Bruce Hallenbeck remembers watching Frankenstein with his cousin when he was just five years old. "I wasn't frightened... I was fascinated."
These days Hallenbeck's fascination with monsters extends into the real world. When he's not working with microfilm and genealogy at the New York State Library, Hallenbeck writes books about horror movies and what he refers to as "real-life monsters" -- monsters of the bigfoot and Loch Ness variety.
A few years ago Hallenbeck wrote Monsters of New Jersey, and his is newest book -- Monsters of New York -- looks into the existence of creatures such as Champ, the Adirondack Bigfoot, the Kinderhook Creature and other creatures he believes are walking, crawling, and swimming around the Empire State. The book is the basis for an exhibit on display this month at the New York State Library.
Hallenbeck took some time out to talk with AOA about his search for these real world monsters, why he finds them so fascinating, and his own encounter with The Kinderhook Creature.
You write books about horror movies and about these [said to be] real world monsters. What's the connection between these two subjects for you?
I think my interests in horror movies and real-life "monsters" are inextricably linked. I've always been fascinated by strange creatures, be they werewolves, vampires or Frankenstein monsters. Discovering that there were undiscovered creatures that actually exist (if they actually do) is a little bit like finding out that Santa Claus is real.
So then, you do believe these creatures exist?
Well, obviously, I believe there's something to these sightings. I don't think mermaids, unicorns, or gorgons exist, but creatures such as the yeti (which Jane Goodall and Sir David Attenborough both feel is likely to exist), Champ, the Loch Ness Monster, etc. can be explained by science.
Too many reputable people claim to have seen them. Misidentifications are certainly possible; some bigfoot sightings are probably bears, some Champ sightings may be floating logs, and so on. But if even one of these sightings is genuine, then science must admit it doesn't have all the answers... yet.
No one these days is going to believe a digital photo; they're too easily faked. The only thing science will accept will be a specimen, alive or dead. In a way, I'd like there to be closure on what these creatures are; but then the mystery will be gone, and I love a good mystery!
Have you ever seen bigfoot or Champ or any of these creatures?
I don't know that I have seen them. I have experienced the fact that they are around.
My interest in the Kinderhook Creature has to do with experiences my family and I had in the early 80s with something that was visiting our home. My grandmother saw it, my cousins saw it. I didn't see but I heard vocalizations. Basically a bigfoot-type creature.
On September 24 of 1980 something showed up in my grandparents' backyard and started making some ungodly sound and scared everybody so much that my cousin came over with a shotgun and scared it off. He said it was walking on two legs. If you experience something you can't explain you can either say my eyes and ears are playing tricks on me or there is something really out there.
We tape recorded a vocalization that we sent to Cornell -- they have a library of animal sounds, which is a database where they can play this against recordings of other animal sounds. They couldn't identify what it was but they said it was something that was not native to Northeast New York.
PM Magazine -- a television show at the time -- came out to do a story on it. I think they actually dubbed it the Kinderhook Creature. Around that time there was a series of newspaper articles by Barney Fowler, who wrote for the Times Union and it went on for several months.
Another woman, Barbara -- she doesn't like to use her last name -- describes seeing something seven or eight feet tall with reddish brown hair near Kinderhook. It ran past her car lights and disappeared into a cornfield. It made a sound almost indescribable.
Then, a few years later I joined Joe Zarzynski to look for Champ. When I went to Lake Champlain, basically Joe and his girlfriend would go scuba diving, looking for Champ and I'd be up on the deck with the sonar. I'm a land lubber. And one time I saw a very odd reading. It looked like a big solid mass and when I showed him a printout he looked a little uneasy -- it was sixteen feet long and very dense. Sure, it could have been a school of fish, but it seemed too dense.
Is it frustrating to you that you've been looking so long and have never seen these creatures?
It is indeed frustrating that I haven't seen the Kinderhook Creature, although I feel that I've heard its cries on several occasions. The most memorable was in the summer of 1980, when a friend of mine from England was visiting. As I escorted her out the door of my grandparents' house one night, we both heard the most ungodly sound coming from the nearby woods. It started out as a shriek or howl, turned into a series of guttural sounds and ended in a series of low moans. My English friend turned to me and said, "Is that a typical American sound to hear at night?" I assured her that I had never heard anything like it before!
I have gone on excursions to Whitehall to seek the Adirondack Bigfoot, but didn't see anything there either! I do believe that the sonar reading I got on Lake Champlain that day in 1983 was quite unusual, however. Its shape suggested something like what we would expect Champ to look like.
What do you tell people who are skeptical about the existence of these creatures?
I think the important thing is to keep an open mind and if you think this is all a hoax that probably means you have not done your homework. There are lots of stories about these monsters. Great stories! I've found old newspaper reports -- and they go back to the 1800s -- for Bigfoot and the Lake Champlain monster. P.T. Barnum actually put out a hit on the Lake Champlain Monster. Great stories. That's what makes the research so much fun.
Three books, lots of research and investigating -- you've put a lot of time into the search for and study of these monsters.
Well, once you have experienced something like this -- as we did in 1980 -- it just kind of possesses you to some extent. You want to find this. You want to go out and search for it. I don't spend all my time doing this now because I don't have that much time. I just saw a picture of an oar fish that was dead -- it's a very rare animal, but it's in the oceans. And a classic example is the coelacanth and it was discovered in the Indian Ocean in 1938 by some fisherman -- and there are still some alive.
Those kinds of things do happen. They are rare, but they happen. And the oar fish can be up to 15 feet long -- now that's what I'd call a sea monster.
But there are things happening -- that's what fascinates me -- that we don't know. One of the things that fascinates me is that we think we know a lot about our planet, but we don't. We know just enough to get by.
This interview was lightly edited and condensed.
Hallenbeck photos courtesy of Bruce Hallenbeck
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