Posts Tagged ‘cryptids’

Here’s another selection from my latest book, Wyrmflight, a Hoard of Dragon Lore. Enjoy!

Sea Monsters! Part 3

Over centuries, ship’s captains and residents reported sighting a sea monster near Cape Ann and Gloucester Harbor, Massachusetts. The earliest known report dates to 1638; the most recent was in 1962. In some cases, English settlers wanted to attack the creature, but Native Americans pleaded with them not to make it angry.

The most active period for the Gloucester Serpent was in 1817, when more than 100 people reported seeing it over a month’s time. Every one of them described it as a sea serpent. Some said it had a horse’s head with a great horn projecting out. Others said it was a turtle’s head with huge eyes and a horn. The creature was said to be between 80 and 100 feet long. Its scaly body was jointed all the way down, so it could turn back upon itself at any point. Some witnesses said it could coil itself up like a cable. Others compared it to a row of floats on a net, or a set of casks.

What was it? Nobody knew! Bear in mind, Gloucester was a center of the fishing industry. The people of the town certainly should have been able to identify what they were looking at. This time, people did try to kill it, but their musket balls had no effect.

Nevertheless, this visitation created enormous interest. Newspapers did many articles, and the New England Linnaean Society (a natural history organization) appointed a committee to gather facts about the sea serpent. They proposed a scientific name, Scoliophis atlanticus. Without a specimen for study, little more could be done.

Still, the Gloucester Serpent remains one of the best documented cryptid events in North American history.

Wyrmflight: A Hoard of Dragon Lore — $4.99 e-book or $17.99 trade paperback. Available at Amazon or Draft2Digital.

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“Mysterious Creatures that May or May Not Exist,” reads the subtitle. Well, what kid could resist that??

Tales of the Cryptids is a nonfiction book that attempts to document strange and legendary creatures from all over the world. Full disclosure — the author is a good friend of mine. She has a knack for finding weird and fascinating subjects to explore. Although I’m a skeptic of some topics she’s covered, like Sasquatch and Alien Encounters, she doesn’t cheerlead for uncritical acceptance of pseudo-science. Halls, a former reporter, provides good documentation that balances those fascinating legends with possible real-world explanations. She always encourages the child reader to ask questions. That alone is remarkable and much needed in the modern world.

Part of the book is devoted to sea serpents and lake monsters. My favorites! She covers the Loch Ness Monster, but also mentions the Stronsay Beast, “Champy” of Lake Champlain fame, and similar sightings in the Altamaha River, Georgia (USA). Coverage includes interviews with scientists who are trying to rule out the most obvious possibilities. Halls presents popular theories, such as that the Stronsay Beast may have been a partly decomposed basking shark, or that Nessie is a surviving plesiosaur.

Best of all, for me, is an awesome map showing reputed water monsters all over the globe. Some I’ve heard of and some I haven’t. A great reason to to search out information on these mysterious creatures. If you have a curious youngster between about 8 and 14, I whole-heartedly recommend Tales of the Cryptids.

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This is a novelty book, published in 1982, by Paul and Karin Johnsgard. They are a father and daughter team who wrote just this one book together. Paul is a zoology professor (now retired) who penned numerous books on ornithology and similar wildlife topics. Evidently he decided to take a walk on the fun side and do a what-if book with his daughter, Karin. Paul also created the illustrations, which are pen and ink and very much natural-history style.

The premise is to treat mythical beasts the way they would real ones. So they posit that dragons are cryptids (unknown creatures) descended from dinosaurs. There are breakdowns of several varieties, distinguishing lake dragons from flying dragons and flightless dragons. Interesting ideas are presented about dragon habitats and behaviors, and reasons for the age-old conflict with humans. They weave in as many traditional folk beliefs about dragons as they can.

Perhaps most interesting is the explanation they offer for fire-breath. According to the Johnsgards, this is the result of dragons being mostly vegetarian. Dragons digest greenery through fermentation, which generates methane gas. To prevent painful bloating, the methane is isolated in a secondary stomach. It can be expelled slowly while breathing or in bursts for self-defense.

This book is fun, in a dry and reserved way that is appropriate for a faux nature documentary. I don’t recommend it for kids because of the sparse illustration, but teens and adults with a wry sense of humor should get a smile out of Dragons and Unicorns, A Natural History.

