Flesh or Folklore: Interview with Goatman Author J. Nathan Couch

Goatman researcher J. Nathan Couch talks about the strange legends and chilling encounters with the strangest creature roaming the backwoods of America.
Goatman author J. Nathan Couch
Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? author J. Nathan Couch. Photo by John Ehlke.

A few years ago when Cult of Weird contributor J. Nathan Couch announced the subject of his second book was going to be the bizarre and elusive Goatman, I had no idea how many states across the US had a campfire legend about the menacing creature. It was not a story limited solely to the weird back roads of Wisconsin.

According to a frenzy of recent sightings in three states, it seems there could even be a goatman lurking in the woods near you. But what, exactly, is this reclusive cryptid with an insatiable murderous appetite for young lovers and wayward travelers?

Well, it’s stranger than any of the other beasts roaming the forests of North America, and according to Couch, this legend has actually killed some people.

Cult of Weird: What prompted you to begin researching goatman legends?

J. Nathan Couch: I was initially attracted to it because of just how strange it is. Even compared to subjects like Bigfoot sightings, ghostly manifestations, and alien abductions, it’s exceedingly bizarre. The idea of something resembling a mythological Greek satyr running around the outskirts of Midwestern American civilization is mind boggling. What really prompted me to research the subject in great detail was when I interviewed a gentleman from West Bend, Wisconsin, named Jason Miller. Several years back, Miller was bow hunting for Deer in early autumn, when he saw, heard, even smelled a creature he described as Goatman near the little town of Kewaskum, Wisconsin.

The idea that even one human being had encountered such an entity made me immediately want to know everything there was to know on the subject. I quickly realized that similar legends and sightings were occurring all over the country, and had been since the 1800s. Since Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? has been published, even more legends and sightings have been brought to my attention.

Where are some of the significant legends around the US?

The three locations around the United States with the most famous Goatman legends or sightings is Bowie, Maryland just outside of Washington, D.C., Louisville, Kentucky, and Fort Worth, Texas. All are unique and infamous for various reasons.

Bowie’s legend is the first one that drew national attention. Various stories about the creature skulking around houses and murdering household pets made newspapers all over America. It is also the version of the creature which is most often featured in pop culture. The Goatman of Bowie has been in films, comic books, and television shows.

Louisville’s monster is unique in that it supposedly uses supernatural powers to lure people to their deaths. It supposedly coaxes people out onto a deadly railroad trestle, causing them to be killed by trains. While the creature’s existence hasn’t been proven, several people have met their doom by venturing onto the enormous, deadly structure.

Trestle where the Pope Lick monster lives
The Pope Lick train trestle in Lousiville, Kentucky, home of the Pope Lick monster.

Fort Worth’s Goatman is unique in that literally dozens of people–at the same time–witnessed this creature as it tossed a car wheel some 500 feet down a ridge near Lake Worth. The screams of the creature even sent Fort Worth police cowering to their squad cars.

Of course, legends exist in many other states including Wisconsin, California, Michigan and several others. Many sightings even occur where there is no established history of a Goatman legend.

Cult of Weird headquarters is uniquely positioned between two prominent Wisconsin goatman legends. Tell me about those.

The first Wisconsin legend involves Hogsback Road, a treacherous road located near Holy Hill Basilica in Hubertus, Wisconsin. They say the creature debuted there in the 1870s by murdering a Civil War veteran who’d ventured off into the night looking for help when his wagon wheel splintered. The story is very folkloric, and probably not true, but sightings of the creature have been reported by very credible witnesses in recent years. Allegedly, the creature runs out in front of your car trying to run motorists off the road for an easy kill. Interestingly enough, most witnesses in this area do see the creature as it dashes into the path of their vehicle.

The second legend exists in Kewaskum, Wisconsin. Supposedly an abusive old drunk murdered his wife, but was ultimately killed by one of his goats as he continued his rampage. They say he returned as a goatlike apparition, and haunts the woods where he lived. This is the area where Jason Miller claims to have witnessed a goatlike biped.

