South Bay Bessie

Freshwater Monster of Ohio.

Etymology: Named in the 1980s after the Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station near Oak Harbor, Ohio.

Variant names: Bessie, Lake Erie Larry, Lemmie.

Physical description: Serpentine. Length, 30-50 feet. Width, 2 feet. Gray, dark-greenish-brown, or black. Long neck. Three to five humps sometimes reported. Flat tail.

Behavior: Seen in calm waters. Swift swimmer. Moves by vertical undulations.

Distribution: Lake Erie, from Toledo and Sandusky Bay east to Bay Village, Ohio.

Significant sightings: Capt. Shubael West and the crew of the packet boat Delia observed a 35-40-foot serpent in 1817.

On July 21, 1931, Clifford Wilson and Francis Cogenstose were fishing off Sandusky when a 20-foot serpent surfaced near their boat. After jabbing it with an oar, they determined it was dead and towed it to shore. It was said to have an alligator-like head and was colored black, dark green, and white. However, it was identified as an Indian python (Python molurus), and its captors turned out to be carnival workers on tour.

In 1960, Ken Golic saw a large, cigar-shaped animal while fishing off a pier near Sandusky on a clear, calm night.

Demetrius Gooden and Frank Hughes were fishing for walleye about 40 miles out from Cleveland on June 10, 1985, when they saw a long, black "alligator" only a few feet away from their boat. The Coast Guard searched for forty minutes but found nothing.

On September 11, 1990, Jim Johnson and Steve Dircks saw a dark mass, 30-45 feet long in three sections, in the lake near Huron, Ohio.

In July 1991, George Repicz took twenty seconds of video footage that purportedly shows Bessie off Kelleys Island. It may actually show a floating log.

Possible explanations:

(1) Newspaper and other hoaxes, especially from 1898 to 1931.

(2) Lake sturgeon (Acipenser fulvescens) were common in Lake Erie only up to the 1850s, but they may be returning. This fish can grow to 9 feet, although specimens over 7 feet are rarely reported. Its numerous bony plates are a diagnostic feature.

(3) Floating logs.

Sources: Constantin S. Rafinesque, "Dissertation on Water Snakes, Sea Snakes and Sea Serpents," Philosophical Magazine 54 (1819): 361, 365; Laurie Abraham, "Giant Snake in Lake Erie," Cleveland (Ohio) Plain Dealer, June 16, 1985; Mike Dash, "Lake Monsters," Fortean Times, no. 60 (December 1991-January 1992): 36; Wall Street Journal, July 29, 1993; John Kirk, In Search ofLake Monsters (Toronto, Canada: Key Porter Books, 1998), pp. 144-148; Ron Schaffner, "South Bay Bessie: A Continuing Investigation into an Alleged Great Lakes Serpent," North American BioFortean Review 1, no. 1 (April 1999): 35-41, http://www.strangeark.com/nabr/ NABR1.pdf.

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