Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. He is the author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), Dragons: A Natural History (1995), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), The Unexplained (1996), From Flying Toads To Snakes With Wings (1997), Mysteries of Planet Earth (1999), The Hidden Powers of Animals (2001), The Beasts That Hide From Man (2003), Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), Dragons in Zoology, Cryptozoology, and Culture (2013), The Menagerie of Marvels (2014), A Manifestation of Monsters (2015), Here's Nessie! (2016), and what is widely considered to be his cryptozoological magnum opus, Still In Search Of Prehistoric Survivors (2016) - plus, very excitingly, his first two long-awaited, much-requested ShukerNature blog books (2019, 2020).

Dr Karl Shuker's Official Website - http://www.karlshuker.com/index.htm

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my ShukerNature blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my published books (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Eclectarium blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Starsteeds blog's poetry and other lyrical writings (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

IMPORTANT: To view a complete, regularly-updated listing of my Shuker In MovieLand blog's articles (each one instantly clickable), please click HERE!

Search This Blog


PLEASE COME IN, I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU...

PLEASE COME IN, I'VE BEEN EXPECTING YOU...
WELCOME TO SHUKERNATURE - ENJOY YOUR VISIT - BEWARE OF THE RAPTOR!


Friday, 21 January 2022

CAUGHT ON THE HOP BY PHANTOM KANGAROOS AND OTHER OUT-OF-PLACE MYSTERY MACROPODS: Part 1 – AN AMERICAN ANOMALY

 
How can reports of phantom kangaroos and other out-of-place mystery macropods be explained? (public domain)

 

GENERAL INTRODUCTION

During the past 35 years, I have written many hundreds of cryptozoological articles, all of which at one time or another and in one form or another have been published – all but one, that is, until quite recently. Back in the 1980s, I penned a number of articles for a monthly British magazine entitled The Unknown, which was in fact the very first magazine to publish my writings, at the very beginning of my post-university career as a full-time freelance cryptozoological researcher and author. Sadly, however, after just over 30 issues, The Unknown abruptly folded, and in so doing meant that one lengthy three-part article of mine that this magazine had recently accepted for publication never saw the light of day in print form within it.

For reasons that I've never ascertained, I subsequently neglected to resubmit it elsewhere, and for over three decades it languished as a typed-out but largely-forgotten manuscript in a file of my earliest work. Eventually calling to mind this article in 2019, however, I sought out the file containing it, read it through again, and was pleasantly surprised by its content and composition, which I felt were more than sufficient to warrant its long-overdue publication.

Rather than attempting to update it, however, which not only would have been a herculean task but also would have expanded its already sizeable length very appreciably, I felt that for historical reasons this article may actually be of interest to readers if presented in its original, pre-existing three-part form, bearing in mind that it constitutes one of my very first pieces of investigative cryptozoological authorship. Accordingly, incorporating only minimal, essential amendments (i.e. ones required to maintain factual accuracy across the three decades since I originally penned it), 'the article that got away' was finally published in hard copy format within the CFZ Yearbook 2020 after patiently waiting for a mere 32 years to see itself in print.

 
The CFZ Yearbook 2020 (© Centre for Fortean Zoology/CFZ Press)

And now, at long last, it makes its exclusive online debut here in ShukerNature (where on account of its considerable length I have split it up into its original three parts, which will be presented as three consecutive blog posts, beginning here today with Part 1).

In so doing, this resurrected research article of mine affords an insight not only into phantom kangaroos (a subject never previously or subsequently written about by me) but also into the primordial competency (or otherwise!) of the then cryptozoological 'new kid on the block' investigating and documenting them.

 

PART 1 – AN AMERICAN ANOMALY

In the mind of any student of natural history, Australia is irrevocably linked with marsupials – a vast morphological diversity of pouched mammals, whose most familiar members are undoubtedly those bounding bipeds the kangaroos. Together with their many smaller relatives such as the wallabies and potoroos, they are known collectively as macropods ('big feet'), and must surely be the zoological personification of Down Under.

 
As readily revealed by this kangaroo skeleton, kangaroos, wallabies, and potoroos are not known zoologically as macropods for nothing! The metatarsal bones in particular are very elongated, as is the fourth digit (toe) (public domain)

Consequently, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that sightings of kangaroo-like creatures in the wild are also being recorded many thousands of miles beyond the Antipodes, in a geographical region where such animals just should not be – North America!

 

UNDERLYING VARIETY

Moreover, these New World anomalies exhibit the extreme elusiveness that has earned comparably evanescent pantheresque creatures such as the Exmoor Beast and Surrey Puma of Great Britain the title of 'phantom felines'; hence the mystery hoppers are nowadays commonly referred to as 'phantom kangaroos'.

