Almost 137 years ago, The New York Evening Star reported a harrowing encounter between two fishermen and a sea serpent. The event occurred on Cayuga Lake, the longest of New York’s Finger Lakes. The Finger Lakes were formed by glacial action during the last ice age. In my research into the lake monster phenomenon, it is glacial lakes, such as the Finger Lakes, that hold the bulk of “typical” lake monster sightings. Cayuga Lake, with its 182-foot-average depth and a maximum depth reaching 435 feet, offers a perfect habitat for a large aquatic cryptid to dwell and stay virtually undetected.
The incident in question occurred on a summer evening when a salesman from Broadway was fishing with a local farmer. The pair were trolling and their boat had two fish carriages trailing behind. Suddenly, a whirlpool emerged and one of the carriages disappeared. Shortly thereafter, a dark shadow appeared through the water and a large, hideous head broke the surface. The head, shaped like that of an alligator, was about 12 feet in length. The creature had what appeared to be tentacles and its body was covered in scales.
The monster proceeded to attack the boat. It ducked its head and filled its mouth with water and then sprayed the men. The driver of the boat, Father Lish, pulled up the anchor and headed toward a small island. Before the men could reach safety, the creature took a couple of dives at the boat. As the farmer guided the boat to the island, the salesman struck the animal several times with a gaff—enough to slow the beast long enough for the men to take refuge among the island’s trees. With all of the commotion from the attack, the boat drifted out onto the lake; however, the monster disappeared and the men were safe. They waited until sundown when the tide was lower and waded ashore. The awful experience was over.
The following day, a search party was formed to go after the creature, but it wasn’t spotted again. According to the salesman, it was widely believed that the monster left the lake via a network of subterranean passages. He personally felt that the creature would appear off the Atlantic coast.
Whatever you think of the story, whether it is a tall tale or plausible, two features of the account are striking: the creature was in a glacial lake, which was discussed earlier; and, the monster was thought to escape through a subterranean passage. These rumored underground travel routes play a prominent role in the lake monster phenomenon. If they exist, they can certainly account for the difficulty in obtaining definitive evidence for the existence of lake monsters. I discuss this at length in my book…
Source: The Northern Pacific Farmer. Wadena, Minnesota, July 29, 1880, Page 3.