Minotaur

Virginia Minotaur Runs Amok

The Driftless Region has me back at work, digging through dusty old books, yellowed newsletters, and obscure websites in search of information on the stranger Fortean topics, so I figured, in an attempt to be more outgoing with my work-in-progress, I’d share one with you. The following is an excerpt from the December 18th, 1868 Petersburgh [Virginia] Daily Index. To my knowledge this bizarre story was first unearthed by Jerome Clark, who, in my opinion, sets the golden standard for Fortean writing. He transcribed the story in his book Unnatural Phenomena: A Guide to the Bizarre Wonders of North America (2005). This may or may not end up being referenced in one of my many unfinished manuscripts.

Minotaur

“For the past few weeks visions of an alarming character have been seen in the neighboring forest, but more peculiarly in the copse adjacent to Mr. Brown’s barn and stable. At numbers of times has an immense figure been seen passing to and fro near the barn, with large horns and terrible claws, which it contracts to a sort of hoof, and has assaulted Mr. Brown, when he attempted after dark to feed his horses and stock, in such a manner and with such violence that he has been compelled to flee to his house for safety. The figure, to the best of Mr. Brown’s recollection, seemed about three times as large as a man in the front, and having a back converging from it’s neck, and shoulders horizontally to the distance of some six to eight feet, and supplied on each side with huge and tremendous arms. It is of a pale blueish [sic] color when first seen, but upon being irritated by the near approach of any person becomes a deadly white, and issues from its surface a small volume of smoke, accompanied by a sickening smell.

“The ghoul or unnatural and horrible animal or demon, has been seen as often as four times near Mr. Brown’s stable, and when seen it has lingered till its deadly effluvia has completely impregnated the atmosphere.”

The article continues, describing other witnesses reaction to this possibly fictitious, but thoroughly fascinating creature. This is part of one of many completely baffling incidents Clark collects from 49 out of 50 states. It’s highly recommended reading, if you can manage getting a copy of this out-of-print treasure.

Washington County Paranormal

All Things Come to an End

All beginnings have an end, but this knowledge does nothing to ease me in writing this message.

In 2011 I was in the process of finishing my first book, Washington County Paranormal, and I was in dire need of money to get the book published. I got a crazy idea and took a chance—I’d start a Ghost Walk in Downtown West Bend as a fundraiser. After a couple of initial hiccups, my tours started in late April of that year and it’s been a tremendous time. Needless to say, the tours were successful that year, and for each year thereafter.

Washington County Paranormal

Each and every tour was enriching to me as not only a Fortean author, but also as a paranormal enthusiast. I don’t think a single night went by when someone didn’t share fascinating, and often times, extremely personal, unexplainable encounters. That’s what makes this so difficult. But I might as well say it.

The Downtown West Bend Ghost Walk will not be returning in 2017. It isn’t because of lack of interest, oh no. I’ve been getting inquiries about tours all spring. If there’s one thing I’ve learned, Washington Countians are avid about their haunted history. No, the reason the tour is being discontinued, is what makes this message bittersweet, as opposed to simply sad.

Both my wife and I have been given some wonderful opportunities to enrich and challenge ourselves in the Driftless Region of Wisconsin (our new address will be roughly two a half hours from our current address in West Bend). Her career is moving ahead, and hopefully, I’ll actually be motivated to finish one of the numerous manuscripts that I’ve been neglecting for going on two years now. The only draw back is, it won’t be economically feasible to continue the tours.

But despite my lack of written output in recent years, I wouldn’t be calling myself an author were it not for the communities of Washington County. Everyone from Kewaskum on down to Germantown opened up and shared with me with paranormal experiences, and the urban folklore they’d grown up with. To everyone who supported my books and my tours, thank you.

I’d like to thank the Washington County Writer’s Club for their help in showing me what works in a manuscript, and what doesn’t. Despite the fact I haven’t attended a meeting in years, I’d of never been able to write readable manuscript without them.

