Monday, October 15, 2007

The Billiwhack Monster of Ventura County

In 1964, the LA Times published reports of a strange beast haunting the abandoned concrete structures of the old Billiwhack Dairy in Aliso Canyon, Ventura County. The beast of Billiwhack had reportedly been seen several times by local high school students, who seemed obsessed with undertaking valiant quests into the monster’s territory. One youngster said that he had encountered a “snarling, hairy man in a hole,” and other reports unanimously described a tall, furry, muscular hominid with claws and ram-like horns. He was said to be half man and half sheep, and to be extremely aggressive.

Reports have largely been confined to the 1950s and 60s, yet people are still discussing the beast to this day. How can one account for this very time-specific legend that continues to have significance? Perhaps a bit of background is in order. The second half of the twentieth century has seen the rise of the notion of the government as ‘mad scientist’: according to popular culture, the secret bureaus of our nation since WWII have been sponsoring programs and experiments meant to change the very makeup of the human body.

Part of this is based on reality. Our government has indeed created programs that furtively transgress the body’s boundaries, such as the fluorination of tap water or the 1932 Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment. And in popular legend, ‘anti-governments’ like that of Communist Russia have, in turn, made a move to poison the American water supply. Postwar thought was highly suspicious of government in all its incarnations.

The decades following WWII sprouted a deep mistrust of our own government’s military and scientists in particular. The legends surrounding Roswell since the 1970s and the Billiwhack monster from the 50s and 60s are only two examples. Before the war, the government was lambasted for idiocy, backwardness, or outright oppression. After the war, many of the citizens of the United States began to suspect that their government was keeping from them earth-shattering secrets. This was perhaps most evident in the West, where vast expanses of open desert facilitated the creation of military and nuclear complexes whose exact activities could not be easily discerned.

I see the Billiwhack monster to be very much a product of this. According to legend, the creature had been created by the old owner of the Billiwhack Dairy, one August Rubel, during the war. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS), which had an outpost training camp on nearby Catalina Island, had supposedly commissioned him to undertake experiments in the underground tunnels below the dairy. He was directed to create a “super soldier.” The beast of Billiwhack was apparently an escaped experiment gone wrong.

When the war enterprise industrialized in the twentieth century, and each individual soldier seemed to become a machine (or, perhaps, cogs in a much larger machine), the notion of the supersoldier was born. The “Captain America” comic series, whose first installment was published in 1940, was one such supersoldier: according to the story, a secret, government-administered serum had transformed a weak young man into the ultimate fighting machine. Captain America was what happened when these governmental experiments turned out right. The Billiwhack monster was what happened when they went horribly awry.

This is only the most popular explanation for the beast of Billiwhack. In addition to this legend, some have dismissed it as the product of the adolescent imagination (most eyewitnesses are, indeed, high school students), and cryptozoologists suppose that it is some form of deformed bigfoot. But here, I’m not interested in origins. What I’m interested in is memory. What this story throws into high relief is another aspect of our memory of WWII. On one side, we have the so-called “Greatest Generation.” On the other, we have a deep-seated uneasiness about and suspicion of wartime governmental activities. We look back on the war years and see a time of secrecy, deceit, aggression, and, ultimately, monstrosity. The embodiment of this memory has, apparently, been lurking in a dilapidated dairy surrounded by Southern California’s sunny orchards.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Santa Paula right outside where this legend takes place.. and despite many times going up the canyon I had never experienced any monsters. However, I had moved to the school ranch in the orchards outside Fillmore and have experienced many strange things there. One such incident involved my sister, her boyfriend, and myself. There were 2 1950s era school buses left to decay on the far side of the ranch next to a river and deep in the orchards. We decided that since no one ever came out here and it was impossible for anyone to approach the buses from the only path in or out, it would be a perfect place to drink beer. So there we were, sitting in one of the buses starting in on our first beers. The sun had just set and darkness was setting in when extremely loud and violent banging had come from behind the bus we were in. Now, the buses had been there for so long that the backs of them were enveloped in overgrowth of weeds and plants so thick that no one in their right mind would walk thru them. Not to mention the buses were made of 3" inch thick steel, to make this type of banging a man would have to be built like hulk holgan! About 10 minutes after the banging stopped, My sister's boyfriend decided he was going to bravely step off the bus to take a leak.. He quickly walked about 15 to 20 feet around the side of the lemon trees to where he couldn't be seen. We then heard very heavy foot steps march off in his direction the same time they stopped he came running back onto the bus. The foot steps then came marching right back to the back of the bus. The banging started again, but this time included a deep growl. Once the banging and growling stopped this time, We all took off running to my house from the bus. We never went back to those buses again and soon after they were dismantled for recycling. I have a few other true stories of very strange events in ventura county if you'd like to know more, mail me at unvisible805@gmail.com

Yamaha SR650 said...

I went to Billiwhack Farms back in November of 2012 to purchase 2 motorcycles from a old friend who kept the 2 motorcycles there for a lengthy storage in one of the old milking barns. That's where I heard of The Legend. My friends wife told me that to this day, the Mexican orchard workers will NOT work past sunset if that says anything about Mr. Billiwhack Monster. One of the motorcycles has a 30.5 cubic inch(500cc)engine built by Hi-Per-Kinetics back in 1982. They built it up to Stage two specifications resulting in a stump-pulling, high-performance 40 cubic inch (650cc) "monster" of an engine. After some cleaning up, painting and customizing, the bike has since been featured in 2 magazines and I'm still customizing and modifying it. It runs VERY strong and fast. In honor of The Legend out there at Billiwhack Farms, I had a custom license plate frame made that reads: "BILLIWHACK MONSTER!!!" Anybody wanting to see my "monster", just go to my gmail: daviddaveinternational@gmail.com Just mention why you're there. Thanks!