What should Virginia's official state cryptid be? Denver Michaels thinks he knows.
"It's the Devil Monkey," says the author of the new "Strange Tales From Virginia's Foothills to the Coast" (The History Press), a book that charts the state's unexplained phenomena -- its whispered dark mysteries, from the Richmond Vampire to the Mount Vernon Bigfoot to the buried ghost gold of Mathews County's Old House Woods -- the creepiest place in the commonwealth, the book argues.
Slated for release on March 13, it follows the scary campfire story prototype of Michaels' previous books for The History Press, "Strange Tales from Virginia's Mountains" and "Haunted Shenandoah Valley." The Old Dominion has been awash in strange creature sightings for years, he reports, and the so-called Devil Monkey reigns king. They've been ripping the tops off of convertibles and baring their teeth for decades, a mutant cousin to baboons or lemurs. "There have been sightings all over the country but no more than in Virginia, going all the way back to Smith County in the 1950s, but most recently in Goochland."
The writer, 49, describes himself as having "a passion for cryptozoology, the paranormal, lost civilizations and ancient history and all things unexplained." His new compendium of the weird takes us from the eerie ghost light often seen in West Point to Chesterfield's "mystery booms" to documented encounters with Bigfoot at Base Quantico. Michaels backs up most of his tales with sourced quotes, and maintains something of an editorial distance in his writing.
But, seriously, does he really believe in all of this stuff? "I don't want to push my beliefs on the reader," he says. "People ask me what I think, but I try to leave it up to the readers. I encourage everybody to look at this for themselves with an open mind."
From aqua cryptids to “chessies”
The book recounts the author's own brush with the unexplained. It was a vapory old man he encountered while driving on a deserted Rt. 29 at night near Remington, Va. "When folks speak of their vanishing hitchhiker tales, I am not quick to try to debunk them or write them off as urban legends," he pens. "Anything is possible at three o’clock in the morning on Virginia’s highways."
Michaels, a Tazewell County native, has lived all over the commonwealth, particularly in the Northern Virginia region, where he worked as an engineer for years. "From an early age, I was interested in the unexplained, or things I never felt we had a good answer for. I'm kind of wired up to be interested in the unsolved." He started writing about paranormal and extraterrestrial matters in 2016 when he self-published "People Are Seeing Something: A Survey of Lake Monsters in North America." "That was getting my feet wet," he says, pun intended.
He's now up to ten books, including a self-published travel series that focuses on specific paranormal locations. In the new "Strange Tales," Michaels continues his work on aqua cryptids by charting Virginia's eyewitness accounts of Loch Ness-type creatures - "chessies." It turns out that area watermen have been spotting them for centuries.
- Photo courtesy of the author
- Author Denver Michaels.
"Lake monsters have always been an interesting topic to me. When you think about how much water there is, lakes, oceans, it seems to me that out of all of these cryptid creatures you hear about, this is something that could definitely 100% exist. I mean, we haven't gone over every inch of the water. There's been so many sightings all over the country of these things, and they match one another."
Of the many topics explored in "Strange Tales," Michaels became most fascinated in researching Virginia's buried treasure. From pirates stashing their pilfered booty to Civil War generals hiding gold coins, there's a bevy of unfound doubloons waiting out there -- if you believe the accounts.
"Folks have been burying money since the 1600s, so there could be an immense amount of treasure still out here," he laughs. "I guess it's pretty neat to think that some guy, digging on his property, would hit the jackpot and find a chest of gold coins."
Last year, Michaels left Virginia to explore the rest of the country full time. He and wife Stefanie sold everything and began living on the road in a Class A, 38-foot recreational vehicle camper. "It was her idea," he says, calling from a stopover in Monterey, California. "We've always been interested in travel and so far we are loving it."
The mobile digs will give him a chance to do firsthand research for future tomes on the unexplained - perhaps even come face to face with a Devil Monkey or some other unknown cryptid.
"I don't know if Devil Monkeys are some unknown species. I think those things may turn out to be escaped animals from a zoo, or from a private collection," Michaels offers. "But we don't really know."
"Strange Tales from Virginia's Foothills to the Coast" is available March 13 in bookstores or at arcadiapublishing.com. For more on the author, go to denvermichaels.net