Monday, June 2, 2008

The Lake Pepin Monster

Normally I try to stick to spiritual topics and this one falls more along the lines of Fortean weirdness, but seeing as I have a personal connection I'm going to cover it anyway. I came across an article in today's issue of the St. Paul Pioneer Press about "Pepie," a monster that supposedly lives in Lake Pepin. The lake is a widening of the Mississippi River just south of the city of Red Wing, Minnesota, and also happens to be the lake on which my grandparents lived when I was growing up. My family would spend every other weekend visiting them so at least to some degree I grew up around the lake. It's quite a beautiful place, but as far as I can recall I never saw any sign of a monster. I would have noticed, too - for a number of years in elementary school I was fascinated by the Loch Ness monster and other similar creatures.

Lake City resident Larry Nielson has started up a website devoted to the mysterious creature. Lake City is located further south along the lake than Wacouta Beach, where my grandparents used to live, and also happens to be where waterskiing was invented. Nielson operates a tour boat and claims to have seen the creature, and hopes that his website will become a clearinghouse for sightings. The site is also offering a $50,000 reward for proof of the monster's existence. Knowing the area, though, I don't expect that anyone will actually collect.

From the website:

The native Dakota people that lived in the area refused to travel on Lake Pepin in bark canoes because of the large "creatures" that would rise from the depths of the Lake and puncture the thin bark skin of those canoes. They would only travel on Lake Pepin in more stout dugout canoes that were made by hollowing out a large log.

The Dakota likely used heavier canoes on Lake Pepin because of the shape of the lake rather than any actual monster. The lake is shaped sort of like a reversed "L" and as a result about half the lake is usually facing the proper direction to generate large waves. The valley around the lake also tends to increase the speed of winds - nice on a hot summer day, but murder on small boats. To this day you don't want to be out on the lake in a tri-hull powerboat because they are less stable than the deep-V hulls that most boaters and anglers recommend. Tri-hulls are really only comfortable and safe on calm days.

On April 28, 1871 "a lake monster is seen swimming in Lake Pepin" (Minnesota Almanac, published by the MN Historical Society). Since then, many people have reported sightings of an unidentified creature surfacing from the depths of Lake Pepin. The locals have given this shy and elusive creature a name; Pepie.

There actually is a perfect culprit that's already known to live in the lake - the sturgeon. These primitive fish can grow to 18 feet in length and look pretty darn weird when they swim near the surface. My father caught a six-footer on the lake when he was a boy and there's no reason to think that more aren't out there, maybe even a few really huge ones. They were probably even more common in the lake in 1871 with less fishing and commercial boat traffic.

Over the years the question persist, what is Pepie? Because Lake Pepin is almost identical in size and geography to Scotland's Loch Ness (which is 23 miles long and 1.5 miles wide), many people feel that Pepie is a relative of the famous Loch Ness creature dubbed Nessie.

Finally, I should point out that the geography of Lake Pepin is almost nothing like Loch Ness aside from the surface area. Lake Pepin is about 30 feet deep in the center with a few areas 50 or so feet deep, whereas Loch Ness is over 700 feet deep. Loch Ness has relatively few fish, but its narrowness and depth creates an interesting underwater effect that works kind of like weather systems in the atmosphere. These systems can even produce "storms" that send single rogue waves to the surface, and these waves probably explain a lot of the Loch Ness sightings. A full sonar scan of the loch done a few years back found little evidence of large creatures or even large fish.

Lake Pepin does have a lot more fish and is connected to a major waterway, so the idea that some sort of large creature could live there is in some ways less farfetched than the idea that a monster could be living in Loch Ness. Even a giant sturgeon would be pretty interesting, and maybe someday I'll actually see one.

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Knight of Pan said...

Of course, and most likely, the locals are trying to draw tourists.

Ananael Qaa said...

Naturally that's a significant part of it and the reason for the sudden interest. I know that the sightings are not completely made up out of whole cloth, though - I recall seeing an article about them something like 15 years ago in the Red Wing newspaper that was accompanied by a lot less hype.

There's also a story I heard awhile back about another lake that had a supposed monster. One day one of the locals was out hunting by the lake, sighted the creature, and shot it. Everybody figured he was making the whole thing up until a 12-foot sturgeon washed up on the shore a few days later - and the fish had been shot.

So it's not out of the realm of possibility that something similar might explain "Pepie," since lake sturgeons have been caught in Lake Pepin and they really do get that big.