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The Lake Erie Monster
The Great Lakes Triangle
October 18, 2007 - 10:37 PM UTC
November 03, 2008 - 06:57 PM UTC
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Lake Erie is one of the five Great Lakes of North America and some believe that its 9,940-square-mile surface area is the home to various supernatural legends and one or many large, unknown creatures. Despite its surface area, it is also the shallowest of the five Great Lakes with its maximum depth at 210 feet, but its average depth coming in at 62 feet. The Canadian province of Ontario borders the lake to the north with the U.S. states of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and New York on the border to the south.
The lake is also home to a number shipwrecks, as is common in the Great Lakes area. Weather conditions in November are said to be so extreme, that mariners and locals have even dubbed the ferocious winds that pummel the water of the Great Lakes in the fall the "Witch of November." An area of the lakes, including Lake Erie, has also been dubbed "The Great Lakes Triangle" for the number of unexplained vanishings of both ships and planes. It has been said that despite being 16 times smaller than the infamous Bermuda Triangle, the Great Lakes Triangle accounts for more disappearances per unit area than its better-known cousin. By itself, Lake Erie is home to an astounding recorded number of over 1,700 known shipwrecks.
While the stories of one or more large aquatic lake monsters in Lake Erie are perhaps better known these days, the shipwrecks of the lake have also sparked their own lore. Not surprisingly, tales and legends have emerged about many of these infamous wrecks, sometimes attributing the disaster to a mysterious black ghost dog whose sighting is a harbinger of doom. Similarly, there are tales of a Storm Hag that will churn the waters and send men to their doom.
The Black Dog of Lake Erie
While the torrid conditions of the "Witch of November" are often blamed for several of the mysterious disappearances of ships, another theory has also been put forth that is more paranormal of nature. The supernatural force is commonly known as the "Black Dog of Lake Erie." Unlike the usual black dog legends, this animal isn't so much a hellhound as it is the ghost of a dog and having it appear on a water-going vessel is considered a very bad omen.
According to legend, the Black Dog's origins lie in the waters of Welland Canal in Canada, near Niagara Falls. A ship is said to have been traveling the canal when their mascot fell or was knocked overboard. The mascot was a large Newfoundland dog. The dogs are known for their abilities in the water and, aside from their water-resistant fur coats and their webbed feet, seem to have instinctual swimming and water rescue abilities. There are tales of the breed rescuing large groups of survivors during shipwrecks, including one that is said to have rescued Napoleon Bonaparte from drowning.
The crew onboard the ship is said to have shown very little concern for their mascot's misfortune. Perhaps they misjudged the dog's swimming abilities, but the stories implies that they instead made cruel sport of the dog trying to swim along the ship. According to the story the dog was crushed in the gate of a canal lock. Ironically enough, the crew then found themselves stuck in the lock while they had to dislodge the dog's corpse from the gate in order for the lock to operate properly. After hours of difficult labor, the crew reportedly was able to free the corpse and get the lock working, only for the tale to conclude with them being haunted at night by the baying of the dead dog they failed to save.
The ghostly black dog is said to appear on ships that are about to run into trouble. The stories imply that the dog appears to curse the ships and cause their sinking. The alternate theory is that its appearance could also possibly be seen as an attempt to warn a ship that is soon to be in danger. In one description, the dog has "eyes like coals of fire", which suggests that the dog may not have the best interests of seafaring mortals in mind. In the tales, the dog appears onboard a doomed vessel (or climbs aboard from the water). It then crosses the vessel and leaps from the other side. The vessel then runs into trouble.
The dog is said to have caused the wreck of the Mary Jane in Lake Erie on November 19, 1881. The schooner, built in 1862, was carrying a load of telephone poles when a storm drove it ashore, causing it to smash to pieces near Port Rowan, Ontario. Debris from the schooner washed up the following day on the shores near Dunkirk, New York. All nine crewmembers were lost. Before the Mary Jane set sail on its final journey, it is said that workers on the wharves at Port Colbourne, Ontario saw the Black Dog leap from the schooner and vanish upon setting foot on a dock.
