The Chesapeake Bay Monster, or Chessie, as it has been affectionately nicknamed by the locals, is a sea serpent about thirty feet long with a body one to two feet in diameter. It is commonly described as sleek and black with a football-shaped head. In some cases it is also said to have flippers, but most sightings are of merely a head and neck protruding curiously from the water before the mysterious beast retreats to the watery depths of the bay.
Reports of sea monsters were more common in the 1800’s. If you lived anywhere near the ocean, chances are somewhere along the line someone would come dashing home with tales of some weird thing that washed up on the shore or swam past while they were fishing. Sailors, too, lent credence to the widely-held belief that there were many unexplainable things out there in the vast ocean, what with their tales of mermaids and man-eating squids. Stories of long-bodied things in the water cropped up all over, though many of these monsters have been long forgotten.
Chessie has withstood this test of time.
Why is that?
Well, where science has disproved the existence of many “monsters” from the time before we could adequately explore the ocean floor, Chessie has somehow eluded classification while showing itself frequently enough to keep enough people from dismissing and discarding its existence. Chessie is cunning, elusive, and shy, but also inquisitive and daring at times. Sightings have always occurred more frequently between the months of May and September, the season where many beach-goers flock to the shores for some warm-weather fun. It is unknown whether Chessie is drawn to these crowds or if Chessie is merely spotted more frequently when there are more sets of eyes on the bay, but there will be at least thirty reports a year of a sea creature fitting Chessie’s description.
Most sightings can be summed up as this:
“A sea critter as long as a telephone pole with a head shaped like a football swam past. Scared us half to death, but we didn’t think to get a picture of it. We really did see it, we swear!”
It is perhaps because of this that Chessie has long gone unacknowledged by many as a true cryptid. The most accepted theories, after all, are that it is an escaped anaconda of monstrous proportions or even a large eel. Some will even stretch so far as to say Chessie is simply an otter or even a manatee. But these creatures do not fit what has been seen time and time again by Chesapeake Bay visitors and locals.
Though the creature has been seen throughout the 1800’s, the first semi-credible report came from the crew of a military helicopter flying over Bush River in 1936. The men all swore up and down that they saw a reptilian creature in the water from above, but their claims were dismissed and ultimately ignored until much, much later.
Another notable occurrence was in 1943, when two fishermen reported a serpentine creature floating idly 75 feet from their boat. They mistook it for a 12-foot floating log until the thing raised its head from the water and began to lethargically take in its surroundings. The creature’s head was the size of a football and shaped vaguely like a horse’s head. The men began to panic at the sight of the strange animal, but before they could start paddling back to shore the creature stretched out and began to swim away quickly, revealing its full length of over double what the men had originally seen. Their story did not make it into the news, but it garnered interest among select crowds and was preserved as legend for many decades before Chessie began to really make waves in local news.
It was in 1982 that the first footage was captured of the sea monster. Robert and Karen Frew were having a lovely cookout at their seaside home on Love Point when one of their guests noticed something strange snaking its way through the water near the shore. Unable to identify the beast, Robert whipped out his camera and zoomed in as much as he could in the hopes of unraveling the mystery through technology. Unfortunately, cameras then weren’t anything close to what we have today. What he captured was a blurry gray mess with a darker mass worming its way across the screen.
This footage was sent to the Smithsonian to see if it truly was credible evidence of Chessie’s existence, which until now had been a laughable notion at best among most citizens of the bay. While the professionals who analyzed it could say with certainty that the dark blur in the recording was a living thing, they could not confirm that it was Chessie. Many took the chance to cast stones at the Frews for participating in a hoax, but most of the Chesapeake Bay area was warming up to the idea that there may actually be something lurking off the coast of their hometown. There were even some who were emboldened by the sudden controversy surrounding the tape, bringing to light sightings that had been previously kept private due to the witnesses not wanting to be labeled as a bunch of loons.
