Oregonians are not afraid to think differently, which makes out here really out there.
That’s the case with paranormal activity, too — the West Coast is the birthplace for the modern mythos of both Bigfoot and UFOs after all. Those phenomena seemingly collided and combined near Albany in 1959 and 1960 with the Conser Lake Monster of Millersburg.
The creature, described as an abnormally tall humanoid, with white fur and webbed feet, and sometimes with cat-like ears, caused a frenzy. Picture an albino Wookiee sans laser crossbow.
According to a farmer’s recollection, 100 people at once hunted for the monster, thrashing through thick brush. According to another account, residents were nearly shot when they were mistaken for the beast.
Today, despite slim and sketchy accounts, the Conser Monster still sparks the imagination of those who want to believe.
People are also reading…
Regan Lee, a paranormal researcher from Eugene, had hoped to write a book on the creature and said she has letters in her files from residents who remember the incident.
“I don’t think I ever found anyone who told me they saw this thing,” Lee said. “Nonetheless, people seem to be moved by it, and the memory stuck with them.”
Humans are fascinated by monster stories, which exist in nearly every culture on Earth. “As far back as there is evidence of writing, there’s evidence of people writing about monsters,” said Dan Murphy.
Murphy is a senior judge for the Linn County Circuit Court, but he’s also a board member and volunteer for the Albany Regional Museum who enjoys historical research.
He was an “absolute sucker” for Linn County’s very own creature feature, despite scant sources to rely on — and one of them, the Albany Democrat-Herald, being dismissive.
“I use the word myth to describe this event, because there’s no solid proof that it did happen, and there’s no solid proof that it did not happen,” Murphy told attendees during the museum’s “History Bites” lecture series earlier this month.
The context for Conser Lake Monster was relatively fresh, he added.
In June 1947, pilot Keith Arnold claimed to see nine unidentified flying objects moving in and out of formation near Mt. Rainier in Washington. The term flying saucer was coined using Arnold’s descriptions.
“There were more and more reports, first in the Puget Sound area, and then around the world,” Murphy said.
The concept of Sasquatch or similar beings isn’t exactly new, of course. In Nepal, reported sightings of a large, man-like creature known as the abominable snowman or the Yeti date back centuries, and Native Americans had their own legends which they shared with European settlers and explorers.
There’s some evidence that Norse explorer Leif Erickson either saw such a monster or was told of its existence on the East Coast of the United States in 986 A.D., Murphy said.
Native Americans viewed the Bigfoot as a sacred being, though. “They had no desire to hurt it, unlike teenagers in Albany,” Murphy quipped.
Current Sasquatch sightings stem from a 1958 tongue-in-cheek report by a columnist from the Humboldt Times, Murphy said. That tall tale — now known to be a practical joke created by loggers — received massive attention and became accepted as gospel by some. And Bigfoot tales proliferated.
UFOs, the creature and more
Paranormal categories came together around Millersburg starting in 1959.
Residents claimed a UFO flew or crashed into Conser Lake — actually a small pond located near industrial areas in Millersburg. That story, Murphy said, is difficult to attribute to any one individual.
About the same time, there’s another report of a man driving a mint truck through Millersburg who looks in his rearview mirror and sees a large creature, white in color, described as 9-feet tall or even taller, running behind the vehicle and keeping pace at 35 mph.
Like the UFO report, the truck driver is never identified, Murphy said.
In July 1960, teens hear about the incident, decide to search for the monster and bring their rifles along. “There was a fair amount of shooting” into the brush, Murphy said.
Worried someone would get hurt, Linn County Sheriff George Miller arrived and ordered them to leave.
According to the July 27, 1960, edition of the Democrat-Herald, “A group of teenagers said that they had seen a stoop-shouldered creature, nearly seven feet tall, which made eerie noises. The figure was said to have run away when a flashlight was turned on it.”
Reports differed on how the figure was dressed, but the witnesses agreed it was “ghostly” in appearance. No sign was found of the ghostly figure, however.
“Once this hit the news, it spread like wildfire, and there were all sorts of sightings for a little while,” Murphy said.
People returned to Conser Lake to look for evidence, and some claimed to see footprints. Unfortunately, they didn’t take any photos.
