Fortean Profile: Adam Benedict of the Pine Barrens Institute
Adam Benedict founded the Pine Barrens Institute in 2015 "as a way to just make something in this field easy."
"As most who research cryptids know, it can be extremely difficult to find accurate information on something you are looking into," he told us. "Certain websites can change the story up to make it more exciting, while others can leave out crucial details completely because they are getting their information from the wrong place, and that was driving me crazy. So I thought about it and realized that if I was having a hard time with this, other people certainly were as well. I took it upon myself to create one central place for people to get accurate information without spin."
Adam and his cryptozoological organization are located in Wisconsin, and the Pine Barrens Institute does feature many monsters indigenous to the Midwest—but certainly not exclusively so.
"The Pine Barrens Institute's primary focus is to be a solid digital resource for those looking to expand their knowledge on the world of cryptozoology and odd folklore," explained Adam. "Our focus is to really showcase the lesser known and more obscure cryptids of the world, as well as put focus on the weird creatures that are said to call the Midwest region of the United States home. We put great focus on those myths and legends from Wisconsin as that is where we are located and that is what we know best."
Adam emphasizes accuracy in his writing, and insists that the Pine Barren Institute provides the best research possible regarding cryptids. Presenting an accurate depiction of events takes precedence over pushing an agenda.
"Prior to writing about anything, I make sure to research, research, and research some more," he said. "There are many hours spent turning a lot of pages in a variety of different books before the writing even starts, and there is a lot more cross checking after that. It’s a long process but we want to make sure that we have the best information ourselves prior to releasing it to the world. We have no agenda to make people believe a certain thing, we present the information as is in our articles and let the reader decide if its true or not."
Perhaps it was Adam's early interest in paranormal media that gave him such a balanced approach.
"Growing up, I fondly remember watching and being sucked in by Unsolved Mysteries, marathons of The Twilight Zone, and re-runs of In Search Of…—as well as a variety of other Fortean-centric shows. When movies such as Ghostbusters, Poltergeist, The Legend of Boggy Creek, Beetlejuice, and The Amityville Horror would come on TV, I would be glued to the screen," he said. "In elementary school I would actively seek out the strange and unusual books that dealt with famous cryptids, mysterious creatures, unsolved legends, and alien abductions at the Scholastic book fair, much to the irritation of my 'by the book' private school teachers. It seems like this was something that had always been there and I just grew up with it, although I am not sure why. I don’t recall any of my immediate or extended family having much of an interest in any of this stuff, so perhaps this can all be blamed on some sort of fate or destiny."
This same level-headed interpretation of paranormal phenomena can be found in Adam’s personal life.
"I have had a lot of events happen in my life that immediately while they are happening, my brain wants to instantly think they are paranormal/supernatural, but after some time has passed I can quickly figure out that they were nothing but a mundane occurrence happening at an unexpected moment," he said.
There is one thing, though, that Adam can’t explain.
"One thing I have never been able to logically explain though is the haunting of my first home," he admitted.
The story is extremely long and took place over five years, so I will do my best to sum up the events. I purchased what I will refer to as my first starter home in late 2011, and by all means, it wasn’t anything special. It was a small three-bedroom home on the south side of Janesville, Wisconsin that had only ever had one previous set of owners besides me. The previous owners built the home from the ground up in, I believe, in the late 1930s or early 1940s, and they went on to raise 11 children inside that small home. Eventually all the children grew up and moved out, and the only people left were the husband and wife who built the home. As time passed, the husband eventually died and the wife remained. I am not sure how long she remained in the home after her husband's passing, but she ended up passing inside the home in early 2011. A few months later, we moved in.
Now from what I have learned researching the woman who lived there prior to my family, her name was Helen and she was an extremely religious woman. I am talking old school by the book catholic. This proved somewhat annoying as after I started moving in, I took notice of quite a few religious items secured to the walls of every room in the home. Little glass vials of holy water secured in little wooden containers that were then screwed to the walls above all the light switches in the house. Above those were little angelic cherub statues, and tucked into those statues were palm leaf crosses. Either she or someone related to her appeared to have taken great care in making sure these things never came down, but down they had to come. I consider myself an agnostic who borders close to the line of atheist, and I didn’t want any of this stuff on the walls of my new home, so I took them all down. I reached out to the person who sold me the house and asked if they would like to have any of the removed items but they did not want any of it, so into the garbage it went. And almost immediately after that, things started to happen around the home.
