Tuesday 5 June 2018

The Lake Minnetonka Monster

This is a story 'bout Minnie the Monster.
     Sorry! I couldn't resist that. Readers of my generation will recognize a parody of a popular song. In any case, one of the strange mysteries of cryptozoology is how certain lakes gain a reputation as being the habitation of a monster, which only reappear at very long intervals. Take Lake Minnetonka, Minnesota, for example. It's adjacent to the huge St. Paul-Minneapolis conurbium, for heaven's sake! - hardly the site you'd predict for a self-respecting monster to hide. I know the Wikipedia says that a big sturgeon called Lou is supposed to dwell there, but this is small fry. I'm talking about Minnie, and she's big!

        Here's a drawing of Minnie. It was taken from the St Paul Daily Globe of Tuesday morning, May 31, 1887. You can read it here, but let me make it easier by publishing it on this blog.
Unless the Eyes of Reliable Witnesses Have Been Deceived.
Dwellers at Lake Minnetonka Say They Saw a Monster
With a Terrible Head and Fins That Moved Like Wings.
 A Great Leviathan Sporting the Big Water This Year.
On Several Occasions He Has Lashed the Lake to Foam.
The General Topic of Conversation at the Lake.
     Snake stories are always disbelieved, save by those who actually come in contact with representative reptiles, and the writer of a communication to the GLOBE doubtless felt the same way, for he not only signed his own name, but gave information which yielded good fruit in an investigation. In the mail that reached the GLOBE Saturday was the following missive: :
Wayzata, Minn., May 27, 1887.
DAILY GLOBE, St.Paul, Minn, Inclosed we send you a picture of the lake serpent as seen by a party of fishermen in Lake Minnetonka on the evening of the 23th inst. The immensity of this strange amphibious animal frightened the party from the lake. We have the names of about fifteen persons that have seen this serpent.
MARTIN V. HENRY, one of the party.
     The picture referred to was a pen and ink sketch of a monster not unlike a gigantic snake with two fore paws, or flippers, and a forked tail similar to that usually delineated in representations of the prince of darkness, and in the middle of the body were two gigantic fins, which at first glance, looked like wings. The dimensions of the monster were given as thirty feet [9 metres] in length and about as large round the belly as a full-grown man.
     Armed with the document and picture a representative of the GLOBE set out for Wayzata and was fortunate enough to find, upon leaving the cars at the depot, an eye-witness of the maneuvers of the monster in the person of A. P. Dickey, at present engaged in building a bridge across Shafer's narrows, a point opposite to Wayzata on the west. According to his statement, several days ago while at work on the bridge with Messrs. George McLean and Jacob Snow, the narrator saw what at first looked like a log moving down Lake Minnetonka from Cedar point.
    "You will all say this is another snake story," he said, looking around at a group of open-mouthed rustics who had been attracted by the advent of a stranger and a note book, "but what I am telling you I saw with my own eyes. My companions on the bridge did not see the thing, whatever it was, until I directed their attention to it, and finally it came within 200 yards of us. Raising its head several feet, for by this time it gave unmistakable signs of life, the monster began to thresh the water violently, and that
     "Closer inspection made it look like the head and fore-shoulders of an alligator, for it came within six or seven rods [33 to 38½ yards] of the bridge before it finally dived out of sight, and we did not see it rise again."
     All the details were listened to with the deepest attention by the crowd now gathered about the story-teller, who was an honest-looking, well-dressed fellow, and too much in earnest with his subject to give the faintest suspicion of intoxication. Then it occurred to one of the group that a lady named Thurston had also said something about seeing a monster last Saturday in the lake. A walk of a few minutes over a pleasant stretch of sward soon brought the GLOBE's representative to a brown painted cottage on a bluff overlooking the lake and surrounding country.
   In response to a knock at the cottage door Farmer Thurston appeared and ushered his visitor into the parlor, where the mistress of the house was sitting.
    "Last Saturday afternoon, the 21st of May," she began, "just after the shower, I had occasion to go to the edge of the bluff to look after my children. I did not see them for a few minutes, and stopped to listen for sounds from them. While thus waiting my attention was attracted to what at first seemed to be the struggles of a man drowning in the lake, a few feet beneath where I stood: The water was lashed to a foam by something, and while I looked more intently, I saw it come up out of the water with head erect, several feet. What I thought were two flippers were moving continually, and I at once saw that it was a snake, or big water monster of some kind. It turned over several times, showing it to be very long, and kept me fascinated by the unusual spectacle for several minutes. There were no boats or fishermen near by, the storm of a few minutes before having driven them all ashore, and I could not call any one to see the monster. As soon as my husband returned from his work I related to him what had occurred, but he advised me to keep it quiet; as people would think it was only an optical illusion. I saw the reptile, or what ever you might term it, as plainly as I ever saw anything in my life, and it was fully thirty feet long and as large round as a man's body. Mrs. Gallagher, up on the hill, has also seen the monster, but she was closer to it than myself and saw its outlines better."
    A trudge up a steep declivity to the Arlington hotel, which covers a high bluff on the Huntington estate, was rewarded by a sight of Mrs. Mary A. Gallagher, who is in charge of the premises, and she promptly acceded to a request to tell what she knew about the lake terror.
