Article by: Scott Lowther
Nestled in the mountains of West Virginia at the intersection of U.S. routes 50 and 119 and along the banks of the Tygart river is the once booming railroad and factory town of Grafton. Grafton nowadays has become a quaint, small town. Its once bustling infrastructor of a major railroad depot, factories, and hotels are now converted museums or vacant buildings. Main Street Grafton is lined with mom and pop stores and a corner coffee shop where courthouse workers and locals can take a break and enjoy the day with a cup of coffee or dessert. The change between Grafton the industrial business district and Grafton the quaint, small American town was not gradual and the decline of Grafton’s economy and population are linked to the sighting and mania surrounding a “headless beast” stalking the roadway just outside of town.
55 years ago this month, on the evening of June 16, 1964 at 11pm., Robert Cockrell, a reporter for the Grafton Daily Sentinel, was driving home from an assignment. Rounding a large curve on Riverside Drive he caught sight of a large animal in the middle of the roadway. As he drove nearer the animal, it became clear that what he was approaching was no animal.
Mr. Cockrell described what he saw as a 7 to 9 feet tall, 4 feet wide, gray-white monster with no distinguishable head. He went further to say that as he drove by the beast, it just stood motionless along the right side of the road. Unsettled, when Mr. Cockrell reached his home he stayed locked inside out of fear, but ventured out again to catch sight of the beast and report the story to the Sentinel.
Cockrell left his residence to find the beast with two friends, Jerry Morse and Jim Mouser. Cockrell and company went back to the location on Riverside Drive where the monster was spotted but, the beast was nowhere to be found. The three men went up and down the river bank of the Tygart with flashlights and although none of the three reported seeing the monster, they all reported hearing a low whistling noise that seemed to follow them as they searched.
Going into work at the Sentinel the next day, Cockrell reported what had happened to him to the editor of the paper. The editor dismissed the report as imaginary and refused to allow Cockrell to run an article about the monster on Riverside Drive. Meanwhile, Mouser and Morse went around town telling everyone that they could find about the events of the previous evening.
That evening, a large number of teenagers showed up on Riverside Drive armed with baseball bats, hatchets, and pitchforks to hunt down Cockrell’s monster. News spread quickly of the monster hunt and the Sentinel was left with no choice but to run the story about the monster. The Sentinel headline on the 18th read “Teen-Age Monster Hunting Parties Latest Activity On Grafton Scene” but the story made no mention of the cause of the activity being due to their journalist's sighting.
After the Sentinel’s article ran, a monster hunting frenzy took over the town and the crowds gathering to hunt the Grafton Monster doubled in size. The police were eventually persuaded to investigate and issued a statement on the 19th through the Sentinel. The Sentinel’s headline on the 19th read “‘Monster’ Result Of Spring Fever, Wild Imagination.”. No other sightings or monster hunts were reported after the paper ran the official findings of the police investigation.
Not much has progressed with the story of the Grafton Monster since Cockrell’s sighting in 1964. On April 14, 2014, “Mountain Monsters”, a cable reality TV show aired featuring a hunt for the Grafton Monster. Apparently, the show fabricated most of the story that aired, did not film in Grafton, and had actors portray residents. The show ended up making the town and its residents look backward and foolish. In 2018 Bethesda software, one of the largest gaming manufacturers, made the Grafton Monster one of the centerpieces of their new game Fallout 76, set in West Virginia. The Grafton Monster portrayed in the video game became an iconic hit with local residents and now the Grafton Monster has returned as an icon of charm and town pride.
The Grafton Monster, a Cryptid.
Is the Grafton Monster a “Cryptid” by definition? The most common definition of a cryptid is “an animal whose existence or survival to the present day is disputed or unsubstantiated; any animal of interest to a cryptozoologist". Using the above broad definition, the Grafton Monster would most definitely be considered a “cryptid”. There have been some anecdotal reports of sightings, but no physical or photographic evidence of the beast has been brought forward to date.
The Grafton Monster, an Omen.
Monster sightings as omens of bad luck or even death has a long history. The actual word “monster” has its roots in the Latin word “monstrum”, meaning, "warning, portent, omen, miracle," which is in turn derived from the verb monstro, "to show, point out, to urge.". The Grafton Monster sighting took place in 1964 and this sighting takes place during a very depressing time for the town of Grafton. According to the U.S. Census reports, Grafton suffered its largest decrease in population to date between 1950 and 1970. This decrease in population was most likely due to the loss of two industrial factories in the late 50’s, the B&O railroad had shut down passenger travel to the Grafton depot in the early 60’s and this in turn caused the Willard Hotel, a prized jewel of the town, to shut down. The grand hotel stands vacant to this day. Therefore, if one were to interpret the description of the Grafton Monster they may say that the gray, hairless, no head behemoth was symbolic of the town being left naked, without hope, and without leadership. In this light, the beast most definitely fits the description of an omen.
The Grafton Monster, a publicity stunt.
Roughly two weeks earlier than Cockrell’s sighting of the Grafton Monster, there were reports of a lake monster in Michigan that made national headlines. The Dewey Lake monster of Dowagiac, Michigan was reported as a “big foot” type of creature and was sighted the first couple of days of June 1964. The reports of this creature’s sightings made national news and the town of Dowagiac, Michigan saw a boom in visitors hunting for the beast. The visitors of Dowagiac took plaster casts of footprints, searched the lakeside for physical and photographic evidence and all the while they brought fame and business to Dowagiac. Given the depressed state of Grafton in 1964 could it be possible that a local reporter fabricated his own sighting of a “monster” in an attempt to bring his communitity some inkling of prosperity and no small amount of fame for himself? Just as the Grafton Monster could be considered a cryptid and an omen, there is also a very high probability that Cockrell concocted the entire story in an attempt at a publicity stunt. If so, it was a failed publicity stunt, as stated in the story, when the police investigation labled his sighting as a result of “Spring Fever” it all but burst the chance that Cockrell’s sighting would be taken seriously.