No one could figure out what kind of animal was on the loose in Newton. Spring planting time had arrived in April of 1931 but folks were too afraid to go out before dawn because evidence had been left of a strange creature had marauding the countryside, killing hogs and dogs in the nighttime hours. Without much to tell them what form the beast took that threatened their livestock, they decide the creature was a “whiffinpoof.”
The only signs left behind in the wake of the destruction were imprints of its footsteps, which were encased in the mud and tufts of hair caught on barbed wire fences in the path of the villain. Talk in downtown
Newton centered around the likelihood that the beast was real. Debate raged at H&W Drug and the Palace Barber Shop about just what kind of animal the community was dealing with and how best to rid themselves of it. So afraid was the populace that a reward of $100 was offered for the capture of the mysterious living thing.
Imaginations ran wild. Some saw the animal as having “fork-like bristles on his terrible neck” which were “standing out like the quills of a porcupine.” The critter had a “long, slick tail with a bush on the end” that for some unknown reason was tied in a knot. They knew not if the monster was male or female but as they described it, “his tongue is dripping with the blood of a hog. His stomach is filled with the brains of a dog.” All of this talk heightened the terror throughout Catawba County. There were those who likened his stance to that of a mastiff. A group down at the Old Hickory Cafe said they were wrong, though.
Actually, so was the name. The countryside was not dealing with a whiffinpoof at all. It was instead a wampus.
These words mean nothing to us now but a century ago, the participants in this controversy made a distinction between the two. To them, a whiffinpoof took the form of a broad-shouldered dog, while a wampus denoted a sleek panther-like cat. Either way, it became imperative that the creature, whatever its form, be hunted down and destroyed.
There was a third group. They asserted that the brute looked nothing like burly dog or an agile cat. This animal walked upright and could think, at least semi-intelligently. The beast in question they believed was actually a man, one who had faked the entire episode. But if so, who? And how? Armchair detectives went to work dissecting the mystery.
It took a couple of weeks of head scratching but finally the ogre was tracked down. A group of men went to the house of a local resident and accused him of orchestrating the deed. He let them in, confessed and when asked, showed them how he did it. Going to his closet, he produced the paws of the fiend, carved in wood that he used to leave tracks. He also admitted that he planted bits of horsehair on fences to make it look like something other than the human animal it was.
Around town, a few were mad about the whole affair, chuffing that they spent too much time on this hoax, while others took it in stride, begrudgingly enjoying the joke. Why the perpetrator staged the whole affair was never publicly revealed. Also, we don’t know if the whiffinpoof/wampus ever killed any animals. If so, no charges were filed. Real or unreal, a good monster always comes out at Halloween.