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5 Real-Life Monsters That Have (Allegedly) Stalked Northern California

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A moment from a History Channel documentary about deep sea monsters. Just kidding! It's a still from ‘It Came From Beneath the Sea.’ Actual sea monsters have been reported in Tahoe, Monterey and Santa Cruz though. (Columbia Pictures)

Ask Northern Californians what local monsters they think about the most, and invariably you will hear a list of very bad people. Gentrifiers! The people who spread lies about San Francisco being The Purge now! That one guy who hoses down homeless people! Folks who move in next door to music venues, then make noise complaints! Erratic ghost cars! You get the gist.

It’s Halloween season at the moment, though, so it’s the perfect time to think beyond the usual suspects and venture into our region’s very real history of dealing with actual monsters. The mysterious kind. The kind that people laugh at witnesses for reporting in the first place.

Here are five major ones you might not have realized were ever in our midst.

A mysterious bigfoot figure, walking through a foggy forest and silhouetted against trees.
Bigfoot, doing his thing. (David Wall/ Getty Images)

Bigfoot in Antioch

Back in 1869, an unsuspecting hunter wandered back to his campsite in Antioch one evening to find his belongings in disarray. As he tried to make sense of the scene, he noticed something else — enormous footprints that closely resembled the shape of a man’s foot, rather than an animal’s.

The hunter was so confounded that, rather than clean up the mess, he opted to hide out in some bushes 20 yards away and stake out whatever had paid the camp an earlier visit. After two hours, the mysterious beast did indeed come back and the hunter was able to observe a bonafide Bigfoot for about 20 minutes. The hunter later reported that the creature was:

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“5 feet high and disproportionately broad and square at the shoulders with arms of great length. The legs were very short and the body long. The head was small compared to the rest of the creature and appeared to be set upon his shoulders without a neck. The whole was covered with dark brown and cinnamon-colored hair.”

So… a tall Ewok then? (Sign me up!)

The hunter hung around long enough to see Overgrown Wicket meet up with another Bigfoot that was “unmistakenly female.” (That means boobs, probably?) To his surprise, after telling other hunters in the area what he had witnessed, the Bigfoot-spotter found that almost no one was surprised. Most other folks reported seeing the signature giant footprints and at least one other man had seen the furry fam as well.

Rupert Matthews, author of Bigfoot: True-Life Encounters With Legendary Ape-Men notes that: “This acceptance of the reality of the creatures by those who spent a lot time in the forested hills is a feature of early cases [of Bigfoot sightings] that surfaces again and again. ”

A gorgeous blue lake surrounded by green pine trees. A small green island sits in the center of the water.
Emerald Bay, Lake Tahoe: May or may not be home to a giant serpent monster. (Anjelika Gretskaia/ Getty Images)

Tahoe Tessie

It sounds like a bad joke set-up: Two nuns, a couple of cops, one optometrist and 10 USPS workers walk into the countryside… yadda-yadda-yadda… punchline about a sea serpent.

Except, that is the actual list of people who reported seeing some kind of aquatic monster in the waters of Lake Tahoe in the mid-1980s. One of the cops, Reno’s Kris Beebe, said the creature — nicknamed “Tahoe Tessie” for funsies — was “dark gray or black” and “a minimum of 10 feet long.” The other witnesses described a featureless body that was “fast-moving and undulating, but strangely devoid of identifying attributes.”

Noting that nothing of that size had ever been proven to live in the 1,590-foot-deep lake, fishing guide Mickey Daniels told the San Francisco Examiner: “I think there’s something there. I’ve talked to about a hundred people who’ve seen it. What do I do — call them liars?”

Female, red vampire lips with dripping blood, viewed in close-up.
In 1978, a Daly City resident named Kooki Davis claimed publicly to be a full-fledged vampire. (Remains/ Getty Images)

Vampires in Daly City

In 1978, the San Francisco Examiner dedicated a story to Kooki Davis, a Daly City-dwelling hair stylist from Trinidad, who was living full-time as a vampire. “She has long fangs, razor-sharp fingernails and blood dripping from her lips,” the paper reported, like that was perfectly normal. “She speaks with a Transylvania twang and her ‘come hither’ stare sends icy fingers up and down your spine.”

