“It looked like nothing I’d ever seen before,” told Ryan O’Shea News day reporter Joye Brown. “It looked like it died angrily… I kept thinking, ‘Boy, I hope his mom isn’t here.'”
He was, of course, referring to the Montauk monster, a house cat-sized…something that washed up on the shore of Ditch Plains, a popular surfing beach on Long Island, in July 2008. Cryptids are real. What no one agreed on was what kind of animal it was. Or even if it ended up dead or alive on the beach.
In the same News day piece, one Ryan Kelso reported seeing it everywhere, wandering the dunes. “It looked about the size of an average fox, gray in color, eyes like a mole, hairless and breathing quite heavily,” he told Brown.
Cue the conspiracy theorists. Montauk, they say, is a magnet for monsters thanks to both the top-secret Montauk Project, with its psychically generated Bigfoot, and the village’s proximity to Plum Island, the former home of the Plum Island Animal Disease Center. There, the credulous claim, government researchers not only invented Lyme disease and accidentally released it in Connecticut, but also created hundreds of mutated hybrids as part of a cross-species breeding program.
Some of these creatures naturally escaped from their cages and swam to the mainland, making landfall in Montauk (such as 2008’s Montauk Monster and 2020’s lesser-known Montauk Globster) or possibly much further along the coast. Some will recall that there have been several East River Monsters along with the monster from Wolfe’s Pond Park in Prince’s Bay on Staten Island.
There are theories about what these creatures are. That’s what the New York City Parks Department said Animals New York that the 2012 East River Monster was “a pig left over from a cookout.” Other fantastical and pedestrian possibilities include: dead dogs, bloated raccoons, the legendary chupacabra, sea-mutilated turtles, rotting otters, government-made biological weapons, or Satan himself.
But does it really matter what Montauk’s monster and its ilk actually are? The Montauk monster wasn’t the first of these supposed cryptids to burrow into the public consciousness — every time the bloated, rotting body of an unfortunate unidentifiable animal ends up on a beach, people with cameras are never far behind. There is the Tasmanian Globster and the Newfoundland Blob. Trunko and the Monster of Folly Beach. The 1808 Stronsay Beast and the St. Augustine Monster, which washed ashore in 1896. Where there are banks, there are monsters.
There’s something universally compelling about a weird old corpse that could be anything. Maybe because people love a good zoological mystery. We want to believe there’s more we can discover: parts of the twisting tree of animal phyla that have yet to be mapped. Somewhat ironically, scientists estimate there are millions of undiscovered species waiting to be cataloged, but most of us don’t have the time, knowledge, or patience to invest in finding them. The most exciting zoological discoveries are often preceded by years of tedious study, research and observation, so the idea of any of us encountering an undiscovered species on a summer hike is appealing.
And then there’s the fact that the shared drama of the Montauk monster makes for a reliable dopamine drip. We all want to be a part of something, and by keeping the legend alive we can tap into the virality and get a fraction of the monster’s fifteen minutes of fame – now stretched to fifteen years. It’s a bit hard to believe that people still talk about what was just a dead and decaying animal of the non-cryptic kind to this day, but legends spread quickly on the internet and never died.
The East Hampton independent was the first go to the press with the story but it was only in the OG Gawker picked it up that lore caught on. From there come news outlets as big as CNN and Fox and as niche as the Hampton plum carried the story. The Jewish Magazine published at least five articles about the monster, including one headlined “Montauk Monster Antisemitic?” TO DISCOVER magazine made sure the world knew his “official position” was that the Montauk monster was a raccoon. Wiredon the other, claimed the monster was “a pit bull, a dogfight that washed up a Long Island beach.” New York magazine published a story about East Hampton bureaucrats denying it was a “beast from hell”. And after the mainstream media spread the story, the cryptozoology and clickbait sites kept the momentum going.
Full disclosure: Observer published not one, but two Montauk Monster pieces. The second was a deep dive into the creature and coverage published to mark the tenth anniversary of its discovery, including an interview with Loren Coleman, an accomplished cryptozoologist who claims to have coined the moniker Montauk Monster. The first was a quick shot published about a week after the creature’s discovery mentioning the monster in the context of Gawker Media properties generating twice the traffic of the nation’s fourth-largest newspaper in July of that year, including millions of views on Richard Lawson’s Montauk Monster post.
Today, Montauk Monster lore lives on on the internet, on the cryptid sites as you’d expect, but also in memes and on Twitter, where there’s a tweet referring to the creature at least every few days. People compare their fat pets to the bloated beast. Conspiracy theorists point out that the evidence is from New York’s secret bioweapons labs. And then there are those for whom the monster seems to evoke a soft, if bizarre, nostalgia. “Not a day goes by that I don’t think of the Montauk Monsterbaker and writer Susie Heller tweeted last December.
Tweet after tweet asks the same question: Do you remember the Montauk monster? We remember, the internet collective recalls, although what we remember differs. Most of us remember the hype. Cryptozoologist Coleman remembers a decomposing raccoon.
“All you had to do was look at it and know a little bit about zoology, which I know,” he said Observer in 2018, “and you would see it was hardly second-day disintegration and the decay of one [raccoon’s] body.”