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.
Colossal 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
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.
The 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
You 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
Today I want to introduce you to Chanrithy Him, author of Rise of the Golden Aura, a story that reimagines vampires. Chanrithy told me about Asian vampire mythology and how that contrasts with Western vampires. Her novel was inspired partly by the first Queen of Cambodia and the legend surrounding her being a Naga (Dragon) princess. Below is an excerpt about the legend.
Chanrithy Him is an international speaker and author of the widely acclaimed, award-winning memoir, When Broken Glass Floats. Her book has been praised in reviews by such publications as the New York Times and the (London) Sunday Times. Radio Sweden Channel One compared her memoir with books written by Imre Kertész, the 2002 Nobel Prize winner in literature.
She is currently running a Kickstarter campaign to publish Rise of the Golden Aura. I hope you’ll check it out and support this indie author!
Legend of the First Queen of Cambodia:
Traditional stories passed down from generation to generation tell how the land of Cambodia was formed. Once, there was an ocean ruled by Naga who built an empire under the sea. The land was ruled by the Indian Empire. One day, Neang Neak, a daughter of the Naga king, took a bath by the seashore. Her beauty caught the eyes of Preah Thong, a young Indian prince who was visiting the area. Falling in love with the princess at first sight, the prince went to ask the Naga king for Neang Neak’s hand in marriage. The king refused to give his permission unless Preah Thong defeated the Naga’s most powerful warrior. The prince won the contest, and the marriage took place. Keeping his word and as a token of his love for his daughter, the Naga King swallowed the water to uncover the land that is now known as Cambodia and gave it to the newlywed couple as a wedding gift.
While growing up in Cambodia, I was captivated by the romance and mystery of the ancient Khmer temples, the Asian vampire mythology, Khmer stories of reincarnation and incantation.
In the memory of our recent tragic history, I journeyed back in time to pen my award-winning memoir, When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge (Norton). Since its release in 2000, my book has been used in high schools, universities, and book clubs around the world, and I’ve been invited to speak about my experiences to audiences in America and overseas. My life story is featured in a documentary film called The Will To Live, along with Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Juan Almendares of Honduras.
Historically, Cambodia had her share of legendary leaders, namely kings who built famous temples. As a Khmer-American, like my fellow Cambodians in the Khmer diaspora, I romanticize the Golden Age of Cambodia, when she was a powerful and prosperous empire that flourished and dominated almost all of inland Southeast Asia.
In 2005 I toured some of the famous ancient Cambodian temples that I have dreamt about since I was eight years old. Of all of them, there was one that truly captivated my heart and soul. It was a famous 12th Century Bayon temple with 54 majestic four-face towers. There, I felt a strong presence of a distinguished female spirit watching me.
By cosmic or spiritual energy, we made a special connection. At that moment, I pledged that I would write a novel that would feature this enigmatic temple. In 2012, I began writing Rise of the Golden Aura, my first novel of a series that reimagines the vampire culture. In doing so, I hope to inspire, entertain, educate, and empower even more readers worldwide.
Rise of the Golden Aura features a Cambodian-American teenager as its heroic main character. It is set in Cambodia and America. It is a young adult vampire-romance fantasy with a cross-cultural theme. The concept of Asian vampire myth and folklore is a fresh new take on the previous portrayals of vampire culture. It will resonate with people around the world, especially young girls and women. It will appeal to fans of Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series and fans of P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast’s House of Night series, just to name a few.
In Cambodia, there are signs, for those who can read them. A Radio Free Asia interview documents a blind man’s vision—that ancient royalty will reincarnate as a queen with supernatural gifts, and an aura that can be seen only by those who belong to the spirit world.
Halfway around the world, in Portland, Oregon, high school student JD Bophatip, dutiful daughter of a successful immigrant mother, takes a leap into her American life when she is inspired to compete for the title of Queen of Rosaria in the Portland Rose Festival. Then her life takes an even more unexpected turn, and not just because of the charming, enigmatic Ryker Erickson.
With his tall, handsome physique, melodic voice, and mystical air, Ryker is irresistible. But Ryker, too, is powerfully struck—by the mystery of JD’s glowing, golden aura.
As JD and Ryker grow closer to each other, and closer to understanding each other’s secrets, JD’s dreams become increasingly prophetic. Struggling to understand a mysterious gift containing Sanskrit inscriptions and sacred jewels, JD seeks to harness her emerging powers in time to fulfill her destiny and save her life.
For Ryker, a descendant of Vikings, belongs to a powerful circle of vampires. Vampires who have a vested interest in the politics of JD’s city and state—and the entire human realm. Vampires who have a prophecy that a golden vampire will come to rule the vampire underworld. Vampires who will stop at nothing to destroy her.
Praise for Rise of the Golden Aura, from an editor and a publicist:
“There is a lyrical beauty in your writing, a longing, that is spell-binding. We are hooked! Thank you so much for sharing.”
“The vampire-romance-fantasy topic is in tune with what sells in today’s market. The vampire queen plot has potential to be immensely fascinating. This is a facet of vampire culture that has not yet been utilized within this culture.”
It is nighttime. Darkness has drawn its veil over a large lake that slides serenely through towering pine and fir trees. A glowing image reflects abstractly in the still black water— a fairy, flying. The reflection fades as wings ascend into the dark sky, then she changes course and gradually descends, closer to the water’s surface.
She looks a young girl, a hauntingly beautiful creature but with crimson eyes. She does a double take over her own reflection, as if seeing it for the first time.
She wears an exotic outfit, gold, with an ornate crown and a necklace of glowing colored stones. On her arm is an armlet, on her ankles, decorative anklets. She stares cautiously at her luminescent hand as it touches her red, pounding heart. Blue lungs contract and expand. She can see her blood busily circulating life beneath her skin.
She trembles. Slowly, she embraces herself, with both her luminescent arms, and then she stretches them out like wings and flies away, between mountains dense with tall trees, timber-flanked valleys, and cold, clear streams covered by the veil of darkness. Her long black hair flows to the rhythm of the wind.
Something touches me.
Strands of my hair brush against my face. I feel my heart beat in my chest and my arms stretched outward as if I’m flying.
A dream. Just a dream.
Thanks for sharing about your book, Chanrithy!
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015