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The Awful: Not Quite a Lovecraftian Monster
I'm not someone who typically outright dismisses the idea of a cryptid when I first learn about it. However, there are some cases where it's hard to take seriously, and the story of The Awful is one of those cases.
The Awful was first seen in 1925 in the towns of Berkshire and Richford, Vermont. It was said to resemble a Griffin. It had grayish wings, each with a ten foot span, a serpentine tail the same length as its wings, and huge claws.
The original sighting involved three sawmill workers who saw it perched on a rooftop, staring down at them. One man suffered a fear-induced heart attack. He recovered, but was plagued by nightmares for several weeks afterward. Two weeks after, it was reportedly seen again carrying either an infant or a small animal. The sightings became much more infrequent by the next year, and after three years they stopped entirely.
That is, up until H.P. Albarelli, Jr. wrote an article published in The County Courier titled "Has the Awful Returned to Berkshire and Richford?", published on October 19, 2006. (The link leads to a repost of the article, as the original article no longer exists on The County Courier's website.)
Taken At Face Value
Albarelli's original article was soon followed up with "The Awful sighted again; relic produced" on November 30, 2006. (Again, the original article is no longer available, so the link leads to a repost.)
This second article featured the testimony of many locals to the home of The Awful, summarized below:
- Lisa Maskell, a former resident of Montgomery Center, says she saw it near the Trout River as a child. She says when she saw a picture of a pterodactyl a few years later, she immediately thought it resembled The Awful.
- An unnamed "60 something-year-old man" claims it has been seen often and recently in the Gibou area of Montgomery. He says it has been seen in the area for about 25 years.
- Edith Green, a dowser in Richford, says that "folks were very nervous about it."
Albarelli also claimed in this article that he had been given a petrified jawbone supposedly belonging to The Awful, which he says he gave to an animal biologist at the University of Vermont to identify, also promising a follow-up once more information was available. As far as I know, this follow-up never happened, as I could find no other mention of this.
Many people read the articles uncritically and took them as fact, including Deena Budd, author of the book The Weiser Field Guide to Cryptozoology, which is where I learned about the supposed existence of The Awful. The segment of the book dedicated to The Awful is available online, and this likely added to the spread of the story.
The Unsubstantiated Lovecraft Connection
Albarelli claimed that H.P. Lovecraft took a secret trip to Vermont in 1925 and investigated the case of The Awful, and that it later became the inspiration for much of his writings. This naturally got the attention of Lovecraft enthusiasts, who had never heard of this story before.
In particular, Justin Woodman of the blog "Whispers from the Ghooric Zone" called out the article as having no citations for its claims and concludes that, "In any case it seems that what we are dealing with here is a case of a fiction being used authoritatively to support another fiction."
Albarelli himself responded in the comments, saying he had no reason to make up the association to Lovecraft, and adding that he isn't even a fan of Lovecraft's writing.
In response to Albarelli's comment, Woodman made a second post asking for evidence to support the claims about Lovecraft's interest in the sighting of The Awful, his supposed secret visit to Vermont in 1925, and the influence The Awful had on Lovecraft. Albarelli didn't respond in the comments to this post, but a few months later Woodman published a third post detailing email correspondence he'd had with Albarelli.
In these emails - in which Woodman shows his in their entirety but only summarizes Albarelli's responses - Woodman asks for more specific details regarding sources for the connection between Lovecraft and The Awful, specifically the letters from which Albarelli quoted in his original article. Albarelli gave him seemingly conflicting answers as to where these letters could be found.
However, despite these exchanges, Woodman ends by giving Albarelli the benefit of the doubt. He says towards the end of his blog post, "To reiterate - and in fairness to him - I fully believe that Mr. Albarelli is quite genuine about his interest in and pursuit of the Awful, and I'm quite prepared to believe that he has seen letters purporting to be from Lovecraft."
So as might be obvious from the way I opened this article, I'm plenty skeptical about the existence of The Awful. That isn't to say that I think the people Albarelli quoted in his article are making up stories or that they didn't see anything. I only mean that Albarelli's claims, specifically those related to Lovecraft - which he evidently backed down on when pressed by Woodman - are suspect.
Albarelli himself appears to be the only source on The Awful. The fact that no one seems to have written anything about it without referencing his two articles, and the fact that the promised third article with more information seems to have never been published, makes the entire thing seem off to me.
Perhaps there's something I missed. Obviously I can't know one way or the other for certain. But as it stands now, I have a hard time believing in The Awful.