In Episode 265, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger hunt for an eight-foot-tall humanoid giant of a creature in Craftsbury, Vermont, that locals called the Goonyak. Back in November of 1978, the Goonyak was all the talk on morning radio and in the newspapers. Some even said the body was recovered and sent to the University of Vermont. Is this the Northeast Kingdom’s version of Bigfoot? What exactly happened back in 1978?
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[WALKING THROUGH THE WOODS]
RAY: The leaves are just starting to change up here in the woods of Craftsbury, Vermont.
JEFF: Yeah, we’re way up here in the northern part of the state. It already feels like fall.
RAY: Oooo! What was that running by?
JEFF: Oh yeah… it looks like a deer.
RAY: You’re right. I can see the white tail trailing behind him.
JEFF: The thing we’re looking for is much larger than a deer, Ray.
RAY: What are we looking for?
JEFF: We’re searching for a giant of a creature. Eight feet tall with claws, but almost human looking. We’re in Craftsbury searching for the Goonyak.
JEFF: Hello, I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 265 of the New England Legends podcast. Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time.
JEFF: We can’t do what we do without you! If you’ve got a local legend to share with us, please contact us anytime through our Web site. We love hearing from you. And while you’re on our Web site, you can see all of the upcoming dates for my fall story tour, you can check out dates for Ray’s band the Pub King, and there’s a link to buy the brand-new 2023 Haunted New England calendar with stories by me and photography by Frank Grace.
RAY: Before we go searching for the Goonyak, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals!
JEFF: Ray, when we’re hiking through the woods, looking for strange beasts, it can take a heavy toll on our feet.
RAY: No kidding! My dogs are always barking after a woodsy hike.
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RAY: When the weather turns colder, and the air inside gets dry, my feet crack, and Bear Feet cream helps a lot with its blend of all natural ingredients. After a soak and some Bear Feet cream, I’m ready to get back on the trail.
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RAY: Okay, Jeff. The Goonyak?!
JEFF: Ha! Great name, right? We first learned about this one from my buddy, David Weatherly’s brand-new book: Monsters of the Green Mountain State: Cryptids and Legends of Vermont. With a foreword by Joseph A. Citro. I loved the name and started digging.
RAY: What IS a Goonyak?
JEFF: It’s described as an eight-foot-tall, humanoid-type creature with claws. Like a half-man, half-animal.
RAY: Okay, can’t we just say Bigfoot?
JEFF: I know, right?! There are a couple of issues at play here. On the one hand, if I described an eight-foot-tall, primate-human type of creature, in the circles we roll in, just about every single person would immediately say Bigfoot.
RAY: Of course. It fits the description.
JEFF: It does. But some folks don’t like using the word Bigfoot, because we may think they’re crazy, so they come up with something else.
RAY: An upright, giant, primate by any other name would smell as sweet, right?
JEFF: Absolutely. And very cultured of you quoting Shakespeare, Ray!
RAY: I feel like we need to class things up sometimes.
JEFF: That makes sense.
RAY: Okay, so here’s a little more background about where we are. The land for this town was first granted to Ebenezer Crafts back in 1791. So the town is named Craftsbury after him. The population today is about 1,200 people. And we’re just about 25 miles from the Canadian border as the ghost flies. By all accounts, this is a small town, way up north.
JEFF: That it is. There’s not much population around for miles. So just maybe an eight-foot-tall, humanoid could slip by unnoticed. Plus, a few decades ago, this region would have been even more sparsely populated. So let’s head back to 1978 and find out.
RAY: It’s mid-November of 1978 here in Craftsbury, Vermont. Jimmy Carter is president of the United States. And the song “MacArthur Park” by Donna Summer is number one on the charts. But here in Craftsbury, the big news is the strange talk around town as well as in nearby Morrisville, about a monster lurking and hunting for prey at some local farms.
JEFF: It’s kind of office-water-cooler gossip. But it sticks out around here. Most folks know what kinds of animals live in this region. So if something is out of the ordinary, it’s worth talking about.
RAY: It seems like everyone around here has an opinion of what this animal could be. Maybe a sick bear? One with rabies? A moose with mange rearing up? Suddenly, everyone is a zoologist.
JEFF: The thing is, locals, especially the hunters and farmers, pride themselves on knowing the difference between the animals that occasionally wander through their properties. But then something big happens. It’s Saturday, November 18th… about four in the morning at this Craftsbury farm.
[LOUD DOOR/WOOD BREAKING]
JEFF: The farmer was just heading out to feed his animals when he heard that horrific noise!
RAY: The farmer is now running toward his barn where his prize Holstein bull is penned up.
JEFF: Look at that!
RAY: The barn door has been ripped off its hinges and shattered!
RAY: Look over there!
JEFF: Oh! It’s awful. The farmer’s thousand-pound Holstein bull is being dragged out toward the field by some giant creature! That must be the Goonyak!
