The Cleveland Monsters minor league hockey team was originally called the Lake Erie Monsters and named for a mythical lake serpent first reported in 1793 by the captain of a sloop who claimed to have seen a snake-like creature in Lake Erie measuring over 16 feet (5 meters) in length. Other sightings by ships soon followed, with three reports in 1817 of lake serpents measuring from 30 feet (9 meters) to 60 feet (18 meters). Ironically, just 11 years later, a ship named the Lake Serpent, complete with a serpent figurehead, sank near what is now Sandusky, killing all onboard. Coincidence or another monster tale?
We may soon find out.
The Toledo Blade reports that in July 2015, Tom Kowalczk, the director of remote sensing for the nonprofit Cleveland Underwater Explorers (CLUE), used side-scan sonar to find an underwater anomaly (photos here) east of Kelleys Island, an historic limestone outcropping that was occupied by Native Americans during the 17th century before it was taken over during the War of 1812 to eventually became an exporter of stone, fruit and lumber. Stone is what the 47-foot Lake Serpent was carrying on its last trip from South Bass Island, west of Kelleys Island, east to Cleveland which at that time was a small port with a population of around 1,000.
It’s assumed that the Lake Serpent sank in a storm. The bodies of two crew members washed ashore in nearby Lorain County a week later. But the bodies of the other two crewmen have never been found and could still be in the boat, although after so many years, there may not be much left. The location of what Kowalczk and the National Museum of the Great Lakes believe is the Lake Serpent is being kept secret until an Indiegogo project raises the necessary $13,000 to fund a diving excursion in July.
According to Cleveland.com, the divers will be looking for the distinctive figurehead, which will identify the wreck as the Lake Serpent and not the Fair Play or the Victor, two similar ships lost in Lake Erie and also never found.
Is there any link to the Lake Serpent and the Lake Erie monster? As the shallowest of the Great Lakes, Erie is also the roughest and has the most shipwrecks. And the Lake Serpent was carrying stone – not exactly the kind of cargo you can dump during a storm. However, some of the recorded shipwrecks defy explanation. Why not a lake monster? The earliest sightings and some of the later ones are in the Sandusky and Kelleys Island area where the Lake Serpent might be. After a number of alleged sightings in the 1980s, a contest gave it the name South Bay Bessie or just Bessie. There’s some speculation that the early sightings could be a lake sturgeon – a once-abundant fish that was brought to near extinction before being restored in small numbers – but lake sturgeons top out at 7 feet in length and most Bessie reports start at 30 feet and described it as snakelike, serpentine or Loch Ness Monster-ish -- not a big fish.
For now, the Lake Serpent and the Lake Erie monster named Bessie are both missing. Which one will show up first?