Sea Serpent Was No Myth

The following story was carried in the Cincinnati Enquirer on December 19, 1908:


I never saw a set of people so prone to sea serpent yarns as the New England England coast fishermen and sailors.

Those chaps have a sea serpent tale to spring with the advent of each season, and there are generally two or three of them who agree. In the one story, which arrangement sort of gives the tale standing before the public. Now, if all those sea serpents, real or imaginary, that have appeared from time to time along the New England coast were corralled and placed out there in this fine river of yours there wouldn’t be room for the shipping to get to the docks. But I’m not throwing stones at the New England sailors or attempting to cast reflection upon their veracity, for I have a sea serpent story myself to hand out. And if you care for the narrative I’ll let you have it.”

H. Hight, promoter, mining engineer, prospector and globe trotter, recently, up from the tropics on one of the United Fruit Company’s ships was talking to a group of friends in a quiet corner of the long lobby of the New Deneohaud on a quiet evening a week or so ago. And as Mr. Hight puffed contentedly at a fragrant South American cigar and prepared for the story the circle drew closer about him, ready to listen.

“This sea serpent that I’m going to tell you of,” Mr. Hight took up his narrative, “is no product of the New Englanders’ Imagination. I saw it with my own eyes, and you may believe me or not but say, why am I offering excuses for myself at this early stage of the proceedings? proceedings? I never did run in the Ananias class, anyhow.

“As you may know. I’ve spent 20 years of my life knocking about on this terrestrial sphere, and in that time I’ve been in all of the fiery zones, visited queer and unheard-of places and seen pretty nearly every form of animal, bird and reptile life that there is to be seen. I’ve been tiger hunting in India, trailed through the bush after lions In the upper Transvaal, shot crocodiles in the Nile basin, fished for shark in the Malayan archipelago, potted pythons in the Burmese forest, where the constrictors are whoppers, and even used a sea serpent for a target in the Mozambique channel. That’s a record. Isn’t It? And if I was of the Munchausen type I could make my fortune writing stories that would stir the Presidential ire.

“I could keep you here for hours telling you yarns of big game I’ve helped hunt, but as we are not holding an all-night session I’ll confine myself to the sea serpent incident and get right down to business before It’s going-to-bed time.

“It was in the fall of 1889, and I was In Madagascar looking over plantation property for an English firm, whose African agency was located at Cape Town. I’d worked up along the west coast, making occasional journeys into the Interior, until I struck an excuse for a town called Majanga, which stood on the northern end of Bambataska Bay. The bay opened out into the broad channel which divided the Island from the main Und. and the locality was one of the most godforsaken that it had ever been my bad fortune to visit.

“I remained at Majanga for several weeks waiting for a vessel to take me down the coast to Tsianfroumazande, from which point I was to ship over to the main land, and luckily there were a young English prospector named Cane, and a French under Official named Lasselle in the town, with whom I could make common lot and keep from dying of ennui.

“The people in that town of huts had lots of spare time on their hands they were a lazy, shiftless lot, anyhow and we three white men used to fill in our days hunting on the thick swamps and impenetrable forests and boating and fishing in the Bay of Bambataska.

“One morning the village was thrown into a stale of great excitement; several natives came to the Government house where Cane and I sat on the broad gallery with Lassalle and began to Jabber away at a terrible rate in their queer lingo. Lassalle understood the language as well as he did his native tongue or English, and we saw at once that he was very much interested.

“The native who acted as spokesman had a fund of very eloquent and expressive gestures. He repeatedly motioned toward the sea, and. with his arms extended, extended, worked his hands up and down, and then curved and twisted his body with the skill and ease of a contortionist. The whole village gathered around to hear the statement, whatever it was that was being made, and as the spokesman crossed his arms over his chest, violently shook his head, making a hideous face at the same time and emitting from between his clenched teeth a sort of bellow, several women In the front row of the crowd howled dismally, fell to the ground, rolled over and over, beat their breasts and tore out their hair.

“With an imperious sweep of his hand and a few guttural words Lassalle dismissed the villagers and then, turning to us said In French, ‘Serpent de Mer!’ He saw that we were still in the dark, having small knowledge of the Johnny Crapaud talk, and resorting to his excellent command of English gave us an astounding bit of Information.

” ‘The natives have seen a great serpent down in the bay.” He said, ‘and the monster overturned a boat and gobbled up one of the fishermen.” From the statement made by the villagers it seems that four of them were out in the bay fishing in one of their long bark canoes. They were a quarter of a mile or so from shore and were Just about to head in toward the. Beach when the water at the stern was violently agitated, and above the surface was thrust an awful serpentine bead about the “size of a hogahead. ” The head had rounded sides but was Inclined to flatness at the top. and there was a bony ridge, like a crest, extending from a point between the eyes to the neck. About five feet of the neck and body of the serpent protruded from the water, and the horror-stricken natives were close enough to see that the monster was of a dark greenish shade and was covered over with scales the size of a silver dollar. The eyes of the snake were set far apart and were glassed over like the eyes of a fish, and on a whole he was a most fearsome sight.

“The fishermen with one accord plunged their paddles into the water and sped their light craft toward the shore, but as they did so the serpent lowered Its head. plunged” beneath the sea and came up in an instant in hot pursuit of the boat. The waters of the bay were violently agitated as the huge coils of an undulating movement appeared and disappeared above the surface, and to the frightened eye of the natives, the snake looked to be a hundred or more feet in length and thicker through than a large barrel.

