Mysteries, ghost stories, UFOs, and unexplained events and sightings can draw in almost anyone. People often want mysteries to be true even if they know they’re probably not. This collective wishing probably underscores our unending desire to discover something magical or otherworldly that’s just beyond our reach. Lyle Blackburn understands this better than most. He grew up reading about mysteries and hunting in remote areas of Texas with his dad. The mix of interests and exposure helped him evolve into a cryptozoologist of sorts, someone who studies unknown or unproven creatures and animals. He has spent a fair amount of time, in fact, trans-versing the country talking to people who claim to have seen all sorts of unexplained creatures and sightings. Are they all valid or credible? No, but he maintains there are just too many reports of too many unexplained encounters to simply write them all off. Thankfully, the author of The Beast of Boggy Creek and Sinister Swamps took some time out recently to talk to WellWell about what’s possibly out there; why we keep looking for it; and how this collective search and curiosity ties us all together.
Just what is cryptozoology and how did you get involved?
Cryptozoology can be defined as the study of unknown or unproven animals or creatures. Examples of this are, of course, Bigfoot, Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra. Things like that where people claim to have sightings of these creatures but aren’t exactly proven. Cryptozoology can also extend to animals and insects and things that have been proven. Those aren’t usually the ones that command headlines like Bigfoot. But I’ve been interested in that subject all my life since I was a kid reading stories of Bigfoot and Yeti and things like that. So, it’s something I followed but it’s not something I set out to do per se.
What was appealing about the field to you personally? Why do you think so many people in general gravitate towards this various folklore?
Well, it was always appealing to me because first I loved mysteries. You know, the mysteries of the world and when I was young, I read Ripley’s Believe It Or Not. I also grew up hunting with my father and so we spent a lot of time in the woods in a lot of small towns and rural communities. I also liked horror movies. So just the thought that there may be some undiscovered monster out there just always captured my imagination. I think it’s the same for many people who gravitate towards this field or subject. People love mysteries and they want to believe that perhaps we don’t know everything about our world. There’s always some appeal to monsters and the unknown.
What is it about swamps, in general, that generate a lot of these stories?
I think swamps are the perfect setting for these kinds of monster mysteries or even beyond that, paranormal mysteries, ghosts, spook lights and strange disappearances. A swamp is something where we can see our ancient past. It’s a primordial environment that is just conducive to scary scenes and spooky stories. It’s always been that way and I think in the modern age, this is still a place that is relatively remote and unsettled. A place where, you know, within driving distance of some people, you could go into an environment where it is possible that something could be living out there that’s not readily seen or easy to identify.
You mention that stories like this develop through generations. Why do some of them really stick?
Again, these stories appeal to people because of the mystery and somewhat because they are exciting and terrifying and many of them end up sticking because you do have long histories of people saying that this certain creature exists in a certain area. Then you have people who claim to have seen it and over time that gets documented in newspapers. And now with the internet, people posting about their sightings and encounters. All this gives these stories credibility even though these are by and largely unproven. People are just saying they’ve seen something that gives the subject matter longevity.
Sinister Swamps features locations all across the country and it reads almost like a road trip journal. What are the benefits of this cross-country travel beyond even just the information gathering? Is it just seeing different perspectives?
Yeah, certainly. I like the aspect of the sort of travel journal-style writing. Where stories are regional or indigenous to certain areas, it’s always more helpful if I can visit. I can give a better perspective of not only the story and the alleged creature or phenomenon, but I can tell what it’s like to be in that swap. So, over the years, I have traveled to the majority of the places I speak about in the book. By going there, you always get more stories than you could ever find by just doing journalistic research over the computer or looking at old newspapers. You suddenly meet people, for example, a riverboat guide or someone like that that say, “Oh yeah, I know several people who’ve seen something.” Suddenly, you’ve got a story that you wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
In the book, there are a lot of people from a lot of different perspectives, yet they all share this greater desire to understand things that have escaped published evidence. Is it reassuring seeing all these different perspectives that almost bring us together in a weird way?
Yes. Sharing these stories and learning of stories and talking to these people makes you realize that we’re all very similar in a lot of ways. Often people think, “Oh well, Bigfoot. That’s only seen by hillbillies and crazy people,” or something like that. But when you talk to these witnesses, you realize it’s just the person next door. It can be anybody from any walk of life who’s had a dramatic and unexplained experience they want to share. They want answers and you begin to realize that these stories aren’t just fanciful made-up yarns. This is real life. People just see unexplained things in our world and it’s something that again unites us all in this sort of universal mystery of trying to figure out our own world.