In the story, Davis explained that she’d become a “certified” vampire five years ago. And if you’re wondering what that exam involves, she elaborated: “To become a vampire, you have to be bitten by a vampire. Once bitten, you become a victim. Victims have to serve an apprenticeship to learn the ropes … There’s a lot of activity in San Francisco, so you can earn your merit badges pretty fast — as opposed to Dubuque or Wichita.”

(This is the value of newspapers, friends. Movies never tell anyone that in order to rid oneself of a vampire problem, moving to Iowa or Kansas will solve it, but here we are.)

Of her interactions with the general public, Davis noted that at work, at the end of each haircut, her “trademark” was to give each of her customers a “gentle bite” on the neck.

Man, that salon must have had amazing insurance.

A man looks up at a flying mothman figure in the sky that's silhouetted against the moon at night.
Someone spotted this guy on top of Sacramento’s Tower Bridge. Not cool, Mothman. Not cool. (David Wall/ Getty Images)

The Sacramento Mothman

As all good cryptid nerds know, Mothman primarily enjoys hanging out in West Virginia. (Probably because 80% of the state is forested, and also because approximately 80% of people who don’t live in West Virginia assume that everyone who does is crazy.) For decades there, witnesses have been describing a 7-foot-tall man with red eyes and wings, with a wingspan between 10 and 15 feet wide, who can fly at speeds too fast to catch on camera.

Well, Mothman must have had himself a little Californian vacation in 2009, because a photographer named Lamont Greer claims to have seen the humanoid hanging around on top of Sacramento’s Tower Bridge one night. Greer had been taking photos of the bridge at the time and was stunned by what he saw.

“I had just finished filming the back side of the bridge so I was bent down putting my camera back in my camera bag,” Greer told The History Channel’s MonsterQuest, “and I kind of felt something looking at me. When I first saw it, I didn’t know what it was … but then my eyes kind of focused on it a bit better. It spread wings and then started flying off. It wasn’t a man, it wasn’t a bird. It was absolutely strange and unique. If it wanted to come down and hurt someone — attack — it absolutely could cause damage.”

The Sacramento sighting is not the only time Mothman has showed up in a city. In 2017, a bunch of people reported seeing him hanging around Chicago — including at the airport. A moth’s gotta vacation, you guys. A moth’s gotta vacation.

Two slender sea monsters with long tails and small fins make turns in the ocean as light streams through from the sky.
Multiple fishermen in Santa Cruz and Monterey used to report a sea serpent lurking in the water. They nicknamed it ‘The Old Man of Monterey Bay’ and also, for some reason, ‘Bobo.’ ( Victor Habbick Visions/ Getty Images)

The Old Man of Monterey Bay

About a hundred years ago, the fishermen of Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz waterfront started reporting seeing an alarming dragon-like creature circling their boats. Some witnesses said the strange beast had a very large head, extremely long tail and a series of pointed spines along its back. A Monterey man named Dominic Costanza said the creature was about four feet in width and had “what looked like the face of a very old man or a monkey … with two eyes the size of breakfast buns.”

(Never mind the creature — what the hell is a breakfast bun?)

By March 1940, the creature had two nicknames — “The Old Man of Monterey Bay” or “Bobo,” depending on your preference — and it had prompted around 30 fishing captains to make reports to the Santa Cruz Sentinel.

Years later, Geoffrey Dunn — a man whose family had been in Santa Cruz for generations — wrote in Santa Cruz Style that:

Several of my uncles and cousins reportedly encountered the monster while fishing in their small, double-ended fishing vessels … My late uncle Mario Stagnaro once recounted for me the afternoon that a badly shaken fisherman, Bill Totten, returned to the docks following a day of fishing in June of 1941. ‘I saw that serpent or monster out there!’ he screamed. ‘Get me out of here!’

Totten apparently did not return to the wharf for some time. Play nice, Bobo!

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Be careful out there, folks — and have a happy Halloween.

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