Inevitably, the question is asked in every lasting relationship. After you’ve talked of siblings and first loves, your favorite music and your favorite color, and it has grown dark outside and the lights have dimmed, and it’s just you alone with another human being, listening to the fulcrums of each other’s life journeys, the question is posed: “What is the strangest thing that has ever happened to you?”
Sometimes, it’s phrased a little differently: “What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you?” or “Do ya have any weird stories?”
The one I ask of my new friends as a sort of litmus test to calculate my further interest in them, for I believe interesting people are byproducts of a few random extraordinary events, is this: “Has anything ever happened to you that you cannot explain logically?”
I have never been disappointed by the answer.
The most straight-edged skeptic will still have a nugget of a story that, on the surface, defies explanation. And everyone, when recalling this memory they keep locked in a room in the farthest recesses of their mind, takes on the same reverent tone when dispensing these odd truths. Because, in those stories, we get a glimpse at something more, don’t we? Something beyond the limits and confines of logical reality. Something bigger. A sense of the paranormal, of spirits, of creatures lurking in the shadows, of our oldest nightmares made real.
My grandfather, who served in the Pacific theater in WWII, sometimes spoke of giant snakes—big enough to eat men—that lived in the jungles of Fiji. He spoke of the way the undersides of navy vessels glowed at night with phantom light.
Two years after I first met my buddy Charles, I asked him The Question, and he told me a story about running through downtown Cleveland one afternoon and seeing a boy dressed in Depression-era clothing dart from behind a building and then disappear before his eyes, like a vapor.
I have spoken to FBI agents who hear dark voices at the site where Amy Mihaljevic’s body was recovered.
My aunt tells the story—I kid you not—of seeing the Easter bunny in the furry flesh as a child. She has become convinced over the years that what she actually saw was an angel pretending to be the Easter bunny to please her child mind. I like that explanation, actually.
I have collected a handful of strange stories of my own. I suppose it’s a byproduct of my profession, reporting. Journalism opens doors for me that are shut for most people. For instance, I’ve spent a night inside the Mansfield reformatory (avoid the showers). I’ve tracked a suspected murderer to Key West, Florida, who seemed enveloped in a visible darkness (Yes, I know how that sounds). I once watched a row of strange aircraft disappear over Portage County (My father, who was with me that day, owns that story and tells it at every opportunity).
But nothing quite comes close to the weirdness I experienced one particular evening at Camp Manatoc, when I was fourteen years old.
It was twilight and I was with my best friend, Toby Pease, the senior patrol leader of Troop 558 (and now an analyst for the Federal Reserve). We were setting up a tent on a grassy hill when we saw the end of the world crashing through the sky. It was a bright green ball of light, trailing silent fire across the heavens. A meteor, obviously. But it was damn close. Too close. And too big.
“Oh, that’s not good,” said Toby, in his droll way. I think we both suspected it would be his last words.
We watched the ball of fire disappear behind the treetops and braced for the shockwave that would signal its impact. But it never came. Not even a sound.
“Let’s go see,” I suggested.
And so Toby and I set off into the woods, the deep dark woods of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park system. Deep and old and hungry woods.
The sun was setting and the light was leaving the world but we made our way quickly over several ravines, marching in the direction of where the meteor (or whatever it was—by then we were already wondering if it might have been a flying saucer, you know, like the one at Roswell) crashed.
Toby saw them first. “What the hell?”
I felt something dripping on my neck. It felt like rain but it wasn’t raining.
I followed Toby’s gaze toward the trunk of a large oak tree. The tree seemed to be moving, undulating.
Something was covering the giant tree. We stepped closer.
Millions. Billions of little creatures covered the trunk and scuttled slowly up the branches above. They looked like tufts of cotton. I realized with horror that what was dripping on my neck was their excrement.
You can imagine how quickly we departed the area. We were convinced that some extraterrestrial bug had come down on the meteor or spaceship or whatever had crashed and was now multiplying, beginning to eat our planet whole.
