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Interview with J. Nathan Couch, Author of Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?

J. Nathan Couch grew up in the foothills of Northeast Georgia’s Appalachian Mountains. Given the area’s rich tradition of ghost stories and folklore, it’s no wonder he developed a passion for the bizarre and the unexplained. Nathan is currently a resident of West Bend, Wisconsin. His first book Washington County Paranormal: A Wisconsin Legend Trip was published in 2012, and his fictional short story Anna appeared in the 2013 WWA Press anthology A Wisconsin Harvest Volume II When he isn’t writing about ghosts and monsters, he’s usually chasing ghosts with the Paranormal Investigation and Research Society.

Did you grow up in Wisconsin? What appeals to you about the folklore and ghost stories of your home state, and Washington County in particular?

I’m a newcomer not only to Wisconsin, but to the Midwest. I originally grew up in a small town in Northeastern Georgia called Cleveland, which calls itself “the Gateway to the Mountains.” I love the place now, but as a youth it was exceedingly boring. No movie theater, everything closed at 6 ‘o’ clock in the evening, you couldn’t even buy alcohol without driving to the county line. So, we had to be imaginative to keep from going insane. My friends and I battled this boredom by visiting haunted places, looking for monsters, watching the skies for UFOs, that sort of behavior. We probably knew about every allegedly haunted place in the whole of White County, Georgia.

When I moved to Washington County, Wisconsin in 2007, I missed having that sort of knowledge. I missed monster hunting and legend tripping. I felt that I needed to know the folklore and the Fortean landscape of my new home. I couldn’t find any information about Washington County in any of the Wisconsin Fortean literature, but I knew these stories existed—every town has their ghosts and monsters. So I took to social networking websites and started asking around, and just like I suspected, there was plenty of such stories.

I suppose what appeals to me most about the folklore in my new home, as opposed to back in Georgia, is how openly Wisconsinites, and Midwesterners in general, openly embraces all of this anomalous activity and bizarre folklore. Back in Georgia, people discussed these things, but mostly in whispers. That isn’t the case anywhere in Wisconsin. Sure, there are skeptics and outright naysayers, but there isn’t a clandestine attitude.

Please tell our readers a little about your many talents when it comes to the paranormal. What other projects and websites have you worked on?

When I wrote my first book, Washington County Paranormal I jointed paranormal investigation group called the Paranormal Investigation and Research Society (PIRS), which I am still a member of. We investigated several of the places in that book, and many more since then. While I tend to focus more on the “research” aspect of the group, I’ve done my fair share of “ghost hunting” out in the field.

Besides Washington County Paranormal and my newest book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? I’ve written numerous Fortean and dark history articles for CultOfWeird.com and WisconsinSickness.com. I’ve also presented a program at several libraries regarding the pagan origins and ancient superstitions involving present day Christmas traditions. It was a little experiment of mine that had limited success.

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

How did you become interested in the legend of the Goatman? Were you surprised when you discovered so many other places around the country have Goatman legends?

The story of the Washington County Goatman was one of the first bits of folklore I learned when I moved up here. The Washington County Historical Society was retelling the legend at their annual Halloween event. What appealed to most about it was that they referred to Goatman as being like a satyr from Greek mythology. This struck me as a profoundly weird legend for the American Midwest. I eventually interviewed a man who’d allegedly saw the creature in the woods one day. That’s when I knew I wanted to know everything I could about the legend.

I wasn’t surprised to learn similar creatures and legends were alleged to exist outside of the state, but what did surprise me was how many locations had Goatman legends and how they all started at roughly the same time in history. Another surprising bit of information was how often these things are allegedly witnessed. I thought the Washington County sighting would be one of the only recorded sightings I’d stumble over. I was wrong about that.

Normally in folklore there is a certain template or motif that is modified to fit local settings, but the Goatman tale varies widely from state to state. Why do you think Goatman legends are so diverse?

They are diverse in that many of the legends seem to be cautionary in different ways. In one town Goatman seems to be a tool used to keep people away from dangerous locations like railroad tracks, while in another he might be used to keep kids from having promiscuous sex. But they are also very similar. While there are all sorts of origin tales for Goatman, there are essentially 4 main categories of Goatman legends: science gone awry, black magic mishaps, bestiality, and the mistreatment of eccentric transients. Most locations where a Goatman legend exists often has at least one example of each sort of story.

While the similarities are a complex topic, I believe the diversity is simple. The Goatman of legend is a bogeyman, and a bogeyman can be used to discourage any behavior. If a community is near a large body of water, it would make sense the bogeyman would lurk near the water at night, when accidents are more likely to happen. Meanwhile, if a community with a Goatman tradition is near a dangerous stretch of road, he might be used to warn against reckless driving.

Do you believe Goatman is a myth, or is there some truth to the tales? Which encounter strikes you as the most compelling?

All these stories about mad scientists creating Goatman, or the thing being caused by bestiality are certainly suburban myths. Stories of eccentric locals becoming known as “goat man” because they kept goats and lost their minds are possible but could still be myth.

The instances were seemingly sane individuals with little to nothing to gain claim to actually encounter the monster seem to be an entirely different subject. The most compelling examples are the ones that occur in locations where there is no Goatman urban legend, or which pre-date these legends (they all seem to have all started in the mid-sixties or early-seventies). For instance, the oldest sort of sighting I’m aware of occurred in Minnesota in the 1830s, almost 140 years before the oldest Goatman legend started. It occurred when a Massachusetts logging outfit captured three strange creatures, an adult and two juveniles.

Boston business man Robert Lincoln told the press the adult resembled a Greek satyr. While the press suspiciously never followed up on the fate of these creatures, one could hardly blame the sighting on the influence of a local legend. Especially since goatlike humanoid Native American effigy mounds exist right here in Wisconsin, most famously the Man Mound of Baraboo. If these things do truly exist, they are most likely paranormal as opposed to being an undiscovered animal. As far as we know no primate has ever evolved with hooves or horns.

What is your favorite haunted location and why?

My favorite haunted location has to be Mammoth Cave National Park. While on vacation there last summer I saw an actual apparition. While staring at a patch of vegetation my wife pointed out, I witnessed a sepia tone image of a woman’s face materialize directly in front of them. It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen. I went from being undecided about the existence of ghosts to being a believe who questions his own experiences.

How can our readers get in touch with you if they would like to know more about your books, tours, and other projects?

Everything I do usually ends up on my website JNathanCouch.com. There’s an email list sign up form on there, information on the Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk, and links to all my books, and several contact forms. Anyone who likes to discuss strange topics can email me. It lets me know that people are actually paying attention *laughs*. Also Washington County Paranormal and Goatman: Flesh or Folklore?´also each have a Facebook page that get updated far more than they should. It’s almost like I don’t have anything better to do. *laughs*

Sorry guys, this page is copyright MysteriousHeartland.com, 2014. You do not have permission to copy this for any reason. Please learn how to cite your work. Unless otherwise noted, all photos are courtesy of J. Nathan Couch.

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