We had the classic sounds of someone walking around in rooms where nobody was at. When my daughter was younger—around two or three—she would often talk about an old lady who would come into her room at night and talk to her until she fell asleep. Our pets would randomly get very on guard and would bark or hiss at something unseen down the hallway, the hallway that lead to the bedroom in which Helen died. It was the standard stuff you read about with most hauntings. But then bigger stuff started to happen.
Not exactly sure when it started, but all of a sudden one day, it sounded like every single shelf and bookcase and item that wasn’t secured to the floor or wall fell onto our basement floor. I can best describe it as sounding like a car drove through our basement. My wife and I jumped up and ran downstairs expecting to see the worst, only to not find a single item out of place. This would happen randomly until we moved out of the home. Always in the basement and never anything wrong. Sometimes we would leave for the day and when we would come back, pictures would be on the ground, leaning up against the wall directly under where their nail was located above. And I can assure you these pictures did not fall on their own as nothing was ever broken or laying flat, they were purposely leaned against the wall. Along with this, sometimes we would go to bed knowing that all doors in the home that lead outside were locked and secured, only to wake up and find them unlocked and slightly open.
Along with this, family members who spent the night inside the home would recount how they would hear what sounded like an old voice almost whispering in their ear as they tried to sleep, and some even experienced the sensation of being pushed down into the bed as if some unseen pair of hands touched their shoulders. Needless to say, they didn’t always sleep well.
While I can say the events started out somewhat spooky, my family and I eventually learned to just deal with it. The occurrences would happen sporadically and they never seemed malicious in any way. We looked at it more like how someone would react if they wanted to be noticed. So because of this, we got into the habit of saying “Okay Helen, thank you” every time something happened as a way of letting her know she wasn’t forgotten. This usually helped end the occurrence and let things get back to normal.
This all stopped two years ago after my wife and I purchased a new home and moved out of the old haunted one. I can honestly say that my kids were sad that we would be leaving Helen, and even wrote letters for her saying goodbye and left them at the old home. I did manage to come across an old black and white photo of Helen though while looking into the previous family, and both me and my wife decided to put it into a frame and bring it with us so as not to forget her. It is currently hanging in our kitchen.
Adam has also had an encounter with something he can best describe only as a “sea monster,” but to find out more about that you’ll need to read the article on the Pine Barrens Institute website by clicking here.
Not surprisingly, Adam’s experience has left him with an interest in ghosts.
"I am really interested in ghosts," he said. "Not the ghost hunting side, which has been made popular due to bad reality programming, but the spiritualist side. Basically, I want to know what makes them tick and if there really is something that continues on after death."
"I always say that if I were alive during the heyday of the Spiritualist Movement, between the 1840s and 1920s, I would have been sucked in hook, line, and sinker," he continued. "Would have been crazy to have been alive during a time when an act such as The Fox Sisters could be viewed as fact and not a con. Would have been amazing to walk down the street and pass multiple buildings filled with people who were gathered together simple to research whether or not ghosts were real. Plus ‘Spirit Photography’, come on, how cool is that."
"One thing I did discover though when looking into this one day is that there was a somewhat famous spiritualist from my area who took part in a pretty famous but also obscure case," Adam added. "His name was Dr. E. Winchester Stevens and he was both a medical doctor and advocate of spiritualism. He took part in investigating the spiritual possession of Lurancy Vennum, a girl from Illinois who claimed to be the reincarnation of another girl named Mary Roff."
Despite his own experience living in a haunted house, and his interest in spiritualism, Adam’s favorite cases all lie firmly rooted in cryptozoology.
"I have three stories that I would say are my favorites," he said. "The first is the Bernard Heuvelmans and Ivan T. Sanderson investigation into the ‘Minnesota Iceman’, a classic cryptid mystery that has been talked about since it happened in the late 1960’s. The second would be the Ape Canyon Incident of 1924; the crazy story of a violent encounter between a group of miners and what can only be described as a group of apemen. Finally, the last story is one that has been hotly debated since it first appeared in Fate Magazine in 1965, it is known as The Pensacola Sea Serpent Incident, or as it was called in Fate Magazine, 'My Escape from a Sea Monster.' The story is about a group of five boys who go out diving around a sunken ship, only to be hunted by a sea monster. Four of the boys end up being killed by the beast, and only one survives to tell the tale. Could it be true? Hard to say. Could it be fiction? Almost certainly. Is it a good story? Without a doubt."