What would appear to be one of the very earliest incidents on record concerning any sighting of a supposed kangaroo in America occurred in New Richmond, Wisconsin, and was documented a year later by local historian Mrs Ann Epley (and much more recently by veteran American cryptozoologist Loren Coleman in his classic book Mysterious America, 1983). She recorded that during a severe cyclone storm in 1899 that decimated a visiting circus (Gollmar's) as well as much of New Richmond itself, eyewitness Mrs Glover reported seeing a kangaroo – presumed to have escaped from the wrecked circus – running through a neighbour's yard; it was never captured. Worthy of note here is the fact that genuine macropods do not run – they move by powerful hopping, bipedal bounds. Equally strange, moreover, the circus owner's son, Robert H. Gollmar, could not recall the circus ever having owned a kangaroo. As a result of this latter component of the incident, this beast is traditionally classed as a bona fide phantom kangaroo (despite its aberrant alleged mode of progression).

 
Eastern grey kangaroo Macropus giganteus, bounding bipedally in typical macropod manner (© PanBK/Wikipedia – CC BY-SA 3.o licence)

Since the 1950s, a remarkable number of sightings of mystery macropods have been documented across North America, especially from the East and Mid-West. Surprisingly, however, such creatures had been almost wholly overlooked by investigators of out-of-place animals – until Fortean writers and researchers Loren Coleman and David Fideler began an extensive investigation of this intriguing phenomenon. Indeed, their combined books, articles, and bulletins dealing with these beasts constitute the definitive (and in fact the only major) pre-internet sources of information concerning this subject (hence are naturally the sources for a number of such cases mentioned in this present article), and are responsible for establishing it as a bona fide phenomenon for serious cryptozoological study.

In their publications, Coleman and Fideler have presented this subject within a chronologically-structured framework, charting and updating its progression via series of comprehensive year-by-year reports. Consequently, in order to provide a fresh insight into the subject, my article will concentrate primarily not upon chronological documentation but instead upon the underlying (yet rarely considered) variety of creatures involved – an approach not previously utilised in relation to phantom kangaroos. For, as will be revealed, those animals currently labelled as such do not in fact constitute a uniform, homogenous set, but instead can be divided into various separate categories based upon morphological and behavioural differences.

 

1) 'Normal' kangaroos

In the great majority of eyewitness accounts concerning phantom kangaroos in North America that surfaced during the 88 intervening years between the Gollmar circus incident of 1899 and the year 1987 in which I originally penned this article, there is nothing to suggest that the morphology or behaviour of the creatures in question was anything other than that of normal kangaroos – except for their elusiveness. Consequently, I shall refer to those animals in this first category of American mystery macropods as 'normal' kangaroos. The following reports of such beasts include some of the most informative on record.

In 1957, the two young sons of Barbara Battmer claimed to have spied two kangaroos hopping through an expanse of forest at Coon Rapids, Minnesota, near to where they themselves were playing. They described the creatures as being 5 ft tall and in colour a combination of browns varying from light tan to medium brown. A year later, and some hundreds of miles away at Platte River, Nebraska, eyewitness Charles Wetzel, moving steadily from his plains cabin, approached to within 10 yards of a kangaroo-like beast. The latter stood approximately 6 ft tall, was brown in colour, and hopped in pronounced 10-ft bounds via its large hind legs – which contrasted sharply with its much shorter forelegs.

 
Red kangaroos photographed while hopping bipedally in typical macropod manner (© Donald Hobern/Wikipedia – CC BY 2.0 licence)

Alongside these two reports from Mysterious America, Coleman also details numerous similar sightings reported from many other American localities during the subsequent 1960s, whereas in November 1974 a 5-ft-tall Chicago specimen uniformly black except for a brown face and belly was spotted by Joe Bernotus from the window of the train in which he was travelling to work. Furthermore, in his book Weird America (1978), Jim Brandon mentions a similar-sized, macropod-mannered creature that several persons reported seeing bounding through cornfields in Du Quoin, Illinois (a notably popular State for phantom kangaroo appearances) in July 1975.

The year 1977 saw a marked return of macropod mania to the State where it had all apparently begun 78 years before – Wisconsin. As documented in Fate Magazine (September 1978) and subsequently by Stephen McMurray in a letter to The Unknown (December 1986), three separate sightings of 'normal' kangaroos took place here during 1977. Once again, all eyewitness involved were convinced that the animals were indeed kangaroos and not any known American mammalian form.

