The Altamaha-ha is a legendary cryptid from southern Georgia and northern Florida. The following is an excerpt from my book People are Seeing Something:
The marshy, briny waters of southern Georgia are home to an unusual creature known as the Altamaha-ha. The monster takes its name from the Altamaha River, which is the third largest contributor of fresh water to the Atlantic Ocean on the East Coast. The Altamaha’s watershed contains 14,000 square miles, and the Altamaha River basin drains almost one quarter of the state of Georgia.1
With its many swamps, creeks, rivers, abandoned rice fields, and brackish marshes, the Altamaha River Basin provides an extraordinarily rich habitat for a large cryptid. In addition, the Altamaha River with its marshes and swamps are very secluded and undisturbed. The broad river’s low-lying banks make it extremely inaccessible to people, giving a cryptid seclusion from human contact as swims through the murky waters.
The Altamaha-ha has been sighted in both Georgia and northern Florida not only for decades, but also for centuries. The Tama Indians, indigenous to the area, were the first known people to tell stories of the great beast. The Tama spoke of a large water serpent that hissed and bellowed.2
According to eyewitness accounts; the Altamaha-ha is a creature with 2-3 humps and grayish-brown skin. It has a very long neck and a small head, and is said to move by means of vertical undulations. Size estimates range from 10-25 feet in length, and the creature is said to be about a foot in diameter.3
Sightings in Georgia
The Altamaha-ha is normally spotted in the creeks and rivers that divide the many marshes of the Altamaha basin. Most documented sightings of the Altamaha-ha seem to have occurred after the late 1960s,4 although there are a few notable instances dating further back. As far back as the 1920s, loggers on the river had an encounter with a creature that matches Altamaha-ha descriptions. A Boy Scout troop was rumored to have seen the strange creature in the 1940s. Two officials from the Reidsville State Prison are said to have spotted the creature in the 1950s.5
Donny Manning and his brother were fishing for catfish from a houseboat on the Altamaha River in July of either 1969 or 1970, when they had an incredible encounter with the Altamaha-ha. After already catching several catfish, something took Manning’s hook. This time however, the line ran much further than normal. Whatever it was that took the bait came out of the water, and was an estimated 10-12 feet in length. Manning’s first thought was that he had hooked a sturgeon. However, this was no sturgeon; it had a snout similar to that of a duck-billed platypus. The creature had a tail, but not a vertical tail like a fish. Instead, its tail was horizontal. It also had a spiny, bony, triangular shaped ridge running along its back. The creature was gray with a yellowish-white color underneath. Manning said that the animal moved in a vertical, up and down motion rather than moving side-to-side. According to Manning, the creature snapped his line—40-pound test on a salt-water rig. Manning estimated the creature to have weighed a minimum of 75 pounds.6
Did Manning and his brother hook into the legendary Altamaha-ha while cat fishing on a July night? Or is this tale just that—a story, albeit probably one of the most imaginative fish stories ever told? The Manning brothers are not the only pair of fisherman to have had a chance meeting with the Altamaha-ha. In December of 1980 two men fishing for eels had an encounter with the beast. Larry Gwin and Steve Wilson saw a snake-like creature while fishing in Smith Lake. Whatever they saw was 15-20 feet long and as big around as “a man’s body.” It had two brownish humps that were approximately five feet apart. According to Gwin and Wilson, the creature submerged, creating a disturbance on the water and was not seen again.7
In a May 26, 1988 article for the Darien News titled, “Eel-like Sea Creature Makes Appearance Again,” Kathleen Russell reports on an account given by crab fisherman, Ralph DeWitt. DeWitt was aboard his fishing vessel in the mouth of the Carneghan River when he noticed what he thought might be trash wrapped around a crab buoy. He headed in the direction of the buoy for a closer look, and as he got within 40 feet of the object, it submerged. Suddenly, a blackish-brown cylindrical body, 12-18 inches in diameter and 18-20 feet long “arched up out of the water and followed the dive of the head into the water.” DeWitt backed out of the area, wondering if he had really seen what just happened. He then headed toward his crab traps, which were about 500 yards into the Carneghan River. DeWitt continued watching the area of the sighting while working his traps and sorting his catch. After about ten minutes, he saw the creature’s head rise to the surface again. DeWitt then decided to head toward the creature. He was able to get very close, within a couple of boat lengths. He said that the creature’s head leisurely dipped into the water, followed by the roll of the creature’s body as it dove into the river. He described the body as “sleek-looking,” and said that the creature had an eel-like head and tail.8
The Darien News reported another sighting in their January 14, 1993 issue. Scotty Rogers was driving across the Champney River Bridge on December 18, 1992, at 10:45 in the morning, when he saw a roiling in the water, similar to the disturbance that a school of fish makes. Suddenly, Rogers saw what reminded him a tractor-trailer tire’s inner tube. This was no inner tube however, as this was standing on end, about eight feet out of the water. Another part of the creature’s body surfaced, and Rogers estimated that its length was about 30 feet. Unfortunately, Rodgers did not get a glimpse of the animal’s head. He described its color as brownish-gray.9
