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Sea Serpent at Devil’s Head

Thursday, March 21st, 2013 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections | 2 Comments »

 serpent 1From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

Sea serpent stories are developing into a subgenre in this column. Although the creature described here resembles the “DungeNessie” serpent sighted in 1892 in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, this particular sighting took place very near to the 1899 episode of The Sea Serpent That Got Away.

 This article was found in the Dec. 7, 1855 issue of the Puget Sound Courier, published out of Steilacoom. The serpent was seen off of Devil’s Head, on the tip of the Key Peninsula. Then it took off and vanished between McNeil and Anderson islands. It is interesting that all of the geographic names mentioned in this article have remained essentially unchanged since 1855:


 Mr. Editor:

 “I hasten to communicate to you the important and interesting fact that the world-renowned sea serpent, has at last condescended to pay a visit to the waters of our beautiful inland sea; and from the great delight he was evidently enjoying, that it is but fair to presume he will visit us annually.”

 “For the gratification of the hundreds of thousands of anxious people in the world who have seen in the papers so many unsatisfactory accounts of his mighty snakeship, I will endeavor to give a correct and truthful description of him, praying all who may read it, to give the relation their full, firm, and entire belief. Early in the morning of yesterday, December 2nd, a party of us left Johnson’s Point, so called, where we had camped the night before, on our way from Olympia to pass ‘down the Sound.’ We had just fairly got started, some two hundred yards, perhaps, from the shore, when I, who was steering the boat, noticed a sudden and unusual commotion in the water in the direction of the Devil’s head– a high Bluff bank so called, and directly in our track. Pretty soon the flurry was over and the waters subsided into a calm. For a moment I supposed that there was a shoal of ‘Killers’– gamboling, which, being a common occurrence, I took no further notice of.”

 “Looking again in the same direction, however I saw intervals of some ten feet apparently four round, dark looking spots, somewhat resembling Buoys, upon the water. This awakened some curiosity in my mind, and I gazed upon the phenomenon intensely; but when I saw as I did a moment after, an object of startling appearance rise gradually from the water to a height of fifteen feet, seeming to connect with the dark spots on the surface. My amazement was complete, and I immediately directed the attention of those who were with me in the boat, Messrs Ramsay, Turnbull, Clough and Shanutt, to the singular looking object and asked them their opinion of it.”

Serpent 2

 “They immediately ceased rowing and looked in the direction indicated by me anxiously and earnestly for someminutes, when the truth as to its real nature seemed to break upon our minds simultaneously, and we all exclaimed at once ‘its the Sea serpent its the Sea Serpent!’ Ah, then it would have done you good and made the ‘cockles of your heart beat with joy’ to see how four white ash oars were made to bend and spring under the vigorous strokes of as many athletic young, men creating a miniature water fall under the bow of our sweet little craft. ‘Give way strong my lads, Give way strong’ was the cheering word frequently given; and they did ‘give way’ strong, for, in fifteen minutes we had accomplished a distance that ordinarily takes forty five, and had reached the spot as near as we could judge, where we had seen his royal Snakeship. We then lay upon our oars and looked about us in all directions for a nearer and better view of the distinguished stranger– not long was we doomed to look in vain, for within five minutes from the time we ceased pulling, the monster again rose to the surface on our Starboard Bow and within thirty yds. of us.”

  “If we were surprised before, when seeing him from a distance we now were perfectly amazed, and so badly frightened withal, that there was not one in the party, who did not send up an involuntary and sincere prayer to Heaven for a safe delivery from the neighborhood of so hideous and dangerous looking a Customer. Curiosity however, was stronger within our breasts than fear and consequently we took no measures to get an offing but determined, on the contrary, to hold out where we were, and if possible get a good view of the animal from head to tail and thereby determine his length, size, color, and general appearance, that we might contrast him, as a whole, with the descriptions we had from time to time seen in the journals of the day, for the last twenty years.”