Murphy said a writer for the now-defunct Greater Oregon newspaper claimed she was walking along with a psychic — unidentified and therefore impossible to corroborate — and that they encountered the monster, which was very tall and white in color. They also saw large, web-footed tracks in the area.
The psychic could communicate telepathically with the creature, who said his name was Flix and that there were many more like him, but they meant no harm. (Flix acknowledged, however, that he had killed hounds sent into the area to track him.)
Murphy said the UFO sightings helped explain Flix’s arrival in the greater Albany area.
Immediately after the reports there was skepticism. The Democrat-Herald published a parody by a "ghost author" that featured the perspective of the persecuted and peace-loving creature.
Miller, interviewed for a 1978 Democrat-Herald story, recalled tomfoolery but plenty of deep concern.
“Some of the local residents were genuinely scared. Some people got rather frantic,” he said.
He received a plethora of personal calls about the monster, including a 2 a.m. report from a terrified woman who insisted that the beast was prowling around her house. “It was a great big dog,” Miller told the newspaper.
By 1962, there were no more sightings and the Conser Monster had faded as quickly as a dance craze.
The Democrat-Herald poked fun at the beast’s disappearance in a column that year, theorizing he had been lured via generous financial offer to Timber Linn Lake to appear during the height of the Timber Carnival. Or perhaps the creature had married, settled down and was living respectably, putting monstering behind him.
In a 1962 editorial, the Democrat-Herald asserted the monster had been exposed as a hoax, in part because police discovered an illegal moonshine cache, stored in mason jars in the “swamp.” The UFO and monster stories were designed to scare interlopers away from the liquor, the editorial stated. Instead, the exact opposite occurred.
Where art thou, Conser Lake?
Oddly enough, just like the monster that once allegedly graced its shores, Conser Lake has proved elusive and essentially disappeared. That may be by design.
Matt Straite, community development director for the city of Millersburg, said he “looked and looked” for Conser Lake due to an article a few years ago, but couldn’t find it.
“I could not tell you where Conser Lake is. It does not exist anywhere, at least under that name,” Straite said.
For fun, Straite once proposed dressing up as Flix for local parades, but the idea was shot down as too whimsical: “He is not the official mascot of the city. I tried."
The city of Millersburg has no official position on the existence of the Conser Lake Monster, he added.
Murphy tried to pinpoint the lake during his research but was unsuccessful.
“Where is Conser Lake? It’s hard to say exactly,” he told the audience at “History Bites.”
“There are three of four or five ponds that are east of the Willamette River and west of Interstate 5. Conser Lake is one of those ponds, but I was never able to verify which one it was,” Murphy said in a recent interview. A Conser family member, who no longer owns the property, also was not able to identify the lake, he added.
With the help of a longtime local, the intrepid reporter, ahem, yours truly, was able to identify a likely suspect for the pond. A representative of the property owner, when contacted, denied that the water body in question was Conser Lake.
And even if it was, they wouldn’t tell anyone, because they wouldn’t want kids coming out at Halloween.
That’s probably understandable, Murphy said, given the number of firearms involved with earlier monster reports.
Myth or reality?
Lee said that if the Conser Lake Monster was a fake, it wouldn’t be the first time.
“I have no idea what Flix was. I’ve had a lot of my own experiences, so I’m not willing to say it’s a hoax,” Lee added.
She described seeing an orange orb in the sky when she first moved to Eugene in the late 1980s. “People can think what they want. I’m not lying,” Lee said. Such incidents need to be investigated, Lee said.
Murphy said that in the case of UFOs, many sightings have been found to be man-made aircraft or natural phenomena. But he acknowledged at “History Bites” that a number of UFO accounts have never been adequately explained.
That mystery only adds to the mystique. “Once people get enthralled with a story or idea, they have to talk about it more,” Murphy said.
Still, in the case of Flix, Murphy remains skeptical, in part because of the lack of evidence, and the first-hand accounts are dubious due to various factors.
“I think most of us realize that it’s probably just a story,” Murphy said.
Kyle Odegard can be contacted at 541-812-6077 or Kyle.Odegard@lee.net Follow him on Twitter via @KyleOdegard.