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Lake Monster Mysteries: Investigating the World's Most Elusive Creatures

by Benjamin Radford and Joe Nickell; Foreword by Loren Coleman
University Press of Kentucky, Lexington, KY, 2006
208 pp., illus. 54 b/w. Trade, $24.95
ISBN: 0-8131-2394-1.

Reviewed by Michael R. (Mike) Mosher
Saginaw Valley State University


My slight disappointment to find no tales of monsters sighted in Lake Huron (a few miles from our home) was alleviated by passing mention of one sighted across the state in Lake Michigan near Ludington. For mine was another Great Lakes boyhood spent devouring both Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine and Frank Edwards' books of unexplained phenomena. As teenagers, we chuckled at reports one summer of the MoMo monster, called that for its range of sightings from southeastern Michigan towns Maumee to Monroe. A few years after that, Mike Kelley and his friends at UM School of Art had a noise band/art gang called Destroy All Monsters after a favorite Japanese giant monster film.

The authors of Lake Monster Mysteries, Radford and Nickell discuss the monsters allegedly sighted from Vermont in Lake Champlain and nearby Lake Memphemagog. Though I'd long heard stories from my father, who'd lived in the area in the 1950s, interest in the Champlain creature was spiked by Sandra Mansi's 1975 photo. Her single snapshot showed something that appeared to have a crooked neck and humped back, yet skeptics Radford and Nickell found curving driftwood that could be used for a comparable construction in the water alongside the lake's shore. They visit several other lakes in Upstate New York and Canada, photographing the sites of sightings, including local lake monster-themed cultural artifacts like educational or advertising signs, even playground structures. There seem to be no fatalities attributed to the creatures, so the monsters are locally publicized with humor, clearly an encouragement to summer tourism. One excursion boat captain comes on the loudspeaker to encourage all adult passengers to go below decks for a better look at the lake . . . near the boat's bar that sells snacks and liquid refreshments.

While focused on North American sightings, the book begins with a chapter on Scotland's Loch Ness monster, the oldest and most persistent of sightings. The authors review the sightings' history, the literature on them, the most plausible explanations and the more speculative ones. In the final chapter they quickly notes other numerous international lake monsters, sightings in Europe, Asia, and Africa. One recalls the huge Nile perch in Lake Victoria, first glimpsed by many in photographer Peter Beard's Eyelids of Morning: the Mingled Destinies of Crocodiles and Men (1975), the monstrous fish more recently subject of the documentary film "Darwin’s Nightmare".

Despite their research efforts, no monsters are found nor tangible evidence of their existence now or in the past. Nickell provides a drawn diagram of how a string of otters might be mistaken for a serpentine creature and creates the book's several calligraphed maps, too. The authors take pride in methodical reconstruction of photographs alleged to show monsters and detail the conditions of their creation. The skeptical duo write in a clear, measured, non-sensationalistic manner. For them, all the incidents have a popular history, anthropology, and forensic photography challenges that are interesting enough without added exaggeration or emotion. At one point Radford tosses out an arresting Bangles metaphor to illustrate a point about false conclusions, how stylized painted representations in ancient tombs seemed to make a 1980s rock band think the paintings' subjects would "walk like an Egyptian". This reader is left feeling he would enjoy conversation over a drink with the authors, perhaps in the lobby of a friendly inn in a New England or Canadian lakeside town doing business in drawing tourists curious to see their alleged monster. Their Lake Monster Mysteries is a serious book, while remaining light and enjoyable. It should be on sale in the lobby of the aforementioned inn, or the historical association in towns proud of their purported lake monsters.



Updated 1st July 2006

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