 “Our laudable curiosity was destined to be completely gratified, for the monster, after coming to the surface, straitened himself out at full length, gradually raised his flattened serpent looking head some fifteen feet in the air, and opened his mouth, which was sufficiently large to take in a yearling heifer, took a cool look all around, and at last fixed his small piercing eyes, full upon us, in a manner that seemed to say, who and what are you, that you dare approach so near, or disturb the element which owns me, and me alone, as its monarch.”

 “For the space of ten minutes we were thrilled on the marrow in our bones by the indescribable and strangely fascinating look, and I verily believe that if our soul’s salvation had depended upon this action, so trivial as that as a single sweep with our oars, that we could not have given it– for we were so utterly amazed at the huge proportions of this monster of the ‘Deep’ and so nearly petrified with fear at finding ourselves in such close proximity to him, as to be completely incapable of the least effort,– not for a thousand worlds would I again experience the agonizing sensatives that my mind was tortured by in those ten minutes, or be again so entirely at the mercy of this hideous and frightful looking Serpent.”

 “I am aware that there thousands of incredulous persons in the world who utterly disbelieve the tales that are told of this mighty Ocean Snake, and will dare even to deny the truth of this relation, and accuse the writer of having a distempered imagination or disposition to practice upon the credulity of the silly, and the inexperience of the young. To such I would say, that my imagination is neither distempered nor ardent and that I have no disposition whatever to impose a falsehood upon the simple and credulous. The length of this monster was about 90 feet, and his average size nearly that of our firs. His color was a dirty green, and his whole body, apparently, covered with scales.”

serpent 3

 “At the expiration of ten minutes he turned his head in a northerly direction, and the last we saw of him he was making a ‘strait wake’ through ‘Balches passage’ at the rate of 20 miles an hour.”

 “Yours Respectfully, Robt. Littlejohn.”

 The Puget Sound Courier is one of many historic newspapers that has been digitized by the Washington State Library and is available online.


Thursday, September 20th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections | 1 Comment »

From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

Shortly after losing the status of Clallam County seat in an election in 1890, many in the town of New Dungeness picked up and moved across the river forming a community called, interestingly enough, Dungeness. This new hamlet even had an optimistic (although short-lived) newspaper: The Dungeness Beacon.

The following item was found at random in the July 29, 1892 issue, reprinted from Port Townsend’s Key City Graphic:


 The Gay and Festive Sea Serpent in the Vicinity of Dungeness.

 “We clip the following harrowing tale from the Key City Graphic of July 21st:”

“Yesterday morning, while the steamer Monticello was coming from Angeles to this city, and when almost directly opposite Dungeness, Captain Oliver says he saw the water in the Straits lashed into foam. Drawing near, to the surprise of the captain and all on board, a huge sea serpent, wrestling about in the waters as if fighting with an unseen enemy, was seen. It soon quieted down and lay at full length on the surface of the water. Captain Oliver estimates it to be about fifty feet in length and not less than four feet in circumference of the body. Its head was projecting from the water about four feet. He says it was a terrible looking object. It had viciously sparkling eyes and a large head. Fins were seen, seemingly sufficiently large to assist the snake through the water. The body was dark brown in color and was uniform all along. From what he says it would be capable of crushing a yawl boat and its occupants.”

“As the steamer passed on its course, the snake was seen disporting itself in the water. At the time the Straits were calm, and there could have been no mistake in recognizing the object.”

Sea serpent reports in the Strait of Juan de Fuca in general and Dungeness in particular have a long history. L.E. Bragg in Myths and Mysteries of Washington describes a sea serpent that was seen so frequently in the Strait in the 1930s that the citizens of Victoria gave it a name: “So many came forward after these reports were published that editor Archie Wills of the Victoria Daily Times held a contest to name the sea serpent. The winning entry was ‘Cadborosaurus,’ or ‘Caddy’ for short, named for Cadboro Bay just north of Victoria where it had been seen. Even after limiting reports to those that were signed and verified, Wills compiled a list of around 100 people, including three sea captains and the pilot who flew the mail between Seattle and Victoria, who had seen the beast.”

