Illustration from The Century Magazine, Feb. 1882, Vol. XXIII, Issue 4.
If you still think sea serpents are part of ancient myths then you need to inform our modern day scientists and oceanographers. What used to be attributed to Indian lore and public imagination is now being viewed as early firsthand accounts of sea serpent sightings. The scientific term for the study of such creatures is Cryptozoology, the study of hidden animals that are based on myth and eyewitness accounts.
Sea Serpents are not restricted to the sea. They also have been known to inhabit rivers that connect to the sea and even inland lakes. In 1874, The Manufacturer & Builder Magazine published an article in Vol. VI on a sea serpent that had been seen in the St. Lawrence River. The incident was relayed as follows, “For some time, says a Canadian paper, the aboriginal inhabitants of the rural village of St. Regis have had their peace of mind disturbed and memories brought to the surface of the superstitious times when their fathers feared the Manitou, by the sudden appearance on the surface of the river of a great sea monster.” Three “white braves,” as the article says, were sent out to investigate. The nay-sayers dismissed the sightings, and claimed what the Indians really saw was the result of gas rushing to the surface forcing up old logs and sawdust from the mills, the gas causing the water to boil and bob the debris around in the water. This explanation however, sounds more illogical than seeing a yet undocumented sea creature.
The serpent of the St. Lawrence Seaway was written about again in 1892 in an article called “The Great Unknown” in The Century Magazine, Vol. XLIV (New Series Vol. 22). After citing accounts from the Boston area the article goes on to say, “The eminent geologists, Dr. Dawson of Montreal, Canada, gives an instance which ranges near the above in the circumstances: A sea-monster appeared at Maringomish, in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, judged to be a hundred feet in length. It was seen by two intelligent observers, nearly aground, in calm waters, within two hundred feet of the beach.”
Many of the lakes in and around New York State harbor their own stories of sea serpents. In the southwest corner of the town of Alabama in Genesee County, NY is a small body of water called Diver’s Lake. It is named for the man who owned the property in the 1900s. It has been known locally by many names over the years including Spirit Lake. It is marked on early Alabama maps also as Indian Pond and Devil’s Hole. It derives most of its names from Seneca Indian legend. The territory on which it sits was part of the original territory of the Tonawanda Band of Seneca. This is a small glacial lake that is fed by spring water. Legend also says it is bottomless. Although the lake itself is not very deep, the story that has been passed down is that it contains subterranean channels. It is also the home of a sea serpent called by the Seneca, Sais-tah-go-wa who required a tribute of sacred tobacco.
Arthur C. Parker wrote about the serpent in his work on The Life of General Ely S. Parker (Buffalo Historical Society:1919, Pg. 59), that even the whiteman feared Spirit Lake. The legend says that an Indian maiden was to be sacrificed to the serpent. Her lover, who did not want to be separated, paddled his canoe out to be with her. A warring tribe who had come to attack the Tonawanda’s village saw the serpent rise out of the water to devour the lovers. Although the hostile tribe tried to kill the serpent, they failed, and the serpent disappeared taking the maiden and her lover to the depths along with it. Their spirits, it is said, can still be heard along the banks of the lake at night. Is this solely a legend or a story based on fact? I will leave this for you, the reader, to ponder the next time you find yourself out sailing alone on a boat in seeming calm waters.