In hindsight, the creatures were probably aphids and had nothing to do with the meteor. Certainly, they have not yet taken over Camp Manatoc, let alone the world.
And still . . .
Sometimes, in the quiet hours after midnight, I lie awake and wonder. What did we really see that night as teenagers? After all, as you’ll discover in this book, Camp Manatoc is no stranger to scary stories. Some people think reality is stretched thin, there.
During the day, in the light, we can afford to be logical.
But in the darkness, we know better.
In the darkness, we believe.
So turn on a night light, lock your door (dead bolt, just in case), and close the window blinds, because I want to tell you some more stories. I can’t say they’re true. Not for sure.
Let that be some comfort to you until the light returns.
The last contact Dale Spaur had with the media was in October 1966, a few months after “The Incident.” A reporter named John de Groot found him living out of a motel room in Solon, barely surviving on $80 a week—living off bowls of cereal and the occasional sandwich. He looked sickly, a shell of a man. Spaur said it had found him again, the flying saucer he’d chased into Pennsylvania earlier that year, when he was still a respected sheriff’s deputy with a family. He called the flying saucer “Floyd,” his middle name.
And then, like the UFO, Spaur disappeared.
For forty years, the public was left wondering how the story ended and what had become of Dale Spaur.
Then, in 2006, quite out of the blue, Spaur’s son contacted me and hinted at a more sinister ending, the kind Stephen King might have written for the guy.
We met at a greasy spoon in Kent—Mike’s Place, the joint with the X-wing fighter parked out front. The first thing you should know about James, Dale Spaur’s son, is that he’s a giant, a large imposing man, just like his father, who was six-feet-four-inches. The type of fellow who usually isn’t afraid of anything.
“I’m his flesh and blood,” said James. “But there was a part of him that was always hidden. He wouldn’t even tell me everything.”
What he did tell him, though, was enough to make his skin crawl.
And it all began that far-away night in 1966, along a desolate stretch of road in southern Portage County, when his father and another deputy came across that abandoned ’59 Ford full of strange electronic equipment . . .
The following description of events is taken from actual documented interviews, police reports, and military memos written in the weeks following the unexplained events of April 17, 1966.
Dale Spaur’s shift began promptly at midnight. He was on patrol that morning with Deputy Wilbur Neff, cruising the dusty roads of Portage County. The early hours of April 17 were routine, at least at first. They visited the site of a car crash and sent the driver to the hospital and waited for a tow. They stopped for coffee. Around 5:07 a.m. Spaur and Neff were in route to a nearby hospital when they passed an abandoned car on the side of State Route 224, east of Randolph.
The rusty vehicle was parked at the edge of a nest of dark woods. The driver was nowhere to be seen. They parked the cruiser. Spaur stepped over to the vehicle while Neff remained by their patrol car. So it was Spaur who saw the strange design on the side of the abandoned car. It was a triangle with a lightning bolt inside. “Seven Steps to Hell” was written above it. Inside the car was a bunch of electronic equipment and old radios.
Suddenly, Spaur caught site of a light in the sky to the south. As he turned to it, he realized it was close. Very close. It was some kind of craft, large and oval. It hovered just above the treetops, about 500 feet above their heads. It emitted a brilliant blue-white spotlight that shot down straight below it. The light hit the cruiser. Suddenly, the road, the woods, and the car were bathed in light “as bright as daylight.” As it moved, the saucer slowly tipped forward as if pulled by some invisible force. It made no noise other than a faint humming. Spaur later explained that it actually sounded like “a whisper behind a humming.” As he ran back to the cruiser, Spaur had the sensation that reality was warping and that the patrol car might disappear if he touched it. That didn’t happen.
Once they were inside, Spaur radioed back to base. The saucer settled gently over them, as if waiting to see what they would do next.