   "One afternoon I was down on the wharf below the boat house with my children," said Mrs. Gallagher, "and they were amusing themselves wading and splashing about in the water. Several other children were with them engaged in the same manner, when something caused me to look up suddenly. What at first looked to me like a colored man floating in shore caused me to shout to the children, 'There is a man swimming toward you; come ashore.' My first impression was that some one had jumped off the steamer, intending to have a swim, and as I did not want to see him land I naturally called to my children. At first they misunderstood me, but eventually they saw the object which was now several feet above the surface of the water, and they screamed with terror. Their shouts evidently spared the serpent, for such it appeared to be, having a large flat head with what seemed to be bushy black hair, and it lashed the water violently and disappeared. I was very much frightened, and a party of fishermen, attracted by our noise on shore, looked up from their lines, and as they did so the monster passed their boat. One of the ladies of the party screamed in terror, but the snake swam by without attempting to injure anybody. At least that was what they told me when they came ashore. I could have at one time hit the serpent with a long stick, for it was not further from me than the length of this room, about twenty-five feet [7½ m], and I distinguished its eyes to be light. Its belly glistened as it turned over apparently, and the color seemed about that of a catfish, and I should say it was between twenty-five and thirty feet long. This was my first, and I hope, it will be my last, look at the serpent or whatever it was."
     Conversations with numerous denizens of the locality elicited the information that the people whose statements have been given were thoroughly reliable, but they had refrained from repeating their experiences, because they feared the ridicule that might follow.
     But the adventure of the fishing party the evening of the 23d inst. had recalled the incident more vividly than ever, and now it was the principal topic of discussion whenever a party assembled for the evening. No fishing party at Wayzata considers its make-up complete unless there is a heavily-loaded gun in the bow of the boat ready for use, and many of the fishermen have additional security in the form of revolvers worn around their waists.
     It seems our friend make further appearances in the following decade, but I have no information on that period. But when she came back in 1914, the news even reached Australia. The earliest report appeared in the Journal (Adelaide) of Saturday 20 June 1914, on page 7.
    After an absence of 17 years, Lake Minnetonka's sea serpent has reappeared on the waters of Lake Minnetonka, according to numerous residents of the village of Wayzata. At least, it is generally believed that it was the same old serpent, although some admit that it might be the son or grandson of the original marine monster that invaded the otherwise peaceful lake about 1895. On the present visit it appeared twice one day and once the next. It was seen by nearly a dozen persons, including the postmaster, the telephone operator, business men and others.
     All agreed that the " thing"'
    Was from 12 to 20 ft. [3.6 to 6 metres] long.
    Swam at either 30 or 60 miles an hour [48 to 96 kph].
    Was at one time within 40 rods [220 yards] of the shore.
    Had a snakelike head "as big as a bucket."
    Had four or five black fins that kept rising and falling.
    Beat the water into a froth when it swam.
    The uncanny-looking visitor, according to those who saw it, first appeared at 11.30 a.m. 40 rods off Wayzata dock. It turned and swam rapidly across the bay in the direction of Breezy Point, turned and started back, observers said. In the afternoon the strange creature was seen, this time far out in the bay and only for a few seconds, and then it seemed to sink back into the lake. Its third and last appearance was at 7.15 a.m. the next day, when a lone telephone girl, completing her nights work, glanced out of the window of the telephone exchange, and saw the same old "serpent" speeding through the water toward Breezy Point at a great rate.
    Frederick Rodner, of the firm of Bradshaw & Rodner, was the fortunate individual who first spotted the visitor when it made its initial appearance.
   "The 'thing' was about 40 rods off shore at that time," he said. "The hour was just 11.30 a.m., and E. G. Braden, the postmaster, was with me.
   "When I saw it first it apparently had just turned toward Breezy Point, and was speeding away in that direction. I called to Mr. Braden and pointed it out to him. Others soon gathered. We watched the thing cross the bay at lightning speed. It was lost to sight somewhere near Cedar Point.
    "The 'thing' swam 60 miles an hour. It was about 16 ft.[4.9 metres] long and had five black fins that kept rising and falling above the water as it swam. It left a trail of froth as it hurried along, and could be still be seen when a mile away. It had a head like a snake. A man can't remember everything at a time of great excitement like that."
    The postmaster (E. G. Braden) confirmed Mr. Rodner's story except as to dimensions and speed. "The 'thing" was from 12 to 20 ft. long," he said, "and moved through the water at the rate of at least 30 miles an hour. I won't try to say what it was. It looked like a serpent ought to look. It was black, and had a head like a snake. At least that was the way it looked to us. At first I thought it was four ducks swimming in single file. But there are no ducks that I ever heard of that can swim 30 miles an hour, and be seen more than a mile away."
     In the little telephone exchange at Wayzata, the day operators saw the "thing."
    "It was terrible looking," said Miss Alexa Shaw, one of the operators. "It was half way across the bay when I first saw it. It had a head as big as a bucket, and shaped exactly like a snake's head. It kept this head raised out of the water all the time rubbering. It swam very fast,and disappeared near Cedar Point. It had four black fins."
     Miss Eulalia Bleakley, another telephone operator, said she saw the strange visitor.
    What can one say? In the 1880s, journalistic practical jokes were not unknown, but I doubt if they would be audacious enough to quote several inhabitants of a small village, where everybody knew everybody else. Also, by 1914, the age of journalistic hoaxes was more or less past. Therefore, we must conclude that several people was conspiring to lie through their teeth, or they really saw something odd. But what?
     I have said before that a lake monster which appears only at very long intervals cannot be an air breather. In the first case, no snake has fins on its side, and no eel is anywhere as long as described, nor does any possess a lobed tail. Also, I cannot help feeling that the 1914 Minnie was a different one to the 1887 one, due to the presence of four or five fins. Note, too, that their rising up and down indicates that the animal was a mammal. I am also interested to know how anybody can make an estimate as precise as 16 feet at a distance of 220 yards. And even if the speed was greatly exaggerated, it does seem a little on the high side for a known animal.
     "Curiouser and curiouser," said Alice.


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