Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Yellow Monster by Mae Clair

It’s Monday, and that means it’s time for a bit of myth! Digging around in some old folktales, I found another related to my home state of Pennsylvania. This one comes from Berks County in the eastern half of the state. It relates to a creature so bizarre, it was never even given a proper name other than to be tagged the “yellow-what-is-it.”

Early in October of 1879 in the tiny town of Topton Station, the son of the local prison inspector, a Mr. Schmel, set a hunt in motion with his tale of an unidentified monster.  On a brisk fall day, he raced into the local motel and breathlessly told his story to the hotel’s owner, Mr. Hinnershitz.

Country Yard showing side of barn and wagon wheelSchmel was backed up by his friend, Jared Rissmiller. Together, the two men had been herding cattle when they spied a yellow creature in an open field just outside of town. According to Schmel it was about four feet tall with long arms, and two fingers on each arm resembling claws. No mention of hands, but its feet were said to be flattened lumps without toes. Its head was furrowed, its body smooth. The creature was male, naked, and covered in dirt or clay. When spotted, it ran toward Schmel as if to grab him, then abruptly changed its mind and fled into a cornfield.

Shaken but fueled by adrenalin, the two friends quickly secured the cattle and set off in search of the beast. Not long afterward they found the creature curled into a ball on the opposite side of the cornfield.

This image conjures such a pitiful picture in my head, it makes me think the “monster” was more frightened of them than vice-versa. It isn’t specified, but I’m sure the men made a fearful sight, probably armed with rifles, pitchforks or clubs. When it realized it was discovered, the poor beast leapt to its feet and stood blinking at them. Perhaps it was confused or too terrified to move. Whatever the delay, it allowed Rissmiller a closer look.

“It was yellowish brown in color with no hair, small eyes and face, arms about fourteen inches long, legs somewhat longer, the hands and feet resembling those of a human being.” Rissmiller also said it had two horns on top of its head. He and Schmel tried to capture the beast but it was able to escape, scurring into the woods beyond a fencerow.

Several days later the yellow-what-is-it was spied by another resident. Mr. Heckman supported the description given by Shcmel and Rissmiller but thought the creature might be an escaped gorilla.

Hmmm . . .clearly, Mr. Heckman hadn’t encountered many gorillas in his day, because:  one, the description wasn’t even a distant match and two, there was no news of an escaped gorilla anywhere in the vicinity.

dirt road leading into woodsThat didn’t prevent the local residents from taking action,however. Fired up by the thought of a creature haunting the countryside, they diligently combed the area. In the days that followed, reports filtered in of odd footprints discovered around town, strange tracks in plowed fields, and bizarre cries echoing from the woods at night. Some townspeople whispered their fear of being followed when their path led them on darkened roads after twilight. The growing terror eventually prompted armed patrols. Men with rifles began traversing the area at night, accompanied by dogs.

Yet despite all these efforts, the yellow-what-is-it, was never captured or seen again. The unidentified creature remains a mystery tucked into the annals of Pennsylvania’s dusty folklore. Perhaps, realizing it was no longer safe, it moved to another area. Or perhaps it was ill and eventually perished. There are no accounts of the beast actually harming anyone, despite all the hysteria it generated. For that reason, part of me can’t help but feel sympathetic toward it. What do you think?

16 thoughts on “Mythical Monday: Pennsylvania’s Yellow Monster by Mae Clair

  1. Alien perhaps?? And poor thing, reckon it was scared to bits. Either way, you’d think the residents of the town would have given it a name after all the trouble they went through. “Hey Bud, it’s your turn tonight to patrol for the yellow-what-is-it.” Seems a mouthful, but I suppose once you give something a name, the reality only strengthens. Another great post Mae! You picked a great state to live. And all those last names? Wowsers, what heritage settled in PA?

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    • LOL. I love your take on the townspeople, Cd. I can just imagine that conversation! As for PA, we had a strong German immigrant population who eventually became known as Pennsylvania Dutch. That influence is very much evident even today in certain parts of the state, in food and culture. My mother-in-law is of PA Dutch descent.

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  2. I love this kind of story. I feel for the creature too. It just goes to show we don’t know all that there is to know in our world. The young man(I wanna say kid but he’s thirty) who works with us told me he was out hunting and came across a giant footprint near a lake. He claimed it had to have been there recently because the footprint was just filling with water. And it was huge. Dustin is 6’4″ and big and he said his foot didn’t come near to filling the footprint and the strides were so long he couldn’t walk in its path. He felt as if he were being watched so he hightailed it out of there. Of course, he thought it was the Big Foot creature.

    I love your stories, Mae.

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    • Mary!!!! omg, I’m riveted by this tale. How fascinating that this guy came across a footprint like that. I’d probably be freaked too, thinking something was watching from nearby, but I’d want to capture the print on camera. This is such a cool tale. If there are other sightings. talk of a creature, or some unknown “thing” out there you’ve got to share! I loved hearing about this!!!

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    • I felt badly for it too, Flossie. I think it was just trying to find a place to lay low and stay out of sight. It definitely gave the townspeople something to talk about!

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  3. Fascinating story! Isn’t it interesting, even when witnessed by several people at various times, such sightings are eventually relegated to folklore and legends when the creatures are never captured? (Oh the things that make you go, hmmm….) Great post Mae!

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    • You’re so right about what designates folklore, Debbie. As an example, the Mothman was seen by hundreds of people, with credible eyewitness accounts from policeman, and countless articles of sightings…..yet no capture, so strictly myth. I guess it was the same for the yellow-what-is-it and so many more. (I wish they had given the poor yellow guy a proper name though!).

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