January 08, 2017

A Connecticut Ape Man; Or, Is Scooby Doo For Real?

Did you ever watch the Scooby Doo cartoons?

I used to watch them all the time when I was a kid. This was in the early 1970s, and each week Scooby Doo and the gang enacted the same basic story. First, they drove in their groovy van (the Mystery Machine) to some spooky location like an abandoned amusement park or creepy old hotel.

Next, someone told them the location was haunted. This was where the writers were allowed some creativity. The creatures haunting the location included a wide variety of ghosts (pirates, headless phantoms, armored knights, clowns, etc.) and other less categorizable monsters like ape men, a tar monster, and something called the Spooky Space Kook.

Spooky Space Kook!
After learning about the creature, Scooby Doo and his friends then encountered it. Hilarious hijinks ensued as they ran down corridors, hid in garbage cans, played tricks on the monster, etc.

Every episode ended the same way. The monster was unmasked as someone with a financial interest in scaring people. The Black Knight was really nerdy Mr. Wickles, who was stealing paintings from the museum. The Kooky Space Kook was really Henry Bascombe, who wanted to scare people living near an abandoned Air Force base so he could acquire the land for free and sell it back to the government. Whew! That's a complicated motive.

Spooky Space Kook unmasked!!
Scooby Doo once even encountered the ghost of Bigfoot, who was haunting a Vermont ski lodge. He was revealed to be old Mr. Crabtree, who ran an operation selling stolen cars. He dressed like Bigfoot's ghost to scare away anyone who might witness his criminal activity.

The ghost of Bigfoot...
... is really Mr. Crabtree!
After the villain was unmasked they'd always say something like "I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids!" as the police dragged them away. Hooray! Mystery solved and monster vanquished. 

At a certain point every kid who watches Scooby Doo catches on to the formula. The fun then becomes figuring out who the monster really is. But at some even later point it also becomes obvious that the show's formula is ludicrous. Dressing up like ghosts and monsters to scare people away from their property doesn't seem plausible. No one would actually try this in real life, would they?

Surprisingly, the answer is yes. Apparently someone did try it in Connecticut in1926. Here is a brief article from the April 3, 1926 issue of Oakland California's Tribune:

Ape Man Scare Said To Be Land Deal Plot

North Stonington, Conn., April 3. - Taugwank's "ape man" is a plain human being in fur coat and trousers. A game warden has come to that conclusion after a thorough search of the Horace D. Miner farm in Taugwank.

Further, he declared his belief that the man was attempting to frighten Muriel, 19, and Mildred Miner, 16, orphans, into selling the farm. The ape man has variously been reported by the girls and neighbors as a hairy creature of terrifying mien, that slipped along in the manner of an ape, and jumped about with considerable more agility than a human being. (quoted in Chad Arment's excellent book The Historical Bigfoot)

More information can be found in the April 2 edition of Biddeford, Maine's Biddeford Weekly Journal. The game warden was named George Denison, and he searched the 2,000 acres of the Miner farm.
The girls, whose father died a month ago, reported that a fear-inspiring figure, scarce human in appearance, lurked about the house, danced on the summit of a rock 300 feet from the door, and uttered cries like those of an infant. They professed to believe that an attempt was being made to force them to leave the place and sell the farm. They said that an offer had been made to their father to sell the estate during the year preceding his death.

The game warden said the object of his search was to settle once and for all the rumors that a “strange creature” had been seen in the swamp and woods of Taugwank.
... An aged caretaker, Frank Miller, who had been staying at the farm, resigned yesterday. Miller believed in ghosts and was terrified at the situation.

“Every time a wind blew with the wind or the coal shed door squeaked he persisted in saying it was a ghost,” the girl said. “When the strange creature was first seen, we told Miller it was a real ghost. He was so frightened that his teeth chattered and his knees knocked together.” (article quoted in full here)

Even more information can be found in an article in the Syracuse Herald on April 3. According to the Herald, the two Miner daughters were not scared. Instead they were heavily armed.

Loaded firearms await the ape-man masquerader and, according to Denison, that is why he has not been seen in the last few days.
"If that fellow goes out there again they are going to put the lead to him," was how he summed up matters after yesterday's visit to the farm. "I wouldn't try it again if I were he."
Neighbors of the Miner girls are standing with them, and there is many a loaded shotgun standing in readiness to do duty when Taugwank's terror next appears. (article quoted in full on Rense.com. FYI, site is full of conspiracy theories!)

So there you go. I was apparently wrong when I thought Scooby Doo plots were implausible. I wonder if there are other situations where this happened?

However, I am compelled to point out the following: I couldn't find evidence they ever unmasked the ape man as a particular greedy neighbor. I don't think the culprit was ever discovered. No one in 1926 Connecticut said "I would have gotten away with it if it weren't for you meddling kids."

If that's the case, how do we even know that this Connecticut ape-man was even really a fraud? Which is more implausible - someone dressing up as ape monster to scare teenagers off their family farm, or a random monster who appeared in the woods and then vanished? I leave that up to you.

Perhaps Bigfoot's ghost is still out there in the woods, waiting to be unmasked. Maybe it will be mean old Mr. Crabtree, or maybe it will be something even more frightening.


Unknown said...

Hi! I'm a folklorist, and I love your blog--I recommend it to my students all the time. I can't remember if you've covered this before or not, but this reminds me a lot of folk narratives in the UK that attribute certain ghost tales to criminals (usually smugglers) trying to keep people away from their sites of criminal activity--I've actually called these "Scooby Doo stories" when teaching! "Debunking stories" like this are actually an established genre of folklore, all over the world. The "cover story for criminals" is a common one, as is the "stupid yokels scare and/or hurt themselves over a fake ghost" (you discussed this one in a later post, IIRC). Then there's the even more meta version: someone dresses up as a ghost/devil to scare a simpleton, but joke's on them when a REAL ghost/devil shows up!

Peter Muise said...

Hi Catherine! Thanks for the comment. I am glad you enjoy the blog. It's a lot of fun to write.

I do love a good Scooby Doo story and will try to post more if I find them. There's a variant here, where two versions of the same story offer different explanations for the same strange phenomena, one mundane and one demonic. http://newenglandfolklore.blogspot.com/2011/09/lookin-for-love-but-finding-satan.html