The Buffalo Courier
Monday, October 8, 1894
THE LAKE SERPENT
He Showed Himself in
Chautauqua County in 1817.
But He Was Eclipsed by an Ocean
Rival That Inspired a
To the Editor of the Courier:
The record given in yesterday's Courier
of the public appearance of the great lake
serpent is not complete. He was first seen
off the shore of Chautauqua County, more
than 75 years ago, as appears by the following
extract from a paper published in
Erie, Pa , in July, 1817:
"On the 3d of July, 30 miles below this
place, and three miles from land, the crew
of the schooner Gen. Scott saw a serpent
35 or 40 feet in length, and its neck, which
it put out of the water a few yards from
the vessel, 10 or 12 inches in diameter. Its
color was a dark mahogany, nearly black.
The lake was smooth, and they had a perfect
view of it for more than a minute."
The locality designated is between Barcelona
and Van Buren Point so the serpent
clearly belongs to Chautauqua County,
When the description of his snakeship
reached Boston, there was a fear that the
Atlantic was losing prestige, and that its
fame would be eclipsed by a Western fresh
water pond; a feeling undoubtedly like that
which filled the breast of a gallant colonel
of a crack regiment in the late War, who,
when he was informed by his chaplain that
there had been a revival of religion in a
rival regiment and that 10 men had been
baptized, called his orderly and told him to
detail 15 men for immediate baptism, adding
'that he'd be blanked if he'd be outdone
by any regiment in the service. So very
soon in the Eastern papers appeared an account
of the splendid sea-serpent seen by
Cant. Wheeler in the harbor of Gloucester,
Mass., 100 feet long with a head as long
as that of a horse, and a body as large as
a barrel. This magnificent denizen of the
salt, sea was too much for our ophidian,
and he sank into obscurity. Even James
H. Price, who lived in Mayville and was
our own poet laureate, deeply chagrined,
undoubtedly, that the weakness of the Lake
Erie people should be such that they should
be tempted into telling the first snake
story, blushed for the honor of the county.
He felt that our snake was too small. In
his ode to the Eastern snake he entirely
ignored the little fresh-water wiggler seen
from the schooner Gen. Scott between Barcelona
and Van Buren Point, went after
strange gods, and invited the Eastern serpent
to come through the Erie Canal when
it should be completed and visit our Western waters.
We copy the greater part of his ode
which was published in Mayville in
Chautauqua Eagle in 1819.
Ode to the Sea Serpent.
"Monstrum horrendum informe ingens."
"Majestic wanderer of the deep,
O, could I catch thee fast asleep.
And learn exact thy shape and quantity,
I'd give the richest verse to flow,
And joyous round thy brow bestow
The wreath of immortality.
"But whether speckled, green, or black
Thy belly white or striped thy back,
No mother's son has told;
Were I permitted now to choose
Thy dress, I'd give the brightest hues,
Sea-green and burnished gold.
"An oysterman. by way of feint,
Clep'd Capt. Wheeler, makes complaint,
His face with terror pale,
That very much to his surprise,
He saw your worship's head and eyes—
But not your worship's tail.
"And many a goodly gallant sail
Shall see thy head, perchance thy tail.
Through long succeeding years;
While off Cape Ann or off Cape Cod
Right valiantly they swear by G—d
Tour serpentineship appears."
"Dost know, that we New Yorkers shall
Soon have a "big ditch" called canal
By cash and toll unsparing?
And when complete, the work
Kindly we'll let your highness thro
To take a western airing.
"Maybe fresh water don't agree.
Most mighty king of snakes, with thee,
Nor suit thy princely notion:
And thou thy prefer'st for toil or play,
In melancholy mood or gay
The azure paths of ocean.
"Then like a meteor snake afar
Long may'st thou shine the sailor's star;
Give every whale a whipping;
And prithee stand, with two bright eyes
(Till we can get some new supplies)
A lighthouse for our shipping."
Sinclairvllle. Chautauqua County, October 6.
Article used with the Permission of:
Buffalo State College Archives
and Special Collections
E. H. Butler Library #135
Buffalo State College
1300 Elmwood Ave.
Buffalo, NY 14222-1095