April is evidently a good month for spotting American kangaroos, because two of the most significant sightings so far recorded of 'normal' New World hoppers took place within 24 hours of each other in April 1978, during a spate of kangaroo reports emanating from or near to Waukesha, Wisconsin. On 23 April, Lance Nero sighted from his home two supposed kangaroos hopping out of the adjacent woods. Moreover, they left behind well-formed tracks (from which casts were later made). Each such track consisted of a three-pronged, furciform print (two prongs pointing forward, and one backwards – with two rounded projections sited distally along the backward-pointing prong). Despite their singular shape, however, these remarkable tracks were actually 'identified' in due course by sheriff deputies as ordinary deer spoor! Thankfully, contrary evidence was obtained the very next day during another encounter nearby, evidence that could not be dismissed so readily this time.

 
Diagrams of a kangaroo's foot (left) and its foot spoor (right) – the backward-pointing prong in the latter diagram is the impression sometimes yielded by the kangaroo's metatarsals, the central crescent shape is the impression produced by its foot's palm pad, and the two forward-pointing prongs are impressions produced by its foot's two largest, principal digits, IV and V (public domain)

In that incident, two men (who did not wish to be named) spotted the creature in question close to two Highways near Waukesha and, to the delight of cryptozoologists everywhere, they actually had a loaded camera with them. Two colour photographs of the animal were taken, of which one proved to be too blurred for identification purposes. The other, however, while rather dark and indistinct, did reveal an indisputably bipedal creature reminiscent of a macropod. This photo (which can be viewed online here) is now owned by Loren Coleman, who, in various of his publications, describes the animal depicted as being:

...a tan animal with lighter brown front limbs, hints of a lighter brown hind limb, dark brown or black patches around the eyes, inside the two upright ears, and possibly surrounding the nose and upper mouth area.

Another significant encounter with a mystery macropod occurred in September 1979, when a dark-coloured specimen reminiscent of a kangaroo was observed in Concord, Delaware. For as recorded in Pursuit (spring 1980), police called in to investigate this sighting discovered not only unusual tracks but also a 6-inch strand of fur.

The final example of a 'normal' kangaroo offered here could have been the most important of all. Alas, however, it was not to be. On 31 August 1981, a trucker walked into a cafe at Tulsa, Oklahoma, and informed a bemused waitress that his truck had just hit and killed a kangaroo – while swerving, furthermore, to avoid hitting a second one! Two policemen at the cafe as well as the waitress herself all subsequently testified that he then revealed to them the body of a 3.5-ft kangaroo ensconced in the back of his truck. However, no photograph was taken of this specimen, which was very regrettable because the trucker afterwards got back into his vehicle and (without anyone apparently recording his name, address, or truck registration number plate) simply drove away with his cryptozoological cargo – and thus cannot be traced to learn any further details.

 

2) Quadrupedal kangaroos

Although equally as agile and athletic as those of the 'normal' type, the creatures constituting this second category of phantom kangaroos exhibit one fundamental difference – these are primarily quadrupedal, bounding not solely upon their hind legs but upon all fours. Despite being far fewer in number than those concerning the bipedal 'normal' forms, reports describing quadrupedal kangaroo-like beasts have similarly been recorded from varied regions of North America.

 
Red kangaroo in quadrupedal stance (public domain)

For example, longstanding American cryptozoological investigator Ron Schaffner reports in his newsletter Creature Chronicles (Spring 1983) that in January 1949, while riding a Greyhound bus between Columbus and Akron, Ohio, Louis Staub observed just such a beast about 2 miles south of Grove City, Ohio. In a Cincinnati Post report for 10 January, Staub described the creature as being about 5.5 ft tall, brown in colour with a long pointed head, and resembling a kangaroo except for the fact that it hopped on all fours. He stated that he was certain that it was not a deer.

Similarly, Loren Coleman records that on 25 November 1974, farmer Donald Johnson reported seeing a "kangaroo" that was "...running on all four feet" down the centre of a rural road through Sheridan, Indiana. Additionally, on 14 July 1975, Rosemary Hopwood observed a 2.5-ft-tall quadrupedal "kangaroo" while driving her car along Illinois Route 128 near Decatur. However, unlike the previous two examples, this particular specimen did display a modicum of macropod behaviour – by periodically sitting upright on its haunches. It had pointed ears and a long thick tail.

 

3) Unique specimen

Category 3 consists of a single, unique specimen, which, although bipedal, differs sufficiently from the 'normal' type to warrant separate consideration. In a letter published in the International Society of Cryptozoology's Newsletter (spring 1982), Ronald Quinn recalled that the incident had occurred sometime between 1963 and 1965 at Peck Canyon (50 miles south of Tucson, Arizona) and had involved a friend, Mr Workman. He had lived in this region and had sent a letter to Quinn informing him of his encounter, which was as follows.

