The Legend of the Flatwoods Monster
By Buddy Griffin
As the dog days of summer gradually give way to the crisp chill of autumn, September 12 might seem to be just another typical day. For me, the date tickles at the back of my mind, like a teasing memory. Then I recall an eerie significance attached to this date, when an event almost too bizarre to be real rocked the small town of Flatwoods in central West Virginia.
September 12, 2002, marks the 50th anniversary of the reported sighting of an alien creature in the hills of Braxton County. Some dismissed it as a hoax, but those who were actually there at the time have a different perspective. The event has had a profound impact. As a result of it, Flatwoods would earn the nickname "Home of the Green Monster." The frightening tale would be told time and again by those who witnessed the event, and friends and neighbors would speak of it in whispers. The story would live on, passed down through the generations and becoming part of the oral folklore that is so unique to our mountain culture and heritage.
I was five years old when I first learned about the Flatwoods Monster, also known as the Braxton County Monster, the Phantom of Flatwoods, or simply the Green Monster. It was an experience that was burned forever into my mind.
During the early 1950's, my family and I lived in Summersville, and I loved to go on fishing trips with my dad and other relatives. On one of these fishing expeditions late one summer, we spent most of the morning fishing up and down the Elk River, just above Sutton, in Braxton County. Tired and hungry, we retreated to a local restaurant for lunch. This restaurant was located at the "Y" intersection of routes 4 and 19, about half-a-mile south of downtown Sutton. We were seated in a booth near the window, and had just finished ordering our food. We were making small talk with the waitress when she looked at me and commented, "You'd better look out, or that monster will get you."
Why would someone offer that kind of "helpful" advice to a five-year-old kid? Her words, nonetheless, had the desired effect, and I felt the blood drain from my face in terror. I looked to my father for reassurance, or a conspiratorial wink, or a smile indicating that the waitress was kidding. But there were none!
An uncomfortable silence fell over the afternoon dining crowd, and the room took on the stale air of a funeral parlor. In quiet, hushed tones, conversations slowly resumed. My young ears picked up bits and pieces of dialogue laced with words such as "fireball," "spaceship," "red eyes," and "10-feet tall." My heart thumped painfully against my thin chest when I heard the phrase, "Eat you alive!"
Apparently, the fear in my heart was communicated clearly on my face. A burly gentleman leaned around our booth and commented, "Don't worry about the monster getting you, kid. You'll smell it before it gets near enough to grab you." The diners around us erupted into gales of hearty laughter that reverberated around the room for a good two minutes. I looked questioningly at my father, still hoping for some form of reassurance, and he began to explain.
Recently, some people in the nearby community of Flatwoods had an unusual experience, he said. A fireball, it seems, had fallen from the sky. A few residents witnessed this phenomenon and had gone to investigate. When they got there, they discovered a hideous monstrosity with fiery red eyes. Some of the search team reportedly were overwhelmed by a highly noxious odor and ran for their lives. My father finished by saying that he wouldn't let the monster get me.
I felt a little better, but my once-strong interest in bass fishing was now completely overshadowed by a nagging fear of monsters. My thoughts strayed, and I felt a desperate urge to retreat across the mountain to the safety and comfort of home.
That episode in the restaurant left an impression on me so intense, that still today I am repulsed and fascinated by the Green Monster.
You can read the rest of this article in the Fall 2002 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.