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Sunday, 25 December 2011

Alkali Lake Monster and Hall's Horrors

About the time Ivan Sanderson died, there was an article in PURSUIT by Mark A. Hall entitled "HORRORS From the Mesozoic" which touched on two distinct matters actually: the Alkali Lake Monster reported in Nebraska and the Great Horned Alligator mentioned much more vaguely as centered around Texas. The latter is both the more definite Cryptid and more spectacular, but the Alkali Lake monster became a point of confiusion by being better-documented and better-described, with a similar overall description. It was however almost certainly a hoax from the beginning.
From North American Monsters:


0 Comments 06 January 2010
This gargantuan, mono-horned, foul smelling, reptilian beast is reputed to lurk in the depths of Nebraska’s famed Alkali Lake, devouring all who come near it.
Located in central Nebraska, Walgren Lake (formerly known as Alkali Lake) is an eroded volcanic outcropping that is reputed to be the nesting place of one of the most unusual LAKE MONSTERS ever recorded and, if the legends are true, the habitat of the only aquatic monster ever reported in the state of Nebraska.
Originally chronicled in Native American folklore, this creature has been described as a gargantuan alligator-like beast with some unique attributes. Eyewitnesses claim that the beast is approximately 40-feet long, with rough, grayish-brown skin and a horny outgrowth located between its eyes and nostrils.

The first confirmed report of this curious monstrosity comes to us from the Omaha World Herald, dated 1923. In this report, a man named J.A. Johnson claimed that he and two friends had seen the creature while camping on the shores of Lake Alkali. Viewing the creature from a distance of a mere 60-feet, their testimony confirms that the animal’s features did resemble those of an alligator – complete with a rhinoceros-like horn – but that the creature in question was much longer and heavier than any traditional specimen of “Alligatoridae.” According to Johnson’s own account:
“I saw the monster myself while with two friends last fall. I could name forty other people who have also seen the brute.” Johnson went on to state that this creature had been responsible for local livestock losses.
The trio also claimed that as soon as the animal noticed their presence on shore, it emitted a “dreadful roar” and began to thrash its tail – creating a massive splash – before disappearing beneath the lake’s churning surface.
The American Monsters research team could uncover no modern encounters with this beast, which remains one of the most fascinating lake monsters in the continental United States.
A much-repeated description found on the internet follows:
The Alkali Lake, known now as Walgren Lake, is an 80 to 100 acre body of water located in the Sandhills area of Northwestern Nebraska. The lake is also the reputed home of the Alkali Lake Monster which is described as a 40 foot long alligator like creature with rough, grayish brown skin and a horn like appendage located between its eyes and nostrils. Reports of the Alkali Lake Monster started in August of 1921, and the first written account of the monster appeared in a 1922 printing of the Hay Springs News.
A second written report appeared in a 1923 printing of the Omaha World Herald. According to this report a name named J.A. Johnson claimed that he and two friends saw the creature while camping on the shores of Alkali Lake. The three men reported that they saw the creature from a distance of 60 feet and stated that it looked a lot like an alligator, complete with a rhinoceros like horn. They claimed that when the creature noticed them it began to violently thrash its tail and disappeared beneath the churning surface

See the original news report here dated 1923 July 24th :

