Phantom Animals

Phantom Kanaroo

Cataloging reports of unknown animals--cryptids to folks in the business--is one of my guilty pleasures. Who doesn't love a goose bump-raising tale of giant footprints in a creek bed or anomalous shrieks in the night?

Sometimes, though, the juxtaposition of familiar critters in impossible places can be just as unnerving.
It’s hard to believe that Australian kangaroos could be hopping around all over the United States. But what’s even harder to imagine is that these out-of-place marsupials appear to posses supernatural abilities as they rummage through the backyards of bewildered people in California, Illinois, Wisconsin, Tennessee, Minnesota, Oklahoma, Ohio, and Indiana, to name a few.
Phantom kangaroos have been spotted in a variety of urban and rural settings and are said to be particularly hostile. They are described to be 3.5 - 5.5 feet tall with glowing eyes and ghostly characteristics. They have been blamed for slaughtering numerous dogs, cats, rabbits, birds, and other small animals in areas with high kangaroo activity.
According to W. Haden Blackman’s Field Guide to North American Monsters, the first reported phantom kangaroo sighting was on June 12, 1899 in Richmond, Wisconsin.
Interestingly, the phantom kangaroo activity appears to occur in waves. Several witnesses in South Pittsburgh, Tennessee, including a Reverend W. J. Hancock, spotted the creature in January of 1934. The sightings coincided with mysterious killings of a dog and several chickens. The Kangaroo was allegedly seen fleeing the scene carrying sheep.
From 1957 to 1967, phantom kangaroos haunted Coon Rapids, Minnesota and were spotted by numerous startled witnesses who dubbed it "Big Bunny".
Hundreds of people witnessed a phantom kangaroo in Chicago, Illinois, on October 18, 1974. It kept people away with viscous displays and vanished over a fence before police could capture it.
It's not just phantom kangaroos plaguing the US. Reports of bigger, badder beasts have become a staple of cryptozoology lore.
The story in question takes place during the early 1980s, while Dakota’s father Ken was driving a late-night trucking route between Western North Carolina and Kentucky. On the evening in question, the Senior Waddell had brought his rig along quiet stretch of highway between the towns of Corbin and Lexington in the great Blue Grass State, when he saw what he described as a “black panther” dart across the road in front of him in the truck’s headlights. “I don’t know what he was doing there,” Mr. Waddell recalled of the event, “but I saw him as clear as day.” He slowed down as the animal moved across the road, and although he was able to discern clearly that the animal’s fur was black or dark brown, he was unable to make out any further details.
“Black panthers do have a spot pattern,” Dakota told me recently, as we spoke about his father’s encounter by phone. “Given the details of the situation, he wasn’t able to see clearly enough to discern those kinds of details, but he was certain it was some sort of large, black cat.” His father’s peculiar late-night encounter remains of great interest, and eventually spurred Waddell into collecting information about the potential for mountain lions and other large cats to exist throughout the Southeast.
Perhaps phantom kangaroos are phantom panthers' natural prey, because both cryptids' ranges seem to overlap in Illinois. My state is no stranger to sightings of anomalous big cats of multiple colors--not just black. There was even a phantom mountain lion flap in my home town around the turn of the 21st century. The state fish and wildlife department insists that mountain lions haven't roamed the Land of Lincoln for over a hundred years. Tell that to the people who saw one prowling the local cemetery and slinking through their backyards.

But the strangest phantom animal sighting I know of in Illinois hits even closer to home, because I'm the one who made the sighting.

On one occasion a couple years back, I was driving home in the wee hours, when this trotted into the road about 30 feet in front of me:


Yep, that's a thylacine. The last "Tasmanian Tiger" as it's also known officially died in the 1930s. Somehow, that didn't stop one from crossing a Central Illinois road in front of me two years ago.

Hopefully this post has put you in the mood for a savage tale of neolithic teens hunting megafauna, because best selling author Adam Lane Smith's latest offering fits the bill. Buy it now!

Ghostblade - Adam Lane Smith


  1. I've heard and seen one of the anomalous big cats during one of my excursions to visit family in Missouri, but I don't think it was any sort of phantom.

    They do have mountain lions out there. Another case of the officials have said, until recently, that they were all hunted to extinction out there 100+ years ago but hunters have known they're still about the entire time. Recently the various rangers have acknowledged a "small population moving back in".

