The Keeper of Local Haunted Lore

By Lori Aratani
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ax-wielding, half-man, half-animal creatures. Scientists gone berserk. The D.C. area is filled with tales of horror (and, no, they're not just in Congress).

As a teenager, Mark Opsasnick cruised Fletchertown Road with his buddies in search of Prince George's County's infamous Goatman. The Greenbelt native spent many years chronicling the monster scene in the capital region. Along the way, he compiled one of the most complete inventories of Bigfoot sightings in Maryland. About two years ago, he published "The Real Story Behind the Exorcist: A Study of the Haunted Boy and Other True-Life Horror Legends From Around the Nation's Capital" (Xlibris Corp.).

With Halloween approaching, we couldn't think of a better time to catch up with the monster expert.

What drew you to monster lore?

When I was 11 years old in 1973, there was a very popular movie out called the "Legend of Boggy Creek." . . . I had always been a fan of horror movies in general, but there was something about the notion that there may be an actual half-man, half-animal type monster roaming the United States that I found very intriguing, even at a very early age.

Did you really believe there were these creatures?

I never actually believed that monsters existed, but I always hoped they did.

Tell me a little bit about the Goatman of Prince George's County.

There were basically three aspects to the Goatman legend, as described by early newspaper accounts. Number one is that they described a creature that was half-man, half-animal, walking on two feet. The other aspect of the legend was that it was a mad scientist -- a scientist who worked in the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center who was experimenting on goats, and the experiment went astray, and he started attacking cars with an ax. [He'd attack] anyone who would roam the back roads of the Beltsville Agricultural Research Center. The third aspect of the legend was that it was just an old hermit who retreated to the woods and would be seen walking alone at night along Fletchertown Road, and when anyone would come around, he'd just run away.

Why do these legends catch on?

People have a general fascination with the unknown, as evidenced by religion and paranormal phenomenon. If they don't understand something, they're intrigued by it.

Are there any other notable D.C. area monsters?

There's a big thing on the Bunnyman, who was a man who dressed in a bunny suit and attacked people with an ax. It was based on a real story where a guy came up to this fellow who was in the armed services who was parked, I think down in Northern Virginia somewhere, and he started attacking [him].

The people you encountered -- did they really believe, or do you think they were putting you on?

There's no question that the majority of the individuals I interviewed actually believe they saw Bigfoot in Maryland or saw the Goatman in Prince George's County. Now what they actually saw, I don't know. People are not making things up for the most part. They see something and, I don't know, it could be a deer or some type of animal in the backwoods late at night, and the popular culture accounts have gotten into their mind -- and that deer becomes a Bigfoot creature or a Goatman creature .

Have there been any new monster sightings?

Arundel Mills -- that was in the year 2000. Some construction workers said they saw a 12-foot creature running around. It got a lot of local publicity [including a story that ran in this newspaper].

Say you were to run into a big, hairy 12-foot creature that could be Bigfoot. What would you want to know?

Well [Opsasnick chuckles], basically all questions would be answered at that point. My curiosity would be solved.

For monster fans, are there places you would recommend if they want to see monsters?

All the places where these things were being seen in the '70s are now housing developments. It's just a whole new ballgame out there. If you're looking for monsters in the Washington, D.C., area, you're probably going to have a pretty tough time. The best bet in the state of Maryland is Harford County. Much of it is undeveloped, and that whole Deer Creek watershed where they were seeing Bigfoot -- it's still there, and the woods are still there. Maybe if Bigfoot is real he'd still be hiding out there in the nooks and crannies of the woods.

So even monsters flee development?

Yeah, the monsters don't seem to be very enamored with the $500,000 homes that went up in Prince George's County in the last couple of decades. I think it's safe to say Bigfoot doesn't want to pay a monthly mortgage. The Goatman doesn't want to have those utility payments.

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