In 1674, the naturalist John Josselyn published in London, An Account of Two Voyages to New England. He recounts (pg. 22) how on June 26, 1639 he was told of a sea serpent or snake that was seen coiled up in the water near the rocks of Cape Ann. Some Englishmen wanted to shoot it, but were stopped by the Indians who said of the serpent, “If he were not killed outright, they would all be in danger of their lives.” So the tales of alleged sea serpents often go—seen by many, caught by few. Figments of the imagination or elusive creatures that have kept to depths to avoid man?
Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 1895
On September 3, 1817 the Adams Centinel printed the following story on page 3. “The Sea Serpent – Boston, August 23. The serpent was seen yesterday morning off Kettle Island between Manchester and Cape Ann: he was following & feasting on a large school of alewives. The arrangements made in Cape Ann to take him, were ready for operation yesterday morning; and if skill, courage and strong apparatus, can effect the desired object, their success is certain.” Captain Beach Jr., who had seen the animal more than a dozen times attested to the fact that the serpent was seventy feet long, and the width of a flour barrel. The article goes on to say, “A committee of the Linnman Society, we learn, will repair to Cape Ann this day, to collect information so interesting to natural history.” Lower down on the page in the same column was a sighting from Salem. “Our Sea Serpent, as he is called, is still near our shore. … Whether he will be taken remains doubtful. .. We learn that a party, well prepared will proceed this morning from Marblehead, for the purpose of attacking this formidable vesicant of our Shores.”
On September 11, 1817 the Ohio Repository published the following story on page 3. “The Sea Serpent Taken! Extract of a letter. New York, Aug. 28. The Sea Monster is taken – he is 95 feet long, and much thicker than a flour barrel. He was taken by seventeen men, it has made more noise here than anything else.”
The numerous sightings in the month of August that year, almost on a daily basis, caused the Linnaean Society to publish its findings called a Report relative to the appearance of a large marine monster, supposed to be a sea-serpent, seen near Cape Ann, Massachusetts, in August of that year. Eleven witnesses of high regard gave depositions on what they saw, all of the observations were similar in description. The incidents of 1817 would today be considered a media event. The amount of public attention, sightings, and documentation, that lead to the eventual capture of this serpent seems almost impossible to attribute to just a myth.
Long Island Sound
In 1878 and for ten years after, sea serpents were becoming regular visitors in the Long Island Sound. On September 5th of that year the New York Times printed the account of Mr. Kelly, an assistant engineer on the steamboat, State of New York. The seas serpent was spotted at 7 o’clock in the evening between Huntington on the Long Island side, and Stratford on the Connecticut shore. Mr. Kelly, being a “sober, trustworthy man,” was not doubted. They did not believe he was of the character to fabricate the story.
Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 1895 (pg.2)
Another ten years passed before the “Sound Sea Serpent” returned. In July of 1885 the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported a sea serpent that had been encounter by Messers. Burrows and Stokes, and a half a dozen young men who had gone out sailing from Hempstead harbor. They were 1000 feet beyond the steamboat dock and headed toward the Glen Cove breakwater when they saw a long black object. At first they had thought it was a log in the water, until they got closer. The bumps in the water were not a log, but some sea creature 75 –100 feet in length. As they turned the boat about to head back to shore, the serpent in a swirl of water disappeared. Momentarily startled, they did not move. A few minutes later it appeared above the surface of the water about 40 feet ahead of them and in the way of their return to shore. It moved rapidly in the water barely creating a wake as it swam in the direction of Long Island. They were not the only ones to sport the serpent. Summer residents, H.L. Lewis and R.P. Speed, while on the bluff of Sea Cliff looking toward the Sande Point shore saw some strange movement in the middle of the bay. They could visible see 50 feet of its length from where they were. They described it as swimming in a “graceful, sinuous motion”. At the time of this article there had already been six sightings, two within the week at Hempstead Harbor. The following summer the sea serpent was seen again in company of another. The Eagle reported again in December of 1886 that the officers and the crew of the Danish steamer Thingvalla saw what they believed to be a serpent in the waters upon their arrival in New York.
Brooklyn Eagle, July 24, 1895 (pg. 2)
Another sea serpent calls Lake Erie its home. It was reported in the Lorain County Reporter (Ohio) on July 23, 1892 that Capt. Wood of the steamer Downing, while on its way to Toledo from Buffalo, saw something thrashing the waters of Lake Erie into foam. As they approached closer, it stretched out to the length of 50 feet. It was what could only be described as a sea serpent. It was about four feet in circumference, swimming with its head a few feet above the surface of the water. The creature’s body was brown in color, with a large head and sparkling eyes. In 1931 a monster of similar nature, 20 feet in length, was captured by Clifford Wilson and Francis Cogenstose of Ohio in Sandusky Bay along Lake Erie. The New York Times reported the story. The local police captain, along with three other witnesses saw the monster after it was captured, brought to shore, and put into a packing crate. What happened to it after that is anybody’s guess.
Silver Lake, a 761-acre body of water, is situated in the town of Castile in Wyoming County, NY. A small portion of the northern tip of the lake was allotted to the village of Perry early in its history for business and pleasure access to the lake. Mary Jemison hid her family amidst the alders at the foot of this Lake when General Sullivan led his campaign of destruction through the Genesee Valley in 1779. The village on the end of Silver Lake was called Ga-na-yat and was frequented by the Seneca in the summer months for hunting and trapping. The legend of the Silver Lake Sea Serpent, however, predates the village of Ga-na-yat. It was said the lake held a serpent that was drawn forth by any unusual noise, and would pull anyone by the shore to the depths below. It was therefore best to keep silent by the shores of the lake. One night a terrible storm rolled in, thunder and lightening cracked, and a bolt struck the lake forcing the sea serpent from the water. Now partly upon the shore, the fearless braves killed the monster with a volley of arrows.
Postcard – Collection of the Wyoming County Historian’s Office
In July of 1855, at 9 o’clock at night a group of men were fishing on Silver Lake. A dozen yards from the boat Mr. McKnight eyed what he thought was a log 80-100 feet in length when he exclaimed, “Boys! That thing is moving!” Though only a short distance away, it was dark, but the men were able to make out its horrible head and tail slashing about in the water. The story of course made the local papers. The New York Daily Times carried the story on July 23, 1855. As the sightings grew and the story spread across the county, people traveled hundreds of miles in hopes of seeing or capturing the Silver Lake Sea Serpent. In 1857 when the barn burned at Walker’s hotel, an interesting discovery was made—a 60 foot green serpent made of canvas and coil wire. The hoax was created in 1855 by Mr. Walker to stir business to his hotel. Although this explains the events of 1855, it does not explain the countless other sightings from years before. The locals of Perry and Castile are fond of their serpent, and many signs, banners, you name it, in the town bear his likeness. You can watch a video from WGRZ (Buffalo, NY) news that gives more details of the story.
Based on the many accounts of sea serpents in our oceans and lakes, over hundreds of years, it would appear by the descriptions they all have some common features. They are 60-100 feet in length, dark color skin, large flat turtle or horse-like head, humps that rise and fall in the water as it swims skimming the surface, a slender neck and wider body that narrowed to its tail, and sometimes two small fins on either side towards the top of its body. So in case you‘re out to enjoy a sail on the late summer waters and you see something like the description above, you will know, that just possibly, you are in the presence of a sea serpent.