Marco Polo’s Travels & Cryptid Encounters

The Venetian merchant, explorer, and author Marco Polo (1254–1324) traveled the world and recorded many strange things he encountered along the way in his writings. Maybe the most notable strange encounter that Polo had in his travels occurred in Asia when he saw the Great Serpents of Karazan. The enormous snakes were ten paces, or 25 feet in length and 10 spans, or 7.5 feet in girth.

Did Polo witness some sort of prehistoric creature that had survived into his day? Especially in light of the Chinese legends of dragons, this thought may be worthy of consideration. Dragon legends exist not only in Asia, but all over the world; could dragons be some sort of dinosaur that has survived extinction? Hard evidence is lacking, but there is a great deal of anecdotal evidence to draw from. Consider this strange creature resembling a dinosaur that is found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia. Angkor Wat was built in the 12th century—not long before Marco Polo’s travels:

Consider, also, some of the Chinese legends:

  • Supposedly (though I have been unable to find the original source), a Chinese law book dated 1611 BCE mentions a “Royal Dragon Feeder” whose duties included throwing food into sacred ponds.
  • Legend holds that the Yellow Emperor traveled about in a chariot pulled by 6 dragons.
  • There are claims that a Song Dynasty emperor raised dragons on his complex to pull carts in parades.

The word dinosaur, which means “terrible lizard,” wasn’t coined until the 1840s. Until then, “terrible lizards” were simply known as dragons—at least according to some cryptozoologists who believe some dinosaurs may have survived extinction and possibly made it into the present day.

Even among the mainstream, it is widely believed that dinosaur fossils may have given rise to dragon myths.


Polo claimed to encounter many other strange things including giants on the Island of Zanzibar; in a region he visited, he claimed to see men with tails; in several places, Polo gave accounts of unicorns. He also wrote of a gigantic bird with a 30-pace (75-foot) wingspan. This is similar to the “Roc” in North America—better known as a Thunderbird.

Unrelated cultures spanning the globe have legends of these massive birds. Why?

  • Are they something that was witnessed first-hand?
  • Did fossils give rise to the stories?
  • Could there be a hazy memory handed down of ancient megafauna that died out at the end of the last ice age?

What should we think of Marco Polo’s accounts? While it is entirely possible that Marco Polo may have simply been telling tall tales in his writings, could there be at least a grain of truth behind some of the stories?

Haunted Headquarters

Driving on US Route 340 from Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, as soon as you cross the Potomac River and enter Maryland, at the first exit after the bridge, there is a sign for the John Brown Raid Headquarters. Also known as the Kennedy Farmhouse, this restored and preserved log cabin—about five miles from Harpers Ferry—is where John Brown planned his daring raid on the federal arsenal housed in (at the time) Harpers Ferry, Virginia.

Brown arrived in Maryland in 1859 and rented the property for about three months under the name of Isaac Smith. He and his raiding party stayed at the home and slept in the attic.

The Kennedy Farmhouse, also known the John Brown Raid Headquarters. Photo taken by author.

The cabin is haunted; people have heard footsteps pacing the floor in the cabin. There are also reports of groups of people walking up the steps; sounds of talking, snoring, and breathing have also been reported. Most likely, the strange activity is probably some form of “residual haunting.” To be clear, I do not consider myself to be any type of authority on ghosts or hauntings. But, with that being said, I believe I understand the phenomenon—at least to a degree. I would define a residual haunting as an event that continues to repeat itself, almost like a movie playing over and over or a song on a loop. Residual hauntings can be unsettling; witnesses often hear footsteps, voices, and observe doors closing on their own. Unlike “intelligent hauntings,” though, the phenomenon involved in residual hauntings does not interact with the living; instead, it “sticks to the script,” so to speak. It almost reminds me of an actor performing right on cue.

