June 11, 2023

Strange and Stranger: Some American Fairy Encounters

I had the day off today, and spent some time organizing my books. As I was moving my musty tomes around I picked up Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People by Janet Bord, something I haven't looked at in a few years. Published in 1997, Fairies gives a nice overview of fairy lore and encounters from around the world. 

Although much of the book deals with the Ireland and Great Britain, Bord does devote a chapter to fairies from other places. The chapter is evocatively titled "Dwarfs, mummies, and little green men: Little People around the world." Bord discusses some interesting fairy encounters from the United States in the chapter. Here are a few of my favorites, in increasing order of strangeness.  

STRANGE: In the 19th century, a young man in Snowhill, Maryland, was wooing a young woman who lived in the nearby town of Pocomoke. One night he discussed marriage with her, but they argued because she was not really keen on the idea. As he rode away from her house in his wagon, the man noticed something strange. A little man wearing a green plaid jacket and yellow necktie stood near the woods. The little man smiled but didn't speak, even when the young man tried to start a conversation. Unnerved, the young man whipped his horses and rode off. Even though the horses were galloping at a good speed, the little man in green ran after the wagon and caught up to it. He ran next to the wagon, smiling maniacally at the young man. The little man disappeared once the wagon left Pocomoke. The young man believed the strange occurrence was an omen, warning him away from the young woman. He stopped seeing her and eventually married someone else. 

STRANGER: In an undated encounter from the Morongo Valley of California, a man was driving his truck when a little green man ran into the road. He braked and came to a sudden stop. As he sat in the truck, trying to figure out what he had just seen, he heard a noise coming from underneath his truck. He got out and saw that the little green man was trying to remove a protective metal plate near the radiator. The man got back in his car, drove to a nearby friend's house, and wired the plate back in place. The next day he found the screws lying in the road where the little green man had removed them. 

STRANGEST: The weirdest story comes from Farmersville, Texas. In 1913, a boy named Silbie Latham and his two brothers were out cutting cotton when their dogs started barking wildly. The boys ran to see what was upsetting the dogs.

What they found was a little man about eighteen inches tall, and dark green in colour. He wasn't wearing any clothes, but his body looked like a rubber suit, including a hat that looked like a 'Mexican hat.' As the boys looked on, the dogs jumped on the little man and tore him to pieces. The boys saw that he had human-looking internal organs, and red blood. Afterwards, the dogs avoided the spot where the remains lay rotting in the sun, and they seemed frightened. Next day, when the boys went to the place again, there was nothing to be found, not even a bloodstain (Janet Bord, Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People (1997), p.71)

Many years later, in 1978, Silbie Latham told his story to a staff person at the Fort Worth Museum of Science and History. The staff person said that Latham clearly believed the story to be true, and rejected the staff person's suggestion that the little green man had just been a large frog. 

That's really an insane story, right? Things must be bigger and weirder down in Texas, because Bord does include a few stories from Massachusetts in the book, but they're not nearly as crazy as that one. For example, she discusses the Dover Demon, the infamous humanoid cryptid seen in Dover, Massachusetts on April 21 and April 22, 1977 by several teenagers. The first person to see the creature was Bill Baxter, age 17, who was driving down a wooded road with two friends. He saw a creature that looked like this:

That drawing is the actual one Bill made that night. He claimed he saw a creature about the size of a baby, with long spindly limbs and fingers that wrapped round the rocks. Its eyes glowed bright orange in the car headlights. His two friends did not see the creature, but three other teenagers did, including John Baxter, age 15, who was walking home from his girlfriend's house. Baxter drew the following picture:

The creature was dubbed "The Dover Demon" by cryptozoologist Loren Coleman, and the name stuck. The Dover Demon has become pretty famous, and is one of those creatures that has never really been pigeon-holed or satisfactorily categorized. Was it one of the Little People, as Janet Bord suggests? Was it an extraterrestrial creature of some kind? Or was it all just a hoax? There's no clear answer, and no one saw the Dover Demon again. 

Janet Bord includes a couple other encounters from Massachusetts, and unlike the Dover Demon they involve beings that are more obviously fairies. In the spring of 1974, teenaged Jane Woodruff was walking to high school in Lexington with a friend when they saw something - or rather someone - sitting in patch of weeds on the side of the road. It was a leprechaun.

'Did you see that?' we exclaimed in unison. Surprisingly enough, we both described the leprechaun the same way: green clothes, a long thin curved golden pipe between his lips and a flopped-over conical cap (Janet Bord, Fairies: Real Encounters with Little People (1997), p.73) 

A year later, Woodruff and a friend named Orin saw hundreds of small fairies dancing in a field of blue wildflowers in the town of Ashby. The fairies were only around 5 inches tall. Although the thought of encountering hundreds of fairies is a little unnerving - what if they swarm you? - Woodruff's stories are very gentle compared to the others.

In Fairies, Bord evaluates the many possible theories about what fairies might be. For example, some people think they are really extraterrestrials, some think they are the remnants of an earlier and smaller human race, and others theorize they could perhaps be the spirits of the dead. Bord reviews all the different theories, and concludes that there's really no strong evidence for any of them. And yet people still continue to encounter them, in stranger and stranger ways.