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  • Goatman: Flesh or Folklore November 26, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Actualite, Contemporary , trackback

    goatman flesh or folklore

    ***warning, Beach worked on a goat farm for six long months…***

    Let’s first of all get one thing out of the way. Goatman: Flesh or Folklore was brought out by CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. In other words, it is a privately published work. In 1990 this would have been a strong negative signal and old prejudices die hard (at least for this blogger). Things, though, have changed in the publishing industry. Small independent publishers no longer have the proud record that they once had: proof-reading, quality control have definitely collapsed, this is true even with some of the bigger houses. On the other hand, there are ever more excellent privately sponsored titles coming out. It is all very confusing. It would, in any case, be a shame not to buy Goatman on the grounds that the author published it himself. This is penitence of a sort as, for a week, Beach kept avoiding the book on his desk, feeling that it might be contaminated. It is as it happens well written, witty, and the author has two other things necessary to make a book like this work: a strong background in folklore/Forteana (they merge hopelessly in cases like this) and a sense of humour. The book could have done with one last proofread, but, as noted, above that could be said of many ‘prestige’ works.

    So what is Goatman about? Well, the author has stumbled on a score of cases from across the United States where a local community has recorded sightings of a Goatman. These Goatmen have certain things in common: they are hybrid human-goats (though there is actually a large variation in terms of appearance), they are often cruel to dogs, they are sometimes associated with bridges, they seem to bear particularly animus towards courting couples in cars, they often have a musky smell, they are frequently described as being sad, they have an unearthly bleat (is it just me or are Goatmen not particularly frightening?), and they can be traced back to the 1960s though not beyond. In many instances there are sightings. In some these sightings are second or third hand, in others though they are first-hand and the author has talked to witnesses who have come face to face with Goatman. There are perhaps two main problems here. The first is why should a series of American communities dream up such a weird bogey and all give it comparable characteristics and a similar name. The second is how is it possible that nice Americans, who drink diet Coke and watch the Superbowl, see Goatmen while driving down the lane to pick up the mail.

    The author nags away at the first problem and he comes up with one general conclusion (birth by newspaper) and one specific conclusion (an itinerant preacher). The specific conclusion was not particularly convincing (for Beach, anyway) but the general conclusion is and here we have a remarkable instance for folklorists and for those of us who spend too much time in newspaper archives. In fact, one of the reasons that the book works so well is that the author is not just a Fortean, he is also a folklorist (by temperament if not by training). And a case like this is a wonderful example of where Fortean techniques come, unassisted, crashing to the ground: in a case like this the Fortean approach is, frankly, a blunt stone trying to open a can of beans. Folklore reminds us, instead, how humans create myths as spiders spin webs. It is what we do. Forget homo sapiens, we are homo narrans (stole this from someone, btw, I just can’t remember who). As a Briton Beach does wonder why Americans do this so much more than Europeans. What is it about the American bush that coins freshly minted monsters, whereas in the rest of Europe we go to the top of a hill and talk about how our great grandparents saw fairies there? Most of Europe just doesn’t have that Twin Peaks vibe going: perhaps it is the difference between country and wilderness, unabsorbed, unknowable acres?

    The second question: how is it that nice Americans see Goatman, is more worrying, in fact, it is terrifying. Here it is folklore’s turn to be the blunt tool that cannot open a tin of bean: folklorists usually answer that these problems are ‘above their pay grade’ and look sheepish. The Fortean approach might not offer a very sophisticated alternative (Charles Fort didn’t found a philosophy, he founded an attitude), but by insisting on open minds it does at least allow us to ask the question that is more than folklorists ever would (at least in public). Here Beach would just make a few observations as part of the impossible struggle to understand what in God’s name is going on. First, people have been seeing impossible things since the beginning of recorded history, and they continue to do so to this day. There is continuity. Second, a crucial point is not just what people see but who sees: it would be interesting to know a great deal about these first-hand witnesses rather than just age and occupation. A fundamental question is, for example, whether they regularly see ‘the paranormal’. Third, impossible things seem to be seen according to expectations. So if you saw a ghost in 1500 you heard clanking chains. If you see a ghost today you won’t. If you see a fairy in 2000 it will have wings, if you saw a fairy in 1900 it didn’t. It is right and proper, then, that communities that have Goatmen will see Goatmen. In the end we are faced with three alternatives. It is all in your head. It is out there. It is in your head and out there. Beach goes with the first by reflex but he sometimes vaguely wonders about the third or some contorted version of it just because it may better reflect the vagaries of the evidence and restore the numinous to a drained world.

    Other books of this calibre and weirdness: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    PS found myself wondering about John R. Brinkley and his goat testicle experiments in the 1920s: several of the Goatman legends see a human and a goat mixed, often by scientific shenanigans.