Click here to see what this bipedal mystery beast may have been (more concerning the latter identity in Part 2 of this present three-part ShukerNature blog article).

Returning home from his mining work one afternoon, Workman's truck had become entrenched in some deep sand. While attempting to extricate his vehicle, he observed a most unusual creature approaching him from down the sandy wash that he had just driven over. It was a 4-ft-tall bipedal beast that reminded Workman of a kangaroo. However, its tail was held vertically and bore a distinct curl at its tip. Moreover, this bewildering biped moved by walking, rather than by hopping or bounding, and its hind feet appeared much smaller than those of a kangaroo. After watching Workman for a few minutes, the creature walked away again, and was not reported thereafter, either by Workman or by anyone else working in that area.

 

4) Aggressive growlers and shriekers

The final category of phantom kangaroos assembled here is more of a classification of convenience than the well-defined grouping characterising the earlier categories covered above, because Category 4's members appear to be as diverse as they are bizarre. Yet they do in fact share two notable features – a rather unnerving tendency to growl or shriek like banshees, and to act in an alarmingly aggressive manner.

One classic example, reported in detail by Fideler and Coleman within their article 'Kangaroos From Nowhere' (Fate, April 1978), is undoubtedly the pugnacious macropod known as the Chicago Hopper. During the morning of 18 October 1974, two patrolmen had been called to the Northwest home of a startled eyewitness to what had seemed to be a large kangaroo spied on his porch. Upon their arrival on the scene, however, the patrolmen came face to face with a creature that transformed their initial amusement into outright alarm. For although it did appear to the men to be a kangaroo (and standing about 5 ft tall), it was growling, in a most disconcerting manner.

 
Two adult male red kangaroos engaged in ritualistic fighting – notwithstanding their herbivorous lifestyle, kangaroos can be very belligerent! (public domain)

Additionally, as they soon discovered upon drawing nearer, it was very aggressive – delivering a number of extremely powerful (and painful!) kicks before making its escape from the hapless patrolmen and the hastily-summoned back-up squad cars. As these latter arrived, the creature leaped over a nearby fence into another street, and rapidly bounded along this until it passed out of sight, and into American legend.

Yet even this belligerent biped appeared benevolent in comparison to the supposed giant "kangaroo" that terrorised Tennessee during 1934. Sighted in South Pittsburg, it displayed an especially startling and disquieting characteristic. In stark contrast to the strictly vegetarian diet of typical kangaroos, the Pittsburg beast was vehemently carnivorous. For according to the local farmers, it had slaughtered and partaken of a variety of waterfowl, plus a selection of alsatian dogs! Despite prolonged searches, however, this rapacious 'roo was never captured.

One of New Jersey's most notorious cryptids is the so-called Jersey devil. However, reports describing this beast are so diverse that, as Coleman notes in Mysterious America, it is quite evident that more than one type of creature is involved. Some of these reports describe beasts resembling kangaroos, but with quite macabre vocal attributes.

 
Artistic representation of the Jersey devil based upon eyewitness reports (© Richard Svensson)

For example, in 1900 Mrs Amanda Sutts heard a scream one night near to the family farm's barn. When the family came outside to investigate, a kangaroo-like beast was spied, which Sutts described as being approximately the size of a small calf, weighing about 150 lb, and making the most horrific sound "...like a woman screaming in an awful lot of agony". Apparently this sound was often heard by the family, emanating from the surrounding countryside; not surprisingly, it terrified the horses. Comparable reports from elsewhere in New Jersey also exist on record (see The Jersey Devil, 1976 – a very comprehensive book on this subject, authored by James McCloy and Ray Miller Jnr), some of which describe horse-headed kangaroo-like creatures with wings!

In actual fact, a famous hoax occurred in January 1909 regarding the Jersey devil, when publicist Norman Jefferies claimed that he had caught the beast, and put it on display at Philadelphia's Arch Street Museum, charging a small entrance fee for public viewing. Its true identity, however, was ultimately exposed – it was nothing more than an ordinary Australian red kangaroo Macropus rufus that Jefferies had earlier obtained from an animal dealer, and which had then been painted with green stripes and bore a pair of artificial, deftly-attached bronze wings (click here to read more about this on ShukerNature). Even so, it is interesting that the animal chosen by Jefferies to represent the Jersey devil was a kangaroo.

 

Having categorised America's phantom kangaroos, it is now necessary to attempt an identification of them. As will be seen in Part 2 of this three-part article, a number of possible candidates may be involved – don't miss it!

