‘Unnatural’ state:Co-workers from Rutherford B. Hayes museum go folklore fact-finding with "A History of Buckeye Cryptids, Legends & Other Mysteries"

Countless authors have pitched countless book ideas to countless publishers.

It’s nice when the publisher comes to you. 

That’s how – at least as the whispered-about tale goes – “Unnatural Ohio: A History of Buckeye Cryptids, Legends & Other Mysteries” came to be.

It was co-written by Kevin Moore, curator of artifacts at the Rutherford B. Hayes Presidential Library & Museums in Fremont, and one of his co-workers Kristina Smith, the communications and marketing manager.

From early 2020 through Halloween 2021, the museum ran an exhibition Moore put together titled “Ohio: An Unnatural History” that dealt with unconfirmed creatures, ghost stories and urban legends. 

“The purpose of the exhibit was to examine the folklore connection to these stories and why they persist, why people are so interested in them,” says Smith, a former area newspaper reporter who contributes articles to The Helm and other publications on a freelance basis, during a recent joint phone interview with Moore.

Apparently, the topic intrigued The History Press, an imprint of Arcadia Publishing, which contacted Moore.

“They thought this would make a great book, and Kevin, being very kind and to my good fortune, asked – because I had worked with History Press before, on my first book – if I’d be interested in collaborating on it,” says Smith, referring to 2015’s “Lost Sandusky,” part of a series of books that looks back at components once important to cities but that no longer exist.

It wasn’t if they had all the information they needed to pen “Unnatural Ohio.”

“There’s a substantial difference between preparing an exhibit and writing a book. For each tale in the exhibit, it goes on a small panel,” he says. “You have to be very concise.

“In the book, we really had the freedom to dig into these stories and go into a much deeper amount of research.”

“Unnatural Ohio” is organized into three parts: “Buckeye Cryptids,” “Ghostly Tales” and “UFOs and Mysteries of the Sky.” The authors divided up its 13 chapters, the titles of which include “The Loveland Frog, “The Melon Heads of Kirtland,” “Mothman” “The Elmore Rider,” “Maritime Legends of Ohio,” “The Portage County UFO Chase” and “The WOW! Signal.”

“I took the stories that either I was the most interested in or I had already done some research on (the topic) before,” Moore says, “and Kristina took the chapters she was most interested in.”

The chapters aren’t bylined, but they say it isn’t hard to figure out who is responsible for each.

“We have different writing styles,” Moore says. “Kristina has the journalism background, so a lot of her chapters – there were a lot of interviews with authorities on the subject.

“Me, with a history background, I dug into old newspapers and archives.”

Also, knowing either of them will make some of the guesswork easy.

“One of the chapters is ‘The Dogman of Defiance,’ and I’m from Defiance, so you’d probably know I wrote that one,” Smith says. “And Kevin is originally from Genoa, so he did ‘The Elmore Rider.’”

(The latter is a legend about a headless motorcycle rider in Northwest Ohio.)

Plus, she says, he’d previously done some presentations on the aforementioned Mothman and Portage County UFO chase, so those were his, too.

They worked to give the book a consistent feel, eschewing any desires to go jokey and hokey.

“We tried to give it more of a serious tone because we didn’t just want to retell these famous stories like modern literature does,” Moore says. “When I say that, what I mean is some stories are meant to be shared as a campfire story. That’s the audience, and they’re a collection of creepy tales. Our approach was a little bit different in that we wanted to dive into, ‘OK, what’s the history behind this creepy tale? What can we find out about it?’”

Adds Smith, “And I think, too, we tried to look at, “COULD these things exist? What could they be?’

There is perhaps no better-known cryptid than Bigfoot, and the large fella is the title character in the book’s opening chapter – thanks to supposed sightings in Ohio. 

“With the ‘Bigfoot’ chapter,” she says, “we talked to a naturalist at Salt Fork (State Park in Guernsey County). Does he think Bigfoot is real?”

(He’s on the fence, she adds.)

“We talked to someone who says he’s seen a bigfoot, and then we talked to someone who is very involved in the paranormal realm, and he has a podcast called ‘Sasquatch Tracks.’”

(He’s a believer but hasn’t actually seen one, she adds.)

Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter whether any of these legends can be proved or disproved, a point Moore illustrated when talking about the Elmore Rider.

“For our purposes,” he says, “It doesn’t matter if there’s a ghost haunting this country road or not. What does matter is people believed it, and they’ve told this story for 50-plus years.”

Kevin Moore and Kristina Smith will discuss  “Unnatural Ohio: A History of Buckeye Cryptids, Legends & Other Mysteries” at 6:30 p.m. Nov. 2 at the Clyde Public Library.