Despite it being called "The Black Dog of Lake Erie", most of the shipwrecks whose names are connected with sightings of the beast sank in waters other than Erie's. If there is any truth to the tales then perhaps the apparently vengeful Newfie (a nickname for the breed) has just left fewer witnesses to his work in the waters of Lake Erie. The stories of the ghostly dog include the Issac G. Jenkins, which went down in Lake Ontario, as well incidents on Lake Michigan that included the Thomas Hume and Phoebe Catherine.
The Issac G. Jenkins
The Isaac G. Jenkins (AKA: I.G. Jenkins, J.G. Jenkins, T.G. Jenkins and F.G. Jenkons) sank on November 30, 1875 in Lake Ontario, possibly near Oswego, New York. Story has it that the helmsman roused the captain from slumber one night earlier in the voyage and related an ominous tale that fell on disbelieving ears. The helmsman told of a large black Newfoundland climbing aboard the ship, scampering across the deck and leaping from the opposite rail into the darkness. Rather than taking heed, the Captain angrily accused the man of drinking on the job.
The helmsman's story dismissed, he either quit or was thrown off the ship at Port Colbourne. It is said that he followed the ship as it traveled along the very same canal the infamous The Black Dog of Lake Erie saw its origins. He continued to give warnings to the crew at stops along the way. Eventually, the captain reportedly set his own dog upon the man to drive him off.
The ship vanished en route to Oswego. While some wreckage washed ashore, the nine crewmembers were never found. The night the Issac G. Jenkins reputedly sank, the story goes that a farmer West of Oswego saw a large black dog surface from the waters of Lake Ontario. The dog appeared to be in a frightful shape as it dragged seemingly paralyzed back legs behind it. The dog's fur appeared matted and "glued" down. It vanished into the darkness and out of the farmer's sight. While some theorize that the canine was most likely the dog of the captain that was spared its master's fate, others suggest that it was the infamous phantom dog of ill omen.
The Thomas Hume
The May 21, 1891 sinking of the Thomas Hume (another schooner) in Lake Michigan has at times been blamed on the Black Dog of Lake Erie; one of many tales surrounding the mysterious disappearance of the ship and her crew. The schooner had been sailing along with the Rouse Simmons (another ship that would sink in the waters of Lake Michigan years later), when a gale caused the latter ship to turn around. The Thomas Hume and its crew vanished without a trace in the cold waters of Lake Michigan. No bodies or wreckage washed ashore.
The disappearance led to wild rumors including ones that the Captain and crew had stolen the ship and changed its appearance. The wreck was finally discovered in 2005.
The Phoebe Catherine
The Black Dog is also linked with the misfortune of the legendarily cursed ship, the Phoebe Catherine in the water of Lake Michigan. It is often said that the black dog haunted this schooner, though there are other tales as well. There is also a story of a sailor on the ship finding himself with a shadowy doppelganger following him around on his watch one late night. It undid all of things he was doing to keep the schooner safe and secure. Another tale of the Phoebe Catherine deals with another crewmember witnessing the floating, sheet-covered form of a woman who bore a striking resemblance to his wife back on land. The Phoebe Catherine ran aground twice and her captain died of seemingly natural causes in his cabin while the ship was icebound in Lake Michigan near the Manitou Islands. However, it appears that despite the tales of misfortune and foreboding omens, that the Phoebe Catherine is the one ship associated with the Black Dog not to have sunk.
The legendary canine of bad omens even has its own song. Musicians Tom and Chris Kastle perform a song, aptly titled
The Black Dog of Lake Erie
, telling the tale of the ominous dog that sailors do not want to see on their ship. The song can be found on two of their albums:
Me for the Inland Lakes
. While the ghost of the dog is said to curse the many ships it appears upon, it is hardly the only legend that is believed to cause shipwrecks in Lake Erie.
The legend of Jenny Greenteeth the Storm Hag appears to have followed from Europe to Lake Erie. In particular Lake Erie seems to have borrowed its hag from Yorkshire, England. Other sections of England have hags by different names, including alternate spellings of Jenny. The Jenny Greenteeth of Lake Erie is said to lurk beneath the waters and summons up storms to sink ships and drown men. Her European counterpart had a tendency to drown children and the elderly along the riverbanks.
Jenny Greenteeth is said to appear as a crone with green skin and teeth. Her arms are long and gangly (perfect for reaching out to drown a victim) and end in sharp claws. Her eyes are said to be large yellow lamps that illuminate the watery depths in which she dwells. The legend of Jenny Greenteeth appears to be completely folklore with no witness accounts in Lake Erie.
