200 Years of Illinois: They Haunt By Night

metallic asparagusForget Halloween. August is the time for monster mashing in Illinois. One peruse of the state’s long history of monster sightings shows that warm summer nights bring the cryptids out of their otherworldly lairs to frighten rural folk and interrupt teenagers at leisure.

ITEM: The Tuttle Bottoms Monster first made headlines in August of 1963. For some time, the no-good youth of Harrisburg, Illinois had convened in a swampy area on the north side of town, there to commiserate and make out, to drink beer and disappoint their parents. Tuttle Bottoms, a scenic area along the Saline River, was still wooded enough to host a community of wild animals. One, perhaps, wilder than others. Here dwelt the Tuttle Bottoms Monster and the fact that everyone seemed to have a story about the creature failed to keep the teens away. Person A might tell you his cousin had seen mysterious tracks. Person B’s baby sitter spotted what looked like a pterodactyl. Other eyewitnesses described a furry creature that might’ve been a small bear or a large anteater or an ape. People occasionally reported sightings or even run-ins with the TBM over the years, though details remain sketchy.

gasser articleITEM: Preeminent in Illinois monster lore, the Mad Gasser of Mattoon—aka the Mattoon Gasser—made his (?) first visitation on August 31, 1944, causing a stink in the middle of a nation at war. The couple attacked that first night reported symptoms consistent with the events that followed. The husband felt sick. His wife, fearing gas from the stove, tried to get up but found herself paralyzed.

According to eyewitnesses, the Mad Gasser prowled about while clad in black. A subsequent incident at the house of Bert Kearney—Mrs. Kearney reported the gassy smell as sweet—fanned the mystery into a full-fledged panic complete with terrified citizens, baffled police officers, hysterical news headlines (“Anesthetic Prowler on Loose”), and patrolling vigilantes. By September 10, after many reports, the police dismissed the idea of a gasser, mad or otherwise, though seemingly sane witnesses, including a doctor and the Commissioner of Public Health, reported peculiar odors at the scene of the gassings. An incident on September 13 marked the Gasser’s last known appearance in Mattoon. The case was later held up as a classic example of mass hysteria.

ITEM: T’was the summer of 1970 when the Farmer City Monster made multiple appearances around the town that shares its name. Though not aggressive, the Monster had glowing eyes, and that sort of thing will stir up worry. Teens on a camp-out supposedly made the first report on July 9. Like the Tuttle Bottoms Monster, the Farmer City creature later troubled the Paradise by the Dashboard light happening at a remote lover’s lane. Teen involvement makes the entire matter ripe for dismissal, of course, but one of the subsequent eyewitnesses included a local police officer. Adults in or near Heyworth, Clinton, and Waynesville also chimed in. Once it passed through Waynesville, the monster vanished into legend.