Sea Serpent Was No Myth

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


AMERICAN’S REMARKABLE ENCOUNTER WITH MONSTER WHICH DEFIED BULLETS

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.”

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The Altamaha-ha

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 Altamaha-ha

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.

To read more…

 


Notes

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. George M. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology. Vol. 2. (Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO, 2002), 15.
  4. Ann R. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha”” GAbooks.com. October 22, 1999. Accessed February 28, 2015. http://rhettdavisboy.angelfire.com/sighting.htm.
  5. Georgia Mysteries, “The Legend of Altamaha-ha.”
  6. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  7. Ibid.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Eberhart, Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, 16.
  11. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  12. 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.
  13. Davis, “Sightings of the “Altamaha-Ha””
  14. Ibid.
  15. Ibid.
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A Would-be Water Monster

My son recently sent the following picture to me:

The picture is of an Atlantic Sturgeon, an endangered species. This fish washed up on a beach in front of the dorm where my son’s friend lives on the campus of Old Dominion University, located in Virginia’s Tidewater Region.

I’ve been thinking—such an unusual fish, if it were further decomposed, might have been mistaken for a sea monster! It brought to mind the story of the East River Monster.


The East River Monster

As strange as it may seem to have a history of monster sightings in New York’s Hudson River, it may be stranger yet that the East River, a tidal strait running right through New York City, has had a couple of hard-to-explain, ghastly-looking carcasses wash ashore in recent years.Unfortunately, the East River is well known for its polluted waters. The Seinfeld episode when Jerry is shocked and appalled to learn that Kramer has been swimming in the East River quickly comes to mind. Today however, the water is much cleaner than in previous decades, and is said to be safe for fishing. The East River, whose swift water currents have been known to push swimmers out to the ocean, runs directly through New York City separating Long Island and the boroughs of Brooklyn and Queens from Manhattan and the Bronx.

A “Sea Monster” Washes Ashore

A strange carcass washed ashore, on the Manhattan side of the Brooklyn Bridge in May of 2011. Nicknamed the “East River Monster,” the decomposing creature was a whopping seven feet in length. Maureen O’Connor, who blogs for the website Gawker, said, “It had the scales of a fish, body of a serpent, head of a pit bull and was the size of a large alligator.”1 Near Pier 17, a crowd gathered around the dead, prehistoric-looking monster, struggling to make out its identity.2 Pictures of the creature reveal little and yield few clues as to what the monster could be—at least to the casual observer.

Marine biologists were quick to provide an explanation for the East River Monster. According to the experts, the carcass was nothing more than that of an Atlantic sturgeon—one of the estimated 9,500 juvenile Atlantic sturgeons believed to inhabit the area. According to Kim Durham, a biologist for the Riverhead Foundation for Marine Research and Preservation in Riverhead, New York, she and fellow biologists could immediately tell that the creature was a sturgeon. The carcass had bony plates all over its body; a dead giveaway in the identification of a sturgeon according to Durham.3

The East River Monster Returns

Another strange carcass was found on the banks of the East River in July of 2012. This time the carcass was stranger and even more ghastly. Instead of a decomposing seven foot sturgeon, this thing was much smaller, perhaps the size of a pig or dog.4

Denise Ginley spotted the rotting remains of the beast while walking along the East River with her boyfriend. She took pictures of the body with the camera on her mobile phone; but she decided to come back with her camera to get more pictures, and also to take them from closer range. Ginley sent her incredible photographs of the creature to the weblog, Gothamist, who published the pictures the following day.5

A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, Vickie Karp, was quick to respond to the rumors swirling around about a demonic creature that had washed ashore. Karp claimed that the Department had disposed of the animal, which was nothing more than a discarded cooked pig. Ginley however, did not buy the explanation provided by the Parks Department. She had this to say:

 “The Parks Department was probably very quick to identify it as a pig and dispose of it, but it is most certainly not a pig. The most obvious sign being the lack of a cloven hoof, instead this creature has five digits all close together. My best guess would be that this is some sort of raccoon or giant rodent. The missing upper jaw makes it very difficult to identify and the lack of distinct canine teeth on the lower jaw is confusing.”6

Perhaps the creature is a raccoon or some other small mammal. The animals’s paws are very similar to that of a raccoon. The paws of a raccoon look almost like a human’s hands, with tiny fingers. This creature’s paws appear to have the same characteristics. Others have speculated that a small dog could also serve as an explanation to the mystery.