The Champney River Bridge seems to be a hotspot for Altamaha-ha sightings. Tim Sanders claims to have seen a 20-25 foot long creature from the bridge in January 1983.10 Chip Croft, who owned the Two-Way Fish Camp, recounted a story told to him by two fishermen. The pair had their boat tied to a power pole by the old bridge while they fished. They noticed a large, snake-like creature swimming toward them. Croft said that he creature matched the color and length of other descriptions given of the Altamaha-ha. The animal swam alongside their boat, and then went onto shore, and slithered away into the brush. One of the fishermen was a minister, and he never publically spoke of the encounter for fear of doing damage to his reputation.11
Kathleen Russell, editor and publisher of the Darien News, claims to have seen the Altamaha-ha herself on a couple of occasions. She recalls, “I’ve seen him a couple of times. Once, a couple of years ago, in Doboy Sound, I saw a wake coming up the river, and there’s nothing that could make a wake like that.” Russell has a thick folder full of news reports, sightings, and letters regarding the creature.12 Russell, who has reported on the creature, seen the creature herself, and publishes a town’s newspaper where the creature is most often sighted, certainly seems to be a credible witness.
Sightings in Florida
Although Georgia is thought to be the home of the Altamaha-ha, northern Florida has a history of sightings matching Altamaha-ha descriptions. The Jacksonville area in particular has had its share of encounters. William E. Marden, writer for the Florida Times-Union, reported on several sightings in the February 19, 1989 issue. One sighting occurred on December 15, 1975, when Jacksonville Public Works foreman John Bomgardner, and his crew heard a snorting sound that caught their attention. Looking in the direction of the noise, the men saw a large, snake-like creature, 50-100 feet out in the water. Bomgardner described the creature as being about a foot in diameter and noticed that it had a flat tail. Whatever it was moved up and down “in sections.” The creature swam close to the crew and snorted. Bomgardner claims the animal was so close that he could see the spray from the animal’s nostrils. The creature was very dark, so dark that neither Bomgardner, nor any of the crewmembers could see its eyes.13
Marden’s article mentions an April 1978 sighting, in which Kelly Parrish saw a creature in the Intracoastal Waterway north of Crescent Beach Bridge. The animal that Parrish saw was apparently feeding; it was going underwater and coming back up with what looked like grass or kelp. Parrish described what he saw as looking like a huge snake, with an undulating body. He described the top of the creature’s body as having things on it, similar to an alligator’s tail. The animal was an estimated 30 feet in length, and it made distinctive “blowing” sounds. In fact, it was the sound of the creature blowing that first alerted Parrish to its presence. He claims to have heard it blow and when he looked in its direction, he saw a “snaky-looking thing.” Parrish claims that his fishing partner saw the creature surface at least five different times. Whatever it was that Parrish saw that day, he seems convinced of its identity. Parrish says, “It was a sea serpent.” Parrish goes on to say that he doesn’t care who believes him. “I know what I saw, and that’s all that’s important to me.”14
The article that Marden penned also mentions a mass sighting. In July of 1978, 20-30 people are said to have seen a large, black, snake-like creature with “a head the size of a basketball” about 50 feet from shore at Stockton Park. The creature appeared to be feeding.15 Mass sightings are particularly interesting, as groups of people often unacquainted with one another, report seeing the same thing. In my opinion, mass sightings are important, as they tend to rule out the report being a hoax and go on to show that people are seeing something and whatever they are seeing is something real.
- Christa S. Frangiamore, and Whit Gibbons. “Altamaha River.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. August 9, 2004. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/geography-environment/altamaha-river.
- Georgia Mysteries.”The Legend of Altamaha-ha.” May 22, 2008. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://georgiamysteries.blogspot.com/2008/05/legend-of-altamaha-ha.html.
- George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 15.
- Ann R. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha”” GAbooks.com. October 22, 1999. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://rhettdavisboy.angelfire.com/sighting.htm.
- Georgia Mysteries, “The Legend of Altamaha-ha.”
- Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
- Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 16.
- Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
- Curt Holman. “Stalking Altie: Does Georgia Have Its Own Loch Ness Monster?” Creative Loafing Atlanta. June 2, 2011. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://clatl.com/atlanta/stalking-altie-does-georgia-have-its-own-loch-ness-monster/Content?oid=3283993.
- Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””