I’d like to thank the History Center of Washington County for giving me the tools I needed to research my various projects. I can guarantee there wouldn’t have been a book nor a tour without the tools and support they gave me. It really, really stinks that Washington County politicians want to take their money away and send them out into the cold (as well as severely cut the budgets of all quality of life services in the county–parks, libraries, senior services, et al. I suppose a community’s history doesn’t matter if someone can save a taxpayer $20 a year on property taxes. If you appreciate your community’s history, please contact your county representative and tell them. Explain to them you WANT a museum and a historical society. Click here, before you lose your history.

This is starting to sound like a retirement speech, but it isn’t. This is not the end for me, far from it. Though I’ll be far away from the community that got me started down the path to Fortean writing, I feel rejuvenated, and excited about the future.

More books are coming. It made me smile to write that.

Farewell for now Washington County, may all your Eves be Hallowed.

The Thanksgiving Goatman Trend Debunked

So, unless you were completely offline for Thanksgiving weekend, you probably noticed that Goatman was all over the Internet, even becoming a top trend on Facebook and Twitter for the duration of the weekend. Within a few hours many of the articles about my favorite caprine cryptid were claiming that there was an outbreak of sightings in three different states! Not quite.

I followed this all VERY closely (hey, I had a 4 day weekend, and it’s rare Goaty gets this much publicity) so I can map this whole thing out for you with a good deal of accuracy.

The whole mess started when, for no apparent reason, MoviePilot.com posted an article on November 27th suggesting that someone should make a horror film based on the monster (oblivious to the fact that several have already been made). That article linked to a CultOfWeird.com article about my 2014 book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore, which stated that the creature has been historically seen in Kentucky, Texas, and Wisconsin.

By the time Uproxx.com posted about it on the morning of November 28th, various websites with little-to-no journalistic integrity had worded their MoviePilot.com plagiarisms to make it all sound as if a sudden outbreak of sightings had just occurred in three different states within a short amount of time, completely misrepresenting the situation. With each new article, the phrasing changed ever so slightly until it seemed as if a heard of man-goats were roaming America’s heartland! This is no slight against Uproxx, mind you. Their article was the best out of the whole bunch, and provided a nice snapshot of Goatman-mania as it swept the Internet.

Not a single article provided any information about these apparently fictitious sightings. No times, dates, locations, or witnesses. As best as I can tell, there has not been one new sighting. At least none that have been reported, anyways. The most recent sighting I’m aware of took place in September, 2014, and this photograph of a strange hoof print from Oak Creek, Wisconsin, was just sent to WPI Hunts the Truth.

Goatman hoof print
Strange hoof print located in Oak Creek

Of course, what truly caused all this trending was that MoviePilot.com introduced a new, strange concept to what I can only call the main stream, people whose only normal exposure to unexplainable phenomena is seeing a cardboard Bigfoot at a gas station beef jerky display. Most only shared the story because of how odd it was, or to mock the very idea of these legitimate, but puzzling encounters. None of them stopped to look and see if anything was actually happening. Please people, question everything. Don’t just assume something happened because you read a news story about it. Especially on the Internet.

But should any of you actually encounter Goatman. I’m right here waiting to hear from you.

Breaking News: Fortean Times likes Goatman

So i just discovered this week, rather by accident, that London’s famous magazine, the Fortean Times, gave my book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? a stellar two page review in their October, 2015 issue.

“Couch is no slouch… Goatman: Flesh or Folklore should become a template on how to investigate reports of cryptids, and every fortean should read it.”

This is no longer the current issue of Fortean Times, but digital copies are available to purchase all around the Internet.

Fortean Times October 2015 issue featuring Goatman
Fortean Times, October 2015

A Strange Hike Near Hartford, Wisconsin

Last Sunday I was hiking the Ice Age Trail near Hartford, when I found these peculiar marks on a tree limb. This area has a history of strange creature sightings ranging from Goatman, Bigfoot, and canine/bruin hybrids.

Strange markings in a tree along the Ice Age Trail.

