Van Meter monster as tourist attraction

110 year old mystery is the focus of a fun festival in Iowa.

Bizarre flying creature unites town, sparks fest | The Des Moines Register |

If the legend of an eight-foot winged creature with a big forehead horn isn’t fodder for a town celebration, what is?

Last spring, Minneapolis monster researcher Chad Lewis unearthed the legend with the book “Van Meter Visitor,” the name he gave the creature which prominent residents reported seeing 110 years ago in this small Dallas County town west of the Des Moines area.

It so captivated citizens that children began taking an interest in local history, a local artist was inspired to draw it and a cable television crew filmed a documentary.

Now, the first Van Meter Visitor Festival launches Saturday, promising a chilling night tour of the locations of the strange creature sightings.

Why not? Monster festivals are fun. These paranormal themed events draw out of town visitor. No harm in that, no harm in fun from local folklore. But concern should arise when people take these legends a BIT too seriously.

The legend appears to be based on a sighting over a few nights in 1903. That’s a long time ago. No additional info has emerged but the story, resurrected last May, was very popular. It was included on the TV show “Monsters and Mysteries in America”. We DO love our monsters! The festival will include a tour of the flight of the visitor which disappeared down a coal mine. Lovely story. But that’s it. Since the evidence ends there, there is no way to tell if the events actually took place as described and, if they did, what a reasonable explanation may be (bird, bat, insects, etc). But things like this usually take a turn for the extreme and the creature is depicted as a pterosaur-like thing with a light beam coming from its head.

Here is the original piece from May.

VanMeterMonster        Screen Shot 2013-09-27 at 2.45.37 PM

  8 comments for “Van Meter monster as tourist attraction

  1. spookyparadigm
    September 27, 2013 at 3:57 PM

    I listened to an interview with the author. Can’t say I am super impressed. One thing he notes as weight for the story is that it involves prominent real people in the town. A few years ago, I did a bit of investigation into a case in New York state around the same time period, of an unusual event with a clearly nonsense claim involved. All of the people (with maybe one outside commenter as an exception) were real people in the community, something that surprised me. What became clear is that different newspapers would run different takes on it, and it may have had something to do with local political and business rivalries. In this case, a hoaxster targeted a local minor public figure who was quoted to give the thing legitimacy, but his quote was completely twisted around (as reported in a rival paper in what sounds much more like an honest response). The misquoting stories crossed half the country, and were featured in the NYTimes (I discovered the tale when I was working on another project involving the NYTimes archives). This hoax was a minor one in this character’s history, and yet he went on to become a wealthy if not prominent figure in the community.

    I think a story relying solely or even primarily on American newspapers before WWI cannot be remotely trusted without other sources that should be the primary evidence.

  2. neko
    September 27, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    I wonder if all these festivals don’t reflect the poor economy. I was thinking about that when Strange Frequency podcast was talking about the state of things surrounding the Mothman festival, and the section in “Abominable Science” about Cadborosaurus during the great depression.

    Is there some way, as with Halloween now, to remove the ‘skeptic sting’ from presenting the real evidence, and turning it into just a party? I think people would be more open to other ideas if they didn’t fear it would ruin their tourist pull.

    I mean kids march around in costumes and everyone has fun on October 31st, apart from a few fringe people it’s all in good fun and helps drive candy sales too.

  3. Chris Howard
    September 27, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    I think most people either know it’s not real, or are agnostic with regard to the monsters at these festivals.

    It’s kind of like me and bowling. I never let my game get in the way of lewd drinking, bad jokes, and general grab-assery.

    In other words, the bowling is the socially acceptable context which allows for the other, potentially, “poor form” activities such as general jackassery.

  4. spookyparadigm
    September 27, 2013 at 10:45 PM

    I suspect a lot of locals treat these festivals as described above.

    But they do draw in paranormal enthusiasts from farther away, who are also more likely to get hotel rooms, eat in restaurants, etc. (instead of just visit for the day). They’re the “big fish” of these kind of events. And they are indeed catered to as these events always have paranormal authors and such speaking. And they’re marketed through paranormal social media etc.

    Most of those folks aren’t going to drop hundreds to thousands of dollars to go a Halloween themed county fair. They’re there to get something more authentic.

  5. spookyparadigm
    September 27, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    I’ve visited Point Pleasant and Salem as spooky tourist spots, but just visiting. I have, however, gone to the UFO festival in Roswell. A lot of the visitors are not locals.

