Strange New England - The Connecticut River Serpent

CT River

Hidden within the undulating arm of the Connecticut River is a serpent that has frightened those who’ve lived on it banks since colonists first settled there. Often it has been described as an eel or snake-like serpent over one hundred feet long. Though over the past three hundred years it has been spotted by people across three states, it still appears to remain a mystery.

In the early 1800s, spotting strange creatures off the coast of Connecticut was not uncommon. Sailors would return to port with tales of ghastly leviathans they encountered in their travels. The most peculiar of these stories frequently surfaced in the local publications. One that crossed the pages of the New York Times and Scientific American was not reported by sailors at sea, but by people deep in the heart of Connecticut. This beast appeared to make its home in the Connecticut River.

The first sighting of this monster was in Middletown Connecticut, and recorded by the New York Times on Sept 8, 1886. According to the article, Colonel Stocking and Silas Sage witnessed the creature while in a little skiff off Cromwell, Connecticut. While crossing the river around 6 am, they were suddenly struck by something underwater and the skiff was tossed into the air. As they came crashing back onto the surface of the river, the two men were tossed out of their seats. Fortunately both landed on the floor of their tiny boat. As the two terrified men reluctantly peered over the side of the boat, they saw the water begin to froth and were greeted by a “big black head” rising from the water. The creature’s head stood ten feet above the water with “eyes as big as small plates” and a body that appeared to be over one hundred feet long. Wasting no time, Colonel Stocking and Silas Sage raced for the nearest shore. Once safely on land they turned to see the beast again but it had vanished.

Word spread quickly about the Colonel’s deadly encounter with this titan.  Soon others began to join them along the shoreline, spying the river’s surface for another peek at the behemoth. The crowd’s patience was rewarded when the creature’s head broke the surface once again, this time towering 15 feet above the water. Those who doubted the veracity of Colonel Stocking’s story were now amazed to witness the hundred foot serpent he had brushed shoulders with only moments before.

For quite a while after, sailors navigated the river with caution, and hunting parties patrolled its length in the hopes of killing the monster. Eventually the town of Cromwell gave up on the monster. Though people’s fears of the monster vanished, the memory of the brief encounter they had with it was always lurking in the back of their minds.

The Connecticut River monster was not mentioned again until 1894 when an article concerning a sighting by Austin Rice appeared in the Boston Herald. This story got the public’s attention, and was soon reprinted in the May issue of Scientific American and the Sioux Valley News in Iowa.

Austin Rice was a farmer from East Deerfield, Massachusetts. In the 50 years Austin and his wife Clarissa lived along the banks of the Connecticut River, he had never seen anything particularly interesting. In the spring of 1894 that would change. While near a bridge that crossed the river he heard a grunt followed by a splash.  “I looked into the river, and no more than Twenty-Five feet away, I saw a big snake,” claimed Austin. “Its head was out of the water, and its body raised some six or seven feet. At the neck, the snake was about as large as an ordinary man’s leg at the thigh, and the body was as large as an ordinary stovepipe.” He went on to describe it as being black with a white stripe on its underside. Its eyes were as large as those of a horse, with a mouth, which extended down onto its belly, that was nearly a foot across. Those familiar with previous sighting of a serpent in the river were quick to notice Austin’s description closely resembled it.

At first Austin was more curious than startled by the serpent, and began to follow it. He made an effort to keep by its side, as it raced up river. Suddenly, as if aware of Austin’s pursuit, the serpent began to head for the bank toward him. Concerned for his safety, he was sure to keep the distance between them. Austin had good reason to be frightened. He observed that this gargantuan snake traversed the river with little effort. “His power of locomotion was so strong,” said Austin, “that he had no trouble in keeping still in the river against the current.”

Not far up river, the creature passed by a boat-house where some boys were hammering, and it was startled. “He heard the noise and raised himself about ten feet into the air,” exclaimed Austin, “ and then fell back into the water and disappeared.”

Though there have been other sightings since 1894, none have had as close of an encounter as Colonel. Stocking, nor described it as well as Austin had. After over a hundred years of little activity from the serpent, most modern residence are not aware of the horrors that were experienced by those men. Though some suspect the sightings were either a hoax, or  misidentification of a large sturgeon, there still are those who watch with a cautious eye when near the river.

Those still familiar with the creature have affectionately named it Connie.  Some believe it might be lurking in the Hog River Tunnel, under Hartford, Connecticut. Others believe there is a population of these serpents off the shores of New England, and like the young Atlantic Sturgeon, remain in fresh water rivers for two to seven years. Either way, with the ever growing activity in and around the river, it shouldn’t be long before someone spots Connie or her decedents making another appearance.

~ Strange New England

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The Connecticut River Serpent

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The Connecticut River Serpent 41.592337, -72.638769 The Connecticut River Serpent

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