The second photograph shows how high in the tree the markings are. There were no other strange markings on or near the tree. My hand barely reaches the first marking and I’m 5’8″. And before anyone asks, the critter on my tee shirt is Mr. T (Rex). He pittys the fool.

Me with my eyes closed, attempting to demonstrate scale.

Earlier in the day, a mile or two farther down the trail, I heard a repetitive tapping, it sounded like two large logs being slapped together, in a continuous, repeating pattern close to the trail, across a kettle, but I couldn’t find the source despite their being no leaves on the trees. After about two minutes the sound stopped and never returned. A peculiar day in the Kettle Moraine Forest!

The Next Book

I write books about monsters. I lead walking tours past, and occasionally into, locations said to be haunted. If someone calls me or the rest of the Paranormal Investigation and Research Society (PIRS), claiming a malevolent shadow person terrorizes the hallways of their home, I grab my gear and charge half-cocked into an unfamiliar and potentially dangerous situation. I do not write under any pseudonym. The name on the cover of this book you’re holding is who I am. To borrow a Jimi Hendrix lyric, “I wave my freak flag high.” I chose said lyric, because often a freak is exactly what some people think I am, in more conventional social circles. In a way, perhaps they’re right. After all, it takes a certain sort to do the things I do.

But no matter what sort of societal situation I’m in, be it a dinner party with the stuffiest of stuffed shirts, or a paranormal convention in a cheap hotel bar surrounded by my fellow Fortean enthusiasts I’m always asked the exact same question when they learn of my unconventional vocation—“have you ever had any paranormal experiences?”—and each and every time I struggle for an adequate answer.

That tidbit of information speaks volumes about my lifelong inability to prepare for even the most anticipated of chitchat, but it is the truth. I will stutter, and stammer, and then I will draw a complete and total blank. When this happens, I quickly blurt out something to the effect of “Oh, I’ve seen a shadow or two out of the corner of my eye, but nothing terribly dramatic.”

One of two things invariably will occur. Either the person will crush me with a groundswell of disinterest and wander away to find the crab dip, or they’ll enthusiastically tell me about some unexplainable episode from their own lives, ever so pleased to find out that a Fortean author and ghost hunter has somehow managed to lead such a thoroughly unremarkable life compared to their own.

After such occasions, I find myself lying in bed hours later, replaying the interaction in my head unceasingly. Because mere moments after such conversations conclude, my mind is flooded by a torrent of thrilling and unexplainable personal experiences. Then I get out of bed, unable to sleep, and in disgust, order pizza. Yes, I have problems. This new book will chronicle my various personal experiences, including but not limited to:

  • A pack of terrifying, and potentially spectral black dogs that chased my friends and I away from a haunted country lane in Cleveland, Georgia.
  • A Germantown, Wisconsin investigation where I captured an audio recording of a ghost chastising my fellow investigator for talking during an EVP session.
  • The large scratches I found on my shoulder after getting ill during a tour of Louisville’s Waverly Hills Sanatorium.
  • The time a sepia tone woman’s face materialized right in front of me in Mammoth Cave National Park.
  • Phantom footsteps following me in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. The site of the infamous John Brown insurrection that was meant to end slavery, but instead ended in slaughter.

I intend to post regular updates regarding my progress on this as yet unnamed book, both to keep you informed, and me motivated to continue my writing. Watch this blog, subscribe to my email list (the subscription box is to the left of this blog), or follow my Facebook Page

I’ve had many puzzling experiences that have left their mark on me. Some of which have actually showed up on camera. Now, back to work.

Scratches from a ghost during a tour of Waverly Hills Sanitorium
Scratches I seemingly received during a visit to Waverly Hills Sanitorium.

An Encounter with a Ghostly Hookman

In my latest book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? I make note of a peculiar link between American Goatman legends, and the Hookman urban legend. In most areas where high school students tell stories of the legendary half-man, half-goat creature, a different clique of students will often claim the area is haunted by a crazed killer with a hook for a hand! This own link is apparent right here in Washington County, Wisconsin, where I first began my Goatman research. Some 1970s high schoolers say Goatman lived in a particular dilapidated house on Hogsback Road, while others said that was were the Hookman hung his hat.

