Mystery Reptiles: Mysterious Beasts, Part 5
We’ve come to the last in our series of mysterious beasts: the mystery reptiles. This is the category, which, more than any other, seems to inspire hoaxers to practically burst into song. So, as always, caveat lector. There are several glaring omissions here: Although some of these creatures are described as snakes, I’ve left out generic snakes because giant snake stories follow well-worn, tedious paths. For a selection of Snaix, please see my other post here. I’ve also left out dragons, flying snakes (another post another day, perhaps, although they too, have a wearying sameness.), toads-in-rocks, and those popular lizards so often found in people’s stomachs. Once again I offer the disclaimer that I am not a herpetologist or a reptile-ologist. If not a hoax, these creatures may simply be out of their normal habitat.
HUMAN HEAD WITH BODY OF A ‘GATER
Bath, Me., Man Finds a Strange Creature in River.
Bath, Me., Sept. 30. Michael Welch picked up in the Kennebec River this morning something which they term a mermaid. Whether it is a real mermaid or what it is nobody seems to know. They do know, however, that is something that they never saw before.
It is of dark brown color with a small head apparently human, about the size of a good-sized fist, with a pipe-stem neck and well-developed chest, also arms, while the rest of its body is of alligator formation. It is the strangest exhibition ever shown in the city and scores of people flocked to the store of Charles T. Jackson during the forenoon to see it.
There is no life in the object and Mr. Welch and his companion first paid no attention to it. Later they went to it as they rowed across the river and discovering that it was a freak of some sort, brought it ashore. Boston [MA] Journal 1 October 1909: p. 12
“A HIDEOUS MONSTER”
Cecil, Ga., Aug. 25 Some of our fishermen have discovered a hideous monster in a large pool out near Little River. Whether it is a snake, a sea serpent or the devil himself, they are unable to decide. Buck Pace of Barney was the first to see it, and afterward others saw it. Lee Rountree actually shot at it. The thing is described as having the form of a snake as large around as a man’s thigh, black, with a red stripe along the back, a head as large as a dog’s with a tongue three inches wide, with which it actually squirts water at any intruder. The length of the brute is estimated at all the way from fifteen to thirty feet. It has been proposed to dynamite the pool, but this has not yet been done. Macon [GA] Telegraph 26 August 1903: p. 4
TAMPA BOY LANDS FABLED ‘WHOOZIS’
Strange Reptile-Fish Captured and is Held in Tub at Home
Not to be outdone by any magazine writer living, Tampa comes to bat with a live specimen of the mysterious fish or reptile described in The Tribune Wednesday morning in an article republished from Adventure Magazine.
Mrs. Frank L. Booher, living at 412 South Albany Avenue, telephoned to The Tribune Wednesday that at her home could be seen a specimen of the reptile or fish described by the correspondent of the magazine as having been caught in a mill pond in Louisiana a quarter of a century ago.
The creature, Mrs. Booher said, was caught by her small son in the mud of a little creek near their home. The boy brought his trophy home alive and it is still alive in a tub of water at the Booher home.
The creature is described as about twenty-four inches long, with a flat head, dark, slimy appearing body, gills and two small legs located under and near the gills.
Any naturalist in Tampa or vicinity who wants to inspect the creature is welcome to do so, said Mrs. Booher, who is anxious to find out what it really is. Tampa [FL] Tribune 24 July 1924: p. 5
Alligators were a frequent theme and they showed up in some odd places.
A brakeman named Hughes, running on the Saginaw, Tuscola & Huron railroad, reports seeing at Sebewaing an alligator 20 feet in length. Residents of the village on the bay cannot account for the presence of the strange saurian. Bay City [MI] Times 28 August 1889: p. 4
“SEA SERPENT” TERROR TO STOCK
Strange Creature Has Devoured Nearly All Farmer Clark’s Pigs and Calves.
Grand Rapids, Aug. 16. W.H. Clark, a farmer living about 12 miles northwest of the Rapids, near Deer Lake, was in town this morning and told a strange story. During the spring and summer he has lost no less than a dozen shoats and several spring calves. Until a few days ago he did not know what kind of an animal was devouring the stock. When he first missed a calf or two he blamed bears or wolves, but after the killing continued until nearly the whole of his herd was missing, he decided to investigate.
Worked a Ruse.