“P-13 to base,” said Spaur. Deputy Robert Wilson answered and listened as Spaur updated him on the strange situation unfolding out on Route 224. “It’s about fifty feet across, and I can just make out a dome or something on top, but that’s very dark. The bottom is real bright . . . It’s like it’s sitting on the beam.” The cruiser’s headlights, he noted, were overpowered by the saucer’s light.
“Dale,” said Wilson, “do you have your .44 Magnum with you?”
“Take a shot at it.”
“I don’t think I want to do that. Listen, Bob. This thing’s a monster! It’s like looking down the middle of hell.”
A moment later, Wilson came back with new orders: stay put and wait for the camera car being sent from headquarters.
But then the saucer pitched forward and started off east, over 224. Spaur and Neff followed. It began to accelerate. Spaur kept pace. Soon they were traveling at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour down State Route 14, through the sleepy hamlets of Deerfield and North Benton. If the saucer was trying to elude the police, it had picked the wrong deputy—Spaur was a former stock car racer.
As dawn broke on the horizon, the craft was silhouetted and Spaur and Neff could make out an antenna or “probe,” about twenty feet long, sticking out of the back of the saucer.
The chase continued.
As the saucer, with the deputies in hot pursuit, shot through his jurisdiction at a little over eighty-five miles an hour, East Palestine patrolman Wayne Huston joined the chase. He later described the object as “a flattened ice cream cone” zooming across the sky.
Nearing the Pennsylvania border, Spaur radioed back to Wilson and asked him to call in the cavalry. Wilson phoned Youngstown Air Force Base and told them to get a bird in the sky after it.
A few miles across the state line, Spaur’s cruiser began to sputter. They were low on gas. He drove toward an Atlantic gas station just outside Freedom, on Route 65. A patrolman from Conway, Pennsylvania, named Frank Panzanella pulled into the station, just ahead of them.
“Did you see it?” Spaur asked as he, Neff, and Huston jumped out of their vehicles.
Of course Panzanella had seen it. In fact, he had been following it, too. He described it later as “a football cut in half along its length.”
A moment later, as the four lawmen watched, the object accelerated upward and disappeared into the darkness of space.
Disappointed, but still excited from the adrenalin of the chase, Spaur gassed up the cruiser and began the seventy-three-mile trip back to Ravenna. He and Neff were unprepared for what awaited them back home.
News of the chase had reached the media. The station was being flooded with phone calls from reporters from all over the country. A Civil Defense official was there, too. He wanted to check the deputies for exposure to radiation, but a Geiger counter picked up nothing unusual.
The next day, the military dispatched Major Hector Quintanilla, Jr., to the scene. Quintanilla was the director of Project Blue Book, our government’s official UFO investigatory division, which was based out of Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton. His first words to Spaur were, “Tell me about this mirage you saw.”
Four days later, Quintanilla released the military’s official report on the Portage County UFO chase: Spaur and Neff had first observed “an Echo satellite” and had then pursued the planet Venus all the way into Pennsylvania. It had all been an illusion, said Quintanilla.
For Spaur, the mocking newspaper headlines that followed were not his biggest concern. Quintanilla’s report had called his judgment into question. He worried what a defense attorney would do to him on the stand the next time he had to testify about something as mundane as a speeding ticket. After all, he was now known as the man who had chased Venus into Pennsylvania.
The stress of it all became too much for Spaur. He began to disappear for days at a time. One night, a couple months after the sighting, he flew into a rage at home. He grabbed his wife and shook her, hard. He was thrown in jail on a domestic violence charge. When he got out, he turned in his badge, signed divorce papers, and left town.
By the time reporter John de Groot caught up with him in October, for a follow-up story on the UFO, Spaur was living out of a seedy motel. He had lost a lot of weight and had taken to calling the flying saucer “Floyd,” his middle name. It was following him, he told de Groot. Floyd was not done with him yet.
For many years, Spaur’s ultimate fate was a mystery.
* * *
James was playing in the yard when his father finally returned to Portage County.
