POCOMOONSHINE LAKE MONSTER
Almost everyone around here has heard of this serpent-like creature and quite a number of those who frequent the lake have seen it or the trail that it leaves behind. Of course, those who see it are hesitant to tell of their adventure because some disbeliever is bound to ridicule the witness, as we shall see in the last part of this article. Here are a few of the facts that we can share.
First, the monster appears like a water snake. It prefers to be in the water, and while in that habitat, only its head and occasional parts of its long body is visible. Pull the water snake from the lake, and measure it with a yardstick will reveal its true length. Those snakes at Pocomoonshine often exceed three feet. Unfortunately, no record exists of a monster being pulled from the waters and measured. Thus we have to depend on estimates of length, and those vary from 30 feet to 60 feet.
The article we will quote later describes their width as four feet, based on their trail through soft ground. Yes, like ells, the monsters can leave the water and travel over land to get around a dam or to another body of water. Most witnesses of Pocomoonshine Lake monster trails set the width at three feet. These trails are often evident in the marshes by the river between Pocomoonshine and Crawford lakes. Casual observers likely don’t have a clue of what they are seeing.
At a recent petroglyph exhibit at UM Machias, state archaeologist Mark Hedden described the characters that the Passamaquoddy had drawn into the shale rocks between 3000 years ago and about 1700 AD. These characters included the shaman and his brother spirit, moose, deer, huge water serpents, and, from after the contact with Europeans, the cross and ships. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm describes those serpents or water monsters in OLD JOHN NEPTUNE. Pages 39 – 48 are summarized in the next two paragraphs.
The Fight with the Wiwiliamecq: The supreme achievement of John Neptune was his encounter with the dreaded underwater monster, known by the Passamaquoddies as the wiwiliamecq. The scene of this fight is always laid at Boyden’s Lake in Perry. The Passamaquoddy name for the lake is Neseik, meaning Roily or muddy from the great fight. The story appears first in print in Algonquin Legends of New England in 1884.
John Neptune, a shaman of great powers, was in conflict with a Micmac chief, and they agreed to settle this in the waters of Neseik. Neptune turned himself into a horned snail and the Micmac became a huge serpent, 40 feet long. They battled in the lake; Neptune killed his antagonists, and tied his body to a tree on a promontory on the west shore of the lake.
At this point, some readers might believe that this is one of those wild stories that Terry Holst requested. True doubters, members of the Flat Earth Society, may stop reading now. Those who feel the need for a reality check, read on.
The March 21, 1882 issue of the Machias Union has an article entitled CHAIN LAKE SNAKE. The article is, in fact, a letter from one Sewell S. Quimby of Wesley in which he attempts to refute the existence of this monster. Sewell (1840) and his wife Lizzie (1846) lived in Wesley. Nearby lived his parents, David (1802) and Pheby (1810) and also his brother Hiram (1831), his wife Deborah (1837) and their daughter Annie (1873). The Quimby family had a sawmill on Chain Lake Stream according to the 1881 Atlas, right on the Airline. Here is Sewell’s letter.
"Mr. Editor: As I was returning home Saturday night I heard a man say with great earnestness that he had seen the man that saw the great snake, and that they were going to lease the ground around Chain Lakes for a hunting ground; that they were already having great chains made, huge traps constructed, harpoons, lances, spears, gaffs and barbs in readiness when the spring opened, and were going to capture if possible the monster of the mighty deep, now landlocked in the small fresh water ponds of the Machias Chain Lakes.
"Just a little later I heard another person say, with the same vim, they had seen a man that saw the man that said he saw the great snake…. Hall and Libby were on the shore of Chain Lake … they heard a noise…and saw what they took to be a man and a skiff, but soon became convinced it was a serpent … its smallest part was as large as a pork barrel. He says when last seen in the outlet, it had left the water and passed a distant point of land covered with granite boulders."
Mr. Quimby refutes the above statements thus: On that very day that Hall and Libby were at Chain Lake, Quimby was also at the Lake. He had gone to the head of the lake for some boards and other supplies for a camp, including a barrel stove that he placed on the bow of the skiff. He had rowed the skiff down lake and to the outlet where there are no granite boulders. If Hall saw granite boulders where there are none, well; he likely saw a monster where there was none.
Quimby continues, "In January, one Hunnewell of Alexander came to our camp with a big story that he had seen the trail of the huge creature, four feet wide, three feet deep and a quarter mile long. Logs had been turned out of his track and he had torn things up awfully. Mr. H. was also very much excited."
We know, as did Sewell Quimby, that people from Alexander would never utter an untruth. Upon investigation, Quimby found the place in a swamp where Hunnewell had seen the trail. Quimby estimated it to be between 3 and 4 feet wide and 2 ½ to 3 feet deep. The trail was sinuous, making 3 or 4 bends. It was in two places, each 3 rods long, and looked a little particular. All this Quimby attributed to the freezing and thawing of the swamp.
A study of the 1880 census indicates that the Hunnewell was either Andrew, age 49, or Charles Sidney, age 30, both married and both sons of Jonathan, age 77. Charlie White never saw the monster, but his father Coolidge told him that Arthur Harriman had seem its track. Arthur was born in January 1880 and came to the shores of Pocomoonshine in the mid-1890s with his father Fred and family. Arthur spent much of his adult life on Pocomoonshine and lived on the lakeshore in Alexander and in South Princeton.
These lake creatures by whatever name and in whatever water shed likely are harmless. So while you are on the lakes or prowling in the swamps, keep your eyes and your mind open. With a few good pictures, we might get the Pocomoonshine Lake Monster listed on the federal endangered species list. And while we are at it, we still need stories to share, and are looking especially for stories about the Indian Devil. The Passamaquoddy call this creature lunk soos; it is sometimes called a catamount, mountain lion, or panther.
WARNING: The above article is based on historic records, accurately, but not completely, copied. Its inclusion in the A-CHS Newsletter is meant to illustrate the possible sources of stories about the Pocomoonshine Lake Monster and the role of stories in our culture. Jd
WATER MONSTER ADDITION
Manly Hardy (1832 – 1910) describes otters, "often four or five are seen in company…. When swimming, one is usually in the lead and the others follow in his wake with short intervals between each, and when their backs roll out of the water as they swim, three of four will often look like one body thirty or forty feet in length. The seeing of several swimming in this manner has undoubtedly given rise to the stories often repeated in our newspapers of large fresh-water snakes (serpents or monsters) being seen in our lakes." A-CHS members are cautioned not to confuse water monsters with otters! This interesting book is available from Northeast Folklore at the University of Maine.