The Man Who Saw The Sea Serpent: 1883

The announcement that the first sea serpent of the season is only eight feet long shows that the summer resort romancer is not yet in first-class condition.

 State Ledger [Topeka, KS] 26 July 1902: p. 2

It is, Mrs Daffodil is given to understand, “Sea Serpent Day,” and time to share a story of a fearsome saurian creature of the Deep.

He Saw A Sea-Serpent

“Say” ejaculated a man as he rushed up and grabbed a Herald reporter by the arm, “have you interviewed the man that saw the sea-serpent?”

The reporter replied that he had not, and asked to be immediately taken to the fortunate individual.

Now, if there is anything which Chicago has been backward in it is the production of sea-serpents, and while such towns as Boston and New Bedford and Cincinnati and St. Louis have been giving out tales of monsters of the deep, Chicago, with ample lake facilities and any quantity of the breed, has been strangely silent. The reporter consequently made haste to interview the gentleman who, it being a story, will be hereafter referred to as “a gentleman of undoubted veracity.” The man who had seen the monster was interviewed by the reporter in the not over commodious quarters which he occupied. He had a wild, startled look, from which the reporter surmised that he had not recovered from the terrible sight. His name was James Smithington, and on being requested to detail his experiences, he at once proceeded to business, first casting a furtive glance around to make sure that the animal was not in the apartment with him.

“I left the lake front about 7 o’clock last evening, in company with a friend. When about two miles off the north end of the Government pier at the entrance to the Chicago River, my attention was called to a singular looking object which was advancing upon me at a terrible rate of speed. When within a few thousand feet of us it seemed to raise its immense body, or neck, some ten foot out of the water, and at the same time twenty feet in the rear, its tail was seen to rise up, and at times lash the water. All at once the fish or serpent vanished from sight.”

At this point in the narrative the gentleman of undoubted veracity suddenly stopped, and, pulling off his boot, shook it, and then grasping it by the straps he suddenly sprang forward and crushed an inoffensive tobacco quid which lay upon the floor.

“It had become quite dark by this time,” he resumed, “and when I returned I again saw the terrible thing advancing upon me at a great rate of speed. When about twenty-five yards from me it stopped, but in an instant it shot ahead with a ringing and rumbling noise. Its single eye, of a blood-red color, was directed upon me, and I was powerless to move from beneath its baleful glare.”

The reporter shuddered a first-class shudder.

“The rumbling noise increased, the glare of its single eye became fiercer, and I seemed paralyzed. Its body was about ten feet high and equally wide, and it was nearly fifty feet long. It was a bright yellow, and the head resembled that of a bull-dog. A large flat prong extended out from either side of its jaws, and it was terrible! terrible!”

At this point in the narrative, which corresponded exactly with that of the New Bedford sea serpent, a man tapped the reporter on the shoulder and drew him aside. He wore a star upon his left breast.

“Well, young feller, I guess I’ll have ter take him along. He’s got ’em pretty bad, hasn’t he?” remarked the facetious personage with the twinkle on his coat.

“I found him a-wrestling wid the red llght on the grip-car last night. Ole Wallace gave him sixty days at the House”

The reporter silently folded up his notes and stole away, and the last thing that he saw when he looked back was the “gentleman of undoubted veracity” extracting an imaginary sea-serpent from the back of his neck. The reporter wonders if the men who saw the New Bedford serpent are getting better.

Chicago Herald.

Alpena [MI] Weekly Argus 24 January 1883: p. 4

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Sea serpents were a recognised attraction of the American summer resort. One properly deployed story of a sea serpent was worth hundreds of pounds to sea-side establishments, so journalists became adept at creating stories about leviathans of the deep—each larger and scalier than the previous ones—for what came to be called the Silly Season. Some of the monsters were very silly indeed and were almost always narrated by a “gentleman of undoubted veracity.” See this post over at the Haunted Ohio blog for some vintage images of sea-serpents. And this thrilling tale of a “sea serpent” in a Kansas river.

To be Relentlessly Informative, the illustration below is of a “grip-car.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.



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