- HISTORY & HAUNTINGS OF ILLINOIS -
BIGFOOT IN ILLINOIS
For more than a century, reports have filtered out of rural and southern Illinois about strange, man-like beasts that resemble a cross between man and ape. Most witnesses talk of their odd appearance and the horrible odor that seems to accompany them. They are a dark side to the state of Illinois that few of us understand and they lend an air of mystery to the Prairie State that is unrivaled by any other region of the Midwest.
The stories of Bigfoot have been passed along from generation to generation and have long been chronicled by both professional and amateur researchers. According to hundreds of reports, the creatures average between 7-8 feet in height. Hair covers most of their bodies, they appear to be proportioned and move like large men, not apes, and have broad shoulders and very little neck. Their faces are normally flattened, they have a heavy jaw and as mentioned, a strong smell seems to emanate from them.
While the most famous Bigfoot sightings have taken place in the Pacific Northwest, such creatures do occasionally turn up in Illinois. The earliest sighting that I could find from our region occurred around 1912. A woman named Beaulah Schroat reported that her and her brothers often spotted huge, hairy creatures near their home in Effingham. This may have been the first sighting in Illinois, but it was not the first one in the Great Lakes region. As far back as 1839, witnesses in Michigan City, Indiana were reporting a "wild child" near Fish Lake. Today, we would call such a creature "Bigfoot".
Another report comes from the early part of the last century. In this brief snippet, we find that a "huge gorilla" was seen in the woods near Elizabeth in July 1929. Then, in 1941, the Reverend Lepton Harpole was hunting squirrels near Mt. Vernon and encountered a large creature that "looked something like a baboon". He struck it with his rifle and fired a warning shot that sent it scurrying back into the underbrush. More sightings of the same creature occurred the next year.
Jumping ahead, a grayish-colored creature was spotted by Steven Collins and Robert Earle in 1962. It was standing in a riverbed east of Decatur, just off of East Williams Street Road. The monster was standing upright in the water, looking straight at them. At first, they thought they were seeing a bear, until they noticed its strange, human-like features. The creature vanished into the woods and the witnesses told the local newspaper that it was "like no other animal we had ever seen before."
In May 1963, another strange creature reared its ugly head in Centreville, Illinois and just across the Mississippi in St. Louis. The initial reports came in from St. Louis when several children reported a "half man, half woman with a half bald head and a half head of hair". It was said to have been seen lurking around the Ninth Street housing project and often disappeared into the an old tunnel around Twelfth Street. The sightings were taken quite seriously by the police and during interviews with researcher Loren Coleman, Patrolman Bill Conreux of the St. Louis Police Department noted that "Those kids were sincere. They saw something." He added that "Supposedly it scuffled with a man near the Patrick Henry School."
The sighting began on May 9 and by the 18th, had moved east across the river to Centreville, Illinois, which is located near East St. Louis and Cahokia. One man, James McKinney, who saw the creature here described it as being "half man and half horse". It made an appearance just in front of his house and he summoned the police, who never managed to catch up with this mysterious figure. According to Loren Coleman, the authorities received over 50 calls in a single night about this creature. The sightings eventually dropped off and by May 23, the monster was apparently gone.
In September 1965, four young people were parked in a car near an undeveloped area outside of Decatur called Montezuma Hills. The area would later become a housing addition but at that time, it was a secluded "lover’s lane". The young couples were sitting in the car when a black, man-like shape approached the vehicle. The creature seemed massive and frightened the teenagers badly. They drove off in a panic but after dropping off their dates at home, the two young men returned to the area for another look. They once again saw the monster and it walked up to their car as though it were curious. The boys were too scared to get out, but even with the windows rolled up, they could smell the monster’s terrible stench. They quickly summoned the police to the site and with several officers as support, they made a thorough, but fruitless, search of the woods. The police officers on the scene said they had no idea what the young people had witnessed, but they were obviously very frightened by whatever it had been.
Another creature was encountered near Chittyville in August 1968. Two young people, Tim Bullock and Barbara Smith, were driving north of town on August 11 when they spotted a 10-foot tall monster that was covered with black hair and had a round face. It threw dirt at their car and they left to summon the police. When the authorities returned, they found a large depression in the grass that was apparently a nest. Local residents claimed that their dogs had been "carrying on" for the two weeks before the encounter.
One of the strangest Illinois incidents took place in July 1970, near Farmer City. Early that spring, three sheep had been killed near town by local officials dismissed it as the work of wild dogs, which have been known to roam the area. Outside of the small town, near Salt Creek, was a ten-acre section of woods and fields that was a popular parking spot for teenagers.
Three teenagers decided to camp out there one night. Very late in the evening, they reported hearing something approaching their campsite in the tall grass. They turned a light in that direction and saw a huge, black shape crouching near the tent. The shape had a pair of gleaming, yellow eyes, a color that would be repeated in every account to follow. The terrified screams of the teenagers also scared the creature and all of them ran off in different directions.
