Although we've written about the various alleged sightings of "Bigfoot" in Connecticut, there's one particular variation on the theme that we thought might be a little more fun to explore: The Legend of the Winsted Wildman!
That's right—Connecticut's own unofficial Bigfoot legend, the story of a large, hairy creature that "terrorized" the locals on two separate occasions, almost 80 years apart. You know, if you believe the stories.
The tale supposedly starts in August 1895, when the Winsted Herald reported "a large man, stark naked, and covered with hair all over his body, ran out of a clump of bushes." (Original image here by Greg Shea)
It was witnessed by town selectman Riley Smith, who was out in the woods with his bulldog, merrily picking berries and minding his own business when the creature came along, causing Riley to be "badly scared and his dog was fairly paralyzed with fear." He described it as "a wild, hairy man of the woods, six feet in height," and adding that "the man’s hair was black and hung down long on his shoulders, and that his body was thickly covered with black hair. The man was remarkably agile, and to all appearance was a muscular, brawny man, a man against whom any ordinary man would stand little chance."
Over the next few weeks, the Wildman was purportedly seen by at least two other witnesses, whose descriptions matched Smith's. The Winsted Herald speculated that the Wild Man may have been Arthur Beckwith, an escaped mental patient from the nearby Litchfield Sanitarium. The sightings soon stopped as suddenly as they had started, and the Winsted Wildman disappeared back into the woods and was forgotten about . . . for a while, anyway.
Almost eight decades later, the Wildman reappeared. In late July 1972, the Hartford Courant reported that a "strange, man-like creature" was observed by two young men on Winchester Road, near to Crystal Lake Reservoir. At a long distance near a barn they saw a figure "about eight feet tall and covered with hair" that walked upright and finally disappeared into the woods. When it was suggested that what they may have seen was a black bear, they replied that "It was no bear."
Two years later, in September 1974, the Wildman was seen again, this time by two couples who had been parked at night by Rugg Brook Reservoir. They described to police being "terrified" by seeing a "six-foot, 300-pound creature covered with dark-colored hair" in the moonlight, and had fled the area immediately. The police went back to search and were unable to find any tracks or evidence.
Since then, there have been no other reports or accounts of the Winsted Wildman.
So what did witnesses see, if anything? A bear? A Bigfoot? An escaped mental patient? Or was it all just a hoax?
A nicely researched investigative piece by Brandon T. Bisceglia of the Hartford Skepticism Examiner shed a bit more light on the story. It's suggested that the original report may have been fabricated (or greatly embellished) by Louis Timothy Stone, the editor of the Winsted Herald in an order to create a sensation to help sell papers—a common practice at the time. Stone was known for creating fantastic stories, or dramatically exaggerating actual ones, especially tales involving unusual creatures. The Winsted Wildman certainly fits the bill.
The Examiner article also looks at the events from the 1970s—a decade where Bigfoot stories were at their apex (so to speak) and a time when the idea of a large, hairy primate-like creatures hiding in the woods of North America was certainly in the national consciousness. It's easy to see how someone may have seen a black bear (which were just returning to the region) at night and in their panic, might have mistaken it for the legendary Sasquatch. The power of suggestion, right? It's reminiscent of the Glawackus, which in all likelihood was a fisher cat, but was greatly exaggerated when the locals weren't used to seeing the then-odd creature in the area.
Here's another semi-recent story about the Winsted Wildman from the Bigfoot Encounters website.
Of course, we'll never have a definitive answer without proof—and until someone captures the Winsted Wildman or he comes in from the woods to tell his story, it'll remain another one of Connecticut's fun mysteries.
As always, if you know of any other stories or sightings involving the Winsted Wildman, please pass them along!