Imagine having around 20 people crammed into the tiny house for months; they were unable to leave during daylight hours to avoid suspicion; all of this while planning a violent attack on the federal government—a plan considered suicide by Frederick Douglas, who Brown tried to recruit—perhaps all of the energy concentrated in the cabin preparing for the raid left some sort of signature still active to this day. Who knows? What is known, though, is that John Brown left an impression in the history books and in the very fabric of the tristate area.

The Gatlinburg Witch

On a recent trip to the Smoky Mountains, I spent a couple of nights in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. I’m very familiar with the area as I have vacationed there many times; on this trip, though, I learned a little bit of the town’s obscure and dark history.

The Smoky Mountains and Gatlinburg are a Mecca for tourists. Only Las Vegas tops the Gatlinburg area in the number of weddings performed each year. In fact, my wife and I were married in Gatlinburg a little over a decade ago. Walking down the streets, or worse, trying to drive through town, it’s hard to imagine a time when Gatlinburg was a sleepy logging town. However, Gatlinburg was once a quiet little logging community known as White Oak Flats. There are some dark tales—and of course, ghosts—from back in this time, perhaps the most chilling is that of the Gatlinburg Witch.

The ghost of the Gatlinburg Witch has been spotted many times—and is still thought to be seen from time to time—in and around Gatlinburg, particularly near the White Oak Flats Cemetery.

The Gatlinburg Witch is described as a woman in her mid-20s to mid-30s with blonde hair and a light complexion. She wears a black cloak made from feathers with the hood pulled over her head. Some have claimed to see her carrying a stone knife.

The Gatlinburg Witch is said to be a “nesting witch.” A nesting witch cuts their own flesh and a creature then incubates inside the wound. In the case of the Gatlinburg Witch, birds grow inside of her until she cuts herself and they fly out of the wound. Some believe she controls the birds of the area. The following letter was written by Samuel Brown, an area resident, in the early-1800s. Brown was turkey hunting when he encountered the witch:

Dear Jeremiah,

It seems I owe your father an apology. When he came back from the Smokies muttering those tales about a horrible witch, I calld him mad. Yet here I stand, haunted by that same witch that he spake of all those years ago.

White Oak Flats is a small town my friend, and we all must pich in so it may survive. I was out huntin in the mountains around town when I saw the witch. I was tracking a turkey, biggest I ever seen, when I suddinly stumbled upon a spring where a young maiden was bathein. She didnot seem to notice me, and I quikly hid myself behind a bush.

The maid had fair skin and her hair was the color of the sun. I am ashamed to admit my reasons for staying ther were lechrous, for she wore no furs or textiles. The turkey I was tracking sat on the edge of the spring, next to a cloak of black fethers that must belong to the girl.

She sat in the spring for some time and then finaly stood, and I beheld her glisening, bautyfull form. It shames me to admit how entransed I was, but I am but a man and before me was a goddess.

The maid waded to the edge where her cloak was and pulled a knife from the folds. Before my terrifide eyes, she traced the blade along her skin, cutting a smooth line across her left brest. The cut widened on it’s own and I could only watch in horrifide silence as a bird climbed out and flew into the sky.

She cut more openings across her body and from each emerjed a bird. When she had completed the grizzly ritual, the woman, who I was sertain must be a witch, lay back in the spring and let her blood pore out and stain the waters red. She began to hum and had a peacefull look on her face.

I could stand it no more and I forgot about the turkey and ran. I ran all the way back to town. I prayed that what I had seen was a falshood or some madness brought by exostion, but alas it was not.

For there she is on the edge of the forest, wrapped in her fetherd cloak and masked in a bird’s skull, keeping silent vijil on me. And evry bird in the sky and on trees looks at me, and I know that soon they shall come for me.

Farewell, my old friend. I fear this may be the last leter I ever write.