Of a morning his stock was turned into a pasture to graze near the lake, and it was here the calves would disappear. He had set traps for the beast but without results. When he watched nothing could be seen of any intruder, so he decided to steal a march on the beast. In a robe made of a calf hide when the stock was turned out one morning he wobbled down to the lake and scarcely had reached the edge of the water when a huge creature stuck its nose up out of the water, slowly crept out of its retreat and made for a calf.
The next morning armed with a rifle Clark went on watch determined to put the thing out of existence, but not a sign could be seen of it.
He describes it as resembling an alligator other than its fore feet are much longer. It is about 15 feet long and the tail protrudes behind like that of the alligator. It is a species never before seen in this locality. Duluth [MN] News-Tribune 17 August 1906: p. 3
There was a certain fascination with animals who had been buried alive or sealed up in a hiding place, only to emerge living from their tomb, as in the many tales of toads in rocks. This next story seems suggested by those creatures.
FIND HIDEOUS REPTILE BURIED ALIVE IN CLAY
Strange Animal is Unearthed Five Feet Below Surface of Dry Pond
Jordan, Ky., Aug. 28. While digging out an old pond near here, J.R. Bones unearthed a big reptile which no one has been able to identify. It is fourteen feet long and almost five feet in circumference around the neck. The peculiar part of it is that the strange animal was found imbedded in clay five feet below the surface and yet was alive. It was brought into town but did not live long. It resembles some sort of lizard. Tampa [FL] Tribune 29 August 1914: p. 11
A variation on the “toad-in-a-rock_ story, a “lizard-in-an-iceberg.” Didn’t someone make a 1950s horror movie out of this premise? One of those “oh, if only it was true” tales.
Carcass of Giant Lizard-like Animal Found in Alaska
Cardova, Alaska, Nov 25. (AP) Reports received form Valdez today said the carcass of a giant lizard-like creature with fur in perfect condition had been found on Glacier Island near here.
The strange creature reported to be 42 feet long, including a tail measuring 26 feet was believed to have been preserved since pre-historic times by being encased in ice in the upper reaches of the Columbia Glacier. The ice was believed to have worked its way gradually to the sea. The head was reported to be 6 feet long and the body 20 feet in length. Mansfield [OH] News 2 July 1902
The basilisk, or king of the serpents, known for its deadly glance, was said to arise when a snake’s egg was hatched by a rooster. The cockatrice was a creature generated when a hen’s egg was hatched by a snake, as we see in the following stories. It is a little surprising to find the legend living on in late-19th-century America, although obviously snakes have an affinity for hen houses and eggs, which might be misunderstood by the superstitious.
Some time ago a farmer’s son in this vicinity caught a young water-snake, and conceived the idea of forming a sort of happy family by placing the reptile and a newly-hatched chicken in company, with a view to ascertaining whether or not they would live contentedly together. Strange to say, they soon became inseparable, and attracted the attention of all the neighborhood. The most curious feature of the case was to follow, however. The snake grew and the chickens grew, and in time the latter laid her eggs and began to hatch. Before many days elapsed the chicken was observed sitting on three eggs and the snake near by was curled around one. The sight of a snake constantly encircling a hen’s egg was so rare a sight that the result was awaited with great interest. Finally the eggs were hatched. The eggs on which the hen sat produced chickens, but from the egg over which the reptile kept watch came an exceedingly curious freak of nature. It consists of a rooster’s body and claws, with a perfect snake’s head. The head is sunken into the neck somewhat, and is stuck out something after the fashion of a turtle’s head. The creature has a forked tongue like any snake, and issues forth a rumbling sound. This phenomenon is confined in a coop along with the hen and the snake, and the hen neglects her regular brood for the snake and the snake rooster. The latter has to be kept caged, and it is very savage, and has already killed some eight or ten chickens. People who have heard of the creature come from all parts of the country to look at it, and the young owner has an idea that it may be a small fortune for him should a showman chance to see it. Marlton (N.J.) Letter.Marion [OH] Daily Star 22 March 1882
The Rhode Island Egg in Penn’s State.
Mrs. Eli Holsinger, residing near Baker’s Summit, was opening some eggs, last week, to prepare them for use, when from one of the eggs opened, something about three inches long jumped out of it, which considerably frightened her. The strange creature was closely examined and found to be some thing in the form of a small light-colored snake, with head and eyes resembling that dreadful reptile. What the thing was is a mystery. Altoona Tribune. Cleveland [OH] Leader 23 August 1886: p. 6
From the title, we would expect this next story to be another jolly snake tale–the 19th-century equivalent of a “fish story.” Yet, after the introduction, the events seemed almost plausible, until one starts looking at the numbers, which I confess I glossed over as missprints or because I was engrossed in the narrative.