 
Capitalising upon potential kangaroo aggression – a boxing kangaroo advertised in a sideshow poster printed in Hamburg, Germany, by Adolph Friedländer, 1890s (public domain)
 
 

Sunday, 16 January 2022

A GREEN MAN OF NOTTINGHAM, AND A PURPLE WINGED CAT? A SHUKERNATURE PICTURE OF THE DAY

 
The very curious but captivating painting spied and photographed in a Nottingham pub by Facebook friend Kristian Lander (© Kristian Lander)

Today's ShukerNature Picture of the Day dates back to 15 January 2013. That was when longstanding Facebook friend Kristian Lander from Nottingham, England, posted on my Facebook wall the above photograph snapped by him of a very unusual painting that he had recently encountered inside a local public house, because he was particularly intrigued by the mauve but mysterious winged beast lurking in its bottom left-hand corner, and wondered if I knew anything about it.

Sadly, I didn't, but it certainly elicited my curiosity, and when Kristian's post containing his photo reappeared recently in my Facebook's Memories section, I decided to document on ShukerNature the sparse details that have come my way during the intervening years concerning it. So here they are, exactly eight years after Kristian first brought this perplexing painting to my attention, in the hope that someone who reads them will be able to provide further data.

Kristian informed me that the painting was hanging high above an archway inside a pub at Bulwell, Nottingham, named the William Peverel (which had opened in 2012 and is currently part of the famous JD Weatherspoon chain). Consequently, he'd had to use the zoom attachment on his camera in order to obtain his close-up photo of it, but there was no signature visible, nor was there any artist information available.

 
Three of my own Green Man exhibits (© Dr Karl Shuker)

However, Kristian had noticed that there was a description of the painting on a nearby wall plaque. This stated that it was a picture of the man after whom the pub had been named, one William Peverel, apparently giving homage to the Green Man – a longstanding symbol of fertility and rebirth in English folkloric tradition, and usually represented as a human figure covered in green, leafy foliage. As for the purple winged creature beside Peverel, however, its identity was merely referred to in the description as "unknown".

Now for some interesting facts concerning the real-life person after whom this pub is named – William Peverel. It turns out that he was a Norman knight who was a favourite of William the Conqueror, i.e. King William I of England, who famously defeated the Saxons' King Harold II at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and thus founded the Norman dynasty in England. Peverel was specifically listed in the Domesday Book as a builder of castles, and also owned several, including Nottingham Castle. Before he died in 1114, he had sired two sons, both of whom were also named William.

The JD Wetherspoon website includes a page of details for Nottingham's William Peverel pub (there is actually more than one pub in England with this same name), which can be accessed here. Sadly, however, they contain no mention of this painting (though they do include one interior photo that shows it in place upon one of the walls), but what they do state is that this pub's namesake was a son of William the Conqueror. Yet according to lineages for William I that I have checked, only one of his ten children was named William, and he became King William II following his father's death, so he was certainly not William Peverel. Moreover, according to The Royal Bastards of Medieval England (1984) by Chris Given-Wilson and Alice Curteis, William I is not credited as having any illegitimate children. Ditto for his entry by Charles Cawley in the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy, Medieval Lands Database click here to access it. So I'm not sure where the Wetherspoon claim regarding Peverel being William I's son originates.

 
Interior photograph of the William Peverel public house in Bulwell, Nottingham, England, showing the William Peverel 'green man' painting hanging upon one of its walls directly over an archway (© JD Wetherspoon/The William Peverel – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only; please be sure to click here to visit this very popular pub's webpage for full details concerning its facilities, menus, location, etc).

Peverel's parentage contradictions notwithstanding, let's turn now to the painting itself. As commented upon by another Facebook friend, Scott Wood, the face of William Perceval as depicted in it is unmistakably based upon a much earlier but very famous, and decidedly idiosyncratic, painting entitled 'Vertumnus' (Vertumnus being the Roman god of seasons, plant growth, and change), which was produced in 1591 by Italian artist Giuseppe Arcimboldo (1526/27-1593). Here it is:

 
'Vertumnus', painted in 1591 by Giuseppe Arcimboldo (public domain)

As can be readily seen, his subject's face is actually composed of various fruits, flowers, vegetables and other botanical offerings, which is nothing if not apt, given that Vertumnus was a plant-associated deity. Yet in spite of the name that he gave to this painting, Arcimboldo did not actually intend it to be a depiction of Vertumnus, but rather a portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II.

