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1954, August 11: The Canvey Island Monsters

The Legend:

In 1953 and again in 1954, Canvey Island, England, found itself host to two unidentifiable animal carcasses.

       When the first body washed ashore in November 1953, the citizens that found it had no idea what they were looking at. It appeared to be a marine creature of some sort, but had feet and legs that it could walk on if it were alive. It was estimated the creature would have been two-and-a-half feet tall if it stood up; and it had thick, brownish-red skin, and a pulpy head with two protruding eyes. The citizens that found the body pulled it out of the shallow water, covered it with seaweed, and ran for the authorities. The authorities called the British government for help, and the government sent two competent zoologists. The zoologists examined the body, photographed it, and then gave up trying to identify it... instead they had the carcass cremated, and left without making a public statement.

        Around a year later, on August 11, 1954, the Reverend Joseph Overs was walking with his children on the beach just a couple of miles from where the first strange carcass had been found when he discovered a second strange carcass bobbing in a small tidal pool. He sent one of his kids for the police; and, once again, the island authorities sent for outside experts. This new carcass was more than four feet in length and weighed about twenty-five pounds... and was in much better shape for an examination than the previous body. This carcass also had two legs and feet, but this time the scientists examining it could see that each foot had five tiny and distinct toes, arranged in a 'U' shape with a concave center arch. It had two protruding eyes, a gaping mouth full of sharp teeth, and a smooth pink skin as tough as the hide of a healthy pig. Strangest of all though, it had both distinct nostrils and gills! The scientists submitted their report to the British government; but no statement identifying the strange creature was ever made.

        Since then, debate has raged over the identity of these two creatures. Some claim they were known, but unusual, specimens of sealife that were mis-represented by those who examined them; other claim they were entirely new and unknown forms of animal life. What were the Canvey Island "Monsters"?

Where to Begin?

        Let me start off by stating that a strange carcass did indeed wash up at Canvey Island in 1954, and we'll examine that shortly. But first...

        The legend as it is presented above is a summary from Frank Edwards' book, Stranger Than Science, published in 1959 (and many times since!); I sum up his account for the simple reason that most modern accounts of the Canvey Island monsters can be traced back to Edwards' version, which is important because... he gets it wrong. A couple of examples are the fact that only one 'monster' washed ashore and Edwards' description of it is incorrect.

        Frank Edwards was a well-known radio personality whose broadcasts were regularly spiced with strange stories and bizarre 'facts'... so when he started publishing collections of these unusual tales, all of which he claimed to be true, the books sold quite well. It needs to be noted that most of the accounts from Edwards' Stranger Than Science actually started as articles he read in FATE Magazine, to which he himself was a contributor; but the story of the Canvey Island monsters appears to be a notable exception. Given how fresh the story was when he published his book (just four years old), and that a survey of the FATE magazines between 1953 and 1959 only turned up a single one-paragraph mention of the Canvey Island incident, it seems that Edwards must either have had a source for the story I haven't found yet, or that he simply made up the new version of the story for his book... which is not something I would normally accuse him of, but the only conclusion unless further evidence can be found.

        Part of the reason I suspect Edwards created most of the story is the fact that he didn't treat of the Canvey Island incident alone. Instead, Edwards presented it as a small part of a larger chapter about an odd incident that occurred in Devonshire, England, on February 8, 1855. On that morning, a strange line of "U" shaped prints were found in the newly fallen snow... a line that stretched about 90 miles, and zig-zagged through every town along the way. The incident has come to be called the "Devil's Footprints," and the occurrence is still unexplained; but Edwards stated the Canvey Island monsters could be the answer, noting that the creatures -- as he described them -- had a similar "U" shape to their feet as found in the snow in Devonshire a hundred years earlier. This "possible" connection is pure speculation on Edwards' part, and only starts to look plausible because of the changes he introduced into the legend of the Canvey Island monsters.