In 1994, Jack Nicholson played the character Will Randall, a Manhattan book editor who was attacked by a wolf in rural Vermont, causing him to later become a werewolf. As much as we may love Nicholson (and his Wolf costar Michelle Pfeiffer), the only thing truly scary about the movie was how bad it was. But just as every piece of good fiction is built on a kernel of truth, so too is bad fiction it seems.
Of course there’s no such thing as werewolves — we all know that. But according to some, Randy Quaid isn’t the only hairy creature crossing the Canadian border in Vermont.
In 2006 a woman named Tonya reported spotting not one, not two, but three werewolves chasing her car as she drove through a more heavily populated area in the state. Folklorist Joe A. Citro described the report in his handy companion, The Vermont Monster Guide. As the story goes, Tonya was driving home one night “when she caught motion at the side of the road, she slowed down some more, not wanting to collide with some family pet. What she saw was like a house pet from hell! An enormous, four-legged animal was loping along beside her car. Occasionally it would leer at her, face to face, as she looked back. It wasn’t a dog, she knew that right away. But what was it?” Tonya is convinced she was pursued by a pack of northern Vermont werewolves, Citro says.
Based on Citro’s research, one might conclude that werewolves are rare in Vermont, but not necessarily new. He notes one of the first recorded sightings was reported by F. Barrows Colton in National Geographic Magazine, in May of 1951. According to Colton, he, his father and a logger named Joe Leblanc went on a hunting trip near Groton Pond. Colton says Leblanc disappeared and “finally turned up at a near-by sawmill village with a wild look in his eyes. In the woods, he had seen the awful loup-garou and had got out of there fast.”
It was during a completely unrelated bit of reporting that I came across another, more recent werewolf story where a young woman from the same area allegedly left her place of work in the early morning hours and — much like the logger Leblanc — vanished into the woods. The young woman was never found. Out of respect, I’ll not rehash some of the sordid details of her disappearance here, but I can say with certainty that the Vermont State Police are not interested in any paranormal hypotheses involving werewolves or any other shape-shifters. I had to look elsewhere for some insight into the rumors and their basis in local lore.
I asked Joe Citro about the reports, but he said after 2006, the trail of the werewolf went cold. “I did a lot of research and put the call out to a lot of people. There must be some kind conspiracy of silence,” Citro says, “I mean, if your neighbor is a werewolf, it might not be wise to make it known, you know…?”
Just a few miles from the most recent disappearances, another local resident, Melinda, offered a hypothesis. She suggests that the reason it’s tough to track down the source of the werewolf legend is due to the fact that the creatures being reported are “shape-shifters”, aberrations caused by inter-dimensional beings from a lower plain of existence or someone who is entering into a different dimension.
Melinda is a dowser — someone who attenuates herself with “earth energies” and, through the use of a special stick called a dowsing rod, locates everything from water to gold, from oil to missing persons. “I think what you might call ‘shape-shifting’ exists in all cultures but the way people perceive it can be vastly different,” she says. Melinda focuses on more of the paranormal elements with her dowsing, searching for ghosts and performing “clearings” – a sort of ritual where she and others from the area contact the dead and help them pass into their allotted dimension. Melinda, however, is only but one of many dowsers in the region: Vermont is home to the nation’s foremost organization, The American Society of Dowsers, Inc.
Being something of the resident expert on all things paranormal, I asked Melinda how she would explain the elusive Vermont werewolf. “There are different dimensions sandwiched on top of each other. But instead of [werewolves] being of a higher awareness, it’s a lower awareness,” Melinda says. “Perceptions of werewolves and these things we see as terrible things, they are part of first or second dimension energies.”
Stay with me, now. Here’s where the cosmology gets really interesting.
According to Melinda, “Each sliver of energy has a unique energy profile.” From this “world-view,” she argues that those who perceive energies as werewolves or believe they have experienced werewolf transformations themselves are not necessarily lying and they’re not necessarily crazy. They are simply experiencing an inter-dimensional overlap at which, for whatever reason, the person encountering the werewolf is either witnessing an inter-dimensional transformation or is experiencing a slide into a lower dimensional consciousness themselves. “It’s real hard not to spook yourself when you believe other people when they say they’ve seen werewolves,” she says. “It’s hard not to go, ‘Oh, no, I hope that doesn’t happen to me’ but that person’s experience is theirs and theirs alone. If you fear that, you’ll be drawn into that energy.”
