Monday, March 9, 2009

E-Dispatches Exclusive #2

Lake Erie's Secret Legend

Over the years I have worked as a reporter, columnist and feature writer for a number of newspapers including The Lake Erie Beacon which is published in Port Stanley Ontario, Canada. In September 2004 I wrote for that paper an article about South Shore Bessy, a rather mysterious creature that can best be described as Lake Erie's version of The Loc Ness Monster. As a change of pace from the usual comics fare I write for this blog I thought I'd reprint it here.

Loc Ness in Scotland has "Nessie", British Columbia's Okanagan Lake has "Ogopogo" and Lake Erie has "South Bay Bessie".

"South Bay Bessie"? Yes. While the other two mystery creatures are known to the general public few are aware that Lake Erie is one of 200 lakes world wide that are purported to be home to some sort of aquatic monster. While no pictures of Bessie have ever been taken those who claim to have seen the creature-also called The Lake Erie Chomper and LEM (Lake Erie Monster)-have stated that is 9 to 12 meters long, serpentine in appearance and that its body is as round as a bowling ball.

The earliest reported sighting of Bessie was in 1793 when the captain of a sloop named "Felicity" reported having seen a 17 foot snake like beast rise from the waters while he was shooting ducks near Middle Bass Island, Ohio. Sightings continued through the 19th and 20th centuries with many of them made by police officers, ship captains and firefighters. There was even a claim of the beast being captured. In a 1931 New York Times report two fishermen are said to have crated up a 20 foot long serpent in the Sandusky Ohio area. The pair said that when the monster reared its head they beat it senseless and towed it to shore. No attempt was ever made to follow up on this report and it has never been discovered what, if anything the two captured. It is doubted though that it was Bessie as there have been numerous sightings since 1931.

Marine biologists suggest that what people are actually seeing is a giant sturgeon. According though to Akron Ohio resident Rich Le Monica, who makes it his hobby to study "Bessie" reports, it couldn't have been a sturgeon as they are bottom dwellers and lack a neck to lift out of the water as the creatures that have been reportedly sighted are said to have done. Other possible suggestions as to the true nature of Bessie include it being a giant lamprey and a bowfin.

But whatever the creature may in fact be reports of sightings don't subside after experts in aquatic life weigh in on the subject. In the early 1990s Bessie was especially busy making appearances resulting not in in the Beacon newspaper published out of Port Clinton Ohio running a "Name the Lake Erie Monster" contest (out of which the creature gained its South Bay Bessie name) but also saw Ohio marina owner Tom Solbery Sr. and other businessmen offer a $150,000 reward for the live capture of Bessie. Eventually the sightings-which were even reported in the American national media-died down and the reward was quietly dropped. Solbery Sr. though has said that if anyone was to capture Bessie live he would seriously consider giving the person a six figure sum for the beast.

While the majority of the Bessie sightings have been on the Ohio side of Lake Erie, Canada has not escaped a possible visit by the lake monster. In July 2001 near a pump house off the shore of a Port Dover Ontario beach three people were attacked and bitten by a mysterious creature. Though no one saw what bit the swimmers medical staff who treated the victims were certain, because of the nature of the bite, that it wasn't anything like a snapping turtle, walleye, goby or muskellunge fish. To this day no one has found a reasonable answer as to what bit the people but some people have pointed the finger at Bessie as the possible attacker.

Bessie has been rather quiet this year with only one reported sighting. On July 2 four people who were on the beach of Madison Township Park in Lake County Ohio during the night said they saw something travel past the shore which was 30 to 40 feet long, dark green or black and had humps. Exactly what these and other people have seen over the centuries is wide open to speculation. Some have simply brushed Bessie off as being a fairy tale. Others believe a giant serpent actually exists in Lake Erie while still others are trying to find some explanation based on current knowledge of marine life. Probably the truth lies somewhere in the middle but whatever it is that people have been seeing in Lake Erie it adds an air of mystery to a body of water that people thought they were familiar with.


I hope you found the above piece an enjoyable read. It's been suggested to me by a couple of readers that my E-Dispatches Exclusive blogs be about subjects other than comics. What do the rest of you think? You can let me know by commenting at the end of this piece or by emailing me at . And while I wait to hear back from you on this next time out I'll be returning to my regular column and continue with my overview of the MLJ Magazines/Archie Comic Publications superhero lines. Oh. And don't forget to visit and read what my buddy The Groovy Agent has to say about comics of the 1970s.

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