The Hookman, as portrayed on TV’s “Supernatural.”

While Goatman legends are an odd blend of urban legends and actual eyewitness sightings, Hookman is firmly established as a perennial Lover’s Lane urban legend. Where kids park to make out, you’ll hear stories of a crazy hook-handed killer lurking just beyond the treeline. I’d never heard from anyone who’d actually encountered Hookman, that is of course, until this past October when I received the following message from a reader here in Washington County, Wisconsin.

Back in the early 1980s we had an urban legend [on Hogsback Road] called the Hookman. Now deceased, his small cottage was at the end of a narrow gravel driveway thickly lined with trees on both sides. My friends and I were pretty freewheeling back then and loved to drive about with beer in the car. One night our friend Mark wanted to show off his new Buick so we bought a couple of six packs and the six of us decided to park the car by Hookman’s old cottage.

It was a blustery night with a full moon. Each time the wind would blow we’d lose the moonlight. We could hear the wind whistling through the trees even with window up. We were laughing and talking about nothing in particular when I heard a loud “screeee” noise scraping against the left rear window that I was sitting next to. In the light I could see a distinct 4 inch gouge in the window that was clearly visible in the moonlight. We all just totally freaked! Mark almost had an accident as his wheels spun in the gravel getting out of the place. A really strange thing about that gouge? It seemed to gradually fade out of the window the same way a scratch heals itself on someone’s arm. That was over 30 years ago and I believe it still affects me to this day.

An impressive, unsettling story! Has anyone else had an experience similar to this?

Goatman Hoof-Print Caught on Camera?

While writing Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? I quickly learned physical evidence of these strange, hoofed bipedal creatures is almost non-existent. No alleged hair samples, scat, or footprints of the animals have been collected, that I’m aware, unlike other anomalous creatures like Bigfoot. Because of this–and their strange ability to occasionally disappear in a blinding flash–I’ve always assumed they were more closely related to paranormal entities than some undiscovered animal.

Imagine my surprise when a local investigation group called WPI Hunts the Truth sent me the following photograph from an anonymous source in Oak Creek, Wisconsin!

Goatman hoof print in Oak Creek, Wisconsin

This photograph is impressive for various reasons. Notice how extremely large the print is– the size of a grown man’s hand. But more interesting is the back half of the print. It almost resembles an enormous human being’s heel. I’m at a loss to explain it. While it doesn’t prove a Goatman is wandering around Oak Creek, I can’t explain precisely what could have made such a puzzling impression in the autumn muck. Have any of you witnessed tracks like these before?

Ireland’s Mutant Centaur

Centaur in Ireland

While digging through musty old books and obscure Fortean journals researching my book Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? I came across many exceedingly peculiar sightings of “mythical” creatures. While searching for satyr sightings, I’d stumble across the occasional encounter with a centaur!

Centaurs were liminal beings from ancient Greek mythology that were most often depicted as horses with a human’s upper body sprouting from the withers. According to myth, these hybrid beings ultimately came into being when Apollo, the God of Music and Light, impregnated Stilbe of the nymphs—a race of feminine nature spirits. Twins were born. One named Lapithus, grew into a valiant warrior. The other, Centarus, was deformed and took to mating with mares in the countryside. The result of these unnatural copulations, were the centaurs, which would forever be at war with the descendants of Lapithus.

But despite this less-than-honorable origin, centaurs played dual roles in Greek myth. Their human/animal qualities led to them being depicted as fierce, and untamable, much like a force of nature, probably because of their relation to the nymphs. Contrarily though, given Apollo’s status as an intellectual deity, they just as often played the role of teacher in many tales. Perhaps the most famous centaur was Chiron, who taught many mortal boys art, music, and war. Among his students was Achilles, the famous hero who fought and slayed Hector during the Trojan War, as well as Jason, who quested with the Argonauts to retrieve the Golden Fleece.

