The world of mysterious lake beasts already can raise an eyebrow or two. All across the globe strange, inexplicable monsters have turned up roaming about various lakes which have encompassed all sizes and appearances, and often have defied any rational explanation at all. While lake monsters in general are bizarre enough as it is, what is even stranger is that they seem to have the propensity for turning up pretty much about anywhere where there is water. It doesn't matter if the lake has the ability to support a population of large underwater beasts or whether any of it makes sense, the creatures still come. However, while the phenomena might try the patience of anyone trying to make sense of it all, by far the most perplexing cases are those that emanate from bodies of water that are wholly manmade. These are lakes which were created in very recent years by human hands, and yet tales of lake monsters still find a way to gestate and breed here. Why is this and how could this be? Let's look at some of the stories.
Perhaps one of the better known supposed lake monsters in a manmade lake is the case of what has become known as the Lake Norman Monster, of Lake Norman, North Carolina, in the United States. The lake itself was created by the Duke Power Plant between the years of 1959 and 1964 during the construction of the Cowans Fort Hydroelectric Station, along the Catawba River to bring electricity to the Piedmont Region of the Carolinas, and it has since been used by the Marshall Steam Station and McGuire Nuclear Plant for the purpose of cooling their steam driven turbines. After initial construction, the resulting Lake Norman became the largest manmade body of water in the state, with a surface area of more than 32,500 acres and over 500 miles of shoreline, and it has become a haven for fishermen, boaters, swimmers, and those looking for all manner of outdoor recreation both at the lake and the adjacent Lake Norman State Park. It is also, rather improbably, known for being the alleged home of some sort of large water beast.
For decades people have been coming forward with sightings of a large creature described as being everything from a crocodilian reptile of some sort, to a seal-like creature with thick whiskers and prominent fins, to some kind of giant fish, to the more traditional snake-like, humped sea serpent. Most sightings are of the creature swimming through the water but there have even been more aggressive incidents reported, such as a scuba diver who claimed that the creature attacked him and bit his flipper, as well as a report made by a man who claimed the monster brushed up against him while jet skiing, leaving behind some sort of slimy substance that caused a severe rash. One of the most widely known reports was from an S. Campbell of Maiden, North Carolina, who said of his experience thus:
About ten years ago in high school some friends and I were jumping from the Duke Power trestle. We had been there for about 2 hours and making a lot of noise. I went to dive in and decided to make a huge splash. When I arose to the surface everyone was like get out of the water! Yelling and screaming that something was after me. I shrugged it off and then after realizing that the water 20 feet behind me was rippling I decided to swim like crazy! I reached the surface and climbed up the rocks to see a giant shadow under the water. It was at least 14 feet long!! It surfaced a little more before finally going down, it had to be an alligator gar, but I couldn't imagine a fish getting that big! It looked like 2 people holding on to each other swimming. So who knows what it was? Needless to say I haven't been back to jump from the trestle anymore!
Such reports have continued up until very recent years. 2006 and 2007 saw an unusual spike in sightings of the bizarre monster, the first coming on January 22, when a Jeffery Fengoe was out with his brother on the lake shore getting ready for a fishing trip. They heard a splashing in the water nearby and reportedly then saw a huge fish the size of a shark or dolphin with an enormous black tail. On February 1, there was another report when a man named Shane Quinn claimed to have seen some giant fish methodically pulling ducks down under the surface one by one. Then on August 21 of the same year, two fishermen saw a massive creature languidly swimming at the surface that had eyes the “size of basketballs” and a “striped, squirmy tail.” In early 2007, a man only known as Tyler, from Fox River Grove, IL, claimed that he had been tubing in the lake when he fell off his tube and waited for the boat to come back around. As he did so, he says that a serpent-like head rose 5 feet out of the water about 40 yards away from his position, causing him to swim towards the boat in a panic. The driver of the boat apparently saw the creature too, and it disappeared under the water when the witness was aboard. There was also a man who claims to have seen a 10-foot long “dinosaur-like creature” splashing about in the water of the lake as he was boating with some friends and some other harrowing reports, which were recently covered here at MU by my esteemed colleague Micah Hanks.
