’s where the ghost hunting comes in. Ira writes, “One evening I challenged the old woman without a head, and all the ghosts, to meet me at any time and place they chose.”

This bravado alarmed Ira’s friends. The young women warned him not to provoke the spirits or there would be supernatural retaliation. And soon.The very next day some of Ira’s hogs escaped. As darkness fell, he went looking for them along a snowy footpath leading deep into the woods. As it got darker, he admits, thoughts of the headless woman crossed his mind. What would he do if he saw her?

Well, he was about to find out.

A little farther along, he says,
“to my no small surprise, at about 8 rods distance, I …[saw] the perfect appearance of a woman without a head; her shoulders, waist, arms akimbo, her hands on her hips, woman’s cloths, and feet below were in perfect shape… ; all which I viewed with astonishment.”

Could it be real?

“If the God of nature authorizes apparitions,” Ira wrote, “then there is no flying from them.”

With that he raised his cane and advanced.

He says, “I came within about 30 yards before I discovered the cause…”

He found that a tree had been broken off by the wind, leaving a human-sized stump. Some of its bark had fallen away, creating the illusion of a white dress. Above that, a dappled pattern -- the work of woodcocks -- completed the upper torso. The night made the darker areas invisible, forming, Ira wrote, “the size and figure of a headless woman”

To satisfy himself, he went back to the original spot. From there the headless woman was visible again.

And then Ira Allen writes a line that perhaps reveals the source of a lot of ghost stories.

He wrote, “Had I been frightened and run away, I might, like others, have believed in spectral appearances,”

Vermont's first ghost, busted.

To hear me read this commentary, just go to...

http://www.vpr.net/episode/48493/


April 25, 2010

...ANOTHER MAN'S CASTLE

During a conversation with Susan Stebbins on February 18th of this year, I learned of a tunnel just off Intervale Road in Burlington. Tunnels always capture my curiosity, and because this one was not far from the “haunted” Blue Bridge, I was exceptionally curious. Susan recalled enticing bits of stories about the place, like there was a barred gate in it and that a number of dead bodies had been found inside. But she hadn’t seen the place in many, many years, so she wasn’t able to describe it exactly.


I had to see it for myself.


Because he shares my interest in all things strange and historic, my pal Jeff Stewart (founder of Paranormal Investigators of New England) joined me to see if we could rediscover the thing.

Finding it was easy; Susan had provided excellent directions. Figuring out what it was proved to be the hard part.


It clearly was not one of Vermont’s so-called ancient structures, we could see that right away.


It was in plain sight -- out in the open -- but we approached it with caution.


Peering through the opening we could tell that it extended a good long way under the hill that supports the railroad tracks.


Before entering, we guessed it must have been used for storage – rails maybe -- but it occurred to both of us that there would have been lots of less labor intensive ways to set up a storage shed.


Well, we’ll figure it out…


As we entered, the mystery deepened.


Shining our light toward the end of the tunnel, we discovered that there was a thick gray blanket hanging across the interior, creating sort of an optical illusion that the tunnel ended before it really did – a sort of false bottom.


This put us on guard, fearing we might not be alone.


Jeff called, “Hello” several times before we continued into the tunnel. When we moved the curtain aside it became immediately clear that someone was -- or had been – living here. His protection against intruders was just inside the curtain: a big knife.


We remained on guard until we were sure we were alone.


Then we poked around a bit and found candles, pots, bedding, and books. I could imagine the vanished occupant in this lightless, damp dungeon huddled under a blanket reading mysteries by candlelight.


Not the most hospitable of homes. The place was muddy and wet. Jeff and I agreed that no one could be living there as of our visit on April 23rd. In fact nothing was living there but gigantic spiders.


Whoever had made his or her home here was a puzzle, but the real mystery was the place itself. Just exactly what was it?



The investigation continues next time. . .



If you know what this is, or have a guess, please leave a comment.

April 22, 2010

KNOWN BY MANY NAMES

The elusive Sidehill Croncher (Crevida Scrofa) is known by many names. In other parts of Vermont they are called Sidehill Gougers, Rooters, and, of course, Wampahoofuses (Wampahoofi?) .

The Wampahoofus Trail above Butler Lodge near the Forehead of Mt. Mansfield was so named by Professor Roy Buchanan because of a rock formation that looks like the profile of a Wampahoofus.

Ben Nappi of Milton throws a healthy bit of skepticism into the discussion by calling the animal's entire existence into question. He writes, "My English teacher, Mr. Butts, used to call one of these creatures a Sidey Hill Wampus. If he made a point in class and someone said, "Yeah, but--" he would say "There's no such thing as a 'Yeah But. It ranks right up there with a Sidey Hill Wampus and a Ooch-Ooch Bird'."

Hmmmm. Looks like we better start doing some bird-watching.

April 21, 2010

A CRONCHER BY ANY OTHER NAME...

Lots of fun feedback on my last public radio rant.

For example, here's one from Phil Keyes (Brandon, VT)

"Really enjoyed Joe Citro's recent commentary about animals in Vermont with 2 legs longer than the others, so they could stand up on the steep hills of the green mountains.