When I went to the White Oak Flats Cemetery on my trip to the Smokies, I did not see any sign of the witch, although we did have some ghostly encounters in the creepy cemetery. However, a local tour guide was recently sent a picture of what looked to be the apparition of a woman wearing a black cloak just below the cemetery. There has also been a rash of “scratchings” of ghost hunters in the area. Several people have suffered deep scratches—in a pattern that looked as if it came from a large bird—in the same area that the photograph was taken.

The Altamaha-ha

The Altamaha-ha is a legendary cryptid from southern Georgia and northern Florida. The following is an excerpt from my book People are Seeing Something:

The Altamaha-ha

The marshy, briny waters of southern Georgia are home to an unusual creature known as the Altamaha-ha. The monster takes its name from the Altamaha River, which is the third largest contributor of fresh water to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast. The Altamaha’s watershed contains 14,000 square miles, and the Altamaha River basin drains almost one quarter of the state of Georgia.1

With its many swamps, creeks, rivers, abandoned rice fields, and brackish marshes, the Altamaha River Basin provides an extraordinarily rich habitat for a large cryptid. In addition, the Altamaha River with its marshes and swamps are very secluded and undisturbed. The broad river’s low-lying banks make it extremely inaccessible to people, giving a cryptid seclusion from human contact as swims through the murky waters.

The Altamaha-ha has been sighted in both Georgia and northern Florida not only for decades, but also for centuries. The Tama Indians, indigenous to the area, were the first known people to tell stories of the great beast. The Tama spoke of a large water serpent that hissed and bellowed.2

According to eyewitness accounts; the Altamaha-ha is a creature with 2-3 humps and grayish-brown skin. It has a very long neck and a small head, and is said to move by means of vertical undulations. Size estimates range from 10-25 feet in length, and the creature is said to be about a foot in diameter.3

Sightings in Georgia

The Altamaha-ha is normally spotted in the creeks and rivers that divide the many marshes of the Altamaha basin. Most documented sightings of the Altamaha-ha seem to have occurred after the late 1960s,4 although there are a few notable instances dating further back. As far back as the 1920s, loggers on the river had an encounter with a creature that matches Altamaha-ha descriptions. A Boy Scout troop was rumored to have seen the strange creature in the 1940s. Two officials from the Reidsville State Prison are said to have spotted the creature in the 1950s.5

Donny Manning and his brother were fishing for catfish from a houseboat on the Altamaha River in July of either 1969 or 1970, when they had an incredible encounter with the Altamaha-ha. After already catching several catfish, something took Manning’s hook. This time however, the line ran much further than normal. Whatever it was that took the bait came out of the water, and was an estimated 10-12 feet in length. Manning’s first thought was that he had hooked a sturgeon. However, this was no sturgeon; it had a snout similar to that of a duck-billed platypus. The creature had a tail, but not a vertical tail like a fish. Instead, its tail was horizontal. It also had a spiny, bony, triangular shaped ridge running along its back. The creature was gray with a yellowish-white color underneath. Manning said that the animal moved in a vertical, up and down motion rather than moving side-to-side. According to Manning, the creature snapped his line—40-pound test on a salt-water rig. Manning estimated the creature to have weighed a minimum of 75 pounds.6

Did Manning and his brother hook into the legendary Altamaha-ha while cat fishing on a July night? Or is this tale just that—a story, albeit probably one of the most imaginative fish stories ever told? The Manning brothers are not the only pair of fisherman to have had a chance meeting with the Altamaha-ha. In December of 1980 two men fishing for eels had an encounter with the beast. Larry Gwin and Steve Wilson saw a snake-like creature while fishing in Smith Lake. Whatever they saw was 15-20 feet long and as big around as “a man’s body.” It had two brownish humps that were approximately five feet apart. According to Gwin and Wilson, the creature submerged, creating a disturbance on the water and was not seen again.7

