At Mysterious Heartland, we are familiar with the haunted and legendary places of Illinois, but did you know this state was also home to a wide variety of mysterious creatures? From the Lake Michigan Monster, to thunderbirds, to hairy bipeds, and the Enfield Horror, which one will prove to be the most unusual and terrifying of them all?
10. The Gooseville Bear
The Gooseville Bear was a creature known only by what it left behind. For nearly three decades, from about 1940 to the late 1960s, residents of the Gooseville area near Bethalto, Illinois discovered large animal tracks along Indian Creek. The tracks resembled those of a bear, although no bears are known to live in the area. No witnesses ever came forward claiming to have seen the beast, and after many years, the Gooseville Bear vanished as mysteriously as it had appeared.
Panther is the popular name given to the North American Cougar, which was once prevalent all over the continent, but was hunted virtually to extinction in the eastern half of the United States. Recently, it has made a comeback into its old habitat. In 2008, a cougar was shot and killed near the Chicago River in the Chicago neighborhood of Roscoe Village. Most mysterious of all, however, are sightings of black panthers. It is a genetic anomaly for a wild cat to be jet black in color, and no black cougars have ever been captured or photographed (most “black panthers” are actually jaguars or leopards). Never-the-less, several have been spotted in Illinois. In 2001, a black panther was seen on three separate occasions in Monroe County and as recently as 2007, a black panther was seen around Bloomington. Are these mysterious animals myth or real? Until one is captured or photographed in the wild, we will never know for sure.
8. Giant Snake
On June 6, 1896, a farmer named Carl Smithson discovered a giant snake (about 18 feet in length) in his barn. It was in the process of swallowing the leg of his Jersey calf. Evidently the snake, which had been spotted by several other farmers, fled before Smithson could return with help. A posse was formed to search for the creature, but it is unknown whether they succeeded.
7. Stump Pond Serpent
Pyramid State Park, Perry County
Between 1879 and 1968, nearly a 90-year period, fishermen in Perry County spun yarns about a serpent that dwelled in the murky waters of Stump Pond. The creature was described as having a thick, green body with black fins. It was large enough to rock boats. Some fishermen encountered it more than once, and speculated that there must be a breeding population. When the lake was partially drained in 1968, locals discovered catfish that weighed over 30 pounds, so it is possible that the “Stump Pond Serpent” was a giant catfish. In 2005 Tim Pruitt of Alton caught a 124 pound blue catfish in the Mississippi River. Today, Stump Pond is a part of Pyramid State Recreation Area, which consists of land formerly owned by a coal strip-mining company.
6. Farmer City Monster
Farmer City, Illinois
With its hulking shape and bright yellow eyes, the Farmer City Monster was one of the oddest creatures to lumber across Illinois during the summer of 1970. This beast was more credible than most, since eyewitnesses included the Farmer City police officer tasked with tracking it down. Sightings began in early July, when three teens encountered it at their campsite in a field near Salt Creek, and spread to Bloomington, Heyworth, and Waynesville. Everyone who saw it noted its glowing eyes, but it was not an aggressive creature. At each encounter, the Farmer City Monster fled as soon as it had been spotted. It was last seen on August 16, 1970, when it ran across the road in front of a truck near Waynesville.
It is difficult to believe that a species of giant birds could be living in the wilds of Illinois, but numerous eyewitnesses have attested to just such a creature. At least one eyewitness, a man named Texas John Huffer, filmed a group of the birds at Lake Shelbyville in 1977. He estimated that they possessed wingspans of at least 12 feet—much larger than the California Condor, the largest bird in North America. In 1948, locals around Alton, Illinois reported seeing a bird that was “bigger than an airplane.” On July 25, 1977, two such birds attacked a group of children in Lawndale, Illinois. One of the children, Marlon Lowe, was carried about 35 feet before being dropped when his mother scared the birds away.
Creve Coeur, Illinois
During the 1970s, the Illinois River Valley was abuzz with sightings of the Cole Hollow Road Monster, or Cohomo, for short. It was first sighted along Cole Hollow Road, just outside of Creve Coeur, south of Peoria. It was described as a three-toed beast, eight to ten feet tall, with a coat of thick white fur. There were so many sightings in the summer of 1972 that the Tazewell County Sheriff’s Department organized a search party to hunt for the creature. Encounters with Cohomo tapered off after that, but one man believed he caught a glimpse of it in the headlights of his car one night in July 2000, further north up the Illinois River near Essex, Illinois.
The wilds of Southern Illinois have long produced tales of strange creatures, and the Mud Monster (or “Big Muddy”) is no exception. This hairy, smelly biped was seen several times in the summer of 1973 lurking near Murphysboro along the banks of the Big Muddy River. Like Peoria’s Cole Hollow Road Monster, the Murphysboro creature was described as being seven feet tall and covered in matted, white fur. Police officers found several tracks at the scene of the first sighting, and even heard its “inhuman” cry. The next night, a young boy and two of his neighbors saw the creature when it wandered through their backyards. After a few weeks of intense scrutiny, the Murphysboro Mud Monster disappeared as mysteriously as it arrived.
2. Lake Michigan Monster
Between 1867 and 1890, newspapers reported numerous encounters with a sea serpent just off shore in Lake Michigan. Sightings ranged from Evanston down to Hyde Park, and the creature was described as bluish black with a grayish white underbelly, long neck, head about the same size as a human’s, with visible scales. It was between 40 and 50 feet in length. On several occasions, it was heard bellowing “like a bull.” In 1867, a fisherman named Joseph Muhlke encountered the Lake Michigan Monster a mile and a half from shore near Chicago’s south side. He was able to provide a very detailed description and claimed that its head came within 20 feet of his boat.
In the spring of 1973, a bizarre and deformed creature terrorized the community of Enfield. Eyewitnesses described it as short, with small arms like a T-Rex, broad, pink eyes, grayish skin, and three legs. On April 25, 1973, it attacked a young boy who was playing in his yard, then attempted to break into a nearby home. The homeowner shot the monster, and it fled. Rick Rainbow, an Indiana resident and news director for WWKI Radio, managed to record its cries. One common element in all the sightings was that they occurred near railroad tracks. By June, sightings stopped, and this creature vanished without a trace.
Check out these places and more in Michael Kleen’s Haunting Illinois: A Tourist’s Guide to the Weird and Wild Places of the Prairie State! Haunting Illinois contains 200 mystery sites and 85 individual illustrations. In this book, Michael not only examines the sites, but also the hobbyists and professionals who have devoted their lives to exploring the strange and unusual in our great state. Divided among eight distinct regions and listed by county, each location features a description, directions, and sources drawn from a diverse variety of books and articles. Haunting Illinois challenges you to get off the couch and start exploring our wonderful State of Illinois. Go here to order!
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