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PSS Summer '13

Seneca Lake Sea Monster

Andrew Wickenden ’09

On the evening of July 14, 1900, aboard a side-wheel steamboat named the Otetiani, Captain Carleton C. Herendeen and Pilot Frederick Rose sighted what they first took to be an overturned boat, about 400 yards ahead. They were traveling north from Watkins Glen and were only about 15 miles south of Geneva, their destination.

Through his telescope, the captain spied an object approximately 25 feet long, with a very sharp bow and a long, narrow stern. But when the Otetiani approached, the “object” turned and began to move away.

The captain ordered “full speed ahead.” According to witnesses, the object “rais[ed] its head, looked in the direction of the boat and opened its mouth, displaying two rows of sharp, white teeth.”

The creature then disappeared.

What happened next remains unclear. A passenger spotted “the long, lithe body of the monster lying on the surface,” according to a newspaper account at the time. Again, the captain ordered full steam ahead and this time, the Otetiani’s paddlewheel struck the creature with enough impact to throw the passengers to the deck.

Though passengers reported that the collision killed the creature, it was not recovered. Speculation remains about what the creature was—if indeed it was a creature—and where it came from.

A geologist who happened to be aboard described what might be a sturgeon— “very long…armed with two rows of triangular white teeth as sharp as those of a shark.” Although sturgeon are found in New York lakes and can occasionally grow as large as seven feet and 300 pounds, the geologist was adamant that the creature “was about twenty–five feet long…[and] weighed about one thousand pounds.”

There have been subsequent instances in which residents along Seneca Lake claimed to witness mysterious fish in the lake, some resembling large carp, others that look like porpoises. Professor Emeritus of Geoscience Don Woodrow P’84, GP’15 attributes these reports to “oversized carp which, when turned over to sun themselves, look bizarre.”

Another explanation is that the “creature” is a surviving relative of prehistoric sea serpents. Another relies on the geology of the region: Seneca Lake is 200 feet below sea level and is connected to the Atlantic by way of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. Could an ocean–dweller have made it all the way to Seneca?