Goatman road in Kewaskum, Wisconsin
S Mill Rd, also known as Goatman Road, in Kewaskum, Wisconsin.

When you conduct the Downtown West Bend [Wisconsin] Ghost Walks, people will often share their own experiences with you afterward. Has Goatman ever come up?

Once last year an older couple approached me after the rest of the tour patrons had left, and told me of a sighting that occurred at their home in Southern Kewaskum. The man was up early in the morning, rummaging around in his kitchen. He heard gunshots outside. He lived in a heavily wooded area and assumed it was his neighbors shooting at coyotes. He looked out his window expecting to see a pack of the animals running along the snow mobile trail in his backyard, but saw something completely unexpected. He saw a creature running extremely fast, and extremely well in very deep snow. It was bipedal, covered in shaggy grey-brown fur, and strangest of all, it’s head was shaped like a horse! It jumped a very high snowdrift and fled into the woods.

In your research, have you found any evidence that seems to support the stories?

I haven’t done a lot of field research. I’m more of a reclusive introvert sort of writer. But I do plan to change that soon. As soon as hunting season ends I’d like to get out in the Kettle Moraine Forest here in Wisconsin, and try and find physical evidence. A local investigation group by the name of WPI Hunts the Truth was recently sent a photograph of an enormous hoof print the size of a grown man’s hand, from Oak Creek near Milwaukee. Perhaps it’s the distorted print of a large deer, but it could be something else. The jury is still out.

Goatman hoof print found in Wisconsin
Goatman hoof print? Photo courtesy of WPI Hunts the Truth.

What do you believe is the likely origin of Goatman lore?

The legends of Goatman probably originated from sightings of a depression era vagabond named Charles “Goatman” McCarthy. He was an eccentric, bearded Christian preacher that roamed America for decades, pulled along in a rickety wagon by a team of Goats. In several cases, I’ve found that McCarthy visited various locations where Goatman monster legends would eventually exist. He was a celebrity during his day, with his travels regularly covered by the Associated Press. His travels attracted large groups of curiosity seekers. Stories of McCarthy could have mutated over the decades. As for what sort of creature eyewitnesses are allegedly seeing, given the creatures’ tendencies to display seemingly supernatural abilities, and their uncanny knack for avoiding human beings when they apparently live on the outskirts of suburbia, I’d say they have to be some sort of paranormal entity rather than flesh and blood.

Goatman book by J. Nathan Couch

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? is available on Amazon.

Follow J. Nathan Couch on his website at www.jnathancouch.com

How to Divine the Weather with a Wishbone

The belief that wishbones had some kind of mystical property dates back to the Etruscan civilization over two thousand years ago.
Using a wishbone to divine the weather

The wishbone, or furcula, has long been a source of superstition, dating back to the Etruscan civilization of ancient Italy. Observing geese migrating with the weather, they came to think of the goose as a visionary creature.

The furcula of a goose eaten in mid-November would be cleaned, dried, and observed for color change to divine the severity of the upcoming winter. The darker the bone turned, the worse the winter was going to be. When the Romans encountered the Etruscan people, they adopted some of these traditions, including rooster and goose-bone divination.

Over the course of hundreds of years, the practice evolved into the modern wishbone-breaking tradition we have today.

What the Colors of a Wishbone Mean

The colors of a dried wishbone were used to predict the harvest and the weather. If you want to divine the kind of winter we are going to have, this is what the colors were believed to mean:

  • Purple, blue or black: It is going to be a cold winter
  • Blue or dark all over: An extremely bad winter is on the way
  • White: It is going to be a mild winter
  • Blue branching out toward the edge of the bone: Open weather until New Year’s Day
  • Purple tips: Spring is going to be cold
Grave of Ed Gein in Plainfield, Wisconsin

Ed Gein Roadtrip: 6 Things to do in Plainfield

Take a roadtrip to Plainfield to walk in the footsteps of infamous Wisconsin murderer and grave robber Ed Gein.
Plainfield Cemetery
The Gein family buried in Plainfield Cemetery, surrounded by Ed’s victims.

