Fake News: Disinformation, Deception, and Magical Thinking Over Time

The Wild Man Legend Won't Die

On November 7, 1898, Washington's Evening Times reported yet another sighting of the Wild Man, despite the fact that by now he had served his sentence and gone overseas. But this time, the context was political. Democratic campaign managers were accused of reviving the Wild Man story in an effort to frighten people into staying home on election night. In response, Republican leaders claimed they would "carry the voters to the poll in carriages and in the protection of armed men." And yet, the article goes on to report, "the Democrats are firmly of the conviction that the Wild Man is doing business at the same old stand and that he has grown wilder and fiercer than ever."

After the 1898 political scare, there seemed to be no more reported sightings of the beast. But Lou Stone created a legend for the ages. The story sold newspapers in the late nineteenth century and it still generates revenue today as part of cherished lore. In 1929, Frank Wentworth authored a book called The Winsted Wildman and other Tales, and the story has appeared in other volumes as well. Internet searches reveal plenty of websites eager to recount the events of 1895 and even encourage visitors to keep an eye out for the beast. 

Some modern accounts, such as "Twisted History: The Winsted Wildman"  from the Torrington Register Citizen are not explicit about the fact that the story is a hoax. If there is any room for truth, it seems, the story is even better. In a separate article, The Register Citizen covered a presentation by a local retired teacher Walter Landgraf, who has followed the Wild man and other histories. Landgraf says, "'I believe there are real kernels of truth in these stories,' Landgraf said, who said the tale could have generated from a former artist who lived in the woods as a hermit. 'There is something there that initiated the story.'"


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