None of the subjects that you interviewed come off as crazy or loony. How does that help with the credibility of your message and what you’re trying to say?
Certainly, a story has more credibility if the person who had the encounter or experience is somebody we can identify with, somebody who seems to have a position of authority. Think about the first person that I talk about who saw this terrifying looking dog-like creature in Hockomock Swamp. I talked to the guy several times on the phone and he’s absolutely not a crazy person or someone who believes in outlandish things. He just simply saw something that he had no way to identify. And you know, that’s seen throughout the book. When possible, I always try to interview the person myself and I include only those stories and witnesses that I think are credible. Occasionally, I get people who claim to have seen so much weird stuff that I start to question whether any of it was real. But there are so many odd things going on and so many witnesses to this type of phenomenon that really, I don’t have to include the fringe. I can include those stories where I really think that person saw something. There’s been military personnel, biologists, doctors, people who live in rural areas that are familiar with wildlife and even hunters who know what they’re doing when they go into the woods and look for animals, so they’re going to be familiar. And you have reports from all those types of people and many more that just keep you on the trail because you’re thinking, “man, there’s something to this.”
And how do you go about determining who comes off as credible? Do you specifically look for stories that seem to have several different angles from different people?
Some of it is subjective. You just have to go with the gut feeling on who is the most credible. And the more people you interview, the easier that is because you’ve been exposed to a wide variety of people who have had these sorts of experiences and after a while, you can kind of tell the ones that are looking for attention or have really seen just what I would consider too many extraordinary things. So that you can rule those out and focus on the ones where they just seem like your average person. On top of that, you often have stories that are corroborated by multiple witnesses who don’t necessarily know each other. Those are really good ones because I’ll get a story from a specific area about a person seeing something. Then, maybe I’ll visit there or through other means, I find another person who did not know this person, who would’ve never even heard this person’s story, and they tell me of a similar encounter.
Is there any area of the country that surprised you whether in just the amount of lore that they had or maybe that the general vibe was different than what you thought it might be?
Well, yeah. There are places where you just don’t expect there to be that much phenomenon. A lot has been written about the Hockomock area of Massachusetts, of course. But once you dig into it, you realize just the massive amount of odd things being reported there and I never thought of Massachusetts as a place that had an unusual amount of mysteries, but yet it did. Even in my home state of Texas where people kind of have a certain vision about what the state looks like, you know there are swamped areas, and it has piney woods in the eastern portions. It’s a very big state so there’s a lot of different types of forestry and geology. So many stories can come out of one area once you start taking it in. It’s almost universally surprising about anywhere you go that you may hear one or two stories from a newspaper article or find something to latch onto. but as soon as you go there, you realize there are just so many stories over the years that there is something going on.
Is there any type of cryptozoology lore or a creature in specific that you think has a lot more evidence towards its existence than people might realize?
Bigfoot would be the top of the list as far as creatures who do have compelling evidence. I see people say all the time that there’s no evidence. Well, there is. There are numerous footprints that can’t be explained. There’s been skin and hair samples gathered; hair that can’t be identified with any of the local wildlife or any primates. You know, just like UFOs where people have often theorized about what the government knows, some people think the government has some knowledge of Bigfoot that they won’t reveal. I’m certain that the government at some time or another has looked into it because there’s just so many stories and it’s so prevalent. I’ve heard stories from ex-military people that say that the government has told them to be quiet and other things like that. So, I don’t know, it’s possible that something will come out where the government has admitted that they have looked into it and they can’t explain it, just like in terms of UFOs. I think we all know that unidentified flying objects literally exist. That doesn’t mean there are aliens, but you can’t say that people don’t see that stuff. It’s the same for Bigfoot and I think there’s the most compelling evidence for that creature and if any are going to be discovered, I think that would be at the top of the list.
About Lyle Blackburn
Lyle Blackburn is a native Texan known for his work in writing, music and film. A cryptozoologist as well, he is the author of The Beast of Boggy Creek and Sinister Swamps. Blackburn is also the founder of the rock band Ghoultown and has narrated and or produced several documentaries on the unknown phenomenon.
The Beast of Boggy Creek & Sinister Swamps can also be purchased through Amazon here.