There’s a forest in Alaska that sits on a remote, hard to get to peninsula. If you were to visit today, you’d never know that seventy years ago, a small town thrived there, built upon a booming salmon fishing industry.
Portlock, also known as Port Chatham, has been the subject of numerous documentaries, stories, and investigations. The intrigue is real. The legend, perhaps equally so.
In 1785, a Captain Nathaniel Portlock landed in a secluded bay, on the Kenai peninsula of Alaska. Whilst surveying, they found the remnants of an abandoned native village. Nobody could fathom why they would have left such a prime area, full of untouched game, fish, and shellfish. But, as members of his party grew sick and scared, they began to beg their captain to depart. Little did they know, just six years before, Spanish explorers had trodden the same soil as them. But they too had fallen sick. Some even died, and those that lived, lived in fear. Fear of what had driven the original native settlers to leave too. Horrible, morose cries would be heard in the night, edging down the mountains towards them. As with the Spanish before them, Captain Portlock’s party begged him to leave, and so they did, only leaving his name to bear on what they saw as cursed ground.
The sickness felt by the explorers could be attributed to infrasound – a low-pitched frequency that can’t be heard by humans, but the effects of which most certainly can. Several mammals use it for communication, including elephants, whales, and rhinos. Tigers though, use it to stun and disorientate their prey when they roar. Exposure to infrasound can cause inner ear imbalances, vertigo, nausea, vomiting, and bowel spasms. It can even cause resonances in inner organs, such as the heart. And it’s also been attributed to a creature of legend.
But the story really begins in 1867. A new community of nomadic Sugpiaq set up a camp in the bay of what was to become Portlock. They were amazed by the abundance and size of the clams and other bounty they found on the shoreline. No doubt, it signalled to them that this was a place they could spend the winter and never be without food. But their joy was short lived. Within a month, they were attacked. What they described as cannibal giants began to raid the village, almost nightly at times. They fought with an animalistic savagery the Sugpiaq have never encountered before, and they named the giants Nantiinaq – or the hairy man. At first, the people fought and were unwilling to give up their new home. But as the months turned into years, the attacks did not stop. Whenever game became scarce, the cannibals came. And they showed no mercy. The San Francisco Chronicle famously reported on the events, stating ‘the giants rip people to shreds in the streets every time they need a square meal’. In 1905, the village is abandoned, and the Sugpiaq leave.
Then, in 1921, a small community of Russian-Alutiiq are attracted to the bay for the same reasons as the Sugpiaq. But this time they have 20th century industry with them. They build a cannery to process the salmon, a post office, and a school. But they very quickly implement strict rules. There is a curfew at night. Armed guards patrol the streets, and especially the school and entrances to the cannery. And nobody, ever, ever goes out in the fog or into the forest. It seems that they know… the forest belongs to Nantinaq, and in the fog, it will stalk the streets of town too.
The rules worked… for a while. But as the community grew bigger and more successful, perhaps they became overconfident and let their guard down. Whatever happened, in 1931, a man named Andrew Kamluck, ventured out into the forest to log some trees. They found him with his head caved in. It was said a piece of equipment, heavy enough to have been hauled there by Kamluck’s dogs, had been the murder weapon. The dogs too were found torn to ribbons.
After that, the rules weren’t enough to save Portlock. First, a few gold prospectors disappeared. Then the Dall sheep and bear hunters. Each time, a little closer to town. Something was moving in on them. They all felt it. Occasionally, a body would wash up in the bay with strange bite and claw marks, or worse, beyond recognition. Twice, on the foggiest of nights, something broke into the cannery. On the second occasion, it caused enough chaos and damage for it to burn to the ground. One day, they found a man that had been missing for months. His body had been swept down the mountain by the Spring rains and into the lagoon. The remains were torn and dismembered in a way no bear was capable of. Official reports list fifteen people as having gone missing during that time, but the Alutiiq say it’s far higher. The community describe themselves as being terrorised by the creatures, and in 1950, almost overnight, they finally abandoned the town.
And it doesn’t end there. In 1968, a goat hunter is stalked and chased by a creature making horrendous screams as it followed him through the woods. Then, in 1973, three hunters take shelter in the remnants of the village during a storm. All night, their camp is circled by something that growls at them and utters unintelligible, threatening sounds. Each swears it walked on two feet. More recently, in 1989, a native paramedic attends an elderly man who has suffered a heart attack after returning from a walk in the woods. The native is an Alutiiq, and he knows the legends. He asks the old man if he saw it, if it bothered him. The old man nods, looking terror stricken towards the treeline. He dies in the paramedic’s arms. And until this day, the Alutiiq know to stay away from the forest, and to never go out in the fog.