CRYPTIDS [crip – tidz]: Animals or other creatures whose existence is only assumed or believed in based upon anecdotal or other non-compelling evidence.
In July 1913, some fishermen claimed they captured a strange creature near the Marblehead Peninsula. The animal resembled a sea lion but had several legs and spotted skin. Though they snared it with a net, the beast twisted free and dived back into Lake Erie.
Those fishermen weren’t the first — or last — folks to report the mysterious monster, whose nicknames now include “South Bass Bessie” and “Lake Erie Larry.” In 1817, two brothers found a scaly, 30-foot critter on a beach near Toledo; in 1892, sailors on a westbound ship saw a gigantic serpent with “viciously sparkling” eyes on Lake Erie; and during 1990, several people sighted a snake-like being with multiple humps swimming off Cedar Point. Today, Ohio’s answer to the Loch Ness monster looms large in popular culture; it inspired the name of not only the Cleveland Monsters ice hockey team but also Cleveland’s Great Lakes Brewing Company’s Lake Erie Monster IPA, labeled with a glaring green serpent.
Since President Rutherford B. Hayes owned a Lake Erie island where his family vacationed, he quite possibly heard tales about South Bass Bessie. Maybe he even saw the creature (though he never reported it if he did). The Ohio native and his wife, Lucy, left the White House in 1881 and retired to a country estate that is now the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library and Museums in Fremont. With a nod to Hayes’ enthusiasm for studying history and cultures, the museum is presenting an original exhibit — “Ohio: An Unnatural History” — that explores the state’s rich array of folklore creatures.
While mainstream science has never proven the existence of such cryptids, the stories surrounding them have survived for generations. “Legends have made Ohio cryptids part of local history, and they appeal to a wide audience,” says Kristina Smith, the museum’s communications manager. The exhibit features artwork by Dan Chudzinski, whose fantastic images deliver a beast of a show that will make you wonder if you might — or might not — encounter any of the following Ohio oddities.
Dogman of Defiance
A canine-like humanoid that purportedly stood upright and brandished a stick hounded Defiance during 1972. Seen only at night, the “werewolf” petrified railroad workers and townspeople alike. Dogman disappeared, but the lore endures.
With sightings from the Little Miami River in 1955 to Lake Isabella in 2016, rumors about frog-faced things that go jump in the night persist around Loveland. The fabled frog even prompted a bluegrass musical — Hot Damn! It’s the Loveland Frog! — in 2014.
Mothman of Gallia County
Six feet tall with red eyes and 10-foot wings, Mothman was hatched in West Virginia in 1966, then apparently crossed the Ohio River to terrorize Gallia County. Some think Mothman portended the deadly collapse of the Silver Bridge connecting Gallipolis to Point Pleasant, West Virginia, in 1967.
In Native American folklore, Pukwudgies are quill-backed creatures that shoot poison arrows and collect human souls. Longfellow mentioned Pukwudgies in “The Song of Hiawatha,” and they’re alleged to have caused mischief from New England to Ohio.
Residents of Kirtland and Chardon contend that juvenile creatures with huge bald heads skulk around the woods. Are they extraterrestrials? Products of a failed government experiment? Ghosts of orphans killed by fire? Nobody knows, but Wisner Road is their favorite haunt.
Ohio’s version of Sasquatch has been spotted in 66 of the state’s 88 counties. The hairy hominid seems especially fond of southeastern Ohio, where Salt Fork State Park hosts the world’s longest-running Bigfoot conference each May.
“Ohio: An Unnatural History” runs through Oct. 31, 2021.