Everyone has at least one strange belief, one unflinching investment in the unexplainable. For some, these beliefs come to define reality and their places within or without it. As a result, shadows loom larger – and in them mysteries grow. None can pull the trigger to the smoking gun that would prove the existence of that which they seek to expose. Because of this, many will endure skepticism to outright ridicule for their efforts. Still, the faith remains. 

But why? 

What experience, either internal or external, has fostered such resolve in the unbelievable? Larger still, what makes Ohio such a fertile ground for mystery?

I recently talked with North American Dogman Project founder Joedy Cook. As the name implies, Cook and those within the group investigate and track witness reports of wild dog-man hybrids. For all their efforts and pooled experience, they’ve produced little outside of rudimentary sketches and audio samples of inarticulate animal noises. Park rangers from multiple counties independently corroborated that the set of plaster footprints Cook forwarded to me belonged to common black bears. The scarcity or credibility has done nothing to diminish their convictions.

They are in good company with the likes of the Ohio-based Bigfoot Research Organization (BFRO). Founder Marc Dewerth has spent decades investigating Sasquatch sightings and compiling a growing witness database. Outside of the Pacific Northwest and the Florida Everglades, the heavily-wooded rural portions of Ohio boast the most reported amount of ongoing sightings, according to BFRO data. 

Whether what they saw was actually what they claim is secondary to the very real psychological changes such an experience can cause. When interviewed for past PressureLife story “Chasing Hairy,” alleged Bigfoot witness Paul Hayes spoke of unshakable trauma that resulted from his experience. He said of his woodland encounter, “When you have an experience like me, that good time is gone. You will never get that back. That’s something you get robbed of.”

All this to say nothing of the scores of local UFO witnesses compiled by the Mutual UFO Network and those on file amid the U.S. Government’s declassified Project Blue Book records. They include Geauga County’s Olden Moore, who would later claim he was interrogated and subsequently threatened by the CIA over his UFO report. He spoke of the encounter in Geauga Record at the time, saying “Most of the people I talked to seemed to think these objects are not made by man.” 

I don’t disbelieve any of them. It’s not my place to and how could I when I wasn’t there? For the same reason, I don’t believe any of them either. The same skepticism that challenges established beliefs is that which demands new ones prove theirs. For all the conviction shared throughout these groups, they’re still searching.  

They’re far from the first. Humankind has long stared into the darkness, conceptualizing the unknown into something the rest of the village can comprehend. So why have truth seekers, monster hunters, clairvoyants, and researchers spent centuries peering into the abyss without a single, unequivocal proof of theory? Because the horror is not in the shadows, it is the shadows.  

The advancement of society comes, in large part, from a procurement of resources and the spread and institution of one culture over a preexisting one. Rarely are these two pursuits done in a progressive and morally responsible manner, re: Manifest Destiny, The Trail of Tears, slavery at large, wars in general. The spiritual and psychological fallout can be felt by both the descendants of the victims and perpetrators for generations. As a result, hard, unflinching dark nights of the soul are less favorable than projecting that same darkness onto outward sources; better that the threat comes from without than within.

A fear of technology supplanting humanity and automation replacing manual workers was magnified during the advent of space travel and atomic energy. As a result, our subconscious fear manifested UFOs and alien pilots, beings of advanced technology and intellect coming to abduct all that we knew. For his part, the hairy tree-loving monster of the woodlands, Bigfoot, did not reach the heights of notoriety until the counterculture of the late ‘60s made environmentalism and deforestation an unavoidable talking point. Dogmen and Cook’s hunt for similar beasts represent latent masculinity’s search for a lost primal supremacy over increasingly progressive society structures that offer less place for the fringe survivalists that fill the NADP ranks. It’s much easier to transfer our fears and hatred on horrors like the fabled Kirtland Melonheads than to acknowledge the monsters many make of our own neighbors.

This is why that which lurks within the unknown is fluid and ever-changing. Whatever external monsters haunt us are reflections of the internal demons lurking within. Those among the BFRO, NADP, MUFON, and others are seers, immersing themselves into the void to bring shape from confusion. Their efforts are a success when not measured in tissue samples or video evidence but in keeping the flame of mystery alight. As long as they remain watchers along the parapets heralding the darkness without, we can take fleeting, if not misguided, solace that the same monsters are not already within our walls. 

What is it that you see in the dark?

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    Content Strategist, novelist and prolific roustabout who drinks entirely too much coffee. You can find him on Twitter @therealadamdodd