But I’d like to propose a new name for the serpent, at least for the one who hangs around the Washington State side of the Strait:


The Sea Serpent That Got Away

Friday, April 13th, 2012 Posted in Articles, Digital Collections, For the Public, Random News from the Newspapers on Microfilm Collection, State Library Collections, Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

From the desk of Steve Willis, Central Library Services Program Manager of the Washington State Library:

After reading this description of a sea serpent as described on page 7 of the June 30, 1899 issue of The Tacoma Evening News, can anyone out there familiar with the creatures in Puget Sound identify what they really caught?


Party of Scientists Shipwrecked Off Moskito Island

Collecting Specimens of Giant Barnacles, Sponges, Sea Cucumbers and Other Things For The Ferry Museum

“Ferry Museum has a large and varied assortment of material added to the list of attractions, but not until after a campaign lasting three days, and a shipwreck that lost the entire collection of the first day’s work.”

“An extreme low tide on the straits between the west end of McNeil’s Island and Meridian, off Moskito Island, County Commissioner C.H. Dow has told of wonderful large barnacles, as big as a quart bowl, the beasts having a mouth and jaws on them like the beak of the dinasaurs of the reptilian age. Other strange and wonderful monsters were said to abound in those waters, and a party was fixed up to go after them.”

“Admiral Jacobs, of Puyallup, owner of the fine steam yacht Strea, took out his boat, with Professor Harlan I. Smith, of the New York Museum of Natural History; Professor Gilstrap, curator of the Ferry Museum; Commissioner Dow, Frank R. Baker and Mrs. Dow, Mrs. Baker and Mrs. Jacobs.”

“The barnacles were all that had been promised, and a big collection of them are now in place at the Museum, where their vicious snapping and terrific looking beaks are a terror to beholders. There is also a fine assortment of sea cucumbers, sea eggs, star fish; sea weed, shells of various kinds, some sponges and other specimens of much interest.”

“The catch of the season, however, was lost by the capsizing of the boat: the sea serpent, one of the most terrible and striking looking of the kind ever caught.”

“The animal, with a lot of other stuff, was in a yawl boat in tow of the steamer, when the struggles of the beast upset the boat, losing the entire collection in the Sound.”

“The sea serpent was of a brilliant green color, so dazzling that it appeared as though the light shone through him. His body was wide and thin, with two immense fins immediately back of the head, giving him a ferocious appearance when seen from the front. His tail was set vertical, with three saw-like teeth, and with one fin immediately forward of the tail on the back.”

“On his brilliant green sides were irridescent spots of red, yellow, white and black, that appeared to come and go as he splashed about in the water, which was lashed into foam as he sped about in the shallows where he was finally caught.”

Some updates to this news article:

Moskito Island has also been known as Mosquito Island, Enriquita Island, and today is called Pitt Island, according to Gary Fuller Reese.

In the book Island Memoir, Betsey John Cammon tells us the town of Meridian used to be on the mainland just across Pitt Passage from McNeil Island. The town actually jumped across the water and was established as the U.S. Post Office for McNeil from about 1903 to 1936, when the island was taken over as a prison site. Meridian’s McNeil Island site (along with Mosquito/Pitt Island) appears on the 1941 Metsker’s Atlas of Pierce County, Washington. WSL has an extensive collection of Metsker’s maps, both loose and bound.

Harlan Ingersoll Smith (1872-1940), the visiting archaeologist, eventually settled in British Columbia and made Pacific Northwest Native cultures his focus of interest.

William Henry Gilstrap (1849-1914) was a former portrait painter who became the curator of the Ferry Museum and Secretary of the Washington State Historical Society.

The Tacoma Evening News ran from 1889 to 1903, and can be counted as one of the many ancestors of today’s News Tribune, as seen on WSL’s newspaper history chart.