Moreover, this phytologically-influenced illustration was not an artistic sui generis either – on the contrary, Arcimboldo was well known for this highly imaginative, albeit decidedly quirky, mode of depiction, having painted a number of other portraits in which its subjects are composed of intricate, exquisitely-arranged collections of horticultural produce as well as fishes and even books. Having said that, Arcimboldo did also prepare many far more conventional artistic works too (including the self-portrait presented at the end of this ShukerNature blog article), but his unique botanically-themed portraits are his most familiar paintings nowadays.

As for whether the clear similarity between the face of William Peverel in the pub's 'green man' painting of him and Arcimboldo's 'Vertumnus' painting indicates that the former is definitely a modern-day painting, or merely one that was painted at some undetermined time within the 400+ years that have passed since Arcimboldo painted the latter, this is of course impossible to determine without the Peverel painting being subjected to a rigorous examination by expert art historians.

 
Comparing the face of William Peverel in the pub's 'green man' painting of him (allowing for it having been unavoidably photographed both at a distance and at an angle) (left) with Arcimboldo's 'Vertumnus' painting (right), showing the great similarity please click to enlarge for improved viewing (© Kristian Lander / public domain)

Incidentally, despite the descriptive plaque alongside the William Peverel painting in Nottingham's eponymous pub stating that it depicts Peverel apparently giving homage to the Green Man (albeit with a suit of armour protruding very visibly beneath his Green Man attire!), it is possible that there is an entirely different explanation for what  - and even who – this painting depicts. My first clue to this unexpected yet undeniably plausible possibility came from a seemingly source-less but thought-provoking quote made known to me by another Facebook friend, Caitlin Warrior, and when I pursued it to discover its origin, this is what I uncovered.

In the compendium Medieval Outlaws: Twelve Tales In Modern English Translation, edited by Thomas H. Ohlgren and published as a revised, expanded edition in 2005 by Parlor Press, there is a Romance story entitled 'Fouke le Fitz Waryn', which is known from a single manuscript in the British Library that dates from c.1330 and is written in Anglo-Norman prose. How much of its content is based upon real events and real people and how much is folklore and heroic fantasy, however, is difficult to determine.

Translated by Thomas E. Kelly, and beginning not too long after William the Conqueror has become England's monarch, it tells of how William Peverel proclaims a tournament at which the knight who performs best and wins the tournament shall receive as his prize the hand of William's beautiful niece, Melette of the White Tower. Waryn de Metz (Metz being in Lorraine, France), a valiant but unmarried, childless nobleman, decides to take part, attended by a company of knights sent by his cousin John, Duke of Brittany, to assist him. When they arrive in England, Waryn and his company pitch their tents in the forest near to where the tournament is to be held.

 
Front cover of Medieval Outlaws (© Thomas H. Ohlgren et al./Parlor Press – reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

What interests me, however, is not the tournament itself, nor even Waryn's participation in it. Instead, I am very intrigued by the following short but very tantalizing excerpt from the story's description of the tournament's second day (and which turned out to my delight to be the hitherto source-less quote to which Caitlin had previously alerted me):

The following day a joust was proclaimed throughout the land. Thereupon Waryn came out of the forest and went to the joust clad all in green with ivy leaves, like an adventurous knight, unrecognized by anyone.

Waryn went on to win the tournament and marry the fair Melette, so could it be that the figure in the pub's Peverel painting is not Peverel at all, and has nothing to do with the Green Man either? That in reality it is actually a depiction of that portion of the early story 'Fouke le Fitz Waryn' when Waryn de Metz steps forth "clad all in green with ivy leaves" at the tournament of William Peverel, and that somehow this has all become confused, until the figure in the painting is now wrongly thought to be Peverel himself?

After all, why should William Peverel dress up as and give homage to the Green Man anyway? I've always found that supposed explanation of the painting to be as baffling as the painting itself. Also, his outfit looks far more like a leafy modern-day jacket than the full head-to-foot traditional costume normally worn by Green Man impersonators or personifiers - and isn't that a black bow-tie at his neck? Plus, as noted earlier, a suit of armour is clearly visible protruding below the jacket. Hardly typical Green Man accoutrements! In fact, the more I look at it, the less inclined I am to believe that this ambiguous artwork has anything to do with either William Peverel or Waryn de Metz more an original work of fantasy or even satire, in fact, created by the artist's own imagination, in which he has combined elements from a number of different sources or inspirations. Curioser and curiouser, as Alice would surely have said if she'd encountered anything so abtruse during her dream journeys through Wonderland and Looking-Glass World.

 
Close-up of the painting's purple winged cat, or cat-like mystery beast, as photographed by Kristian Lander (© Kristian Lander)

Yet as if all of this is not bewildering and contentious enough, we now turn to the painting's biggest mystery of all. Namely, what on earth is that bizarre creature squatting alongside Peverel (or Waryn de Metz?) in the painting, and why is it even there?

