Walgren Lake Monster is a fascinating creature. But is it real? While sunburns, snapping turtles, and thunderstorms are common summertime dangers for swimmers in Nebraska ponds, lakes, and rivers, they don’t have to worry about monsters. But do they?
The infamous Loch Ness monster and the many sea monsters some people believe live in the world’s oceans are well known to the general public. However, you might need to be aware that the Alkali Lake Monster, a gigantic, foul-smelling monster infamous for devouring animals and anything else in its path, exists in Nebraska.
A monster is waiting in western Nebraska in the dark wake left by Walgren Lake. Its serpentine body coils and glides through the water, waiting for the right moment to surprise a swimmer by breaking the surface.
Witnesses describe the beast as having a scaly body, razor-sharp fangs, and an agonizing roar. When the monstrous odor and flaming breath frightened Hay Springs almost a century ago, residents fled the lake’s sandy beaches.
Today, the legend of the Walgren Lake monster continues to be told, inspiring vigilant eyes to survey the lake decades later in search of the fabled sea monster of the Great Plains.
What is the Walgren Lake Monster, and Where is it Located?
The idle town of Hay Springs would seem like the last location someone would look for lore at a first impression.
The most well-known lake monster in Nebraska was rumored to have lived in Lake Walgren, a 50-acre body in Sheridan County close to Hay Springs. The Lake Walgren monster has been variously characterized as a very large catfish, a massive mudpuppy, and even a giant, horned beast resembling an alligator that eats livestock and ducks.
From “the size of a yearling steer” to “2 ft broad and 10 or 12 ft long,” it has had a range in size. According to one account, it spewed water like a whale.
The Hay Springs News published the first official reports in 1921. On September 16, a story titled “If It Isn’t a Whale, it’s a Whaler of An Animal” was published. The monster was to be caught using a seining, according to a subsequent story on October 21.
However, “game officials did not think they had a sein [sic] large enough to hold him; therefore, the undertaking has been delayed indefinitely.” “The Huge Water Animal Again Seen on Surface” was reported in the August 11, 1922, issue.
When a man named J. A. Johnson claimed he and his pals witnessed a water monster that was “forty feet long, dull gray/brown in color with a horn-like item between its eyes and nostrils,” the Omaha World-Herald took up the tale.
They claimed it resembled an alligator in appearance but was more extensive and heavier. The creature sent up a “dreadful roar,” waved its tail erratically, and then dove beneath the water when it saw the crew.
Following the World-reporting, Herald’s the story picked up by several other publications, including the London Times, which reported that “our Omaha, Nebraska correspondent today received by far the most vivid picture of the actions and features of a medieval monster which for three years has been terrifying the locals of the vicinity of Alkali Lake near the small town of Hay Springs, Nebraska, U.S.A. (Folklore Pamphlet).”
But how did this news reach the London Times, situated thousands of miles away? Similar to how other newspapers did it. John G. Maher, a Nebraskan who was almost as well-known for his ability to create hoaxes as the hoaxes themselves, provided them with the story.
A Plausible Explanation?
The “The John G. Maher Hoaxes” article from Nebraska History in December 1952 by historian Louise Pound details his plots.
Maher was an accomplished journalist, businessperson, politician, and veteran. His propensity for developing and maintaining dramatic tales was primarily responsible for his success as a newspaper reporter.
He used a Buffalo Soldier from Fort Robinson as a model to make a cement “petrified man” that he planted for archaeologists to discover close to Chadron. The “man” was accepted as accurate and shown across the nation.
Additionally, Maher convinced some western Nebraskans that the British navy was traveling up the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers to exact revenge on the Irish immigrants for their support of the Irish Republic.
Maher also sank bags of soda in boiling springs near Chadron to create “soda springs” with therapeutic properties.
Maher’s most persistent hoax is the creature from Walgren Lake. The plot has changed in some ways while growing in others. The Omaha World-Herald sent a telegram in 1925 that stated: “have a tip that Bruce Heweitt and J. Mayes of Rushville solved the Hay Springs Lake mystery by discovering a mermaid frozen in the ice of the lake. Immediately provide a 300-word story and a mermaid photo if the aforementioned is true.”
Three years after the initial story ran in the Hay Springs News, Maher was still developing strategies to maintain this tale, even though the significant sea serpent notion took off and the mermaid idea fizzled.
Old Jules, Mari Sandoz’s 1935 biography of her father, goes into further detail on the incident.
