I just walked my son to school after watching an episode of Dexter’s Laboratory, a children’s cartoon about a boy genius, who while he is not essentially evil, can be a little unpleasant. In this episode, a crazy monster goat–a Chupacabra–was featured. This was the second time my son was exposed to the chupacabra as we had recently watched a Scooby Doo movie called Scooby-Doo and the Monster of Mexico. As such, his curiosity as to what this weird creature is has been piqued. How do I explain to him this urban myth that has been percolating in Hispanic communities worldwide? The Chupacabra started gaining international fame in the mid-90s, but in 1975, a set of gruesome animal killings in the small Puerto Rico town of Moca were attributed to El Vampiro de Moca (The Vampire of Moca). Initially, it was suspected that the killings were committed by a Satanic cult; which by the way I have found that many Hispanics believe do exist. Later, more gruesome animal killings were reported across Puerto Rico. Each of the animals reportedly were exsanguinated (bled dry) through a series of small circular incisions. Nowadays, we attribute such killings to the Chupacabra-which literally means “suck goat” or “goat-sucker”. Sightings of the Chupacabra include subsequent witness depictions that strongly resemble the creature Sil in the science-fiction horror film Species. While Species was not a major box office draw, Hispanics, who do tend to love horror, did catch that film. Leading one to wonder, what does the Chupacabra mean to the Hispanic community and to their sense of cultural identity?
I remember when the television show X-Files featured the Chupacabra; my mom felt the need to talk to me about it and how I had to be careful to avoid it when I traveled. It was almost as if we were having the “sex” talk that we never had, although involving considerably more mutilation and strategies for monster avoidance. The Chupacabra made its way onto the world stage and the Hispanic public consciousness the same year that OJ Simpson was found not guilty, that the New York Times published the Unabomber’s Manifesto and the Contract with America got national endorsement. I would say that was a giant sucking sound all around. It was also the year that marked a 39,574,000 person growth in Hispanic population (from 1990) throughout Latin America. Going back to my mom. She was worried, seriously worried, about this Chupacabra. She would buy the National Enquirer just to make sure she had the latest updates on its whereabouts. To her the Chupacabra lurked in the darkness everywhere one went–the rural farms in Puerto Rico and the tenement buildings in the South Bronx. Till this day I wonder what I will find in my backyard at night. What is scarier though is that in 1995, the age-adjusted diabetes prevalence was ≥6% in Puerto Rico (as well as only three other states and DC). That was the beginning of the sort of the diabetes epidemic we were to see in Hispanics, where Type II diabetes (adult onset) is now being seen in high rates in children. The Chupacabra, the goat sucker, the blood drainer, was an omen of what was to come healthwise to a large group of people. But besides this very serious issue, the Chupacabra was a fun storytelling moment for the family. Where were these sightings going to pop up next? Hide your goats.
I recently went on a business trip to Puerto Rico visiting 8 cities from one end of the island to the other. Along the way, we took photos of odd creatures here and there that could possibly be related to the Chupacabra. But it has me thinking, maybe I should take my son on a road trip where we go legend-hunting. He is young enough that he won’t be embarrassed to legend-trip with his mom. We can even read Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as preparation for the trip. We can read about Tom’s visit the haunted houses and caves. But what better way to make Mark Twain’s words come alive than to go legend-tripping. We can go in search of the Chupacabra and its various incarnations.
Speaking of such an incarnation, I was thinking we could go legend/road tripping down to Kentucky where we can meet a relative of the Chupacabra.
Deep in the shadows of the Norfolk Southern Railway’s 100-foot-high train trestle over Pope Lick Creek of Floyd’s Fork (a tributary of the Salt River) in the Fisherville neighborhood of Louisville, Kentucky is the rumored home to a ghastly supernatural horror, dubbed the Pope Lick Monster in the 1940’s. Floyd’s Fork itself has a somewhat grizzly history, including the 1781 Long Run Massacre, where settlers at a fort called Painted Stone Station, led by Squire Boone (brother of famous American pioneer Daniel Boone), informed of an impending Shawnee Indian raid led by British Captain Alexander Mckee, attempted to flee to a better fortified and manned Lynn Station nearby, but were ambushed eight miles from the station, and massacred. The last Indian massacre in Kentucky occurred near Floyd’s Fork in 1789 when the family of Richard Chenoweth (three children, and the two soldiers guarding them were killed), and Mrs. Chenoweth was scalped and left for dead. In 1862, during the American Civil War, Confederate and Union forces skirmished along Floyd’s Fork.
Accounts of the Pope Lick Monster (dating primarily from the 1940’s and 1950’s) describe it as a grotesque human-goat hybrid, much like the satyr of Greek mythology. It is said to have fur-covered goat legs, an alabaster skinned face, an aquiline nose, wide set eyes, and horns poking from greasy hair. Opinions vary, but the Pope Lick Monster is said to lure victims onto the train trestle using hypnosis, voice mimicry, or driving them through fear to jump in front of oncoming trains or off the bridge into the water below. A number of accidents have occurred on the train trestle since its construction, and many of these have been ultimately attributed to the Pope Lick Monster, the story of whose origins range from being the progeny resulting unspeakable acts between a farmer and a presumably unwilling Capra aegagrus hircus (a domesticated goat), a mistreated circus freak, a reanimated corpse derived from a satanic ritual involving the sacrifice of something bovine, or an old chemist deformed in an explosion.
Seems the Pope Lick Monster is the child, or at least the cousin, of the Chupacabra. From Kentucky, we could go onto Maryland where the “Goatman” exists–supposedly an axe-wielding, half-man, half-animal creature that was once a scientist who worked in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. The tale holds that he was experimenting on goats, the experiment went awry, and he began attacking cars with an axe, roaming the back roads of Beltsville, MD. So many possibilities for our legend tripping adventure for mommy and son. We could even go down to the amazon to find the “Chullachaqui” is said to have an ability to turn into any animal of the rainforest, although it will always keep its goat leg. Chullachaqui is a kind of a forest spirit who guards the lands and the animals and punishes a man if he breaks a taboo or otherwise acts unwisely in the forest.
Goats throughout time have served as a vessel for the devil; for the devil has often appeared has appeared as a goat with horns and cloven hooves. In England and Scotland it is said that goats will never be seen for 24 consecutive hours because once a day they visit Satan to have their beards combed. However, Old Father Time is also often portrayed with a goat’s beard. How interesting that the passage of time is associated with the devil and both are depicted as goats. Yet, goats are also associated with fertility rites. What is this complex view of goats about and how is it that Hispanics in particular are so fascinated by them that they create myths of their woods-lurking blood-sucking capacities. That will be a tale for the legend-tripping roadtrip up ahead.