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
My dad is the first writer I ever knew, and he loves to tell stories. He’s a huge Teddy Roosevelt fan, so it’s no wonder our twenty-sixth president makes an appearance in his book, Tom Horn: Killer of Men and Monsters. He also enjoys tales of the supernatural. Although his novel is a nod to history, it features an otherworldly twist involving a shape-shifter.
Like my grandmother, my father told me scary stories, and I loved hearing them. He too had a ghostly encounter at the house where they lived when he was young.
When his family was moving out of the house, his mother asked him if he remembered to shut the front door. He hadn’t, so he got out of the car and hurried back up the front walk to close the door, before he and his parents drove away.
As he reached for the doorknob, he noticed a stray piece of newspaper, left behind from packing boxes. Suddenly, the paper rose up to stand on its edge, almost as though it had been lifted by a breeze. There was no wind.
Then the front door slammed shut. And in the front window, he could see a pair of eyes, staring out at him. He ran full-tilt for the car, and never looked back.
Another story my father told me was about the old hag. One night, as my dad was tucking me into bed, he asked, “Do you know why people have messy hair when they wake up?”
I thought about it. “Mom says I have a rat’s nest on my head when she combs my hair.” I had long hair that tangled easily, especially after playing outside all day. It was always a wreck in the morning.
He laughed. “Some people think the reason we have messy hair is the old hag sits on our heads at night.”
“What’s a hag?” I asked.
“A hag is a witch. She climbs in your window, sits on your head, and rides it like a hobby horse all night, gripping your hair like she’s holding the reins.”
This was a messed-up thing to say to a kid. Naturally, I wanted to know how to protect myself from being smothered by a witch’s buttocks. “How do I stop her from doing that?”
“Well, there are two ways to stop a hag. You could gather a handful of straw and put it by your bedside,” he answered.
We lived out in the country and had hay for our horse, but at nine years old, I wasn’t sure if hay was the same thing as straw and what effect substituting it might have. I felt it was really important to get this right. I did not want a hag to use my head as a rocking horse. “What’s the other way?”
“You could also pile some sand on your nightstand. The witch will be compelled to count it, and she’ll forget about you entirely.”
Sand I could do—I’d just grab some from our sandbox. But something troubled me. “What if she runs out of sand to count?”
“Ah.” He chuckled. “Witches are easily distracted, you see. She’ll lose count, and then she’ll have to start over, again and again. You’ll be able to catch her at first morning’s light, and she’ll never bother you again.”
I wasn’t sure what I’d do once I caught a witch, but I tried putting sand next to my bed. It must have helped, because even though I still had messy hair, I never woke to find the old hag sitting on my head.
The story, however, found its way into my own writing. It became the inspiration for the Wasteland in the Solas Beir Trilogy.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015
I wouldn’t say my family is psychic, but we’re not exactly normal. Let’s just say we’re sensitive to certain things, and as a result, we’ve got a lot of creepy stories to tell. Maybe it’s because of our Scottish heritage, our ties to the old world. Or maybe we’re just tuned in.
The first thing you need to know about my grandma is she’s cool—I’d say cool for an elderly person, but she’s always been cool. Her signature color is red, and she can still rock a killer pair of boots, even in her eighties. She grew up in a poor family, but her father set aside money so she could take dance lessons. Vaudeville was giving way to cinema, and maybe he hoped she’d someday be a star. She didn’t hit the big time, but she retained a certain flair that set her apart from her peers.
She’s also the luckiest person I’ve ever met. If there’s a raffle to be entered, you can bet my grandma will enter and win. That’s not to say she hasn’t had her share of bad luck in life, or that she’s won the lottery, but she has an uncanny knack for winning drawings and finding help when she needs it. Hopefully that part of her Scottish DNA has been passed down to her grandchildren.
The third thing you need to know is that my grandma loves scary stories. When I was a kid we’d eat junk food and watch B horror movies together. There was one about killer bees, and another about a mummy’s hand that skittered about on its own, an image which likely scarred me for life. She had a fear of being presumed dead and then buried alive, and I remember there was a movie about this too. It was terrifying and I loved it. That part of her DNA definitely got passed down.
My grandma used to tell stories about living in a haunted house when my dad was a young boy. She said she’d wake up at night to see a strange mist swirling overhead. The ghost, who she dubbed Ella, liked to repair things. Once my grandma found a button sewn on a dress, a button that she swore had fallen off, that she set aside to sew back on. Another time there was a horrible banging noise coming from the laundry room. My grandmother had guests over, and they asked what the noise was. My grandma brushed it off and said, “Oh, my washing machine is broken. That’s just Ella fixing it for us.” After that, the washing machine worked just fine.
© Melissa Eskue Ousley 2015