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Monsters of New York: Mysterious Creatures in the Empire State

Monsters of New York by Bruce G. Hallenbeck

Monsters of New York Mysterious Creatures in the Empire State by Bruce G. Hallenbeck
“Monsters of New York” by Bruce G. Hallenbeck

When people think of New York, many iconic images come to mind: the Statue of Liberty, the Empire State Building, subways, Time Square, Broadway shows, crowds, and the general hustle and bustle of the business center of the world. But New York City is only a small part of New York State, and many might be surprised to know that we have our fair share of Bigfoot, lake monsters, alien creatures, and other weird, difficult-to-categorize phenomenon. “Monsters of New York” by Bruce G. Hallenbeck is one of the newest in a series of books by Stackpole books, detailing the monsters of each state in the Union. And as a native New Yorker, how could I not pick this one up?

Hallenbeck was co-author of  “Monsters of New Jersey” with Loren Coleman, another book I reviewed. This time, he flies solo, tackling the folklore, myths, and urban legends of the Empire State. Indeed, the first chapter is about Native American folklore, the wendigo, ice giants, flying serpents, and the like, and how they may be related to current sightings of more familiar monsters.

From there, he moves on to Champ, the lake monster of Lake Champlain. I’m not too keen on lake monsters, but this chapter gives a very good account of the sightings in New York, and also details some other, lesser-known river and lake monsters in the state. Up next is Bigfoot and the Kinderhook creature, which is also a Bigfoot-type animal. Apparently there are a lot of Bigfoot sightings upstate, near Whitehall and Kinderhook, which is to be expected, but Hallenbeck even chronicles some tales of Bigfoot-like creatures out in Long Island back in the 1800s. As a New Yorker, those were interesting, even though it’s hard to imagine any Bigfoot out there, even hundreds of years ago.

The Montauk monster is dealt with at length here as well, and while the stories of Plum Island and the research being done their is interesting, I don’t think this “cryptid” warranted its own chapter, especially since in all likelihood, it was just a dead dog or raccoon that had badly decomposed. Aliens and other weird little creatures in the Hudson Valley? Check. There was a huge UFO flap there in the 1980s, and its summaries very well here. And what book on strange creatures in New York would be complete without alligators in the sewers? It really happened, and Hallenbeck explains all in his book.

The last chapter talks about out of place cats and even touches briefly on el chupacapras. Again, not hard to imagine big cats in upstate New York. Heck, only a few years ago we had coyotes in Central Park, so anything is possible.

The Good: Bruce Hallenbeck is a native New Yorker, and his enthusiasm for the subject matter shines through in this book. He even offers up some of his own first-hand accounts experiencing some of the weirdness of New York State. For a short book (without appendices, only 104 pages long), he covers a lot of ground, including the history of the lands in New York, Native American folklore, urban legends, and more. There are two useful appendices in the book, one covering Champ sightings, and the other covering Bigfoot sightings, both in chronological order (but, I’m guessing, by no means comprehensive).

The Bad: I mention this in a lot of my book reviews, I know, but there are no photos here. Which most of the time would be a more minor issue, but when pages and pages are based upon discussion of a photograph of Champ, it might be nice to let the reader be able to see said photograph. There were also some omissions of other creatures that I felt should have made the book, like the flying humanoid seen in Coney Island, or the baby elephant sightings in my own home neighborhood of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn.

The Ugly: I’m nitpicking here, and mainly doing so because Mr. Hallenbeck has collaborated with Loren Coleman in the past (on the aforementioned “Monsters of New Jersey”), so he should know that the word “Bigfoot” is always capitalized, and the plural form for Bigfoot is Bigfoot. But throughout the book, Bigfoot is spelled “bigfoot” and pluralized as “bigfoots.” It just doesn’t read right to me, and took me out of the stories on more than one occasion.

The Bottom Line: A good book for anyone interested in the various myths and legends of New York State, but way too short to be comprehensive. Instead, this reads more like a primer, something to whet your appetite for more, and there are other books that cover the legends contained herein in much more detail. But if you love the other Stackpole books in this series, it’s a must have. Photos, more details and more creatures would have been nice, but I did appreciate the first-hand accounts that Hallenbeck shared. For me, it’s always much more interesting to read accounts like that, rather than third-hand stories that have been retold and recycled over the years. Strongly recommended.

Final Score: 80%