Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

BioFortean Review, (February 2007, No. 8)

King Moose

Craig Heinselman

Moose, the largest living members of the deer family, are a common icon in New England, especially Maine, Vermont, and New Hampshire. They have a pivotal role, not strictly in the natural ecology of the area, but for the economic side of tourism. A typical eastern moose maxes out at around 6 feet in height, 9 feet in length, and upwards of 1000 pounds, with an antler spread of over 4 feet on the bull. While impressive, larger moose come from the opposite side of the country into northwestern Canada and Alaska. There, moose have been recorded over the 1600-pound mark, over 7 feet in height, and with antler spreads surpassing 6 feet.

Being so large, moose are a popular hunting species. In 2006, New Hampshire had 449 moose killed legally during the season out of an estimated state population of 7000 animals. The largest recorded in New Hampshire was a bull killed in 1993 with a dressed weight of 1040 pounds, while the largest antler spread in New Hampshire comes from 1996 with a 68-inch set taken from a dressed-weight animal of 785 pounds. Both records were from the northern portion of the state. In Maine, the 2006 hunting season yielded 2329 moose out of an estimated state population of 29,000. Several of these taken in 2006 exceed 1000 pounds dressed. The Vermont tallies from hunting in 2004 show 539 animals killed out of an estimated population of just over 5000 animals, with the largest being a bull of 964 pounds dressed. So, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Maine all have some large animals in the woods that can be shocking to those unfamiliar.

There have been rumors though in northern Maine, from Baxter State Parks' Mount Katahdia and Lobster Lake (between Moosehead Lake and Chesuncook Lake) of an exceptional large animal that roved throughout the region for over 30 years (keep in mind the average life expectancy of a moose is less than 15 years in the wild). This moose became a legend, the Specter Moose of Maine.

Not much has been written of the animal, and it has sat in isolation for so many years now. But, recently it has resurfaced in the writings of three people: Michelle Souliere of Strange Maine via a blog, Alex Boese through his “Museum of Hoaxes” Internet site, and Loren Coleman through the website Cryptomundo and also within the pages of the magazine TAPS (“Mystery Moose,” TAPS vol. 2 no. 5, January 2007). But, this only scratches the surface of the history and odd cryptic history of the mystery moose of Maine.

 

From the 1890s to the 1930s reports came out of northern Maine, to the east, west, and north of Bangor, describing a large moose upwards of 2500 pounds in weight, 10-foot antler spreads, and 15 feet in height, a true monster of the north-woods. When coupled with its claimed height, the coloration description of dusky-white denotes this moose as a true oddity—the Abominable Moose of Maine.

In 1889, a large moose was killed near Ashland, Maine. This specimen was reported to be 1600 pounds in weight, with a six foot antler spread, a true giant by any comparison, and impressive even if mismeasured by a factor of two. In Washington County, Maine, in January 1900, a snow-white moose was reported in the Bangor Daily Whig and Courier.

But, the origin for the legend of the Specter Moose comes from Lobster Lake in 1891. There, a guide, Clarence Duffy, reported the brute. However according to later accounts two brothers actually first reported the animal, Joe and Charlie Francis. The Francis brothers came across the animal, described as being 15 feet at the shoulders and 10 feet across the antlers. The brothers even reportedly shot at the animal, but missed. Known for their marksmanship, the brothers fled the area and did not return, superstitious of the encounter. John Ross also saw the animal a few months later in the same vicinity as Mr. Duffy and the Francis brothers.

In 1892, Howard Van Ness from New York City ran across the large beast some 30 miles northeast of Norcross, Maine. After being separated from his party, Mr. Ness reportedly came across an animal weighing nearly a ton and the size of a camel with a magnificent head of antlers. Mr. Ness shot at the animal, striking it over the shoulder. Wounded, but not killed, the animal circled the area where Mr. Ness had hidden, and finally moved on after a time.

1893 saw Granville Gray of Bangor, Maine, encounter the animal in the same general area of Lobster Lake. 1894 saw another shot fired by an unnamed New York hunter, again striking the animal but not killing it. The hunter hid in a cave, and reported the animal to be 15 feet in height.

