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A Monstrous Approach to Boosting Tourism

Scott Teel

Skeptical Briefs Volume 19.2, June 2009

Cayuga Lake has all the essentials: it’s long and deep (435 feet at points); it was once covered by ocean water; it has savory fishes; and it might even possess caves or passages connecting to other Finger Lakes. We’re more than ready to take in a lake monster.

Lake monsters: they’re not just for Loch Ness anymore! Honestly, if Lake Champlain can have one, why can’t Cayuga Lake? Even Seneca Lake, just one finger over, reported a sighting of a lake monster around 1900. The captain of the paddle-steamer rammed it and killed it, according to all the passengers, but when they tried to haul it aboard, the rope broke. Can we believe such a story, knowing that the alcohol content of the combined passengers’ blood could have sanitized every Ozzfest Tour porta-john?

Luring a lake monster away from another lake is going to be tough enough, so let’s simply take every lake monster sighting as true and not let any facts that could make things harder get in the way.

To be blunt, anyone who works for the Museum of the Earth should stop reading immediately. You’re not going to be much help in enticing a lake monster to Cayuga by telling us how a prehistoric creature, such as a plesiosaur, simply could not live for millions of years in a freshwater lake without being found or that a family of twenty would be necessary to prevent extinction or that the fish population in the lake couldn’t support a family of monsters or that monster sightings are probably tricks of the light, logs, giant eels, sturgeon, standing waves, boat wakes, or outright hoaxes, regardless of how true those arguments likely are.

So, we’ve determined now that lake monsters exist based on the fact that we want one for Cayuga Lake ... not the most scientific approach, but science has failed to prove lake monsters exist for eighty-plus years now, so that approach isn’t helping us. Hey, listen, I told you Museum of the Earth people to stop reading two paragraphs ago. Just use your Occam’s Razor to slice this page out of the paper and recycle it. For your information, a world-famous, justly beloved astronomer who lived right here in Ithaca never once wrote the exact words “I absolutely do not believe in the Loch Ness monster or other similar lake creatures” in most of his books! (Hey kids—with a few deft word choices, you can make any claim appear to have support!)

Now then. We’ll never get Nessie to jump Loch, she’s got way too good of a gig going over there. If we look somewhat more local, we might be able to seduce “Champ” away from Lake Champlain. While he also has a modicum of fame, it’s nowhere near Nessie’s, and he’s also very close by. That could backfire, however, since Lake Champlain is just a few hours northwest of us. If we got him to abandon Champlain for Cayuga, our neighbors near Champlain would be furious for the loss. They’d have to rename all their Champ-themed bars and team mascots, and it’s only a short drive down to here where annoyed Champlainians could come and spread a rumor that a copy of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows with the original, unreleased ending is in the lake (in this version, Harry plays the “got your nose” trick on the wicked Voldemort, refusing to return the “nose” until he renounces evil).

What we’ll end up having to do is put together a great package to seduce a monster away from a lake where it feels unappreciated. And one of the main things that’ll help attract a monster to Cayuga Lake is a spectacular nickname, something catchy and memorable, something a monster would want to be called. The nickname is what often makes the difference between “local tall tale” and a money monster. “Nessie” rolls right out of the mouth and is quickly associated with Loch “Ness.” It also is just cute enough to be marketed as a stuffed animal. Lake Champlain went with “Champ.” That’s so-so, because it’s also an actual word that could be confused in conversation, as in: “I saw Champ!”

“Which one? Mohammad Ali? Kasparov? Navratilova? The Feldman’s dog?”

Cayuga Lake doesn’t provide much to offshoot in terms of names, though. “Cayugie” sounds like a nickname for a ballplayer from the 30s. “Cay” is a tad too short and ripe for misspelling with a “K.” “Cayugiathan” is a bit over-the-top dramatic.

So what will we do? If we don’t incorporate some part of “Cayuga” into the name, the market won’t associate the monster with “Cayuga Lake.” We can’t just name it “Mark” or “Eileen.” [Ok, maybe “Eileen.”]

Ithaca has been home to the famous before, and that might help convince a monster that we can handle the pressure. We welcomed the previously mentioned world-famous astronomer whose name I dare not write in such a vacuous story, both out of respect and for fear of pissing off the actual universe, which is bigger than me and might “get all hadron epoch” on my ass. We also hosted 1952 Ithaca College grad Gavin McLeod, who, as Captain Stubing, stole our hearts and let us find love for the price of a Princess Cruise. And Ricki Lake was an IC student for a short time in the late 80s, so we’ve even had prior experience with monsters.

Hang on a second.

I’ve just had a little look around the Internet, and it seems that there are hundreds of lakes claiming to have monsters. Looks like almost any body of water deep enough to float a rubber duck on is packing a plesiosaur. Scotland alone has eleven in addition to Nessie. Lake monsters are reported to ply the depths of lakes in Britain, Canada, the U.S., Argentina, Chile, Australia, China (seen as recently as June 17 in Sailimu Lake), Turkey, Sweden, Iceland, Ireland, Norway, Japan, Russia, Malaysia, Scotland, and even Kazakhstan, just for starters.

I’d thought lake monsters were rare, that one would make a lake exclusive, inimitable. But it turns out just the opposite is true: a lake without a monster is the rarity. So while Cayuga Lake does still possess the requisites to sustain Eileen, the lake is more unique without her. Wow. I feel like the kid in the movie who searches the world for something (love, home, the true meaning of a holiday) only to find out it was right where he began all along. A valuable lesson has been learned by that child, but what have I learned?

Cayuga Lake needs no monster to make it any more appealing. Mysterious creatures who vanish as quickly as they appear, leaving only an occasional fuzzy photo as evidence, probably bring more frustrating questions than thrilling intrigue and curiosity. But Buttermilk Falls would be an ideal home for a Bigfoot.

This piece originally appeared in the Ithaca Times newspaper in 2007 and is reprinted with kind permission.