Nebraska Attractions October 23, 2015
This Small Nebraska Town is Home to a Shockingly Big Monster Tale
Everyone has heard of the famous Loch Ness monster and the various sea monsters some people think inhabit the world’s oceans. You may not know, however, that Nebraska has its very own lake monster…a huge, stinky creature blamed for eating livestock and anything else in its path.
Near Hay Springs in northwestern Nebraska lies a smallish body of water once known as Alkali Lake (today it goes by Walgren Lake). According to legend, the lake is home to a terrifying aquatic animal known as the Alkali Lake Monster (or sometimes the Walgren Lake Monster). The beast is said to be anywhere from 40 to 100 feet in length, somewhat resembling an alligator. Some depictions give the monster four legs while others show it with two front legs and a flipper in the back. Still others give it the serpentine body most often associated with the Loch Ness monster. Most depictions agree that the beast has a large horn between its eyes and a horrible, unforgettable stench.
While some people have claimed that sightings of the monster can be traced back to Native American legends, the first written record of the monster is from a 1922 issue of the Hay Springs News. The following year, a local man named J.A. Johnson described the monster in an interview with the Omaha World Herald. According to the report, Johnson and two of his friends were camping on the banks of the lake when they noticed the creature about 60 feet away. The men claimed that as soon as the beast saw them, it belted out a huge roar, whipped around, and plunged beneath the muddy lake water.
A doctored photo (circa 1950) portraying a mudpuppy as the Alkali Lake Monster.
According to Johnson’s account, dozens of other local eyewitnesses had seen the monster at some point, and he claimed that nearby ranchers had lost large numbers of livestock to the beast. But years later, when historians looked into the tale, they traced it back to a rather mundane source: a local reporter who was skilled at creating tall tales in order to sell his stories to newspapers. John G. Maher was credited with a number of other hoaxes and pranks in the area in the 1920s, so it would seem to follow that the Alkali Lake Monster was nothing but another of his well-placed stories. And since no physical evidence for the monster has ever been found – and no new sightings have been reported in decades – it seems that the Alkali Lake Monster never really did call Nebraska home.
Still, the people in and around Hay Springs aren’t in any hurry to let go of the story. They commemorated the tall tale during the town’s centennial celebration in 1985, selling shirts and buttons with the monster’s likeness on them. The beast is something of a source of pride for the little town; it was even mentioned in the classic novel Old Jules by Nebraska author Mari Sandoz. Sandoz also based her short story Ossie and the Sea Monster on the tale of the Alkali Lake Monster.
If you visit the lake and happen to see – or smell – the legendary monster, share your story in the comments!