Monsters Named Oscar

There may be more, but I’ve ran across two lake monsters named Oscar. Going through some old newspapers, I was reading an article in The Times (San Mateo, California) titled “Do Monsters Exist in America?” by Warren Smith. Smith’s article appeared in the July 20, 1968 issue on Page 80. An “Oscar” is mentioned in this clip:

Admittedly, the Oscar in Pine Lake, Minnesota is not that familiar to me. The Oscar that I am more familiar with is the “Beast of Busco.” The following is an excerpt from my book People are Seeing Something:


The Beast of Busco

 A monster of sorts has left its mark on the community of Churubusco, Indiana, a small town approximately 15 miles north of Fort Wayne. Fulk Lake, a small lake nearby, is where the Beast of Busco revealed himself to the world in the late 1940s.

The Beast of Busco is much different than the serpentine beasts thought to inhabit various lakes throughout North America. This creature is said to be an enormous turtle, probably an alligator snapping turtle—of colossal proportions. The legendary beast is also called Oscar, a name jokingly assigned by a Fort Wayne newspaper in the late 1940s. Oscar was probably named after Oscar Fulk, who once owned the property where the small, seven acre lake is located. Fulk was the first to see the giant, claiming to have seen a “prehistoric turtle” in his lake in 1898.1

Mass Hysteria

The town of Churubusco was firmly in the grip of mass hysteria in the spring and summer of 1949. Earlier in the year, Gale Harris, who owned Fulk Lake, saw a giant turtle in the water; according to him, it was as “big as a dining room table.” Harris estimated the turtle’s weight to be between 400 and 500 pounds.2 Other reports describe the Beast of Busco being as large as the top of a car, with a head the size of a human child’s, and a stove pipe-sized neck.3

After seeing the turtle in March, Harris was convinced by some of the townsfolk to try and capture the turtle. A local newspaper reported that Harris nearly caught the beast in about 10 feet of water with a trap made of chicken wire. The wily turtle escaped Harris’ clutches; but in the process, it drew much attention to itself. A newspaper from Columbus ran a story about the hunt for the turtle, and shortly thereafter newspaper reporters began to show up on the Harris property hoping to witness the hunt firsthand.4

Not long after reporters began making their way to the Harris farm, throngs of people began showing up too. “The neighborhood just went crazy,” said Jim Guiff, a farmer who was 37 years old when the hunt for the Beast of Busco created a frenzy. His land, which was near the Harris farm, was trampled by hundreds of passersby hoping to catch a glimpse of the gargantuan turtle. “They had to close the road; the cars were just bumper to bumper,” Guiff recalled.5

After repeated attempts failed to capture the Beast of Busco, Harris decided the best course of action would be to drain the lake. Additionally, he began charging admission to onlookers who came to his farm, hoping to offset some of his costs from the crops he had lost while being preoccupied with the monster hunt. Harris was able to drain the lake down to about an acre in size; but as luck would have it, his pump failed. Shortly after the pump failure, Harris contracted appendicitis and had to be hospitalized. Harris’ streak of bad luck continued; rain refilled the lake by the time he was able to return to work.6 Harris was broke and defeated—financially ruined. Harris took the only remaining prudent course of action and threw in the towel—the hunt for the Beast of Busco wash over.

The Aftermath

What became of Oscar, the Beast of Busco? No one knows for sure; the turtle was never found. There have been no reported sightings of the monster since the town of Churubusco went crazy with turtle fever in 1949.

Sadly, shortly after Harris’ quest to capture the beast, he was forced to auction off his farm. Months of neglecting his crops while putting all of his focus on the hunt left him and his family in financial ruin. Subsequent owners of the farm have refused to allow the lake to be searched.7

Some have suggested that the turtle relocated to another lake via a subterranean river. In an interview Harris said, “I think, and people say, and guys from zoos say, that there’s an underground current coming into that lake and that he got into that, and went to some other lake.”8

Others believe that Oscar might have buried himself in the muck at the lake bottom, and waited for the commotion to pass. Rust Reed, a collector of turtles, who owns the two largest known alligator snapping turtles alive today said, “They can burrow in mud for long periods of time. I think it’s unlikely, but it’s possible.”9 Reed believes that the most likely scenario is that the Beast of Busco died of suffocation in the muck while trying to escape Harris’ attempt at draining the lake.10

Reed has also suggested that the size of the turtle may have been drastically misjudged. In most instances, people reported seeing the Beast of Busco’s head, neck, and only part of its shell—not its entire body. Alligator snapping turtles have disproportionate sized heads, which can lead eyewitnesses to overestimate their size.11 Others though, the naysayers and skeptics, say that a monster-sized turtle never existed at all—it was nothing more than a hoax.

Although Harris stood by his claims, he admitted that at least part of his fixation with capturing the Beast of Busco was driven by a desire for money. In an interview in 1971, Harris claimed that due to the hoopla surrounding the hunt, and the massive size of the turtle, he stood to gain financially from the capture of the giant. He said, “I won’t say maybe a millionaire, but I’d have a way lot more than I got today.”12

Today there is no sign of the Beast of Busco—nor has there been for decades—but the legend lives on. The Beast of Busco has been immortalized in the form of a summer gala. Each June a four day, turtle-themed festival is held in Churusbusco, Indiana in honor of the hunt for Oscar the turtle in 1949.

Notes

  1. Dan McFeely. “In the Search for a Giant Turtle, Things Got a Little Crazy in ’49.” Indianapolis Star. June 17, 2009. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://archive.indystar.com/article/99999999/NEWS06/306170007/In-search-giant-turtle-things-got-little-crazy-49.
  2. McFeely, “In the Search for a Giant Turtle, Things Got a Little Crazy in ’49.”
  3. “Beast of Busco.” Unknown Explorers. Accessed August 30, 2015. http://www.unknownexplorers.com/beastofbusco.php.
  4. Unknown Explorers, “Beast of Busco.”
  5. McFeely, “In the Search for a Giant Turtle, Things Got a Little Crazy in ’49.”
  6. Unknown Explorers, “Beast of Busco.”
  7. McFeely, “In the Search for a Giant Turtle, Things Got a Little Crazy in ’49.”
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Unknown Explorers, “Beast of Busco.”
  11. McFeely, “In the Search for a Giant Turtle, Things Got a Little Crazy in ’49.”
  12. Ibid.