Haven History: The creature of Kettle Creek

By Lou Bernard in Arts & Entertainment

October 20, 2011

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Lou Bernard/Eagle Eye

When I was a child, I knew of three monsters: Bigfoot, the Yeti, and the Loch Ness Monster. All of them fascinated me, but they were the only three I knew. As none of them were near my house, I had to put off my dreams of being a professional monster-hunter, unless Bigfoot decided to wander across my lawn.

He wasn’t the one who most fascinated me, however. I especially like the stories of the Loch Ness Monster, and all snaky monsters that lived underwater. Something about them got my attention in a way that my homework never could.

Now, I’m grown. And, much like cable TV channels, monsters have become more plentiful. There are now various monster legends everywhere, and if you want to find one nearby, you can.

Need a water monster right here in Clinton County? No problem.

Look to Kettle Creek.

The Daily Democrat published on February 27, 1897, contained the first part of a multi-part article reporting a mysterious creature swimming around in the waters of the Susquehanna River and Kettle Creek, to the north part of the county. This would be in the Westport area, along present-day route 120, several miles past Renovo.

Written by a man who went under the pseudonym “John Of York,” this article ran for three days, each detailing further stories and legends of the monster, which he called “The Dugong of the West Branch.”

The article began,”A marine animal or sea monster is said to have inhabited the dead water….Making his home down in its depths among the big, black rocks.”

There was never much of a physical description of the monster—Let your imagination run wild. The article was pretty certain, however, that it was some sort of ocean creature that swam inland. The next obvious question would be, how did that possibly happen?

Though I may get some argument on this from marine biology professors, the proposed theory in the article was that during a high tide or flood, the monster chased fish up the river, intending to eat them. Pursuing its prey further up the river, it finally stopped at the mouth of Kettle Creek, pausing to feed. During this time, two things happened. First, the water level went down, stranding the monster where he was. Second, the monster had been feeding easily for quite a while, fish in the Susquehanna being plentiful at the time. It found itself too fat to navigate back out to the ocean, so it stayed.

At that point, it was reported to have been spotted in the water. It overturned rafts, and was known to splash through the river. The locals heard noises, especially at night. The article describes these as “strange sounds the emanate from the deep, dark water like the groaning of some expiring giant, then like the struggling and snorting of some big hippopotamus.”

John of York claimed that scientists had differing opinions on what animal it may have been. He doesn’t explain where these scientists came from. Probably the same place as the scientists I quote to my daughter, who state that it’s okay for me to live on chips and coffee, but not for her.

The scientists had various possibilities. Some sort of dinosaur, perhaps, left over from the far past. Or a shark or whale of some kind. Many suggested it was a sea lion, based on the sound of its roar.

When the flood of 1889 occurred, some said the creature had finally made an escape, floated out to sea. Others suggested he was still there, and there were incidents of rafts being bumped and overturned up into the early 1900s. Mr. York’s article suggests that there may have been a series of underground caverns the monster retreated to during various types of bad weather.

This is perhaps more plausible than it might sound. At the same time this article was published, the scientific papers published a series of articles about caverns that reached hundreds of miles to the ocean. According to the articles, animals could conceivably swim through them and reach far inland.

Does the creature of Kettle Creek still swim the Susquehanna? Nobody knows for sure. That particular monster is unlikely to be alive….But if you’re walking along the river and you see something in the water, stop and take a second look.

Because with monsters, you just never know.

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