In a May 26, 1988 article for the Darien News titled, “Eel-like Sea Creature Makes Appearance Again,” Kathleen Russell reports on an account given by crab fisherman, Ralph DeWitt. DeWitt was aboard his fishing vessel in the mouth of the Carneghan River when he noticed what he thought might be trash wrapped around a crab buoy. He headed in the direction of the buoy for a closer look, and as he got within 40 feet of the object, it submerged. Suddenly, a blackish-brown cylindrical body, 12-18 inches in diameter and 18-20 feet long “arched up out of the water and followed the dive of the head into the water.” DeWitt backed out of the area, wondering if he had really seen what just happened. He then headed toward his crab traps, which were about 500 yards into the Carneghan River. DeWitt continued watching the area of the sighting while working his traps and sorting his catch. After about ten minutes, he saw the creature’s head rise to the surface again. DeWitt then decided to head toward the creature. He was able to get very close, within a couple of boat lengths. He said that the creature’s head leisurely dipped into the water, followed by the roll of the creature’s body as it dove into the river. He described the body as “sleek-looking,” and said that the creature had an eel-like head and tail.8

The Darien News reported another sighting in their January 14, 1993 issue. Scotty Rogers was driving across the Champney River Bridge on December 18, 1992, at 10:45 in the morning, when he saw a roiling in the water, similar to the disturbance that a school of fish makes. Suddenly, Rogers saw what reminded him a tractor-trailer tire’s inner tube. This was no inner tube however, as this was standing on end, about eight feet out of the water. Another part of the creature’s body surfaced, and Rogers estimated that its length was about 30 feet. Unfortunately, Rodgers did not get a glimpse of the animal’s head. He described its color as brownish-gray.9

The Champney River Bridge seems to be a hotspot for Altamaha-ha sightings. Tim Sanders claims to have seen a 20-25 foot long creature from the bridge in January 1983.10 Chip Croft, who owned the Two-Way Fish Camp, recounted a story told to him by two fishermen. The pair had their boat tied to a power pole by the old bridge while they fished. They noticed a large, snake-like creature swimming toward them. Croft said that he creature matched the color and length of other descriptions given of the Altamaha-ha. The animal swam alongside their boat, and then went onto shore, and slithered away into the brush. One of the fishermen was a minister, and he never publically spoke of the encounter for fear of doing damage to his reputation.11

Kathleen Russell, editor and publisher of the Darien News, claims to have seen the Altamaha-ha herself on a couple of occasions. She recalls, “I’ve seen him a couple of times. Once, a couple of years ago, in Doboy Sound, I saw a wake coming up the river, and there’s nothing that could make a wake like that.” Russell has a thick folder full of news reports, sightings, and letters regarding the creature.12 Russell, who has reported on the creature, seen the creature herself, and publishes a town’s newspaper where the creature is most often sighted, certainly seems to be a credible witness.

Sightings in Florida

Although Georgia is thought to be the home of the Altamaha-ha, northern Florida has a history of sightings matching Altamaha-ha descriptions. The Jacksonville area in particular has had its share of encounters. William E. Marden, writer for the Florida Times-Union, reported on several sightings in the February 19, 1989 issue. One sighting occurred on December 15, 1975, when Jacksonville Public Works foreman John Bomgardner, and his crew heard a snorting sound that caught their attention. Looking in the direction of the noise, the men saw a large, snake-like creature, 50-100 feet out in the water. Bomgardner described the creature as being about a foot in diameter and noticed that it had a flat tail. Whatever it was moved up and down “in sections.” The creature swam close to the crew and snorted. Bomgardner claims the animal was so close that he could see the spray from the animal’s nostrils. The creature was very dark, so dark that neither Bomgardner, nor any of the crewmembers could see its eyes.13