    28 Nov 2014: BT writes in with these reflections: ‘I’ve never heard of the cryptid type of Goatman, but flesh and blood “Goatmen” were part of growing up in the South in the post WW II. Two prime examples were the North Georgia Goatman and the South Carolina Goatman. The North Georgia Goatman had regular routes throughout the the Southeastern USA, the South Carolina Goatman stayed mainly in his home area around Conway, S.C. The North Georgia Goatman’s travels, in a wagon pulled by a large number of goats, hence the moniker “The Goatman”, started in the spring and lasted until fall, when he would make his way back to Georgia. He would camp near a relatives store for a couple of days every summer. As for his smell, he traveled via goat wagon through the S.E., land of high temps and higher humidity. That’s a formula for toxic body odor. He would repair harnesses and tools for farmers until he had a few bucks to move on. Nice old fellow as I recall, but that’s been close to 50 years ago. We kids were told to stay away from him, but no one did. The South Carolina Goatman was an old Black man who sold chickens, eggs, and produce in the region around Conway, S.C. I last saw him in October of 1984 on side road west of Conway. I wanted to turn around to talk to him, but my then girlfriend, a New Jersey native put a quick end to that notion. The S.C. Goatman was a large man who also drove a goat wagon. It was a sight to behold. Roughly 12-15 goats to pull the wagon and his wares stacked up 5-6 feet above the sides in the back. He had a large umbrella he could move from one side of the wagon to the other for protection from the hot South Carolina sun. There’s quite a bit of info on the internet about the Georgia Goatman as he traveled so widely. The first American “Goatman” I recall reading about was the New Hampshire Goatman. He wandered around New England in the mid-1800’s. He actually made his clothes from goat hides and lived in the woods. I think an account of his life turned up in one of William Corliss’ books? “Goatmen” i.e; recluses that lived on abandoned or old family farms in remote areas weren’t uncommon when I was boy. Some you wanted to stay away from, others were friendly. As goats will eat about anything, a small herd provides meat and milk. A kitchen garden and some chickens and your food was taken care of. His name was Charles “Ches” McCartney. There’s a nice article about him on a blog called “The Notorious Meddler” with comments from people across the South who met him. Lot’s of pictures, too. There’s a Wikipedia article about him, and he rated a New York Times obit when he died in 1996. Not bad for a guy who would have been medicated to the gills for some sort of mental disorder today. The South has a lot of faults, but by and large it’s been accepting of it’s eccentrics. The rest of that “Killer Cryptid Goatman” stuff looks like this years flavor of urban legend.’ Thanks BT In fact, the North Georgia goatman gets a chapter, he is the itinerant preacher I refer to above. The South Carolina goatman is probably news for the author though? As to it being ‘this year’s flavour of urban legend’ I’m sure from the evidence that this is something that goes back to the 1960s. I suspect several bogies got melded into the goatman mould around that period. But what a mould…?! Having written this now ten days ago I keep thinking about how little frightening potential a goat man has.

    28 Nov 2014: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books writes, Fascinating stuff! On a possible “explanation” for the genesis of Goatman. John Fowles’s book The Magus was published in 1965 with a distinctive cover showing a “goat man:” one of the characters in the book wearing a goat mask. It was a very popular book. Did it somehow influence the creation or iconography of the Goat Man? The cover is show here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Magus_(novel) I have never seen the 1968 movie based on the book so I don’t know if there was a man wearing a goat mask in the movie. You write that the author has traced the Goatman “back to the 1960s though not beyond.” I wonder just where in the 1960s the creature first appears? If post 1965, The Magus may have had some influence. Still, there do seem to be earlier sightings of the same entity. I have not yet read the Goatman book, but while there were legends of devilishly-horned entities striding around Bracken County, Kentucky (and other parts of the world) in the 1860s, sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s a legend of a goat-headed man grew up around the Pope Lick Railroad Trestle, east of Louisville, Kentucky. Here are some details: The Trestle is a railroad bridge about 80 feet high and over 700 feet long. Inevitably it has become a teen hangout and a place for adolescent dares. There have been a number of deaths, either by train or by falls, but I have not been able to establish an exact count. Deaths, fences, and police warnings do not seem to stop the dare-devils. And there may be a devil to dare. The sinister creature of the Pope Lick Trestle is described as large and hairy, with the body of a man and the horned head of a goat. It is said to wail like a train whistle and some Boy Scout campers said that it screamed and threw stones at them. Farmers used to find their sheep torn to shreds. Is it, as some folklorists have suggested, a Bigfoot, or is the legend a memory of one of the fiery devils of Bracken County? For more on the Goat-man legend, see http://beforeitsnews.com/beyond-science/2012/11/goat-man-sightings-in-kentucky-texas-maryland-2440036.html?currentSplittedPage=1. For a modern case of a “Minotaur” sighting in Ohio, see http://campfiretell.blogspot.com/2012/10/the-ufo-and-minotaur.html. [The Ghost Wore Black: Ghastly Tales from the Past.]

    29 Nov 2014: BT continues his earlier email. Why a goat? Hmmmm…….The Devil is often portrayed as a man-goat. The Pilgrims, of the Salem Witch Trial fame, believed in the Devil in that form, as did many English settlers in Virginia. I suspect that explains a lot, it’s an idea that’s been here a long time, and has been given a recent boost by all the supernatural dramas that have plagued American television for the past few years. Two, portrayals of the Devil centuries ago and now, often give him goat eyes.The Northeast has a long history of cloven hoofed “devils” who walk in straight lines up the sides of buildings across roofs ,etc, leaving prints in the snow. Cloven hoofs, a near supernatural ability to climb, why it must be that half-goat Satan!This thing sounds more like the “Pumpkin Head” stories that took off in the same time period, late 50’s early 60’s. Those took place near Cleveland, Ohio. Pure BS, but the idea of it scares the crap out of local teenagers up that way to the present day. Late night weekend television from the late 50’s until the early 80’s in the States, was nothing but monster movies. Impressionable children and  teenagers watched them faithfully. Add in network shows such as “The Twilight Zone” and “The Outer Limits” and you have cultural stew full of all sorts of odd thoughts just below the surface. Finally throw in all the drug use in the 60’s and 70’s and it results in an increase of the population who are prone to be gullible to such tales. A lot of this stuff ;ie; the Goatman, Mothman, Bigfoot, start out as hoaxes that quickly spread out of control of the creators and are imitated across a wider region. Robert Anton Wilson referred to this process as a “ladder conspiracy”.’ Thanks again BT

    I would look at the early reports first, then trace the spread of the phenomena from there.