Cryptid Profile: The Lake Waubesa Monster
Located just a few minutes south of Madison, Wisconsin, Lake Waubesa is one of four connected lakes that make up the Yahara River lake chain. This connected chain includes Lake Mendota, Lake Monona, Lake Waubesa, and Lake Kegonsa, all of which are connected by channels and completely surround the capital city. The four lakes are fed by the Yahara River which is 62 miles long and is a tributary of the 299 miles long Rock River, which itself is a tributary of the 2,320 miles long Mississippi River. Why does this bit of information matter? Because it will come into play later on.
Now that we have established the four lakes link, let's focus quickly on Lake Waubesa itself. The Wisconsin DNR lists Lake Waubesa as having a surface area of 2,074 acres and having a max depth of 38ft. The lake is filled with a variety of fish species such as Musky, Panfish, Large and Smallmouth Bass, Northern Pike, Walleye, and Catfish. The lake freezes in mid to late December and typically remains frozen until sometime in March. Due to lakeside home ownership and private property development, Lake Waubesa currently has one official beach, but back in the day, the lake was a major recreational area for both locals and visitors to the state capital area. And it is because the lake has such a rich history of human interaction that at one point, a monster was said to dwell here.
First documented by Charles E. Brown (founder of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society and museum director at the State Historical Society.) in his 1942 pamphlet on Wisconsin Sea Serpents entitled, “Sea Serpents: Wisconsin Occurrences of these Weird Water Monsters in the Four Lakes, Rock, Red Cedar, Koshkonong, Geneva, Elkhart, Michigan, and Other Lakes”, the Lake Waubesa Monster is said to have made its first “official” appearance in the early 1920’s. The event happened to a man visiting from Illinois and cemented the lake as a prime destination for curious visitors hoping to lay eyes on a monster.
The official retelling of the event goes as such; in the early 1920’s a man from Illinois decided to take a vacation in Wisconsin. The man chose the small resort community of Edwards Park (which no longer exists) on the McFarland side Lake Waubesa due to its excellent fishing and relaxing environment. Excited at this chance to set his clock to lake time and adhere to no schedule, the man jumped quickly at the opportunity to get into a boat and out onto the water. After rowing out from the east side of the lake into what he believed were good fishing grounds, the man tossed the anchor over the side of the boat, breathed in the fresh air, and took in the beautiful scenery all around him. But unknown to him, the tranquility of the moment would not last long, for a resident of the lake was about to make itself known to the man and completely turn his vacation upside down.
It is reported that as the man was staring out across the lake, he took notice of a large commotion happening in the water only a few hundred feet away. During this time, the area of the lake being watched was said to have started heaving and moving in large swells. Suddenly, before the visitor from Illinois could wrap his head around what was going on, the giant head and large body of an unknown creature rose up from below the surface and just started floating on the top of the lake as if it was sunning itself. The man stared in awe as he tried to determine if this creature was some giant unknown fish or eel only native to Wisconsin, but before coming to any reasonable conclusion, he decided to just return to shore. As he started to row away, the creature sank back down below the surface and disappeared from view.
After the man arrived safely back on the shore of Edwards Park, he informed everyone else at the lakeside resort of what he had just seen. As the curious listeners gathered around him, the man spoke of how he had just witnessed a 60-70ft creature with dark green skin rise up out of the water and sink back down below the surface only a few minutes later. When asked about what the head of the beast looked like, the man was unfortunately unable to give any real description other than it was large and serpent-like.
As the crowd continued to listen to the man speak, a few members took it upon themselves to take a peek at his boat to see if, by any chance, some evidence was unknowingly brought back with him. But upon looking inside, the curious crowd members were not met with evidence, but rather a large bottle of whiskey that the man had been sipping on while out on the water.
After returning to the man with the bottle in hand, the remaining members of the crowd disbanded. What was once thought to be a true encounter with a monster was now looked at as nothing more than a drunks tale. Sadly, the man had to return home with his credibility ruined and his encounter laughed at. But unknown to him, he wouldn’t be the only person to have a run in with the Lake Waubesa Monster that year, and this time, alcohol would not be involved.
The second encounter is said to have taken place near what was once a beach on the shores of Lake Waubesa but is now privately owned homes. The encounter is said to have happened to a married couple who were swimming in the water not far from their summer cabin. As the couple was playing around and enjoying each others company while in the water, a large head suddenly rose up out of the water only a few feet away from them and started making its way towards their location. Panicked, the couple started to quickly swim towards shore.