  6. neko
    September 28, 2013 at 1:13 PM


    By “more authentic” you mean more authentic fakery? 😀

    Are you saying if the hosts admit openly it’s a silly story they don’t believe, but they are going to have a party anyway going over the history of the town, and the colorful characters around the story, less people will show?

    I’m not sure either way. Clearly that’s the fear in some cases. Generally the people who run these events are believers, which is maybe part of the reason that skeptics are not welcome to speak at the Mothman festival.

    I recognize these things are complicated, and every case will be different.

    I think more people might show. Including serious local historians, folklorists, etc. It might actually make it more interesting.

    In my experience, believers don’t necessarily have more disposable income than non-believers. Some more people might show for authentic authenticity.

  7. spookyparadigm
    September 28, 2013 at 7:46 PM

    “Authentic fakery” That’s exactly what I mean.

    I don’t know that if it were turned into a silly story party, less people would show, but I’m guessing that less out-of-towners would show, and that’s where the money is really made. I don’t think non-believers have more or less money, but are they really like to put that money down to go to a festival for something they don’t believe in? I do it because I have an anthropological (professional, sort of) interest in these beliefs, one that admittedly allows me to cater to my young self that watched Scooby Doo and In Search Of. But beyond a few pro seekers of the weird who don’t believe in it, who is going to spend that money on something they think is BS, when it could be spent on going to a more interesting geek convention, sporting events, “real” vacation, etc. etc..

    I also suspect, from my own very limited evidence firsthand, and some observation, that in most of these cases, a lot of the celebrants are out-of-towners drawn by the story, and not locals there for a party. Such things already exist (county fair, etc.) without any of the “weird” overtones that will put some people off. I will say, without evidence but I suspect correctly, that a lot of locals interface with these events as vendors, businesses, etc..

    As you note, a lot of these are created by people who tap into the paranormal market and therefore don’t want skeptics or academics. I’m sure there are some examples where everyone gets together to celebrate a monster. I’ve seen what may be a few (Loveland Ohio tried to have a festival for their Frog legend, but it ended after a few years, and I randomly ran into a super low key Champ festival in Moriah, NY while up there).

    But generally, these festivals seem to pop up after there was greater media coverage of a story that wasn’t super important locally, but presented an opportunity. The Roswell festival was pushed by a few interested parties after Unsolved Mysteries and then the Showtime movie, as well as X-Files, promoted the legend. It’s fairly safe to say there wouldn’t be much of a Mothman tourist industry or festival without the movie adaptation of Keel’s book (I’ve been to the main Mothman museum, and it’s about 1/3rd interesting primary documents etc. revolving around sites and Keel, 1/3rd toys and comic books about Mothman, and 1/3rd props from the movie, stuffed into what looks like an old record store [narrow and long, with long linear island displays] alongside a bunch of T-shirts, books, and odds and ends).

    The idea of a Local Monster festival seems very warm Americana with a touch of crisp Halloween cool air. But the reality seems to be a bunch of junky souvenirs custom made elsewhere but sold only there, ghost tours or their equivalent, a costume contest or two with a musical performance squeezed in somewhere, and a bunch of mostly non-local paranormal writers and speakers doing their usual thing. A convention with a small twist.

    To get folklorists, historians, etc. involved, I think you’d have to really make it a big deal. The best models for this I can think of are either fantasy media conferences that have started to pull in a lot of excited lit grad students and a few professors to talk about Buffy or Harry Potter, and then that Elvis conference which was half Elvis impersonator convention, and half conference about the cult of Elvis. A conference I don’t think has been repeated since. That’s a really high bar, one that the Mothman is not going to fly over.

  8. spookyparadigm
    September 28, 2013 at 7:52 PM

    That said, if it were ever going to happen, now would be the time. I’ve never seen so many scholars openly discussing Cryptozoology. And I am more impressed with the work that’s been coming out than a lot of what we saw with the X-Files boom of UFO scholarship. I suspect this is because UFO stuff had a slight history of being studied since the 1950s in the Sociology of Religion, and that has always colored academic interest in it (prior to the late 1990s, virtually all academic study of ufology was of contactees, and even since then much of it has been on abductees though a small sliver of work on “normal” ufologists has emerged).

    But the study of cryptozoology and monster legends doesn’t seem so constrained. Some authors approach it as sociology of religion. Others from a biological perspective. Some psychological. Others more traditionally historical, be it local history, history of science, or other angles. I think we benefit from this.

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