On June 16, 1964, hell broke loose in Grafton, West Virginia, a sleepy town on the Tygart Valley River. Excitement here normally came by railroad rather than lurching out of the forest.
Though the Grafton Monster, or "Beast of Grafton," as it came to be called, left not so much as a footprint, folks still talk about encounters in hushed voices as night falls here where the Monongahela farm country meets the Allegheny foothills.
According to reports in The Grafton Sentinel, more than 20 calls came in from eye-witnesses during the middle of June alleging encounters with a beast that some described as nine feet tall with pale skin, nearly headless.
Within days the town had been plunged into full-on monster-hunting fever, which was mainly transmitted by teenagers, as one might expect.
"At approximately 10 p.m., it was reported that cars were almost bumper-to-bumper along the river drive, and a large number of cars were pulled off the road to permit joining in the area’s most popular event in recent years — 'monster' hunting," the newspaper reported.
Editors at the newspaper were dubious, although, according to Jonathan Moore, publisher of West Virginia Ghosts, a newspaper reporter at the Sentinel was among the first to encounter the beast. A 2017 by Kurt McCoy citing the Sentinel's coverage appears here.
"On June 16, 1964, just a little after 11 p.m., Robert Cockrell, a reporter from The Grafton Sentinel, saw the monster for the first time as he rounded a curve on his way home on Riverside Drive," Moore said.
"Though after a lengthy investigation during the following days, and with more reports coming in of monster sightings, no physical evidence of the monster was found."
What might the monster have been? An extraterrestrial visitor? An errant cow broke loose from a local farm? Editors at the Sentinel proposed the sighting "may have resulted from the fact that an individual pushing a handcart loaded high with boxes walked along Riverside drive on Tuesday night."
"In the half-light of late evening, this person and the loaded handcart apparently took on a weird shape for persons having just read the story of the Michigan 'monster,' a June 19 article in the newspaper proposed, referring to a similar encounter reported out of Michigan days before.
The reporter, Cockrell, later contacted author Gray Barker, who later popularized Mothman and claimed the Beast of Grafton might be an interstellar guest.
"In a letter to Cockrell, Barker explained that the monster could possibly be an alien visitor from another planet," Moore said.
"Others have said the monster could have been an interdimensional traveler — a monster that could come and go between our dimension and its own."
Ted Fauster, author of Cullen MacGregor's Last Hunt, a post-apocalyptic tale set after a nuclear fallout in the West Virginia mountains, was among the first authors to popularize the tale of the Grafton Monster and believes the tale deserves consideration.
"I believe very strongly in the possibility of crypto life out there. The Grafton monster is just another example. I think what we're seeing is some kind of unidentified intelligent wildlife that is smart enough to avoid complete detection, so we only glimpse parts of it, and in poor lighting," Fauster said.
"The topography of the state lends itself to remaining hidden. In my short story, Cullen Mcgregor's Last Hunt, the entire region is all that remains after nuclear fallout because of the rolling mountains and hills. The blasts simply couldn't penetrate."
Fauster's published work on West Virginia monsters appears to have inspired the developers of the post-apocalyptic role-playing video game Fallout 76.
During a June 10 press conference hosted by Bethesda Softworks, executive director Todd Howard confirmed that monsters featured in the game, scheduled to be released on November 14, 2018, were inspired by West Virginia folklore.
Excited gamers have since been combing the Web for clues regarding the Grafton beast and other West Virginia monsters. Redditor Anologous_Speak in a discussion regarding the new Fallout game cited Fauster's work published at West Virginia Explorer as source material for the game:
"Here's a link explaining what the monster is. As Todd said, the new monsters in Fallout 76 are inspired by the folklore monsters of West Virginia. A 7-9 foot tall beast with pale skin and almost no head. The Comic book we see in the Trailer is Titled 'The Beast of Grafton' and this thing is called 'The Grafton Monster,' so this is definitely the inspiration behind it."
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