The members of the Paranormal Investigators of Milwaukee recently went on a road trip to check out some famously haunted locations in Ohio and Kentucky. They got quite a bit of activity at one of the locations. I’ll tell their hair-raising story in my next "Milwaukee Ghost Stories," but meanwhile I’ll relay my own recent adventure, not with ghosts, but another mysterious entity ... lake monsters.
While PIM was getting throttled by ghosts, I was heading out to Lake Champlain, home to a lesser-known cousin of the Loch Ness Monster, "Champ" – the name given to what is imagined to be a small population of animals in the 100 mile-long lake. Nessie, Champ and British Columbia’s Ogopogo (of Lake Okanagan) are among dozens of reported "lake monsters." Theories vary as to what they could be – pleisosaurs, an unknown mammal, or a prehistoric whale. Skeptics say it is everyday flotsam like driftwood coupled with human imagination.
In Button Bay State Park, south of Burlington, Vt., I met up with an assembled group of cryptozoologists — people who study unknown animals. Their goal was to monitor the lake with underwater cameras, binoculars, night vision and thermal imaging gear and hydrophones to try to find any solid evidence of Champ. We didn’t find any, but the group is planning to return with more gear and a longer term camera set up next year.
One of the people on the trip was lake monster expert Scott Mardis, a walking database of information on the mystery creatures. When I mentioned I was from Wisconsin, he immediately recalled an item from his massive archives, which he scanned and sent to me.
It’s a 10-page booklet published in 1942 by the Wisconsin Folklore Society, written by Charles E. Brown. It’s titled "Sea Serpents: Wisconsin Occurrences of These Weird Water Monsters in the Four Lakes, Rock, Red Cedar, Koshkonong, Geneva, Elkhart, Michigan and other Lakes."
The book details Lake Monster sightings from the late 1800s to the 1920s. One of the funniest stories is about "Bozho," the mischievous serpent that lurked in Madison’s Lake Mendota. The animal reportedly tipped canoes, chased sailboats and on one occasion tickled a sunbathing young lady.
"Turning over quickly she saw the head and neck of a huge snake, or dragon, extended above the surface," Brown writes. "It had a friendly, humorous look in its big eyes. With its long tongue this animal had been caressing the soles of her feet."
Rock Lake in Jefferson County was also terrorized by a creature known as the "Rock Lake Terror" and was first reported in 1882. It frightened boaters and fisherman by popping out of the water and hissing at them. One fisher claimed the monster "seized his trolling hook, and pulled his boat along over half a mile at a rushing speed before he let go."
The last entry in the booklet indicates that Milwaukee might have had its own water beast out in Lake Michigan. The booklet relays the story:
"In the late Nineties, or early 1900s, some market fisherman who were setting nets one day in Lake Michigan off the Jones Island shore saw the head of a ferocious-looking beast above the surface. They were not far away, so got a good look at the creature before it submerged. Returning to shore, they told of what they had seen but were laughed at.
"Not long after this some young men who were sailing a catboat in Milwaukee Bay saw what they thought to be a large cask floating some distance beyond their boat. When they passed near it they saw it was the head of a large serpentine animal which was floating at rest. They had no desire to investigate it at closer quarters."
Since this animal wasn’t given a catchy nickname, I’d like to suggest "Michy."
Although reports of Champ continue today – it was just sighted this June by a family on a fishing trip – Lake Monster Fever seems to have died in Wisconsin by the 1920s. What happened to Bozho, the Rock Lake Terror and Michy? Did they ever exist at all? Unless conclusive proof is presented, we’ll just have to use our imagination.
Next Milwaukee Ghost Stories: Ghosts get violent!