Not everyone believes that animal is something that has been seen before. Speculation abounds, especially among conspiracy theorists, that the bizarre creature is some sort of genetic mutation—maybe even the outcome of a ghoulish experiment. Even more disturbing, it has been suggested that the creature could possibly related to the Montauk Monster.

 

Notes

  1. “‘Sea Monster’ Discovered Beneath Brooklyn Bridge.” Fox News. May 26, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/scitech/2011/05/26/sea-monster-discovered-beneath-brooklyn-bridge/.
  2. Joe Coscarelli. “East River Monster Is a Seven-Foot Sturgeon.” Village Voice. May 23, 2011. Accessed July 19, 2015. http://www.villagevoice.com/news/east-river-monster-is-a-seven-foot-sturgeon-6721580.
  3. Fox News, “‘Sea Monster’ Discovered Beneath Brooklyn Bridge.”
  4. Philip Caulfield. “Dead East River ‘Monster’ Confounds New Yorkers, Animal Experts .” New York Daily News. July 25, 2012. Accessed July 19, 2015. http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/dead-east-river-monster-confounds-new-yorkers-animal-experts-article-1.1121889.
  5. Caulfield, “Dead East River ‘Monster’ Confounds New Yorkers, Animal Experts.”
  6. Ibid.
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The Chesapeake Bay Monster

Over Labor Day weekend, I visited Maryland’s Eastern Shore and did a little kayaking in the Chesapeake Bay. Being a cryptozoology enthusiast, I couldn’t help but think of Chessie, the Chesapeake Bay Monster while I was on the water. Unfortunately, I saw no sign of the beast, but many others have. The following is an excerpt from my first book:


The Chesapeake Bay, bordered by Virginia to the south and Maryland to the north, has a history of sightings of unusual creatures. The Chesapeake Bay is an estuary, the largest estuary in the United States; about half of its water is salt water from the Atlantic Ocean. The bay is bordered by the Delmarva Peninsula to the east, and the continental mainland to the west.

Dubbed the Chesapeake Bay Monster, and also affectionately referred to as “Chessie,” an unusual creature has reportedly been seen in the bay by residents of Maryland and Virginia for many years. The animal is serpent-like in appearance, and between 25 and 40 feet in length. Some reports state that Chessie has flippers attached to its body, while other accounts indicate that Chessie has a featureless body. Some have claimed that the movements of the animal in the water resembles a sine curve; an undulating body is a commonality among many of the cryptids covered in this book. Chessie has many of the similarities and descriptions of the typical serpentine sea/lake monster, both in appearance and in the way that it moves.

Noteworthy Sightings

Reports of an unusual creature in the waters of the Chesapeake date back to at least 1846 when Captain Lawson spotted a creature with a small head and sharp protrusions jutting from its back. Captain Lawson was off the coast of Virginia, between Cape Henry on the mainland, and Cape Charles on the Delmarva Peninsula.1

From the 1930s through the present day, Chessie sightings have become somewhat of a regular occurrence. In 1934, Francis Klarrman and Edward J. Ward were fishing near Baltimore when they observed something in the water, about 75 yards away, which appeared to be floating. Upon further examination, the pair realized that what they were seeing was some sort of an animal. The portion of the creature that was visible above the water was about 12 feet long and black in color. The creature’s head was shaped like that of a horse and was about the size of a football.2