An Authentic Tale of a Monster in Warren County.
Remarkable Capers of the Reptile
A Whole Neighborhood Alarmed.
Waynesville, Ohio, May 29. Although this is an old settled neighborhood, and the primitive snakes in the main, have long since disappeared; except the black, garter and rattlesnake and occasionally some of other species, we are once in a while greeted with the report of some monster of this uncanny tribe.
For several years it has been reported that the track of one above the town, of unusual size, had, on different occasions, been seen in the dust, where it had crossed the pike. This report made the timid fearful, while the generality of the people did not seem to fear or care anything about it; and it has been reserved until yesterday to develop one of the most remarkable specimens ever seen, in or out of snake season, and the story thereof is so well authenticated that the more incredulous of the neighborhood on big snake stories are forced at last to lend an attentive ear.
About one mile north of this place is a little village called Crosswicks, in which several colored families reside. Among the rest is John Lynch, who has two boys, Ed. And Joe, aged respectively thirteen and eleven years [actually the ages are reversed.] These boys were at a small creek on the south side of the village fishing, yesterday. After sitting on the bank a short time they heard quite a stir among some old reeds, grass and brush behind them, and on looking round they saw a huge monster approaching them rapidly. They screamed and, paralyzed almost with horror, started to run, when the snake, or whatever it might be—for they never saw aught like it before; came close up to the older one, and suddenly throwing out two long arms, or forelegs, seized the boy in its slimy embrace, simultaneously producing two more legs, about four feet long, from some mysterious hiding place in its body, and dragged the boy some one hundred yards down the creek to a large sycamore, twenty-six feet in diameter at the base, hollow, and with a large opening on one side. Through this aperture the monster attempted to enter with the boy who by this time was almost dead with fright and unable to make any resistance.
Three men—viz., Rev. Jacob Horn, George Peterson and Allen Jordan—were quarrying stone a short distance above where the boys were fishing, and hearing their screams and seeing their creature yanking one off, hurried in an attempt to rescue the child. They reached the tree just as the snake, who, failing in its first attempt to drag the boy into his den, became alarmed, probably by the cries made by its pursuers, unfastened its horrible fangs and dropped the more than half dead child to the earth. The little fellow was picked up and carried home, and Dr. L.C. Lukens, of Waynesville, summoned to attend him.
In the afternoon about sixty men, armed with clubs, dog, axes, &c., gathered around the sycamore-tree and concluded to cut it down and destroy its fearful tenant. They began cutting, when, becoming alarmed for his safety, the formidable snake leaped from the aperture, threw out its fore and hind legs, erected itself about twelve or fourteen feet, and, with the velocity of a race horse, crossed the creek and ran up a small hill, climbed over a rail fence, breaking it down, and, continuing north a mile, followed by the pursuers, until he reached a hole in a large hill under a heavy ledge of rocks. Some of the men and dogs were so terrified at the beast’s first appearance that they only thought of getting out of the way. But the braver portion followed until the frightful thing made good his retreat underneath the ground.
It will be watched for and killed if possible. It is described as being from thirty to forty feet long, sixteen inches in diameter, and the legs four feet long and covered with scales the same as the body. Feet about twelve inches long and shaped like a lizard’s, of black and white color, with large yellow spots. Head about sixteen inches wide, with a long, black forked tongue and the mouth inside deep red. The hind legs appeared to be used to give it an erect position, and its propelling power is in its tail.
Dr. Lukens said this morning that the boy, his patient, was badly bruised and scratched, horribly frightened, and that he lay in convulsions and spasms until three o’clock this morning, when he fell asleep, but frequently wakened with fright and terror, yet the Doctor thinks he will recover in a few days.
The foregoing is vouched for by the persons whose names are given above, and many more can be given if necessary the material points having been furnished your correspondent by Judge J.W. Keys, one of our oldest and most influential citizens. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 29 May 1882: p. 2
The story was picked up by the Cleveland Plain Dealer. Judge Keys was a well-respected Justice of the Peace and a former mayor of Waynesville. He died in December of 1882, but was apparently quite sharp to the end of his life. I found the Lynch family all present and correct in the 1880 census; Dr. L.C. Lukens was a genuine and reputable Waynesville physician. I found it puzzling. Why would such prominent people lend their names to a newspaper hoax? Or was the hoax generated by the Cincinnati Enquirer writer to mock the provincial village of Waynesville?
