December 06, 2016

The Winsted Wild Man: A History of Connecticut's Hairy Humanoid

Before there was Bigfoot, there was the Wild Man. Like Bigfoot, he was large, hairy and often naked, and he lurked in the woods and lonely meadows, emerging only to terrorize and amaze those who witnessed his emergence into the civilized world.

One particularly famous Wild Man has haunted part of Connecticut for nearly a century. His name? The Winsted Wild Man.

Here is a timeline of his appearances:

August 28, 1891 - People riding a coach through Winsted, Connecticut see a large animal run across the highway and leap over a fence. It stands on two legs. The passengers think it may be a gorilla. The New York Times speculates it is a gorilla that escaped from a circus several years ago and was sited in nearby South Norfolk the previous winter. However, the Times also notes that some Winsted residents think it might be a wild man known to live in the area.

September 8, 1891 - A Mrs. Culver of Colebrook, a town near Winsted, frantically reports that the wild man/gorilla spent the night sleeping on her porch. Six police and many civilians search the area but nothing is found.

August 21, 1895 - Winsted Selectman Riley Smith is out picking berries with his dog in Colebrook when he sees the wild man emerge from a clump of bushes. The wild man, who yelled loudly as he ran past Smith, is described as "a large man, stark naked, and covered with hair all over his body." Both Smith and his dog were terrified and fled the area.

Winsted in 1877, from Wikipedia.

August 23, 1895 - Passengers on the coach through Winsted once again see the wild man on the isolated road between Winsted and Colebrook. The North Adams Transcript reports that the wild man may be one of several who were seen in the area several years earlier, and that farmers in the area believe the wild man is stealing their small livestock. The Transcript also notes that a large hunting party is being planned for Sunday, August 25.

August 25, 1895 - Two hundreds armed men search the area around Winsted and Colebrook for the wild man. They find a cave on the Beardsley Farm that contains fresh bones and one old shoe. Footprints of bare feet are found outside the cave, which was located about three miles from where Riley Smith encountered the wild man. The wild man himself is not seen. Some people suggest the wild man is really a local man known to be suffering from alcohol withdrawal, but the man doesn't meet the description of the person seen by Smith.

Also on the 25th, picnickers find a small isolated cabin and report it to the authorities, but it is revealed to be the home of Mort Pond, a known hermit.

A Medieval European image of a wild man.
 August 30, 1895 - According to The North Adams Transcript, two women vacationing from New York City report encountering the wild man while passing through Winsted. They claim it was clearly a gorilla, and had "large white teeth, black hair, a muscular form and is about 6 1/2 feet tall." The Transcript also reports that this is probably the same gorilla who menaced Norfolk the previous winter. The Norfolk gorilla was sealed inside a cave by local citizens who covered the entrance with chains, but it broke the chains and escaped. It was also impervious to being shot with bird shot.

September 3, 1895 - Mrs. Culver once again reports seeing the wild man, as does a Mr. E.L. Perkins. Mrs. Culver claims the wild man was clad in rags, had long black hair and a beard, and was about 45 years old. Once again hunters scour the area, and once again they come up empty-handed.


I got most of this material from Chad Arment's absolutely amazing book The Historical Bigfoot, which compiles hundreds of old newspaper articles about wild men, "gorillas", and other hairy humanoids. It's really interesting to read these old accounts from Connecticut. Some witnesses clearly think they're seeing a man, others think they're seeing a gorilla, and others are seeing something in between. What did these people really see, if anything?

Let's face it, the gorilla explanation is pretty ridiculous. I don't think a gorilla would survive a Connecticut winter, and the story about the gorilla breaking chains to escape from a cave sounds like pure fantasy to me. Arment's book contains dozens of newspaper articles from across the country claiming an escaped gorilla is menacing a particular small town. There just weren't that many gorillas in the United States in the 19th century, never mind escaped ones. Even if a gorilla did escape, it probably wouldn't be able to survive.

Some modern writers have speculated that the Winsted Wild Man was just a hoax created by Louis T. Stone, a Winsted newspaperman known for his tall tales. He did work for the local paper in 1895, but the first accounts appeared in 1891. Perhaps he just helped to shape the story, rather than creating the Wild Man from whole cloth?

Also, Louis Stone died in 1935, so how do we explain the Winsted Wild Man once again rearing his shaggy head in the 1970s?


July 24, 1972 - Wayne Hall, aged 19, and David Chapman, aged 18, are hanging out at Chapman's house near Crystal Lake when they hear a strange noise from outside. It is late at night, but in the murky light they see a large hairy humanoid who is about eight feet tall. The creature emerges from the woods and walks into a neighbor's barn. The two teens watch the creature roam around for about 45 minutes until it disappears back into the woods.

September 27, 1974 - Four teenagers parking in the woods near Rugg Brook Reservoir are terrified when they see a six-foot tall, 300-pound hairy creature walking near the reservoir. Winsted police officer George Corso is stopped by two of the teens while patrolling downtown, and he returns to the reservoir with one of the boys in his patrol car, who insists they keep the doors locked and the windows shut. Corso later described the boy as obviously agitated and believed he had seen something that scared him. At the reservoir the boy claims to see the creature again, but Corso is unable to see what the boy does. The next day the police investigate the area and find no sign of anything unusual.


That information is from David Philips's book Legendary Connecticut. Will the Winsted Wild Man appear again? Probably, but maybe not for another fifty or sixty years. Just like the satyrs and centaurs of the ancient world, I'm sure he's out there just beyond the fringes of town, hiding in the woods outside our consciousness, waiting to surprise us again.

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