When it comes to Tennessee, it doesn't stop short of good music and beautiful mountainsides. The Great Smoky Mountains are renowned for a reason. Memphis has deep roots in southern blues. And Nashville is a hotbed for upcoming country artists. But when it comes to cryptids, this little-known Tennessee secret may have its roots in dark wartime and haunting ghosts. TAP TO GET PODCAST
When it comes to Tennessee, it doesn’t stop short of good music and beautiful mountainsides. The Great Smoky Mountains are renowned for a reason. Memphis has deep roots in southern blues. And Nashville is a hotbed for upcoming country artists. But when it comes to cryptids, this little-known Tennessee secret may have its roots in dark wartime and haunting ghosts.
Hank Lemon, a Scott County resident living in his Huntsville home, couldn’t believe what he was seeing. It was July 31st, 1839, and in the dead of night. But when he was suddenly awoken to the sound of his two dogs barking at the strange light outside his window, he knew he had to investigate.
As he stepped out the back door, it was as if the Northern Lights had illuminated his entire backyard. Except, you can’t typically view the Northern Lights from Tennessee. In what could only be described as “otherworldly,” the green, nebulous glow was so bright that it was almost blinding. As he stepped down from his porch steps, the glowing green light seemed to shoot into the air and off into the woodbine that he would later describe as a “dead straight bolt of lighting.”
As Hank began walking towards the woodline, he noticed a strange-looking creature run through the woods that looked “horribly alien,” with the body of a dog and the head of an alligator. Hank later shared that as the creature began running, “there was this horrible charnel [or decaying] stench in the air, and something else…a horrible thing… something that would drive a man crazy should he be exposed to it for too long a period”.
But just as the light suddenly lit up the entire sky, it quickly faded to midnight black as if nothing had ever happened. Hank never knew precisely what alerted his two dogs or the purpose behind the bright light, but his story certainly wouldn’t be the last.
Between 1856 and 1860, numerous sightings poured around New River, Tennessee. Many locals claimed to have seen a mysterious-looking creature spending most of its time eating fish out of creek beds. Due to its menacing stature, no one ever got too close in fear of it coming after them. However, fishermen often left small portions of their daily catches by the creek beds as a peace offering.
Basically, I’ll turn the other cheek if you do sort of thing. Of course, there were the occasional trappers trying to catch the creature, but none of their efforts proved fruitful. Although, it’s worth mentioning that around the early 1900s, the fish population in New River began rapidly dwindling, and many of the townsfolk blamed the strange creature for eating all their resources.
Today, we know this cryptid as the Crocodingo. This hybrid beast is often depicted as a quadruped with the head of a crocodile and the body of a dingo with glowing, green eyes. It’s also said to have an overwhelming rotting stench and a strong penchant for eating the faces of its victims.
Interestingly enough, before the name Crocodinog caught on, the creature was first known as something else – a “Haint Dog,” in which haint translates to “angry, dead spirit.” I don’t know about you, but its appetite for human faces sounds pretty evil. But before we get lost in more Crocodingo stories, I have to share a fascinating bit of history regarding the term “haint.” If you’re unfamiliar, this term stems from the Gulla Geechee people from Georgia and South Carolina. And if Gullah sounds familiar to you, then you’re probably a 90’s baby like myself who loved the hit Nick Jr. show, Gullah Gullah Island, that showcased the rich history of the Gullah people from South Carolina.
If you’ve ever been to an old neighborhood with historical roots, you’ve probably noticed many a blue porch ceiling. And there’s a good reason for that. According to Gullah folklore, the “haint” or angry ghosts were believed to be unable to cross water. So, in order to prevent unwanted, evil spirits from coming into their homes, the Gullah people often painted their porch ceilings a soft blue, or haint blue, to simulate water in an effort to keep the haints or angry spirits at bay.
And with Hank Lemon’s original sighting, it’s not lost on me why this strange-looking creature would be considered an angry dog spirit.
So how did the name, Crocodinogo come about? Obviously, dingoes aren’t native to America, and Haint Dog seems like a pretty legit title. Well, we can thank an Australian man named Curiel Allan Brown, or at least, we can thank his father. According to Curiel, in the late 1800s, his father traveled to North America from Victoria, Australia as a stowaway aboard a Confederate raider ship during the American civil war.