“This yellow-and-white four-wheel Chevy truck pulls into the driveway,” he recalls. “When the driver stepped out it was like he never stopped unfolding. He was huge. ‘Are you really my dad?’ I asked. ‘Yes, Jimmy, I’m your dad,’ he said.”
A few years later, James moved in with his father and his stepmother at their new house in Rocky River. This was the late ’70s, and Spaur was managing the Avenue bar in Lakewood. Occasionally, he asked his father about the UFO named Floyd, but Spaur didn’t like to talk about it. Eventually, he managed to pry some information about his father’s missing years from relatives.
According to family members, after leaving the motel, Spaur moved to Amsted, West Virginia, where he worked for a taxi service for a while. On a hike in the woods one day, Spaur fell into an abandoned mine shaft. He was rushed to a hospital, but his prognosis was not good. He slipped into a coma.
“He would lie there, asleep, with his eyes open,” says James. “There was a nurse there who would sit with him sometimes. But one day, she comes running out of his room, screaming. She refused to ever go in his room again. When the family asked her why, she told them that he was an alien. That my dad’s body was possessed by an alien.”
The nurse never knew about Spaur’s famous car chase—he couldn’t have told her, after all, as he was comatose by the time he arrived at the hospital.
Then, one day, Spaur just woke up. It was a miraculous recovery. When he regained his strength, he returned to Ohio, where he lived out the remainder of his life entertaining Lakewood barflies.
Spaur died in 1983. James was there. And so were a group of Inuit Indians nobody remembers inviting.
To this day, Spaur’s encounter remains one of the most credible UFO sightings in history.
A knock on the door. That’s how most stories begin. Because most stories are about the search for truth, in one way or another. And secrets are hidden behind locked doors. Only an invitation can bring you inside.
On this day, I’ve traveled across Ohio to the bucolic town of Loveland, a suburb of Cincinnati located on the hills that roll beside the Little Miami. It’s the beginning of spring, and the sound of the peepers carries through the town. I’m on a side street lined with humble one-story homes with well-kept lawns. I’m looking for a man named Ray Shockey, a former police officer. I want to ask him about a particular night in 1972 and what he saw back then. So I knock on the door.
An elderly woman appears on the threshold. You can tell she’s used to frequent visitors in the way grandmas are. “Yes?”
“Is Ray Shockey here?”
“Which one?” Apparently Ray, Sr., was somewhere inside.
“The one that saw the thing. The . . . frogman?”
“Oh, Lord. That was my son. But he doesn’t like to talk about it.”
“Some people made fun of him about it.” She grows silent for a beat, as if she’s debating whether or not to say more. Finally, she says, “I was here that night. He came over after it happened. He was scared to death. Said, ‘Ma, you’re not gonna believe what I just saw.’ ” She lowers her voice a bit, then, for what she has to say next. “He shot at it, you know.”
* * *
The first modern day sighting of what has come to be called “the Loveland Frog,” was in 1955, seventeen years before Shockey’s encounter. A businessman, on his way through Loveland at about 3 a.m. on May 25, spotted three figures sitting on the river bridge. He described them as humanoid, with wrinkles instead of hair, and big gaping mouths like a frog’s. One held some sort of device in its hand, wand-like, that emitted blue sparks. The air around the creatures smelled strongly of alfalfa and almonds. Needless to say, the wayward businessman did not stick around.
On March 3, 1972, during a late-night patrol, Shockey noticed something lying on the ground as his cruiser approached Twightwee Road. At first, he thought it was a dog (sick or dead, perhaps). But suddenly the thing leapt up and bounded across the road in front of his headlights. According to later reports, Shockey described the monster as being about three to five feet tall, with matted hair and leathery skin and a distinct froglike face. Later, Shockey would return with another police officer in an attempt to corroborate his sighting. All that was left, though, were several long “scrape” marks leading down to the river.
