Creepy Finger Lakes: Episode 1

It’s October and the BG’s favorite holiday: Halloween. We in the BG household love all things scary. Our “Scary Movie Season” begins sometime in September and continues through Halloween. One of our favorites is the cult classic “Wicker Man” (1973), which isn’t really scary so much as creepy, but only at the end, and it’s funny throughout. You really should see it, and learn all the hilarious and very bawdy songs (such as this one: The Maypole Song).

We also love scary things to do! We’ve gone on the Palmyra Cemetery Walk, toured the haunted house at the Wayne County Jail, and crept along the Haunted History Ghost Walk in Lyons. One time we even spent a night in the haunted Naples Hotel and attempted to communicate with its resident spirits during a private guided spirit tour! And we love, love, love to visit cemeteries. All. Year. Long. Rochester’s Mt. Hope Cemetery is my favorite:

Hello, my creepies!! October 2012, Mt. Hope Cemetery.

So we thought it would be fun to feature a series on the blog this month called “Creepy Finger Lakes” in which explore here some stories of Finger Lakes ghosts, ghouls, murders and paranormal activities!! Each week will feature tales of strange happenings in the area.

This week we’re highlighting the odd stories of monsters in Seneca and Cayuga Lakes, sometimes affectionately called “Old Greeny.” Most locals are familiar with the legendary beast, but newcomers like me enjoy a good recap, as well as an explanation as to why, for example, the Finger Lakes Community College mascot is a lake monster named Flick.


Sightings of water monsters trolling the depths of both Seneca and Cayuga Lakes have a long history, dating back to the first human inhabitants of the region, the Seneca and Cayuga peoples, although Native stories about the monster are hard to come by and sketchy in detail.

Tales told by the invaders, however, are frequent and elaborate. Stories abound of a predatory beast with a taste for human flesh lurking around the shores of Cayuga Lake. Allegedly, for 69 years in a row, from 1828 until 1897, local folks reported sightings of the monster. Newspaper reporters evidently even refused assignments near the lake out of fear of seeing the beast. But the sightings suddenly and mysteriously stopped for nearly three decades. And then in 1929, “Old Greeny” sightings resumed, with witnesses at this time claiming to have seen up to three creatures rather than just one. Perhaps Old Greeny was busy generating some offspring during the decades between sightings.

Nearly fifty years later, things took a nasty turn. In 1974, a teenaged boy who’d been swimming in the lake claimed that Cayuga’s monster had actually attacked, breaking his arm with its hungry jaws. Specifics on the boy’s injury are hazy, though. Did he suffer bite marks in addition to his fracture? The information I found does not tell us. But five years later, the owner of a professional diving company reported an evidently much-gentler but enormous snake-like creature afloat on Cayuga. The thirty or thirty-five foot serpent “made a believer” out of the previously skeptical diver.

Meanwhile, Seneca Lake has generated similar stories of a frightening lake snake or reptile. One Geneva newspaper described the creature as a “fish with legs,” and even suggested that those legs had carried the beast out of the lake and into local meadows, where the beast suckled on the udders of unsuspecting Jersey cows. Indeed, the writer claimed that the lake snakes had “infested the meadows of Ontario’s pasture.” Fortunately, he continued, all such beasts had been dispatched, either “decapitated by axe or barbed wire.”

But in 1899, another terrifying story of the creature once again made the news. This time, however, the story bore a much greater degree of credibility, due to the report having been made by witnesses having social respectability. On a warm July evening in 1899, passengers aboard a steamboat departing from Watkins Glen toward Geneva claimed to have collided with a beast in the lake. Among the passengers were two commissioners of public works, a police commissioner, the manager of the Geneva telephone company, and a geology professor. Together, their status lent credibility to the report, especially since the professor identified the creature as possibly a clidastes, a class of marine reptile thought to have been extinct, thereby adding the authority of science to the sighting.

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Unfortunately, the captain of the steamboat decided to ram the beast at full speed. At the last minute, the captain ordered the vessel turned so that its paddlewheel struck the animal halfway between its head and its tail. The newspaper reported that the creature then “raised its head, gave what sounded like a gasp, and lay quiet. Its spinal column had been broken and it was dead.” Although the crew tried to tie its body to the boat so that it could be taken to shore, somehow the corpse slipped into the water and sunk down into the murky deep. Alas, there is no physical evidence of the poor beast.


Sightings of a Seneca Lake creature have continued through the years. A guest staying at a Geneva hotel in 1995 reported seeing a large beast surge upward out of the water, and then falling back into the water. And more recent sightings even provide photographic “evidence!” And our Seneca Lake monster now even has its own Facebook page as well as a blog page.

As two of the nation’s deepest lakes, it seems possible that unknown creatures might inhabit either Cayuga or Seneca Lake. But I’ll tell you what. If you see a beast out there, try your best to reign in your kill-instinct. Let’s let the poor thing be, and we’ll just continue to tell our creepy tales!