Wednesday, January 20, 2010

DALE DRINNON: Great Lakes Whale Watch Part 3

Here are some internet resources on Bessie, The Lake Eire Monster, along with reference photos of Bessie and bottlenose whales:

Reprint from CREATURE CHRONICLES #14; Oct. 1991
Ron Schaffner: Editor


A Monster in Lake Erie

A listing of the alleged sightings

Lake Erie's western basin has become a host of yet another aquatic serpent in the world. Not surprising as the student of cyrptozoology is aware that the majority of these inhabited inland waterways within the northern hemisphere lay claim to some sort of monster.

There have been many explanations to the sightings; most notable is the prehistorical sturgeon, which can easily grow up to 300 pounds and have been known to reach 20 feet, 200 pounds and 100 years old. However, it must be noted that they are bottom fish and rarely seen on the surface. But, how often could one see a serpent?

"South Bay Bessie", as dubbed from a local contest has stirred quite a wonder in northern Ohio since the mid 1980's. The battle lines have been carved from the believers and skeptics alike. "Monster-mania" has taken hold in all the local communities. (A more than familiar common thread with all Fortean events of this type.)

John Schaffner, editor of the Ottawa County Beacon (no relation to this edi- tor.) has been the focal point of data collection with his toll-free hot line. I wish to thank him for the material he has sent along to us. His hot-line has produced reports dating back 30 years .

The majority of reports depict the same basic description: A 30-50 long snake-like about as [big a]round as a bowling ball.[Counter to this we also have clear repeated statements that it is at lease two feet wide on the surface and must be wider below the waterline]

The reported creature seems to appear when the water is calm.

So, without further oration, let us begin the listings of "Bessie". We will have no further comments on origin or explanations.

1960 - Ken Golic was fishing off a pier in Sandusky when he heard two rats. He decided to throw a couple of rocks at them when he saw the creature. He stated that it was cigar-shaped and came out of the water about 1-1 1/2 feet. It was about 11:00 PM on a clear, calm night.

1969 - Jim Schindler stated that a serpent came within 6 feet of him near South Bass Island. Although he did not see the length, the width was about 2 feet. The animal appeared to be about 1 foot under[out of] the water.

9/1981 - Theresa Kovach of Akron saw a snake-like reptile that "was so large that could easily capsized a boat. It seemed to be playing." She watched it from a house on the Cedar Point Cause- way.

1983 (app.) - Mary M. Landoll told John Schaffner about her encounter with Bessie off Rye Beach in Huron. Mary went out to the front porch just before dawn when the lake was quite placid. From the left end, she heard a rowing sound and saw what looked like a capsized boat. It was a greenish-brown color about 40-50 feet in length. Landoll realized that it wasn't a boat, but an animal of some sort. It had a long neck and an eye was visible on the side of the head with a grin going up one side The creature appeared to be playing in the water, but still put a scare into the witness.

[This is the ONLY report stated as specifying the creature had a long neck - but it appears that said neck was NOT lifted out of the water to any appreciable distance, otherwise how could it give the usual appearance of an upturned boat? The neck seems to "curve around" flat on top of the water as it was "Playing" - DD]

Summer, 1985 - Tony Schill of Avon, Ohio was boating with friends north of Vermilion when they reported the serpent. It was dark brown and had a flat tail. Tony stated that "5 humps came out of the wa ter. No way it was a sturgeon."

Dale Munro, of Lorain was also boating when he came face-to-face with it. He stated that it had 3 humps and was black. He also reported that it was twice the size of his 16 foot boat. The location was in calm waters just off the Lorain Coast Guard Station and his sighting lasted 3-4 minutes.

May or June, 1989 - Gail Kasner obtains a graph from a boat owned by Ken Smith, of Streetsboro. The fishfinder appears to show a sonar reading of a cigar-shape apparition about 35 feet in length at a depth of about 30 feet.

July 8, 1990 - Susan seeson, of Salem witnessed the creature 2 miles from Cedar Point. Her description basically matched other reports.

