The Legend of Bessie: the water snake monster lurking in Lake Erie


Published March 24, 2023 at 12:01 pm

A doctored photo (since no real ones exist) of Bessie, the monster lurking below the surface of Lake Erie.

Legend has it that there’s a serpent-like monster lurking in the shallow waters of Lake Erie somewhere between Fort Erie and Cleveland, Ohio.

Thought of as the Loch Ness Monster’s Canadian cousin, our version is simply called Bessie and over the past two centuries, there have been dozens of reported sightings.

Where, of course, this legend has unraveled is the fact that there’s no photos of the water beast and that the first reported sighting was 1793, which would make Bessie 230 years old. That would be one durable lake monster.

Also there’s the fact that no two descriptions of Bessie are exactly alike. Some say she (he?) has a dog-like head and large fins; others say it has human-like arms. The beast’s colour have been reported as grey, copper, or even silver.

Most do says it has long, snake-like body but how long is a question mark, as well. Reports run from five meters to 18 meters. Right off the top that’s a difference of between 16 feet and 60 feet, a sizable variance.

The description of Bessie sounds a lot like the prehistoric Plesiosaur, a huge marine reptile with a long neck that went extinct with the dinosaurs. Or did it?

The first known Bessie sighting was in 1793 when the captain of the ship Felicity was steering his sailboat through the shallows of Lake Erie’s islands, duck hunting with a musket. He reported that he was startled by an enormous serpent which had started thrashing around near his boat.

The first reported sighting, meaning simply one picked up by a newspaper, was in 1892, almost 100 years later when the Cleveland Plain Dealer ran an article entitled “Lake Erie Sea Serpent: Said to Have Been Seen by Fishermen Near Oak Harbor.”

According to the story, “(The monster) was described to be about 25 feet long and about one and one-half feet in diameter through the largest part. Its head was large and flat. Above five feet from its head there appeared to be several large fins or slippers. Its color was black, mottled with brown spots….”

In 1909, workers at the Union Salt Company in Painesville, Ohio, (now Morton Salt) reported seeing a snakelike creature appear above the water for a moment before diving back down and swimming towards Euclid Beach in Cleveland.

The legend of Bessie is believed by enough people that WKYC, a television station
in Cleveland, Ohio, did a report on it.

For residents on the Ontario side in Fort Erie, Port Colborne and Wainfleet, the good news is nearly all the sightings have been on the Ohio side, meaning Bessie has a hankering for American food.

The bad news is not all of them come from the Yank side. Bessie was reportedly encountered on May 5, 1896 – this time at Crystal Beach in Fort Erie. Four eyewitnesses reportedly watched the creature swimming in the lake for 45 minutes until it disappeared into the water before nightfall. The creature was described as being about 30 feet long with a dog-shaped head and a pointy tail.

One of the supermarket tabloids picked up on the
legend of Bessie, using this completely doctored
“photo” as proof.

So is Bessie, the serpent monster of Lake Erie, real or just another urban legend? Most are sceptics for the reasons given above – 200 years old? Really? – but with all of these similarly-described sightings spanning more than two centuries, one definitely has to wonder.

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