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Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More

Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More

3.0 2
by Joe Nickell

A noted investigator of the paranormal explores the historical, geographical, and cultural reaches of various "manimals" and other humanoid entities—among them such monster men as Gigantopithecus and Neanderthals; hairy man-beasts like Sasquatch and the elusive de Loys’ Ape; supernatural beings, including werewolves, vampires, and devil men; and


A noted investigator of the paranormal explores the historical, geographical, and cultural reaches of various "manimals" and other humanoid entities—among them such monster men as Gigantopithecus and Neanderthals; hairy man-beasts like Sasquatch and the elusive de Loys’ Ape; supernatural beings, including werewolves, vampires, and devil men; and supposedly spaceship-borne entities like Mothman and the Roswell humanoids. This book takes the reader on expeditions into wilderness areas, explores historical contexts, and brings folkloric and iconographic evidence to bear on a category of mysteries as old as humanity.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Nickell (Crime Scene: Methods of Forensic Detection), a foremost expert in paranormal investigation, spends more time hunting down legendary monsters than he seems to in compiling his findings. Nickell is uniquely qualified to write about our mythic beasts, but his repetitive accounts and slim histories repeat and strain in the effort of filling even this short book-length attempt at verifying the authenticity of the myriad "creatures of our prolific imagination." The takeaway? They're not authentic; they don't exist. Nickell presents minor histories into creatures as disparate as Siamese twins and Louisiana swamp monsters, followed by research into why these creatures don't exist, have ever existed. Comprehensively he debunks every one of the phonies. This could have been an absorbing study into legend; instead, wafer-thin chapters breed repetition and tedium. Nickell is a knowledgeable guide into folklore and myth-making; a few more tall tales and a careful editor would have made this a keeper. (Mar.)
From the Publisher
"This fun book includes loads of information and would serve as a good overview for anyone interested in legends and monsters."
-Library Journal

"...it’s hard to argue with Nickell’s clearheaded examinations of popular legends or with his reasonable, logical conclusions."

Library Journal
Nickell's (The Mystery Chronicles: More Real-Life X-Files) varied career includes stage magician and private detective. He is well known and respected for his skeptical approach to investigating popular modern phenomena such as UFOs and Bigfoot. In his latest book, he traces a large collection of frightening creatures including vampires, zombies, werewolves, merpeople, aliens, swamp creatures, and many more. Nickell looks closely at why we believed in these creatures in the past and why they continue to capture our imaginations. Because he includes so many creatures, there isn't a tremendous amount of information on each one, but the book does present engrossing history on each beast and insight into what many of them actually were; some "creatures" that ancient and medieval humans feared were actually other people with various diseases. VERDICT Nickell writes in a straightforward, nonacademic manner and includes many insights about human nature (what we fear and why). This fun book includes loads of information and would serve as a good overview for anyone interested in legends and monsters.—Mary E. Jones, Los Angeles P.L.

Product Details

Prometheus Books
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5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.00(d)

Read an Excerpt



Prometheus Books

Copyright © 2011 Joe Nickell
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-61614-415-9

Chapter One


From ancient history, abnormal creatures—both animal and human—were termed monstrosities. The births of these so-called monsters were typically explained in superstitious terms that invoked the supernatural: they were held to presage disaster or thought to be evidence of divine judgment. Some thought they resulted from mating with animals (Thompson 1968, 17). Often, they were put to death (Fiedler 1993, 21) (see figure 1.1).

Between discussions of "an infant born with two heads" and "a monster with four arms and four feet endowed with but one head" (from today's perspective, obviously the result of incomplete separation of a single, fertilized egg), seventeenth-century writer John Bulwer (1653) commented, "these apparitions that be contrarie to nature, happen not without the providence of Almighty God, but for the punishing and admonishing of men, these things by just judgment are often permitted, not but that man hath a great hand in these monstrosities." He did note that the "monster" with eight limbs, "being baptized," had "lived some time afterwards."

Human Monsters

Among the earliest records of monstrosities, ancient Babylonian texts show that those in the form of newborn infants were among the divinatory images consulted by astrologers. Here is a selection from some of the texts (translated from cuneiform writing impressed into clay tablets) from circa 2800 BCE:

When a woman gives birth to an infant;—that has the ears of a lion; there will be a powerful King in the country....

That has a bird's beak; the country will be peaceful.... That has no well-marked sex; calamity and affliction will seize upon the land....

That has no feet; the canals of the country will be cut (intercepted) and the house ruined....

Other references in the Babylonian texts are to "six toes on each foot," "the right foot in the form of a fish's tail," and many others, including "three feet, two in their normal position (attached to the body) and the third between them" (quoted in Thompson 1968, 25–29). The last mentioned, for example, is reminiscent of the modern oddity Francesco A. "Frank" Lentini (1889–1966), billed in circus sideshows as the "Three-Legged Wonder" (Nickell 2005, 131–32). Such similarities between past and present oddities confirm that many of the same deformities were known nearly five millennia ago.

