The topic of most conversation in New Hamburg these days is of the "thing" that has been leaving a weird trail through parts of the north and western parts of town.
--"Our Town," The New Hamburg Independent, July 10, 1953.
"Every small town has something like this happen."
--graveyard worker, Halloween (1978).

New Hamburg, Ontario, remains a small town, with a disproportionately large park and a river running through it. Back in the 1950s, The New Hamburg Independent published births on the front page and started summer by naming every local student who successfully moved up a grade. If you want mythic mid-century small town North America, New Hamburg in 1953 does just fine. For years, it also hosted the Canadian Harness Racing Derby or "Derby Days." Thousands once descended on the town in August for the event, where the "Top names in harness racing… vied for the honor of winning" ("Our Town," August 7, 1953)

In addition, the town has hosted its very own New Hamburg Monster-- also known as "the Nith River Monster," "Nithy," and "Slimy Caspar."

The beast made its debut in July, 1953, though the local paper claims some unidentified residents had observed its trail in previous years. The summer-friendly story spread quickly and garnered the small town national and even international coverage.

What most locals saw, of course, was not the monster itself, but its tracks, a continuous groove about the width of a bicycle wheel, such as might be made by a dragging tail, and three-toed clawprints. Theories abounded. Observers speculated the marks might be made by anything from a heron to a turtle, a "large lizard-like animal to a dog dragging a chain"("Our Town," July 10, 1953). Others posited that an alligator, brought back from Florida by travelers, had been released when it grew too large (Colombo 55). The Independent's local round-up, "About Town," expressed relief that, at least, no one has "reported seeing a flying saucer" (July 10, 1953).

Chief Constable George Thomas, who enforced the law in the region, claims to have seen the monster once, at night, but could not clearly make out what it was. In a story covered by the out-of-town papers, he says he "spotted it dragging itself towards the river from the business section"("Three-Toed Night-Prowling Monster..."). He made a "snap decision" and fired at the animal, which was about three or four feet long, but to no avail. It escaped into the river. Though the tracks turned up throughout the summer, no one else reporting seeing the creature itself. The three-toed footprints recalled an alligator or a lizard's, and showed signs of webbing. Zoologists from the University of Western Ontario in nearby London, Ontario knew of no creature indigenous to the region that left prints of this sort.

The out-of-town coverage compares oddly with the New Hamburg material. When interviewed by papers from other communities, Thomas sounds quite serious, and expresses concern about the presence of a real animal that might be harmful to children ("The 'Monster' of Ontario"). Yet in local coverage, he sounds as terribly amused by the tracks as the local press.

Indeed, while area children doubtless received a few frights telling campfire stories, the inhabitants of New Hamburg took a relaxed and jocular attitude towards their creeping cryptid. A local bakery made cakes shaped like the monster and its mate. When a resident of Medicine Hat sent a letter mocking the beast for being so much smaller than the west coast's infamous Ogopogo, Thomas responded with a tongue-in-cheek letter which the local paper helpfully reproduced. Thomas expressed doubt a monster could survive in a place like Medicine Hat ("by the way—is it on the map?") and suggested that while few people truly believe in the Ogopogo, locals in New Hamburg want to grant their monster the freedom of the city and special protection against capture by a sideshow. An odd attitude, indeed, from someone who apparently shot at the creature earlier that month and, into the autumn, told the foreign press he feared for children's safety.

The monster made the front page of every Independent issue that July, alongside weightier fare. Then, in August, it disappeared. New Hamburg had Derby Days to promote.

I suppose some unknown or out-of-territory beast might have taken up residence in the small town that summer, but the facts strongly indicate a different explanation.

An event like Derby Days (1936-1958) had to be suffering, along with most local festivities, from the competition provided by the growing mass media and the postwar highway system. Television and trips to more famous—and now more accessible—places would hold greater appeal, especially for children. The monster bought publicity, and a draw for those uninspired by horse races.

The story even attracted the attention of TV wrestler Tuffy Truesdell, who arrived (or was, perhaps, invited) with alligators in tow—Tuffy specialized in rasslin' gators and bears—to draw out the monster. Truesdell's alligators would have ensured that would-be monster-hunters who stopped by New Hamburg saw something exotic and reptilian.

Almost certainly, then, someone in town concocted the story and faked the prints. The Chief Constable seems the chief suspect; at the very least, he clearly cooperated. Paul Knowles' A History of New Hamburg states outright that the amiable officer probably created the tracks himself. If the local paper didn't know the truth, neither did they probe too deeply. The monster made a splash, and the August 14 New Hamburg Independent notes that Derby Days was a huge success.

Two other small-town monster stories may have influenced Nithy's creation.

The Flatwoods Monster of Braxton County, West Virginia, made its mark in September of 1952, less than a year earlier. Whatever truth may be behind that bizarre incident, it received widespread coverage. Flatwoods still sells monster-related souvenirs and paraphernalia. Cherubusco, Indiana hosted its first Turtle Days Festival in June of 1950. The townfolk named the (still extant) event for their monster, Oscar, the Beast of 'Busco, a titanic turtle who made his most publicized appearances in the late 1940s.

These local monsters have become long-term residents, terrors turned town mascots. The Nith River Monster's appearances, after summer's end, 1953, have been scant. A local parade float depicted the creature in 1957. At some point, the local Lions Club sported nifty Nithy pins.1 In 2009, Castle Kilbride, a restored mansion/museum in nearby Baden, unearthed the tale as the basis of that year's "Twilight Family Night." However, many people in the region with whom I've talked have never heard of Nithy.

The keeper of the local archives declines comment. And I'm certain Nithy prefers it that way.2



1. Update: I bought one of these old pins from a Flea Market dealer. I have not been able to determine the year, but likely they coincide with the '57 parade.

2. Update: The monster reportedly reappeared in December 2014 at the New Hamburg Santa Claus parade, a year and some months after this article first appeared. Coincidence?
(Note that this article was posted in 2012, removed pending publication elsewhere, and then reposted)

Since then, Nithy awareness has increased. He even made a Scottish TV show about cryptids.




Sources

John Robert Colombo. Mysteries of Ontario. Toronto: Dundurn, 1999.

"Creepy, crawly fun awaits at Twilight Family Night." NewHamburgIndependent.ca. July 15, 2009. http://www.newhamburgindependent.ca/whats-on/creepy-crawly-fun-awaits-at-twilight-family-night/.

George M. Eberhart. Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Abc-Clio Incorporated, 2002.

Paul Knowles. A History of New Hamburg. New Hamburg: English Garden, 2002.

"The 'Monster' of Ontario." Townsville Daily Bulletin (Queensland, Australia). September 15, 1953.

"Recreation in Wilmot." Recreation and Leisure in Wilmot. http://www.heritagewilmot.ca/historyDetails.php?Recreation-and-Leisure-in-Wilmot-10.

"Three-Toed Night-Prowling Mystery Monster Stalked by New Hamburg's Aroused Populace." The London Free Press A1. July 8, 1953.

"Trail Mystery Not Yet Solved." The New Hamburg Independent July 10, 1953: 1.

"Our Town." The New Hamburg Independent July 10, 1953: 1.

"Our Town." The New Hamburg Independent July 24, 1953: 1.

"Our Town." The New Hamburg Independent July 31, 1953: 1.

"Our Town." The New Hamburg Independent August 7, 1953: 1.

"18th Annual Derby Another Successful Event." The New Hamburg Independent August 14, 1953: 1.

Originally posted in June 2013. Removed and reposted.

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