The World’s Fastest Piling
On September 24, 1886, Mrs. Edward Chambers went to the 22nd Street depot, where her husband was station agent for the California Southern railroad. The depot abutted the bay, and they always enjoyed a walk home together at day’s end. As she stood in the doorway, Mrs. Chambers saw something “burrowing” south through the water. She shouted to her husband.
He ran up, along with four other clerks. “For several minutes,” writes the Union, the group watched a being “fifty feet in length, with a head three or four feet long, much the shape of a mammoth bull-head.” The slashing, fishlike tail “left the water in a state of foaming trouble.”
What struck the group most was the creature’s speed. With its head a good three feet above the surface, it “moved at a rate of at least fifty miles an hour.”
The Chambers sighting resembled one several young men had made a couple of weeks earlier between the depot and National City. While boat-riding one night, they heard a “loud snout” and, as they hastened to shore, saw something they were afraid to describe.
In an editorial, September 30, the Union explained Chambers’s “sea serpent.” The 60-foot-long monster “is now securely chained” to the National City railroad wharf. “Scientists,” the story says with tongue in cheek, determined that the dark-colored object is a “creosoted pile, belonging to the Peninsula Company.”
Neither the “scientists” nor the Union could explain how a piling could move faster than most ships.
Oh, That Old Fifty-Foot Hogwash Again?
By the 1890s, since even “reliable and responsible newspapermen” were “in the business of faking stories” (Hensley), the debunkers ruled. Anyone claiming to have seen something on sea or land — including the enormous crystal cave that reporter Charles Degelman swore was inside a Point Loma cliff — became suspect. Observers had two choices: tell the truth as they saw it or don’t report that hairy, smelly, grunting Goliath spooking their cattle at night.
J.L. Paulsen, “a mariner who has sailed around the world more times than he has fingers and toes” (Union), owned the boathouse at the foot of Market Street. Since he captained fishing parties for a living, he knew better than to tell tall tales. But he risked his sizeable reputation to report that on August 7, 1896, west of the huge kelp beds off Point Loma, a “pair of large and black eyes” stared at him from the water. Then the ten-foot-long creature, which “resembled a large eel,” surfaced near the captain’s launch, Urania. The round head, “almost as large as a baby,” had “stubby ears,” and the mouth “projected out, like a snake’s.” As he shouted for others to come see it, the creature swam off. If he had a boat hook, Paulsen assured reporters, he would have captured the “fat and sluggish” serpent, which was “the queerest thing I have ever seen in any sea.”
In July 2000, teenage boys found the skeletons of two plesiosaurs — the most popular candidate for the Loch Ness Monster — near Lake Powell in northern Arizona. The discovery, authenticated by paleontologists, gave new hope to fans of Hodgee, the alleged monster of Lake Hodges.
The 1234-acre lake, made a dam by Colonel Ed Fletcher in 1918, has produced large bass and giant catfish. Some say a Nessie-like plesiosaur lurks at the bottom.
Vague reports tell of strange ripples and foamy wakes trailing behind a brown lump on the surface. A 1930 observer saw a “lizard-like head.” For ocular proof, many cite damage to property: a smashed boat, missing bales of hay and cattle.
Interest in Hodgee peaked in the mid-1980s. Matt Tidwell, reservoir keeper for 12 years, told the North County Times:
“A reporter from Channel 8 News came to the top of the dam. We had a diesel engine pumping air into the lake. These bubbles were coming up.” Tidwell told the reporter, “This is where Hodgee the monster sleeps.”
“It was just a bunch of spoof,” Tidwell recalled the incident to North County Panorama in 1985. “I don’t know why anybody would believe something like that, but it’s a good story.”
The San Clemente Monster
“All of a sudden I saw something dark and big heave up,” writes big-game fisherman Ralph Bandini in Tight Lines, “a great columnar neck and head…lifting a good ten feet. It must have been five or six feet thick…But the eyes — those were what held me! — at least a foot in diameter, and dull and indifferent as those of a dying man.”
Bandini twice spotted the creature off San Clemente Island in the 1920s. When a swell came through, it was so large it didn’t rise or fall. Bandini couldn’t see its body but felt that it was “greater than the biggest whale” and wasn’t serpentine. “If it was, then we had better revise our views on serpents.”
“Some of my intimate friends have seen it,” Bandini wrote in 1934. “They know that I have seen it. Yet, despite friendship, despite this mutual knowledge of one another’s experience, I find most of them reluctant to talk, even to me.” Whenever he could persuade people to sketch what they had seen, the “drawings show one and the same thing!”
George Farnsworth, president of the prestigious Avalon Tuna Club: “Its eyes were 12 inches in diameter, not set on the side like an ordinary fish, but more central. It had a big mane of hair about two feet long.” As Farnsworth approached, it slipped underwater without leaving a swirl. “This was no sea elephant. It was some kind of mammal, for it could not have been standing so long unless it was.”
The first reported sighting of what came to be known as the San Clemente Monster occurred in 1914, but earlier accounts may describe the same creature. In 1891, residents near today’s Oceanside repeatedly observed a “sea serpent” over 100 feet long swimming in the kelp beds. In March of that year, just off the Coronado Islands, boatmen saw something 150 feet long that must have weighed two tons.