Aaron Deese was only casually familiar with the folklore of the "Texas Dogman" until a relative's encounter got him hooked.
The family member's testimonial went like this: Rounding a curve on a remote stretch of road north of Austin, the military veteran was startled when a creature that was neither dog nor wolf came into view in the headlights of his vehicle.
"He felt like if he pulled over and approached this thing, he would be in some kind of danger," Deese said. "And this is a guy with combat experience in the Middle East, so he doesn't jump easy."
The 2018 account got Deese's attention. So much so that he ended up investigating the subject thoroughly and publishing a recently released book, "The Texas Dogman Triangle."
"I found the dogman phenomenon fascinating, but I was extremely skeptical ... but the more I read and the more folklore and history I took in ... I thought that there's a picture here," said the former apartment complex manager. "I feel like this is something at least worth discussing ... and we don't have it figured out yet."
"This was right in my backyard (in Texas), and the three original sightings ... were within 100 miles of where I had been living at the time near Lake Travis in Northwest Texas," Deese added.
Deese is bringing his story to Canton on Saturday for the inaugural Monster Fest, where he'll be among the featured guests and panelists. Others include podcasters and researchers of Bigfoot, UFOs, the paranormal and a range of strange and unexplained phenomena.
Cliff Barackman of Animal Planets' long-running "Finding Bigfoot" series.
Richard Hatem, a film producer and writer known for "The Mothman Prophecies."
Stan Gordon, a Pennsylvania-based Bigfoot and UFO researcher and author.
Loren Coleman, a museum curator, author and television personality.
Lyle Blackburn, a television personality and author.
Local Bigfoot researcher Amy Bue.
Deese also co-hosts the "Hey Strangeness" podcast with his wife, Sara Deese, a veterinary surgery technician.
Tickets to Monster Fest cost $25 at the door
Filmmaker Seth Breedlove, of the Massillon-based Small Town Monsters production company, is presenting Monster Fest at DoubleTree by Hilton hotel, 320 Market Ave. S in downtown Canton. Breedlove is well known in the field for his numerous films and documentaries on Sasquatch, the Mothman, Bell Witch and other topics in the genre.
In 2015, Breedlove's first film "Minerva Monster" explored the reported sightings of an apelike creature in the 1970s in Paris Township in Stark County.
His new film, "On the Trail of Bigfoot: Land of the Missing" will debut at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Canton Palace Theatre. Tickets are $7 and available at https://cantonpalacetheatre.org/ or at the door starting at 5:30 p.m.
Tickets to Monster Fest cost $25 at the door. Children 12 years old and younger will be admitted free. Guest speakers, vendors and live podcasts will be featured.
Doors open at 10 a.m. For more details, visit https://www.smalltownmonsters.com/stmmonsterfest.
'I think werewolves are real...'
During a phone interview earlier this week, Deese talked all things "Texas Dogman," and he didn't dodge the big question: Does he believe such a thing exists?
"I'm confident that in the case of the 'Texas Dogman,' and really all paranormal phenomena ... all of these things have a foundation in reality," the 35-year-old San Antonio resident said. "People aren't just imagining these things."
Acknowledging some cases might be attributed to delusions or concocted stories, he added: "I think reality is much bigger and much stranger than any of us will ever understand. Even when we think we've got it figured out, we never do."
"I think werewolves are real, whether they're ... unclassified animals or even some type of archetype that we carry with us that we carry out into the world," Deese said.
"Texas Dogman" broadly falls under the werewolf category, he said. Similar folklore and reported sightings exist in Michigan and Kentucky, as well as with the "Bray Road Beast" in Wisconsin, Deese noted.
Similarities in the accounts include a two-legged walking motion, pointed ears, glowing eyes, and a thin frame with shaggy hair, he said.
Witnesses also describe what appears to be a "large looking dog or wolf" that both walks on four legs and moves upright, Deese said.
Explanations, descriptions and theories run the gamut from it being an unclassified canine or wolf-like creature capable of standing on two legs to being of spectral origin, a shapeshifter or a bizarre hybrid of dog and humanoid.
Deese's research included exploring folklore dating to the 1800s, oral traditions, newspaper accounts, historical records, visiting locations where sightings were reported, interviewing eyewitnesses, and citing the work of authorities on the subject like the North American Dogman Project.
He also was inspired and helped by Breedlove's work in the field, including "The Bray Road Beast" and "Skinwalker: Howl of the Rougarou."
"I really enjoyed paralleling the modern day sightings with the historical sightings," said Deese, whose book is published by Small Town Monsters.
"It's been a wild journey," he said.
'Astonishing Legends' podcaster will be at Monster Fest
Special guests at Monster Fest also include Scott Philbrook, of the popular podcast "Astonishing Legends," which explores a plethora of subjects, including haunted sites, the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, true crime, historic events, UFOs, Sasquatch, the Wild West and Pied Piper.
Philbrook, who co-hosts "Astonishing Legends" with Forrest Burgess, had spent years working in Los Angeles and New York City editing commercials and music videos before he became a full-time podcaster.
Curiosity about the mysterious and unexplained started the show, which has grown to include staff members who conduct research and oversee editing and sound design.
"We both were very interested in a lot of the unknown things, and there were some shows out there that are still out there that covered some of this stuff, but we always felt a lot of questions were left unasked," Philbrook said during a recent phone interview.
"We've touched on a lot of weird stuff that's changed our perspective on things, which is an unusual thing to go through," the Greensboro, North Carolina resident said.
Audio recording 'sounds like an unholy terror.'
Asked about memorable podcast episodes, Philbrook cited a mysterious oversized bearing ball-type object − also known as the "Betz Sphere of Fort George Island."
The story involves a family in Jacksonville, Florida that "found a weird metal ball on their land ... that for all intents and purposes was a ball bearing, but it was huge, the size of a volleyball ... but when they brought it home, it started doing all these weird things and made strange noises."
The orb almost seemed to be sentient, Philbrook said of the event that happened in the 1970s, even making the National Enquirer.
A member of the Florida family was interviewed on "Astonishing Legends." Revelations included her sharing of military X-rays conducted on the sphere, Philbrook said.
Another impactful show was of the paranormal variety. Visiting a house said to be haunted in Atchison, Kansas, Philbrook left with a creepy audio recording that "just sounds like an unholy terror."
The recording made at the Sallie House spawned a multi-part podcast series. "We could never get to the bottom of (the sound)," he said.
Strange occurrences seemed to follow Philbrook home.
"A lot of our listeners (experienced) highly unusual events after they played (the recording),"he said. "It's almost like it had metadata embedded in it, (and) it was very strange, like the audio itself was capable of producing real world effects once it was played back."
Reach Ed at firstname.lastname@example.org
On Twitter @ebalintREP
This article originally appeared on The Repository: Bigfoot, werewolves, UFOs and ghosts: Monster Fest creeps into Canton