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OTD: 11-12-1933: Happy Anniversary Loch Nessie, from Lake Erie’s Bessie!

Happy Anniversary to the first sighting of the modern Loch Ness monster legend. Scotland boasts of her Nessie. But did you know about our own Lake Erie serpent monster, named Bessie?
Lake Erie’s Bessie was first seen in 1817, but numerous sightings have been claimed in recent years. She is typically described as being a snake-like beast 20 to 50 feet long, 12 to 18 inches in diameter, with dark skin, red eyes and humps that stick out of the water as it swims.
What are these creatures? First, the Scottish legend– it goes back over 1400 years telling of a “beast” that lives in the waters of Loch Ness. Even the Catholic Church backs St. Columba’s story around 600 AD as having encountered a large serpent in Scotland’s River Ness. But Nessie’s modern day history began On This Day, November 12, in 1933 when a new road was completed giving fresh access along the northern shore of the Loch.
Hugh Gray and his wife walked back from church and spotted an “enormous animal” in the Loch– an “object of considerable dimensions—making a big splash with spray on the surface” of the Loch. He luckily had his camera with him and began taking pictures. Then the Inverness Courier wrote up the sighting, and intense media interest followed. Thus was born the modern Loch Ness Monster.
Lake Erie’s monster may seem lesser known to us locally, but on many parts of the lake, particularly near Dover, her stories have and continue to roam the maritime world for almost 200 years. Bessie is a large, serpentine creature that haunts Lake Erie in both the USA and Canada. She has been sighted numerous times even in this fresh new century. And there’s that rumor which speaks of a lethal encounter with a creature whose head was the size of a small car that killed 3 people back in 1992. Although Bessie is generally benign, a more sinister creature has been attacking swimmers near Port Dover, Ontario, Canada in August 2001.
There’s a site that devotes itself to Bessie—called Over the years, hundreds of witnesses have come forward with tales of what they have seen in or around the lake. MonsterTracker reports the following witness’ recollections of seeing Bessie:
July 2, 2004: Last night I was at Madison Township Park in Lake County, OH, and we were at the beach. The water was really calm and my brother and my uncle were swimming. My mom and aunt and sister and I were watching the sun set when my mom pointed out this shape in the water. It was moving to the right at first, quite fast, and then it must of went under because we didn’t see it for a few minutes.
Then we saw it again and it was moving to the left at the same speed. It was not a log because it had humps. It looked to be a dark green or black color and it looked like a big serpent of some kind, maybe 30-40ft in length. A boat went near it, and it went underwater and away from where we could see it.—Katie
Another report cited on MonsterTracker is from David Monk who claims he saw Bessie in 1986. “He said he was only seven feet away from what he calls a “Sea Serpent”. David states that the animal’s eyes were as large as Ostrich eggs and were positioned on the side of the head, not in the middle where a face should be. Its head was 18 to 24 inches wide and David could not see any nose or mouth. The creature was dark black and had skin (no scales) as smooth as a Killer Whales.”
On another site called Lake Erie Chomper, the following graphic report appears:
“Since August of 2001, terror has gripped Lake Erie’s coastline communities, as an unknown, aquatic predator has been savagely attacking swimmers – especially those unlucky enough to have taken a dip off the Pump House beach, near Port Dover, Ontario. In a span of less that 24 hours – no less than three people (including 47 year-old Brenda McCormack) were bitten by a large, unseen animal.
The creature’s first victim, McCormack, had slipped into the water for a sunset swim when she felt what she described as a large “chomp” on the side of her right calf. The horrified McCormack hastily thrashed through the murky Lake Erie waters toward the shore. Once on dry land she discovered a six-inch series of circular puncture wounds – in the shape of a jaw – imbedded in her calf muscle.
The following morning an unnamed man and his son were assailed in the same location – presumably by the same animal – after which they were swiftly rushed to the nearest medical facility. The child required hospitalization for his injuries.
It wasn’t long before a plethora of rumors began to spread through Port Dover and its neighboring communities, regarding the source of these vicious attacks. Wildly speculative theories ran the gambit from a rogue school of piranhas, which may have been released into the wild after they grew too big for their owner’s aquarium, to a juvenile BESSIE which may have been swimming closer to shore in search of prey. Other researchers have suggest that the animals may be similar to the eel-like cryptids known as CRESSIE, which allegedly haunt Newfoundland’s Crescent Lake. Patricia Hall, the nurse who treated McCormack, had this to say:
“It’s the Lake Erie monster. That’s what people are joking about.”
On August 13, 2001, the Ottawa Citizen published one of the first reports regarding these events. In that account the doctor who treated the victims of this creature admitted that he was at a loss as to the identity of this mystery attacker:
“PORT DOVER – Dr. Harold Hynscht has a medical mystery on his hands. He treated three patients recently who suffered major bites on their legs after swimming in Lake Erie beside the Port Dover pump house. All were in about a meter of water when the attacks occurred. Hynscht, a diver with extensive knowledge of aquatic life, is at a loss to identify the animal that caused them. The bites were not minor. Six inches separated the wounds inflicted by the top and bottom teeth, suggesting the animal has a large mouth.
“That’s a big, honking fish,” Hynscht said.
“The doctor has ruled out round gobies, lamprey eels, snapping turtles, walleye and other muskellunge-type fish as well as piranhas. The only species that seems plausible, Hynscht said, is the bowfin, a primitive, aggressive fish that protect their nests up to nine weeks after spawning.
“One of the consistent elements of the stories I’ve heard is that it happened so fast they hardly had time to react,” Hynscht said. “Whatever is doing this is doing so because of territory. It’s not doing this because it’s hungry.
“Hynscht is trading information and theories with a wildlife biologist in Toronto in an effort to determine the attacker’s identity.”
Whatever this creature turns out to be, the aggressive nature of the animal in question puts it into direct conflict with the human race… and that can only mean trouble ahead.”
Stay warm Bessie, and doan you bite, you big girl. That’s the news from On This Day from Buffalo’s World.

Written by Bill Zimmermann

Bill Zimmermann

Bill runs Seven Seas Sailing school, and is a staunch waterfront activist. He is also heavily involved with preserving, maintaining, and promoting the South Buffalo Lighthouse. When Bill first started writing for Buffalo Rising, he wrote an article a day for 365 days - each article coincided with a significant historic event that happened in Buffalo on that same day.

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