September 3, 1990 - Bob Soracco was jet skiing off Port Clinton when he thought he spotted a porpoise. (Porpoise in fresh water? Oh well, Bob had just moved from Florida.[Shows what the author knows: there are several types of porpoises that inhabit freshwater or brackish sea-lakes]) He told reporters that he saw humps with grey spots. "It was very long as I moved closer and it was going down.

September 4, 1990 - Harold Bricker and his family were fishing north of Cedar Point Amusement Park when a serpent type creature swam by their boat about 1000 feet away Their description- 35 feet long with a snake-like head. It moved as fast as their boat. Later, the Bricker's reported their sighting to the ODNR rangers at East Harbor State Park.

September 11, 1990 - Fire inspectors, Jim Johnson and Steve Dircks, of Huron saw the creature from a third story window facing Lake Erie. They decribed it as dark blue or black at about 30-45 feet long. He further stated that he saw three parts of the creature above water. "It laid there motionless for three to six minutes and was flat on top."

Week of September 16 1991 - Dennis Szececinski, of Toledo saw Bessie near Toledo's water intake structure three miles offshore in Maumee Bay. He was fishing in the bay when something long and black slithered in front of him.

The Beacon, Ottawa County, 9/90 Dayton Daily News, 10/7/90 Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, 9/23/90 Columbus Dispatch 9/26/90

Credit: Ron Schaffner (

['Bessie' has a mouth with two fangs sticking out in front; sometimes also said to have only one coming down from the top. Its mouth also forms a grin when seen from the side; all of which marks it as a bottlenose whale. One of the very old 'Champ' sightings and one of the sightings on the Ottowa river also mention the peculiar teeth. Only the male bottlenose whale has teeth, and on the males the round head can be developed to the extent that the dolphin-like beak is obscured and hene a blunted 'Snake-like' or turtle-like head. In the case of Bessie, SOME of the sightings of 3 to 7 humps might actually be several animals swimming close together: bottlenose whales do that and it answers the question as to why are they not seen in schools.

The answer is then that they are but it is not recognised. Also, the bottlenose whale is the only whale that can be described as greenish or a sort of olive brown. Bottlenose whales are known for wandering up into estuaries and up rivers, including the Thames, and a colony of these whales are known to be permanent residents around Nova Scotia.]

Most people are aware of the Loch Ness Monster, and many have heard of Lake Okanagan's Ogopogo, but Lake Erie's own mysterious sea creature is much less well-known.

Known as South Bay Bessie, the elusive sea serpent has been widely reported on Erie's south shore over the years, in Ohio lakeside locations including Akron, Sandusky Point and Cedar Point. In Huron, Ohio, the monster is so much a part of local lore that since 1984, a life-size floating replica has been seasonally anchored in the waters off the Huron River. In Cleveland, the Great Lakes Brewing Company sells a beer called 'Lake Erie Monster Double IPA'.

On the Canadian shore, a rash of biting incidents from an unknown aquatic creature plagued the tiny beachside community of Port Dover in 2001. According to an article by Graham Marsden, editor of FishingMagic.Com, at least three persons, including Port Dover resident Brenda McCormack, a man and a child were bitten in a 24-hour period. The physician who treated the man at the time, Dr. Harold Hynscht, ruled out lamprey eels, snapping turtles, walleye, goby or muskellunge fish -- even escaped pet piranhas. Whatever it was, he said, it was "a big honking fish." Dr. Hynscht suggested the aggressive, 60 centimetre-long bowfin fish as the culprit, but couldn't be certain. Others proposed – only half-jokingly – the Lake Erie monster. [I do not know why the muskellunge was ruled out; that would have been my choice - DD]

The first documented sightings of the creature occurred as far back as July 1817, when the crew of a schooner reported a 30 to 40-foot long serpent, dark in colour. Later that year, another boat crew spotted a similar animal, this time copper-coloured and 60 feet in length. This time, they shot at it with muskets, which had no visible effect.

