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According to C. S. Rafinesque in his Dissertation on Water Snakes, Sea Snakes, and Sea Serpents, the first report of a monster in Lake Erie occurred in 1817. On July 3rd of that year the crew of a schooner reported seeing a creature thirty-five to forty feet long and a foot around. It was so dark mahogany in color that it almost appeared black. No details were offered by the witnesses with regards to the presence of scales so it is unclear whether the creature was of the snake or fish variety.
In 1854 fishermen on the eastern side of the lake reported a serpentine form moving about the water with great agility. Like the earlier monster, this one was estimated at nearing forty feet in length. Seven years later another party of fisherman in this same region of Lake Erie came so close to a sixteen foot serpent they were able to fully inspect it. They described the thing as greenish with an erect head and tail.
In 1887 the Dusseau brothers, returning from a day of fishing, spotted a "phosphorescent mass" on the beach. They quickly made their way to the shore only to find the creature in its death throes. Although somewhat like a sturgeon in size, the brothers said the creature also possessed arms that it threw wildly from side to side. They ran for help and rope to capture the creature but, upon their return, found only marks on the beach indicating where it had lain. Apparently, while tossing itself about, the creature tumbled back into the water and was carried off by the waves. Before disappearing, however, the sea monster cast off scales the size of silver dollars.
Lake Erie's sea serpents were particularly active in the 1890s. Two fishermen saw a twenty-five foot long creature in May 1892. It was eighteen inches in diameter. The huge water snake propelled itself using flippers located about five feet behind its large, flat head. It was black with brown, mottled spots. In the fall of this same year schooner captain Patrick Woods was making his way from Buffalo to Toledo when, about half mile in front of him, he saw the otherwise calm water of the lake violently whipping into foam. As he neared the spot he saw a huge sea serpent desperately fighting off an invisible underwater attacker. Woods said he could clearly see the sparkling eyes in its large head. He estimated the brown body to be fifty feet long and nearly four feet in diameter with a head rising four feet out of the water.
A hoax perpetuated in the early 1930s had residents around Lake Erie briefly fearing an invasion of pythons. As it turns out, Clifford Wilson, the man who "captured" the python and brought it ashore, was a carnival promoter trying to cash in on the lake monster phenomenon. It was his own snake he claimed to have hit with an oar and wrestle into his boat. Just three years after Wilson's trickery was uncovered, however, a man named Ben A. Schwartz and five others were sitting on the lake shore when they saw what they initially believed to be a dog swimming toward them. It was not until the creature changed directions that Schwartz realized he was looking at a gigantic snake at least twenty feet in length. The beast swam along the shoreline for about fifteen minutes before heading back out to deeper waters. Experts to whom the incident was reported suggested the animal may have been an escaped Rock Python, an African snake known for eating prey as large as deer.
Sightings continue in spurts. In the early 1990s, when stories of Loch Ness were achieving world-wide media coverage, Lake Erie's sea monster was also frequently spotted. Tales are still told by boaters and beach goers about a large snake-like creature ably navigating the lake, but the number of reports has dropped dramatically in recent years.
Could there be a giant sea monster making its home in Lake Erie? At 240 miles long and averaging sixty-two feet deep (210' deep at its most precipitous points) Lake Erie is ten times longer than Loch Ness. But, at 12,000 years old, it is considered by geologists to be quite new compared to its Scottish cousin - far too young to hide a water-inhabiting dinosaur, for instance. Still, no one is ruling out the possibility of a lake monster completely. Perhaps, considering the tremendous proliferation of cell phones offering video recording capability, proof of the Lake Erie sea serpent is only a family vacation away.
Lake Erie, lake monster, sea serpent, sea monster, Dusseau brothers, Patrick Woods, Clifford Wilson, python, Erie County, Pennsylvania