As it turns out, the world-famous cryptid Nessie may have an incredibly distant cousin right here in Ohio. Terrifying fishermen since 1793, the Lake Erie Monster, also aptly known as Bessie, has slithered its way into the hearts of northeastern Ohioans, often acting as a local mascot (akin to Loveland’s beloved Frogman). Sometimes serpent, sometimes sturgeon (but always a menace), the Lake Erie Monster has been spotted many times in its namesake body of water, reported to be as long as 60 feet and at least a foot in diameter.
While the first recorded sighting of Bessie occurred in 1793, there have been many notable sightings since, increasing in frequency as the decades passed. Details from sighting to sighting have been known to vary wildly, with the only consistent detail usually being the monster’s snake-esque length, and that it generally sticks to the water.
The first sighting happened in 1793, when the captain of the sloop Felicity supposedly startled a serpent-like creature while out duck hunting in the shallows of Lake Erie. According to the captain, a large, snake-like creature began to thrash in the water near his
boat, likely startled by his gunshots. However, this was no meager water snake; the leviathan was over a rod in length (16 ½ feet), but it disappeared into the murk before he could get a better look. This sighting is actually the smallest iteration of Bessie reported. As the
captain never elaborated how much longer than a rod the snake actually was,
Credit: Dennis Jarvis | Wikimedia Commons: Link
it's likely it was closer to 20-ish feet, rather than something like 40 feet.
The next few sightings took place in July of 1817, when a serpent 30 to 40 feet long and dark in color, was reported by the crew of a schooner. Later that year, another crew spotted a similar creature, claiming instead that it was copper-colored and 60 feet long. This second crew also attempted to shoot the beast with muskets, which supposedly was unsuccessful.
Even later in the year, near Toledo, two French settlers came across a huge, writhing monster on the beach, seemingly in its death throes. While the monster was reported to be the typical 20 to 30 feet in length, there was one notable difference in this particular sighting; the creature was not a serpent. Instead, it was a massive sturgeon that curiously possessed arms. The settlers, frightened, fled from the beach. When they later returned, the sturgeon was gone, with the only proof that it existed being a number of glimmering scales the size of silver dollars left in the sand.
Many other sightings occurred later on in the 19th century, with one even claiming that Bessie possessed a dog-shaped head. Another claimed that the monster had sparkling eyes and large fins, similar to its Scottish relative. Bessie is also thought to possibly have a link to the First Nations water spirit Oniare, a horned fire-and-poison-breathing dragon snake that lives in the Great Lakes. Whatever her origins may be, the Lake Erie Monster has become a bit of a local cultural phenomenon, with both a hockey team and a local beer named after her.
Though she has not been sighted since the late 1990’s, she may still lurk in Lake Erie, simply waiting for the next unlucky boat that crosses her path.