RAY: Look at the bull’s neck! It’s been snapped like a twig. This is awful. There’s a trail of blood behind the bull.
JEFF: The farmer is now in a full sprint toward his house.
JEFF: Okay, he’s back, with his shot gun in hand. He’s dropping bullets as he loads his rifle and runs toward his bull and whatever that creature is that’s dragging it.
RAY: I think the farmer hit that beast. But it’s still moving!
[3 MORE SHOTS]
RAY: The farmer is getting close. There’s not much daylight yet, but I think those shots are finding their mark. But the Goonyak is still moving!
[5 MORE SHOTS]
JEFF: He’s definitely hitting this thing right in the chest. It just let go of the bull. The giant beast is stumbling.
[1 MORE SHOT]
RAY: I don’t see that thing breathing.
JEFF: It took ten shots to bring him down!
RAY: Look at the poor bull… Part of its face has been torn off.
JEFF: I’ve never seen anything like this. Check out the claws on the Goonyak. They have to be at least six inches long.
[RADIO TUNING IN TO TALK THEN FADING OUT]
RAY: Over the next couple of mornings, the local radio is talking about the Goonyak too. They’re having some laughs with the story, but taking it just serious enough that soon everyone is talking about it.
JEFF: And now that the Goonyak has been killed we should be able to study it, right? Let’s go recover the body. Let’s call the universities. Let’s reach out to the media.
RAY Woah… Jeff. I just heard that someone else in town shot and killed the Goonyak.
JEFF: There’s another one?!
RAY: I’m not sure, but they’re saying Craftsbury’s Fish and Game Warden, John Kapusta shot and killed the Goonyak.
JEFF: Okay, is this an invasion? We should go talk to Kapusta!
[CAR DRIVING OFF / STOPPING / DOORS CLOSE]
RAY: We just arrived at the Fish and Game Warden’s office.
JEFF: I think that’s John up ahead. John! Did you shoot the Goonyak?
RAY: He just laughed and shook his head no. It turns out his boss had already approached him this morning asking if the rumors were true.
JEFF: Maybe we should head back to the farm. At least we know there’s a dead one there, right?
[CAR DRIVING OFF]
JEFF: Let’s head back out to the field. We need to find a camera, Ray. And get some people to look at this things.
[WALKING THROUGH WOODS]
RAY: Okay… where did it go?
JEFF: It was right here! I can see the bull’s body. But no Goonyak.
RAY: Excuse me… Where did the Goonyak go?
RAY: He said some folks from the University of Vermont had already been by to take the corpse away for an autopsy in Burlington.
JEFF: This is getting stranger by the minute. Before we make the drive out to Burlington, let’s call over to the university.
[OLD ROTARY PHONE DIALING THEN RINGING]
JEFF: Hello? Okay, I have Dr. Eleanor McQuillen on the line. She’s the Chief Medical Examiner and a professor of animal pathology, zoology, and botany at the University of Vermont.
RAY: Sounds like the Goonyak is in the right hands!
JEFF: Yes. Are you doing an autopsy on the Goonyak? The Goonyak. The Bigfoot creature that was just shot and killed in Craftsbury? Hello? Hello? She just laughed and hung up.
RAY: So now we have no body, and one over-active rumor mill. I guess that brings us back to today.
JEFF: Everything we know about this story was pulled from the November 30, 1978 Rutland Daily Herald newspaper. It was a front-page story written by Kevin Duffy.
RAY: I feel obligated to read the headline of the article. It says: Goonyak Reports Debunked, But Rumors of Its Exploits Captivate Northern Vermont.
JEFF: Reporter Kevin Duffy was pretty thorough in his article. He tried his best to get to the source, and he got close. Game wardens speculated that maybe someone found a skinned bear carcass in the woods and that started the stories.
RAY: Duffy found the earliest mention of the Goonyak was either Monday, November 20, or Tuesday the 21st when 21 year-old John Maskell heard about it from a coworker at the Pratt and Read Corporation in Morrisville. They make lumber products. Maskell heard about it from an older coworker named Morris Sulham. Of course Sulham wouldn’t comment for the reporter.
JEFF: So this story is born, it gets around enough that people are talking about it, the local radio makes mention of it on multiple days, and then the newspaper does its level best to say there’s no body of this creature, and no real evidence, so it’s just a made-up story.
RAY: It’s also worth noting that all we know is quote “a local farmer.” End quote. If the farmer had a name, there’s no doubt Kevin Duffy would have asked him.
JEFF: Yet the story of the Goonyak stuck around long after, debunked or not. It stuck around because it sounds like a Bigfoot creature. The Northeast Kingdom’s own local version of Bigfoot. One with sharp claws and powerful enough to take down a half-ton bull. The story doesn’t go away because Bigfoot doesn’t go away. And maybe someone did see something big and strange lurking in these Vermont woods, and the legend of the Goonyak grew from there.
RAY: And now we’re still talking about it decades later.
JEFF: We are. And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and often veer off course.
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Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.