    It started with hearing it yelling at night for about 45 minutes to an hour, just off the front porch of the cabin. Stayed out of the porch lights so I didn't see it then. My uncle came by the next day to mow the lawn and field. I told him about hearing a mountain lion just outside the house, and he had his smug "I'm going to screw with Ral" smirk when he asked me to describe it. I think he thought I was spooked by a bobcat or raccoons fighting. I know what both of those sound like. I told him it was like a normal mountain lion scream (sounds like a woman being murdered. Normal cougar scream is spooky on its own), but half an octave higher and warbled at the end of the call. He got serious quick,said "That's the black one. It's more aggressive and bigger than a normal cougar" gave me one of his 30-06 deer rifles from his truck, and had me sit overwatch while he mowed the lawn only. He told us to avoid going out at night, and to be armed when we did go out.

    I actually saw it a couple nights later. I'd gone to town to visit other family and hit the grocery for my cousin and grandma and was getting back around 10pm-ish. There's one part in that gavel road that comes around a hairpin turn and immediately funnels into a one-lane bridge across a small creek. There's a ridge on the right with a house on top. The trees on the left open up into a cattle field just as you complete the turn. There's a half-collapsed barn from the late 1800's that makes a big dark spot in the night on the other side of the creek, inside the cattle enclosure.

    I went whipping around that turn at about 40mph (should do it at 10-15, but, well, teenager at the time). Cat was in the road, facing into the field, but my brain initially registered it as the barn. I ended up screeching to a halt a couple inches from it. It jumped around on me, blinked in the headlights, and then smacked the crap out of my bumper and ran off up the ridge via the creek bed. Fortunately just scratched the chrome trim parts and some paint that could be fixed (this was an old GMC Jimmy)

    From it's markings it was definitely a mountain lion, but black. Like how jaguars have really dark grey with black markings; but mountain lion countershading in dark greys and super dark 'eyeliner' and eartips. It was about 10% bigger than a normal mountain lion and was mega-ripped. Like you can normally tell they're powerful, but they have somewhat loose skin. This was buff enough it looked like it was ripped on steroids and wearing spandex.

    Looking over after it'd run off, I saw it'd been pulling a dead cow across the enclosure fence. When I went back the next day to tell the farmer, we went to inspect the cow. Young bull (like old teenager equivalent), nose damage and throat ripped out, neck broken...big cats like to hold the mouth/nose shut and rip out the windpipe to suffocate large prey, as opposed to canids, which like to rip out the leg tendons then go for the throat once the animal is down. Still hanging half-over the fence, which was sagging and needed to be fixed by that point.

    It got me looking into the topic, and they seem to show up every 10-20 years and be seen in geographic clusters for about 2-5 years then disappear. Just speculation, but I think it's a genetic condition causing the black fur, and it also induces a hormone condition that makes it muscular and mean. Then either from being too aggressive where it gets itself injured to death, or the condition causing complications like heart failure, it dies fairly young.

    1. My compliments, sir. Your comment outshines my post!

      Bet you took that hairpin slower for a while after that.

    2. Great stories!

      It's a wild world we live in.

    3. It is.

      These stories remind me that there are far older and more durable things in this world than our fleeting economics and politics.

      They were there in the wilderness before the first man, and they'll be there in the wasteland after the last.

    4. Danke, guys.

      And yeah on the older and still wild world we live in. It amazes people who live in cities to find out there's urban coyote and deer populations. Some of these things adapt really well to surprising situations.

      Also, a trend here that should be obvious but seems to be subject to a variant of the Gell-Mann amnesia effect: the local yokels will know more about the lay of the land and the critters in it than the officials. And not even on oddities, the officials are often wrong on bog-standard things, like normal mountain lion presence. When we lived outside Cincinnati, we saw coyotes the second day after we moved in. Mom called in to animal control and got the seemingly standard response of "those were hunted to extinction in the area 100 years ago! You're seeing a neighbor's loose dog/cat/whatever". We got the same response even after I fought one with a sword through the basement window. That tune changed quick when they started picking off pets in John Boehner's neighborhood on the other side of town.

      As for that turn, watched it for a while, but was back at it again the next year until I was about 22. Yay young stupid guy stuff!

      "They were there in the wilderness before the first man, and they'll be there in the wasteland after the last."

      Things survived a 10 mile long hunk of rock and metal hitting Mexico 65 million years ago, turning N and S America into molten sludge within a couple minutes, sent shockwaves the sound of which alone would kill a modern human around the world a dozen times, and set the entire surface of the planet on fire for 3-10 years. We could rip off all the nukes at once. It would be a fraction of that kinetic impact. And things would survive. Our species might not, but nature would continue.

    5. Hear, hear.

      And don't forget the beavers. There are now urban beaver populations in Chicago.

  2. "Viscous"? My overactive imagination got real busy with that typo! I'm not sure what I've enjoyed most - the OP, or the comments. Many thanks to you all!