Did you know that Nebraska has one of the most fascinating accounts of a Loch ness-style lake monster on what is now a state recreation area? According to a 1923 article in the Omaha World-Herald newspaper, a man named J.A. Johnson claimed that he and two friends had seen a creature dwelling in what was then called Alkalai Lake (now Walgren Lake State Recreation Area) near Hay Springs in northwest Nebraska. He stated that he knew of forty others who had also seen the animal. The three saw the creature while camping near the lake. They saw it three-fourths out of the water and about twenty yards away. They described the creature as being forty feet long, dull gray/brown in color with a horn-like object between it’s eyes and nostrils. They said it looked similar to an alligator but was bigger and heavier than an alligator. When the creature noticed the men, it emitted a “dreadful roar,” thrashed it’s tail about and then dove under the water. Johnson went on to say that he believed the the creature had been responsible for local livestock losses. Some folks believed Johnson had really seen an abnormally large beaver swimming in the lake.
Prior to this account, Native Americans spoke of this supposed beast. Additionally, documents at the Nebraska State Historical Society show that the Walgren Lake Monster is referred to in Mari Sandoz’ book, Old Jules, and that she also wrote a “novelette,” Ossie and the Sea Monster, about the legend.
Nebraska State Historical Society records also indicate that a Colonel John G. Maher of Chadron, NE, who wrote for eastern U.S. newspapers and was credited with writing other folklore, probably initiated the hoax about the lake monster. Here’s an old, altered photo (Circa 1950) representing the alleged creature of the lake. This photo appears to be of an amphibian actually called a mudpuppy, or waterdog. This is one of only a few salamanders that make noise.
Fast forward to January of 1962 when an article was done about the Walgren Lake monster in Outdoor Nebraska, forerunner of the current NEBRASKAland Magazine. Here’s the cover shot of that magazine and a link to the article here.
Ask most anyone in the Hay Springs/Sheridan County area even today and they’ll tell you that they are proud of their Walgren Lake monster! In fact, in 1985, as part of the town’s centennial celebration, promotional items were sold portraying the creature as reported in the 1923 article.
The Hay Springs Centennial Committee reconstructed the legendary monster as well. It was made of green floatation material had glowing eyes and a hump in the middle.
For the record, Game and Parks fisheries work in the lake has produced no evidence of an actual monster.
The legendary monster of Nebraska’s Walgren Lake still remains one of the most intriguing stories of cryptozoology! See you out there … at Walgren Lake … perhaps on “monsterwatch!”