Some friends have suggested that perhaps the prominent gentlemen all belonged to the same fraternal organization and that it was an inside joke. There was an organization called “Snaix,” the Military Order of the Serpent, for Spanish American War veterans, but that is too late to be a factor in this particular hoax..
Or perhaps the Cincinnati Enquirer just liked big reptile stories, as in this next elaborately descriptive tale.
GOLD SCALES: This Strange Monster Wore, And When It Moved They Made Music. Startling Experience of Three Men in a Pennsylvania
Jerrold Thompson, Aaron Jobbings and Charles Engel, of Nicetown, had an experience yesterday which they will remember as long as they live. They started from their homes early in the morning for the purpose of walking over to the Falls of Schuylkill, intending to take a train there for Norristown, where they were to join some friends and go chesnutting in the upper part of Montgomery County.
After leaving Germantown Avenue the young men cut across the fields to the Port Richmond branch of the Reading Railroad along which they walked until opposite the Old Oaks Cemetery property, when their attention was attracted to a peculiar ringing noise, accompanied by a muffled hissing. Pausing for a few moments they concluded that the sounds came from the direction of a clump of trees a short distance north from the railroad.
Jobbings climbed up the embankment and advanced several paces toward the trees when his hat was seen to
RAISE ABOVE HIS HEAD.
And throwing up his arms he cried out, “Christopher Columbus!” then fell backward upon the top of the embankment in a dead faint. Thompson and Engel hurried to his assistance, and after working about ten minutes succeeded in reviving him. On recovering, his first words were: ”Did you see it?” and after a short pause he informed his companions of what he had seen, and the three, after each getting a stout stick, began a search for the “what was it.”
They again heard the ringing sound, and in another minute saw a veritable monster crawl up into a clump of grass that stands several inches above the marshy ground.
The thing they beheld was as long as a fence rail and was about a foot in diameter through the thickest part of its body. Its head had the resemblance of a horse’s head, with nostrils more like those of an ox. From between its eyes and extending to the top of the head and or a short distance down its body was a growth of bristle-like hair that stood up like the clipped mane of a mule. Back from where the hair ended was on either side a web-like protuberance nearly a foot in length and much the shape of an elephant’s ear.
A BEAUTIFUL MONSTER.
The monster’s body was covered with heart-shaped scales, the point of the heart curling or pointing outward. At every movement they gave out a metallic ring which sounded like a small sleigh bell, though more silvery. The color of the monster was a beautiful bronze green with a row of purple on either side which blended gradually to almost a pure white on its under parts. Its tail was like that of a fish.
The men, after viewing it for some time, flung their sticks at it, when it raised up its head like a horse in rearing and moved rapidly away through the tall grasses toward the old Tucker mansion, the men following at a respectful distance for the purpose of seeing where it would go. They followed it to near the house, when it cut down the hillside and disappeared in the culvert that passes under the Germantown and Chestnut Hill branch of the Pennsylvania Railroad.
After searching for half an hour the men walked to the Falls, where they told what they had seen to several men at the railroad station, one of whom is well versed in the history of that section and he accounted for the monster as follows:
THE MYSTERIOUS SNAKE
“Twenty-five years ago, when McMakin’s dam had not been filled in, there was a large snake that inhabited a hole in the base of the large rock that then stood on the upper part of the dam. This snake, though not so large saw the one seen by the Nicetown men, is probably the same. It was seen in 1875 by a party of men who were mowing the grass from Old Oaks Cemetery, one of the mowers having struck it accidentally with the heel of his scythe. Neither he nor his fellow workmen waited to investigate, but fled from the field.
“John H. Richards a well-known naturalist, tried to capture the McMakin dam snake for Profs. Agassiz and Spencer F. Baird, of the Smithsonian Institution. Richards spent much time in trying to entrap the snake, and on one occasion succeeded in smoking it out of the crevice of the rock, when it crawled into a large net, but his anxiety got the better of his judgment. In drawing the net to the top of the rock, he was too hasty, for the net broke by catching on a sharp part of the rock, and the snake dropped into the water.
“Richards often spoke of the snake, and said it had probably escaped from some traveling show. Before his death, in 1881, he saw the rock blasted away, and deep down in the crevice was found dried sections of the molted skin, which were preserved among his collection of curious.” A number of men have arranged to join the Nicetown men in searching for the snake or whatever it might be. Should it be taken alive it will be presented to the Zoological Society. Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 22 October 1892: p. 15
Was the author of the next story inspired by the Warren County monster? Or was there a stray Komodo dragon or giant Monitor Lizard roaming the neighborhood?