A sea monster with an oil barrel-like head gleaming black in the moonlight lived in Alkali Lake, close to Hay Springs, where the early sky flyers dipped their aircraft. Some others believed it to be a coal-age survival.
However, Johnny Burrows and other Flats fundamentalists knew better. The same devil who dispersed the prehistoric bones around the globe to confuse doubters may also introduce a marine monster among the rebellious.
Jules laughed, saying, “Real estate must be moving slowly on the Flats.” When Andy entered, he inquired about any sightings of the monster. The small grub-line rider removed the Jewish man’s harp from his leathery lips, saying, “No, I can’t say that, but I have seen many things that those guys are drinking.”
Is the Walgren Lake Monster Real?
Even after the number of reported eyewitness accounts decreased, the legend persisted. A version of the monster story was published by the Federal Writers’ Project in Nebraska in issue number thirteen of their monthly Tall Tales magazine in July 1938:
“A vast sea serpent has lived at Alkali (Walgren) Lake, a few miles southeast of Hay Springs, since far before the time of Old Jules. One of the few inland sea serpents in existence, he is rare. He eventually took on the name Giganticus Brutervious to set himself apart from other sea serpents famed for their incredible performances.
“The ground trembles and the skies cloud over when Giganticus rises to the water’s surface due to his immense power. Those who have had the courage and fortitude to look him in the eye claim that his flashing emerald eyes spit fire, that his head resembles a massive oil barrel, and that the slightest movement of his large, pointed ears generates a tempest on the lake.
The farmers, for miles around, start to feel seasick as he rears and flips their muscular tails. When he arrives onshore to consume his daily allotment of twelve calves, a mist forms so dense that people cannot get through it, and his flashing eyes give the mist a murky green hue. His teeth-gnashing resembles a series of thunderclaps.”
According to this story, the locals estimated the expense of dragging the lake at about $1,000, which details more elaborate efforts to catch the monster. However, the Investigation Association did not agree to the landowners’ $4000 demand for a three-month lease on the lake and the surrounding area.
The narrative was retold in the cover story of the January 1962 issue of Outdoor Nebraska, with this significant amount of mystery still unsolved (as NEBRASKA land magazine was then known). The monster was given supernatural abilities as well as a scary physical presence by the article.
He had the ability to affect the weather, among other things. Naturally, “eastern innocents” rather than Nebraskans were his victims:
“A party of innocent easterners was leaving Hay Springs in the south when the clear sky suddenly darkened, and the heavens erupted without warning. Before they knew it, a dense mist had engulfed them, blocking their view of their surroundings.
“The best course of action, they thought, was to return to Hay Springs. But when the mist turned green, and the ground shook beneath them, their car began to jolt along at a horrible rate of speed.
“The men discovered they had been bounced all the way to Valentine’s when they eventually managed to leave the awful shroud. Obviously, this could have been overstated. They most likely reached Gordon.”
However, the “Hay Springers” never forgot about their monster. The Hay Springs Centennial Committee produced souvenir Lake Walgren monster t-shirts and buttons to publicize their event in 1985.
The NSHS website states that they based their illustration on a description made in 1923 by a local resident named J. A. Johnson. However, most of their renderings don’t contain the horn-like feature Johnson described between the creature’s eyes and nose.
Some have conjectured that Johnson indeed observed an abnormally giant beaver, according to the NSHS website.
Closing Thoughts of a Legend
The Walgren Lake monster’s legacy is still felt today, even though the first recorded records of monster sightings date back to the 1920s. The monster itself may not be the most fantastic aspect of this tale, but rather the monster story’s ongoing impact and Nebraskans’ capacity to work together to perpetuate a deception for more than a century.
Hay Springs resident Mary Hansen is such a lover of the iconic beast that she compiled a book of all the newspaper clippings that reference it. She has collected newspaper clippings from the Omaha World-Herald and the London Times and images from each municipal celebration honoring the monster. It’s more than simply a story to Hansen.
“I believe that there was anything outside. In my opinion, there isn’t much in there currently,” Hansen remarked. “Something was seen by many.”
According to Hansen, the beast was last spotted in 1985 and has not been seen. This isn’t the last the friendly community of Hay Springs will see of the monster, even though she believes whatever lurks at the bottom of the lake has since vanished. Citizens like Hansen, who continue to tell the tale, endure the legend.
If it isn’t a hoax, then what? Remember to use an insect spray, sunblock, and monster repellant this summer.
RIP, Walgren Monster?
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