Churubusco, Indiana, experienced a series of good sightings of a large turtle, “the size of a dining room table,” in 1948-1949. The event is recalled in stories of the “Beast of Busco.”
The community became labeled as “Turtle Town, USA,” and has one of the longest running cryptozoological festivals in America, their “Turtle Days.”
I visited the area for a couple days, to document what a town that seems aware of their place in cryptozoo history has done with their legacy. What I discovered is a Churubusco on the doorstep of more fully realizing the cryptotourism potential of their Giant Turtle, nicknamed “Oscar.”
What I also found and documented is a rival town claiming to have physical evidence of the 1949 turtle and labeling it as “Beast of Busco.” Do they?
First of all, Churubusco has embraced, publicly, their 1949 encounter with national fame, when the Beast of Busco became the subject of American media wonder. Evidence of this is everywhere, extending daily, well beyond the annual event of their Turtle Days weekend.
The local McDonalds was redesigned a half-decade ago and a new addition was a wall of panels sharing the history of the Giant Turtle, with giant photographs from the 1949 hunt for the cryptid. It makes for an impressive display.
Next, throughout the town, there is a variety of roadside art examples, from a huge statue at the entrance to the town park, a street corner concrete turtle, and painted signs (e.g. little league, park, town entrance) everywhere.
The local newspaper, the Churubusco News sells an overview of the history for five dollars and a Turtle Days baseball cap.
But the marketing of the monster ends there. The tiny History Center is only open Mondays and Thursdays, and does not sell any Beast of Busco souvenirs. The town, which sports various storefronts for rent, could use a “Beast of Busco” museum. A small location open year-round could share the cyptozoological history of the place, with ease. Right now, there is not one store that sells Oscar turtle figurines, teeshirts, or any locally written chronicle of what is a history that is embraced by this town (save for the 1999 anniversary booklet at the paper).
Even worse, access to the Beast of Busco site of the sightings is on private property today. Fulk Lake, three miles out of town on Madden Road, is surrounded today by brushy overgrowth, hard to see from Madden Road, and cut off from further exploration. “No trespassing” signs are posted, and this is gun country that takes its “no trespassing” quite seriously.
The lake area can be seen a bit and photographed from a safe distance.
Meanwhile, a nearby town, on the other side of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is exploiting the Beast of Busco in a very commercial fashion. In Decatur, Indiana, I found a restaurant and bar named “2 Brothers” and it has embraced the Beast, using it for decades to get people to come to their place.
In the Decatur, Indiana establishment is a large snapping turtle shell, with a taxidermy-preserved head, quite old, reportedly from the 1940s. Painted on it is “Beast of Busco.”
The owner refused an offer to buy it (of course) with the well-rehearsed answer: “Sure, you can buy it, if you buy the whole restaurant and bar.”
The “Beast of Busco” shell was about a yard long (I could not more closely examine it, although photos were allowed). A sizeable turtle yes, but this was no giant. Another similarly-sized shell also hangs in the bar.
Is this the original “Beast of Busco”? It is doubtful, but it certainly is drawing attention away from Churubusco. In the long run that may not bode well for the cryptotourism of Churubusco.
The turtle battle lines have been drawn between Decatur, Indiana, and Churubusco, Indiana. Who will win the ultimate popular cultural turtle race?