A couple weeks later, Shockey’s partner, Mark Matthews, pulled over for what he, too, mistook for an injured animal lying on the side of the road by the river. But when he stopped the car, the thing stood up and slowly stepped over the side of the guardrail, keeping its eyes on the policeman, before running down to the water. Matthews drew his sidearm and got off a shot, but not quickly enough. His initial description matched what Shockey had seen earlier that month
Loveland is a small, somewhat isolated community, a place where strange stories spread as quickly as the flu. Soon, just about everybody had heard about the two policemen who’d seen a monster out on Twightwee Road. It was a funny story. Unless you were the two policeman. For them, the notoriety was more than embarrassing. How do you command respect when you believe a frog monster is living in the local river?
Soon enough, Shockey and Matthews would no longer talk about it, except for maybe with each other. Matthews got so frustrated with the legend he changed his story when contacted by a reporter with X Project Magazine, in 2001. “It was and is no ‘monster’,” he claimed. “It was not three to five feet tall. It did not stand erect. The animal I saw was obviously some type of lizard that someone had as a pet that either got too large for its aquarium, escaped by accident or they simply got tired of it. It was less than three feet in length, ran across the road and was probably blinded by my headlights. It presented no aggressive action.”
But if that’s all it was, why did he shoot at it?
* * *
I found Ray Shockey, Jr., at his home, not far from his parents’ place. He’s a big, muscular fellow with a white goatee and an affable smile. Welcoming, but short on words.
“I made up my mind a long time ago, never to talk about it again,” he says. “It gave me so much grief.”
In fact, the only time he’s spoken about the Loveland Frog in recent years was during a conversation with the town council. He tried to convince them to market the monster a bit, put the image on town signs as a way to draw in tourists. But apparently, the town elders don’t yet see the value of a good legend.
As I turn back to the car, he stops me.
“I will tell you this much,” he says. “It wasn’t a frog. Wasn’t an iguana, either.”
“What was it?”
“It was . . . bigger.”
* * *
Turns out the legend is older than anyone suspected. Much older. Even Shockey didn’t know about the first recorded sighting of the Loveland Frog, which occurred before the town of Loveland was even constructed.
The exact dates are kind of sketchy, but sometime around 1696, a group of French missionaries befriended a tribe of Indians who lived along the wide muddy rivers in what is now southwestern Ohio. This tribe was believed to be part of the Miami culture, but were known as the Twightwee by the Delaware people. The Twightwees warned the Frenchmen about the river demon that lived in the Little Miami. They called it the Shawnahooc.
The Shawnahooc was a human-like creature with no nose and wrinkled skin. A Twightwee hunting party had once spotted the Shawnahooc while returning to their village. One warrior shot an arrow at it. But the Shawnahooc only jumped back into the river and disappeared. They believed the Shawnahooc could never be killed.
But the story of the Shawnahooc was forgotten long ago. Even the legend of the Loveland Frog has faded in time. Inside Paxton’s Grill, named for the first white settler (a man who ate Christmas dinner with George Washington at Valley Forge), the only person who recalls the story is the bartender. And he has his own suspicions.
“I think if you drink enough and you sit down by that river, you see just about everything,” he says.
The bartender would rather talk about the other oddity of Loveland, a large castle built by a Boy Scout leader on land he got free for buying a subscription to the Cincinnati Enquirer in the 1920s. The castle is haunted, you see. But that’s a story for another day.
Excerpted from the book It Came From Ohio, copyright © James Renner. All rights reserved.
This excerpt may not be used in any form for commercial purposes without the written permission of Gray & Company, Publishers.
by James Renner
Turn on a night light, lock your door, and close the window blinds . . . Join investigative reporter James Renner as he looks into 13 tales of mysterious, creepy, and unexplained events in the Buckeye State, including:
• The giant, spark-emitting Loveland . . . [ Read More ]
James Renner is a novelist, freelance journalist, and blogger. In his spare time, he hunts serial killers. His true crime stories have been published in the Best American Crime Reporting and Best Cre . . . [ Read More ]JamesRenner.com