Cryptid Profile: The Alkali Lake Monster (AKA The Walgren Lake Monster)
Located in Western Nebraska and just a few miles from the town of Hay Springs, there sits a 50-acre body of water known as Walgren Lake (formerly known as Alkali Lake). This lake sits in the middle of the Walgren Lake State Recreation Area and is considered by many to be special, as it is home to what many believe is Nebraskas only resident lake monster.
The first “credible” sighting of the monster occurred in 1923 and involved a man by the name of J.A. Johnson. According to Johnson, he and two friends were camping next to the lake when they spotted an enormous creature moving through the water. Curious, the men approached the shoreline and watched in awe of a beast 20 yards away that they described as being nearly 40ft in length, a dull gray-brown in color, possessing one horn on its head, and somewhat resembling an oversized alligator. As the men stood in silence on shore staring at the unknown creature swimming before them, the monster let out a powerful roar and immediately dove back down beneath the surface. Amazed, Johnson and his companions returned home and told of their encounter to all who would listen, including a reporter from The Omaha World-Herald.
After Johnson’s story spread, other articles regarding the lake monster began to appear in other newspapers around the United States. One such article appeared in The Evening Independent, a Florida newspaper from St. Petersburg which told of a fishing club in Nebraska that was preparing to go to “war” with the beast. According to their “source”, the club had purchased a load of harpoons and even a whaling gun in order to kill the beast.
Other newspaper articles talked of how an unfortunate group of tourists were chased from the water by the beast after a day of swimming. The reporter claims that the locals of the area had grown tired of the monster attacking swimmers and eating their livestock, that they begged the town of Hay Springs to to destroy the beast once and for all. The town obliged, but every attempt to find and kill the monster of the lake ended in failure.
Now, a monster attacking swimmers, killing livestock, and interrupting the daily lives of those living around the lake has got to be based in some sort of truth, right? Why would newspapers from all over the country run stories on it if it wasn’t even the smallest bit true?
Well, the answers to those questions are actually pretty simple, the reason is because of a single newspaper reporter named John G. Maher. A sensationalist writer for newspapers all across the east coast, Maher was in the business of creating fictitious articles for multiple papers in order to boost business and generate more sales. And let’s be serious, what is better at bringing in new money than a story of a monster terrorizing innocent people? Not much.
While many consider John G. Maher to be the mastermind behind the Alkali Lake Monster, there are still those who swear the beast is real. They state that the indigenous people who lived around the lake would often encounter the monster and would even document it in their writings, but no substantial proof of this has ever been found. The earliest account of the lake monster can always be traced back to 1923, the same time that Mr. Maher was busy earning a living with his famous hoax stories.
After the story took on a life of its own, many other individuals looking to profit from its success came out of the woodwork. These “witnesses” offered everything from stories of encounters, all the way to photographic proof. One such photo (as seen above) was created in the 1950’s and is currently in the possession of the Nebraska State Historical Society. The photo shows what is supposed to be the “monster” of Alkali Lake about to attack an unfortunate victim while fleeing in his car. But in reality, the photo is nothing more than a Mudpuppy (aquatic salamander) on some sand posing for his big break in the animal modeling world.
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: https://history.nebraska.gov/blog/exaggeration-postcards