In late 1899, Gilman Brown of West Newbury, Massachusetts, was hunting near the Roach River (located in Piscataquis County of Maine) when he encountered the animal. Mr. Brown was so close to it, he counted 22 points on its antlers. Firing five times at the moose, the animal seemed unfazed and walked away. Mr. Brown swore that each shot made contact to the 10 foot tall, 2500 pound, and 12 foot antlered monster.

Shortly thereafter George Kneeland reported being treed by the beast along the road between Sherman and Moawahoc, Maine. His encounter is as follows:

 

“… As I had to go to Moawahoc, I borrowed a bicycle and started at 4 p.m. over the woods road. I had gone only a little way when I came across three foxes. I gave a whoop and they started on the run down the road, with me in hot pursuit. I covered the distance of eight miles to Moawahoc in quick time to the return trip. When I reached the place where I saw the foxes I slowed down a bit.

Coming to a long stretch of rising ground I dismounted and walked. I had to go to the top and was just going to mount again, when I saw, as I thought, a horse in the road some distance ahead. I looked again and saw it was a monster moose. I waited a moment to see what he was going to do. Suddenly he lowered his head and came straight for me. He roared like a bull and the snorts which he made sounded like a locomotive exhausting steam. I dropped the bicycle and hustled for a tree. The first tree I came to was too small to climb, so I tried another and a limb broke, and I landed on my back. The third one I succeeded in climbing.

The moose had lost no time in getting to where I was and I watched him closely. His antlers reached across the road in one place and I should think that they had a spread of at least eleven feet. When he reached the bicycle he stopped, nosed it, then trodded off into the woods…”

 

In September of 1902, M.A. Cushing of Boston recounted his encounter while hunting in August near Chairback Mountain of Maine.

 

“… I’ve been up on Big Houston pond for a number of weeks past… and when I first arrived there I commenced to hear stories of a white moose which was said to have been seen not many miles from that locality. I laughed at these stories at first and thought that they had originated in the mind of some imaginative woodsman for there is nothing that most of them delight in so much as getting a man from the city on the end of a good sized rope.

As time went on, however, I continued to hear stories of this strange white animal from almost every woodsman I encountered. At last I determined to go out and look for myself and see if I could discover him.

Seeing is believing I told my guide and when I’ve laid my eyes on a white monster I’ll believe that such an animal exists. Until that time though, I shall continued to doubt its existence.

The next morning I started out from camp with my camera, hoping if I ran across the animal to get a snap shot of him to take back home with me. I went in the direction of Chairback Mountain where the white moose was said to have been last seen. I reached about half way up the summit by noon without having seen anything and sitting down I made ready to eat my lunch when suddenly I saw something.

First I heard the undergrowth to the left commence to rustle and then, imagine my surprise, when it parted and one of the strangest sights I ever saw in my life was in full view.

The white moose, for it was nothing else, was a full grown bull and was one of the largest that I have ever seen. He was dusty white in color everywhere save under the chin which was a dirty brown. The moose appeared to be even more surprised at seeing me than I was at seeing him and at once turned and dashed back into the woods…”

 

Sadly, while Mr. Cushing snapped a picture, the plate registered poorly and the animal was not visible.

The moose appeared again in late 1908. George Houston sighted the animal, along with 16 other moose, near Chesuncook Lake. The largest moose, the monster one, again had a point count on its antlers of over 20.

In 1917, New York hunter J.G. Sullivan reported seeing a white bull moose in the area near Mount Katahdin while hunting. The moose was described as standing a foot or so higher than an ordinary moose, with a tremendous spread and swoop of its antlers.