I asked Joe Citro for his thoughts on the paranormal in general and if he believes in werewolves, His answer? “Well, I’m still sitting on that same old fence. You don’t have to be a believer to love the stories,” he says. “The fact is, I don’t spend much time thinking about [werewolves]. They have never become part of local culture. Ghost stories are a dime a dozen, but as I found out, you have to look pretty damn hard to find a werewolf story in Vermont. My suspicion is they’re all up in Quebec.”
And so I continued my line of inquiry and, as it turns out, Citro was right: If there are werewolves in the United States, we can blame Canada. In a lengthy interview with a local personal fitness trainer who prefers that she only be identified as “Cat” (possibly for reasons Joe Citro already alluded to), I learned that the werewolves in Vermont are fairly well known just a few miles further north.
Cat lives right along the Canadian border, and when I asked her about werewolves, she explained that what I should really be asking people about is the “loup-garou” –the Québécois term for werewolf. She soon detailed her first “scary” experience with the legendary French-Canadian monster. “My cousin and I were walking in the woods, it was about this time of year, October, and we hear a growl,” she says. “We never really found out what it was, but it stuck with me for a long time.” It was only later as an adult, after discussing the creature in the woods with her boss, when she learned about its origins.
“This man lived in the woods with his wife in one of the first cabins built on the mountain… And one time, he took off and he never came back. Legend has it that people who had gone there on days close to the full moon would go up the trails, especially in October when the leaves are changing and it’s really pretty, then go missing,” she says. “There was never anything found, these people were never found.”
It wasn’t until recently that Cat was reminded of her early childhood experience when again she heard an uncanny kind of growling from the woods surrounding her home. “It was around midnight and it was a full moon,” she says. “The cat stood up on my lap, which was strange, and I heard a strange noise — like a howling and a chirping — and it was consistent, so I get up to go check near the window. I could see the full moon and I kept on listening and I was like, ‘What the heck is this?’ It was something definitely howling at the moon and I’ve heard it many times this summer during the full moon.”
I asked her if she really believes these encounters could be the loup-garou. “Yeah, I believe there’s stuff we don’t understand — all kinds of things — but these are things people try not to talk about, people keep it secret, but they’re always on my mind.”
It’s not like Vermont is suddenly experiencing a plague of werewolves, but Citro admits there is something lurking out there in the forests of the Green Mountains. “I think most people who concern themselves with such things suspect it was a Bigfoot-like creature. There have been a lot of alleged Bigfoot sightings in that neck of the woods. But that’s explaining one unknown with another unknown. I have written a good deal about Bigfoot in Vermont. Many, many more Bigfoot sightings than werewolf encounters.”
At the end of my short investigation, I was left with the following facts: For over a century, people in the mountains of rural Vermont have been disappearing without a trace. Only a few cases have been closed with enough evidence pointing to foul play to pursue prosecutions. But the most recent instances of young women disappearing remain unsolved. Some blame the mystical shape-shifters of Native American legend called skin-walkers, others fear the cycle of the werewolf and the French-Canadian loup-garou, viewing them as inter-dimensional beings crossing over into our plain of existence to drag lost souls into the depths. Citro, who takes a more scholarly and historical view of lore and legend, seems to think that werewolf sightings can simply be attributed to some wild imaginations and the return of wild wolves to the area due to Vermont’s effective conservation initiatives. But whatever people are seeing — or claim to be seeing — something unusual is howling during the full moon, and people are intermittently disappearing without a trace.
What can be done to stop inter-dimensional beings from trespassing onto our plain of consciousness? How do we keep werewolves from illegally crossing the border from Canada? Vermont may be the home of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders, but solving these paranormal border problems seems more like a job for the keen mind of Donald Trump.