Since the early 1960’s legend has it that a grotesque creature know as the “Selbyville Swamp Monster” lurks in the murky terrain of the Great Cypress Swamp in Selbyville, Delaware. Whether you believe in the legends or not, there may be a more obvious explanation to the fabled tale. Over 40 years ago Ralph Grapperhaus, the appreciated editor of the Delmarva News willingly admitted to creating the hoax, producing the story of a monster that inhabited the Great Cypress Swamp. He even went so far as to have a friend dress up and play the role of the yeti-like creature. The costume was made by the actor, Fred Stevens, using his Aunt Dorothy’s old raccoon hat, a scary mask, and club. Stevens would hide in the shallows of the woods then jump out at passing cars on Route 54. A local legend soon unfolded.
The two held on to the hoax for years and the news of the alleged beast sightings spread like wildfire around central Sussex County. A photo of the “Selbyville Swamp monster” even made the front page of the Delmarva News on April 23, 1964. It wasn’t long before several other local news agencies got a hold of the story, fueling the monster frenzy. Stevens, then 26, even went as far as participating in the hunt to locate the enigmatic creature of the “Great Cypress Swamp”. The prank continued for months until eventually Stevens feared for his own safety. However it wasn’t until 23 years later in 1987 that Stevens revealed his hidden role and the secret he and Ralph Grapperhaus had kept for so many years.
Oddly residents continued to report sightings of a monster even after Stevens ceased the charade. Even stranger is the fact that Stevens hasn’t played the “Selbyville Swamp Monster” since 1964, lending many to still believe that a creature rambles the woods of the “Great Cypress Swamp.” So are we sure the “Selbyville Swamp Monster” was entirely a hoax? Salisbury author, Andy Nunez references the local swamp monster in his book, Mysteries of the Eastern Shore. Although many believed the rumors have since been dismissed, Nunez and many other local Eastern Shore natives won’t be ruling out the possibility any time soon. In fact, strange sightings and happenings in the swamp were reported long before Stevens and Ralph Grapperhaus’s swindle. In the 1920’s a couple of hunters reported hearing loud, inhuman screaming followed by sounds of something very large and heavy racing towards them.
So is it possible that there really may be a furtive monster roaming the foggy shadows of the “Great Cypress Swamp”? Eastern shore natives may never know, but regardless, we suspect the legend will live on.