Considering the manmade nature of Lake Norman, there seems to be zero possibility that there is any sort of “dinosaur-like creature” residing there, or any truly large creature at all for that matter, yet there have been various theories proposed over the years as to what it might be, if anything. One of the most popular ideas is that these are introduced catfish that have reached truly gigantic proportions, which has been fueled by scattered reports of fishermen and divers encountering massive, car-sized catfish lurking in these waters, particularly near the dam. Other ideas are out of place alligators, alligator gar, Asian carp, or introduced sturgeon, all of which could be large enough and alien enough in appearance to startle those who saw them in the lake. More far out theories are that it is some sort of mutant abomination created by leaked radiation from the nuclear plant or some prehistoric monster lurking in subterranean caves below the lake. With no physical evidence as of yet, it is hard to say. In the meantime, the monster has become entrenched as a part of local lore, becoming affectionately known as “Normie.”
Perhaps almost as well known as the Norman Lake Monster is a creature that supposedly haunts Raystown Lake, of Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania, in the United States. Raystown Lake is the largest lake in Pennsylvania, and was originally constructed in 1905 as a hydroelectric project with the Raystown Dam, after which the dam was destroyed and the lake as seen today completed in 1973 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to control floods, provide electricity, and for recreational activities such as boating, swimming, mountain biking, scuba diving, and fishing to drive tourism.
Sightings of something strange in the lake have their beginnings near the original dam, where in 1962 there were several reports of enormous shadowy shapes lurking under the surface. Boaters also frequently reported something bumping up against their boats or sudden turbulence within the water for no discernible reason, and there were even more dramatic reports of some monstrous, serpentine creature some 50-60 feet long, with a long neck and reptilian head. The creature even supposedly caused the cancellation of the annual Raystown Ski Club Water Show one year, when it was allegedly seen by many witnesses prowling about by the ramps from which the water skiers would jump. The monster has gone on to be called “Raystown Ray,” and there is of course speculation as to what it could possibly be, such as an overgrown fish or freshwater eel. One Raystown Lake biologist named Jeff Krause has offered his thoughts on the enigmatic beast, saying:
I believe it must be a vegetarian. We have not seen any evidence of this animal taking fish, geese, otters, or ducks. So I would suggest that our swimmers and boaters are very safe. It appears this animal’s habits are similar to Manatees, which are completely herbivorous and gentle. The increase of weed beds around the lake is probably providing more food in the shallows for herbivores and that would increase sightings.
Considering all of the merchandise offered for Raystown Ray, including patches, t-shirts and postcards, and the fact that the lake never really did take off as quite the tourist destination it was envisioned as, this all smacks of perhaps a big publicity stunt, yet many of the sightings have supposedly been made by rather reliable witnesses, so who knows? Evidence is sparse, although these have been sporadic photos put forward allegedly showing the creature in action, all of them rather inconclusive, to say the least.
Joining the ranks of anomalous manmade lakes with their own purported monsters is Harriman Reservoir, in Windham County, Kentucky, which is supposedly home to a truly bizarre creature stalking its depths. The lake was created in 1965 by the damming of the Dix River. The creature in this case purportedly has the appearance of an eel-like beast, typically around 15 feet long, with a curly tail and a head reminiscent of that of a hog, and has become known for the incredible speeds at which it can travel. Indeed, it is sometimes reported as easily pacing speedboats, yet it is mostly believed to be a shy creature that prefers to keep to itself near the dam and rarely shows much more than its pig-like snout protruding over the surface of the water. As bizarre as the appearance of the Harriman Lake monster typically is, one recent sighting from 2015 seems to follow the mold of a more traditional lake monster sighting, in which local witness Martin Kasindorf described how he one afternoon heard his dogs barking and looked out to the lake to see a six-humped serpent of some sort offshore. He would say of his encounter:
Each hump was about six inches to a foot apart. It was a nice sunny afternoon, and the surface of the lake was calm. I could see the water lapping against them. At that point, the humps started moving and submerged. Then a few yards (to the right) I saw something straight, like a log, and brown moving quickly through the water. If it was a log, it was a log with a motor on it. This creature swam straight out on the surface, like a fast-propelled log. When it submerged, the whole body sank down at once, rather than the head diving down and a tail sticking up. And I didn’t see any feet, just a snakelike body.
The creature has been theorized to be anything from the remnant population of some ancient species trapped in the lake when the river was dammed, an unknown creature hiding in the limestone caves or subterranean caverns that potentially dot the bottom, an introduced species, or even otters swimming in a line. No one really knows.
Just about one of the weirdest stories to come from a manmade lake in recent times originates from Lake Thunderbird, in the U.S. state of Oklahoma. The lake is a reservoir in Norman, Oklahoma, completed in 1965 for the purpose of providing water to Del City, Midwest City and Norman, and is named for the mysterious Thunderbird of Native American legend. The large lake has supposedly long been plagued by an uncommonly large number of drownings, and this has often been blamed on a rather strange purported inhabitant of the lake, which strangely enough is said to also be present in nearby Lake Oolagah and Lake Tenkiller, which are manmade as well.
