How much do you know about the supernatural South?

Southland glowing lights and grinning men: three of the South’s monster legends


The South is an old place, rich in mystery and folklore. There are strange goings-on within its reaches that defy explanation. Stories of feral beasts and eerie lights have captivated Southerners for centuries.

Truth is, the South is overflowing with monsters, whether you believe in them or not.

The ruins of a plantation house at the Baynard Ruins in Hilton Head, SC.

The ruins of a plantation house at the Baynard Ruins in Hilton Head, SC

The Marfa Lights

When Spanish settlers first arrived in what would become Marfa, Texas, they looked off toward the night sky above the Chinati Mountains and witnessed the unexplainable. Orbs of light appeared from nowhere and danced in the darkness. Hundreds of years later, the Marfa Lights still beguile the curious.

Many have come up with theories as to what the Marfa Lights are. Some believe they’re spotlights from flying saucers.

Others believe they’re the spirits of Apache warriors who died in a cave of stolen gold. Another even says the lights are the spirits of Mexican hero Pancho Villa and his men who’ve been cursed to wander the land forever.

Cryptozoologist Rob Morphy,  a paranormal historian who studies hidden animals not yet recognized by science,  gave me his stance on the lights.

He said: “There was an expedition in 2008 that claimed that these lights were the result of car headlights and campfires. But the lights go back to before Europeans. I tend to believe that the Marfa Lights can probably be explained by a natural earth phenomenon.”

Rob is also the owner and co-founder of monster website Cryptopia.us.

A wil-o'-wisp, a similar phenomenon.

A wil-o’-wisp, a similar phenomenon.

According to The Field Guide to North American Monsters, the Marfa Lights are typically a vermillion color and roughly the size of a dodgeball, but they’ve been known to vary in those aspects as well as in speed and intensity. There is also extensive photographic and video evidence to attest to their existence.

The Lights have also been known to be helpful. Legend has it that a rancher was travelling in the Chinati Mountains when a blizzard set in, causing him to get lost. Cold and alone, the rancher knew the odds were against him. All of a sudden, the Lights appeared and led him to cave where he took shelter for the night. The next morning, he was able to find his way home without a hitch.

Pinto Canyon in the Chinati Mountains

Pinto Canyon in the Chinati Mountains

Sheepsquatch

Lurking in the backwoods hollers of Appalachia is a creature that is as absurd as its name. According to Cryptopia.us, Sheepsquatch is described as having the shape of a bear, from its head to its body. However, its eyes are set lower on its head. Its front paws are like the grasping hands of a raccoon, and its tail is long and hairless like an opossum.

Wooly, off-white fur blankets it, goat’s horns jut out of its head, and it reeks of sulfur. Think the Wampa from The Empire Strikes Back but on all fours.

The Wampa from Star Wars Episode V. Cryptopia did it first.

The Wampa from Star Wars Episode V. Cryptopia did it first!

Sheepsquatch has been seen throughout West Virginia and the Southwest corner of Virginia, are concentrated in West Virginia’s Boone County where an outbreak of sightings occurred in the 1990’s. In 1995 there was an attack by Sheepsquatch where it jumped out of a ditch and tore up the front of a couple’s car.  In 1999, two campers were chased out of their campsite by a creature matching the description of Sheepsquatch, and only broke off its pursuit when the campers crossed the tree line.

An illustration of Sheepsquatch done by Mr. Rob Morphy

An illustration of Sheepsquatch done by Rob Morphy

Sheepsquatch’s sulfuric odor brings up demonic associations. In fact, its description has some similarity with Medieval European legends of demons disguised in sheepskins. I asked Rob Morphy for his opinion.

“I think you have to be careful. I tend to lean toward the cryptozoological side of things.”

“But to keep an open mind, many of these phenomena like UFOs and Bigfoot have been associated with a sulfur smell. I believe that it’s simply a creature we’re not aware of yet.”

Sheepsquatch has also been sighted in the TNT Area near Point Pleasant, West Virginia, which was the center of the Mothman Affair back in the 1960’s. Of course, you never can talk about the unexplainable in the South without talking about Point Pleasant, the town tends to attract the unknown.

