I get a lot of press releases and review requests sent to my inbox on a regular basis. To be honest, most of them I barely skim (especially when publicists send 20 copies of the same email over a few weeks). But luckily, one recent message mentioned a name I’m quite familiar with: Linda Godfrey. I didn’t even need to know what it was about to say yes. For those of you who aren’t familiar with her work, Godfrey is the very person who gave the Beast of Bray Road its name; she’s a prolific author and journalist who has been collecting and researching tales of werewolves, “dogmen”, and other furry humanoid beasties in her home state of Wisconsin and beyond for more than two decades. Her newest book, Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America, is yet another glimpse into this topic.
While these creatures bear all the hallmarks of the “werewolves” from film and fiction, this book isn’t about high school shapeshifters or hunky natives battling glittery vampires. These beings, ranging from scrawny dog-sized bipeds to hulking two-legged humanoid wolves on steroids, are not generally seen changing form, but rather defending their territory or intimidating those foolish enough to wander into their habitat. With the exception of one account, none of the reported encounters involves any form of bodily injury (to a human, at least). Sightings range from hundreds of yards away to creepy nose-to-snout stare downs not so easily brushed off as mistaking some sleeping bear in a field for Bigfoot.
As any self-respecting journalist should, Godfrey scrutinizes report after report, interviewing witnesses and traveling to locations of reported sightings. You might think these people are publicity hounds looking for a little attention, yet many of the men and women involved were extremely reluctant to step forward and, those who have, often prefer remaining somewhat anonymous. There have been hikers, nurses, police officers, military base guards, and even medical students who claim that what they saw was not a bear or wolf. From an anatomical standpoint, the descriptions defy the notion that these were merely pranksters in costumes, either. In her effort to explore all options, Godfrey explores the history of wolfman reports, the many theories of what these witnesses encountered, and examines both similarities and differences between testimonies of individuals who had never met before contacting her.
While there are possible explanations for the creatures ranging from the mundane to Jungian ideas of a collective unconscious, many of the theories posed do require an extraordinary leap out of the accepted scientific view of the world. While most reports describe the beasts as flesh-and-blood living things, other witnesses describe characteristics which imply some sort of otherworldly—or supernatural—origin. This may make readers with a more skeptical perspective a bit uneasy, yet Godfrey avoids making judgment calls regarding the experiencers themselves. Her view is more of a thoughtful, pondering Charles Fort collecting all of the information she can and leaving the final answers open to discussion or debate.
Godfrey does, however, touch on the subject of hoaxes, pranksters, and outright liars. While she admits that it’s impossible for her to administer a lie-detector test to every single person, some of the photographs and stories over the years have obviously come from attention-seekers and bored teenagers. Surely, some tricksters have led to reported sightings—even at Bray Road—but even these cases of outright fraud can’t obliterate all the encounters with half-man, half-wolf things. It’s one thing to see a local portly politician in a bear suit wandering a field, but quite another when a tall hairy beast with backward-shaped dog legs passes only a few feet away from your car.
Regardless of your personal opinion of things that go bump (or growl) in the night, Real Wolfmen is a fascinating collection of testimonies from shaken, unnerved individuals who experienced something strange. It will leave you wondering exactly what might lurk in the forests and parks of the American Midwest. While eyewitness testimony and recollection of past events is generally viewed as suspect, the deer carcasses and footprints and damaged property leave tantalizing clues to yet-unexplained events from both the distant past and very recent times.
One thing is for certain: countless people across North America have encountered something with fur and yellow eyes walking on two legs—something definitely not human, not wolf—in different regions. What it is exactly is still open to debate. From 1930s close encounters of the hairy kind to intimidating run-ins with canine-like bipeds in recent years, Real Wolfmen is sure to fascinate (and intrigue) its readers. If you thought werewolves were the stuff of European folktales and Hollywood special effects, this book just might leave you asking yourself if those beliefs really are just fiction.
Real Wolfmen: True Encounters in Modern America, published by Tarcher/Penguin, goes on sale August 30, 2012, at booksellers everywhere. You can also check out Linda Godfrey’s other books, including The Beast of Bray Road: Tailing Wisconsin’s Werewolf, Strange Wisconsin, and Hunting the American Werewolf, or visit her website www.beastofbrayroad.com.