Monsters of the Deep Part Two

Chasing Great Lakes folklore

Published in the December 2017 Issue November 2018 Feature Austa Cook

Lake Erie

Ron Schaffner, editor of CREATURE CHRONICLES, gathered sightings of what is dubbed “South Bay Bessie” pulled from a variety of 1990’s sources like The Beacon, Dayton Daily News, Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, and Columbus Dispatch.

For example, Theresa Kovach of Akron watched a snake-like reptile that "was so large that could easily capsize a boat. It seemed to be playing," near the Cedar Point Causeway.

Mary M. Landoll reported a Bessie encounter off Rye Beach, when she’d ventured onto her front porch and heard a rowing sound. In the predawn light, what looked like a capsized boat was moving through the placid water. It was greenish-brown and about 40 to 50 feet long, and Landoll realized it was an animal of some sort when she witnessed a long neck, an eye on the side of the head, and a grin going up one side. Apparently the terrifying creature was playing in the water.

The summer of 1985, Tony Schill of AvonOhio, was boating with friends north of Vermilion when they had their own run-in with a dark brown, flat-tailed serpent. According to Tony, "Five humps came out of the water. No way it was a sturgeon."

According to a 1990 article shared by the Los Angeles Times, Harold Bricker, his wife Cora, and son Robert had returned from a fishing trip where they reported seeing a black, 35-foot creature with a snakelike head swimming about 1,000 feet from their boat, keeping pace.

"I told my son that I wanted to get a look at it," the 67-year-old Bricker stated. "My son said, 'No way, that thing is bigger than we are.' So we stayed where we were."

Lake Huron

It’s said that for over 250 years, the local Ojibway have talked about a giant reptilian creature stalking the mouth of the Serpent River. To this day, it’s reported that locals at the mouth of the Serpent River still believe a giant serpent lives in a cave somewhere.

According to a 1948 issue of the Owen Sound Sun Times, the Flowerpot Island Sea Monster was spotted by people aboard a Detroit and Cleveland Navigation Co. liner. Men yelled and a woman fainted while the serpent slid through the waters of Georgian Bay. The ship's social hostess reported it was a 60-foot green and purple scaled monster with a large horned head; this was backed by more than a dozen passengers and many crewmembers. The serpent apparently came within 500 feet of the ship before slipping off into the fog and rain.

"I've sailed the Great Lakes for many years," stated the captain, "and have yet to see any monster. However, some of the informants in this case have always been persons of sound judgment and character."

According to another 1976 Grand Rapids Press article, the owner of a resort saw two 45-foot creatures playing in the Mackinac Straits. The next day Cheboygan County Sheriff Stanley McKervey stopped by and was taken aback when he witnessed one of the creatures himself.

“I went down to the beach, and sure enough, I’m looking at something 20, maybe 30 feet long, swimming just below the surface,” he stated in the article. “I was amazed. I didn’t know what it was, but it sure wasn’t a publicity stunt.”

Lake Michigan 

Lake Michigan has been a little lighter on sea monster lore. Chicago newspapers apparently spread a rash of fear in the late 1800’s when they claimed a 50-foot serpent was spotted swimming in the lake. There have also been false rumors of freshwater whales in the Great Lakes. According to Snopes, a 1985 “Great Lakes Whale Watch” was held off the coast of Chicago. Most likely a joke, the search obviously didn’t yield any results. Snopes also discredited a viral Facebook meme claiming to have photographed a “North American Sturgeon Whale” in the Straits of Mackinac, citing fake organizations like the Mackinac Bridge Drone Authority. Nice try, meme-maker.

What Do You Think?

The meme brings up a good point – talking about these encounters isn’t to say there haven’t been hoaxes, which follow the trail of supposed sightings like bass following a jig lure. But if you ask around to see whether residents on the Great Lakes actually believe in these creatures, you’ll hear a few firm yes’s, a lot of outright no’s, and a tantalizing amount of maybe’s. Whatever way you slice it, it’s apparent that, as Van Laar puts it, “All of these dragon stories have become a part of Canadian history.”


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