During the hot, balmy months of summer my mind always takes a turn to the nostalgic. My memories of summer seem to be the most over powering of all the memories that rattle in my brain. One of the strongest of my childhood memories is having the ever loving crap scared outta me by a book. Not any book mind you, a children’s book.
Written by Daniel Cohen and illustrated by Tom Huffman in 1982, America’s Very Own Monsters was my first passage way to the macabre. This tome of terror housed 10 stories that told the tales of America’s cyptids and critters. The stories were written in bite sized pieces so they could be easily digested by children and have their very psyches ripped apart. America’s Very Own Monsters was no Necronomicon written in blood on bound human flesh, it was only 42 pages of normally bound paper and ink and found in my elementary school’s media center. But nonetheless it gripped my mind in its tendrils of torment for an entire summer.
The book showcased 10 fiendish cyptozoological creatures that haunted the hidden highways, rivers, lakes, and forests of the ol’ U.S.A. Mothman, Goatman, Bigfoot, Skunk Ape, Washington’s Demon Cat, The Flatwoods Monster, The White River Monster, The Beast of Busco, Thunderbirds, and The Lake Champlain Monster. All of these beasties were new and exciting to me. But honestly, what isn’t new and exciting to an eight year old in 1984? But that excitement soon turned to dread when I realized that two of these monsters haunted and hunted close to where I lived (well close enough to a kid with a wild imagination).
We all know the story of Mothman by now. Mothman is a winged humanoid that haunts the Point Pleasant area of West Virginia. Among the notoriety that Mothman is known for, Daniel Cohen wrote mostly about the incident that happened in 1966 involving two couples that were followed by a white flying creature with large, red glowing eyes. After returning home, the two couples discovered the Mothman peering into the window watching them.
This really scared the crap outta me but the fact that West Virginia wasn’t that far away from Maryland and this sucker had wings had me totally freaking out. Believe me it was enough to ward off going out doors after dark that summer. But what really sold this story was the beautifully simple artwork of Tom Huffman. Sadly I don’t have a copy of the book and I haven’t even read it since I left elementary school in 1986. I’ve only found the cover and the picture of ol’ gruesome above via the internet.
But the humanoid beast that really made me afraid of the darkness was even closer than Mothman to my house growing up. His name is Goatman and he stalked the roads of Beltsville, Maryland. With axe in tow, this mutated geneticist attacked everyone from motorists to teenagers at lover’s lane. His origin is steeped in science fiction and a tad bit “out there” but to a kid spoon feed on the cartoons and comics of the ’80s, it could very much happen. Legend says that Goatman was once a normal man who worked as a geneticist at the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. One day while experimenting on goats (why? who knows.)the experiment backfired and left the scientist mutated as a half goat/half man hybrid. Angry and with his psyche damaged, he began hunting humans on the dark roadways around Beltsville with his trusty axe.
With the awesomeness we grew up with in the ’80s on television and comic books, this scenario seemed 100% plausible to me. Why wouldn’t it? Shit like this happened everyday, just the American public had no idea…right? Anyway, my fear of this bovid man didn’t really grip me until I spent the night at a friends house one weekend. I checked America’s Very Own Monsters out of the school’s media center before leaving school that Friday. I’d read the book a half dozen times by this time, but my friend hadn’t so he asked if I could bring it along to his house. I did and we read it together as that warm May day grew dusky. Dusk turned into night as we still discussed the monsters in the book and as boys do, our imaginations began to take over. The only difference this time was unlike my house in town, my friends house was in the middle of nowhere. Only trees and corn fields surrounded his home and the few others on his slightly paved road. This was perfect Goatman territory!
After a night of fitful sleep, I went home blurry eyed and with a new appreciation of fear. For the few remaining weeks of school and through out that summer, whenever the hot nights would grow quiet, my mind would drift to back roads and sharp axes wielded by horned goat men hunting me. The nightmares were something I couldn’t shake. This creation was partly my fault, but some of the blame goes directly to Mr. Cohen and Mr. Huffman and I thank them for that. Now that summer will always hold a place in my heart because it was one of the last innocent ones I had and I look back at that innocent fear with love. The fear eventually went away and I began to sleep throughout the night again, until I saw the movie Silver Bullet. But that’s another story.