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BOOK REVIEW: "Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster" by Lyle Blackburn

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BOOK REVIEW: MOMO: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster by Lyle Blackburn (LegendScape) 2019

Curled up with a good book on a rainy, windy Saturday afternoon has always been my idea of heaven. Doing that is a reminder of my youth, when on gloomy weekends I would be picking over the paranormal books at the nearby branch of the Little Rock library, learning about everything from Bigfoot to UFOs to the Bermuda Triangle.

Halcyon days, for sure.

And while I read Momo: The Strange Case of the Missouri Monster, I felt a similar sensation of excitement and wonderment, revisiting an old “monster” case that I had read about all those years ago, except this time self-described “monster hunter” and engaging writer, Texas-based Lyle Blackburn, has done a bang-up job collecting as much information he could – in his 150-or-so-page book – while trying to gather updated interviews, new illustrations and photographs, both from when Momo was first spotted, to present day.

So, let’s back up a bit. For those unfamiliar with Lyle Blackburn, he’s the easygoing, black-cowboy-hat wearing rock n’ roller who has a passion for cryptozoology, or the study of unknown animals, also called “cryptids.” Like me, he investigates these mysteries with all the zeal of a true believer, but also someone who knows what to look for and what to ignore when tracking down elusive creatures like Momo. Blackburn is probably known best for researching the Boggy Creek Monster, which terrified the small community of Fouke, Arkansas in 1971 and led to a film that spread monster fever far and wide. We reviewed Blackburn’s book Beyond Boggy Creek: In Search of the Southern Sasquatch, a little over a year ago.

Blackburn’s conversational style is appealing and comforting in its own way, and that style continues in the Momo book.

So, it was in the summer of 1971 where the story of Momo really starts, when two women were driving to St. Louis, Missouri, near the Pike County town of Louisiana, located on the Mississippi River, and they stopped for a picnic. Enjoying their meal, Blackburn writes, the two women were suddenly overwhelmed with a foul stench. It was then that they saw a beast watching them – tall, primate-like and covered with hair. It made a strange “gurgling” noise as the women fled to the safety of their car. The frightening creature approached their car, placed their hands on the hood and then ate remnants of their picnic lunch, before fleeing. The two eyewitnesses also fled the scene, hightailing it for St. Louis and filing a report with the Missouri State Highway Patrol.

But their report never made it much beyond the MSHP offices, and a year later – in July 1972 – the Bigfoot-like creature, covered in hair and extremely powerful, would return to the Louisiana, Missouri area, particularly in the vicinity of a landmark called Marzolf Hill, a location also known as “Star Hill,” because of the large Christmas star that was annually placed there for all to see.

For the next three-to-four weeks, citizens in Pike County, Missouri were inundated with reports about a “long-haired, black thing.” Locals capitalized on the monster frenzy, offering clothing sales and food items and more – all with a monster theme.

And while some were suggesting the elusive, scary beast was flesh and blood, others, like Hayden C. Hewes of the Oklahoma City-based Unidentified Flying Object Bureau, were highly interested in a potential extraterrestrial link, this, considering folks in the area had been seeing strange lights in the sky in the vicinity and some figured there was a connection. Perhaps? Hewes would later get the Oklahoma City Zoo involved in inspecting plaster casts of alleged Momo footprints. They were said to be fake. But who knows?

And then there were the disembodied voices. Voices that told some college-aged investigators to stay out of the woods, even though no one was there, despite a thorough search of the area. Another voice requested a cup of coffee, even though no one was there. Blackburn was keen to mention that like the late John Keel, who had investigated the Mothman mystery in West Virginia just a few years earlier, there might be a paranormal “window” aspect to the creature’s appearance – dubbed “Momo,” short for “Missouri Monster.”

What is interesting is that the time period of 1971-73 was a strange one. As Show-Me State folks were being struck speechless by the hairy freak calling Mark Twain's old stomping grounds home, over in Pennsylvania there were similar reports being made. Both states have numerous unexplored caves and caverns. but it is Missouri - also known as "The Cave State" - that could harbor any number of unknown creatures in its subterranean catacombs. 

And Blackburn does his homework, noting that reports of strange creatures lurking in the woods and hills of Missouri, reaching down into the rugged Ozarks, go back into the 19th century, it just seems these creatures, whatever they were and wherever they were from, were making their presence known in the early 1970's. What else helped, is what is noted in the 2018 book Wood Knocks Volume Three, from David Weatherly. It notes that in the 1970's shows like In Search Of ... helped Bigfoot become a household name because it featured stories on the creatures. 

"Perhaps after Bigfoot entered pop culutre the creatures became easier to discuss," writes contributor Tiomothy Renner. "Or perhaps people finally had a name to put to what they were seeing. For these reasons, or for whatever reason, sightings began to pick up in the 1970's."

Blackburn clearly enjoyed researching and writing Momo. And even though Momo sightings dropped off entirely by the mid-70's, there were a few reports made in subsequent years, even as recently as 12 years ago. Something tells me we haven't heard the last of Momo just yet - whatever it is.

"Momo's mark is still evident today," Blackburn writes. "Every few years the story is revisited by local news journalists as well as writers from around the country who cover strange legends and cryptid reports (myself included). A search for Momo on the inter-webs results in numerous hits - from newspaper articles to blogs to rehashed versions of the (mostly incomplete) story. Television shows such as Monsters and Mysteries in America, have also delved into Momo's hairy history as they explored various topics on cryptozoology."

It makes for great TV and for great literature, if you're into that sort of thing. As it just so happens - I am!

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Andrew W. Griffin

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Andrew W. Griffin received his Bachelor of Science in Journalism from...

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