CLE Myths: Lake Erie Monster

There have been many claimed South Bay Bessie sightings, but does the monster really exist?

First spotted in 1793, the Lake Erie Monster inspired a cryptozoological frenzy that continues today.

Many Northeast Ohioans claim to have spied the 30-foot sea serpent called South Bay Bessie over the years, with the legend even garnering national attention from the Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal.

But one of the earliest news reports actually stands as evidence against Bessie’s existence.

On July 31, 1818, The Cleaveland Gazette & Commercial Register published the harrowing account of a ship’s close encounter with the monster out on Lake Erie.

The beast “hissed” and “lashed water with his tremendous tail” before disappearing back into the foam. Fueled by this story, the folklore took off. But Case Western Reserve University history professor John Grabowski says this fishy tale has no legs.

Instead, historians believe the newspaper’s account to be an allegorical broadside at the Second Bank of the United States — and not a literal monster attack. “The bank had just reversed its credit policy and demanded immediate repayment of balances due from people nationwide,” says Grabowski. “We think that’s what the anti-bank Gazette was doing — comparing this act with a sea serpent attack.”

There’s no denying the many earnest sightings of something mysterious in Lake Erie, although the most mundane — and logical — explanation is a sturgeon grown to unusual size.

Nowadays, the myth is celebrated through the Cleveland Monsters hockey team and a Great Lakes Brewing Co. IPA named after the beast.

“One of the things I like about Cleveland is people take [things like] that and they use it for the present,” Grabowski says. “The monster has resurfaced.”

Status: Busted

Read More: Click here to read the full list of 30 Myths That Define Cleveland

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