Before there was the Leprechaun, there was the Wolf Woman. Beginning on April 1, 1971, calls began to roll into the Press-Register from citizens reporting that they had spotted a creature with the head of a woman and the body of a wolf roaming around Davis Avenue, as well as the Plateau neighborhood. By April 8, the newspaper published an article chronicling its readers’ tales — complete with a sketch of the bewitching monster sporting a head of hair that would have made Farrah Fawcett jealous. The article, entitled “But Would You Believe?,” explained that the paper had received over 50 such calls. It quoted an array of unnamed residents, including a man who described the wolf woman as simultaneously “hairy” and “pretty.” Locals were afraid to leave their homes after dark. Sightings and chasings were reported for days. Then, just as quickly as she appeared, she vanished, never be seen again.
Who — or what — was this mysteriously attractive canine? Rumors abound. Some say April Fools’ Day pranksters affixed a wig to a stray German Shepard; others suggest it was a particularly well-coifed Afghan hound. Regardless of what the Wolf Woman was, she struck fear into local children. “We lived around the corner from my grandmother growing up off the Parkway and would often have to walk to her house to borrow something. When the Wolf Woman emerged, I didn’t want to walk in the dark,” says Antoinette Roberts Stewart. “One night, my father sent me to my grandmother’s house to get something, and I had to walk by patches of woods. Many of my friends lived all around us, but there were wooded lots between the houses. On that night, I swore I saw the Wolf Woman. I know it was my imagination, but I never ran so fast in my life. I could literally feel her chasing me.” Libye Sawyer echoed the sentiment. “It scared me so much. I would stand at our back door to make sure it wasn’t there. I was in 5th grade at the time. I begged my stepbrother to teach me to shoot a rifle in case ‘She’ came after us.”
As with most spooky stories, there are those who enjoy frightening others and those who love to be frightened. “I remember hearing about it. I was probably 15 and we were terrified to be out at night. Of course, we would all joke and scare each other with stories of someone seeing it,” says Benita Averett Murphy. And don’t we all have that one relative? “I was a young child at the time, and I was terrified! My uncle told me that it was coming after ME,” remembers Cindy McNeil.
Whatever the Wolf Woman was — or wasn’t — urban legends such as these are often retold to discourage people, particularly children, from doing unsafe things such as being out after dark or walking through the woods at night, explains Don Comeaux, director of the Mobile Exploreum Science Center. Comeaux is the creative force behind the Exploreum’s creepy, educational and interactive “Fear” exhibit which goes through the end of this month. The exhibit examines the science behind mysterious creatures, phobias and urban legends.
That the Port City is a hotbed for all things that go bump in the night is not surprising. As an old city full of history and culture, Mobile is rife with urban legends, ghost stories and even a few monsters that are alleged to wander our streets. “Southerners are storytellers; it’s who we are,” says Comeaux. And in a city with over 300 years of history, there are bound to be many tales to be told. “With our rich history, it makes sense that Mobile has a lot of ghost stories,” says Comeaux.
So, is there any chance that the Wolf Woman was real? Well, as Comeaux points out, “many animals that we know of today were once considered cryptids, or animals that have been claimed to exist, but have never been proven to exist. At one time, the kangaroo, the Komodo dragon and the giant squid were all cryptids. Now, we know they are, in fact, real.” Is it possible that America’s Amazon, home to so many diverse species, could be the residence of such a unique species of wolf? The answer is, we may never know. But what we do know is, if we ever manage to wrangle her, the city that was “born to celebrate” would…well…find an excuse to do just that. On February 13, 1938, the New York Times reported on the resolution to Mobile’s mysterious “Monster of Fisher’s Alley,” a 30-pound, four-foot creature accused of stalking people in the swamp. It turned out to be an otter. “The otter slithered through the fence at the home of Charles Ardoyno,” says the Times. “Ardoyno ran out to see the ‘monster,’ knocked his collie dog ‘clear across the backyard.’ A neighbor killed the otter with a shotgun. Two hundred persons gathered and later, the Ardoynos were charging 10 cents admission.”