TRAVERSE CITY -- Sea serpent, walrus, sea lion, sturgeon -- or a whopper of a fish tale?
No one called it Nessie, but reports of a sea monster in Grand Traverse Bay and Lake Ann had folks on the lookout in 1907.
The only certainty a century later is that the "sea sarpint" story was no April Fool's Day prank. The sightings occurred in the final days of June.
Capt. Dave Duane was "still trembling" on June 24 when he told an Evening Herald reporter he spotted the animal swimming in the bay and crawling on the beach along the western shore of West Bay. It was four feet long with white tusks and possibly covered with long brown hair, he said. It half-barked and half-grunted.
Wonders of wonders, Duane's sighting spawned others. Three men and two women spotted a 6-foot water animal the next day "parading" on a beach on the eastern shore West Bay, only 50 feet from their launch, the paper reported June 26.
The next day the Evening Record, a forerunner of the Record-Eagle, reported that Lake Ann hotel proprietor J.G. Turk claimed he captured the mystery monstrosity in Lake Ann. He promised to exhibit it in a local bowling alley after it was stuffed. Turk surmised the creature had walked the 13 miles from Traverse City. He described it as reddish brown with sharp tusks that protruded from its mouth.
In the same June 27 issue, fisherman Charles Zetke reported the creature apparently made it to East Bay, too, because something had chomped down all but the heads of seven whitefish and four trout he found in a gill net he set near Mapleton.
On June 28, the paper moved the story to Page 2, but reported yet another Traverse City sighting by F.S. Birdsall. It also published an illustration of a "degenerate specie of walrus" that "sometimes crudely resembles human form."
"The sea serpent has complications -- or at least the story has," the Evening Record cautioned.
Birdsall had seen it in West Bay the same day Turk caught it in Lake Ann. How could it be two places at once? Plus, Birdsall's creature had hard skin and scales, not a hairy body. The answer was simple. There were two different creatures, the Evening-Record concluded.
The end of serpent stories, if not the mystery.
On July 1, however, the paper reported that Albert Kroupa captured an almost 6-foot-long, 75-pound sturgeon in Bowers Harbor. "The fish is a brownish color and its back is divided into large diamond-shaped figures."
Mum was the word on monster sightings of the week before.