Monthly Archives: August 2015

Review: Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster by Lyle Blackburn

In Lizard Man: The True Story of the Bishopville Monster, Lyle Blackburn takes us along on an investigation into a cryptid from the swamps of South Carolina.

Blackburn previously explored the Fouke Monster in his excellent book The Beast of Boggy Creek. The author’s style and approach remain much the same in Lizard Man. Choosing an (arguably somewhat obscure) monster of North American folklore, he personally travels to the site of the original events. There, he tracks down surviving witnesses for interviews, visits significant locations, and basically does whatever legwork can reasonably be done so many years after the fact.

The era of the Lizard Man was a somewhat brief one, becoming an overnight cultural phenomenon, but not providing the depth or longevity of reports one might expect from the more famous members of the cryptozoology club. That’s not to say that the matter was unworthy of investigation, and in my view the result was actually a gem of a story. It’s not a long book, but it’s more or less the size it needed to be to tell the tale of the Lizard Man, at least as far as it can be known today. And, as it turns out, the popular interpretation of the creature that had been presented by armchair researchers and the media was not necessarily accurate, even by monster-hunting standards.

[Warning: Spoilers]

The author does attempt to draw conclusions about the nature of the beast based on the available witness reports. In a later chapter he covers other instances of “lizard men” in cryptozoology and popular culture in an attempt to draw comparisons. Blackburn slow-walks us to a conclusion that is probably more or less obvious to the experienced reader well before he finally gets there: the Lizard Man moniker is a misnomer, and the creature reported by witnesses is not particularly lizard-like at all.

In fact, in what is for me the highlight of the entire effort, the most well regarded Bishopville Monster reports turn out to have almost identical traits to other incidents commonly interpreted as encounters with a Sasquatch. Despite the “lizard” interpretation plastered all over the media and the public imagination of the day, in reality, virtually every credible witness described classic Bigfoot characteristics. This is seemingly significant in that unlike Sasquatch encounters by people already intent on finding the creature, and therefore arguably prone to see one whether it exists or not, the Lizard Man witnesses should have seen a man-lizard, or nothing at all. A fascinating result, and one that more than justifies the effort Blackburn puts into his investigation.

[End Spoilers]

The author’s writing style is easy and personable, and aside from a few minor typographical errors, the book is a pleasure to read. It’s a must for monster hunters, and is almost certainly the most definitive work available today on the Lizard Man of Bishopville.

Rating: 5/5

Review: Night Siege: The Hudson Valley UFO Sightings by Dr. J. Allen Hynek, Philip J. Imbrogno, and Bob Pratt

Night Siege documents a very large and unusually persistent unidentified flying object over the Hudson Valley region of the northeast United States in the 1970s and 80s. (The current version of the book is amended to include additional reports up through the mid 1990s.) Sightings of the object were investigated first hand by a small team of researchers, three of whom went on to produce this text based on their data and experiences.

The book is largely a walk-through of the most significant encounters with the UFO, presented chronologically as the events unfolded. It relies heavily on eyewitness testimony gathered first hand by the authors, including statements from police officers, scientists, engineers, and other members of the general public. Overall they do a good job of setting the scene, and creating a mildly suspenseful yet informative narrative. There is little in the way of any conclusion, although the authors clearly lean in the direction that the object does not appear to be a traditional man-made craft.

As is par for the course in the UFO arena, the Hudson Valley object left no apparent physical traces. Its reality cannot be proven in the scientific sense, and those of a permanently skeptical bent will not find any more irrefutable proof of the unearthly here than elsewhere. That said, I found Night Siege to be a fascinating entry, and an outstanding read as far as these cases go.

One of the foremost difficulties faced by anyone evaluating a sighting of something unusual in the sky (or for that matter, on the ground) is overcoming the problem of the credibility of the witness. Most encounters with the unknown involve only a small number of people, maybe one or two in any given incident. Even the most honest and well meaning individuals are human, and all humans are prone to accidental misinterpretation. Dreams, hallucinations, intoxications, and just being deceived by ones own eyes are all potential causes for concern. Just because someone thinks they’re seeing spaceships (or Sasquatches, the Loch Ness monster, etc.) doesn’t mean they really are. This is evidenced by the substantial number of UFOs that become IFOs (identified flying objects) upon further review and investigation. Hoaxers are far from the only threat to the research. Honest mistakes happen all the time, but it muddies the waters and makes it difficult to accept witness testimony of an extraordinary event at face value.

With that in mind, what really stood out about the Night Siege phenomenon was the raw volume of consistent and often simultaneous sightings. During some of the more notable incidents, the Taconic Parkway clogged with cars pulling over to view the UFO. Police phones were overwhelmed with calls and dozens of officers saw it. The UFO even famously hovered in restricted airspace over the Indian Point nuclear reactor. The authors estimate over 7000 people observed the same object or objects during the time period in question! And the numbers do not appear baseless, given the hundreds of reports compiled by the investigators, along with the corresponding police activity and media coverage.

These are, simply put, not events that can be casually dismissed as civilian or government aircraft, the planet Venus, street lights, or swamp gas. The witnesses were not drunk or dreaming. Whatever it was, it was big, it was unusual, and a lot of people saw it. It left so many witnesses that by the later chapters, the text almost begins to drag with the repetition of encounter after encounter. How many people need to see something before it becomes, in some sense or another, very much real?

We may only be able to speculate as to what the Hudson Valley UFO really was, but unlike other strange sights that only manifest in isolation, it’s hard to argue that something bizarre wasn’t hovering around the night skies over the north east. In my opinion, it makes for one of the most challenging UFO incidents from a skeptical perspective, and it is definitely some fascinating reading.

Rating: 5/5