But, perhaps surprisingly, Adam’s favorite cryptid is the comparatively mundane Ivory Billed Woodpecker; or, as it is otherwise known, the “Good God Bird” and the “Lord God Bird”.
"I will talk about this cryptid any chance I get because I feel that not enough people who have an interest in this field know about it, and those who do don't give it the respect it deserves," he enthused. "Basically, the reason why this giant bird is my favorite is because it never started as a cryptid to begin with, it was and is a scientifically recognized woodpecker. It was only after everyone believed it went 'extinct' that it became an official cryptid. Plus, it didn't go extinct just once, it was thought to have gone extinct roughly three times before it actually vanished due to human interference and destruction of habitat. But as with all cryptids, people still claim to see it in the wild, only this one is primarily seen flying through the dead trees in the old growth swamps down south. So there is still hope that this absolutely beautiful and massive bird is still alive and well out there, it just got sick of people trying to kill it so it took off and left people behind."
For more information about this avian cryptid, check out Adam’s article on it here.
It becomes easier to understand Adam’s interest in the Ivory Billed Woodpecker once he explains how he hopes the Pine Barrens Institute can contribute to cryptozoology.
"A lot of people laugh when you tell them you are involved with cryptozoology, but it truly is a field that many people should give a closer look," he argued. "Without cryptozoology, a large majority of the worlds known animals would still be considered monsters, and just because the field has been dominated by the likes of Bigfoot and the Loch Ness Monster, that doesn’t mean that this is all the field has to offer. Researchers are actively looking into verifying if some species are truly extinct, while others are looking into whether ancient myths and legends have any basis in real life creatures. There is actual work that goes into this field and I like to believe that we are helping with that work in some way by giving researchers a trustworthy place to get more information if they need it. How cool would it be to think that The Pine Barrens Institute may have that one piece of obscure information needed to help break a mystery wide open. That’s honestly why I do this and will keep doing this, the what-ifs."
Tied in to this hope are the cooperative challenges Adam and other researchers face in the field.
"In all honesty, the biggest challenges are other people in this field," Adam lamented. "Those who steal your work and try to pass if off as their own. Those who actively try to ruin your reputation due to jealousy or some weird ego thing they have going on."
"If you ask at least ten fortean researchers what the biggest challenge is, at least five will agree with me and say other researchers are a big hurdle to get over," he continued. "It really sucks to say, but it’s the truth."
There is, however, room for optimism.
"I do have to say though that I can see a change is coming in the way people in this field interact with each other," Adam said. "It’s slow, but I can see it on the horizon. Now, I am in no way trying to sound like I am tooting my own horn here, but I like to believe that I am part of the next generation of researchers/investigators/chroniclers that will help put this field back on track. And how do I think that will be accomplished? Simple, by talking with one another. The simple act of talking with other people in this field and sharing ideas, research, knowledge will help bring respect back to these fortean fields. The old way of research, that of self-appointed experts and public faces, is coming to an end thanks to the rise of social media. It is helping 'level the playing field' if you will, and is giving those who are actually passionate and honest and want to be available to help the chance to do so."
Despite these challenges, Adam's experiences—both personal and professional—have given him a grounded perspective on fortean research.
"Some people are never going to like what you do. As hard as you try to be professional, some people will never look at this field as anything but a pseudoscience and what you do as anything but a hobby. So make sure you are getting into this because you love it, not because you want to be liked or famous," he advised. "Also, something that everyone should learn: embrace your inner weirdo, because as soon as you embrace your weird side and fully admit that this is what you enjoy doing, you meet some of the coolest and most unique people you can imagine. Those people will go on to be some of your greatest colleagues and truest friends."
To find all of the Pine Barren Institutes’ writings, podcasts, photos, shirts, and tweets in one place, visit www.pinebarrensinstitute.com. Also on their site are links to social media, various podcasts, and a network of friends and colleagues.
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