Pierce Rideout had heard stories about "Cressie," a monster that supposedly inhabited Crescent Lake in Newfoundland. But it would take more than legends and old wives' tales to spook this hearty Newfoundland farmer whose family had lived on the lake for generations.
He became a believer on Sept. 5, 1991.
"I was driving along the road, minding my own business, when I looked out the open window and noticed a disturbance on the lake," Mr. Rideout told newspaper reporters.
He said he saw what seemed to be a bow wave of a small boat about 150 yards offshore.
"From what I could tell, it was moving slow but steady," Mr. Rideout said. "It was black and about 15 feet long, and it was pitching forward in a rolling motion much as a whale does."
The startled Newfoundlander saw no sign of a fin, sail or fluke. Nor did he see a head or neck. A few seconds later the thing sank and did not reappear.
"I knew what it was," he said. "It had to be Cressie."
The sighting so rattled the part-time mail carrier that he started carrying a gun along when traveling near the lake.
For centuries, folks living along Crescent Lake had told stories about Cressie, a snakelike creature that supposedly lives near the southern end of the lake. Indian myths contained references to woodum haoot, the "pond devil," or the "swimming demon," haoot tuwedyee.
Early French and English explorers also chronicled accounts of such creatures inhabiting a number of Canadian lakes, including Ogopogo of British Columbia, Lake Champlain's Champ, Igopogo of Lake Simcoe and Manipogo of Lake Manitoba. Like Nessie of Scotland's Loch Ness and Chessie of Chesapeake Bay, these lake monsters rarely harmed anyone, and none has ever been captured or properly photographed.
Yet people continue to believe. Cressie sightings increased significantly after the turn of the century, when one of the first residents of the village of Robert's Arm, remembered today as "Grandmother Anthony," was startled from her berry-picking by a giant serpent on the lake. Armed farmers and fishermen patrolled the shores for weeks.
Encounters also were reported in the 1930s and '40s. In the early '50s, two woodsmen reported seeing a "huge, black and rounded" snake slip beneath the waters of the lake. This sighting was followed by several more over the following years.
In the late spring of 1990, another resident of Robert's Arm said he saw a "slim, black shape" rise five feet from a patch of churning water before sinking out of sight. That report made front page in several local newspapers.
On July 9, 1991, one of the most respected citizens of Robert's Arm spotted Cressie. Fred Parsons, a retired schoolteacher, newspaper correspondent and 1991 winner of "Citizen of the Year Award," swore he watched a "dark serpent- shaped creature" undulate across the lake. The creature appeared to be "in excess" of 20 feet long.
Skeptics scoff at such suggestions. They claim that public relations stunts and outright fraud account for 90 percent of the sightings, while the rest can be attributed to mistaken observations. One doubter insists that the frothing disturbances commonly associated with sightings are actually gas bubbles from decomposing pulpwood littering the lake bottom.
But Royal Canadian Mounted Police divers have found compelling evidence that "monsters" inhabit Crescent Lake.
Giant eels thicker than a man's thigh were photographed churning through the depths of the lake. Several of these "giants" were killed and brought to the surface for examination. One such specimen measured almost 5 feet long.
Adult eels have been known to reach 20 feet. But in the early 1930s, Danish marine biologists discovered a deep-sea eel larva 6 feet long. Fully grown, the eel could be expected to exceed 60 feet in length -- a true "sea monster."
Some investigators theorize that Cressie, Nessie, Ogopogo and all the other fabled lake monsters are actually nothing more than unknown species of giant eel.
E. Randall Floyd can be reached at Rfloyd2@aol.com.
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