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The last stop on my tour of Famous Lake Monsters brings me back to the good ol’ USA. Lake Champlain is a large, deep lake that lies along the northern border between New York and Vermont, with a small portion extending into Quebec, Canada. Native American tribes knew of a mysterious creature living in the lake from ancient times. Its name among the Abenaki tribe was Tatoskok. Contemporary Vermonters and New Yorkers call it Champ.

Champ’s physical description is quite like that of Nessie and Ogopogo: a big beastie with a very long neck and one or more humps sticking out of the water. The similarity leads optimists to believe that all three lake dwellers are part of a single species — a plesiosaur or ancient whale that somehow clung to existence into modern times. Skeptics counter that this image of the long-necked lake monster has become so widespread that everyone “knows” what a lake monster looks like and therefore repeats it automatically.

The earliest published Champ report dates from 1883, when Sherriff Nathan Mooney claimed he was standing on the shore and saw a “gigantic water serpent” which he estimated to be 25 or 30 feet long. After Mooney’s report became public, other local people came forward with tales of their own sightings. (This was 50 years before Nessie’s big debut, in 1933.)

The legend continued to grow. In july of 1819, a newspaper called the Plattsburgh Republican, reported that a “Captain Crum” had seen a gigantic serpent. This article tried to relate Champ with the 1817 sea serpent sightings at Cape Ann, Massachusetts, which I talked about earlier this summer.

By the end of the 19th Century, stories about Champ were so widespread that P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 to anyone who sold him a Champ body he could display in his circus. (Can you imagine the taxidermist trying to preserve an animal that size??) The bounty was never collected.

As with Nessie and Ogopogo, photographs and recordings claiming to show Champ have appeared. The most famous of these was taken by Sandra Mansi in 1977. Her color photograph appears to show a dark gray body and long neck with small head. A video recorded by two fishermen in 2005 shows similar features. In both cases, nobody could conclusively identify what was in the pictures.

As in Loch Ness, investigators have used sonar and similar advanced equipment to search Lake Champlain’s depths. One such attempt yielded an audio recording of echolocation calls, captured at three separate locations within the lake. Experts reported that the calls were similar to those of Orca or Beluga whales, but couldn’t tie them to any real animal. Neither species of whale is known to inhabit Lake Champlain.

Regardless of scientific findings, Champ’s legend is dear to the people living around Lake Champlain. A baseball team in Vermont is named after Champ, and lakeside towns use the creature as a theme for community festivals. Champ-related tourism is dear to the local economy, too. One alleged sighting, by Frenchman Samuel de Champlain in 1609, was traced to a 1970 magazine article, evidence of how contemporary writers can add to a legend.

In the end, lake monsters are just like every other form of dragon in folklore. We love the idea of them, that beautiful lakes can hide terrifying beasts. The mystery and the fruitless search are part of the thrill.

May it ever be so.

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The second most influential lake monster in the world hails from Canada. Ogopogo is the legendary inhabitant of Lake Okanagan, British Columbia. Native Americans of the region called it Naitaka (“lake demon”) and told white settlers about it from the 19th Century on.

Eye witnesses describe Ogopogo as between 40 and 50 feet long, with several humps showing above the water surface. Many sightings take place around Rattlesnake Island, near Peachland, BC. However, the most famous sighting was in 1926, at Mission Beach, when 30 cars full of people all reported seeing the creature.

A man named Art Folden took a home movie in 1968, which showed a large wake moving across the water, but no clear image of what made the wake. And as recently as 2011, a person with a cel phone captured video of two large objects moving beneath the surface. Again, they could not be identified.

The name, Ogopogo, comes from a 1924 popular song, The Ogo-Pogo, a Funny Fox-Trot. Nobody is sure how the song got to be connected to the lake monster, but it’s fitting because Ogopogo has penetrated into popular culture even more than Nessie.

The legend has been explored in documentary and weird-science shows such as In Search Of (1978) and Unsolved Mysteries (1989), National Geographic’s Is It Real (2005) and Destination Truth (2010). Ogopogo has been a fictional character in episodes of X-Files (1996) and Monster Quest (2009). Anime, video games, children’s books and urban fantasy novels all include or make reference to Ogopogo.