Ed Gein was arrested in Plainfield, Wisconsin on the night of November 16th, 1957. While investigating the disappearance of local hardware store owner Bernice Worden, authorities uncovered a dark secret inside Gein’s dilapidated farmhouse. Besides Worden’s body, a trove of macabre artifacts were discovered amidst the garbage and clutter in the house. The town of Plainfield was horrified to learn that since his mother’s death in 1945, Ed had taken up a gruesome hobby: digging up fresh graves, exhuming bodies, and using the remains to craft various household items.

Related: Ed Gein’s cauldron featured on Deadly Possessions

The State Crime Lab removed a ghastly collection of evidence from the Gein home, including a chair upholstered in human skin, a belt made of nipples, numerous skulls and shrunken heads, a box of vulvas (salted for preservation) masks made from faces, and a suit made from the skin of a female torso. Ed later admitted to wearing the skin and masks, sometimes dancing around outside in the moonlight.

The details of Gein’s desperate acts have been captivating and nauseating the world for almost 60 years. While some Plainfield residents are comfortable sharing their own personal connections to the Gein legend, others seem frustrated with the inescapable reality that the tragedies their families suffered have made their quaint hometown the quintessential destination for dark tourists. Please be mindful of that when visiting these locations.

We visited in September to research and photograph the area. As the comments on my subsequent blog reveal…Plainfield residents are still pretty upset about Ed Gein.

This list of things to do in Plainfield is meant only as entertainment. If you do actually go, be sure to respect the history and obey the “no trespassing” signs.

Buy Antifreeze at Worden’s Hardware Store

Worden's Hardware store in Plainfield, WI
This building in downtown Plainfield is one of America’s most infamous crime scenes.

Bernice Worden went missing from her hardware store on opening day of deer hunting season, November 16th, 1957. Though Gein was known to give packages of “venison” to neighbors, he never hunted deer. He claimed he couldn’t handle the sight of blood. Instead, his target that day was Mrs. Worden, a woman whom his mother’s religious views lead him to believe was a sinner with a bad reputation. Early interviews revealed Gein’s belief that Worden’s fate was sealed, and he was merely the messenger.

After buying a jar of antifreeze, he then loaded a .22 caliber rifle from the store with a shell he had in his pocket. Though he has always contended it was an accident, the bullet found its way into Mrs. Worden’s head. The amount of blood found by investigators on the floor suggests Gein then cut her throat before dragging her body out to the back dock and loading it in the store’s delivery truck. He then returned the used rifle to the rack (with spent shell still in the bolt) grabbed the cash register, and drove off with the body.

Worden's Hardware store in Plainfield, Wisconsin
A modern photo of the building juxtaposed with a historical view of Worden’s hardware store as seen from Spee’s service station across the street, taken shortly after Gein’s arrest in 1957.

Though it has undergone some remodeling, the building is still a hardware store. It is located in downtown Plainfield near the historic Woodman Opera House.

Find the Site of Mary Hogan’s Tavern

The property where Mary Hogan's tavern once stood

Mary Hogan was the owner of Mary’s Tavern, located north of Plainfield near the town of Bancroft. Hogan was a large, bawdy woman whose crude demeanor earned her the nickname “Bloody Mary.” On the night of December 8th, 1954, after the bar closed, Gein shot Hogan with his .32 caliber Mauser pistol, loaded her body into his old Ford pickup truck, and took her back to the farm.

Her disappearance remained a mystery for years, until police recognized her head in a paper bag among the piles of macabre evidence recovered from Gein’s home after his arrest.

Though he was only tried for one murder (that of Bernice Worden) Gein also admitted to killing and dismembering Mary Hogan during his initial interrogation. The confession was ruled inadmissible, however, because the sheriff had slammed Gein’s head into the wall.

After Mary’s disappearance, the tavern was reopened by new owners, and then eventually converted into a residence. The building is gone now, but you can still find the driveway and the empty lot on the northeast corner of the intersection at Hwy D and Elm Rd. where Gein committed his first murder.