Inevitably, when the photograph of this painting is enlarged, the creature becomes decidedly blurred as it only occupies a small portion of it. From what I can discern, however, it resembles a cat, with dark purple fur, and a pair of large white wings, as revealed above.

As loyal readers of my writings will know, winged cats really do exist, and I have documented many examples in various of my books and articles. Moreover, many years ago I discovered the explanation behind their bizarre appendages. In fact, such cats suffer from a rare genetic condition known as feline cutaneous asthenia (FCA), in which the skin on their body is abnormally stretchable (or friable, to use the strict scientific term). Consequently, if they rub their shoulders against an object, for instance, or stroke themselves with their paws, their skin readily stretches to yield fur-covered wing-like extensions, which can even be raised or lowered if they contain muscle fibres (click here for more details regarding winged cats on ShukerNature).

 
A report in Strand Magazine for November 1899 featuring a genuine winged cat, from Wiveliscombe, in Somerset, southwest England (public domain)

However, the wings of the anomalous animal in this painting are not furry but feathery, composed of typical avian plumes, thereby rendering it a zoological impossibility. Yet it does not call to mind any known form of mythological beast either. So is it meant to be entirely fictitious, perhaps nothing more than a most peculiar product of the imagination of this painting's unknown artist?

But why should the artist choose to include such an exceedingly odd yet also indisputably eyecatching creature in a depiction of a real, and very eminent, figure from English – and particularly Nottingham's – history? Wondering if it could conceivably represent some heraldic device associated with the Peverel lineage, I have explored this possibility in depth, but have been unable to trace any such representation. Worth noting, however, is that I did discover that the colour purple just so happens to be linked in a heraldic context to the wife of none other than a certain Waryn de Metz. Merely a coincidence…?

So there is the information that I currently have concerning this most enigmatic yet fascinating painting and its depicted subjects, but there is so much more that at present I do not have.

 
A feather-winged cat depicted on folio 174r of a 14th-Century illuminated manuscript known as Maastricht Hours (public domain)

I know who the human figure is supposed to be (although whether this identity is actually the correct one remains unclear), but not why his face should have been based upon a decidedly bizarre, grotesque portrait by a 16th-Century Italian artist. I have not the faintest idea what the magenta-furred, moggie-like creature with feathered wings that has also been included in this painting is meant to be, nor even why it has been included in the first place. And I do not know who the artist is who produced the painting, nor how it came to be on display at the William Peverel pub in Nottingham.

Consequently, gentle readers, I am turning to you now, in the earnest hope that some of you may have additional details that can provide answers to the above questions, ultimately yielding the missing pieces vitally needed if this veritable jigsaw of a mystifying illustration is ever to be satisfactorily completed.

My sincere thanks to Kristian Lander for making this extremely interesting painting known to me and for so kindly sharing with me his photograph of it.

 
Giuseppe Arcimboldo, self-portrait (public domain)

Finally: while on the subject of the folkloric Green Man, there is a second mysterious depiction that has intrigued me for even longer than the Nottingham painting investigated here. Back in the late 1980s or early 1990s, during the early days of my writing career, I was planning to prepare an article dealing with the Green Man (three decades later, and I'm still planning to do so...some day), and among the illustrations that I was very much hoping to include within it was a photograph of a sign outside a London pub named Green Man. This was because the Green Man depicted on that particular sign was totally unlike any representation of this entity that I'd ever seen (and still is today). Ditto for the latter's less foliate version, known as Jack-in-the-Green. In fact, what it did closely resemble was a bizarre humanoid insect!

I've only ever seen this particular photograph in a large hardback book entitled Mysterious Monsters, written by Daniel Farson and Angus Hall, and published by Aldus Books in 1978. Unfortunately, however, despite writing to both the authors and the publisher of this book, requesting permission to include the photo in my article and also for any information concerning which particular pub owned the sign in the photo (30-odd years ago, there were a fair few London pubs named (the) Green Man!), I never received any responses. Moreover, even numerous subsequent searches online and elsewhere have all failed to trace any details concerning it.

With pubs all over Britain closing down in great numbers during the past decade or so, it is very likely that this pub is no more, or has at least changed ownership and name in either case meaning that the highly unusual insect-like Green Man representation on its sign has gone too. Nevertheless, just in case anyone does know which Green Man pub this sign belonged to, I'm including the photo of it below (on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis only), and would greatly welcome any information regarding it. Who knows I may even get around to writing my Green Man article one day!

