That is one of several questions raised by Chad
Lewis in “Hidden
Headlines of New York: Strange, Unusual and
Bizarre Newspaper Stories of 1860-1910.”
Among the strange tales Lewis amassed about the
Empire State is that of two fishermen who
reported seeing a large serpent-like creature in
Owasco Lake on July 7, 1889.
Fred C. Hayden and James O. Thomas noticed a
dark form in the water at Buck Point, on the
south end of the lake, that they initially
thought was a tree trunk. As they approached it
in their boat from a few yards away, they saw
the form move in the waves of the lake before
disappearing under the water.
“Several others whose veracity is not usually
questioned claim to have seen the serpent,” it
read in the July 8, 1889 Syracuse Post-Standard
Almost 10 years later, lakeside residents once
again confronted the possibility that a
prehistoric beast was lurking in Owasco Lake.
During her research, Owasco Town Historian
Laurel Auchampaugh discovered a May 28, 1897
article in the Auburn Daily Advertiser - taken
from the Moravia Republican - that describes
another encounter between two fishermen and the
elusive form in the water.
The men, whose
identities were withheld, described a shape that
looked like an “immense log” three to four feet
in diameter and more than 50 feet long. As they
came closer to it, the men's boat was nearly
capsized by a “fearful splashing” near the
middle of the massive object.
“They refrained from telling this occurrence,
knowing that such a story would not be
believed,” the article stated.
But belief in the sea serpent was far more than
folie a deux. A week prior to the fishermen's
sighting, an Owasco farmer traveling to Auburn
spotted the monster early one morning near the
That same week, two men reported seeing the
monster “lay on the surface of the water”
between Cascade and Indian Cove. As they closed
in on the creature, it “glided down the lake at
Photo illustration by Jason Rearick and
David Wilcox / The Citizen
Depending on who you
talked to at the time, the serpent measured
somewhere between six and 100 feet in length.
The hysteria reached its height when a Cascade
landlord named Baker offered a $100 reward for
the sea beast's capture.
Like the Loch Ness monster myth that surrounds
that Scottish lake, there is little to no
scientific basis for the idea of an ancient sea
beast inhabiting Owasco Lake. And there is even
less evidence than the grainy photographs
supporting the existence of Nessie.
Marion Balyszak, director of the Finger Lakes
Institute, which tests and analyzes bodies of
water in central New York, has heard no recent
stories of the alleged sea serpent in Owasco
However, similar reports by boaters of strange
creatures in Seneca Lake has led Balyszak to
attribute such sightings to sturgeons, an old
and large species of fresh water fish that can
stretch up to 15 feet in length.
“They can look prehistoric-like,” she said.
The other Auburn tale Lewis dug up to feature in
“Hidden Headlines” is hardly unexplainable, but
still quite strange. “Born, Died and Buried on
the Same Day” recounts the simultaneous birth
and death of neighbors Hugh D. Crawford and Mrs.
John Dates. The 1907 tale is part of the book's
selection of oddity stories.
“It runs the whole gamut of weird stories,” he
The New York book follows similar compilations
of weird stories in Texas and Lewis' native
Wisconsin that Lewis also put together. He chose
to feature New York due to the prevalence of
peculiar wire stories featured in the Wisconsin
newspaper archives. Lewis made it a point to
focus on the entire state.
“So many books focus on New York City or the big
cities, but that's not where all the weird stuff
was going on,” he said.
The tales of the sea serpent in Owasco Lake and
the neighbors with identical life spans are
presented as they were written in the newspaper
a century ago.
“I leave it up to the person to determine
whether or not they believe what they read,”
Lewis said. “That's half the fun of the book.”