In this case, many sightings of this cryptid were often reported by Confederate soldiers as they passed through the largely Union-sided county. In fact, many civil war soldiers often blamed the carnivorous beast for having eaten the bodies of missing men. Take the story of Confederate soldier Roger Owens, for instance. In 1863, after stumbling upon the corpse of an unknown man, Roger later described the body as being faceless as it looked as if most of its face had to be chewed clean off. But that wasn’t the only strange sight.
Supposedly, a strange dog-looking creature seemed to have been guarding the corpse. While we have no idea what this creature was, why it protected the unknown man, or how the man’s face had been chewed off, we know one thing. When investigators later examined the sight, they confessed to seeing traces of blood, which could be argued as a casualty of war. However, neither the dead man’s body nor the strange creature was ever sighted on the battlefield again.
But, not long after this event, countless farmers witnessed the creature late at night stalking their crops. They all claimed to grab their shotguns and aim toward the beast but barely missed every shot. Due to its half-dog, half-crocodile stature, the name Crocodingo was coined. Able to put a name to its face, dozens of sightings continued to pour in well into the 1900s from mill, railroad, and brick workers in the developing areas. Once, it said that newly laid rails had been found split in two with bite marks supposedly embedded in the steel.
While original sightings date back to the early 1800s, the most popular sightings were later reported in 1925 with the introduction of the Oneida Sewer System. Hearing strange sounds coming from storm drains after significant rainfall, people immediately blamed the Crocodingo. Sewer workers even shared their accounts of hearing “alien-like howls” echoing through the tunnels. If you ask me, it is very reminiscent of the strange noises heard in Bornean caves from the racer snakes we covered a while back. Locals even reported finding manholes mysteriously uncovered by daybreak.
And in 1943, Jack Bannister, a sewer worker, claimed to have spotted the creature in plain sight. What he initially thought was a coyote at the mouth of a manhole, Jack walked closer to see what the figure actually was. According to Jack, the creature “nudged the cover off easily with dog-like mannerisms and, for lack of a better word, slithered down into the sewer.” And when it reached the manhole cover? Jack gazed upon a mysteriously glowing aura. In his words, it looked like a “mangy wolf with a strange, alien head, similar to an alligator or crocodile.”
But sightings didn’t stop there. Locals have reported sightings of this mysterious well into the late 1900s. With these sightings, different theories also began to popularize. One is that it’s less cryptid and more alien in nature. To me, Hank Lemon’s original sighting sounds a lot like the Hopkinsville Goblins we covered a while back.
Some Tennessee residents believe that the Crocodingo was merely, and I quote, “a product of genetic engineering created based on experimentation by an alien race and dropped from their spacecraft when the containment of the creature proved too difficult” – end quote.
Others believe that the Crocodingo isn’t a new species of cryptid at all but, in actuality, a shapeshifter or skinwalker that got stuck between two different forms. Interestingly, some people connect the Crocodingo to the Tennessee Bell Witch, who first appeared to a farmer named Joh Bell, who described the being as a “dog-rabbit hybrid.” Which, to me, is a far cry from a crocodile head but still a bizarre sight nonetheless.
Other people often connect it to strange paranormal sightings at a local landmark known as the Witches Grave, where it’s said that a slender, raven-haired woman is often seen lurking around and that the Crocodingo may have been one of her pets.
However, Oneida researcher, Gregory Lay, has a different theory altogether. One that discounts the sightings as nothing more than a stray dog or coyote. In Gregory’s words, “This Crocodingo thing is just a product of mass hysteria. These folks see what they want to see. That’s all I can say. I believe there’s more crock than dingo to our beast.”
Gregory’s theory may have more merit than some of the others. Could the Crocodingo be an alien from another planet? Or has a science experiment gone wrong? Could it have Navajo ties or the result of a Witch’s spell? While we can’t officially rule out any of these theories, no matter how strange some may seem, Crocodingo sightings may not be so distant after all.
On June 16th, 2012, two workers on break at a local theater noticed something peculiar ahead. Standing there with their mouth agape, it looked like a coyote crawled out of a manhole. As they turned to look at one another, they agreed to investigate the area further. However, once they arrived at the uncovered manhole, the beast seemed to have vanished into thin air.
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.