Archive for February, 2016

Monsters of the PNW: Colossal Claude

The mouth of the Columbia River is a dangerous place. The bar is so deadly, it’s been dubbed the Graveyard of the Pacific. Hundreds of ships have wrecked at the Columbia Bar, thanks to the fire hose force of the river mixing with tumultuous ocean waves. Add in gale force winds and constantly shifting sand bars, and you can see why this part of the world is so wild.

It’s wild in other ways too. Orcas frequent the mouth of the river, feasting on salmon. Great White sharks cruise the coastline, hunting seals. Humpback whales have been spotted 14 miles inland, near the Astoria-Megler bridge. This towering green bridge spans the four-mile-wide river, connecting Oregon to Washington. The Columbia River is also rumored to be home to a sea monster.

Vintage Sea MonsterColossal Claude has been described as being about 40 feet long, including an eight-foot-long neck. Its body is said to be round, ending in a tail. The beast’s head has been alternately described as looking like a maned camel, or having an “evil, snaky look.” Some people believe the creature resembles a plesiosaur, comparing it to the Loch Ness Monster.

One of the first reported sightings of the monster was in 1934, by the crew of the Columbia River Lightship, a floating lighthouse. As the story goes, the crew observed the animal for some time using binoculars. They wanted to take a lifeboat out to get a better look at the creature, but officers denied the request out of worry the beast would capsize the small boat.

Three years later, another crew reported seeing the creature. Skipper Charles E. Graham on the commercial fishing trawler Viv provided a hauntingly similar description to what the crew of the lightship had reported. Around the same time, about 150 miles down the Oregon coast, near a rocky area known as the Devil’s Churn (south of Yachats), a couple reported seeing a similar animal.

In 1939, the crew of the Argo, another fishing vessel, got a close encounter near the mouth of the Columbia when the creature reared up over ten feet above the water. It watched them calmly as it took a twenty-pound halibut of the ship’s lines and ate it. According to the ship’s captain, Chris Andersen, the creature’s “head was like a camel’s. His fur was coarse and gray. He had glassy eyes and a bent snout.”

The description of Claude having fur makes me wonder if the creature could be some kind of long-necked seal (assuming it actually exists). The waters of the Columbia and the Pacific are frigid, but marine mammals thrive here. Our river is teeming with fish and both seals and sea lions make their homes in the river and along the coastline.

The water is much too cold for a marine reptile, but the idea of a plesiosaur on the Oregon coast is not that outlandish. In 2003, paleontologists discovered a plesiosaur skull near Mitchell, Oregon. This 25-foot-long reptile lived about 80 to 90 million years ago. Called the “Tiger of the Cretaceous Seas,” it was a top predator and a powerful swimmer. There’s a deep trench at the mouth of the Columbia. It is possible a similar creature could have survived and remained hidden, except for rare sightings?

Here’s something else to consider. Colossal Claude isn’t the only sea monster in the Pacific Northwest. There’s also Caddy (short for Cadborosaurus), a sea serpent allegedly living in Cadboro Bay in Greater Victoria, British Columbia. Then there’s the Ogopogo, a similar creature in Okanagan Lake in British Columbia. Both Caddy and Ogopogo are described as having horse-like heads and long necks. There have been over 300 reported sightings of Caddy, and the creature is often described as having anterior and posterior flippers. Interestingly, a Caddy-like creature has been found within the legends of indigenous people throughout the Pacific Northwest, from Vancouver to Alaska. The Inuit people put a picture of the creature on their canoes to keep it away.

What do you think? Does Colossal Claude exist? I don’t know if it does, but I have a feeling there are still a few mysteries lurking under the surface of the Columbia River.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016

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Monsters of the PNW: Bandage Man

Urban legends never cease to interest me. There are the old standbys you’ve probably heard before, like the killer who escapes from prison and has a hook for a hand. Or the one about the girl who is driving on a lonely road one dark night when someone starts tailgating her, flashing their car’s high beams. When she finally gets home and runs into her house to escape the weirdo following her, she finds out the guy driving the car wasn’t a psycho after all, but actually saved her life. Because there was a man in her backseat, you see, a man with a knife. Every time the man was about to stab her, the hero flashed his high beams and the man ducked back down behind the driver’s seat. These stories get passed down from a friend of a friend of a friend, and they must be true, because they happened to somebody’s cousin or aunt.

Here’s one you might not have heard before. On the northern Oregon coast, where the Oregon Coast Highway meets the Sunset Highway (the junction of the 101 and 26), there lives a legend. “Lives” might not be accurate, because no one knows if the Bandage Man is alive or dead. Perhaps he’s undead.

