THE DOVER DEMON
Dear Mr. Know-It-All, friends were recently telling me about the ghost stories at John Stone's Inn in Ashland, but wasn't there a report of a UFO in this area a while back? T.W., Westborough
Methinks you're referring to the mysterious Dover Demon, T.W. Let's set the stage. The year is 1977. Jimmy Carter is in the White House. "Stars Wars" makes its debut. Elvis permanently leaves the building. The Yankees win another World Series. And an alien visits the tiny town of Dover. Maybe.
To describe what allegedly transpired, we turn to the book "Creatures of the Outer Edge," penned by cryptozoologists Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark. The bizarre tale begins at 10:30 p.m. on April 21 as three 17-year-olds, Bill Bartlett, Mike Mazzocca and Andy Brodie, are driving north on Farm Street. Bartlett, who's behind the wheel of a Volkswagen, spots something creeping along a low wall of loose stones on the left side of the road. At first he thinks the image is a dog or a cat until his headlights shine on it and he realizes it's nothing he's ever seen before.
The figure slowly turns its head and stares into the light, its two large, round, glassy, lidless eyes shining brightly "like two orange marbles." Its watermelon-shaped head, resting at the top of a thin neck, is the size of the rest of its body. Except for its oversized head, the creature is thin, with long spindly arms and legs, and large hands and feet. The skin is hairless and peach-colored and appears to have a rough texture. "Like wet sandpaper," Bartlett subsequently tells Coleman. Standing no more than 3 1/2 to 4 feet tall, the figure is shaped like "a baby's body with long arms and legs." It had been making its way along the wall, its long fingers curling around the rocks, when the car lights surprised it. Unfortunately, neither of Bartlett's companions sees the creature. The sighting lasts only a few seconds and, before Bartlett can speak, the car leaves the scene. "I really flew after I saw it," Bartlett recalls. "I took that corner at 45, which is pretty fast. I said to my friends, 'Did you see that?' And they said, 'Nah, describe it.' I did and they said, 'Go back. Go back!' And I said, 'No way. No way.' When you see something like that, you don't want to stand around and see what it's going to do.
"They finally got me to go back and Mike was leaning out of the window yelling, 'Come on, creature!' And I was saying, 'Will you cut that out!' Andy was yelling, 'I want to see you!'" But the creature is gone. Bartlett drops his friends off and goes to his Walpole Street home. Visibly upset, he walks through the door and his father asks him what's wrong. Bartlett relates the story and later sketches what he's seen.
The creature then makes another appearance. Around midnight, 15-year-old John Baxter leaves his girlfriend Cathy Cronin's house at the south end of Millers High Road (we assume the authors mean Miller Hill Road). Anyway, Baxter starts walking up the street on his way home. Half an hour later, after he has walked about a mile, he observes someone approaching him. Because the figure is short, Baxter assumes it's an acquaintance of his, M.G. Bouchard, who lives on the street. John calls out, "M.G., is that you?" No response. But Baxter and the figure continue to approach each other until finally the latter stops. Baxter then halts as well and asks, "Who is that?" The sky is dark and overcast and he can only see a shadowy form.
Trying to get a better look, Baxter takes one step forward and the figure scurries off to the left, running down a shallow wooded gully and up the opposite bank. As the figure runs, Baxter hears its footsteps on the dry leaves. He follows the figure down the slope, then stops and looks across the gully. There, he sees the creature, standing in silhouette about 30 feet away, its feet "molded" around the top of a rock several feet from a tree. The creature's body reminds Baxter of a monkey's, except for its dark "figure-eight"-shaped head. Its eyes, two lighter spots in the middle of the head, are looking straight at Baxter, who after a few minutes begins to feel uneasy. Realizing he has never seen such a creature before and fearing what it might do next, he backs carefully up the slope, his heart pounding. He then "walks very fast" down the road to the intersection at Farm Street. There, a couple passing in a car pick him up and drive him home.