Commune with the Dead at Spiritland Cemetery

Spiritland Cemetery where Ed Gein used to rob graves

A few minutes north of Plainfield on Hwy D, near the town of Almond, is Spiritland Cemetery. Its name is derived from a man’s claim that he was able to communicate with the spirit of his wife there after she was buried. Gein robbed at least one grave here, and tampered with two others.

Many people have reported paranormal experiences there since, leading to the belief that Gein’s activities may have left the dead restless in Spiritland.

Explore Hancock Cemetery

Hancock Cemetery

Hancock Cemetery, just south of Plainfield on 4th Ave and not far from Gein’s farm, is another place he frequented to exhume the recently deceased. Interviews with psychiatric professionals in the months after his arrest indicated that Gein felt as though he had the power to resurrect the dead after his mother died. When locals saw headlights in the cemeteries in those days, they had no idea it was Gein attempting necromancy with disinterred remains.

Visit the Gein Farmstead

The property of Ed Gein in Plainfield, WI

In 1914, when Eddie was about 8 years old, the Gein family sold their grocery store in La Crosse and moved to the isolated farmstead outside of Plainfield. In statements following his arrest, Ed described hardship on the farm as they struggled to grow crops in the area’s sandy soil, a problem he said the locals were unwilling to help them with.

It was here that Gein’s psychosis developed and grew into a burgeoning madness, an obsessive and melancholic desperation through which he seldom saw clarity.

Loneliness, coupled with his mother’s oppressive religious indoctrination, drove Ed to commit extreme acts in the years after the rest of his family was gone. Whether freshly murdered or dug up, Ed brought his victims back to the farm where they became part of his macabre collection.

A day before the property and all of Gein’s possessions were to be auctioned off in March of 1958, a fire reduced the house to a smoldering pile of debris. The fire was never investigated, but rumors of the property being purchased and opened as a tourist attraction called The House of Horrors may have precipitated the event.

Upon his arrest, an extensive search of the property revealed no noticeable burials where he may have disposed of remains. It is likely, though, that somewhere beneath the surface of the bleak and overgrown property, some of Gein’s secrets may still be lurking.

Ed Gein's farm, where his house of horrors once stood
The entrance to the property where Ed Gein’s house once stood.

In the book Ed Gein: America’s Most Bizarre Murderer, judge Robert H. Gollmar, who tried Gein’s case in 1968, hints at the possibility of Gein being responsible for several other disappearances. Two hunters, Victor Travis and Ray Burgess, along with their car, vanished without a trace in 1951 after an evening at a Plainfield bar. The only evidence ever found was one man’s jacket and his dog, discovered in the woods near the Gein property. Gollmar speculates that Ed may have had something to do with it. When questioned, Gein said the men were killed by a neighbor, and he could lead them to the grave. For reasons unknown, he was never taken up on the offer. Just after the disappearance, a neighbor complained about a horrible stench coming from Ed’s garden.

Are the remains of two missing hunters and an entire automobile still waiting to be unearthed somewhere on Gein’s 160 acres?

The property was bought in the 1958 auction by Emden Schey. He tore down the outbuildings, planted trees, and sold off most of the land except the homestead site. Schey’s grandson Mike Fisher later inherited the property.

In 2006, a month before my first pilgrimage to Plainfield, Fisher attempted to sell the property by listing it on Ebay for $250,000 under the heading “Ed Geins Farm … The REAL deal!” Of course, Ebay removed it. I’m not sure when the property changed hands after that, but by the time I returned in 2012, the chain across the driveway with a sign that read “Fisher” was replaced by a plain metal gate.

See the Grave of Ed Gein in Plainfield Cemetery

The grave of Ed Gein and his family in Plainfield Cemetery

Following his death in the Mendota Mental Health Institute in 1984, Gein was buried in Plainfield Cemetery beside his family at 3am to avoid press. Directly in front of the Gein plot is that of a grave he had once robbed. It was, in fact, found to be empty when authorities dug it up during the investigation of Ed’s claims.

