- Piasa Birds. These American dragon/gryffins were said by the Illini tribes to be giant birds with four legs, huge talons, scales like a serpent, huge fangs, red eyes, and antlers like a whitetail deer. "Piasa" means "bird that devours men." That's the kind of name that avoids comical Scooby-Doo style misunderstandings: "There's a Bird-That-Devours-Men behind you!"
We know what the Illini thought they looked like because the tribe thoughtfully painted a life-size Piasa bird on the cliffs overlooking the Mississippi just north of St. Louis, near Alton. Today they're just an old myth preserved as a few big signs and a local high school sports mascot . . . but my grandmother claims to have seen one to this day.
- Mud Monsters. The Murphysboro Mud Monster was first reported in 1973; it was a strange, Sasquatch-like monster thought to roam the forests and swamps of southern Illinois. It was supposed to be about seven feet tall with white fur all over its body, and left tracks about a foot long and three inches wide. It was known for its blood-curdling screams, which could send anyone running fear in the woods at night. The only actual attack attributed to the Mud Monster was later blamed on dogs, so my guess is that these creatures are actually fairly peaceful. I'm picturing small Mud Monster camps throughout the Shawnee Forest and in the swamps along the Mississippi. I bet the reason they seemed to appear suddenly and then disappear again after two weeks in 1973 is simple: that was one Mud Monster, a rebellious young hippy one who insisted on seeing the world and making friends with humans. After two weeks of trying, he moved on to Los Angeles, got a bit part on one episode of Star Trek, and became a producer. Nobody has ever really questioned him since.
- Zombie Mary Todd Lincoln. 'Nuff said.
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