For years there have been persistent reports of a mysterious creature lurking within the lake that by all appearances seems to be an incredibly large octopus of some kind, with reddish-brown, leathery skin, tentacles, and a formidable beak. Dubbed “The Oklahoma Octopus,” it has been seen by many as the main culprit behind the many drownings and deaths associated with the lake. Stories like one report from 2007 of a boy who drifted too far from shore and then began to struggle as he exclaimed that something was pulling him down have only fueled such ideas, and there have been numerous reported sightings of just such a creature here. One rather interesting account comes from a commenter at the Discovery Channel website known as Trey, who said of his encounter:
I believe this "octopus" is real. I've seen it with my own eyes at a very young age. I do believe in it, but I do not believe it is an octopus. I think it is some sort of sea serpent. One day, me and my family were at Lake Thunderbird. We were packing up and starting to head home. Before we started walking to the car. I looked at the water one last time. What I saw was unusual. I saw a long, orange, wavy creature pop out of the water. I could not see its head as it had just put its head back in the water when I saw it. I tried to tell my family what I saw, but only one believed me. My mom. She caught a glimpse of the creature as well. I had no idea what I was witnessing. I had never heard of the "Oklahoma Octopus" at that time, so it was not my brain trying to put something I saw earlier into real life. I do not know what I saw. Whether it was the tentacle of an orange octopus, or a sea serpent, it was a terrifying experience.
The creature has nevertheless often been touted as some sort of species of large, freshwater octopus, but there is very little to show that such a creature does, or ever has, existed here. There are simply no known species of freshwater octopus, and if they do exist, then why have they found themselves in this trio of manmade lakes? The problem with this whole tale is how flavored it has become by an episode of Animal Planet’s Lost Tapes show in 2009. The show has been steadily criticized for presenting rather dramatized accounts of various cryptozoological creatures and is widely seen as one step above pure fiction.
The fact of the matter here is that many aspects of the Oklahoma Octopus that can be found online can be traced back to this episode. Other than this episode, which is presented as fact, there are very few other accounts to corroborate the claims, bar some comments on forums such as what I included above. Almost always everything comes back to that Lost Tapes episode, and this is worrying, although there are still other accounts that have crept in. Most glaring of these is an account that sees a group of five teenagers out on the lake to celebrate their graduation from high school. At some point, three of them are mysteriously pulled underwater by some unidentified creature and never seen again, and the two others bear injuries that seem to be sucker marks as if from a humongous octopus. Ever since, this case has been presented as fact by a variety of websites, and most searches of the Oklahoma Octopus will turn it up, but they all seem to come back to this episode. Did this incident ever really occur at all? It is unknown.
One researcher for the Centre for Fortean Zoology named Zachary Mann did quite a bit of delving into this matter, and noticed that the Lost Tapes episode seemed to liberally rip off the Stephen King story The Raft, which tells the tale of four college students on the titular raft on a lake at the end of summer. The group is then targeted one by one by a strange, oil-like entity which absorbs its victims. In addition to this, many of the supposedly vanished men in the Lost Tapes episode, a Bruce Del Roy, Ruthie Simple, and Tyler Shuman, frequently turn up as factual disappearances on the lake, yet only seem to be ever mentioned in the Lost Tape episode. Coincidence or not?
In the end, the question of whether the Oklahoma Octopus was ever real or not has obviously been tainted by that damned Lost Tapes episode, which has compromised other reports that may or may not be valid. One wonders just how much veracity it had, whether they did any real research into it, or whether it was all purely fictional. In this day of the Internet it is easy for such tall tales to be picked up as truth and spread around like wildfire, so it is hard to know how much stock to put into the accounts of the Lake Thunderbird Monster. In this sense it seems to be more of an urban legend, a fate that it perhaps shares with some of these other accounts.
Is that what all of these creatures amount to? Urban legend? After all, a manmade lake is hardly the place where one would expect to find some sort of large, undiscovered creature. Just what are these witnesses seeing? Is there any rationale for this at all or is it all legend, lore, and tall tales? Or is it something else entirely? Whatever the answer may be, it certainly goes to illustrate that the lake monster phenomenon shoots way past the strange into the utterly bizarre. There seems to be no limit as to where these mysterious beasts may turn up, no rational logic at all as to where they might be sighted. If they can be seen in such manmade lakes, and these accounts are true, then this is an aspect of the world of cryptozoology that is baffling to say the least.