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.

Friday, July 01, 2005

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

On each of the last two days I have published the Blog postings listed below about the Sea Serpent of the Sound that supposedly was spotted in Pelham Waters in August 1877:

June 29, 2005: The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part I)

June 30, 2005: The Sea Serpent of the Sound: Spotted in Pelham Waters in 1877 (Part II)

Regular readers will recall that in the first posting, I provided an account of a steamship traveling past Execution Lighthouse northeast of City Island, then part of Pelham, when it supposedly struck the sea serpent as it lay asleep on the water. The serpent reportedly "rose angrily to the height of the flagstaff with a hissing sound" and dashed water on the deck of the steamship. The Sound Sea-Serpent, N.Y. Times, Sep. 2, 1877, p. 7.

In yesterday's posting, I provided the account of a sea captain from Darien, Connecticut who -- a week or two after the "sighting" -- gave a plausible explanation for the reported incident claiming that the steamship had struck the mast of a sunken ship that he was involved in salvaging and that the mast was broken off and likely bobbed up next to the ship frightening those on board. The Sea-Serpent In The Sound, N.Y. Times, Sep. 14, 1877, p. 3. For several years, thereafter, however, there were numerous "sightings" of the Sea Serpent of the Sound that seemingly traveled up and down the northeastern coast of the United States. Today's Blog posting provides a plausible explanation for some of those "sightings".

During the late 1870s, there were many published reports describing supposed sightings of the Sea Serpent of the Sound. One such report placed the beast south of the Sound off the shore of Sandy Hook. There were so many reports during that two or three year period that the august journal Scientific American undertook to relate eyewitness accounts of the Sandy Hook encounter and to provide a plausible explanation for the sighting. In addition, the journal published an artist's rendering of the "beast" created from eyewitness accounts. A detail from that image appears below, taken from the December 27, 1879 issue of Scientific American.

Scientific American noted that members of a Sandy Hook live-saving crew saw the sea serpent. According to the account:

"Kittell was the first to see it. He says: 'I looked out and saw a large head and portions of the body of a most terrible looking monster. It was wriggling slowly along like a snake, the head and several portions of the body showing above the water. It was not a whale, as there was not more than twelve feet of water where it was, and a whale as large as that would necessarily have been in view all the time. But this thing would disappear altogether at intervals. No fin could be seen anywhere on the back. The body looked round and much larger than a pork barrel. It was of a blackish-brown color. I am sure it was not a whale, but cannot say what it was. It was a stranger to me.'

George Lohsen makes the following statement: 'I took the glasses and ran down to the water's edge and leveled the glasses at the monster's head. The front of the head was square, with a projection about two feet long extending from the top of the head. The eye was seven or eight inches in diameter, of a shiny black, and it appeared bulged out considerable. There looked to be a white rim around it. The animal's length was at least 300 feet from the head to the tail, as seen by us, not making allowances for the crooks in the body.'

Harry Foster, another of the crew, says: 'I got up and looked out, and saw the devilishest looking fish I ever put my eyes on. It was moving along about as fast as a man could walk. I took a pair of strong glasses and followed it along the beach. It was not more than 300 yards from the shore. With the glasses the head looked as large as a hogshead. The front of the head looked square, and was about three feet high, with a projection two feet long extending from the top of its head. The eye toward the shore was as large as the top of my hat, was shiny black and had a white edge. . . . From the head to the tail it was at the least calculation 300 feet long. It was moving along the water the same as an eel. The head and several parts of the body was constantly out of the water. It was some species of serpent. . . . not a whale. . . . This thing did not spout, and showed no fins on any part of its body excepting on the tail, which was formed like that of an eel.'"

Source: Beard, Daniel C., The Sea Serpent Accounted For, Scientific American, p. 1 (Dec. 27, 1879).

The author of the article provided a plausible explanation for the sighting, saying "[t]here is no doubt, in my mind, that the monster lately seen off Sandy Hook by the crew of the life-saving station was no other than a large cephalopod". Id. A cephalopod is a member of the Cephalopoda class of marine mollusks that include the octopus, squid, cuttlefish and nautilus. They typically have a large head, large eyes and tentacles. They have been known to grow to very large dimensions.

The author of the article in Scientific American argued that the sighting must have involved a cephalopod because:

"1st: The body is large and round, and described as resembling sometimes a cask and again a bale of goods.

2nd: The eyes are large and staring.

3rd: The arms or tentacles are of great length, and have a snake-like appearance and motion."


The "beast" sighted near City Island in Pelham in August 1877, then, may have been the mast of a sunken ship or -- though less likely, it seems -- a giant cephalopod. Of course, it may have been the product of overactive imaginations or . . . . something else.

We, of course, will never know what prompted the sighting off the waters of Pelham. Yes, there are plausible -- even likely -- explanations. But, no one can deny that something happened in the waters near City Island in late August 1877 that added to the legends and lore of Pelham!

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