The Piasa

So, last weekend, while everyone else was frantically grabbing bread and milk from the grocery store ahead of the impending snow, The Hubs and I decided to scout locations for good spots to shoot once the weather gets nicer and, if I saw anything good, stop and get a couple of winter shots while we were out. So, we headed up northeast of St. Louis, towards Alton, IL, and Pere Marquette State Park. We were looking specifically for a very large, ferocious bird…

The Piasa

The Piasa Bird is one of Alton’s most famous attractions, and that’s saying something, because they are also pretty famous for ghosts. But, the Piasa is a vicious, fanged, winged, human-eating creature that stalked the Illini Indians before the first white settlers could ever be bothered and that will definitely garner a reputation. Legend has it that the creature originally had a taste for deer, but, one day, it found the graves of some warriors and promptly expanded its palette. Once those dead bodies were gone, The Piasa decided to eat healthier and started shopping for fresh food.

The Illini painted an illustration of the fearsome thing high on the limestone cliffs and proceeded to pummel it with arrows and, later, bullets wherever they were within shooting distance. Therefore, none of their depictions lasted very long, but they probably got a lot of their anxiety and frustration out along the way.

The Piasa was never a major concern for the white settlers who came along and, eventually, he faded from memory altogether. That is, at least, until 1922, when two brothers decided to resurrect his legend with a depiction of their own on the same old cliffs. Progress, however, proved to be too much for the old fellow and this version was destroyed by the widening of the nearby road some time later.

Over the ensuing years, assorted Piasas were painted around the area, trying to find the best spot for the ravenous beast. But, those limestone cliffs aren’t the best canvases for artwork and the creepy dude just kept crumbling away anyway.

Finally, in 1984, the city decided to try painting our favorite Hungry Hungry Horror on a metal plate bolted to the cliff face.

The Piasa_2

Photo courtesy of Randall Hyman

(I don’t have a picture of my own from that time period. But this was him in metal form.)

The Hubs and I were newly married in the early 1990s and we took a day trip up to find him. This was the first version we saw together. It just didn’t seem the same. It seemed more like a metal billboard to me than a scary, Illini-Indian-eating legend.

Anyway, Metalgear Piasa didn’t fare any better than his predecessors, as his steel foundation was susceptible to rust and he, too, deteriorated. So, in 1995/1996, Metalgear Piasa was removed and given a new home at Southwestern High School, where he terrorizes opposing teams to this day.

The Piasa-3

Photo courtesy of Roadside America

In 1999, Alton resident, Dave Stevens, decided to put The Piasa back where he belongs and painted the biggest, most frightening version yet. This crazy-big monster is 22ft high and 48ft long. He is carefully and meticulously maintained and there was no missing him as The Hubs and I drove along the River Road.

The Piasa_4

To get some idea of the scale of both these caves and Mr. Piasa, just take a look at the green sign and the trash can there in the foreground. These caves are huge and, even though all the signs and plaques around make it clear that our friend here didn’t live in them, I like to think they got it all wrong and he’s in there, just waiting for his next meal to wander in, unsuspecting.

So, if you’re ever in the area, stop by Alton for a visit and a bite to eat. But, make sure the bite on the menu isn’t you…

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