Odd Wisconsin: Lake Mendota serpent sightings fairly common in 1940s

Odd Wisconsin: Lake Mendota serpent sightings fairly common in 1940s


Anthropologist Charles Brown collected Wisconsin folklore for half a century. In 1942 he published reports he had gathered of monsters in our lakes.

Several came from Madison, where in 1917, "a fisherman angling for perch off the end of Picnic Point received the fright of his life when he suddenly saw a large snake-like head, with large jaws and blazing eyes, emerge from the deep water not more than a hundred feet away."

That same summer two sun-bathing students "were lying on their stomachs with their feet toward the lake. They had been in this position but a short time when the girl felt something tickling the sole of one of her feet...

"Turning over quickly she saw the head and neck of a huge snake, or dragon, extended above the surface... She quickly aroused her companion and the two bathers were soon running as fast as they could go to the shelter of the nearby frat house."

After that, sightings of the Mendota sea serpent became fairly common. Students nicknamed it Bozho after the Ojibwe folk hero Winnebozho. "Bozho was, on the whole, a rather good-natured animal," Brown reported, "playing such pranks as overturning a few canoes with his body or tail, giving chase to sailboats and other lake craft, uprooting a few lake piers and frightening bathers by appearing near beaches. People made more use of the lake when he finally disappeared."

Brown recorded similar tales from all over southern Wisconsin, including Rock Lake, Pewaukee Lake, and Lake Koshkonong.

- Wisconsin Historical Society, www.wisconsinhistory.org


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