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
For Classical ninety-one five, this is David Minor.
© 2000 David Minor / Eagles Byte
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