History Nebraska Blog

An “April Fool Lie”

This illustration of the fictional monster from Walgren Lake near Hay Springs is from the Nebraska Folklore pamphlet No.13, Tall Tales, a Federal Writers’ Project publication. Readers of the Omaha Daily Bee on April 2, 1885, must have been astounded to learn of the sighting of a gigantic serpent in the Missouri River near Omaha. The Bee’s improbable tale included a frightening description of the creature, supposedly spotted the previous day:

“Close inspection (with spy glass) disclosed the fact that it was about fifty feet in length, with a skin very black and covered with scales, each about two feet in superficial area, of an ellipsoidal form, and with a color, which may be described as a light cerulean. Toward the head, the body tapered down considerably, so that at the base of the animal’s skull the thickness did not exceed five feet. Two upright ears, of about eighteen inches length, a cavernous and ivory-bedecked mouth, huge glassy eyes of a flaming red completed the main features of the beast’s head. The tail of the animal was about three feet in length, without the blue color, and traversed up and down by finny bars, and terminating in an arrangement something like a Maltese cross.”

Timed bulletins reported the huge river serpent’s approach to Omaha, where it allegedly became stuck between the piers of the Union Pacific Railroad bridge over the Missouri and threatened to destroy it. “The beast is evidently in great pain,” said the Bee in one bulletin. “Horrible things are anticipated.” Other bulletins reported: “The excitement is 300 proof. Spectators frantic. . . . The Union Pacific has sent a special wrecking train to the spot to remove the debris of the structure as soon as it shall fall.”

Learn the outcome of this unlikely scenario in a Timeline column on the Nebraska State Historical Society website. Read about another fictional Nebraska creature, the “sea monster” from Walgren Lake (formerly Alkali Lake) near Hay Springs, described in 1923 as forty feet long, dull gray/brown in color, with a horn-like object between its eyes and nostrils.

— Patricia C. Gaster, Assistant Editor for Research and Publications

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