I have learned that the Great Lakes are rife with tales of sea monsters. Stories about these lonely creatures swimming alongside schooners and steamships were somewhat familiar in the 1800s. Amazingly, there are even more recent sitings, some by respected ship captains and even law enforcement. All of the descriptions share a common theme – the dark creature looks like a snake or a serpent. While there are many stories and names of creatures the following three seem to appear the most and are widely retold.
Lake Erie’s Bessie
The most renowned of these Great Lakes sea monsters supposedly resides in Lake Erie. Sightings of the lake monster Bessie were first made in the late 1700s but appeared again with some regularity in the 1980s. Bessie described as being about 20 feet long, serpent-like but with appendages that resemble arms. Fishermen who have encountered Bessie describe their boats being bumped with enough force to cause them to lose balance. The legend has so much traction around the Lake Erie shore near Cleveland that the Great Lakes Brewing Company named one of their brews the “Lake Erie Monster.”
Michibeichu – The Lake Lynx or Serpent
Across Lake Huron near Anishnaabeg island resides Mishebeshu. This story comes from an Ojibwa oral tradition that describes a creature as a water cat or lynx. The beast can live under the ice and go after children and fishermen. This particular creature is attributed to sightings near the appropriately named Serpent River in Ontario, Canada, and flowing into Lake Huron.
In Lake Superior, near the Presque Isle River, the creature is called Pressie. Over the past 400 years, there have been numerous sightings of Pressie. In one famous published story, a copper prospector came across the creature in an underwater cave in Lake Superior. Protected by a heavy canvas dive suit and copper helmet, the driver fought off the glowing monster and escaped. He never went back into the water again.
First Nation Views of Pressie
There are pictographs at the Lake Superior Provincial Park and the northern area of Algoma at Agawa Rock. The paintings are thought to be over 500 years old. They depict a canoe with five passengers, a Michipeshu, (water lynx), and two giant serpents (chignebikoogs). One theory is that the paintings are a result of a Vision Quest experience.
One First Nation story about Michibeichu goes like this.
“An Ojibwa family lost their baby near Agawa Rock. They saw the tracks of Misshepezhieu, the Great Lynx leading to the water. The father called upon the birds of Thunder, their protectors, to avenge the loss of their child. The Thunderbirds caused lightning to fall on the rock and destroy the cave where Misshepezhieu was hiding, destroying the eval manitou. The rock chasms that remained are a reminder of their protectors – the thunderbirds.
Saginaw Bay Saggy
Of all the Great Lakes sea monster stories, the Saginaw Bay creature is probably the least well known, and encounters are the tamest among the tall tales. Those who have encountered Saggy often describe a long dark sea serpent who merely comes up from the murky depths and nudges the boat enough to knock things around a bit. Some think it may be an extremely old Lake Sturgeon or Muskie who likes to use boats to rub its back like a cat. Regardless, Saggy is the tamest among the mysterious sea creatures that seem to reside just out of sight in the Great Lakes.