In 1903, a large winged creature, described by the people of the day as a bat-like creature standing about 9-feet tall, was spotted in the small town of Van Meter. The creature was said to have a horn on its head, the ability to shine a bright light and to erase memories.
After four days of terrorizing the town, the residents of Van Meter rallied around the big wigs in town and chased the creature, and a smaller version of the creature, standing at about 4-feet, into the coal mines. Since then, the creature has seldom been seen.
The story is chronicled in the book, The Van Meter Visitor: A True and Mysterious Encounter with the Unknown, written by Chad Lewis, Kevin Lee Nelson and Noah Voss.
Lewis and Nelson were on hand at the fifth annual Van Meter Visitor Festival on Saturday, Sept. 30 in front of the Van Meter Library. Paranormal groups and vendors were there for people to learn more about ghosts and the unknown, and Lewis led the walking tour, retracing the steps of the Visitor during those four days in 1903.
People from all over came out to learn more about the winged creature as Lewis said that there who traveled from Michigan and the Chicago area to be a part of the festival. While the festival continues to grow each year, Lewis said that he doesn't judge a festival's success by the numbers.
"I judge it on how many people are having a great time, how many stories, what interests they are," Lewis said.
"So even if 20 people showed up today and they were enthusiastic about it, I would love it."
Lewis, who talks with many people at the festival each year he is able to attend, said that the most common question he gets from people is whether or not it has been seen lately, and he says that it indeed has, at least relatively recently.
He noted reported sightings in the 1980s and even as recent as the early 2010s.
"Early 2010, 2012-ish range, a guy saw it up on the road by the cemetery," Lewis said. "He just moved to the area, saw a dead bat on the side of the road — huge — he was with his family, it was getting dark, they didn't want to stop. Drove by the next day, it was gone."
He also noted that just a few years ago, a man in Colfax, which is just under 50 miles from Van Meter, said that he saw a large bat, about 8-feet long out in a field.
Many years ago, teenagers used to go out to where the brick and tile factory used to be, right next to where the entrance to the mines used to be, and they would see shadowy figures which could have been the Visitor, or could have been ghosts. No one knew because, at the time, the legend of the Visitor had been mostly forgotten.
"When we came here and started researching it, no one knew about it," Lewis said.
"We talked to many local old-timers who said 'I have no idea what you're talking about.'"
The walking tour shows off what Lewis thinks is so great about the festival.
"You can literally walk the same route people walk," Lewis said. "You can go into the bank, the old bank building and see where they shot out the window. It's amazing that you don't need your imagination, you don't need to think of what it would have been like in 1903 here because you can see it."
Lewis said that they continue to find more information, and that the next printing of the book will have more information. He said he hopes that each re-printing of the book in the future is a new edition with more information.
Darcy Maulsby drove from Lake City, Iowa to attend the festival. Maulsby heard about the legend of the Van Meter Visitor while doing research for her most recent book, Dallas County, Iowa in the Images of America Series.
"There's a tremendous amount of interest in the history of Iowa and the paranormal," Maulsby said. "Those two things, more often than not, go hand-in-hand."
Strategy card game could feature Van Meter Visitor
There are many strategy card games and board games out there now that feature paranormal creatures. Broke Bear Games, out of the Quad Cities, is in the process of creating a strategy card game called Crypticuffs, that would allow players to pit mythical creatures against each other in battle.
Logan Vo, owner and operator of Broke Bear Games, will try to fund the production of the game through a Kickstarter campaign, and if all goes well, the game could become a reality, and will even feature the Van Meter Visitor as a character.
"I've loved cryptozoology since I was a little kid," Vo said. "Just the idea is so fascinating to me, about all of the different ones (legendary creatures), and I was looking up different ones for Iowa years back and found the Van Meter Visitor and thought 'oh, this is awesome. One from Iowa,' so I had to put him in the game. He's one of my favorites."
For more information on the game and to find out when the Kickstarter campaign will begin, "Like" Broke Bear Games on Facebook.