Strange Pennsylvania Monsters by Michael Newton (Schiffer Publishing, Ltd., 2012) is the second book of this type that I’ve read and reviewed. It is considerably better than 2011’s Monsters of Pennsylvania by Patty Wilson which I reviewed here.
These local guidebooks to monster lore are commonly categorized by type of animal. Pennsylvania’s most famous cryptids are Bigfoot and the Thunderbird, but we have an array of weirdness.
Even though I, personally, find rather little value in these stories which can’t typically be confirmed and lack any worthwhile detail, I think it’s nice to have a comprehensive volume about the monster tales associated with certain areas with one caveat – THERE MUST BE REFERENCES. This was my major gripe with Wilson’s version to the point where it was almost useless.
Newton’s book has references although some are highly questionable such as personal accounts gained privately or through newspapers. In the section on giant snakes, the stories were not believable. The memories were old and, as we know, memories change tremendously with age into something that may not resemble the original situation at all. These types of stories read more like tall tales and skew the data set of anecdotes by suggesting there are many of these odd animals around and there must be something to it.
In contrast, the section on alien intruders (non-native species), was great if a bit of a stretch regarding the arguable tag of “monster”. My vote is that this category is important because people find out of place animals very weird and they are indicative of a social issue – a lack of responsibility for that dangerous pet that you can no longer take care of and release into the wild or importation of species.
There is also a strong chapter on extinct animals of PA.
Let’s just forget the idea of lake monsters. PA water monsters are lame and invented to drum up tourism. PA has no interesting lake monsters.
The thunderbirds supposedly favor the Black Forest of north central PA. As with driving through the New Jersey Pine Barrens with an eye cocked for the Jersey Devil, you can’t help but scan for big birds cruising above the dense trees of the forested mountains and valleys. Scale can be lost. Multiple witnesses were cited for some of these reports. I was also curious why many witnesses appeared to have multiple tales to tell. This was a bit unclear and suggests (perhaps erroneously) that they enjoyed the attention it brought them instead of actually witnessing a very rare event.
An important part of the book was the section on ape-like creatures. It’s a pretty decent review of sightings by decades that makes it impossible not to notice the huge increase in sightings in the 21st century. Are the animals proliferating now or is some other factor at play? I’d take the latter since Bigfoot is a big deal in the media since the 1970s.
Once again, I notice a problem with the anecdotes in that the location is unknown or wrong (which is noted) and in one case cites a nonexistent county in Pennsylvania (Natrona).
So, while the scholarship in this volume is better than the previous go at a PA monster catalog, it’s still not great but will be enjoyable for middle readers new to the cryptozoology scene of PA. I would have like a longer conclusion that tied the sightings into a context compared to other states. Overall, it is average, not bad.