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Water Monsters U.S.A.

    Part 1. The Bear Lake Monster

    You've probably heard of the Loch Ness Monster.

    Well, "Nessie" might be the most famous, but he (or she) is not the only lake monster in the world. Many strange creatures have been seen in bodies of water the world over -- several right here in the United States. Arkansas, Idaho, and New York are only a few places where lake and river monsters have been reported. I wrote about some of them in my book, The Very Scary Almanac, but it seems there are many more. Lots of lakes in the U.S. have legends and lore about the strange denizens of their depths.

    One such watery abode is Bear Lake in Utah.

    Nestled high in the Wasatch-Cache mountains, Bear Lake is 20 miles long and 8 miles wide, and in places as deep as 208 feet. Half of the lake is in Utah, and the other half in Idaho. Bear Lake is believed to be one of the oldest bodies of water in the region, part of a prehistoric lake that once stretched all the way from Idaho to Nevada.

    The first published report of an unusual animal living in the lake appeared in the Deseret News in 1868, but oral legends of such a creature go back much further. The Shoshani tribe tells stories of the monster carrying away unwary swimmers. According to the Shoshani, the creature looks like a giant serpent, and has even occasionally been seen on dry land, standing on short legs.

    In June, 1868, Mr. S.M. Johnson, who lived near the lake, saw something moving in the water. At first he thought it might have been a large tree trunk. Suddenly the thing opened its mouth, which was large enough to swallow a man. It had huge ears, and was blowing water from its mouth and nose. Mr. Johnson also noticed its small legs sticking out of the water.

    In a few days, several more witnesses reported sightings of the monster. A group of four adults, all prominent citizens of the area, claimed that on the way home from a party one evening, they saw four very large animals and six smaller ones swimming in the lake, traveling at a speed of about a mile a minute.

    Early pioneers to Utah claimed to have encountered the uncanny creature, including distinguished members of the Pratt, Slight and Broomhead families. In 1946, an executive of the Boy Scout organization swore he saw the creature and described his experience in painstaking detail. (And as we all know, Boy Scouts are forbidden to lie.)

    Descriptions of the creature vary. Its size has been estimated from 40 to 200 feet. Its head is shaped either like a walrus or an alligator. On land it moves awkwardly, but it swims like a serpent at a speed of 60 miles an hour.

    So far, there is no hard evidence of the existence of the creature -- just the sworn testimony by frightened witnesses. Attempts have been made in the past to capture the creature, but none have succeeded.

    Have you had a run-in with the Bear Lake Serpent, or any other water monster? Let me know!

    Part 2. The Utah Lake Monster

    Utah Lake, a 150 squre mile body of water in north-central Utah, has a rich tradition of monsters and other unnatural creatures living in its depths. The Ute Indians told legends about evil dwarfs living in the waters of the lake. The Indians called these dwarfs "water babies" because they made sounds like crying babies that lured mortals into the water where they drowned. The Ute also told of a "Water Indian" who would drag unlucky braves to their deaths. They also told of a creature so large it was able to swallow a man whole.

    Reports from white settlers to the area soon seemed to confirm the tales of the enormous creature, at least. The first reported sighting occurred in 1864, when Utah settler Isaac Fox saw a 30 foot long reptile near the lake's north shore. According to Fox, the beast chased him to shore, then swam back to join another monster in the water. Later that same year, a visitor to Utah Lake named Henry Walker claimed he saw what looked like a large snake with the head of a greyhound.

    Over the following years, several more sightings occurred. In 1866, for instance, two men claimed they saw a large yellow creature with black spots and a red forked tongue.

    In 1870, fishermen found the skull of a large creature with a five inch tusk. Whether it was genuine or a hoax will never be determined, since no one is sure whatever became of this important piece of physical evidence.

    Two boys claimed to see the beast in 1880. According to their story, they saw a creature approaching from the middle of the lake. They thought it was a dog or a beaver, and paid no attention to it -- until it got closer and they saw how huge it was. They claimed it roared like a lion, opening its three-foot-long alligator-like jaws and lifted itself part way out of the water. The thing had four legs, each about a yard long. The boys screamed and ran away.

    As long as these tales have been told, skeptics of the Utah Lake Monster have been plentiful. Scoffers suggested that the witnesses were seeing nothing but floating logs or swimming birds and letting their imaginations run wild. Some historians believe that the lake monster tale was the settlers' way of adapting the original Indian myths.

    In any case, by the mid-1880s, reports of the Utah Lake Monster ceased. Some theorize that the whole thing was a hoax from the beginning, and that lake monster hoaxes had simply fallen out of fashion.

    There was another sighting of the creature in 1921, followed by a brief flurry of sightings, but since then the Utah Lake Monster seems to have disappeared for good. If it's still out there, we'll just have to wait and see if it ever re-emerges from the watery depths of Utah Lake -- or the imaginations of the nearby residents.

    Have you ever seen the Utah Lake Monster, or any other water monster? If so, let me know!

    Part 3. South Bay Bessie

    Lake Erie's contribution to U.S. Lake Monsters is a water serpent known as South Bay Bessie. Reported sightings began in 1817, and have continued through the 1990s. The creature is described as being a serpent-like creature between 35 to 60 feet in length.

    Tom Solberg, the owner of Huron Lagoons Marina, is the spokesman for a group that has offered a $100,000 reward for creature if delivered alive and unharmed.

    In 1969, an eyewitness near South Bass Island claimed that a water serpent came within 6 feet of his boat. Although he could not determine the length of the thing, it looked to be at least two feet wide.

    In 1981, a witness watching from her house saw a snake-like reptile that appeared to be frolicking in the water. It was so large, she said, it could have easily capsized a boat.

    In 1983, another witness claimed she saw the creature from the front porch of her house just before dawn. The lake was calm. At first she thought what she was looking at was a capsized boat. Then she realized that it was an animal, greenish-brown and about 40 - 50 feet in length. An eye was visible on the side of the thing's head.

    In the summer of 1985, two boaters separately saw the serpent. Both described the creature as having several humps raised out of the water, and one said it was twice the length of his sixteen foot boat.

    In 1990, a family was fishing from their boat when a 35 foot long serpent with a snake-like head swam past their boat. Later in 1990, two fire inspectors saw the thing.

    Skeptics offer many theories to explain the sightings. One is that the creature is really a species of sturgeon that has been known to grow to weigh 300 pounds and reach a length of 20 feet. However, it has been pointed out that sturgeon are fish who dwell on the lake bottoms and are rarely seen on the surface. And many of the eyewitnesses scoff at the notion that they saw a mere fish.

    Have you ever seen South Bay Bessie, or any other water monster? If so, let me know! Is there a legend about a water monster in a lake or river near you??? I want to hear about it. E-mail me today!
    If you give me permission, I'll post your stories on this page.

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