Okay, not literally in my backyard, but only a few miles away in the White River, a murky waterway that meanders through the swampy bottomland of northeast Arkansas. Tales of monsters and bizarre events have been a part of that area's folklore for centuries, but when I was a kid, a rash of sightings propelled the White River Monster—or "Whitey" as he's sometimes affectionately called—into the national spotlight.
The monster pump was primed, so to speak, a few months earlier with the release of the low-budget, pseudo-documentary film called The Legend of Boggy Creek. The subject of the movie was the Fouke Monster, a hairy, ape-like creature that supposedly harassed families living outside the small town of Fouke, Arkansas, near Texarkana. Most of the cast consisted of local residents, many of whom reenacted their encounters with the monster for the cameras.
So when "Whitey" began rearing his ugly head again that summer, we all prepared for our close-ups. And sure enough, a Japanese filmmaker arrived with the intention of bringing our version of the Loch Ness monster to the big screen. Hundreds of media interviews were staged, CBS sent a news crew, and the story was picked up by The London Daily News. Local merchants began to cash in on the hype by offering monster sidewalk sales and restaurants even added "Monsterburgers" to their menus.
At least seven sightings of the monster were recorded and one witness offered a blurred Polaroid snapshot he'd taken of the elusive creature. "As big as a boxcar and thirty feet long...gray all over...with fins," one excited witness reported. Others described the creature as being sea-serpent-like with a spiny backbone.Although the Japanese movie never came to pass (more's the pity...how cool would that have been?), the attention put our little neck of the woods on the map. The monster was so widely accepted that in 1973, the Arkansas Legislature passed a resolution declaring a section of the White River a "refuge" for the creature and banned anyone from "molesting, killing, trampling or harming" the creature in any way.
In 1991, I wrote Nighttime Guardian, a book which featured the White River monster.
That's one of the cool things about being a writer. You never know what will inspire you.