Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, June 30, 2005

The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part II)

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Beginning in 1947, people across the United States began reported strange things in the sky that looked like "flying saucers". The Unidentified Flying Object ("UFO") craze had begun. For many years, ordinary citizens of unquestionable reputation claimed to see UFOs.

Seventy years before the UFO craze, there was a "Sea Serpent" craze along the east coast of the United States. As noted in yesterday's Historic Pelham Blog posting entitled "The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part I)", in July 1877 a sea serpent known as the "Sea Serpent of the Sound" first appeared. The serpent (or serpents, some might say) supposedly returned each year for several years and was even referenced several years later in The New York Times as "Our Perennial Visitor". See Our Perennial Visitor, N.Y. Times, Aug. 1, 1879, p. 4.

In late August 1877, the Sea Serpent of the Sound was seen off the shores of Pelham near City Island. As with most such unusual events, there may well have been a plainly plausible explanation for the sighting. Today's Blog posting will detail that explanation.

Readers of the daily Historic Pelham Blog will recall that yesterday, I related an account published in the September 2, 1877 issue of The New York Times saying that a steamship from Bridgeport passed near the Execution Lighthouse northeast of City Island and supposedly struck the beast while it lay asleep on the water. According to the account, the collision "caused the boat to tremble from stem to stern" and a "black object rose angrily to the height of the flagstaff with a hissing sound, and water was dashed upon the deck." The Sound Sea-Serpent, N.Y. Times, Sep. 2, 1877, p. 7.

What could possibly serve as a plausible explanation for a "black object" rising "angrily" from the water to the height of a flagstaff on the ship while making a hissing sound? Less than two weeks after the account appeared in the newspaper, a wise old Captain from Darien, Connecticut named E. E. Tooker offered just such an explanation. The Times published it on September 14, 1877. It read:


The Norwalk (Conn.) Hour says: 'On the night of the 21st of July, the schooner Mary of Dennysville, Me., Capt. Holloway, was run into and sunk by the steamer Elanore, of Providence, off Lloyd's Neck, Long Island Sound. The only person saved from the wreck was a lad named Preston. Capt. E. E. Tooker, of Darien, for several weeks has been actively engaged in stripping the hull by the aid of divers. The divers found the body of a man who proved to be Charles A. Loughton, of West Pembroke, Washington County, Me. The bodies of the Captain, mate, and sailors have not yet been recovered; they are doubtless in the cabin of the vessel. And now, as regards this sea-serpent business: During the past week or two we have been amused by reading accounts of a monster serpent being struck by a steamer off the Norwalk Islands; how the vessel trembled at the shock, and how the huge form was seen rising several feet above the water. The mystery is explained this way: When Capt. Tooker found the sunken vessel, all the spars were standing, the top of the mainmast being only about two feet under water at low tide. One morning when the diver descended to resume his work, he found that the mast had been struck by some passing vessel. A sheet of copper was picked up on the deck that had been torn from the bottom of some steamer or sailing vessel. As the wreck is exactly in the line of the Sound steamers, it was, without doubt, the cause of the recent scare."

Source: The Sea-Serpent In The Sound, N.Y. Times, Sep. 14, 1877, p. 3.

A plausible explanation, indeed, although news reports indicate countless sightings of the Sea Serpent of the Sound in many different places throughout the Sound for the next several years . . . . . . . .

Tomorrow: a plausible explanation for other sightings of the Sea Serpent of the Sound in the 1870s?

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