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Opinion In Market: The summer of Monsters

In Market: The summer of Monsters

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Robert Francis
Robert Francis
Robert is a Fort Worth native and longtime editor of the Fort Worth Business Press. He is a former president of the local Society of Professional Journalists and was a freelancer for a variety of newspapers, weeklies and magazines, including American Way, BrandWeek and InformatonWeek. A graduate of TCU, Robert has held a variety of writing and editing positions at publications such as the Grand Prairie Daily News and InfoWorld. He is also a musician and playwright.

The hunt was on

For the Goat Man

The recent spate of “clown scares” got me thinking about the summer of 1969.

In San Francisco it was the “summer of love,” but in Fort Worth, it was the summer of the Lake Worth Monster.

If you weren’t around then, Fort Worth became obsessed with this creature that appeared to be “part man and part goat” with scales and long, clawed fingers, according to the many accounts. Helped in no small part by stories about the “Goat Man” in the newspaper and on radio, for a short time the city was gripped by monster-hunting hysteria.

According to the legend, the Lake Worth Monster lives on the shores of the West Fork of the Trinity River. He can swim, climb trees, is seven feet tall and very strong. The most famous reports, in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, were by reporter Jim Marrs, also known for his many books on conspiracies and cover-ups.

On July 10, 1969, the paper carried the headline: “Fishy Man-Goat Terrifies Couples Parked at Lake Worth.”

The next day, Marrs reported that witnesses said this Goat Man threw an automobile tire and wheel 500 feet. That’s the one I remember as having a photo, with the witness pointing to an area where the Goat Man stood before throwing the tire.

My best friend Jett and I were transfixed. We would turn on the transistor radio, turn off the lights and listen to reports from the scene. Teenagers would call in reports of strange noises, sightings and near-encounters with the beast in between songs by the Beatles and Herman’s Hermits. Our imaginations – and fears – ran absolutely wild. It was heaven.

Too young to drive and too chicken to sneak out and ride our trusty Sting-Ray bicycles into the dark, monster-infested night, we were forced to live vicariously. Obviously, we weren’t going to be heroes in a Stephen King novel.

We tried to convince older friends with access to wheels, to no avail. For some reason, no one wanted to take a couple of goofy teenage boys – who thought fart noises were the highest form of humor – out to the lake on a dark night and search for a monster.

“Yeah, I’m goin’ out there to get Goat Man,” one pseudo-tough older kid, Alan, told us, a cigarette dangling from his Elvis lip. “But I ain’t takin’ you stinkin’ punks. I’m takin’ my girl.” He then winked at us.

Sigh. It’s tough being 13.

That weekend it got out of hand. Hundreds of teenagers like Alan, many of them armed and ready to rumble with Goat Man, created mayhem at Lake Worth.

The overworked Lake Worth cops said enough is enough. Reasonably, they were worried more about someone getting hurt than any seven-foot half-goat, half-man that ate live chickens.

And, nearly as quickly as it began, it was over.

Or was it?

A woman quickly self-published a book, “The Lake Worth Monster of Greer Island,” in September of 1969. Hip Pocket Theatre’s Johnny Simons and Douglas Balentine wrote a musical, The Lake Worth Monster, in the 1970s. A revival of the musical is currently playing at Hip Pocket.

The monster lived on.

That helped give the monster a secure place in the monster lore of the south, similar to Bigfoot or the Boggy Creek monster, though nowhere near the tourist-dollar grabbing success of the Loch Ness Monster.

And recently some people have come forward claiming to have been involved in creating the Lake Worth Monster myth. Most say they were just teenagers looking to scare people parked at the lake.

Maybe. But I like to remember sitting in the bedroom with my best friend, listening to the transistor radio bringing us breathless reports from the front lines of the monster hunt in between John and Paul trading harmonies.

Monster-hunting was heaven.

The Lake Worth Monster

Hip Pocket Theatre

www.hippocket.org

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