Picture an ultimate fighting match. In one corner, with sharp fangs and inhuman strength: a vampire. In the other corner, with a mouthful of sharp teeth, claws and animal instinct: a werewolf. Who would win?
A knockdown, drag-out fight like that would be awesome and terrifying. Supernatural characters are often portrayed as evil and bloodthirsty. Yet there are many gentle, shy legendary creatures. The discipline of studying all these beings is cryptozoology: digging into the paranormal world to uncover what beasts lurk there.
It doesn't matter the culture, the era or the geographic location: There have always been reports of supernatural beings, either by category (fairies, unicorns, ghosts) or by name (Bigfoot, Dracula). The following list examines 10 exceptional paranormal creatures around the world, starting with the most benevolent and escalating to the most dangerous.
10: Drury Lane Ghost
Hauntings traditionally involve scary specters, but the Drury Lane Ghost is an exception. Located in the Theatre Royal on Drury Lane in London, the ghost is considered a good omen. He manifests only during successful shows; if he materializes at the opening of a run, it guarantees a hit. He was absent, however, during the entire run of Miss Saigon, the theater's greatest triumph.
The Theatre Royal has a long record of profitable shows, but, since it opened in 1663, the history of the structure itself is bleak. Currently, the fourth version stands on the location where two others burned down, and another one was demolished.
Both staff and visitors of the latest theater (opened in 1812) have witnessed the ghostly good luck charm. He has a dated appearance, with 18th-century clothes, including a long, gray cloak, a tricornered hat, a sword and a powdered wig. Despite being armed, the ghost is not considered intimidating or dangerous.
Why is he haunting the Theatre Royal? Was he an actor there? Probably not, since he appears only during the day. It's more likely he was a box office employee -- perhaps one who met a violent end. The ghost may be connected to a discovery made in the theater during a construction project: a skeleton wearing a riding coat with a knife in its chest [sources: Busch, The Really Useful Group, Mysterious Britain & Ireland].
9: The Mothman
With red eyes, the body of a man and the wings of an insect, the 7-foot (2.1-meter) Mothman has become the most famous guest of Point Pleasant, W.V. His visit lasted for almost two years and has not been forgotten.
Teenagers were the first to see him in 1966 as they were driving outside town near a deserted TNT plant. By 1967, more than 100 witnesses had encountered the Mothman flying along the road, in town and over the Old Silver Bridge. Tragically, the bridge collapsed on December 15, 1967, and 46 people died as a result. The Mothman has not been sighted since, and it's commonly believed he came to warn the population of the impending danger.
In 2002, the community initiated the Mothman Festival. Thousands visit annually to listen to paranormal experts, authors and witnesses to the Mothman's visitation. There are bus tours of the area, as well as concerts and hayrides (perhaps with a special "Mothman" appearance). Spectators may also view the Mothman statue and museum or enter the Mothman race, at which, presumably, the winner will still be slower than the airborne creature [sources: History.com, Mothman Festival].
8: The Minnesota Lake Monster
A mysterious presence lurks at the bottom of Lake Pepin, the largest lake on the Mississippi River. Members of the Dakota tribe would not venture into the lake with bark canoes for fear of having the underwater beast rip a hole in their boats.
The first recorded report of a monster swimming in Lake Pepin occurred on April 18, 1871. Nicknamed "Pepie" by the members of the surrounding community of Lake City, Minn., the creature is said to be very large and serpent-like. People enjoying a day on the lake have described being bumped and jolted from beneath their boats, and Pepie has also been sighted by witnesses on shore.
Lake City is known for the origin of waterskiing, and Pepie has worked itself into that lore. Ralph Samuelson, the sport's inventor, is said to have watched Pepie skimming along the water and envisioned himself doing the same, thus coming up with the idea of waterskiing [sources: Nielson, Schugel].
7: The Skunk Ape
The northern Pacific has Bigfoot, the Himalayas have the Yeti, and the Florida Everglades have the Skunk Ape. Because the creature is reported to be 7 feet (2.1 meters) tall and covered in red hair, descriptions of witnesses compare it to an overgrown primate.
Since the first sighting in 1998, hundreds of witnesses have seen the creature, taken photographs, observed footprints and collected hair samples. Of course, they've also smelled the beast, which was saddled with the name "Skunk Ape" because of the garbage-like stench that accompanies it. The odor appears to be the only offensive trait the beast has, though: The Skunk Ape is not aggressive. Reportedly, it's an omnivore, eating fish, animals and local vegetation.