Marden’s article mentions an April 1978 sighting, in which Kelly Parrish saw a creature in the Intracoastal Waterway north of Crescent Beach Bridge. The animal that Parrish saw was apparently feeding; it was going underwater and coming back up with what looked like grass or kelp. Parrish described what he saw as looking like a huge snake, with an undulating body. He described the top of the creature’s body as having things on it, similar to an alligator’s tail. The animal was an estimated 30 feet in length, and it made distinctive “blowing” sounds. In fact, it was the sound of the creature blowing that first alerted Parrish to its presence. He claims to have heard it blow and when he looked in its direction, he saw a “snaky-looking thing.” Parrish claims that his fishing partner saw the creature surface at least five different times. Whatever it was that Parrish saw that day, he seems convinced of its identity. Parrish says, “It was a sea serpent.” Parrish goes on to say that he doesn’t care who believes him. “I know what I saw, and that’s all that’s important to me.”14

The article that Marden penned also mentions a mass sighting. In July of 1978, 20-30 people are said to have seen a large, black, snake-like creature with “a head the size of a basketball” about 50 feet from shore at Stockton Park. The creature appeared to be feeding.15 Mass sightings are particularly interesting, as groups of people often unacquainted with one another, report seeing the same thing. In my opinion, mass sightings are important, as they tend to rule out the report being a hoax and go on to show that people are seeing something and whatever they are seeing is something real.

To read more…



  1. Christa S. Frangiamore, and Whit Gibbons. “Altamaha River.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. August 9, 2004. Accessed February 28, 2015.
  2. Georgia Mysteries.”The Legend of Altamaha-ha.” May 22, 2008. Accessed February 28, 2015.
  3. George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 15.
  4. Ann R. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha”” October 22, 1999. Accessed February 28, 2015.
  5. Georgia Mysteries, “The Legend of Altamaha-ha.”
  6. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 16.
  11. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  12. Curt Holman. “Stalking Altie: Does Georgia Have Its Own Loch Ness Monster?” Creative Loafing Atlanta. June 2, 2011. Accessed February 28, 2015.
  13. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.

A Would-be Water Monster

My son recently sent the following picture to me:

The picture is of an Atlantic Sturgeon, an endangered species. This fish washed up on a beach in front of the dorm where my son’s friend lives on the campus of Old Dominion University, located in Virginia’s Tidewater Region.

I’ve been thinking—such an unusual fish, if it were further decomposed, might have been mistaken for a sea monster! It brought to mind the story of the East River Monster.

The East River Monster

As strange as it may seem to have a history of monster sightings in New York’s Hudson River, it may be stranger yet that the East River, a tidal strait running right through New York City, has had a couple of hard-to-explain, ghastly-looking carcasses wash ashore in recent years.Unfortunately, the East River is well known for its polluted waters. The Seinfeld episode when Jerry is shocked and appalled to learn that Kramer has been swimming in the East River quickly comes to mind. Today however, the water is much cleaner than in previous decades, and is said to be safe for fishing. The East River, whose swift water currents have been known to push swimmers out to the ocean, runs directly through New York City separating Long Island and the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens from Manhattan and the Bronx.

A “Sea Monster” Washes Ashore

A strange carcass washed ashore, on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge in May of 2011. Nicknamed the “East River Monster,” the decomposing creature was a whopping seven feet in length. Maureen O’Connor, who blogs for the website Gawker, said, “It had the scales of a fish, body of a serpent, head of a pit bull and was the size of a large alligator.”1 Near Pier 17, a crowd gathered around the dead, prehistoric-looking monster, struggling to make out its identity.2 Pictures of the creature reveal little and yield few clues as to what the monster could be—at least to the casual observer.