Chessie has since become something of a mascot to the people near the coast; Chessie merchandise such as stuffed animals, stickers, clothing, started cropping up in an attempt to intrigue tourists. Unlike most unexplainable things marauding the unexplored parts of the world, Chessie has never been seen as something inherently frightening or malicious. In fact, many see Chessie as a playful spirit, curious to see what its human neighbors might be getting up to at any given time. Sure, the sight of a massive slithery thing in the water is definitely startling to most, but the fact is nobody has admitted to feeling particularly threatened by the creature.
Overtime Chessie’s fame faded into obscurity once more. Sometime in 1993 there were articles published about it being found dead on the shore, but with no pictures to back up those claims they were regarded as baseless rumors. The fact that Chessie was spotted again near Fort Smallwood State Park in 1997 would later discredit those claims completely.
This is where confirmed reports of Chessie end, or at least the reports that received any attention from the media. The sea monster has not garnered much attention since the 80’s, but with the advent of the internet more and more stories are coming to light as people connect and discuss various supernatural or strange experiences. The unwillingness of the state of Maryland to accept that the monster could be real is baffling given the amount of reports brought in each year. But then, Chessie hasn’t done anything harmful or even really anything attention-worthy in the past fifty years. Legends may draw in tourists, but such tales are not concrete evidence that Chessie actually exists.
The elusive and shy nature of the beast is only that much more alluring to some. A good amount of people go hunting for a glimpse of such creatures, but others stumble upon them by accident.
One of the more remarkable descriptions of Chessie comes from a recreational fisherman, who recalls an experience of his from 1985. He and a friend were out on a boat when his friend hooked a fish. When the poster turned to look, a huge serpentine form erupted from the water, fishing line snapped and trailing from its mouth. It rose 12 feet out of the water, flailing diamond-shaped flippers before sinking down and disappearing once more, shaking the boat roughly with the speed of its leap. The man described it as having an oval-shaped main body and greenish-yellow lizard-like skin with barnacles attached to its back. While this is different from traditional Chessie descriptions, it is possible that most of the previous sightings have merely been of the creature’s long neck and not of the whole creature.
The most recent sighting from 2014, however, would seem to disprove this gentleman’s story, if they are truly speaking of the same creature. The Maryland resident was parked next to the Magothy River at 1:40am, when the tide was high. He looked out his window to see a black, snake-like creature swimming by not five feet from his vehicle. He stated that what he saw had no fins, but the same football-shaped head that the Chesapeake Bay Monster is known for. The creature swam past swiftly, without breaking the surface.
Another sighting from 1999 also clashes with the fisherman’s story from 1985. Another fellow and his friend were fishing on the shore of the James River in Enon when a strange creature began to approach them from the water. When they first caught sight of it the animal was further down, head bobbing up and down as it swam. At first they mistook it for a deer swimming across, but they became horrified when they realized that the water they were fishing in was, at most, two feet deep. They bolted. The monster paused and watched them go for a moment before submerging itself and vanishing from sight. Both witnesses stated that the thing they saw had a head like a horse or a deer, but they could not say much more about it.
One curious thing that was mentioned by a man who deals with the reports of Chessie on a regular basis was that nobody seems to mention whether or not the beast has eyes. When he would question witnesses most would say simply that they did not see the creature’s eyes. A select few, however, stated that the creature did not have eyes at all, just dark slots where eyes should be. Perhaps Chessie is, in fact, sightless, navigating purely by vibrations in the water. If so many people did not see the eyes, though, how could they be so certain that the creature was “looking” at them? It is just one more mysterious thing surrounding the monster.
Whatever Chessie may be, mutant eel, prehistoric creature, escaped anaconda, or something completely different, anyone interested in catching a glimpse of it should definitely visit Chesapeake Bay during the warm summer months. Don’t expect anyone to take you seriously if you return home with your own sea monster tales though; nobody seems to put much stock on the stories of good ol’ Chessie. But at least you’ll have the T-shirt and refrigerator magnet.