Here is a great article that Ken Ward wrote for Meandering through McLean 44 years ago. A variation of it was also printed in the Rural Kentuckian 36 years ago.
The Loch Ness monster of Scotland has been the subject of scientific research, public curiosity, folklore and numerous books and articles. McLean County’s “marine monster,” on the other hand, has been allowed to lapse into obscurity.
It was shortly after the turn of the century (1900) that the Green River monster became “a serious menace to the peace and happiness” of the Wrightsburg area. The creature was supposedly seen as early as 1902, although the first published report did not appear until September 9, 1904. An Owensboro paper on that date reported, “The residents of the immediate vicinity of Wright’s ferry, on Green River, near Beech Grove, have been “living in fear and dread for the past two years. There is a sea serpent, or some other kind of a large monster of the prehistoric type, that is living in the pool between the Rumsey and Spottsville locks.”
According to the report, mothers were afraid to allow their children to play near the river and men “always looked anxiously up and down the river before venturing across in small boats. It was two years ago that the ‘sea serpent’ was first seen near Beech Grove,” the story continued. “Those who have seen it say it closely resembles a large horse…it rises several times, but as soon as anyone approaches, it dives under again.”
J.W. Dorsey, “one of the most reliable farmers of the Beech Grove neighborhood,” had talked to a correspondent for the Owensboro paper. He stated that for a long time he would not believe the stories about the “water animal.” Finally, he investigated the rumor himself. Two of the people he talked to were Charles Luck and G.E. Cline, “well-known farmers.” Luck and Cline had only recently seen the “supposed serpent.” According to Dorsey, the “serpent muddies the river when it swims around and…makes waves like the wake of a boat. Only recently a boat landed at Beech Grove and the many passengers aboard saw the strange inhabitant of the waters come to the surface not thirty feet from the landing.” Dorsey’s story concluded: “Every effort is being made by the inhabitants in that neighborhood to kill or capture the serpent.” (It should be stated that Wrightsburg was the designated river landing for Beech Grove.)
The next report on the creature appeared three weeks later. On September 30, 1904 the newspaper carried an item from the paper’s Rumsey correspondent. The writer stated: “There is a great deal of excitement about the river monster that has been seen several times below Rumsey. It recently devoured half a horse near Wrightsburg. The monster was seen crossing the river at Rumsey Monday night. Its size is estimated all the way from the size of a horse to the size of a house. Some declare it to be about two hundred feet long.” The newspaper editor added a comment that the “correspondent fails to relate in what condition the horse was when it was devoured by the monster.” The editor then added a rather intriguing note: “The theory is being advanced by the residents of the Rumsey neighborhood that the monster is a sea-horse, which has escaped from a circus.”
The residents, and the editor, may have meant the creature could be an escaped hippopotamus, often billed as a river horse, the translation of its Greek name (hippos, horse + potamos, river), since the so-called seahorse, a small fish whose head and snout resemble a horse, only grows to a height of four inches or so.
The next report appeared in the October 18, 1904 issue of the paper, again in the neighborhood news from Rumsey. The single-sentence item merely stated, “The sea horse has not been captured and has not been seen for some time.” Three days later the creature, now called the “Marine Monster,” appeared in the news again. But this time it was a front page item with sinister implications. “MYSTERY SURROUNDS DROWNING OF BOY AT BEECH GROVE,” blared the headline. The subhead was more explicit: “Residents of Neighborhood Believe His Body Has Been Devoured By the ‘Marine Monster.’ ”
The report came by telephone from Beech Grove and concerned the “mysterious drowning of Ivo Lamb,” the 13-year-old son of Mr. and Mrs. Crate Lamb, “prominent people of McLean County.” Ivo was playing along the river bank when a steamboat went by, going downstream. The boy jumped into a small boat and paddled out to ride the steamboat’s wake. “This was the last seen of the boy.” When the 13-year-old did not return, a search began. The empty boat was found floating downstream. For 24 hours the search continued, without success. (To be continued next week.)
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