UPDATE: The Lake Monsters of America print is now available for purchase!
People love to fill in mysterious areas of nature with myths of monsters. Early maps had voids of knowledge marked with warnings that "Here be Dragons," sasquatches are believed to be prowling the thick forests, and legends tell of strange creatures that might be concealed beneath the surface of our lakes. Here we present our map of American lake monsters (view it large here), showing the spread of cryptids that might be lurking in the depths of the waters of the United States.
You'll see a good share of serpent-like animals of the Loch Ness Monsters variety, such as Isabella of Bear Lake in Idaho who was spotted by a Mormon pioneer in the 19th century and even had Brigham Young himself send a hunting party after the possible plesiosaur. There's also the famed Champ of Lake Champlain, possibly the most famous of American lake monsters, and the Lake Dillon monster in Wyoming that some think is being suppressed by a secret society. However, that's just where the fun of this fauna folklore begins, as there are also legends of monolithic turtles, webbed hominids, a goat man, a winged alligator snake, a horse-headed alligator, a giant killer octopus, and an eel with a pig head.
Here are some of the more curious entities on our Lake Monsters of America map:
Lake Worth Monster
The monster of Lake Worth, just outside of Fort Worth, Texas, had a hysteria around it in 1969. The half-man, half-goat animal was believed to be dwelling in the lake, but the deft swimmer wasn't afraid to climb up on land and antagonize the people there. A local newspaper headline reading "Fish Man-Goat Terrifies Couples Parked at Lake Worth" was typical of the reports of the time, where people claimed to see a foul-smelling seven-foot-tall beast covered in both fur and scales. One man claimed it jumped from a tree onto his car leaving a deep gash, another man reported that he fended it off by throwing leftover chicken at its hideous face, and still another person claimed it hoisted a car tire at them. The paranoia was fueled by reports that sheep with their necks snapped were discovered around the lake, and some people went to the lake at night with guns to try to kill it. The reports of the creature eventually calmed, but the mystery of what it was exactly was never solved, although some believe high school students with a gorilla costume were responsible.
Honey Island Swamp Monster
The legend of the monster of Honey Island Swamp in eastern Louisiana goes back to its first reported sighting in 1963, although American Indians in the area have older stories of the "Letiche" as they call it. The Cajuns in the area prefer the name "Tainted Keitre." The swamp itself is otherworldly enough, barely touched by humans, and all reports of the creature state that it is very shy, although one man claimed to capture it on Super 8 film. One belief, that may take the outlandish cake for lake monster origin stories, is that chimpanzees escaped from the wreck of a train that was carrying a traveling circus and then bred with the alligators in the swamp. This resulted in a sort of reptilian ape creature with webbed toes that became Tainted Keitre. However, others think that the sightings are just myth, or people possibly seeing local hunters in ghillie suits.
Giant Octopus of Lake Thunderbird
For the record, there are no known freshwater octopi. But that hasn't stopped persistent tales of cephalopod horrors in American lakes, particularly in Oklahoma where a giant octopus in Lake Thunderbird has been blamed for an increase in mysterious drowning deaths. The same cause has in fact been cited in Lake Oologah and Lake Tenkiller, also in the Sooner State. The octopus sounds like your standard saltwater octopus with its brown skin tinged with red and sprawl of tentacles, although reportedly the Lake Thunderbird octopus is as large as a horse. Still, the possibility that such a monster is dragging poor swimmers down on a fatal plunge seems unlikely, particularly as Lake Thunderbird is manmade with no inlets. So other speculators have been blaming a giant ferocious catfish.
Eel Pig of Herrington Lake
The monster of Herrington Lake has been described like a pig out of a nightmare. Eel-like with a hog-shaped head and curly tail, the Kentucky lake monster has been described as 15 feet long and as quick as a fishing boat. One theory is that it may have descended from dinosaurs who hid out in caves that were then flooded when the lake was created with a new dam. Others think perhaps it was a very giant alligator, which doesn't seem much more comforting.
Alkali Lake Monster
A 1923 eyewitness account of the monster of Alkali Lake in Nebraska reported that the single-horned alligator-esque creature let out a "dreadful roar" from the water. Described as 40 feet long with a horn like a rhinoceros, as well as an atrocious smell that is near fatal in itself, it's apparently a very hungry creature and devours anything in its path. Mostly this has been livestock. Sightings peaked in the 1920s, but have since faded, so perhaps Alkali Lake, now called Walgren Lake, is free from its fearsome, smelly unicorn beast.
Click here to view the whole map of the Lake Monsters of America, and perhaps discover what sea serpents and others nautical beasts might be lurking near you. If you would like even more monsters both mythical and real, check out our places around the world related to cryptozoology and fascinating fauna.
Map by Michelle Enemark, illustrations by Dylan Thuras.