Marine biologists were quick to provide an explanation for the East River Monster. According to the experts, the carcass was nothing more than that of an Atlantic sturgeon—one of the estimated 9,500 juvenile Atlantic sturgeons believed to inhabit the area. According to Kim Durham, a biologist for the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, New York, she and fellow biologists could immediately tell that the creature was a sturgeon. The carcass had bony plates all over its body; a dead giveaway in the identification of a sturgeon according to Durham.3

The East River Monster Returns

Another strange carcass was found on the banks of the East River in July of 2012. This time the carcass was stranger and even more ghastly. Instead of a decomposing seven foot sturgeon, this thing was much smaller, perhaps the size of a pig or dog.4

Denise Ginley spotted the rotting remains of the beast while walking along the East River with her boyfriend. She took pictures of the body with the camera on her mobile phone; but she decided to come back with her camera to get more pictures, and also to take them from closer range. Ginley sent her incredible photographs of the creature to the weblog, Gothamist, who published the pictures the following day.5

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Vickie Karp, was quick to respond to the rumors swirling around about a demonic creature that had washed ashore. Karp claimed that the Department had disposed of the animal, which was nothing more than a discarded cooked pig. Ginley however, did not buy the explanation provided by the Parks Department. She had this to say:

 “The Parks Department was probably very quick to identify it as a pig and dispose of it, but it is most certainly not a pig. The most obvious sign being the lack of a cloven hoof, instead this creature has five digits all close together. My best guess would be that this is some sort of raccoon or giant rodent. The missing upper jaw makes it very difficult to identify and the lack of distinct canine teeth on the lower jaw is confusing.”6

Perhaps the creature is a raccoon or some other small mammal. The animals’s paws are very similar to that of a raccoon. The paws of a raccoon look almost like a human’s hands, with tiny fingers. This creature’s paws appear to have the same characteristics. Others have speculated that a small dog could also serve as an explanation to the mystery.

Not everyone believes that animal is something that has been seen before. Speculation abounds, especially among conspiracy theorists, that the bizarre creature is some sort of genetic mutation—maybe even the outcome of a ghoulish experiment. Even more disturbing, it has been suggested that the creature could possibly related to the Montauk Monster.



  1. “‘Sea Monster’ Discovered Beneath Brooklyn Bridge.” Fox News. May 26, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2015.
  2. Joe Coscarelli. “East River Monster Is a Seven-Foot Sturgeon.” Village Voice. May 23, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2015.
  3. Fox News, “‘Sea Monster’ Discovered Beneath Brooklyn Bridge.”
  4. Philip Caulfield. “Dead East River ‘Monster’ Confounds New Yorkers, Animal Experts .” New York Daily News. July 25, 2012. Accessed July 19, 2015.
  5. Caulfield, “Dead East River ‘Monster’ Confounds New Yorkers, Animal Experts.”
  6. Ibid.

50 Years Ago—Tragedy on the Ohio River

On this day, 50 years ago, 46 people plunged to their deaths in the icy waters of the Ohio River when the Silver Bridge collapsed. The bridge, which connected Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio, collapsed during evening rush-hour.

Marysville Journal-Tribune (Marysville, OH), 18 Dec 1967
Marysville Journal-Tribune (Marysville, OH), 18 Dec 1967

The event was preceded by a 13-month period of strange sightings of a winged humanoid dubbed the Mothman.

The Monster Hunt—What Happened?

Last week, I wrote a blog post chronicling a “monster hunt” that was scheduled for December 8, 1965. Students from a Frederick, Maryland community college were signed up to participate in a hunt for the Dwayyo—a strange, doglike creature.

Sketch of the Dwayyo by Ed Mull. The News (Frederick, MD), December 1, 1965.
The News (Frederick, MD) December 8, 1965

So, what happened? Was the Dwayyo killed or captured? Was it photographed? Did anyone even see it?

No. No. No. And no. The hunt never took place.

The hunt was scheduled for 5:00pm at Frederick County High School, but it turned out to be “a complete flop.” Apparently, the hunters did not show up. Whether it was out of fear or because students had too many classes scheduled, as one student suggested, is unclear.

The News (Frederick, MD), December 9, 1965.

52 Years Ago—A Monster Hunt

On this day, 1965, 50–100 students from a Frederick County, Maryland community college were signed-up to hunt the Dwayyo—a monster that had been spotted by numerous eyewitnesses and had the community on edge.

December 8, 1965. The News (Frederick, MD)