Helicopter pilot Walter L. Myers wrote a letter to Maryland State Senator George W. Della in 1963 in which he declared, “I assure you that Chessie exists.” Myers claimed to have spotted Chessie while flying over the Bush River, a tidal estuary in Hartford County, Maryland.3

The late 1970s and early 1980s saw an uptick in the number of Chessie sightings. In fact, Chessie would become a household name around the bay, and receive attention from newspapers nationwide. In 1978, by the month of June, about 30 people had reportedly witnessed some sort of long, ugly creature in the bay.4 One of the most often cited reports also occurred in 1978. Retired CIA employee, Donald Kyker, and his neighbors, the Smoot family, reportedly saw four creatures that match Chessie descriptions about 75 yards offshore.5

In June 1980, Godwin Muse, a farmer from Westmoreland County, Virginia, saw a 14 foot snake with an undulating body in the Potomac River. Less than two weeks later, Chessie was spotted about 15 miles downstream from the Muse sighting by G. F. Green, his family, and a friend. They saw a creature with 3–4 humps swimming smoothly and rapidly. The animal was about 25 feet long and 5–6 inches in diameter.6

On Memorial Day, 1982, video evidence for the existence of Chessie was obtained by Robert Frew. Frew captured about five minutes of film, two of which show a snake-like creature approximately 30 feet in length. At the request of Mike Frizzell of the Enigma Project, who had been engaged in the study and investigation of the Chessie phenomenon, scientists from the Smithsonian Institute viewed the tape. Unsurprisingly they were intrigued, but very noncommittal in reaching conclusions. Later, the video was graphically enhanced by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Unfortunately, though, funding for the project dried up and work on the tape ceased.7

A Maryland Senate Resolution

As a result of legislation passed at the state and local level, many cryptids enjoy a protected status. Most notably, the Lake Champlain Monster, or Champ, has been given protected status in both Vermont and New York. The Arkansas Legislature created the White River Monster Refuge in 1973 to provide a safe haven for the legendary Whitey.

In response to letters and communications from constituents for more than 20 years concerning Chessie, Maryland State Senator George W. Della drafted a resolution in 1984 to “encourage serious scientific inquiry by the state into Chessie and other unusual animals in the Chesapeake Bay.”8 Della was unsure about the existence of Chessie, but believed in the possibility. Moreover, there was enough eyewitness reports and concern from the citizenry to warrant a serious investigation into the matter. More politicians and people, in general, should shrug off the ridicule and take the senator’s approach.

Possible Explanations

What is Chessie, and how can the phenomenon be explained? Among the most popular, and perhaps most reasonable theories to explain sightings of mysterious creatures in the Chesapeake is that Chessie is a wayward manatee. Although Florida is their home, manatees do frequent the Chesapeake fairly regularly during the summer months and feed on the Bay’s abundance of aquatic grasses. Manatees, also called sea cows, eat up to 10 percent of their body weight in a day.

Just this summer, during the month of July, a manatee was spotted in St. Mary’s County, Maryland near St. George Island. The group Maryland Hunters posted pictures of the manatee on their Facebook page.9 Several local media outlets covered the story.

A manatee that was named Chessie visited the Chesapeake Bay several times over two decades, with the first recorded sighting in 1994. The manatee had a distinctive scar, over 12 inches in length running along its left side making the animal easy to recognize. Chessie was captured and outfitted with a radio transmitter—a device that enabled biologists to track its movements. Chessie was feared dead after the last sighting occurred in Virginia waters in 2001. However, after a lengthy absence Chessie reappeared in Calvert County, Maryland in 2011.10

Manatees are large mammals that reach monstrous proportions—not 25 feet in length as many Chessie eyewitnesses have reported, but they can easily reach 10 feet in length and weigh up to a ton. Manatees have gray skin with sparse, thick hair. They also have large tails shaped like a fan.

Obviously, the characteristics of a manatee do not fit the serpentine descriptions of Chessie; still, manatees might explain some sightings. The 1934 sighting near Baltimore comes to mind; the creature appeared to float and was about 12 feet in length—this report could be reasonably explained by a manatee.

