Chesapeake Bay Sea Monster?
Reports of sea monster are not easily dismissed
LARRY HALL Feb 11, 2004
Whatever its source, fear can paralyze. One Richmond woman was more paralyzed by fear of ridicule than by fear of the unknown. But she overcame her reluctance and talked about what she had seen.
Photo:Source:Chesapeake Bay Foundation.
The Feb. 9, 1994, Times-Dispatch included a staff-written report about a scientific study of Scotland's Loch Ness and its legendary monster. The article recalled sightings of Virginia's own maritime monster, a serpentine animal spotted in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries during the late 1970s and early 1980s and nicknamed Chessie.
In 1980, a Richmond resident saw the peripatetic creature in the Appomattox River near Hopewell, farther inland than previously reported. The woman had gone to Hopewell with her husband for dinner at the Harbor Light Restaurant, beside the river.
The Richmonder's sighting occurred in March, but she did not talk about it until months later, after reports of other sightings had been published in The Times-Dispatch. She wrote an anonymous letter to the newspaper in response to a June report about an encounter on the Potomac River.
This is part of what the restaurant patron wrote:
"I got out of my car and looked up the Appomattox River. . . . Something caught my eye. . . . We watched as it got nearer. . . . It had a . . . long, undulating body."
She added that she had not said anything "for fear of being ridiculed."
When excerpts of her unsigned letter appeared in The Times-Dispatch in mid-November 1980, the Richmonder wrote to the newspaper again, this time revealing her identity. She told her complete story in an interview published in The Times-Dispatch later that month.
She said she had the opportunity to study Chessie for several minutes. Before the creature had traveled too far down the river, the woman went inside the restaurant and announced in a voice loud enough for all to hear, "Look outside, the Loch Ness monster is going down the river." No one in the Harbor Light responded.
After her rebuff, the Richmonder decided to keep silent, only confiding in a few close friends. But other reports surfaced and made her change her mind.
She said the creature was "the most fascinating thing I ever saw. What irks me is that I couldn't generate any interest. No one would get up and look."
Photo:Source:Science Frontiers Online. The Richmonder's description of a dark, snakelike body with a reptilian head matched those from sightings near the bay. Thus far, the creature had eluded cameras, but that changed in 1982.
Robert Frew, a Maryland businessman, was celebrating Memorial Day with friends and family at his home on the bay. About 7:30 p.m., he saw Chessie. Frew rushed to get his camera and managed to videotape the creature for about three minutes.
Scientists at the Smithsonian Institution agreed to examine the tape. The panel called Frew's tape "intriguing" and concluded: "The usual explanations of partially submerged logs, a string of birds or marine animals, optical illusion, etc., seem inappropriate for the dark, elongated, animate object."
Chessie sightings around the bay region continued sporadically, but nothing major developed until a possible explanation for the mystery surfaced in the Appomattox and James rivers during the late 1980s.
In the summer of 1987, an unusual creature tentatively identified as an errant manatee was seen by several people in the Appomattox River near Hopewell. There was another possible sighting in the James River near Richmond about the same time.
The manatee is a gentle, aquatic mammal, 8 to 14 feet in length. It resembles a very large, fat seal, or a walrus without tusks, and lives in warm, tropical coastal waters of the Atlantic Ocean. Virginia Game and Inland Fisheries officials felt the description of the animal matched that of a manatee, but a Virginia Institute of Marine Science researcher said it was unlikely a manatee would voluntarily venture into waters this far north.
Then, in 1994 and 1995, a male manatee, which had wandered far from his home near Florida, was positively identified as it traversed the waters of the Chesapeake Bay. The docile beast was outfitted with a tracking device and christened Chessie, in honor of the bay's elusive sea serpent.
With the manatee's seasonal presence in more northern waters confirmed, reports of the bay's mysterious serpent dramatically diminished in frequency.
But some of the earlier accounts, including the 1980 sighting by a Richmond woman, are not easily dismissed. Maryland resident Clyde Taylor and his daughter Carol said they saw the creature in 1982 from a distance of 10 feet as it swam in less than 2 feet of clear water. They said it resembled a 30-foot snake, something that looks very different from a corpulent, 10-foot manatee.
Chessie, The Sea Monster of the Chesapeake
Cheasapeake Bay, MD VA
For nearly twenty years, newspapers of Maryland and Virginia have been documenting reports of a huge, snake-like animal allegedly seen in the Chesapeake.
The mysterious beast, nicknamed "Chessie" by locals, has been described as serpentine, about twenty-five to forty feet in length, eight to ten inches in diameter, and possessing an elliptical or football-shaped head. Reportedly, the creature is a uniformly dark color, having no fins or bodily appendages.
For several years reported sightings of the alleged animal remained unsubstantiated until May 31, 1982. On that date around 7:30 PM, Maryland resident Robert Frew videotaped a long, dark, serpent-like creature swimming in the Chesapeake Bay, about 100 feet off the bulkhead of his Kent Island home.
Frew, and his wife, spotted the creature in shallow, clear water about 200 feet from their house. Frey videotaped the monster as it moved towards a group of swimmers.
It dove beneath the swimmers and reappered on the other side of them. The creature the Frew's saw was about 30-35 feet long, 1 foot in diameter, dark brown with a humped back.
Photo:Source:Applied Physics Lab Enhancements
On August 20, 1982, the Frew videotape received an audience with Dr. George Zug and other scientists at the Smithsonian Institution's Museum of Natural History.
After thoroughly examining the tape the scientists, although intrigued by what it apparently depicted, were unable to reach any conclusions about the "animate" object shown. The videotape's quality was simply not good enough to allow such a determination.
As a result of the publicity concerning the Smithsonian's viewing, researchers at the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University offered to perform computer image enhancement of the Frew Tape in an effort to extract from it more information about the mystery animal.
The computer work initially conducted isolated an impressive, unmistakable, serpentine shape from the surrounding waters.
Unfortunately, soon after the enhancement techniques began, the internal funding that the Applied Physics Laboratory allowed for the Frew videotape work ran out. Further enhancements on the Frew tape have been suspended pending the availability of some outside source of funding. Since 1983 the videotape has remained in limbo.
Presently, no one knows what Chessie is. Nevertheless, compelling detailed reports from credible, reliable witnesses suggest the possibility of an unknown animal. Although the number of Chessie reports vary from year to year, they persist all the same.
Source: ©Hometown Tales, LLC