 
Highly unusual insect-like Green Man pub sign, originally belonging to an as yet unidentified London pub named Green Man (© owner unknown to me despite many attempts to discover their identity down through the years reproduced here on a strictly non-commercial Fair Use basis for educational/review purposes only)

 
UPDATE - 18 January 2022
Today Kristian posted some additional information and photos on my Facebook wall following a recent return by him to the William Peverel pub in Nottingham.
 
The painting forming the subject of this present ShukerNature blog article of mine is still hanging on the wall there, and Kristian was able not only to snap a couple more photos of it but also one of the information plaque concerning it.

Interestingly, this plaque claims that William Peverel was reputedly the son of William the Conqueror as a result of a dalliance by him with the Saxon princess Maud Ingelrica whilst she was in Normany during 1046 AD, prior to her marriage to nobleman Ranulf Peverel. Moreover, I have read elsewhere that she was William the Conqueror's mistress. Conversely, as noted by me earlier here, William the Conquerer (who became William I of England) is not supposed to have sired any illegitimate children. So who is right and who is wrong?
 
 
Information plaque concerning the alleged William Peverel painting on display inside the William Peverel pub at Bulwell, Nottingham - please click to enlarge for reading purposes (© Kristian Lander)

The explanation given on the plaque for Peverel's green jacket is, I feel, decidedly fanciful, especially as it includes a mention of his quite literally fruity face while curiously omitting to point out that this has apparently been lifted in its entirety from (or at the very least directly inspired by) Arcimboldo's 'Vertumnus' painting .

As for the winged mystery beast depicted at Peverel's feet, this is referred to in the plaque as "a griffon, or something very like one". 'Griffon' is an alternative spelling of 'griffin' (so too is 'gryphon'), which is a legendary composite beast combining the body of a lion with the head and wings of an eagle, and appears frequently in heraldic devices too. Yet as far as I can discern, the head of the beast depicted in this painting does not seem to resemble an eagle's.

In short, its information plaque offers more questions than answers as to who and what are depicted in this painting, and why they are so depicted. Kristian, meanwhile, has contacted the pub in the hope of discovering more about the painting, in particular when the pub obtained it and who painted it. So if he is subsequently able to provide me with more details, I'll be sure to add them here.


 
Kristian's latest two photos of the Willliam Peverel painting (© Kristian Lander)

Saturday, 8 January 2022

A TALE OF SCALES, AND SOME BOTANICAL SERPENTS

 
Vintage engraving from 1885, depicting giant tree-like Lepidodendron lycophytes thriving during the Carboniferous Period (public domain)

I've always been fascinated by zoological misidentifications, whether accidental or deliberate. So here is a truly outrageous example of the latter variety that I recently investigated.

During early 1851, publicity broadsides were being posted on walls around the Welsh town of Neath to draw public attention (and attendance) to an eyecatching object currently being exhibited in the town hall during three consecutive days (30 and 31 January and 1 February). For according to the broadside, the object was none other than a very sizeable fossil serpent, 8 ft 3 in long and 7 in across.

Broadside for exhibition of alleged fossil serpent at Neath's town hall, early 1851 (public domain)

As revealed by F.J. North in the second edition of his book Coal, and the Coalfields in Wales (1931), however, it was actually the trunk of an enormous, superficially tree-like, but long-extinct lycophyte plant related to club mosses and (especially) quillworts.

Known as Lepidodendron, it thrived during the Carboniferous Period around 360 million years ago, and attained a colossal height of up to 180 ft. Its fossils are found preserved in coal deposits, and it is characterised by its trunk's noticeably scaly outer surface (Lepidodendron actually translates as 'scale tree'), although its 'scales' are actually leaf scars, created when its leaves fell off.

 
Portion of fossil Lepidodendron bark exhibited at the Houston Museum of Natural Science, Houston, Texas, USA (copyright free)

Moreover, the true botanical identity of Lepidodendron fossils had been known to scientists for several years before this exhibition. So one can only assume that the latter's organiser did not intend to let a mere technicality like the truth stand in the way of making some easy money from scientifically-naive visitors anxious to see the mortal remains of an alleged prehistoric serpent!

Indeed, amateur exhibitions at sideshows and fairs of similar Lepidodendron specimens masquerading in best Barnumesque fashion as giant fossil snakes or even lizards were by no means uncommon back then. And for another monstrous misidentification featuring a supposed fossil snake, be sure to click here to read all about the bothersome Bothrodon.

 
Pictured here in 1851, the very same year as the Neath exhibition, the great(est) showman Phineas T. Barnum - he of the fake Feejee mermaids and other zoological frauds displayed by him during the 1800s - would no doubt have approved! (public domain)