“When the boat was still some distance from the sloping beach the serpent overtook it and sensing its frail stern in its foamed ripping jaws, raised It clear of the water and sent its four screaming occupants floundering in the bay. The natives, as they struck the water, heard the crackling of the bark as the sides of their canoe was ground to pieces in those terrible jaws.

“The men were all good swimmers and raced through the bay as though water was their natural element, but the awful presence behind them steadily lessened the slight lead the fugitives had and in a moment a scream of agony was heard aa the serpent claimed a victim. The native who had told the story to our party was in the lead at the time, and his feet were just beginning to touch the sloping, sandy shelf. He instinctively turned and saw a sight that he will never forget the serpent’s head reared eight or ten feet above the water, on an arching neck, and struggling in his jaws was one of the unfortunate boatmen. The cruel teeth bad fastened in his flesh and blood in solid streams dripped from the snake’s jaws. Even as the first native looked, the victim seemed to double up. his head met the feet and his whole body disappeared in the cavernous mouth of the monster, drawn Inward by some powerful suction In the serpent’s throat.

“The monster, after its disgusting meal, shook Itself violently, remained motionless for a moment, as though Its appetite was satisfied, and then, concluding that It was still hungry, darted in after another victim. But the brief pause the monster made had given the three survivors the bare time to gain the shallows and run up the beach. The snake paused when it encountered the bottom, emitted a bull-like bellow from Its blood-dripping jaw, turned in a sweeping circle and sped out to sea. That was the substance of the story the native told, and the motions he went through were descriptive of the movements of the serpent and the struggles of the victim. The women who had made the display of grief were the wife, mother and sister of the dead man.

“Well, the whole village went down to the beach and followed the sandy stretch for a mile or more in the direction of the channel, vainly scanning the waters for a glimpse of the serpent. We three white men, each with an improved elephant bore rifle in the hollow of his arm, led the procession, and for a time we were greatly disappointed at getting no glimpse of the serpent.

“Finally, one of the natives railed our attention to the commotion in the water about a third of a mile from shore and snatching Lassalle’s strong glasses from his hand I trained them on the spot. The bay was very calm, but at the spot where my gaze rested the waters were tossing and tumbling about as though over a volcano. “There’s something there” I cried, and hardly had the words left my mouth when the something rose above the surface and the water eddied and boiled like a maelstrom. The something was the head of an enormous serpent, serpent, and as I passed the glasses back to Lassalle and raised my gun I said with a catch at my breath. The serpent was very plain, even to the naked eye, and all the natives set up weird cries, and running back and forth on the beach, waved their fists at the monster, cursing it in their strange jargon, and some few even hurled javelins at it in then impotent fury.

‘The snake must have heard the noise, for it started in our direction, and then to our unspeakable surprise, lowered its head and swam closer to shore, evidently Intending to attack us. It came to within several hundred yards of where we stood, coil after coil of its great length rising and falling on the water, looking for all the world like some fabled dragon of antiquity. Its course was stopped, however, at the shallows, and It contented itself with lashing about In the water, and bellowing furiously like a great bull.

“Gentlemen. I am drawing on my imagination one iota a I tell you that the head of that animal, fish or reptile, call It what you will, was as big as a hogshead, just as the natives bad described the thing to us. Once or twice It opened Its mouth and we saw four great prong-like teeth and a smaller row of grinders which convinced us that the thing masticated its food, although his mouth was large enough to easily swallow a man. I noticed only one thing that the native. In his fright, had overlooked. Attached to the monster, several feet from Its head, were thick bristles in two rows that might have served for fins.

“We were able to get a good Idea of the serpent’s size, as It tried to navigate in the shallows, and It could not have been less than 100 feet in length. I was shout -to -to fire at the thing, but seeing It coming in toward shore, waited for a closer range. The natives for the best part had fled like sheep before a leopard upon the snake’s approach, and only Lassalle. Cane and myself were close to the water’s edge.

“We could see that the serpent was endeavoring to feel Its way up the incline beneath the water, and as it curved and splashed about. It churned the bay into foam. It was then our time and raising our rifles simultaneously we fired. The huge bulk made a splendid target for our runs and our shots must have connected. connected. But to our astonishment, the serpent only splashed and struggled the more to get through the water to us. and It seemed altogether unhurt. Had we been aiming at a rhinoceros the big beast would have certainly toppled over, but that sea snake had a shot-proof hide, and nothing short of an eight-pound shell would have fixed Its clock.

“We stood there for an hour or more watching the serpent and wasting shot on it. And finally, the monster, as though despairing of ever reaching us, turned about and raced madly out to sea. We could see It diving and circling as it went, and we watched it until it was only a speck on the distant horizon.

“I left Majanga a few days later, and the next year I received a long letter from my friend. Lassalle. The serpent, he wrote, had been seen twice after my departure in the bay. and a week or so later It made Its appearance at the southern end of the Masombtaue Channel. Channel. Whether It was ever seen again. I cannot say. Tea, gentlemen. I am one of the few men who has used a sea serpent for a target, and if you doubt my word, just pen a line to Lassalle in far-off Majanga: he will corroborate every word I have said.

“Why should we doubt sea serpents. I’d like to know: the seas cover two thirds of the earth, and they are big enough and deep enough to hide any number of mysteries.”