The southern portion of the Applachian Mountains, home of Sheepsquatch

The southern portion of the Applachian Mountains, home of Sheepsquatch

“Point Pleasant seems to be well beyond the pale, “ Rob said on the subject, “It may be a nexus of paranormal phenomenon, it’s rare, but it’s one of those places that on occasion can have an effect on the real world as we know it.”

The Grinning Man

Picture a side street in a small, rural town. It’s late, and the streetlight isn’t working. To your side, there’s a chain link fence which divides the sidewalk from an empty lot, by this fence you see a silhouette. You approach the figure, asking if they’re alright, asking if they needed help. It was probably someone you knew, everyone knows everyone here.

Kind of like this

Kind of like this

Just as you get within arm’s length, the figure turns around. It’s bald and towers above you. It’s wearing a green coverall that glimmers in the moonlight—but his face… oh God, his face! Its beady eyes are set disturbingly far apart above where its nose should be, and it stares down at you with a maddening, unflinching grin.

It reaches out to grab you, and you run for your life. You glance over your shoulder to see if it’s chasing you—but it was gone.

An illustration of the Grinning Man done by Mr. Rob Morphy

An illustration of the Grinning Man done by Mr. Rob Morphy

The Grinning Man is not exclusively Southern. According to Rob Morphy, “There’s reports of Grinning Men from around the world.” Nevertheless, the entities had an important part to play during the Mothman Affair in Point Pleasant, West Virginia back in the 1960’s. The events that unfolded there seem to imply that the entities we call Grinning Men may be extraterrestrials.

Rob remained skeptical.

“They’re so inexplicable, and there appearance is so horrifying, “ Rob said, “That it’s easy to believe that they’re from another world.”

The difference maker with the Point Pleasant encounters is that all but one of the entities in question had names, or at least pseudonyms. The most infamous being Indrid Cold. Mr. Cold first appeared when a resident, Woodrow Derenberger, was driving home one night and a strange vehicle landed in the middle of a road. A figure emerged from a door and approached Derenberger in his car, where Mr. Cold introduced himself telepathically.

“When extraterrestrials choose someone, it’s so random,” Rob said about the Point Pleasant case, “I can’t even begin to speculate what Indrid Cold saw in Woodrow Derenberger that made him want to contact him.”

Lewisburg, WV, a small mountain town like Point Pleasant.

Lewisburg, WV, a small mountain town like Point Pleasant.

Indrid Cold would stay in contact with Mr. Derenberger, eventually coming to his home with two other entities, Demo Hassan, and Karl Ardo. Derenberger’s wife was home at the time and witnessed the visitation. After this, the entities, Derenberger claimed, took him to their home world of Lanulos—lending more speculation to the Grinning Men’s as a form of extraterrestrial life.

While all this went on with Woodrow Derenberger, another Point Pleasant resident had a close encounter with a Grinning Man. Young Linda Lilly woke up in her room to find a presence looming over her. The figure of a tall man was standing near her window. It walked around the bed and leaned over her and stared. She screamed and pulled the covers over her head, and when she peeked out, the Grinning Man was gone.

A dated photo of myself by the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV

A dated photo of myself by the Mothman statue in Point Pleasant, WV

The Linda Lilly account, while different from the space traveling consortium of Woodrow Derenberger, is more consistent with the Grinning Men sighted s outside West Virginia who seem to delight in tormenting children.  This begs the question, are Indrid Cold and the Linda Lilly Grinning Man even the same species? If so, then what are their motivations?

“There’s no way to say that they’re the same species. They don’t seem malicious, rather, curious. They’re terrifying, but they seem to want to establish contact with humanity,” Rob Morphy told me.

Full of Mysteries

Whether or not you put stock into the mysteries I’ve covered here, you can’t deny that we don’t know everything about the world we live in. There are boundaries we’ve yet to cross and dark corners we’ve yet to explore.

“The world is vast and its mysteries are too numerous to chronicle. I think anyone who thinks we’ve uncovered everything is grossly naïve or gravely cynical.” Rob told me, “Yes, the world is absolutely full of mysteries.”

Will you cross over the bridge into the unknown?

Will you cross over the bridge into the unknown?