The creature was big, reptilian, with a black head, long tail and a big red tongue. It could hiss and cause men and women to run off, screaming.
It came close to shore, terrifying the environs so that parties of men went out with guns and spears to kill it.
And it all happened along the Noroton River, the stream that separates Darien from Stamford, starting 123 years ago today, on Aug. 10, 1889.
At least, that's the story that readers of the Boston Daily Globe read on Aug. 18 of that year. The five-paragraph article can still be found in the archives of what today is the Boston Globe. (A copy is attached to this Web page.) But it appears to have been a hoax.
"That a sea serpent or a reptile believed to be that famous monster was seen last Saturday is unquestioned," the article states. "It was seen by over a dozen reputable people and is confirmed by three or four women who got a glance at it and then ran screaming into the woods."
Unfortunately, the Globe article isn't corroborated by either the Stamford Weekly Advocate (an earlier version of today's Advocate of Stamford) or the New York Times or local historians in Stamford or Darien.
The Times, however, was publishing quite a few articles about the sightings of sea serpents from about 1886 to 1888. The articles varied from serious to jocular (a jocular one is attached to this article). It may have been a journalistic meme at the time, or perhaps a precursor to UFO sightings.
"All this week, a party of men have been hunting for a sea serpent on the Noroton River," the Globe's unnamed correspondent reported. "The stream in question runs down from among the hills two miles back of this town."
The first to see the creature was a "Mr. Ruscoe," who was clamming peacefully from his boat that Saturday afternoon when he "was suddenly confronted by an enormous serpent that stuck its head out of the water right alongside the boat."
Ruscoe is said to have described the serpent as "enormous," with a "large black head and its back was a copperas color." Copperas is another name for iron sulfite, which has a cold whitish-green color (seen here in a Google Image search results page for "ferrous sulfate").
It also had a big red tongue and could "emit a hissing sound."
Ruscoe said he dropped his clamming forks in the river and "pulled for the shore with all his might. The moment he landed he left the boat and clams and ran for the woods." He ran a mile before he finally became too exhausted to go further.
"He has not seen either his boat or his cargo of clams since." (Some things never change in these parts.)
At least a dozen people saw the creature. A Mr. Ryles got a good look at by climbing up a tree, and a "Landlord Miller who keeps a tavern on the banks of the Noroton a mile away by the bridge" also saw the creature.
Jack Gault, executive director of the Darien Historical Society, said a map from 1913 identifies a Miller as the owner of a building where now stands. There's been a restaurant there for many decades.
A mile to the south of Giovanni's would put the clammer near the southern end of Holly Pond. A mile north would be about where Route 106 spans the Noroton River, and Mr. Ruscoe wouldn't have needed a boat to rush to shore.
Gault said he'd never heard of the incident. Marian Castell, Darien town historian and a past president of the historical society, said it was news to her.
Both Gault and Castell suggested asking Kenneth Reiss, author of a recent town history, The Story of Darien Connecticut. Reiss said by email that he'd never heard of it, either.
But, he added, "What a hoot!"
Ron Marcus, librarian at the Stamford Historical Society, enjoyed the idea, too.
"The fact that the New York Times and the local paper have nothing on it suggests that it might very well have been a hoax," he said. "Too bad!"
The Advocate was not above reporting two sightings of a ghost in Darien, that August (athough that story only rated two lines), so it's hard to imagine such an ongoing ruckus would have escaped the newspaper's attention.
The Stamford City Directory of 1889-1890 has, of course, several Millers living in town. There are no Ruscoes, but there are several Ruscos; and there's no one named Ryles in the directory, but there are several men named Ryle, including a number in Glenbrook, not far from Holly Pond.
What if it were real?
If the Globe report were true and people did see a scary-looking creature somewhere along the river or in Holly Pond, could it have been real?
There is a real sea creature, sometimes quite large, that people have called a "sea serpent," as the Los Angeles Times and many other publications have reported. In about 1860, one was found in Bermuda (see the attached illustration from Harper's Weekly), another washed up in 1901 at Newport Beach, CA. A 56-foot-long specimen washed up in Scotland in 1808, according to a Los Angeles Times blog.
It doesn't have a black head, it seems, but more of a silvery body. Many pictures show a very long, red fin on the top of its head that a frightened clammer might well remember as a tongue.
A long, reddish or pink dorsal fin continues along the length of its back, and some creatures have been found that rival the one washed up in Scotland. Pictures have been taken of oarfish being held by more than a dozen men.
Confronted with something like that, up close, you might run off screaming into the woods, yourself.