Pollution and the Lake Erie Monster
Lake Erie suffered from pollution in the 1960s and 1970s, which became a major issue in June 1969 when one of its tributaries, the Cuyahoga River, caught fire because of all the pollutants in the water. This led to the passing of the Clean Water act by the United States Congress in 1971 and has led to increase in water quality and the return of many species. However, sightings of a large, mysterious creature lurking in the waters of Lake Erie never appeared to wane, from their onset in the late 1800s throughout the 20th Century. The lake monster has become well known in the area and is commonly referred to today by the affectionate name of Bessie.
Sightings in the 1800s
The first known sighting of a lake monster occurred in 1793 when the crew of the Felicity stopped at Middle Bass Island. The captain of the vessel wandered down the banks to hunt for dinner when he encountered some ducks along the lake's edge. After he fired at them, a snake over 16-feet long rose from the nearby grass and reportedly chased him for more than 100 yards before disappearing back into either the grass or the lake.
On July 7, 1817, the crew of a schooner on the lake noticed a large creature swimming in the water, about three to five miles from land. They reported that the creature appeared to be 35 to 40 feet in length and one-foot in diameter. The skin was described as a dark mahogany that almost was black.
One of the more intriguing sightings from the 1880s happened on May 12, 1887 when two brothers named Dusseau were out on the lake and noticed a phosphorous mass on a shore near Toledo. According to an article that was published in the
Winnipeg Daily Free Press
, the two French fishermen moved their boat towards the mass, only to discover what they called a "lake monster writhing in agony." They described it similar to a large sturgeon, but that it had long arms that were flailing about in the monster's death throes. The creature soon stopped moving, presumably dead, and the spooked brothers retreated to secure some ropes to haul the thing in. However, the creature was gone by the time they returned, apparently carried back out into the water by the waves. From the marks left behind on the shore, the brothers estimated it was 20 to 30 feet in length and left behind several silver scales that were as large as silver dollars.
Sightings continued and in a July 8, 1898 issue of the
of Sandusky, Ohio, one reporter went so far as to write, "
For a number of years, vague stories about huge serpents have come with each recurring season from Dominion [Canadian> shores, and now, at last, the existence of these fierce monsters is verified and the fact so well established that it can no longer be questioned
The April Fools Joke
By the early 1900s, reports of a lake monster in Lake Erie had tapered off, leading to many question whether there was anything even in the water. In 1912, the
(which had previously insisted on the existence of such a creature) printed an article that related an encounter with the creature with residents of nearby Kelleys Island. The story said that a large, black creature with a huge head and a gaping mouth broke through the ice on the lake and moved towards shore. The last line of the article simply read, "April first."
The stories of a lake monster in Lake Erie gained the attention of the national media when on July 22, 1931, two fishermen from Cincinnati, Ohio reported capturing the creature. According to Clifford Wilson and Francis Cogenstose, they were fishing on Lake Erie when the lake monster surfaced next to their boat. In a panic, they began striking the creature on the head with their oars until they knocked it unconscious. They then quickly tied a line to the creature and rowed it back to shore. Before it could regain consciousness, they coiled the animal into a packing box that measured 6 feet long, 3 feet wide and about 2 feet deep. Several police officers and reporters saw the creature being boxed up and described it as a large, snake-like beast, with a black, dark green and white hide resembling that of an alligator. The media reports attracted the attention of the curator from the Cleveland Museum of National History, Harold Madison, who quickly came to the scene. After examining the creature, Madison declared that it was nothing more than an Indian python. The two men who "captured" the creature quickly split town and further investigations revealed that they were members of a traveling carnival.
The Attack of 1992 (1993)
One of the more common stories out there about the Lake Erie Monster concerns an attack on a sailboat that took the lives of three people. The survivors reportedly stated that the creature's head was as large as a car. The story is usually related as taking place in either 1992 or 1993. However, a little bit of research finds only one source for this story - the
Weekly World News
- the same folks that brought us Bat Boy, kept us informed of what Elvis was up to, and recently stated that Hillary Clinton had an affair with an alien. The story appeared in their August 24, 1993 edition with the headline "
Lake Erie Monster Sinks Sailboat
" and the cover even featured a photograph of a prehistoric creature with its arms wrapped around a sailboat. The article stated that the photograph was taken from an airplane just before the creature pulled the boat underwater. Despite the fictional, satire-nature of the newspaper, the story continues to persist to this day and is often presented as fact.
