The dead of winter is one of the best times to break out your favorite creepy American folk tales. What else is there to do? It's too cold to venture outside for anything more than the bare necessities, and if you're anything like me, you wind up spending half your nights wrapped in a blanket by the fire anyway. Although urban legends and ghost stories are usually associated with Halloween, October is a long way away. There's no reason to hold off on the spooky stuff just because it's February.
Besides, it's a great antidote for the Valentine's Day season. Whether or not you're in a relationship, the barrage of flowers and chocolate will grate on anyone after a while. So in the interest of balancing things out, may I suggest turning to tales of the weird and paranormal?
Urban legends get plenty of attention online, but if you've exhausted the stories available on Snopes and Ask Reddit threads, it's time to move on to older content — folklore that's been around far longer than you or I have been alive. Here are seven stories that originated right here in North America to entertain you (and maybe give you the shivers) this week.
A favorite from my childhood, this Southern folk tale is bizarrely terrifying even as an adult. Here's how the story goes: There once was an old man who lived alone in the woods, save for his three dogs. During an especially harsh winter, his food supplies started to dwindle until he had nothing but a few old potatoes.
One night, as he lay in bed ignoring his stomach's growls, he heard a scritching at the corner of his cabin. He glanced over and saw a strange creature scrambling out of a hole it had made in the wall. It caught his gaze and ran away — but not before he grabbed an axe and chopped off its tail as it disappeared through the hole. Being so hungry, the old man decided to use the tail to make stew, which he gulped down and shared among his dogs. The next night, however, the creature came back for its tail. It doesn't end well.
You can read the full tale online, but I suggest doing it in daylight. Around other people. In a city, far, far away from the woods.
According to Ojibwa and Algonquin tradition, the mishipeshu is a cross between a mountain lion and a dragon, with horns and a prehensile tail made of copper. Also known as the Water Panther, the monster lives in the waters of Lake Superior. Depending on his variable mood, he might help you out with a problem — or try to drown you for trespassing in his lair.
The legend of the Nain Rouge is said to have originated in 1701, when the founder of Detroit, Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, visited a fortune teller. She told him to beware the red dwarf who had been haunting his dreams lately, claiming that the "Nain Rouge" was a harbinger of chaos that embodied all Cadillac's worst traits.
Cadillac later encountered the creature and was able to beat it away with a stick. However, the Nain Rouge cursed both Cadillac and the city he founded. According to legend, it's been spotted before major disasters affecting the city, including the 1763 Battle of Bloody Run and the 1967 12th Street Riot.
4The Bear Lake Monster
If you're interested in the Loch Ness monster, you'll love the story of the Bear Lake monster. According to legend, the waters of Bear Lake in Utah are home to a gigantic, lightning-fast serpent. Some say it carries off swimmers to drown and eat far off shore; others believe the creature just likes scaring people by blowing water at them. Either way, the legend has been around for more than a century, dating back to at least the 1860s. Maybe it's still alive today?
5The Stow Lake Ghost
Things around Stow Lake in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park can get a little strange sometimes. In 1908, the San Francisco Chronicle is said to have reported the first mention of what would become the legend of the Stow Lake Ghost; a man told police he had encountered a woman in white blocking his exit from the park.
According to legend, that woman was once a mother taking her child for a walk in the park. While taking a break, baby safely stowed in the stroller at her side, she was drawn into conversation with the bench's other occupant. Without either of them noticing, the stroller rolled away into the lake. A few minutes later, the woman noticed her baby's absence and desperately begins searching. After a fruitless day of asking bystanders if they'd seen her baby, she wandered into the lake and disappeared... until her spirit started showing up again, forever looking for her child.
The story of Black Aggie is nearly a century old, but it's still well-known in American folklore today. In 1925, General Felix Agnus, a Civil War veteran-turned-publisher, died and was buried in the Druid Ridge Cemetery in a town outside of Baltimore, Maryland. His grave was marked by a rather unique statue; Agnus requested to be buried underneath a copy of the Adams Memorial, a cloaked, melancholic statue created by famed American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens.
The folkloric bit comes in after Agnus and his wife were buried. According to legend, the statue, known as "Black Aggie," was perfectly ordinary, if a little creepy, in daylight. At night, however, Black Aggie's eyes glowed red at midnight, haunted by the ghost of Agnus' wife. Any who met her gaze was struck blind; pregnant women who passed under her shadow during the day would miscarry. If you sat in the statue's lap, Black Aggie would supposedly come to life and crush you in her arms.
In the late '60s, the Agnus family donated the statue to the Smithsonian, who donated it in turn to General Services Administration. Black Aggie resides in Washington, D.C., to this day.
Bigfoot might be the most famous woodland creature in North America, but Wisconsin's Hodag is worth noting for sheer weirdness. According to legend, it was first spotted in the late 19th century by Eugene Shepherd, who described it as a green, dinosaur-like animal studded with white horns. It smells terrible, and some say it's prone to weeping because it knows it's unappealing.
Although the Hodag prefers to stay out of the spotlight, it will venture out to prey on dogs. Unfortunately, the creature is almost invincible, save for three weaknesses: chloroform, dynamite, and lemons. So next time you're in Wisconsin, make sure to arm yourself with lemons before you take your dog outside. Nobody ever said folklore has to make sense.