There has been much speculation as to the identity of the Skunk Ape: Is it a bear, an undiscovered species, a relative of Bigfoot or a hoax? The perpetrator of a ruse would be placing himself in the line of fire, literally, since the area permits hunting [sources: Brabant, Animal Planet].
6: The Jersey Devil
Tall grasses, low bushes, sandy soil, pines and oaks: This describes the flora of the Pine Barrens in central and southern New Jersey. Does the fauna of the Barrens include the New Jersey Devil?
With its horse's head, bat's wings, red eyes, a pointed tail, cloven feet, horns and claws, this creature is said to roam the area. Since the 18th century, hundreds of witnesses have reported the Devil hurtling through the woods at night, breathing fire (for self-preservation only), shrieking, flying and peering into windows. It feeds on fish, chickens, the contents of garbage cans and the occasional pet cat or dog.
What is the genesis of this creature? Legend has it that the Devil began life as a member of the Leeds family. Mrs. Leeds, pregnant with her 13th child, was in crisis, the nature of which is disputed. Each of these variations ends with her child developing into an adult demon and escaping to the Barrens:
- Mrs. Leeds appealed to the devil to alleviate the pain of childbirth.
- It was a family curse.
- The child was deformed and entered the Barrens after the death of Mrs. Leeds.
- Mrs. Leeds, a Quaker, was condemned by a minister when she would not convert.
5: Loch Ness Monster
Scottish folklore has its share of water creatures that are generally malevolent toward humans; stories often end with an unsuspecting person drowning. Legends of such monsters are ancient. Carved stones from the early centuries A.D. have been discovered bearing the likeness of an extremely large beast with flippers and an extended snout. In 565, St. Columbia (who introduced Christianity to the Scots) declared he witnessed a man being dragged underwater in Loch Ness. Calling upon God to rescue the victim, St. Columbia observed the water brute releasing its prey.
The folklore developed a contemporary twist beginning in 1933. Since then, thousands of people from diverse occupations and social classes claim they've seen Nessie, the Loch Ness Monster. Greatly resembling ancient carvings with at least one hump and a long neck, Nessie was first reported by a couple driving along the new shoreline road at Loch Ness. Visitors and investigators flocked to the lake to get a glimpse. Later that year, a plaster cast, allegedly of Nessie's footprint, was sent to the British Natural History Museum for verification. The cast was a hoax, however, made from a hippopotamus foot.
The creature has been seen on both land and water. Numerous photos of Nessie have been offered: Some are blurry, some are verified hoaxes and some remain contenders in the struggle to confirm Nessie's existence. In 1987, 20 boats sent sonar signals throughout the lake; traditional lake animals were located, but no monster. The search continues [sources: Lyons, Smithsonian].
4: Emperor Justinian I
Don't confuse a shape-shifter with a were-creature. A werewolf, for instance, is compelled to transform from human to wolf, influenced by the full moon. Shape-shifters change at will and are often able to assume a variety of different forms. Certainly one of the most highly regarded shape-shifters was Byzantine's Emperor Justinian I.
Justinian was named emperor in 527 and ruled successfully for several decades, recapturing lost land and systematizing laws. He reportedly had a darker side, as well. In the mid-6th century, the Byzantine historian Procopius related Justinian's sinister ability to shape-shift. In his book Secret History, Procopius proved to be a fervent critic of virtually all of the emperor's policies, including religion, war, finance and personal behavior. He cited claims by many men who saw the emperor change into a demon, becoming either an amorphous mass or a headless body.
A more detailed case was laid forth in Procopius' account of a monk who visited the palace intending to appeal for assistance. He would not enter the royal chamber, however, and left without petitioning the emperor. Later, the monk declared that he had seen "The King of Devils" in Justinian's place and did not intend to seek aid from such a demon [sources: The History Guide, Procopius].
3: The Enfield Poltergeist
A book flies across the room. A chair rises and hovers above the floor. Oh, there goes the lamp!
Unlike a traditional ghost, which makes its presence known through manifestations, a poltergeist will physically disrupt the environment by throwing, levitating, moving and damaging objects. An extremely well-documented case of poltergeist activity began in 1977 in Enfield, a northern borough of London, England.
Two preteen sisters were in their bedroom when their dresser began independently gliding; it seemed to be on course to block the doorway. Entering the room, their mother pushed the dresser out of the way, and, as it began to slide again, she exited with the girls.