The next day, Bartlett tells his close friend Will Taintor, 18, about his sighting. Can you guess what happens next? Around midnight, Taintor is driving Abby Brabham, 15, home when an encounter with the creature takes place. As they pass along Springdale Avenue, Brabham spots something in the headlights on the left side of the road. The "something" is a creature crouched on all fours and facing the car. Its body is thin and monkeylike but its head is large and oblong, with no nose, ears or mouth. The creature is hairless and its skin tan or beige in color. The facial area around the eyes is lighter and the eyes glow green. Brabham insists this is the case, even after investigators tell her that Bartlett had said the eyes were orange. Taintor sees the creature only momentarily and has the impression of something with a large head and a tan body. He doesn't know what it is but he does know that it's not a dog.
Frightened, Brabham urges Taintor to speed up so they can get away. Taintor claims that only after they leave the scene does he recall Baxter's sighting. His own had been so brief and unspectacular that he probably would have thought little of it if Brabham had not been with him.
He asks her to describe the figure, deliberately phrasing misleading questions about aspects of the creature's appearance he knew not to be true in order to check her story against Bartlett's, which he did not mention to her. Abby sticks to her story.
On April 28, Coleman, then living in neighboring Needham, visits the Dover Country Store where a store employee, Melody Fryer, tells him about Bartlett's sighting and sketch. She promises to get him a copy and two days later provides him with two drawings. The next day Coleman interviews Bartlett. On May 3 he questions Baxter and Brabham and on the 5th talks with Taintor.
Two weeks later, Coleman asks Walter Webb of the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization, Joseph Nyman of the Mutual UFO Network and Ed Fogg of the New England UFO Study Group to join the investigation. Although none of the witnesses had reported seeing a UFO in connection with the Dover Demon, the ufologists are struck by the creature's apparent resemblance to humanoid beings sometimes associated with UFOs.
So is the Dover Demon a hoax? The investigators conclude that's possible, but express doubts. There's nothing in the witnesses' backgrounds to suggest they might be pranksters and much to suggest they were honest, upright individuals.
As Webb observes, "None of the four was on drugs or drinking at the time of his or her sighting so far as we were able to determine.... None of the principals in this affair made any attempt to go To The Newspapers or police to publicize their claims. Instead, the sightings gradually leaked out. Finally, the teenagers' own parents, the high school principal, the science instructor and other adults in Dover whose comments were solicited didn't believe the Dover Demon was a fabrication, implying the youths did indeed see 'something.'
"As for the idea the witnesses were victims of somebody else's stunt, this seems most unlikely, chiefly due to the virtual impossibility of creating an animated, lifelike 'demon' of the sort described." But if the Demon was real, what was it? A UFO being? Perhaps, but then nothing precisely similar has ever been reported before, according to Ted Bloecher, who has collected more than 1,500 UFO accounts for the Center for UFO Studies.
On the other hand, maybe the Demon is a member of a curious race known to the Cree Indians of eastern Canada as the Mannegishi, the authors write. The Mannegishi, naturalist Sigurd Olson says in his book "Listening Post," are supposed to be "little people with round heads and no noses who live with only one purpose: to play jokes on travelers. The little creatures have long spidery legs, arms with six-fingered hands, and live between rocks in the rapids...."
This report comes via the BookRags.com Web site. The Unexplained Mysteries Web site, meanwhile, opines that "like many sightings of this nature, it seems unlikely that this is some form of undiscovered natural species, but more of a genetic mutation or hybrid of some sort. There is also the possibility that what these people saw was some kind of alien being, as the case bares striking resemblance to many reports of such creatures at the sites of UFO activity. Unfortunately, there is really no way of finding out for sure."
The Eye's Behind Web site notes that Martin Kottmeyer, an expert on UFO stories, claims that the Dover Demon witnesses simply saw a baby moose and misidentified it. "While misperception may have played a role in what they saw, it is hard to imagine mistaking a moose for the creature that they described," the site states.
According to Coleman, 1977 was an unusually eventful year for strange occurrences. UFO and creature sightings were abnormally frequent and often seemed to be connected; they often occurred in closely related times and places. Many of the creature sightings involved mysterious monsters with human-like forms. People wondered if some of these creatures were from outer space.
In a 1996 article in the Needham Chronicle, John Horrigan, a debunker of the paranormal, said that while some people took the teen's reports seriously, later investigation threw strong doubt on their credibility.
By the way, a local newspaper dubbed the creature the "Dover Demon."