Mysterious Michigan: The Disappearance of Little Katie Flynn

June, 1868: Henry Flynn runs a lumber camp in Walhalla, MI, 17 miles straight east from Ludington on US-10. Henry regularly drives a team of horses pulling loads of lumber up the hill to the sawmill. His 3-year-old daughter, Katie, often rides with him up the hill and then runs back down an adjacent path, while the lumber is unloaded, to meet her dad back at the bottom for another trip up.

Katie isn’t there to meet him after one of the runs. Not entirely unusual. Henry figures Katie is back with her mother, while his wife assumes she is still with Henry. At the end of the day, Henry gets home and finds Katie isn’t there. A search is immediately organized.

Henry walks the path Katie usually takes. He finds her tracks merging with those of a big black bear. With the aid of torches, the search party continues looking for Katie into the early hours of the morning until finally giving up for the night.

The search resumes at first light and continues through much of the day without any sign of the little girl. Around 4:00 pm, some of the men hear faint cries. Fighting their way through the thick brush towards the sounds, they near the river when a huge black bear suddenly jumps into the river and swims away to the other side. Katie is found standing on a fallen tree that spans the width of the river. Other than a few scratches and a lost shoe, she is no worse for the wear.

Back at camp, her mother asks her what happened. According to the Ludington Daily, 3-year-old Katie replies with, “Big dog came up to me and took me in his arms and walked away with me.” When asked about her missing shoe, the little girl said, “Big dog ate it.”

Katie tells the story again; this time explaining that she was playing in the sand and a big black thing came up and played with her. It holds out a paw, she grabs it, and they walk away together. Just before dark, the big black thing leaves and returns carrying wintergreen berries in its paw. The big black thing eats some berries. Katie eats some berries. The big black thing then scrapes a pile of leaves together for her and lies down next to her for the night.

A dog (wolf?), bear, a big black thing playing in the sand, holding paw to hand while walking away, picking winter berries and carrying them back to that night’s camp? No Michigan animal is that dexterous. What is little Katie talking about? It’s weird and creepy at best, sinister at its worse. Just what exactly is out there in those woods?

Little Katie obviously had trouble describing what happened. The mental model of a three-year-old cannot interpret things satisfactorily, realistically to an adult worldview which in turn has its own developed biases about what is in the wild and how it should behave. We have no model to match her description and so we are in turn confused.

When an event defies rationale, which is largely just conditioned assumptions, it is easily deemed beyond the natural world, “supra-naturalis” as the ancients described it, supernatural as we call it, that twilight zone of awareness where the unknown superimposes itself onto the unknown.

But remember, it all made sense to Katie. She was there after all. Why are you not getting this? I’ve told you.

From one bias to another, isn’t that where most, if not all mis(sed)understandings are born?

The supernatural is what we make it.

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