As they swam for their lives back to shore, the serpent-headed creature with large glistening eyes increased its speed. Before the beast could snatch one of them as an afternoon snack though, the couple exited the water and ran towards their cabin. The creature is said to have lingered for just a few moments, swimming back and forth before turning and moving back towards the middle of the lake where it sank out of view. The couple could give no real description of the beast except for it was large, green in color, and looked almost like a large snake. One thing they were able to accurately do though is argue quite well about which one made it out of the water faster and which one should have been monster food when it came down to it.
While the couples encounter with the Lake Waubesa monster can be looked at as quite terrifying, the next encounter can't really be judged at all, as there isn’t one to go off of. The two above encounters of the Lake Waubesa monster are the only documented cases of its existence, and after those, it seems to just sort of fade away. Now there were little second-hand stories of sightings that filtered out of the area throughout the remainder of the 20’s and into the 30’s, but nothing was ever able to be verified and the few little sightings were considered to be unreliable and untrue. They were believed to be nothing more than cheap tales used in a way to drum up business to the little resorts in the area because as resort owners knew, nothing brought in vacationers better than an opportunity to witness a monster first hand.
So what became of the Lake Waubesa monster? Was it nothing more than a story crafted by a man who had too much to drink? Or perhaps it was an event created by a bored couple on vacation looking for their fifteen minutes of fame. Or maybe, just maybe, the creature was real and it was just visiting the area before moving on.
Remember above how we said that Lake Waubesa is connected to three other lakes (Mendota, Monona, & Kegonsa) in the Madison area? Well, what we failed to mention is that every single one of those lakes was also reported to have a monster dwelling in it at one time between the mid 1800’s and early 1900’s. Could the monster in Lake Waubesa be the exact same monster in the three other lakes? That is a very real possibility as all these lakes are easily accessible by channels that connect them together before flowing back out into the Yahara River and eventually, back into the Mississippi.
It has long been thought by those in the area that the monsters in the four lakes are truly just one beast that moves between them searching for food and distancing itself from large groups of people out on the water. When given an option, would an animal want to remain trapped in an area where it feels uncomfortable, or would it want to move to a location it knows is safe? When Mendota is crowded, it swims over to Monona, and when Monona is packed with people, it heads to Waubesa. Simple.
What puts a little bit of a hindrance on this theory though is that these creatures are often described as being anywhere from 30ft long to 70ft long, and two out of these four lakes only have a max depth of less than 40ft. Could a creature that large comfortably live in a body of water that low? The other two lakes have max depths well over 70+ feet, so why not just stay in those two and hang out near the bottom? Also, if a lake monster truly was swimming back and forth between the four lakes, you would think that at one point, someone would have seen it traveling through the channels as those (at the time) were only a few feet deep and would not have been fully able to hide the presence of a monster. But then again, we do not know how lake serpents move and how they are capable of hiding themselves. So this may be a non-issue altogether.
While it may be hard for some to believe that a lake monster could’ve at one point called the area of Madison home, it is not hard to believe that something may have arrived in Madison via the link to the Mississippi and lived in the area for a while before swimming back out. The thought behind this theory comes from the countless stories of out of place animals that have made their way up the Mississippi River and have been caught in various rivers of the north. Creatures such as Bull Sharks have been found as far as Illinois, and Alligators have been found living in Wisconsin with no explanation as to how they got there. Could these known, yet out of place creatures have been responsible for the Waubesa monster sightings? Possibly, but it is rare.
So let us throw out another theory, could larger than normal Wisconsin sturgeon have been the culprit? While sturgeon are present in both Lake Mendota and Monona, they are not present in Waubesa. So who’s to say a large 6ft+ sturgeon didn’t make its way into Waubesa, startled a whiskey connoisseur while floating around the lake, caught a husband and wife off guard, and then swim back out the channel into Monona. Seems like something that could happen at least once. But what makes this one hard to get behind is the description of large snake-like head breaking the surface of the water. While sturgeon can be used to explain away many potential lake monster sightings, one thing they can't really do is be the stand-in for a creature with a snake-like head and long neck.
While the above are all probable theories that can be used to somewhat explain what the monster of Lake Waubesa could be, they still remain just that, theories. The monsters of the four lakes of Madison haven’t been seen in great detail for nearly 80-100yrs, depending on what lake you are looking into. So all we have to go on are the passed down stories of their encounters and then have to try to solve the mystery based purely on speculation and what-if scenarios. Will these scenarios be able to solve the mystery of these aquatic monsters? More than likely not, but what they will do is keep people talking about these creatures. And as long as people are talking about them, the possibility of solving the mystery will never end, and that is pretty awesome to think about.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
Image Credit: Google