Devil’s Footprints – Another Skeptical Look

Mysterious footprints in the snow are nothing new.  A good book on skeptic history will cover the case of the “devil’s footprints” in the snow.  Joe Nickel has covered the mystery of the footprints that appeared in the snow, covering over a 100-mile area.  Brain Dunning also gives a good balanced account of the mystery in this Skeptoid podcast.

Footprints turn up time and again in the skeptic world.  Certainly, one could assume a world populated with Big Foots galore, looking at the number of  print casts.  Snow prints though are a different story, since they melt away before casts are made.  While the original “Devil’s Footprints” happened over 100 years ago, more recent sightings of the prints have been reported, as in the Daily Mail’s report of a case in Devon, England, in 2009.

Foot print on the right?

Photography allows us to now view mysterious snow prints.  However, I was able recently to investigate mysterious ice prints in person!  I was visiting my cabin in rural Antrim, New Hampshire, when my neighbor mentioned there were mysterious foot prints on the melting ice.  My cabin is on Lake Franklin Pierce, which is only a lake in the summer months.  In 1926, to help prevent flooding of Hillsborough NH, dams were built at either end of the Jackman Reservoir.  The snow and ice melt-off, which used to flood Hillsborough, instead forms a lake that generates power.  A recent visit to check on the cabin was during the winter, when the lake is for the most part dry.  There was a vast shoreline where in the summer  there is water.

Lake Franklin Pierce in winter

Only a small amount of water and a stream remained.  My visit coincided with an unusually warm day for March.  While there is still much ice resting on the lake bed, the temperatures were in the 70’s.  My neighbor pointed out there must be a large bear or other mysterious creature walking on the ice.  She could SEE the claw like footprints in the ice.  Since she is rather elderly, I offered to walk out on the ice and mud to investigate the tracks.

A quick look confirmed they did indeed seemed deep claw-like tracks in the ice.  However, after carefully walking onto the mud and rapidly melting ice, I saw the cause of the  prints.  The prints were in some cases several inches deep.  However, in many of the prints there were leaves.  (I am guessing in many cases the leaves had blown out or washed  away in a recent rain).  The deep prints were the exact shape of the leaves in the holes.  Of course, some leaves have pointy edges, just like claws.

I was puzzled at first.  Why would the ice melt just around the leaves, and in the perfect shape of the leaf?  I saw then that there were many leaves still in the ice.  They had fallen there in Autumn, and been trapped in the ice.  As the sun hit the ice, the ice around the leaves melted away.  So the deeper that the leaf  was trapped, the deeper the hole.  Sadly, my photographs do not clearly show how deep many of the holes are.  Some were  four inches deep.  In many places, especially where the leaves were missing, it did look like an animal with claws had been walking on the ice.  The sunlight hitting the leaves  warmed the ice more quickly than in areas without leaves.

four inches deep

I was quickly able to assure my neighbor that while I am sure there are many creatures living in the woods in Antrim, none of these creatures were responsible for the tracks in the ice.  Of course the lake is the reputed home of “Franky” the New Hampshire alligator, but that’s an investigation for another day!

Absorbing the sun's heat, waiting to thaw

Categories: Skeptic

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