Theories abound on Ogopogo’s true identity. Long-lost plesiosaurs, pre-historic whales, and sturgeon (an impressive fish that can grow to 12 feet long; however, sturgeon are not found in Lake Okanagan). As with most cryptids, no body has ever been recovered, and thus no scientific identification can be made. We are left to wonder what Ogopogo really is… and that’s the best part!

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When you’re talking about lake monsters, one name probably comes to your mind: Nessie, a.k.a. the Loch Ness Monster. Sightings have been reported around Loch Ness since the 6th Century.

According to the legend, an Irish monk named Columba was traveling among the Picts who inhabited the region, presumably in an effort to convert them from their Pagan ways. Columba and his companions came across a funeral near the River Ness. They were told that the dead man had been killed by a water monster. Columba sent one of his friends to swim across the river and back. Sure enough, a great beast pursued the man. Columba confronted the creature, made the sign of the cross, and commanded it to leave. The great beast fled before him, and the monk was later beatified as Saint Columba.

Other reports have been made over the centuries, but the monster became famous after a series of sightings in 1933. On July 22nd of that year, Mr. and Mrs. George Spicer were driving beside the lake when they saw a huge creature (perhaps 25 feet long) with a long neck (perhaps 10 feet) crossing the road in front of them. It lurched across the road and into the loch, leaving trampled vegetation in its wake.

One month later, a man named Arthur Grant claimed that he nearly crashed into something while riding his motorcycle along the lake road at 1:00 a.m. Grant, too, described a huge body and long neck, adding that the beast had seal-like fins rather than feet.

History shows that the road along Loch Ness had only been completed in spring of 1933, allowing more people into what had been a quiet rural area. It also allowed word of these incidents reached British newspapers, where they aroused great interest. Ever since then, people have gone to Loch Ness hoping to see something incredible.

Beginning in November of 1933, photographs began to appear alleged to capture Nessie’s image. The most famous of these is from 1934, when a Dr. Wilson claimed he had been viewing the lake, saw the monster, and rushed for his camera. The resulting image was printed in newspapers and contributed to the sensation.

The so-called “Surgeon’s Photo” has been a focus of investigation in the decades since. Many theories describe explanations from innocent (the image of a circus elephant swimming, with its trunk out of the water so it could breathe) to deliberate fakery (a log being towed with one branch sticking up).

Many more photos have appeared over the years, and later home movies and video recordings have added to the legend. In most cases, there’s no background to these images. This makes it impossible to tell if the video was taken at Loch Ness or somewhere else, to say nothing of how large or small the objects in the videos may be.

Further explorations at Loch Ness have incorporated sonar and other modern equipment. In 2011, Marcus Atkinson showed sonar images of a 5-foot-wide object following his boat at 75 feet depth. Again, skeptical explanations abounded (a mat of algae floating on the currents).

Despite it all, the legend of Nessie as a giant, long-necked, finned beastie lives on. Today, Nessie even has an official web site and keeps an online diary. Check it out here — and keep watching the water!

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It’s still summer, it’s still hot, and I’m longing to go to the lake. We’ve already talked about sea serpents, so this time let’s talk about lake monsters!

In their own way, lakes are as beautiful and mysterious as the sea. The surface is deceptive. You can’t tell what’s under there most of the time. Hidden objects can suddenly break the surface — even large objects like floating logs. The water is constantly shifting, so things bob and float, distorted by swells. Whether on a boat or a dock, you often don’t know what’s coming toward you. It could be a floating log with a branch sticking up… or it could be a lake monster!

There is an amazing variety of legends and myths about monsters living in lakes.
This list, from a Wikipedia article, includes folklore from 28 countries. The greatest number of reputed lake monsters is in the United States, by far, with 27 on the list (and that doesn’t include a report I was already aware of). Canada, with 19 entries, comes in second. In fact, nearly every big lake in North America seems to have its own mysterious critter.

The cynic in me wants to point out that it’s in affluent countries, like the US, that people have enough time to sit around at their lake cabins, maybe with a drink or two, and see things in the twilight… But! Where’s the fun in that?

The two main kinds of lake monsters are crocodile-like, low-slung with huge jaws, or dragon-like, long and thin with smaller heads on very long necks. There are any number of theories as to that they are. Surviving dinosaurs or whales! Elephants swimming! Floating logs! Large fish! Or some kind of prank…

But you and I know the truth — they are dragons, coming up for a visit. Next time, I’ll talk about some famous lake monsters from North America and beyond.

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