Interview with New England folklorist and historian, Joe A. Citro
J.D. Thompson interviews Joseph A. Citro on the subject of monsters.
October 8, 2015
JDT: How long have you been researching “monsters” in Vermont?
JOE CITRO: Pretty much all my life. In the 80s and 90s I wrote five novels involving monsters in Vermont. They were heavily research dependent. But I didn’t get formal and organized about monster collecting till 1992 when I started to do a commentary series for public radio. I wanted to get those local weird tales back into the oral tradition where they belong. The books — my collections of local lore — grew out of the commentaries.
JDT: At what point did you decide that it was time to publish The Vermont Monster Guide?
JOE CITRO: Right after I had published The Vermont Ghost Guide. We have Wildflower Guides, Guides to Birds and Butterflies, all sorts of guides, so why not a ghost guide? Then a monster guide? Frankly, at first I didn’t think there were enough monsters in Vermont to fill a book, but my friend and collaborator, Steve Bissette*, was convinced there were. “Just read through the stuff you’ve already written,” he said. So I did. And there were quite a few different monsters. But I still needed more to do a whole book. That’s when the Great Monster Hunt began.
JDT: In your book you describe two reported sightings of werewolves in Vermont; how did you come to find out about those sightings?
JOE CITRO: Well, I’d grown up here in Vermont, and I’d always had an interest in scary stuff, but I had never heard any Vermont werewolf stories. Never. At the same time I knew I couldn’t do a book about monsters and not include a werewolf or two. So I went on a concentrated search, and those are the stories I found. Werewolves make up a micro-miniscule percent of our state’s population.
JDT: Are these the only two sightings that you are aware of?
JOE CITRO: So far. And I did a lot of research and put the call out to a lot of people. There must be some kind conspiracy of silence. I mean, if your neighbor is a werewolf, it might not be wise to make it known, you know…?
JDT: What (if any) responses did you get to the book in general and to the reports of a werewolf in particular?
JOE CITRO: People love the book! It’s fun and there wasn’t ever anything like it. It generated a lot of articles along with radio and TV interviews. It even won some Cryptozoology award the year it was published. And people brought me a lot more monster stories, stories I hadn’t heard before so were not in the book. But — odd as it may seem — it didn’t bring to light any additional werewolf stories. I tell you they are a rare breed.
6. In your book, you also describe the “Bennington Monster” – has there been any speculation as to the origins of the monster?
JOE CITRO: A lot of speculation, and it continues to this day. I think most people who concern themselves with such things, suspect it was a Bigfoot-like creature. There have been a lot of alleged Bigfoot sightings in that neck of the woods. But that’s explaining one unknown with another unknown. I have written a good deal about Bigfoot in Vermont. Many, many more Bigfoot sightings than werewolf encounters.
JDT: The Monster Guide also features a frightening piece on the Demon Boy from Hell’s Half Acre. Specifically, the boy also has a companion – a hell hound. Have their been other sightings of the boy and his hell hound since the documented report in the 1800s that you are aware of?
JOE CITRO: I think both have retreated into the impenetrable shadows of legend. But to be fair, that land is so inhospitable and inaccessible that people rarely get up into Hell’s Half Acre. So if there are ghosts and demons lurking up there, nobody’s around to see them.
JDT: What prompted your initial interest in the paranormal and crypto-zoological subjects?
JOE CITRO: I have to blame it on my father. He was an old-fashioned Yankee storyteller, so he made me aware of all the local ghosts, and monsters, and madmen. Growing up with such stories, one goes through a few years of accepting them as fact before skepticism clicks in and ruins things. My position now is certainly that of a skeptic, but I love the stories.
JDT: In other interviews, you mentioned that you’re sitting on the fence when it comes to a personal belief in the supernatural; as of today, what are your thoughts on werewolves?
JOE CITRO: Well, I’m still sitting on that same old fence. You don’t have to be a believer to love the stories. And werewolves? The fact is, I don’t spend much time thinking about them. They have never become part of local culture. Ghost stories are a dime a dozen, but as I found out, you have to look pretty damn hard to find a werewolf story in Vermont. My suspicion is, they’re all up in Quebec.
JDT: Werewolves being one of the most ancient monster myths, during your research have you developed a hypothesis about the source of these myths – particularly in Vermont?
JOE CITRO: Truthfully, I haven’t given it a lot of thought. The stories out of Quebec — the loup-garou legends — may have been imported from Europe, then perhaps blended with Native American lore. I’m sure the stories didn’t develop here in Vermont, nor did we sustain them.
JDT: In your book, you mention a sighting that took place in 2006 reported by a woman named Tonya, do you have any clues to offer as to where modern werewolf hunters might go to spot the creatures reported by Tonya?
JOE CITRO: Northern Vermont. That’s where Jack Nicholson was bitten by a werewolf in that horrible movie, right? But I’m pretty sure Tonya didn’t see werewolves. I know a number of legitimate stories of wolf encounters in the northern part of the state. There are wolves there. Maybe they’re just passing through, but they’ve been reported. My guess is that Tonya saw real-world wolves. They are bigger and scarier than most domestic dogs. I think she was seeing wolves, if anything. And then her imagination kicked in.
*See bio of Stephen R. Bissette in the Monster Guide.