Anacondas?

A theory has been proposed that adequately explains the serpentine descriptions of Chessie; the creature is a giant snake—more specifically, an anaconda. In the early 1900s, there were ships from South America carrying cargo to Baltimore that reportedly had anacondas living in the hulls to control rat populations. Could Chessie have descended from these snakes? When asked, John Marriner, head of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science ichthyology department said, “I would have to say that’s a valid possibility.”11

Could some of these giant serpents have escaped old, decommissioned ships sitting in the harbor and established a small, breeding population? An intriguing thought, but the possibility brings questions to mind. How could these gargantuan snakes survive the cold winters of the mid-Atlantic region? If there were anacondas which were strong enough to survive the winter months, could the process of natural selection yield cold-resistant anacondas in subsequent generations? It sounds unlikely, but is it possible?

Other Explanations

Dr. Joseph Cooney, who directed the University of Maryland’s marine biology laboratory on Solomon’s Island, was interviewed in 1978 for a newspaper article about Chessie. Cooney said that he does not doubt that people are seeing something in the Chesapeake. However, he believes that the existence of a cryptid is highly unlikely. Cooney prefers a more mundane explanation. He thinks that most sightings can be attributed to otters or porpoises.12

In the same article, the director of the Calvert Marine Museum, Dr. Ralph Eshelman, had an interesting take on the Chessie phenomenon. He believes that some sightings might actually be rays. He said, “I’ve seen 50 rays with their tails raised stirring up a boil in the water and it looks very strange.”13 This would indeed be a strange sight, and could certainly be mistaken for a cryptid or other strange phenomena. However, you have to think that the event described by Eshelman would be quite rare to see—maybe even as rare as a cryptid sighting!

The Washington Post ran a light-hearted piece that suggested an ordinary eel, common to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, underwent some sort of genetic mutation. The Calvert Cliffs Nuclear Power Plant, near Lusby, Maryland in Calvert County is convenient to point to as a source for causing ghastly mutations on an eel, either through nuclear waste or radiation from the plant itself.

Whatever Chessie is, whatever is behind the phenomenon, one thing is certain—Chessie has left its mark on the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding region. Maybe someday the riddle will be solved, but until then, the occasional sighting—and the accompanying speculation, is sure to continue.


Notes

  1. Loren Coleman and Patrick Huyghe. The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep. (New York, N.Y.: Jeremy P. Tarcher/Putnam, 2003).
  2. Matthew Lake. “Bizarre Beasts.” In Weird Maryland: Your Travel Guide to Maryland’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, edited by Mark Sceurman and Mark Moran. (New York: Sterling Pub., 2006), 68-69.
  3. Lake, Weird Maryland: Your Travel Guide to Maryland’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. 68.
  4. Richard Lyons. “Chessie Sightings Are a Monster of a Claim.” St. Petersburg Times, October 21, 1978.
  5. Coleman and Huyghe, The Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep.
  6. “Chessie Is Back in the Potomac.” The Spartanburg Herald, June 26, 1980.
  7. Lake, Weird Maryland: Your Travel Guide to Maryland’s Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets, 69.
  8. Ibid.
  9. “Manatee Spotted in Md. Tributary.” WTOP. July 16, 2015. Accessed November 12, 2015. http://wtop.com/maryland/2015/07/manatee-spotted-in-marylands-chesapeake-bay/.
  10. Steve Kilar and Timothy B. Wheeler. “Chessie the Manatee Pays Return Visit to Chesapeake Bay.” The Baltimore Sun. July 15, 2011. Accessed November 12, 2015. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-07-15/features/bs-gr-manatee-20110715_1_florida-manatee-chessie-manatee-first.
  11. Spartanburg Herald, “Chessie Is Back in the Potomac.”
  12. Lyons, “Chessie Sightings Are a Monster of a Claim.”
  13. Ibid.
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