March 4, 2000

Loch Ness has Nessie, Lake Champlain has Champ. Even New York State's tiny Silver Lake has its own giant serpent (later proved to be a hoax). And for decades a great serpent was spotted off the coast of Massachusetts. They say even the great Daniel Webster encountered the beast, and in 1821 the Boston Gazette offered a reward of $10,000 for, "his snakeship", dead or alive. Our old friend, naturalist Constantine Rafinesque, legitimized the beast by classifying it Megophias.

But those of us living in the Great Lakes region of the U. S. needn't take a back seat to anyone. On September 14, 1821, the Oswego, New York, Palladium printed a letter from lawyer John Rose of Marysburg, Upper Canada. He affirmed that John Maupin of Montreal, and James Sigler of New York's Jefferson County had appeared before him and described their adventure. On July 25th they had been scooting westerly along the northern shore of Lake Ontario with a party of voyageurs, in the Montreal freight canoe Light-foot. Then, "we discovered at the distance of five or six hundred yards a large body floating on the surface of the water, very much like a burnt log from 20 to 25 feet in length; but on approaching it three or four hundred yards closer, it proved to be an animal motionless and apparently asleep. We continued to advance towards it until within 30 yards, when the animal raised its head about 10 feet out of the water, looking around him in the most awful and ferocious manner, and darting forward with great velocity, making the water fly in every direction, and throwing columns of it at a vertical height of seven or eight feet with his tail."

At this point, the creature stopped and appeared to fall asleep again. Voyageur veins undoubtedly coursing with both testosterone and profit-lust, "we then resolved to attack him, and accordingly loaded our guns for this purpose, and moved slowly toward him within gun shot." But the big fella didn't stick around to see what would happen next. French-Canadians are not to be trifled with, whatever your size.

The Palladium reported another Lake Ontario sighting in July of 1833. The decription is typical. "In length he was about 175 feet, of a dark blue color, spotted with brown; towards either end he tapered off, but about the middle his body was of the circumference of a flour barrel, his head was peculiarly small and could not well be distinguished but from the direction in which he moved...He swam with an undulating movement, keeping the best part of his body under water, but occasionally showing his entire length. He was in sight full fifteen minutes and when last seen was making the best of his way down the St. Lawrence."

I wouldn't want to frighten anyone listening today, or keep them from the beaches this summer. If such monsters ever existed in our waters, I'm sure the zebra mussels, lake lampreys and e. coli have made short work of them.

My thanks to Richard Palmer for providing the sources for today. If you live in the Rochester (NY) area and would like to learn more about the Great Lakes, you're invited to meetings of the Great Lakes Marine History Committee. The group meets the second Saturday of most months, except June to August, at 9:30 AM, at the Charlotte Lighthouse, off Lake Avenue, north of the Stutson Street bridge.

For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.

© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte