Boothbay Harbor Sea Serpent

Boothbay Harbor Sea Serpent


There are many historical reports in the form of newspaper stories and personal letters that tell of the sea serpents that used to grace this harbor every summer from the 1830s up through the 1890s. These reports coincide with other Great New England Sea Serpent reports from Massachusetts all the way up to Mount Desert Island in Penobscot Bay. The description of the sea serpents is identical to additional observations by hundreds of townspeople all along the New England coast from Massachusetts to Maine. Many of these witnesses signed affidavits describing these sea serpents as being 30 to 150 feet in length with barnacled snake-like bodies that were dark brown on the back with a yellow-white underbelly and serpent-like heads as large as oxen. The serpents swam with an up-and-down undulation like a leach rather than the side-to-side motion of a swimming snake and sometimes held their heads 6 feet above the water while swimming. They were also observed at times lying motionless on the ocean surface as if sunning themselves and while hunting mackerel. These collective phenomena came to be known as The Great New England Sea Serpent.


These descriptions are particularly interesting when you consider the results of recent environmental DNA testing in Loch Ness, the Scottish lake famous for housing a sea monster. The scientific survey of the waters of the loch found it contained no traces of any giant reptiles or aquatic dinosaurs dispelling one long-held theory that Nessie is a plesiosaur. But when you read through the old accounts of Nessie sightings, the descriptions match those of the New England Sea Serpent and could be an undiscovered giant eel species. And guess what the Loch Ness EDNA did show: eels! Every sample showed eel DNA. These results do not rule out the possibility of giant eels.


I was delighted to find that our local historical society has a folder full of these accounts. One is a letter written by a Boothbay Harbor citizen called Elizabeth Reed in April of 1867. In this letter, Elizabeth describes many visits to Burnt Island when Joseph Prescot Chandler was the first lighthouse keeper. Elizabeth would take her baby out to the island to spend time with Chandler’s wife, Hannah, and their two children. On one clear autumn day in 1830, Elizabeth arrived on the island for her last visit of the season. She found the family in a great state of excitement, and full of regret that she had not gone down the day before. Mr. Chandler had spotted a school of mackerel and had taken his wherry and gone fishing. During his absence, the two children aged three and five years old, went down to the island’s small cove beach to play. They returned suddenly. “Back they came, their eyes as big as saucers, screaming, Mother, Mother, there’s the biggest eel you’ve ever seen in your life, in the cove.” Hannah ran back down to the cove with the children and saw what she thought must be a giant snake because “it hadn’t sign of fin from head to tail” as an eel would have. It also seemed to be asleep because it did not move. He was so long that his head lay on one point of the cove while his tail touched the other – 30 feet and nothing less. Hannah and the children watched him for several minutes until the ebb tide made him touch the ground, and then he started and wiggled about until he got afloat, and swam off to sea, carrying his head above the water.


Following this incident, keeper Chandler also saw the sea serpent one evening two hours before sunset, creating a considerable wake left behind in the water. Mr. Chandler could distinctly make out two bunches on its back that were brownish in color. It returned to the little cove where his family had seen it earlier, coming so close to shore that Chandler could have hit it with a rock. There was no doubt that this monster was 100 feet in length so perhaps it was the mother of the smaller serpent his family saw in this same area. The sea serpent took an easterly course and passed very near some fishing boats anchored near the island. The crews informed Chandler that it was so close to them that one of them threw a potato hitting the serpent and believed it to be 150 feet in length.


If you’re into sea serpents (and who isn’t?!), I highly recommend reading J.P. O’Neill’s fantastic book, The Great New England Sea Serpent: An Account of Unknown Creatures Sighted by Many Respectable Persons Between 1638 and the Present Day (Paraview, 2003).


If this story is right up your paranormal alley, please consider joining us for the Boothbay Harbor Paranormal Pedal E-Bike Tour or the Boos Ghost Walk.