This was the start of two years of encounters with the Enfield Poltergeist. Household items flew around; some disappeared, then reappeared. A chair rose slightly and changed position in front of police officers called to assist the frustrated family. Law enforcement officials were unable to help, though, since no crime had been committed. The Society for Psychical Research was recruited, and it sent investigators who collected data for 14 months. Much additional evidence of poltergeist involvement appeared during that time:
- A cast iron fireplace was torn out.
- Repeated thumps sounded from the walls.
- The younger sister was hauled around and levitated.
- The same sister verbally abused others in a strange voice.
Although both sisters did admit to playing some jokes on the researchers, investigators have no explanation for the majority of the mysterious activities [source: Penman].
2: The Bell Witch
In 1817, John Bell was walking across his Tennessee farm when he spied a creature with the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit; he shot at the animal. That evening, the ordeal began.
First were the thumps on the walls. Next, the children were affected: Their bed covers were yanked off and tossed on the floor by unseen hands. Then the whispers started, followed by quiet singing. Encounters turned violent. Bell's youngest daughter was struck, invisibly and repeatedly, and often the brutal attacks left red marks.
The disturbances increased in regularity and volume: The voice grew louder as it sang hymns, preached sermons, recited Bible verses and conducted conversations.
The escalation drew the attention of outsiders, including General Andrew Jackson, under whom John and two sons had fought. Jackson reportedly visited in 1819 and left precipitously. Had there been an interaction between Jackson's entourage and the witch?
After suffering steadily failing health, Bell died in 1820. The Bell Witch claimed to have poisoned him and sang boisterously during and after the funeral. The spirit essentially disappeared after John died and did not return to John's widow until the following year, when it vowed to visit John Jr. in seven years. After it fulfilled that promise, there were no regular sightings of the Bell Witch.
Who was the witch? Legend suggests it was the spirit of Kate Batts, who had threatened to haunt Bell because he had cheated her [source: Fitzhugh].
1: The Beast of Gevaudan
A wolf-like monster was blamed for the gory deaths of 100 villagers on the Gevaudan plateau in the Margeride Mountains of France. In June 1764, a creature attacked a girl tending cattle, and the cattle chased the beast into the woods. Another girl was not so fortunate; she was found with her throat mangled and her body emptied of blood.
Most of the violent and bloody attacks focused on young girls herding their families' flocks. Cattle were found sprayed with blood, and villagers supposed that the beast vomited blood at the cattle to protect itself.
With women and girls too afraid to tend animals and men occupied hunting the beast, the economy of the area declined. King Louis XV was concerned and sent his royal wolf hunter to aid the villagers; although poison was placed throughout the mountains, the beast remained free.
Descriptions of the beast were consistent: It was wolf-like, with a long tail and large fangs. Witnesses had a variety of opinions as to the type of creature it was. Was it a wolf, an undiscovered crossbreed or another animal altogether? Perhaps it was a serial killer using the wolf as a distraction. Or was it a werewolf?
In 1767, a deformed wolf creature was killed by a local farmer, embalmed and displayed around the countryside. The attacks ceased.
Was it the Beast of Gevaudan? Was there a direct connection between the farmer's actions and the end of the murders? The truth of that, like all stories of paranormal creatures, is left to the reader to judge [source: Bonjour Magazine].
For more great articles, check out the links on the next page.
