Cryptid Profile: The Lake Ripley Monster
Between 1921 and 1945, a man by the name of Charles E. Brown created a series of pamphlets that collected various folklore and legends from around the state of Wisconsin. Brown, a curator for the Museum of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin and secretary of the Wisconsin Archaeological Society, created these pamphlets for many different reasons (one being a University of Wisconsin summer course) and they cover many different topics. One pamphlet covered local Native American folklore, another collected the many stories of Paul Bunyan, and one was even filled with ghost stories from around the state. But the most intriguing is the pamphlet published in 1942, the one about Sea Serpents.
The 10 page historical pamphlet, which is currently housed at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, talks about 12 different and unique monsters calling various lakes around the state home. One of the 12 lakes said to contain a monster is Lake Ripley, located in Jefferson County, about 40min away from Madison.
Brown states that the monster was first seen in Red Cedar Lake in 1891 by a fisherman who was in the process of tying up his boat. As the man looked back out onto the lake, he caught sight of what he described as an “undulating form” in the shape of a giant snake. The fisherman stated that the head of the creature was beneath the surface, but that he watched it until it was no longer in sight. After his viewing, he told some local fisherman and farmers around the area about what he saw and was reassured that he wasn’t crazy when they confirmed that they had also seen the beast before and that it was nearly 50ft long.
It was soon after this sighting that a concern was raised among the locals that the monster currently residing in Red Cedar Lake may soon appear in Lake Ripley via an underground channel that was believed to connect the two bodies of water. As it turns out, the concern was justified because just a few years later, the monster of Red Cedar Lake had made its new home within Lake Ripley.
In September of 1895, three women who were walking along the shore of the lake at sunset noticed a “terrible commotion” not to far from shore. As the women nervously watched the water churn, they soon took notice that whatever was under the surface causing the commotion was moving closer to shore, specifically towards their position. The report states that the women watched until the unseen thing was practically within striking distance before they fled. The three later claimed that they were “nearly frightened into spasms”.
Three months later in late December, the surrounding townspeople took to the now frozen lake to harvest ice to build up their towns supply. While a majority of the harvesting took place closer to shore, three men made their way out farther to the middle of the frozen lake. While measuring the thickness and clarity of the ice, one of the men noticed a large dark colored snake-like shape move beneath them. Intrigued, the men followed the dark shape nearly 100ft before it started to press upwards against the ice. Shocked by what was occurring beneath their feet, the men watched in horror as the nearly 1ft thick ice under them started to crack at the pressure the thing was placing on it.
All of a sudden, a loud noise like that of a crashing iceberg rang out from the exact spot the creature was pressing on causing all upon the lake to flee. As they were quickly making their way back to shore, one of the men looked down to see the unknown thing sink back down towards the bottom of the lake. All three men made it to shore unharmed, lucky that the monster was unable to break through to the surface.
When 1896 rolled around, the monster became even more active. Newspapers at the time, from the Janesville Daily Gazette to the Chicago Daily Tribune, reported often on the record activity occurring at Lake Ripley. One intriguing report from the time speaks of multiple floating platforms that one of the resorts in the area had placed in the lake for vacationers to the area to enjoy. During one summer day in July, multiple guests at the lakeside resort witnessed one of the platforms get tossed into the air by a monstrous creature from below.
A few lucky witnesses on shore even got an up close view of what the beast looked like, with some describing it as having a head that resembled an elephant resting upon a neck and body nearly 20ft long. The monster tossed the platform so high that it broke the anchor chain securing it to the bottom of the lake. The creature then submerged back down beneath the waters surface and retreated back to the depths of the center of the lake.
After the events of the summer which resulted in not only multiple sightings, but also the high numbered killing of both pets and livestock in the area, the local residents had had enough. Hunting parties were formed and men took to the lake in boats filled with guns, nets, and any other means one could use to catch a monster. But as with most monster hunts, the beast was never captured.
Along with the failure of the frequent monster hunts, the creature was also never accurately identified. Eyewitness descriptions varied greatly not only with the size, but also the body shape and color. Some stated the creature resembled a classic sea serpent while others described a more plesiosaur looking type of animal. A few claimed it to resemble an alligator and others swore it looked like a giant snake. Some said it possessed black skin while others said green. Overall, the Lake Ripley monster was a complete and total mystery.
Sightings of the Lake Ripley monster continued well into the 1900’s, and newspaper articles continued to be published as late as 1945. One article from the Janesville Gazette at this time reported on mass amounts of dead carp washing up on shore with large bites and gashes taken out of their bodies. The bites were apparently large enough that the creature responsible could not be identified. Along with these unexplained deaths was a significant drop in amount of fish within the lake. While never verified, many believed the monster was to blame.
Nearly 127yrs later, researchers are still trying to solve the mystery of the Lake Ripley monster. Were the locals around the lake really seeing something in the large body of water that they relied on so much? Or were these stories nothing more than hoaxes played on the newspaper readers of the time? While one cannot be 100% certain, one can look to the foreword of Charles E. Brown’s 1942 pamphlet for a well thought out perspective on the subject matter.
“Logs, tree trunks, branches, large fish and overturned boats floating in the water, may account for some of these Wisconsin water dragons. More than likely some of the stories were started by real estate promoters, summer resort hotel proprietors and others likely to benefit from the publicity which a lively sea serpent might give to a particular locality. Superstitious and imaginative persons and local jokers unassisted. A resort lake without a sea serpent was behind the times. Water demons were popular animals in the news columns of forty to fifty years ago. They are still.”
-The Pine Barrens Institute
*Image Credit: Google Earth