Winged Wonder or Wicked Hoax? Iowa's Van Meter Monster

van meter monster

Lucas Jennings, Cryptozoologist and Adventurous Naturalist


Imagine a creature of the night, a winged behemoth straight out of a gothic horror tale, haunting the sleepy town of Van Meter, Iowa. For a brief period in 1903, this imagined nightmare seemed to become reality as a bizarre winged entity terrorized the citizens of this unassuming rural community. The enigmatic creature, dubbed the Van Meter Monster, has embedded itself in local folklore and ignited fascination within the cryptozoological community. This article will delve into the mystifying legend of the Van Meter Monster, dissecting historical accounts, eyewitness testimonies, and the cultural significance of this enduring Iowa mystery.

The Dawn of the Van Meter Monster

Our story begins in the quiet farming community of Van Meter, Iowa in the early 1900s. With a population just shy of 1,000, the town was a close-knit rural settlement where everyone knew their neighbors. But in September 1903, an unexpected visitor would shatter the tranquility of this pastoral town.

On September 29th, local businessman U.G. Griffith was returning home from work around 1 a.m. when he spotted a strange light moving around atop a building on Main Street. As Griffith approached to investigate, the light suddenly vanished, only to reappear on the roof of another building across the street before disappearing again. The source of the light remained unclear, but Griffith knew he had seen something peculiar.

The following evening, Dr. Fred Alcott was startled awake in his room above his office by a blinding light shining through his window. Grabbing his gun, the doctor rushed outside to confront the intruder. To his shock, the light was emanating from a horn protruding from the forehead of a bizarre winged creature, standing an estimated eight feet tall. Alcott fired five shots point blank, but the bullets had no effect on the beast as it swiftly vanished into the night.

More sightings continued over the next few evenings. Bank cashier Peter Dunn witnessed the creature's light beam through the bank's window before firing his shotgun at the monster, shattering the glass. The next morning, large three-toed tracks were found outside. Hardware merchant O.V. White also had a run-in, shooting at the creature perched atop a telephone pole only to be overwhelmed by a powerful stench that left him unconscious.

Multiple eyewitnesses concurred - they were dealing with a creature that was half-human, half-animal, with smooth leathery wings and a brilliant light emitting from a blunt horn on its forehead. Taller than any man, yet able to move with uncanny speed and agility, the townsfolk had no idea what to make of this bizarre winged anomaly that seemed impervious to bullets. The Van Meter Monster had arrived.

The Town's Response

As sightings accumulated, the stunned citizens of Van Meter grappled with how to respond to their unearthly visitor. A posse of armed men decided to take matters into their own hands. Tracking the creature to an abandoned coal mine on the edge of town, they lay in wait, hoping to ambush the beast.

In the early hours of October 3rd, the men witnessed first one, then a second smaller creature emerge from the mine shaft. Despite firing continuously upon the beasts, the bullets had no impact. Unfazed, the creatures retreated back into the mine. Refusing to let the monsters escape, the posse immediately set to work sealing the mine entrance shut with heavy planks.

With no further sightings after that night, the townspeople hoped they had trapped the creatures inside forever. The events became seared into local history, transforming into legend over subsequent decades. But the mysterious events left an indelible mark on Van Meter, haunting those who had witnessed the unexplainable.

Theories and Speculations

In the years since the creature's appearance, numerous theories have emerged attempting to explain the Van Meter Monster phenomenon. Some have proposed misidentified animals, suggesting the creature could have been a large owl or heron which appeared monstrous in the darkness. Optical illusions and bright moonlight may have also contributed to misperceptions.

Others posit more paranormal origins. Could the creature have slipped through a dimensional portal, explaining its phantom-like qualities? Or was it a relic of prehistoric times, a pterodactyl or ancient flying reptile emerging from a crevice deep underground?

From a psychological perspective, some believe the monster was born from collective hysteria, manifesting as a physical entity due to shared anxiety and fear. The media frenzy surrounding the incidents likely amplified and spread these emotions. As stories were shared and expanded upon, imagination transformed into concrete reality in the minds of the public.

Ultimately, no single explanation satisfies all the eyewitness accounts. The circumstances surrounding the Van Meter Monster remain shrouded in mystery, leaving the door open for continued speculation and debate.

The Van Meter Visitor Festival

Despite the passing of time, the legend of the Van Meter Monster stubbornly persists in the town's imagination and folklore. In an effort to celebrate their unique history, the town decided to host an annual Van Meter Visitor Festival, first launched in 2013.

Each year, the festival commemorates the strange events of 1903, with guided tours of significant locations, talks by paranormal experts, and dramatizations of the creature's appearances. The festival fosters community pride in their small town's claim to fame. It also attracts tourists intrigued by the curious cold case of the Van Meter Monster.

Some claim the creature is still out there. In the 1980s, a man saw a giant bat-like being near the abandoned mine, unaware of the town's history. In 2006, a local pastor spotted a "dragon" in the sky after searching "Iowa dragon" online, only to discover it matched the Van Meter Monster's description. These alleged modern sightings suggest the creature's legacy lives on.

The Cryptozoological Context

The Van Meter Monster is not the only cryptid associated with strange lights and wings. Similarities have been noted to West Virginia's infamous Mothman, also spotted in the 1960s. Both entities were described as winged humanoids with glowing red eyes or horns, moving at impossible speeds. Some have even suggested the Van Meter Monster was an early Mothman-like sighting.

The Jersey Devil is another cryptid resembling the Van Meter creature, with descriptions of bat-like wings, horns, and a bipedal kangaroo-like gait. While subtle differences exist between these creatures, they occupy the same general archetype in cryptozoological lore.

As one of the earlier high-profile cryptid encounters in the Midwest, the Van Meter Monster helped bring creatures of folklore into the national spotlight. Once relegated solely to regional legend, the incident lent credence to the idea of undiscovered species waiting just beyond the periphery of human understanding.

The story also highlights the significance of preserving local legends before they fade from collective memory. The annual festival keeps the creature's legacy alive, reminding us that there are mysteries yet to be solved hidden within our oral traditions.


Over a century later, the Van Meter Monster remains an intriguing cryptozoological conundrum. While we may never know the true nature of the creature, the incident still has much to teach us. It reveals our innate fascination and fear of the unknown. It speaks to the thin line between reality and fantasy, reminding us that there are aspects of our world still waiting to be revealed or understood.

Perhaps most profoundly, it highlights our eternal curiosity that drives us to search for answers, no matter how strange or seemingly impossible. Our desire for truth compels us to move forward into the shadows, shining a light on hidden secrets. We may never fully unveil the mystery of the Van Meter Monster. But our need to try exposes the intrepid spirit of exploration within us all.

Call to Action

Ready to encounter the legend yourself? I encourage you to visit Van Meter during the annual festival to learn more about the creature and experience the town's hospitality. Share your own theories with fellow attendees, and who knows, maybe you'll spot something unexplainable.

Most importantly, keep your sense of wonder alive. The world is filled with incredible mysteries waiting to be discovered. But they require open minds and relentless curiosity. So stay alert and keep searching the skies. You never know what fantastical creatures may be lurking just out of sight. The Van Meter Monster's legacy lives on in the adventures of us all.

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