As the story goes, one night a young Cannon Beach couple went out for a drive in pickup truck and parked in the forest near the junction. They weren’t paying a lot of attention to what was going on outside the vehicle because they were busy doing the kinds of things teenagers do in parked cars. You know, gaze at the stars. (Teenagers are really fond of astronomy.) Anyway, all of a sudden, the truck jounced a little, like someone had climbed into the bed of the truck. Then, BAM! Somebody banged on the back window.

bandageThe young couple turned to see a crazy man wrapped in bandages, slamming his fists against the window of the truck, trying to get in. So they did what any sane person would do. They freaked out. Then they drove off, back to the city of Cannon Beach. By the time the boyfriend got to the girlfriend’s house to see her safely home, the bandaged man had vanished. But when the boyfriend peeked into the bed of his truck, he found a piece of gauze much like the man’s bloody wrappings. And it stank like death.

So what is the Bandage Man? A reanimated mummy? Unlikely. A ghost? Maybe. Some people say it’s the ghost of a logger who was horribly burned and wrapped in bandages before he died. If you drive in that area at night, he might just hitch a ride, and you’ll find out who—or what—he really is.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Monsters of the PNW: Sasquatch

IMG_4498You see sasquatch everywhere in the Pacific Northwest (as an icon, at least). On the Oregon coast, we’ve got Bigfoot’s Steakhouse, and the Elderberry Inn on the Sunset Highway sports the silhouette of a sasquatch next to a giant frying pan. Camp 18, another restaurant along the same highway, is known for its logging museum and carved sculptures. Among these are two sasquatch statues.

A fellow author who has written about sasquatch once told me the area around Camp 18 is a sasquatch hotspot, with a number of sightings having been reported over the years. I can understand why—halfway between Portland and the coast, the restaurant sits in the middle of a vast forest in the Coast Range.

As you drive along the highway, you can see swathes of open land, where timber has been harvested. For the most part, however, the mountains are still pristine, some areas seemingly impassable because they are so overgrown with trees and vegetation. It’s easy to imagine large animals thriving unseen in these wild places.

I have never seen bigfoot in those woods (or anywhere else), but I think it’s possible a large animal could exist in a place like that and be seen only rarely. Bears, wolves, and mountain lions live in our forests, but I’ve never seen any of those animals up close, though I’ve been hiking trails on the coast for nearly five years. I have seen plenty of elk, deer, and raccoons, but no sasquatch.

It seems other people have seen something though. If you go to OregonBigfoot.com and search by county, you can read about alleged sightings and get a clear idea about where they occurred. I don’t know how many, if any, of the reports are credible, but I’ll give you this: it is eerie to read about sightings occurring in places I’ve hiked.

Evidence about sasquatch has never been accepted by the scientific community, but I’m fascinated by the legends, especially those from indigenous people. Native Americans in the Pacific Northwest have acknowledged sasquatch’s existence for centuries. Skookum, a word referring to spirits, was also used to describe sasquatch. There are stories about Basket Woman, a cannibal ogress who kidnapped children and put them in her basket. I don’t know how hairy she was, but it’s interesting that she was a giant. And, of course, there is Ape Canyon at Mount St. Helens, where a number of sasquatch sightings have been reported.

I don’t know if sasquatch exists, but I would like to think it does. I love the idea that there are still puzzles to be solved, that, in spite of all our technological advances and global exploration, mysteries remain.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016


Nightmare Doll

When I was four, my mother made me a life-size rag doll with yellow yarn hair. As the story goes, she spent countless hours laboring over it, and my reaction, upon receiving the gift, was less than gracious. Rather than showing appreciation, I tossed the doll to the side and said, “Just what I don’t want.” Admittedly, this was one of my brattier childhood moments, and not one I’m proud of. It must have broken my mom’s heart because she’s never let me forget it.

In spite of that, I guess I liked the doll because I slept with her every night for years. She was big and soft like a body pillow, and comforting for a kid plagued by nightmares. Comforting, until she became the subject of a recurring nightmare.

dollWhen I got to the age where I no longer slept with dolls and teddy bears, the rag doll was retired to a corner of my room, where she sat staring blankly at my bed. Residual guilt over the gift must have found its way into my dreams. That, or the doll had become imbued with bad mojo.

One night, in the midst of one of those awful dreams that are so vivid I think I’m awake, I looked over at the doll sitting in the corner of my bedroom. She was hunched over, her head bowed to her chest.

Then she moved. She raised her head and stared back at me with her embroidered eyes. Then she moved some more. She started crawling toward the bed, reaching for me. I woke with a jolt, my heart hammering in my chest.

The next time I dreamed about the doll, I again thought I was awake. I was in bed, covers pulled up to my shoulders, and the lamp on my nightstand was turned on. I didn’t even sleep with a nightlight, so this was odd. I remember feeling groggy, looking around the room, trying to figure out why my light was on. Then I heard something growl. The noise came from directly beneath me, under my bed. I looked over at that corner, where the doll sat. She wasn’t there. That’s when I knew she was the thing growling under my bed.

When I woke, I immediately clicked on my light and looked for the doll. She was still sitting in the corner. I felt relieved when I realized I’d been dreaming, but soft as she might have been, there was no way I’d ever put that doll in my bed again.

© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2016