Still later, as Thompson (1968, 30) observes:

The curious beliefs that gathered round the occurrence of monsters in early times were common also among the ancient Greeks and Romans, and there is ample evidence of this in the mythological stories in such impossible beings as centaurs, fauns with extremities like goats, and creatures with pectoral eyes, syrens, nereids, double-headed monsters and the other fearsome creatures that play a prominent part in many of their legends and traditions.

("Syrens" [or sirens] and nereids were sea nymphs.)

Exhibited "Freaks"

Over the centuries, there are few certain records of monstrosities until the close of the eleventh century. However, in the year 945, a pair of Armenian boys joined at their abdomens (very much like the later "Siamese twins," Chang and Eng Bunker, once exhibited by P. T. Barnum) were exhibited in Constantinople. "They excited great interest and curiosity," remarks Thompson (1968, 30–31), "but they were removed by order of the authorities, as it was considered at the time that such abnormal creatures presaged evil."

In later circuses and carnivals, such human oddities were termed freaks (as in freaks of nature) and were exhibited in what were typically called freak shows. Fiedler (1993, 23–24) observed that, beyond the merely disabled, "[o]nly the true freak challenges the conventional boundaries between male and female, sexed and sexless, animal and human, large and small, self and other, and consequently between reality and illusion, experience and fantasy, fact and myth."

Whatever their era, examples of human monstrosities include midgets and dwarfs at one end of the size spectrum and giants at the other. (These will be discussed in chapters 2 and 3, respectively.) Other examples are conjoined twins (like those already described), hirsute people (especially those entirely covered with long hair), and certain others regarded as human-animal hybrids (see part 5).

Of course, there have been exaggerated descriptions of monstrosities, many occurring over time due to processes well known to folklorists. Moreover, those fantastic creatures represented in monster books were often "repetitions, depicted with greater freedom of imagination, of those described in earlier times" (Thompson 1968, 30).

Real or Fake?

There have also been outright fakes, like the infant exhibited at Paris in 1593 with an enormous head. A suspicious magistrate investigated, and soon the parents confessed that they had made an incision in the crown for the insertion of a reed, and—having blown into it in increments over some months (using wax to seal up the hole)—had inflated the baby's head to grotesque proportions. The parents were executed for their crime (Hildanus n.d.).

Some persons even mutilated themselves in order to become fake beggars. One at Anjou in 1525 hid his own arm behind his back and exhibited a mutilated counterfeit cut from the body of a hanged man. He received much money until, one day, his counterfeit appendage accidentally fell on the ground and he was exposed. He was jailed, being later "whipped through the town with his false arm hanging before him and so banished" (Paré 1573). There were many others (Paré 1573):

Such as feign themselves dumb, draw back and double their tongues in their mouths. Such as fall down counterfeiting the falling sickness [epilepsy], bind straightly both their wrists with plates of iron, tumble or roll themselves in the mire, sprinkle and defile their faces with beasts' blood and shake their limbs and whole body.

Lastly, by putting soap into their mouths, they foam at the mouth like those that have falling sickness. Others, some with flour, make a kind of glue, wherewith they besmear their whole bodies as if they had leprosy.

The later sideshows were likewise a venue for imposters. "Gaffed" (faked) oddities included bogus Siamese twins, notably Adolph and Rudolph about the end of the nineteenth century. (A harness, concealed under a specially devised suit, held Rudolph so he appeared to grow from Adolph's waist.) There were also gaffed hermaphrodites, "gorilla" and "lion-faced" girls, and many more (Nickell 2005, 194–201).

As all these examples show, many of the man-beasts that continue to populate books on strange creatures have similar antecedents in the form of real human "monsters"—dating back to remote antiquity and continuing (while metamorphosing) into our supposedly more enlightened era.


Excerpted from TRACKING THE MAN-BEASTS by JOE NICKELL Copyright © 2011 by Joe Nickell. Excerpted by permission of Prometheus Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Joe Nickell (Amherst, NY) has been called "the modern Sherlock Holmes" and "the real-life Scully" (from the X-Files). He has been on the trail of man-beasts and other mysterious creatures and phenomena for four decades. Since 1995 he has been the world’s only fulltime, professional, science-based paranormal investigator. His careful, often innovative investigations have won him international respect in a field charged with controversy. He is the author of numerous books, including most recently Real or Fake? Studies in Authentication and Adventures in Paranormal Investigation. See www.joenickell.com for more.

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Tracking the Man-Beasts: Sasquatch, Vampires, Zombies, and More 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Author is not tracking anything. He is presenting a biased stance against something he, evidently, knows nothing about. He is doing a poor job of being the "devil's advocate".
Anonymous More than 1 year ago