"South Bay Bessie"
Despite the various hoaxes, there has been no shortage of sightings of a monster occupying the waters of Lake Erie in the 1900s, with most sightings occurring in the 1960s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. In fact, the sightings in the early 1990s were so predominant that it led the local paper,
, to hold a contest to name the monster. After the votes were tallied, the name chosen was "South Bay Bessie." Since that time, the Lake Erie Monster is commonly known as that name or "Bessie" for short, and even South Bass Bessie or Lake Erie Larry on occasion. The sightings also led the city of Huron, Ohio to declare itself the "
National Live Capture and Control Center for the Lake Erie Monster
" and offer a substantial reward for the live capture of the monster.
One of the better-known sightings of the creature occurred in July 1991 when a man by the name of George Repicz reportedly filmed what he believed was a very large live animal swimming almost a mile from where he stood on the banks. Almost all of the sightings describe a cigar-shaped or snake-like creature that ranges from 30 to 50 feet in length. It is believed to be around two-feet round with a dark brown, green or black skin. Some witnesses even describe seeing two or three humps rising out of the water as the creature swims. While some claim that the creature is a plesiosaurus-like animal that dates back to the dinosaurs, some scientists believe that it is nothing more than a large specimen of the lake sturgeon, which can grow over seven feet in length and weigh over 300 pounds.
The Lake Erie monster would again make headlines in August 2001 when three different people would report being bitten on their legs by something underwater while swimming near Port Dover in the Ontario province of Canada. The attacks happened within 24 hours of one another in about a meter of water near the Port Dover pump house. The wounds had a six-inch separation from the top and bottom teeth marks. The doctor who treated them admitted to being baffled by the bites and suggested the only plausible cause could be a bowfin, sometimes called a dogfish.
The Lake Today
Sightings of a lake monster inhabiting Lake Erie have tapered off some since the early 1990s with no confirmed sightings within the last couple of years. For those interested in looking for Bessie, most sightings reportedly occur along the shoreline of Ohio in the southern portion of the lake and come from both land and boat equally. Sightings have been reported up and down the entire shoreline and the islands nearby. If you plan on going, be sure to keep a camera handy because you never know what you might see. For Bessie hunters that dare to board a boat to do their exploration should also be wary of the sudden appearance of a black dog or Storm Hag... just in case.
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Site dedicated to cryptozoology with a special emphasis on "Bessie," the lake monster believed to inhabit in Lake Erie in North America.
Wikipedia: Bessie (Lake Monster)
Wikipedia's entry on Bessie or the Lake Erie Monster believed to inhabit the waters of Lake Erie in North America.
Great Lake Newspaper: And Only the Dog Came Home
1937 article telling the tale of the Isaac G. Jenkins run in with the Black Dog of Lake Erie.
Wikipedia: Jenny Greenteeth
Wikipedia entry for the legend of Jenny Greenteeth.
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See Also on TheCabinet.com
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Blog: The Dark Destinations Top 50 for Spring 2009 (05/24/09)
Blog: A Tribute to the Lake Erie Monster (06/19/09)
Blog: The Black Dog of Lake Erie (05/13/10)
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Lock Ness Monster, the Lake Erie Monster, And Champ of Lake Champlain (Graphic Mysteries)
Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures
Field Guide to Lake Monsters, Sea Serpents, and Other Mystery Denizens of the Deep
Monster Spotter's Guide to North America
Giants, Monsters, and Dragons: An Encyclopedia of Folklore, Legend, and Myth
Weird Ohio (Weird)
Oddball Ohio: A Guide to Some Really Strange Places (Oddball series)
Mysteries of Ontario
Weird U.S.: Your Travel Guide to America's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets (Weird)
Shadows of the Western Door: Haunted Sites and Ancient Mysteries of Upstate New York
Spooky Pennsylvania: Tales of Hauntings, Strange Happenings, and Other Local Lore (Spooky)
Me For The Inland Lakes
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Lake Erie, as seen from the reputedly haunted Dock at the Bay restaurant.
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