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Saturday, May 20, 2017

The Bat Man of Iowa

Some of you readers may recall the post about the famous "Angels of Mons" that I wrote about a few years back. It was about a historical legend of the British army regarding an early battle in the First World War. Well this post is something similar and closer to home (since I live in Iowa). Hopefully you will enjoy this curious Edwardian urban legend which is part of our social history in the Hawkeye State.

If you go to the town of Van Meter Iowa today you will see a sleepy little community of around 1,100 people. At the turn of the 20th century, the number of residents was about 40% of what it is today. It was truly a small quiet village about 20 miles from Des Moines. However over the course of several days in the autumn of 1903, something bizarre happened in Van Meter that would gain the attention of the national and worldwide press.

 One evening, an agricultural implement dealer named U.G. Griffith reported seeing something on a downtown rooftop. He initially thought it was a person with a light and naturally assumed someone was trying to rob the place. He grabbed a firearm and went to investigate. When he got close, what he thought to be a robber took flight or jumped across the street to another roof. Realizing this was no burglar, Griffith shot at the creature and struck it, but with no result. The creature fled out of view.

The next day two men, the local doctor and a bank teller saw the creature in separate accounts. The town doctor found himself jerked from his sleep in the early morning hours by a bright light coming through his window. Thinking there was a burglar on the prowl peering into windows, he grabbed his firearm and went to investigate just as Mr. Griffith had done the evening prior. What the doctor saw was quickly changed his assumptions this was a person. He asserted that he saw a nearly seven foot tall man bat hybrid creature complete with a horn and a bright light projecting from its head. He too, fearing for his life, fired five shots at the creature to no effect. Realizing his firearm was doing nothing to stop the creature, and instead probably antagonizing it, the doctor retreated indoors. Later, a bank teller named Dunn, hearing of a burglar loose in town was guarding the bank after-hours with a shotgun. Much like the previous two men, he noticed a bright light coming through the window. When the light focused on him, be fired the gun at the source and the source of the light disappeared. Dunn reportedly took plaster casts of three toed footprints in the dirt outside when morning came, but these have never been found.

 By this point it was clear something was wrong in town and the local scuttlebutt swirled around tales of a creature or robber on the loose in Van Meter. That evening, O.V. White, a local hardware store owner and noted town marksman was disturbed by a strange noise outside his apartment above the store. He saw a large creature on top of a nearby telephone poll. Being aware of the rumors of a monster, he grabbed his rifle and took aim, squeezing off one well placed round. It did nothing to harm the creature just as before. Unlike previously, the reacted by releasing a noxious odor so strong it incapacitated Mr. White for a brief time. The commotion of gunfire brought the attention of other witnesses. Mr. Sidney Gregg, another store owner, observed the creature descending the telephone pole in a manner like a parrot and when on the ground it maneuvered similar to a kangaroo. He noted the light on the forehead was bright, much like an electric light (something still scarce in rural Iowa in 1903). A local teacher also saw it and said it resembled an ancient monster from a bygone prehistoric era. The creature reportedly took off towards the edge of town and out of view.

 The last series of encounters was enough for the town to muster a posse to hunt down the creature. Much like in an old Frankenstein film of the 30's, the men of Van Meter gathered their arms and lanterns and went out after the creature the next night. They had determined the old coal mine near the brickworks was its lair, following reports that day of strange noises emanating from the mine. When the men arrived the monster appeared from the mineshaft along with a smaller version and soared away. The posse stayed until morning when the two creatures returned and were met with a barrage of bullets "That would sink the Spanish fleet" according to a Des Moines newspaper of October 3rd. The creatures under withering fire slowly retreated down the deep mine shaft and according to some reports were sealed in with a blast. They were never seen again. Today the mine and abandon brickworks ruins are part of a farm and people still report the occasional off noise or eerie feeling when visiting the area.

So what do we make of this story? Well we are left with the idea that it is either true, that a hoaxer fooled a town, it was some form of mass dellusion/hysteria, or the town made it up for publicity. The most likely candidates are the last two, given that a hoaxer in a suit would be incapable of the feats reported and would not survive so many bullets being fired at him/her. And while the story could be true, it is HIGHLY fantastical and improbable. One must remember this was a time in America where people made fortunes fooling others (Think P.T. Barnum), and sensational reporting was alive and well in the age of yellow journalism. Whatever happened in 1903, we can all agree something happened, and it has carried on into legend in Van Meter to this day. Over 100 years later they still hold a monster festival complete with a monster hunt and researchers are still examining the story from multiple angles and writing books about it. It has become an interesting part of our history in central Iowa.

If you are interested in getting the full story in detail, a book I recommend you read "The Van Meter Visitor" by Chad Lewis.

  


Here you can see the Van Meter Bachelors of 1901. Looking at the caption below you can see that many of these men were involved with the sightings of the creature some two years later. What makes this case odd is the number of highly respected men in the community involved.

Here is a contemporary artist rendition of the creature, showing what looks to be like some flying reptile of the Jurassic or Cretaceous with a laser beam on it's head.

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