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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!