BEAST OR REPTILE
The Peculiar Object Seen by William Winters.
Zanesville, Ohio, June 12. William Winters went into the woods near her a few days ago, and discovered the head of a monstrous beast or reptile, he could not tell which, looming up above the bushes. It at once started toward him with its mouth open until the jaws appeared to be twelve inches apart, displaying a red, forked, poisonous tongue and ivory teeth two inches long. The beast or serpent, or whatever it was, whistled and roared in a frightful manner and came plunging on toward him with green, glaring eyeballs protruding from a massive head at least twelve inches broad, and a mouth sufficiently large almost to swallow his whole body. Winters became frightened and ran for his gun, upon reaching which he turned and fired one barrel into the monster, which turned its direction. He watched its half serpentine, half leaping movements for a few moments. Then it ran up a large poplar and entered a hole, and Winters hurried home and informed not only his own family but a number of neighbors of the strange, alarming sight he had seen, and a posse of them, armed with axe and gun, went to the scene. They determined to cut the tree down, and while two of them did the chopping the remainder stood guard with their guns leveled on the hole where the beast or serpent entered. Their labor was in vain, however, as a thorough examination of the tree after it had been felled disclosed the fact that the monster had escaped before they arrived. Mr. Winters says that the beast or reptile he saw was from 8 to 12 feet long, with a body as large as a telephone pole. It had legs about 4 inches long, a brown body that was hairless and a head shaped like a shark. The neighborhood is much alarmed about the presence of this strange production of nature and will spare no means to capture it. New Haven [CT] Register 12 June 1883: p. 2
Once again, there was a genuine William Winters and his son of the same name in the 1880 census, in Muskingum County. But the story does not seem to appear in any Ohio papers.
I finish my series with a story of a composite creature (as we previously saw in the post on mystery fish). There are insider references to local politics as well as some long-lost newspaper rivalry. This was written before the Golden Age of Mysterious Reptilians Found Only in Newspapers (c. 1865-1890) but still carries a whiff of Snark.
A Strange Reptile
Mr. J.H. Shinneberger called on us the other day and gave us the particulars of the capture of a singular reptile, about the 26th of March last, in the Big Ditch, between Yellow River and Woods Lake, some account of which was published in the Democrat of the 30th of April. Mr. S. assures us there was no mistake about the capture of his snakeship, notwithstanding the doubts expressed by the Democrat; “and though he was not trapping either for Wolves or Democrats, both, it appeared, took the bait.”
The lizzard, snake, alligator, or whatever it was, Mr. S. says, was about 9 ½ inches in diameter and 9 feet 2 inches long, as near as he could measure it with a two foot mark on his axe-handle. It had feet and skin like a lizzard, and head like an otter, with fins the size of a duck’s wing on each side forward of its fore-legs; on its back was also a fin, commencing about 18 inches back of its fore-legs, rising gradually to the height of about 10 inches, and then tapering off to the tip of its tail. [Once again, the numbers don’t really add up. Does he mean 9 ½ inches across the body, as opposed to diameter?) It made a noise somewhat like a young calf when caught and when he approached it for the purpose of killing it, it blew, not sand, but a fluid, at him, the smell of which caused him to vomit violently, almost immediately; and that he could smell the same fumes in his hair and whiskers for some weeks after. The reason it could not be found by those who went to hunt it was,–supposing it to be a very poisonous reptile, as he could not skin it, on account of its offensive smell, and being fearful the hogs would eat it and poison themselves, he rolled it into the ditch. It floated down a short distance and lodged and remained there until he left the neighborhood a few days after.
It was probably a young alligator. Marshall County Republican [Plymouth, IN] 25 June 1857: p. 1
I am disappointed that I could not find more genuinely mysterious creatures, but I suppose it is helpful to be aware of the patterns of journalistic hoaxes. Any large reptiles dragging children into hollow trees in your yard? Chriswoodyard8 AT gmail.com
Chris Woodyard is the author of The Victorian Book of the Dead, The Ghost Wore Black, The Headless Horror, The Face in the Window, and the 7-volume Haunted Ohio series. She is also the chronicler of the adventures of that amiable murderess Mrs Daffodil in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales. The books are available in paperback and for Kindle. Indexes and fact sheets for all of these books may be found by searching hauntedohiobooks.com. Join her on FB at Haunted Ohio by Chris Woodyard or The Victorian Book of the Dead.