Tales of Georgie: The Lake George Monster
The Lake George Monster
Georgie Lives on in the Hearts of Lake George Residents
In 1904, the third Olympic Games opened in St. Louis; there were only 45 states in the country; the leading cause of death in America was pneumonia; and in Hague, NY, the Lake George monster was created.
The story of the Lake George monster, or “Georgie” as he came to be known, began with a competition between two friends: Col. William Mann, publisher of Town Topics, which was the predecessor to The New Yorker magazine, and genre painter Harry Watrous (1857-1940). According to the legend, Watrous, in retaliation for a fishing trick Mann had played on him a week or two prior (in which he pretended to catch and mount a whopping forty pound trout, only to have Watrous learn the fish was made of wood), made a ten-foot long cedar log into a sea monster.
Watrous was quoted as inserting “two telegraph pole insulators of green glass” for eyes, and painting the log to give the appearance of a monster. Watrous then rigged a rope and pulley to make the ‘monster’ move. While Mann and several of his New York acquaintances were on the water, Watrous brought the log out and gave the group quite a show.
Members of Mann’s party are said to have screamed, as well as beat at the water. At the same time, Mann continued to repeat, “Good God, what is it?”
Watrous had so much fun that he did not stop with just Mann. For weeks following the initial scare, he would slip the monster out into the lake and move it along the shore. It was not long before all of New York and surrounding states were abuzz with news of the alleged Lake George monster. Each time he was careful about how good a view people got of the thing. One hotel proprietor is said to have warned guests away from mentioning the monster. It is said that the hoax did not bode well for tourism at the time.
Eventually, Watrous gave up on the gag, and it wasn’t until 1920 when the actual ‘body’ was discovered. Louis Spelman of Silver Bay, NY, returned the monster to the waters the following summer, creating havoc for one boat when everyone rushed to the side to get a view of the monster. As a result, Spelman put the monster in his garage and forgot about it until 1962, when he allowed Walter Grishkot to borrow it and take a photo which stirred some publicity before the monster was sold to a woman in the Virgin Islands. There “Georgie” was displayed in many parades and carnivals.
Upon his departure, mini replicas were created for all men and women who had helped to promote Lake George. The replicas were crafted by Rod Bucklin, who had been the director of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce at the time.
A few years later Grishkot retrieved the monster and brought it back to Lake George.
Even though Watrous’ prank happened over a century ago, “Georgie” is still a fixture in Lake George lore. Each year the Lake George Historical Association and Museum draws visitors wishing to see a modeled-down replica of Watrous’ original monster. The original eyebolt that secured the pulley can still be seen embedded in a rock on what was once Watrous’ property. Georgie’s image still appears in parts of Lake George almost as a well-loved ‘mascot’.
It is said that Watrous’ hoax influenced other hoaxes during the 1930s and 1940s. One such incident would be “Kingstie,” an alleged monster in Lake Ontario in 1934; so named for its closeness to Kingston, Ontario, Canada. Another hoax would take place in Ludington, Michigan. The Lake George hoax has even made Environmental Graffiti Magazine’s list of “7 Lamest Yet Wildly Believed Cryptozoological Hoaxes.”
Some joke that the Lake George monster has, in fact, left Lake George for Lake Champlain, becoming “Champ” (although most agree that there has never been a monster in Lake George, save for Watrous’s). The only thing to be found at the bottom of Lake George is artifacts from the Revolutionary War, of which Lake George was a main waterway.
–Amanda Taylor is a Contributor to The Free George.
The Free George is the online magazine and visitors’ guide of Upstate NY, covering things from Albany to Lake Placid, including Saratoga, the Lake George region and the Adirondacks. Check out our City Blogs section for our extended coverage areas as well.
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