Stories about the "Farmer City Monster" quickly spread. Dozens of people reported seeing the creature over the next several days and all of the sightings took place near the wooded area outside of town. Robert Hayslip, a Farmer City police officer who investigated the scene, reported his own encounter. In the early morning hours of July 15, he saw the broad back of the creature moving along the trees. The creature turned in his direction and Hayslip also noted its yellow eyes. The local police chief, who until that point had been skeptical about the sightings, decided to close of the area. But the creature was soon to move on.
On July 24, a couple driving near Weldon Springs State Park, outside of Clinton, saw what looked like a huge "bear" in the river. Later, a policeman and a conservation officer found tracks along the water‘s edge that definitely did not belong to a bear. They were reportedly very large and human-like.
A few days later, further north, a woman caught the reflection of eyes with her car headlights as she was traveling outside of Bloomington. She thought the eyes might belong to a dog that had been injured by a passing car, so she stopped and approached the ditch where she had seen something. Suddenly, a large creature jumped out of the ditch and ran away on two legs. She was unsure about what she had seen, but whatever it was, it seemed ape-like. Later that same week, another witness reported an identical creature near Heyworth.
On August 11, three young men reported seeing a large, dark-haired creature near Waynesville and five days later, construction workers saw the creature near the same location. It ran across the highway in front of their truck and disappeared into the forest. That was the last reported of the so-called "Farmer City Monster" and one can’t help but wonder if it continued its strange journey northwest across Central Illinois. If it did, it was never reported again.
In May 1972, there were new reports coming in from the Pekin and Peoria areas. In late May, a young man named Randy Emmert, and some friends, reported a large, hairy creature near Cole Hollow Road. This monster was 8-10 feet tall and whitish in color. The witnesses stated that it made a loud, screeching sound and they suspected that it was living in a hole beneath an abandoned house. It also left very unusual tracks, having only three toes on each foot. Soon, others were reporting the same monster and it became known as "Cohomo", short for the "Cole Hollow Road Monster".
On May 25, local police logged more than 200 calls about the monster, including one where the creature destroyed a fence. The police departments were naturally skeptical, but the calls kept coming in. By July 1972, there had been so many sightings that 100 volunteers were organized to search for Cohomo. Finally, Tazewell County sheriff's officers sent the volunteers home after one of them, Carl R. Harris, accidentally shot himself in the leg with a .22 caliber pistol.
The sightings continued and they couldn't be written off to local "panic" either. One witness, from Eureka, knew nothing about the creature, yet happened to be in Fondulac Park, in East Peoria, for a birthday party. He reported the creature and strangely, a set of strange lights that seemed to descend vertically and land behind some trees. Were the two sightings connected?
Cohomo was seen again on July 27 as East Peoria Police reported that he was spotted by "two reliable citizens" swimming in the Illinois River. They got close enough to him to know that he smelled awful and looked like a "cross between an ape and a caveman". After that, he was gone.
In the summer of 1973, three men who were walking along the Sangamon River near Decatur saw a large, hairy man that walked like an ape. The creature disappeared into the underbrush. The witnesses, understandably, declined to pursue it.
Then, in 1973-1974, strange sightings occurred in southern Illinois and became some of the most famous of the Illinois monster sightings, the “Enfield Horror” and the “Murphysboro Mud Monster”.
In early summer 1979, another creature was spotted near Westchester, in Cook County. And there have been other sketchy reports from southern Illinois (especially in the Shawnee National Forest) in more recent times.
A more recent encounter with a man-like beast occurred near Essex, Illinois in July 2000. A witness named Andrew Souligne was driving into a local cemetery one night when a large, hairy shape walked out in front of the car. The creature froze in the headlights and turned towards the car, apparently stunned by the bright lights from the vehicle. Souligne (and the other passenger of the car) were pretty shocked themselves and the driver immediately put the car into reverse and back away from the monster. Moments later, the ape loped into the woods and vanished.
Since the 1970’s, Bigfoot sightings in Illinois have been infrequent, but they do occur. I have talked to a number of people over the years that have had sightings of things they couldn’t explain. Who knows just when the next one might be seen?
Sources and Bibliography:
Blackman, W. Haden - Field Guide to North American Monsters (1998)
Bord, Janet & Colin - Alien Animals (1981)
Clark, Jerome - Unexplained! (1999)
Clark, Jerome & Loren Coleman - Swamp Slobs Invade Illinois (Fate Magazine / July 1974)
Clark, Jerome & Loren Coleman - The Unidentified (1975)
Coleman, Loren - Curious Encounters (1985)
Coleman, Loren - Mysterious America (1983/2000)
Coleman, Loren - Mystery Animals Invade Illinois (Fate Magazine / March 1971)
Coleman, Loren & Jerome Clark - Cryptozoology A to Z (1999)
Hauck, Dennis William - Haunted Places: The National Directory (1996)
Rath, Jay - I-Files (1999)
Taylor, Troy - Haunted Illinois (2001)
Personal Interviews Writings & Correspondence
Any materials not listed have been left off unintentionally from the list and may have a bibliographic listing in one of Troy Taylor’s book if the material on the website was excerpted from the book. If you recognize a reference that has not been listed. Please Email us!
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