It's always a good day when a review-book arrives in the mail and its subject-matter is one that intrigues me. Such was the case just recently when I received a copy of the new book from Chad Lewis and Noah Voss. Its title: Pepie: The Lake Monster of the Mississippi River. Published by On The Road Publications, this is an excellent, regional study of a strange beast that many are likely completely unaware of.
I particularly enjoy books that are regional in nature, as they generally offer deep insight into a case that, without that personal, in-the-field approach, would probably remain buried in obscurity. And, I have to say, the Lewis-Voss book does not disappoint.
Pepie: The Lake Monster is an excellent study of the little-known beast (or, far more likely, beasts) of Lake Pepin, which borders Wisconsin and Minnesota. And, as the authors demonstrate, it's a story that dates back not just decades but centuries. And how do Lewis and Voss demonstrate this? By getting into the heart of the action and launching full-blown investigations, that's how. This means road-trips to the lake itself, archival research, and securing witness testimony.
That's what I like about this book; it's written from the perspective of two dedicated researchers who are determined to get to the heart of the mystery and share their findings with the reader. And they do so in decidedly atmospheric fashion. So, with that all said, let's take a look at the contents of their book.
As the authors note, it's not just the monster itself that is weird; so is the lake: "As a lake on a river, Lake Pepin is somewhat of a geological oddity."
They add: "Sediment buildup from the mouth of the Chippewa River forms a delta that obtrudes into the Mississippi River causing a backup of water, which is Lake Pepin." It's a large lake, too, running at approximately twenty-two miles.
We're treated to (a) a history of the lake and its ties to mysterious mounds, (b) the lowdown on a major maritime disaster, (c) the story of how the sport of water-skiing had its origins on the lake, and (d) a tragic and supernatural saga of Romeo and Juliet proportions.
As for Pepie the monster, like so many other lake monsters, this one is large, serpentine, and mysterious. Sightings of the beast, it's revealed to us, date back to the earliest years of Native American times, something which then leads us into a chapter titled "Pioneer Sightings," and which details a number of fascinating cases from the 19th Century. One such case concerns a beast described by the local media of the day as a "living curiosity" and "the size of an elephant and rhinoceros."
There was - as the book demonstrates - a wave of encounters with Pepie in the 1960s, as well as a variety of reports that surfaced in the 1980s. It's important to note, however, that the story of Pepie is not purely historical; sightings have been made throughout the 2000s and right up until at least 2010. We're also given the strange and controversial story of an alleged photo of Pepie.
Lewis and Voss then share with us the details of their 2011 and 2013 expeditions to the lake. These sections of the book are without doubt my favorite, as they demonstrate the enthusiasm of the authors for the mystery, their quest for the truth, and the means by which they try and seek out the beast. Written in entertaining styles that are part-Jack Keroauc road-trip and part-scientific study, these two chapters expertly capture the flavor of a hunt for monsters and unknown animals.
Particularly intriguing is the chapter in Pepie on various additional unknown animals seen in the Mississippi River. The reports are chiefly from old newspapers which chronicle encounters with a "mysterious reptile," a huge beast with a head like "a dog or wolf," an animal described as "half horse, half alligator," and much more.
Then, we come to one of the most important sections of the book: the theories for what the Pepies might really be. Misidentification is suggested in some cases - possibly of otters, swimming deer, and snakes. The authors demonstrate, however, that such examples do not explain the bulk of the genuinely weird cases. The matter of witness suggestibility - based on the expectation of seeing Pepie when visiting the lake - is also discussed, as is the angle of hoaxing.
When those down-to-earth issues are dealt with, Lewis and Voss offer up candidates for what the animals might be. Plesiosaurs, whales, and long-necked seals all come to the surface (so to speak) in this particular chapter.
Things then go down a more mysterious path, when the matter of significant UFO activity in the area is revealed. If, like me, you're a fan of the work of John Keel - who concluded that many of the weird and mysterious things of our world are somehow all inter-connected - you'll particularly enjoy this chapter.
And, for those monster-hunters who might want to seek out Pepie for themselves, it's worth noting there's a $50,000 reward on offer, if you can provide conclusive proof of the existence of the beast.
Our authors then provide us with a "Final Thoughts" section, in which they look back on their investigations and share some welcome thoughts and observations.
If Cryptozoology is your thing, you won't want to miss Pepie: The Lake Monster of the Mississippi River.