 

These histories sadly are jumbled through newspaper accounts of the time. Some are localized, some nationally published. And their time frames mix together. The Charleroi Mail from March 15, 1938, for instance, shows the time for Mr. Houston’s encounter to be in 1938, when actually the account first appeared in 1908 (one such appearance was in the Syracuse Herald of November 21, 1908), making it an older account and not a recent account. Equally puzzling is that most accounts credit Clarence Duffy with the first encounter in 1891, but this gets blurred by the timescale outlined in the Galveston Daily News of November 19, 1911, wherein the Francis brothers are reported instead of Clarence Duffy as being the first.

Regardless of the cross-information, the history of the Maine Moose is an intriguing piece of folklore from the area. It appears to be a mix of fact, folklore, and tale tales. As the years went on the stories stayed the same, and at times an odder “fate” befell the moose.

Earlier it was noted that Gilman Brown in 1899 swore he made contact with the moose with several of his bullets, yet they had little impact. This was not the first case from Maine of reported imperviousness of a moose. In February 1908, the Chicago Heights Star ran an article entitled “That Ghost Moose” and outlined several instances from northern Maine of such phenomena, creating the “Phantom Moose.”

All these events happened near the Molunkus River—the same generalized area discussed previously, and includes the following:

A moose was shot, and believed to have been killed, by the members of a hunting group led by Sandy Hill. The moose was killed, but due to the time of day it could not be dressed, and was left hanging overnight after being cut to bleed out. The next day the hunters found the moose gone, and tracks showed it walking away. The next night the hunters reported seeing the animal in their camp, with its throat slit. Sandy Hill fired at it, striking the target—the moose fell, and then stood up again and walked away. Tracks were reported showing its trek the following day.

This same moose was reported again by Burt Peggins, near Ashland, Maine. Mr. Peggins felt the breath of the animal on his neck, and turning, stood nose to nose with a moose. The moose’s throat was cut. Running inside, Mr. Peggins watch the animal through the window. The moose picked up his gun with its teeth, fired the weapon, and then vanished from sight.

Arthur Hill also came upon a phantom moose near Mud Pond. The moose grabbed his gun after Mr. Hill missed his shot, and then vanished.

The most amazing encounter was by Harry Porter who reported that after his horse had dropped dead, a moose appeared. He harnessed the moose, and the moose pulled him and his “best girl” five miles into town, and then left.

 

Maine, however, is not the only place monster moose have been reported, even phantom-like, and unable to be killed by man.

 In Minnesota, there are stories of the “Devil Moose,” a moose that not only is large, but has been attributed with killing at least one black bear. The kill occurred in late 1904, when a Mr. Parker reported seeing a large moose near Little Fork, Minnesota, with the claw of a bear in its side. The bear was later found in a tree, dead of apparent blood loss from the severance of its arm.

In Montana, around the Wise River, were stories from the 19th and 20th century of a phantom moose that could not be killed by bullets, and longed for its dead mate.

Loren Coleman also makes note in his “Mystery Moose” article in the January 2007 issue of TAPS of a Massachusetts mystery cervid. Dubbed the “Swamp Elk,” this animal was reported from the Hockomock Swamp most recently in 1999 by Ric and Lisa Oliveira. Massachusetts has had an increase in the moose population in the last decades, but while moose accounts are rare in the state, they are not quite like what the Oliveira’s reported. Their animal was described as larger than a two-ton bull, antlers that curved back to the nape of the neck, standing eye to eye with Ric Oliveira as he was seated in his Toyota 4-Runner.

What are we to make of these moose— “Ghost Moose,” “Specter Moose,” “Phantom Moose,” or “King Moose”? The stories suggest a real animal from northern Maine that was pushing the maximum known size limitations. With human population densities lower in the late 1800s and early 1900s, moose were less commonly encountered, though not unknown. But, when seen at night as most accounts were, and when alone hunting, could one misconstrue a large moose for a monster moose? That is surely one possibility, and with the spread of timeframe, exceeding a moose’s life expectancy, it would strongly suggest such a scenario.

The coloration issue is also intriguing. Typically, albino or “white” animals survive less frequently in the wild, due to exposure to predators. While the moose is the largest deer, and a striking species, it is prey to other animals such as bear, wolves, and mountain lions. But, albinos or “white” animals are not unknown and there is the possibility one could have lingered on. Note, not all accounts describe a white animal. This did not appear in the stories until the early 1900s.