A third 1817 incident took place near Toledo, when French settlers – two brothers named Dusseau -- encountered a huge monster on the beach, writhing in what they took to be its death throes. The brothers described it as between 20 and 30 feet in length and shaped like a large sturgeon, except that it had arms. The panicked brothers fled the scene, and when they returned later, the creature had disappeared, presumably carried off by waves after its death. All that was left of its presence were marks on the beach and a number of silver scales about the size of silver dollars.
[This is probably an exaggeration and the scales would not be related to the body. A sturgeon does not have scales like that. The skeletal structure of a cetacean's flippers are like arms, and that point makes a cetacean more likely than a sturgeon in this case]

Since then, there have been more than 15 sightings of the creature, with at least five of those occurring as late as the 1990s. The most recent event was reported from Madison Township in Lake County Ohio in 2004. Most of the accounts are similar, describing a snake-like body, 30 to 40 feet in length, dark in colour and swimming with a wavy motion. Some witnesses say the serpent has 'humps.' [This may even be several individual creatures following together closely, the whales are known to do that - DD]

Interestingly, there may be evidence describing the serpent's presence from long before the first recorded sighting. The Seneca Indians, natives of the area of Niagara Falls, tell a legend of the Good Spirit and the Evil Spirit. In this legend, the Evil Spirit "controlled a huge Water Serpent that lived in the Niagara River and Lake Erie."

Beyond eyewitness accounts and oral history, however, little or no proof supporting Bessie's existence has surfaced. That may change, however, with the advent of the internet and the proliferation of low-cost web-cams. At least one website – MonsterTracker.Com – has set up a number of real-time internet cameras strung across a number of strategic sites on Erie's shore, from Wainfleet, Ontario in the east to Kelly's Island, Ohio, in the west.

Lake Erie

Similar to L. Ontario many accounts of various descriptions have been reported over the past two centuries involving Lake Erie.

While shooting at ducks north of Sandusky Ohio in 1793; the captain of the sloop Felicity startled a large creature (snake) described as “more than a rod (16 ½ ft.) in length” [This could have been a smaller, younger "Bessie" or it could have been something different like a large muskellunge-DD]

An extraordinary sighting took place by the entire crew of a ship bound from Buffalo NY to Toledo Ohio in July of 1892, which was carried by local newspapers. The crew (including captain) saw a large area of water approx. one half mile ahead of them churned up and foaming. As they approached they saw “a huge sea serpent” that appeared to be “wrestling about in the waters, as if fighting with an unseen foe.” They observed as the creature relaxed itself and stretched out full length (estimated at 50ft and 4ft in circumference) with it’s head sticking up above the water an additional 4ft. The brownish creature’s eyes were described as “viciously sparkling” and large fins were also noted.[The fins again suggest a cetacean, perhaps several of the small whales sporting or fighting together as they do , like dolphins-DD]

Crystal Beach near Fort Erie was the scene of another sighting on May 5th, 1896. This time there were four eyewitnesses who watched for 45 mins. as a 30ft. creature with a dog shaped head and pointy tail churned up the water as it swam about until finally disappearing before nightfall. [The whale's flattened, bilobate tail that churns up water is also specified in some reports-DD]

A more recent series of sightings, which gained a lot of attention, occurred in 1993. A family witnessed a 30ft creature swimming close to shore near Lowbanks, Ontario. A fisherman presumably spotted the same creature earlier on near Kelley’s Island. It was again spotted in the same area this time by five fishermen. Then on August 24th of the same year the ‘Weekly World News’ ran a front-page story on the reported attack of a 38ft sail boat by a “200–ton sea monster.” The boat had been “crushed like an eggshell” according to the five witnesses who had escaped without injury. A photo of this event purportedly taken by a camera-toting occupant of a low-flying aircraft in the vicinity accompanied the published story. A substantial reward was offered by a group of Ohio businessmen for proof of the creature’s existence. This reward was never collected.

[The story was considered generally suspect and the photo is faked, but there is nothing really outrageous in the idea that a bottlenose whale could have run into the ship and damaged it: the whale might even have impressed witnesses as looking like the creature later illustrated in the tabloid account, assuming there really were witnesses that said so: the actual accident seems to be a matter of public record. The blunt head and thick cylindrical body are shown about right. The reward mentioned at the end was actually posted earlier and was unrelated to this incident - DD]

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