The hunt continues for the elusive and legendary “Lake Kampeska Monster”
Just ask the fin-tailed sea creature of Kampeska Lake.
“A what?” Conda Williams asked. The longtime owner of The Prop, a tavern on the banks of the glacial lake just outside Watertown, spoke to this pesky reporter like he’d asked about vegan cheese curds. “There is no lake monster.”
The same shabby layoff came from Mike Lawrence, a developer on the lake, who assumed a Mayor Larry Vaughn a “Jaws” style response to a Forum News Service reporter ‘s questions about an alleged “monster” in the lake.
“A real monster? asked Lawrence, who first thought the “monster” referred to one of the new multi-million dollar condos being built on the lake. “As a developer, I don’t want to hear a story about a monster because… I just went.”
Contrary to the memory of many modern-day Watertowners, a lake monster – neither a contemporary swimmer-eating lunker nor a real estate gem – once existed. Kind of.
Yellowed local newspaper clippings from the 1880s claim famous local citizens saw their picnic interrupted by a 6-meter-long monster with a “long tail covered in scales” and a head as “big as a calf one year”. lurking in the crystal depths of the lake. Later press articles suggested that the “snake-like” creature may have been the tourism-boosting chimera of some local businessmen.
Regardless, in a nation torn apart by how to teach history to its children, the absence of this folklore is troubling to some residents of the Watertown area.
That will change next month, when the Codington County Heritage Museum will host a conference on the Kampeska Lake Monster. Receptionist Claudia Brunick-Spieker said she had heard of the monster, but that’s it.
“No I have not seen it.”
Oddly, however, the most notable legend may not be a Loch Ness Grassland monster at all.
“Was there the Indian legend and that pile of stones?” Williams offered. She said the collection of rocks on Stony Point – a protruding peninsula commemorated in many a Painting by Terry Redlin – was formed from a stone-throwing competition and an indigenous woman sat in exile on the rocks as punishment for refusing the further stone-thrower. Eventually, fish fed by friendly seagulls and a brave suitor swam to save her.
“Lake Kampeska means ‘lake of shining seashells’,” Williams concluded.
But no Leviathan. So the creature survives, so mysteriously. Maybe he migrated with the winding waters of the state.
Last week a Facebook post by a profile called “Pickerel Lake” drew 133 responses, relating that two jet skiers witnessed an “eel-like creature” with a “serpent’s head”. Some say a monster sometimes surfaces on Lake Traverse. Others say it’s on Lac Roy.
Donus Roberts, the owner of DDR Books in downtown Watertown, said he had exactly no books on his shelf about the legendary cryptozoological glacial lakes Nessie.
“There isn’t enough history to write a book about it. You would have to engage in fiction,” said Roberts, then correcting himself, “Beyond the usual amount of fiction.”
Which is probably just how the Lake Kampeska monster would prefer its heritage – shrouded in the unknown, with only the tiniest piece of a dorsal fin laced above the waves.