THE MONTAUK MONSTER: FACT OR FICTION
By Tara Gruber
Our story today takes place in Montauk, a hamlet in the Town of East Hampton, Suffolk County, New York. Montauk is located on the “East End” of Long Island. The “Montauk” name derives from the Montaukett tribe, an Algonquian-speaking tribe who live in the area. There are several legends involving the hamlet of Montauk including both the haunting of Montauk Manor and the undisclosed happenings of Camp Hero military station. The latest lore related to Montauk is that of the infamous “Montauk Monster.” The monster was discovered when it washed ashore on Ditch Plains beach in July of 2008. Three women stumbled upon the creature while walking along the beach, searching for a spot to sit. One of the women snapped a photo and joked around that the creature looked like some type of science experiment from nearby Plum Island. The creature appeared to be some type of dog or raccoon that had been in the ocean for some time. It was disturbing to look at, the corpse being bloated and bruised. The creature was especially odd however, since the carcass seemed to have a beak in place of a snout. It didn’t make sense. The photo that was taken by one of the women was soon featured in a local news article. The article was titled “The Hound of Bonacville”, a pun derived from the name “Bonackers”, a community and cultural group specific to East Hampton, and the Sherlock Holmes story The Hound of the Baskervilleby Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.(*The history of the Bonackers is also quite interesting and worth looking into if you aren’t familiar).
After the release of this article, the story spread quickly, and it was covered by many additional news outlets. When the story went viral, people were intrigued and wished to view the beast in the flesh. However, the whereabouts of the monster was unknown. It had simply vanished. This made the findings even more suspicious and intriguing. Many believed the whole thing to be a hoax created for publicity. There was nothing but a photograph to prove the creature even existed. Some believed that once the story went public, the carcass was moved to an undisclosed location in an elaborate cover up. The locals that spoke to the media following the discovery, soon became reluctant to speak any further on the subject.
One reporter named Nick Leighton was persistent enough to get an interview with the three friends who discovered the monster, although there was not too much more to gain from them. In fact, the girls were very evasive about what happened to the body after it mysteriously vanished. Leighton also addressed the Plum Island Animal Disease Center hypothesis. This idea conveyed a belief that this creature escaped from a secretive government research facility off the coast of Orient Point. He visited the facility and due to the level of security involved, believed that it was not likely that the creature was from the Animal Disease Center. Another story that Leighton had heard was that the Montauk Monster was an animal that was torched at sea during some sort of Viking funeral. This information came from another reporter named Drew Grant who claimed she heard the story from an old friend. The friend stated that he had created the monster himself. The unnamed friend told Grant that he and some pals stumbled across a dead raccoon while celebrating 4thof July weekend at Shelter Island. The group of friends placed the raccoon corpse on an inflatable raft, weighted down by a watermelon, and set the corpse afire as it floated out to sea. The friend who gave this story, wished to be unnamed, afraid that it would cause trouble with animal activists. Grant referred to the story as ‘shady” but found the Viking funeral tale credible.
Many scientists and cryptozoologists (a pseudoscience that aims to prove the existence of entities from folklore) examined the photos in efforts to explain what the creature was. Since the body of the creature was never recovered, conclusions were made based off the photographs alone. William Wise from Stony Brook University’s Living Marine Resources Institute examined the photograph along with a colleague and deemed the creature most likely a fake. His next best guess was that the creature could be a diseased dog or coyote that had been exposed to the elements for some time. Palaeozoologist Darren Naish concluded that based off the corpse’s skull shape and paws, the creature was likely a raccoon. He attributed the creature’s odd appearance to the water action and decomposition that removed the animal’s hair and some of its flesh. Jeff Corwin, Animal Planet expert, also identified the deceased animal as that of a raccoon.
Montauk is a place full of mysterious stories and the Montauk Monster certainly adds to the weirdness of such a unique place to live and visit. To this day, the creature is still debated over its authenticity. Although the photograph has been examined by professionals,people persist to believe that this creature is something else entirely; a by-product of a terrible experiment from Plum Island Animal Disease Center? An extraterrestrial entity? Or something else fun and imaginative? What do you believe?