Since the theft of the headstone in 2000, his grave remains unmarked.

In 1962, the miscellaneous pieces of human remains collected from the house following Gein’s arrest, as well as bones discovered on the property by workers later in May of 1960, were buried in a cemetery plot purchased by the state. If the location of this burial was ever disclosed, I am not aware of it. As with the missing hunters, the death of Ed’s brother Henry, the unidentified man whom some believed helped Ed dig up graves, and other anomalies surrounding the Gein story…some things may have to remain a mystery.

Warpo Brings Krampus Plush Toy to Christmas

Krampus Plush! The new collectible Don’t Cuddle the Krampus line from Warpo combines 1980s monster toys with creepy German Christmas lore.
Krampus plush toy from Warpo
View the Kickstarter campaign right here.

Krampusnacht is just around the corner, which means St. Nicholas’ menacing counterpart Krampus will soon be stalking the streets in search of naughty children.

Related

To celebrate, the company that brought you Legends of Cthulu actions figures is resurrecting the glory of 1980s monster toys with a retro Krampus plush toy line called Don’t Cuddle the Krampus.

The adorable, plush Christmas devil is about 14″ tall in the sitting position! Included in the line are his three Naughty Kids: Headlock Harry, Gag Me Gloria, and Know-It-All Ned.

Krampus plush toy from Warpo

Krampus Kickstarter

The Don’t Cuddle the Krampus Kickstarter campaign has some pretty cool backer rewards, including stickers, t-shirts, coloring books, Christmas cards, gift wrap, Krampus Krunch cereal boxes…you can even get a plastic-molded piece of Krampus coal.

Unlike most Kickstarter campaigns I see, this one actually makes me want to go broke getting all of the Krampus accessories!

See more here: “Don’t Cuddle the Krampus” Retro 80’s Toy Line

Starbucks Christmas Cup Krampus Fun

Krampus holiday cups at Starbucks
Starbucks Christmas cups featuring Krampus via Grave Matters

Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

Edmund Fitzgerald: The Shipwreck that Never Gave Up Its Dead

It has been 40 years since the freighter Edmund Fitzgerald sank under mysterious conditions into the depths of Lake Superior. The remains of the crew have never been recovered.

40 years ago today, in her 17th year and 40th voyage, the ore freighter SS Edmund Fitzgerald sank in Lake Superior, taking with her all 29 members of the crew. Once the longest freighter on the Great Lakes at 729 feet, the ship was torn in half during a storm on November 10, 1975 and plunged into the black depths before the crew could escape or send out a distress signal.

What sank the Fitzgerald? One of the prevailing theories is that it was hit by a series of three consecutive rogue waves, a phenomenon called “three sisters,” which was reported by another nearby ship.

It sank 17 miles from Whitefish Point on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, an area that has claimed at least 240 ships.

The wreck was discovered using a side scan sonar and other equipment four days later at a depth of 530 feet. The remains of the crew were never recovered.

Launch of the Edmund Fitzgerald
More than 15,000 people attended the June 7, 1958 christening and launch of the Fitzgerald. The sight of the massive ship crashing into the water was so harrowing that one man died of a heart attack on the spot.

Lake Superior Never Gives Up Her Dead

Legend says that Lake Superior seldom gives up her dead. The average temperature of the lake is about 36 °F, cold enough to inhibit bacterial growth. Usually, bacteria will feed on a decaying body underwater and create gas, which causes the body to float back to the surface. In Lake Superior’s frigid temperatures, however, bodies tend to sink and never resurface.

One of the men was found for the first time in a landmark 1994 expedition. The remains were discovered outside the wreck, near the bow, “fully clothed, wearing an orange life jacket, and lying face down in the sediment.”

A number of memorials are held annually on November 10 to commemorate the lives lost on the Fitzgerald and the Great Lakes. Artifacts from the ship can be seen on display the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point near Paradise, Michigan, as well as the Dossin Great Lakes Museum in Detroit, and the Steamship Valley Camp museum in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan.

Edmund Fitzgerald shipwreck