Graham J. MacEwan’s work Mystery Animals of Britain and Ireland contains a description of a very peculiar sort of centaur. In the spring of 1966, John Farrell and Margaret Johnson were driving through the Irish countryside of County Louth, just outside the city of Drogheda, when they came upon an enormous quadruped blocking the road. It resembled a huge horse, except for its hairy, manlike face and grotesque bulging eyes. The creature blocked the road for a full two minutes, while Farrell and Johnson were paralyzed with horror. Eventually the thing vanished, allowing them make an escape.

I’d rather see a satyr. Somehow, that’s less freaky. Somehow.

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? a Critical Success

Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? by J. Nathan Couch

Though Thanksgiving already seems like a distant memory in the midst of this Arctic-like Wisconsin January, I believe I’d be remiss if I didn’t publicly state how thankful I am that Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? has thus far been a critical success.

I was a nervous wreck immediately following the publication of Goatman on October 07, 2014. My one previous full-length book Washington County Paranormal: A Wisconsin Legend Trip, while available both nationally and internationally, was of mostly local interest, and was read by individuals who likely viewed it through rose-tinted glasses, since they were likely reading about their respective home towns.  Goatman was my first attempt to write a book intended for a broader audience than one Southeastern Wisconsin county.

Goatman was also a vastly different topic then I’d ever attempted. This was no mere collection of ghost and monster stories to put into order. Instead it was a complex mess of folklore and Fortean phenomena that needed to be sorted out and made sense of. Needless to say, it was a huge relief when positive reviews began to trickle in.

Sean Whitley, director of the documentary Southern Fried Bigfoot commented that “this was a very entertaining read and an incredibly thorough look at one of America’s urban legends. Highly recommended.”

Michael A. Kleen, author of Haunting Illinois declares that “Goatman: Flesh or Folklore? is a solid and original work in a genre where substance and originality is increasingly difficult to find.”

Lyle Blackburn wrote in his Rue Morgue column, Monstro Bizarro that ” Couch’s writing is smooth and easy to read while maintaining a good balance between skepticism and open-mindedness. He goes where the research leads, allowing his conclusions to reflect only that which can be drawn from the evidence.”  He continued that Goatman is an “enjoyable read that provides new insight into these cases whether you’re interested in the cryptid aspect or simply monster folklore.”

Dr. Beachcombing’s Bizarre History Blog at Strange History claims, after a lot of thought provoking musing, that “one of the reasons that the book works so well is that the author is not just a Fortean, he is also a folklorist (by temperament if not by training). And a case like this is a wonderful example of where Fortean techniques come, unassisted, crashing to the ground: in a case like this the Fortean approach is, frankly, a blunt stone trying to open a can of beans. Folklore reminds us, instead, how humans create myths as spiders spin webs.”

Ken Gerhard, author of  Encounters of Flying Humanoids, declared “… Thoroughly enjoying this book at the moment. Extremely well researched and written. I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in mysterious and seriously weird creature accounts.”

John Rimmer of Magonia writes “[J. Nathan Couch] understands the liminal landscapes in which these creatures lurk, and knows that a suburban lot can hold as deep a terror as the remotest forest. This is a fascinating account of a search for mystery, a real search involving the author travelling to some of the weirdest spots in the US, not just clicking ‘search’ on a computer screen. This is Fortean writing at its finest, and recommended to all… ”

Monster Hunters author Tea Krulos writes “Couch does a good job of entertaining the [legends], but not endorsing them as them as fact. Because the idea of a half goat, half human stalking through the woods to head butt you is ridiculous…(wait a minute—do you hear that horrible bleating sound?)…or is it?”

And most recently, Loren Coleman, author of Mysterious America and the director of the International Cryptozoology Museum placed Goatman on his list of the Best Cryptozoology books of 2014, bestowing it with the title of “The Best Weird Cryptid Book of 2014.”

If you’ve read Goatman, and would like to offer your opinion, please consider leaving a review at your favorite website. Reviews (either negative or positive) would be appreciated at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com, or GoodReads.com.

Thanks everyone, for all the support, and I hope everyone reading this has a wonderful 2015.