In many ways we are very lucky. We get to travel around the world looking for mystery animals, and then write books about our adventures. Of course it isn’t quite as simple as that, because there is a whole slew of mundane administration and stuff, but on the whole doing what we do is a heck of a lot better than having a proper job. We live in Woolsery and we run The Centre for Fortean Zoology – the world’s largest mystery animal research group, and once a year we invite devotees of the weird and wonderful here for the internationally famous Weird Weekend.

We also write a monthly column for The Bideford Post and we decided that it was about time that we introduced Weird Torridgeside to the blogosphere..

Sunday, 15 March 2009

RICHARD FREEMAN: Other historical accounts of "The Devil's Fooptprints"


Though the 1855 case in Devon is the best known phenomena akin to the Devil’s Foot prints are known from other places and times.

Ralph of Coggeshall, was a monk then abbot as well as proto-Fortean who recorded all manner of odd occurrences in the 13th century (including the Merman of Orford Ness). He tells us that on June 19th of 1205 a hoof print appeared in the earth after a violent electrical storm.

The Times of March 14th 1840 reports…

Among the high mountains of that elevated district where Glenorchy, Glenlyon and Glenochay are contiguous, there have been met with several times, during this and also the former winter, upon the snow, the tracks of an animal seemingly unknown at present in Scotland. The print, in every respect, is an exact resemblance to that of a foal of considerable size, with this small difference, perhaps, that the sole seems a little longer, or not so round; but as no one has had the good fortune as yet to have obtained a glimpse of this creature, nothing more can be said of its shape or dimensions; only it has been remarked, from the depth to which the feet sank in the snow, that it must be a beast of considerable size. It has been observed also that its walk is not like that of the generality of quadrupeds, but that it is more like the bounding or leaping of a horse when scared or pursued. It is not in one locality that its tracks have been met with, but through a range of at least twelve miles.

Commander Rupert T, Gould, another early Fortean who wrote books on the Loch Ness Monster and sea serpents also unearthed an account from Kerguelen Island in the sub-Antartic. The original account was written up in May 1840, by Captain Sir James Clarke Ross, when his ships, the Erebus and Terror, were lying off Kerguelen.

'Of land animals we saw none; and the only traces we could discover of there being any on this island were the singular foot-steps of a pony or ass, found by the party detached for surveying purposes, under the command of Lieutenant Bird, and described by Doctor Robertson as "being three inches in length and two and a half in breadth, having a small and deeper depression on each side, and shaped like a horseshoe".

Both the following reports come from Charles Fort’s Book of the Damned.

In the Illustrated London News, March 17, 1855, a correspondent from Heidelberg wrote, "upon the authority of a Polish Doctor in Medicine," that on the Piaskowa-góra (Sand Hill) a small elevation on the border of Galicia, but in Russian Poland, such marks are to be seen in the snow every year, and sometimes in the sand of this hill, and "are attributed by the inhabitants to supernatural influences."

There have been many incidents of strange footprints with cloven hoofs appearing without an obvious cause. Most occur during or after a fierce electrical storm. Some of these are linked to the legend of Kui found in the Shanhaijing. This is a 2000 year old book recording the culture and geography of China prior to the Qin Dynasty (221-207 BC) The Shanhaijing say the Kui is a mythical monster with one leg like cloven hoof that looks kind of like a cow, except with one foot. Fierce electrical storms heralded its presence.

The Daoist Zhuangzi, who lived c. 3rd-2nd BC, mentions Kui in two chapters of the book "Autumn Floods" in which he describes Kui as a one-legged creature.

The K'uei envies the millipede, the millipede envies the snake, the snake envies the wind, the wind envies the eye, and the eye envies the mind. The K'uei said to the millipede, "I have this one leg that I hop along on, though I make little progress. Now how in the world do you manage to work all those ten thousand legs of yours?" The millipede said, "You don't understand. Haven't you ever watched a man spit? He just gives a hawk and out it comes, some drops as big as pearls, some as fine as mist, raining down in a jumble of countless particles. Now all I do is put in motion the heavenly mechanism in me ‑ I'm not aware of how the thing works."

The Jersey Devil is reputed to be a horse-headed ,bat-winged, fork-tailed horror with cloven hooves. It has supposedly terrorized the Pine Barrens of New Jersy since colonial times. The most intense flap of sightings came in January 1909 when thousands of reports of a winged monster in no less than thirty towns. In Burlington the creature left hoofprints on the rooftops and back yards in a manner akin to the Devon case of 1855. Whatever made he tracks seem to have an intrest in rubbish bins suggesting it was some kind of animal searching for food.

The residence of nearby Bristol also found hoofprints in the snow after the Post Master saw a huge bird like beast and awful screams were heard. Two local trackers said that they had never seen anything like them. Later the tracks turned up at Camden and Riverside. In Trenton, Councilman E.P. Weeden heard the flapping of wings and then found hoof prints outside his door. The prints were also found at the arsenal in Trenton. As the day wore on the Trolleys in Trenton and New Brunswick had armed drivers to ward off attacks.

It has been suggested that the Jersey Devil flap of 1909 was a newspaper hoax. If it was then it was a remarkably well-organized and far-reaching one.

On January 10th 1945 weird tracks were found in the snow in Belgium. Eric Frank Russell wrote the following in issue 15 of Doubt the magazine of the now defunct Fortean Society.

(The prints) were spotted on a snow-covered hill behind the Chateau de Morveau, near Everberg, part-way between Brussels and Louvain, Belgium, at 10 a.m on January 10th 1945. The snow varied from two to four feet in depth and I traced the prints for half a mile in a north-westerly direction until they entered a tiny wood or copse, where abruptly they disappeared A thorough search of the copse revealed no hole, lair or tree where anything might have concealed itself with-out leaving some evidence in the snow. I then traced the prints in the opposite direction, south-easterly, for nearly two miles, crossing several fields and a small stream, until they faded out on a hillside thick with windblown snow which had drifted over the prints for an unknown distance. But the sign did not reappear on the crest of the bill, nor was there any indication on the opposite sheltered side.

The prints measured about two and a half inches in length by one and a half wide, were spaced in pairs one behind the other to form a single file. the distance between prints of one pair being about nine inches, and between pairs twelve to fifteen inches. (This means they were not regularly spaced print by print, but alternated in nine and twelve-fifteen inch gaps.) They ran in a dead straight line, one print immediately behind the other without slightest misplacement to left or right. Judging by their depth whatever made them was at least the weight of a good medium-sized creature such as an Airedale.

Due to heavy frost and lack of further snow, the prints remained visible for two days, during which time I drew the attention of several people to them, including one Arthur Davies of Sheffield, and Victor Beha of London, as well as some local Belgians. Unfortunately all were singularly lacking in curiosity, Beha jesting that they must have been made by a gyroscopic rat - probably as good a guess as that of any dogmatic expert.

The Belgians could not think what they might be, never having seen the like before. Three cameras were available, all empty, and not a film to be got for love or money, otherwise I could have recorded this phenomenon for all time.

The tracks looked to me somewhat like those of a large goat, and there were goats aplenty in that part of Belgium, but goats don't step leaving single-line spoor.

Unfortunately, the prints were not as dramatic as the ones seen in Devon - they didn't run for miles and they didn't traverse rooftops.'

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