"My brother confirms the existence of these creatures, but called them by a different name, Wampahoofuses. He was a hut caretaker on Mount Mansfield, and told me all about them!"

Somehow I get the feeling I didn't fool anyone with my April Fools Day antics.

But it's clear Mr. Keyes is not easily fooled.

He adds, "I have spent a good chunk of time on and around Mount Independence in Orwell, VT and can report that [Champ] does not appear to live there, although a few logs have surfaced from the bridge built in 1777, now and then that might give the impression of being [Champ]."

CRONCHER illustrations by Stephen R. Bissette from The Vermont Monster Guide.

April 7, 2010

CANNED CRONCHERS

I was delighted to hear in a recent email that my disclosure about
Sidehill Cronchers
inspired some intrepid souls to go out monster hunting. If enough adventurers take up the challenge, it won't be long before we have these crypto-critters in the can!

For example:


Hi Mr. Citro,

I am a school librarian and a parent of two boys who are fans of your books. My 9 year old, after reading The Vermont Monster Guide, informed me that he wanted to spend his April break searching for some of the monsters in the book. I wanted to let you know that we traveled to the Chateauguy Wilderness near Bridgewater to look for the most elusive Sidehill Cronchers! Before you say or think another word, attached are photos of what we found. After some exhausting hikes up some very steep hills and logging paths, we determined that it was a Croncher-free day. We did spot some unusual placements of beer cans in trees (not sure what creatures are responsible for them).

Those photos are attached.

We also came upon what looked like a bedding-down spot for a creature, and we took some hair from that spot (photo also attached, and note the supernatural orb that resulted from the flash!).

We spooked ourselves pretty well when we saw all the hair, because it is long and coarse, much like boar hair, and we figured since it was white and dark gray it could be a really old Croncher. With time and reflection, I am now assuming it is skunk hair, and with that in mind, I think we made a very close escape!



Thanks for all of your stories and books and I'll let you know if we find anything else to report.

Your fellow monster hunters,

Kelly and Henry Ahlfeld

My April 2010 Medal for Bravery goes to this fearless pair.

April 1, 2010

SIDEHILL CRONCHERS

This is my April, 2010 public radio commentary.
If you prefer to listen to me read it, you can do so at
http://www.vpr.net/episode/48285/


SIDEHILL CRONCHERS

Lately I’ve been getting something of a reputation here in Vermont. People are starting to call me “Joe Citro, The Ghost Guy.” Okay, admittedly I have written a lot about ghosts.

But “The Ghost Guy”? I hate to get typecast like that. So in 2009 I decided to broaden my horizons.

I gave up on ghosts and started looking for. . . monsters.

Now generally we don’t think of Vermont as having a lot of monsters. But as it turns out, our safe little state is home to a whole zoo-full of incredible creatures.

Champ is here, of course, and he, she, or it, has many aquatic cousins. Like Memphre in Lake Memphremagog. And “Elmo” in Lake Elmore. And of course Crystal Lake’s little known “Ms Crystal”.


Then there are the mythical land dwellers. Down south we’ve got “The Bennington Monster”. Up in the Northeast Kingdom, there’s 0ld Slipperyskin. And folks tell me something extraordinarily weird is lurking on Black Mountain in Addison.

But, in honor of this special time of year, I was determined to find something truly out of the ordinary. So I started asking around.

Most people looked at me askance, but I’m used to that.

Finally, I spoke to my friend Howard Coffin, who answered without hesitation and in just one word: “Cronchers”. Turned out Mr. Coffin is something of an expert on Cronchers, having written about them on several occasions.

So today I want to introduce you to a real rarity, Vermont’s so-called “Sidehill Croncher”.

These elusive monstrosities are said to reside within the deep, remote, almost forgotten Chateauguy wilderness near Bridgewater. Considered very dangerous, Cronchers are an unlikely hybrid: part deer, part wild boar.

According to Mr. Coffin’s article in a 1966 The Rutland Herald, “…the Croncher has. . . short tusks, dark dirty brown hair, weighs at least 100 pounds, [and] has hooves with prominent dew claws….”

It seems that Cronchers are well suited to Vermont’s hilly landscape as their legs are shorter on the right side than on the left -- an adaptation that allows them to graze more comfortably on steep hillsides.

Because of this evolutionary peculiarity, they must always travel in a clockwise direction . . . and would fall over if they turned around.

Although they can move at extremely high speeds, people can easily escape them by running straight up or straight down the slope.

The Croncher will not be able to attack because it would have to circumnavigate the entire hill in an effort to catch up.

Possible sightings of Sidehill Cronchers (or Crevida Scrofa) have been reported in Stockbridge, Ludlow, and maybe on Mt. Mansfield.

But make no mistake, these animals are rare, so rare, in fact, that no one has ever seen one.

THE END (or is it?)

SCROLL DOWN TO THE THE ONLY KNOWN PHOTO OF THE TERRIFYING
SIDEHILL CRONCHER