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More Great Links
- The Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization
- The Florida Skunk Ape
- It's Nature
- Legend of Nessie
- Animal Planet: Lost Tapes
- Animal Planet. "Bigfoot." Lost Tapes. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://animal.discovery.com/videos/lost-tapes-the-creatures/
- BBC. "Spring-Heeled Jack." February 2004. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.bbc.co.uk/legacies/myths_legends/england/black_country/article_1.shtml
- Bonjour Magazine. "The Beast of Gevaudan." September/October 2002. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:Hy2FeSXU4xwJ:www.bonjourmagazine.com/articles/images/no17/18-31.pdf+beast+of+gevaudan+bonjour+magazine&hl=en&gl=us&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESg2yOf-z0iRET-hXX3k7aAu99ffzyBb_qRIq4M_Z7d8bcdFdHqbINdBoxWyALb8XN4-0-uEBfKXbApXCUq2Hjo40wJx4_mCOrbHmyMNDncvtoFp_bxnDJewrNNAdnmjsckR2ut2&sig=AHIEtbQ-gBqXlFY6z0AyI_QqDWTLceu6ww
- Brabant, Malcolm. "The abominable swampman." BBC News. March 6, 1998. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/62786.stm
- Busch, Noel. "A Who's Who of English Ghosts." Life. Sept. 22, 1947. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://books.google.com/books?id=LEIEAAAAMBAJ&pg=PA138&lpg=PA138&dq=DRURY+LANE+GHOST&source=bl&ots=X4o8zfs9qs&sig=0wvHn1S8I-UG8oi23-NyhZCNSLY&hl=en&ei=PXyRTPSPI8yonQervtC0DA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CCAQ6AEwBDgU#v=onepage&q=DRURY%20LANE%20GHOST&f=false
- Coleman, Loren. "What Exactly Was The 'Dover Demon?'" 2005. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.rense.com/general65/dover.htm
- Fitzhugh, Pat. "The Bell Witch Haunting." The Bell Witch Web Site. Nov. 17, 2009. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.bellwitch.org/
- Hidden Ireland. "The Pooka." (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.irelandseye.com/paddy3/preview2.htm
- History.com. "Mothman." 2010. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.history.com/videos/mothman#mothman
- Kreis, Steven. "Emperor Justinian, c. 482-565." The History Guide. Aug. 3, 2009. (Sept. 19, 2010) http://www.historyguide.org/ancient/justinian.html
- Lyons, Stephen. "The Legend of Loch Ness." PBS Nova. Jan. 12, 1999. (Sept. 19, 2010) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/lochness/legend.html
- McCloy, James F. and Ray Miller. "Phantom of the Pines: More Tales of the Jersey Devil." The Middle Atlantic Press. 1976. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://books.google.com/books?id=ZDIZyIBh_6IC&printsec=frontcover&dq=McCloy,+James+F.+and+Miller,+Ray.+The+Jersey+Devil.&source=bl&ots=RdiI-uaNkT&sig=5OaQvKVxiA2xogtzDRmhCZuPF9k&hl=en&ei=saiXTIqRLJjenQfG-4WFCA&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3&ved=0CCIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q&f=false
- Monstrous.com. "Gnomes." 2009. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://faerie.monstrous.com/gnomes.htm
- Mothman Festival. "About the Mothman Festival." 2010. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.mothmanfestival.com/about.htm
- Mysterious Britain & Ireland. "The Theatre Royal, Drury Lane." (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.mysteriousbritain.co.uk/england/greater-london/hauntings/the-theatre-royal-drury-lane.html
- The New Jersey Historical Society. "Legend of the New Jersey Devil." 2001. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.jerseyhistory.org/legend_jerseydevil.html
- Nielson, Larry. "The Legend of Pepie." Pepie.net. 2010. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.pepie.net/
- Penman, Danny. "Suburban poltergeist: A 30-year silence is broken." The Daily Mail. March 5, 2007. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-440048/Suburban-poltergeist-A-30-year-silence-broken.html
- Polidoro, Massimo. "Return of Spring-Heeled Jack." The Committee for Skeptical Inquiry. July/August 2002. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.csicop.org/si/show/return_of_spring-heeled_jack/
- Procopius. "A Secret History." Isidore-of-Seville. 2001. (Sept. 19, 2010) http://www.isidore-of-seville.com/library-procopius/secrethistory-1.htm
- The Really Useful Group. "Through the Stage Door at Drury Lane." April 13, 2010. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.reallyuseful.com/backstage/behind-the-scenes/through-the-stage-door-at-drury-lane
- Ruset, Ben. "The Legend of the Jersey Devil." NJ Pine Barrens. Oct. 31, 2001. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.njpinebarrens.com/2001/10/31/the-legend-of-the-jersey-devil/
- Russell, Davy. "The Loveland Frog." X-Project Paranormal Magazine. March 1, 2001. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.xprojectmagazine.com/archives/cryptozoology/lovelandfrog.html
- Scary for Kids. "Loveland Frog." 2010. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.scaryforkids.com/loveland/
- Schugel, James. "Lake Pepin Sea Monster? 'Capture' It for $50,000." WCCO. May 6, 2008. (Sept. 20, 2010) http://www.wisconsinosity.com/Pepin/articles/Pepie/wcco/lake_pepin_sea_monster__capture_.htm
- Smithsonian. "The Loch Ness Monster." Encyclopedia Smithsonian. (Sept. 19, 2010) http://www.si.edu/Encyclopedia_SI/nmnh/lochness.htm
- Sullivan, Mark. "Decades later, the Dover Demon still haunts." The Boston Globe. Oct. 29, 2006. (Sept. 21, 2010) http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/10/29/decades_later_the_dover_demon_still_haunts/