Some researchers of the Alkali Lake Monster have suggested evidence that the creature was nothing more than a hoax. They state that at the time stories of the creature first appeared the Hay Springs News employed a man by the name of John G. Maher, who reportedly had a flair for tall tales and hoaxes. One such trick he and his accomplices perpetuated was the planting of a concrete cast in the local badlands where it was later “discovered” and named petrified man.
Maher was a corresponding reporter for many newspapers at the time some of which where ran by editors who where only interested in boosting circulation by printing sensational stories [This was commonly known as "Yellow Journalism"-DD]. As a contributing reporter for many newspapers Maher was only paid for stories that where printed, so it became necessary for these stories to sound as good as possible. Maher's attitude toward his contributions was evident when he reportedly said, "There was a great demand for stories and few things to write about, so, for an inventive mind, there was nothing to do but make up stories".
Another noteworthy piece of information is that in 1889 and 1890 the Alkali Lake area experiences a severe drought causing water levels in the lake to fall until it became little more than a puddle, causing some to question how a 40 foot monster would appear in the lake just 30 years later. While the lake continues to be a popular social and recreational gathering areas to this day sightings of the Alkali Lake Monster all but stopped in the 1920’s leading most researchers to suggest that if the creature ever really did exist it has either passed away or moved out on to another lake.
-So essentially the entire history of the "reliable sightings" of the Alkali Lake monster consists of one published report, and possibly one later incident at Campbell Lake SD was inspired directly from it.(Evidently within the decade later and again with only one published account. I have not seen the actual account in this case but the two places are often cited in tandem by Cryptozoologists)
The Alkali Lake affair does not end at that point, however. Peter Costello's In Search of Lake Monsters includes the following information  on pages 210-211;
"This lake is a few miles south of Hay Springs. In 1939 the indigent scholars and writers employed on the Federal Writer's Project, which was collecting "American Folklore", summarised the history of the monster there, which they facetiously call Giganticus Brutervious. When the monster appeares the Earth trembles and the skies cloud over. When he comes ashore, to devour calves it is said, a thick mist covers the shore around him. His gnashing teeth rumble like claps of thunder (How reminiscent this is of the Chinese dragons, originally gods controlling rain and thunder. Did the Chinese coolies working on the American railroads in the 1870s leave one of their deities behind them in Nebraska?) the writers archly describe the horror of the monster, how his appearance made men mad or turned their hair white. He was said to be over 300 feet long and to have swallowed a small island in the lake. By 1939 the monster was seen so infrequently that some thought it was gone away, others that it was hibernating.
This is an example of folklorists at their worst. Rather than treat popular stories as topics of serious interest, the writers feel that to justify their spending time collecting and rehashing them, the stories have to be given a facetious treatment, and the bourgeois prejudice of the reader pandered to by making what his grandfather believed to be an object of ridicule. This is not literature, nor is it social science. It is rubbish. They would have been better employed exploring the coincidence of their local folklore with Chinese mythology"
Now that was uncalled for and I feel I must take Costello to task for it because he was being greatly misleading about a straightforeward report which he evidently did not even bother to read in the original. The story as Costello excerpts it was widely circulated at the time and reached even the London Times, which was evidently Costello's source. However, the original document is available on Google documents. It is quite responsible and it names John Maher as probably the originator of all this folderol. And bringing Chinese dragons into the discussion merely introduces another unrelated matter. The Alkali Lake monster seems to have been made from whole cloth from the onset, although there is the tiniest glimmer (because of the gag postcard reprinted by North American Monsters) that originally reports of "Giant Mudpuppies" might have been at the base of it. If so, the amphibians most likely had died off by the late 1800s and were separated from the wildly exaggerated stories by a generation or more. Here is the link to the document:

Giganticus Brutervious

On the other hand, Hall's explanation of the creature as a kind of enormous horned alligator (up to 50-60 feet long, the presumed size of "Phobosuchus") DOES correspond to some reports of creatures in Texas, the Mississippi delta and deep in the Everglades of Florida, a creature sometimes called the "Super-Croc." During the WWII days, sightings of such creatures were confused with (or interpreted as) "Phantom submarines" come up the Mississippi as far as Missouri, and at least one report of the White River Monster (Arkansas) sounds like one of these creatures (An alligator-like creature with an exaggerated back-crest and estimated as 75 feet long) And representations of these creatures in Native art feeds into the notion of a "Great Horned Serpent" because that is what archaeologists invariably call them. However, these creatures are large and hefty with no discernable neck to speak of.

"Horned Serpent" mound creature carved from coal. Note that this is a reptile because it has a single cloaca. Large creatures resembling this are pictured on ancient Indus Valley seals with the hint that they were trying to steal cattle. Similar giant horned crocodiles are supposed to live in the big rivers of Thailand and Burma, where they are called the "King of Crocodiles" and the length of 50-60 feet again quoted for them.

 "Great Horned Alligator" as a "Mississippi River Monster"

IMHO, the horns on these representations are much exaggerated and we do have a real creature involved. The "Super-Croc" is world-wide in distribution and may have been reported as dragons both in Mediterranean countries as well as in the Orient (China and Japan): they may have been the originals for the reports of Tarasques and "Storm Dragons" (said to have fallen from the sky during storms, AND to have been reported in Madagascar, South and East Africa (Including as the "Silwaaane Manzi"-if so there is a possible photo of one from South Africa in the 1930s). They are more than likely the source of a couple of Heuvelmans' reports of "Marine Saurians" and we may have some specimens of some of them in our museums mistakenly labelled as "Crocodylus porosis"-especially the largest specimens assigned to that species. And we may have reports of the type all the way back to Sumerian imes. They seem to be nearly entirely marine but are forced to go into freshwater to breed: evidently the smallest hatchlings cannot tolerate saltawater and need a period of development before travelling out to sea.

Best Wishes, Dale D.

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