The Flatwoods Monster

Look at this image for a while, and try to imagine the confusion and wonder it might bring a very small child, still just learning to read, who believes each and every word he hears about the paranormal without question and cracks open a book of "unexplained phenomenon" to find this with only minimal explanation. I didn't even process that it was a paper cut-out pasted over a photograph. I thought maybe this was all photograph, that somewhere in the world was a terrifying mouthless phantasm with an ace of spades for a head and a pretty dress. Shooting straight up there with that grainy scan of the Jersey Devil from the same exact book I might add, I was as terrified of the "Braxton County Monster" or "Flatwoods Monster" as I was bewildered by its fashion sense. Where did the "monster" end and some kind of clothing begin?

This would prove to be a moot question anyway, but we'll get to that later. The story of this monster began on September 12, 1952, and it's a shame I'm only googling that now or I guess I could have actually put this up back in September 12th. Happy belated 65th birthday, Flatsy! Two brothers and their friend, ranging from age 10 to 13, apparently witnessed an unidentified object glowing brightly as it flew overhead and landed in a nearby field. Rushing home to tell their parents, they were joined by their mother, two more children, and a 17-year-old National Guardsman, all of whom went on to describe only slightly different encounter with the same distinct entity.

Witnesses agreed that the monster was extremely tall, metallic looking and skirted, with the spade-shaped head, a pair of three-clawed "arms" and two massive, shining eyes. Where they differed was only on whether the creature was rapidly "bounding" toward them or slowly gliding and hissing, emitting a faint mist and a horrible, burnt stench.

For several weeks afterwards, several of these witnesses reportedly suffered from nausea, convulsions and irritation to their throat and sinuses...actually consistent with light mustard gas exposure. Monster or no monster, evidence does suggest that they were exposed to something they shouldn't have.

Though basically a one-off encounter, the Flatwoods Monster took off in global popularity almost to the degree of Mothman, though it's been something of a slower burn over the course of my own lifetime. I remember when nobody I knew had ever heard of this one, and I was shocked and delighted by the number of cameos it enjoyed in Japanese video games. Today, however, I can google the monster and find hundreds of wonderful fan-art pieces in even varying degrees of work-safety. People went from barely remembering this monster to actively wanting to bone it. That's doing pretty good, I think!

There is, it should be mentioned, one more twist to this monster's legacy that doesn't get a whole lot of press, and that's the likely copycat story reported exactly a day later by a young couple out walking in the woods with their baby. This monster looked like some sort of scaly, reptilian humanoid, but with a body "fused together" in some way from the waist down. No specific details were really offered on what this meant, but many were quick to interpret it as the same "hover-skirt" seen in Braxton County.

Frankly, I'm glad this part is less popular. I don't want to think that cute, lovable Flatwoods is just the outer casing of a dorky lizardman.

...And yet, whether or not the monster was ever real, whether or not it had a big gecko inside it or they were just loose acquaintances, our image of it the Flatwoods Monster is incorrect either way. What the group actually meant to describe was apparently more faithfully illustrated here by artist Frank Feschino jr. in 1999. You can see exactly how a newsroom at the time got "clawed spaceman in a dress" from these details, but the entity is really more like a hovering rocket with headlights. All witnesses still willing to discuss the monster were certain it had no organic-looking components and was basically a metal tower.

Could this have been some experimental, government gas-bomb they're still not willing to disclose, even today? Or do we go with the more popular explanation of an actual meteor landing, a spooked owl, and too much imagination?

This obviously doesn't do anything to invalidate a monster that was probably more of a tall tale to begin with, and if something did exist that looked exactly like our witnesses describe, cartoons and movies would probably stylize it not unlike the more familiar version anyway. The Flatwoods Monster that caught on, then, is just the more fun anthropomorphised version of the alleged "real" Flatwoods Monster. I think I can live with that, even if it sucks all the mystique out of why it wears that awesome dress...and whether it has any legs underneath.

With their huge, shining eyes, sickening radioactive aura, owl explanation and geographic proximity, it's almost impossible not to think of the Flatwoods Monster and Mothman as close relatives or counterparts of some sort. Even if we're not going to believe in actual aliens and monsters, there's something really interesting to me about these recurring motifs. Lots of other "alien encounters" shared some of these features, and there are even versions of bigfoot with giant, glowing, nausea-inducing eyes. Maybe that's the real monster; an essence or idea of monstrousness surrounding these horrible, nuclear owl-eyeballs. I don't know. I'm kind of rambling at this point, but I feel like there's something there to grasp at.