I am entering my latest novel, #MoMoLives in PitchWars 2016. There’s one line from the query letter portion of my entry that directly relates to this blog post.
#MoMoLives is loosely based on actual events in my own hometown during my childhood.
MoMo’s story starts in July of 1972. I’ve always believed that I was eleven years old when it all happened. In organizing this post, I realized for the first time that I’ve been wrong for all these years. I was still ten when MoMo came to town – I actually didn’t turn eleven until a couple of weeks after the furor died down. I’d just started my first job that summer, a paper route for the Louisiana Press-Journal. As the MoMo craze unfolded, I clipped articles about it from the paper and put them in a scrapbook. When I started writing #MoMoLives in September 2015, I read through all of those articles for background. I discovered a lot more humor and a lot more danger going on than I’d realized way back then.
Here’s the story in a nutshell: a huge, furry, foul-smelling creature began menacing residents of Louisiana, MO in late July that year. Most of the sightings took place on Marzolf Hill, also known as Star Hill because of a large star the city put up in lights at the top of the hill during Christmas season. An especially notable sighting happened on River Road, which runs right along the Mississippi on the northeast side of town. It was notable, because at least one witness reported lights in the sky. This increased the strangeness quotient of the occurrences, and brought UFO investigators to town in force.
Newspapers began referring to the creature as ‘The Missouri Monster,’ which headline writers soon shortened to ‘MoMo.’ News of the monster spread south to St. Louis and north to Chicago. MoMo went old school viral in the days before social media, cellphones and the Internet to become famous nationwide. J. Allen Hynek, perhaps the greatest UFO researcher ever, even came to town for an afternoon. He must have concluded the UFO aspect of the MoMo story was flimsy because he got out of town pretty fast.
Search parties scoured Marzolf Hill by day and by night. The sheriff’s department eventually shut off the hill, blocking the access road with saw-horses and a road grader. At one point, a gun-toting mob started up the hill in the midst of a sighting, only to turn tail and run away when someone yelled at them that the monster was coming. Self-proclaimed monster hunters and UFO experts from all over the country visited town to collect evidence and provide opinions and advice to the local authorities who had to deal with the beast. One of the witnesses to the original sighting even quit his job so he could look for MoMo 24/7.
Looking back on it, I’m surprised somebody didn’t get shot in the mania that gripped the town. Eventually the sightings stopped and things went back to normal, but even then a few people knew there was more to MoMo’s story than meets the eye.
I first heard that MoMo might have been faked during my junior year of high school – five to six years after the craze. Our chemistry teacher claimed in class one day that he knew some boys who pulled off the hoax. This particular teacher had a reputation for telling tall tales, so those of us who still wanted to believe in MoMo felt free to disregard what he said.
I didn’t think much more about the MoMo legend after that until sometime in 2011. I was just getting into Facebook at the time, on my senior-year English teacher friended me. She made several posts about MoMo as its 40th anniversary approached. In a few of them she said that she and her husband (who was the high school principal) knew former students who had been involved in the hoax. They refuse to reveal any names, saying some bored kids had pulled a practical joke that got way out of hand.
Finally believing that MoMo was most likely a hoax, I had the idea that it might be worthwhile to tell the story of a young teen who is drawn into such a scheme by two older teens. I also wanted to explore the impact of social media, reality TV, and cable news on the town if the same situation arose today. Since at heart I’m still a monster-believer, I also wanted to add the possible presence of a real Bigfoot into the mix.
Looking back on my memories of those days, the things I remember most were the things that happened as part of everyday life. Sometimes I’d be playing with other kids in my neighborhood and we’d hear a strange sounding howl. We’d all stop and look at each other, wondering if what we’d heard was MoMo, or just a dog. A few times, a strange smell would come out of nowhere – since the monster supposedly was accompanied by “an ungodly smell,” we’d start looking over our shoulders to make sure MoMo wasn’t sneaking up on us.
On a final note, about a month after the start of the MoMo craze, a movie titled The Legend of Boggy Creek, was released. The trailer below aired on nearly all of our local stations. My younger brother was scared to death when the trailer came on, and told me a few years ago that he still recalls how extremely frightening it was to him. The entire movie is on YouTube if anyone cares to watch. A link to the trailer is below.
If you want more information about MoMo from a traditional perspective, click here, here, or here. You can find an article about MoMo’s 40th anniversary and the possibility it was hoaxed by clicking here.