Then we have the true phantom Moose from Maine, as well as Montana. Killed, but returning in mournful manners. They appear as subsections to the phenomenon, as side notes, but also as part of the evolution of the stories.

 

Perhaps the easiest assessment of the moose is simply that the entire phenomenon is a compilation of all of the above. Stories of large moose and the occasional sighting of an albino or white animal are mixed with phantom spirit animal folklore. This creates a legend, a rural “urban tale” that floats through the counties of Piscataquis, Somerset, Penobscot, Aroostook, Hancock, and Washington. The rash of accounts dwindles in the 1930s as other events fill their gaps, populations increase, and hunting of the areas increases further—leading to a time when a large moose becomes a record breaker, and no longer a monster, where an albino, or white, moose becomes just another media interest story and not a ghost story of the woods.

But, stay calm if you’re near Baxter State Park at night and feel a breath on your neck, or hear a rustling in the woods. It could be the Mighty Phantom of the Woods, the Specter Moose, out for a jaunt—or seeking vengeance for being killed so many years before.

 

Sources:

  • Boese. Alex, Museum of Hoaxes, Internet location, http://www.museumofhoaxes.com/hoax/weblog/permalink/the_specter_moose
  • Coleman, Loren, Mystery Moose, TAPS, Volume 2, Number 5 , January 2007
  • Coleman, Loren, Cryptomundo, Internet location http://www.cryptomundo.com
  • Souliere, Michelle. Strange Maine, Internet location http://strangemaine.blogspot.com/2006/03/specter-moose-haunts-woods.html
  • Banger Daily Whig and Courier, Bangor, Maine, October 24, 1887
  • Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, February 2, 1889
  • Banger Daily Whig and Courier, Bangor, Maine, January 19, 1900
  • King Moose Seen, in Davenport Daily Leader, Davenport, Iowa, September 28, 1900
  • Maine’s Specter Moose, in Freeborn County Standard, Albert Lea, Minnesota, November 14, 1900
  • Seek Huge Moose, in Daily Review, Decatur, Illinois, November 17, 1900
  • A White Moose, in Daily Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine, September 9, 1902
  • Saw the White Moose, in Portsmouth Herald, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, September 13, 1902
  • The Great Specter of Maine Woods, in Coshocton Age, Coshocton, Ohio, September 23, 1902
  • Maine’s Big Moose, in Daily Kennebec Journal, Augusta, Maine, October 3, 1902
  • Saw the Devil Moose, in New York Times, New York, New York, November 11, 1904
  • Devil Moose Hunting, in Lincoln Evening News, Lincoln, Nebraska, December 1, 1904
  • The Phantom Moose, in Wisconsin Valley Leader, Grand Rapids, Wisconsin, December 28, 1905
  • That Ghost Moose, in Chicago Heights Star, Chicago, Illinois, February 20, 1908
  • The Specter Moose, in Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, New York, November 21, 1908
  • Specter Moose Seen Once More, in Galveston Daily News, Galveston, Texas, November 19, 1911
  • Specter Moose Seen Once More, in Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, Indiana, December 18, 1911
  • White is Moose Exciting, in Syracuse Herald, Syracuse, New York, November 12, 1917
  • White Moose is at Large Again, in Oakland Tribune, Oakland, California, December 24, 1917
  • The Phantom Moose, in McKean Democrat, Smethport, Pennsylvania, February 7, 1918
  • Specter Moose is Maine Sensation, in Charleroi Mail, Charleroi, Pennsylvania, March 15, 1938
  • Maine Fish and Game Department, Internet site, http://www.state.me.us/ifw/index.html
  • Vermont Fish and Game Department, Internet site, http://www.vtfishandwildlife.com/
  • Massachusetts Fish and Game Department, Internet site, http://www.mass.gov/dfwele/
  • New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, Internet site, http://www.wildlife.state.nh.us/

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