Wisconsin is known for the sparkling waters of our beautiful lakes. Beneath the surface, however, there are other things in the murky depths. The legends of Wisconsin lake monsters are plentiful, from Pepie on the Minnesota border to the Lake Michigan sea serpent on the other side, and all manner of tentacled or serpentine monsters in between.
Folklorist Charles E. Brown recorded some of these legends in his 1942 publication entitled Sea Serpents: Wisconsin Occurrences of These Weird Water Monsters, while other stories come to us from the dusty archives of local newspapers, the yellowed pages of obscure books, and word of mouth.
Some of these cases are even connected to reports of occult rituals intended specifically to conjure submerged horrors from the deep.
So before you head out for a relaxing day on the boat, make sure you know what may be lurking below.
- Rock Lake Terror
- Red Cedar Lake/Lake Ripley Monster
- Rock River Monsters
- Lake Koshkonong Monster
- Bozho – Lake Mendota Monster
- Lake Monona Monster
- Lake Winnebago Water Monster
- Mississippi River Monster
- Pepie – Lake Pepin Monster
- Lake Michigan Monster
- Devil’s Lake Monster
- Whitewater Lake Monster
- Jenny – Lake Geneva Monster
1. Rock Lake Terror
We’ll begin with one of Wisconsin’s most well-known lake monsters: Rocky, the terror of Rock Lake. That’s right, not only is this legendary body of water in Lake Mills said to conceal pyramids and an ancient necropolis with connections to Atlantis, it’s also home to an aggressive serpent that’s been terrorizing residents since it was first spotted in 1869 hissing at observers from the shallows. One man claimed to have hooked it with his fishing line, and then got dragged a half mile across the lake before the line broke.
In 1882, two men racing their rowboats across Rock Lake were headed toward what they believed to be a submerged sandbar. Suddenly the “sandbar” reared a large, snake-like head out of the water and opened it’s fierce jaws. Panicked, the men began yelling for onlookers on shore to bring a gun. A couple of them grabbed a boat and started rowing out to help, but Rocky retreated into the depths and vanished.
Subscribe to our newsletter!
2. Red Cedar Lake/Lake Ripley Monster
Around the same time Rocky was causing a ruckus in Rock Lake, another monster was mutilating livestock and scaring away resort visitors nearby in Red Cedar Lake and Lake Ripley. Both lakes were said to be connected by an underground channel, which the monster used to move between them. For a week in 1891, the monster stalked the shores of Red Cedar Lake, dragging away animals from nearby farms. Their half-eaten remains would wash ashore later.
The creature later emerged in Lake Ripley, where sightings were still being reported into the 1970s and 80s. Eyewitnesses described it having a large, dinosaur-like head and a thick snake body, with buggy eyes and greenish brown flesh.
3. Rock River Monsters
Legends tell of one or more serpentine monstrosities that used to navigate the waters of the Rock River in Jefferson County not far from all three of the previously mentioned lakes. These creatures would grab anything that got to close to the shore for a drink, dragging it under to never be seen again. It’s said that Native Americans feared these beasts, and made frequent offerings of tobacco and other goods to appease them.
4. Lake Koshkonong Monster
The Rock River flows through Lake Koshkonong, a 10,000+ acre lake in Dane County. With a maximum depth of seven feet, it’s unlikely anything large could live there. But there have been six sightings of a lake monster in those waters, and one of them even made a local paper in 1887. Two duck hunters rowing along the northeastern part of the lake when they spotted something in the water about 150 feet away toward the center of the lake. It was moving with it’s head about two feet above the water, with 10 feet of its thick, roughly 8-inch trunk visible above the water. It left a long wake which the men used to estimate the creatures total length at 30 to 40 feet. They began rowing toward it to get a better look, but it dipped under the water and never resurfaced.
5. Bozho – Lake Mendota
While some lake monsters are terrifying, menacing creatures, Bozho is more like a puppy dog. A large serpent with a snake or dragon-like head, Bozho is known for chasing after boats, playfully tipping over canoes, and tickling the feet of sunbathers around University Bay and Picnic Point. It all began when a UW student discovered what appeared to be a large, thick fish scale on the shore of Picnic Point. When he showed it to one of his professors, a man from New England said to be acquainted with the species, positively identified it as the scale of a large sea serpent.
Soon after, sightings began to increase, and witnesses came forward to confirm seeing Bozho prior to 1917, as well. But eventually sightings stopped, leading people to believe Bozho had left lake Mendota by way of the Yahara River.
A few years later, people began to see something in nearby Lake Waubesa which was attributed to the return of Bozho.
6. Lake Monona Monster
Before Bozho, Lake Monona was the place to go for a lake monster encounter. A 20-foot-long serpent was known to show up in Lake Monona every summer in the 1890s. This one was even blamed for eating someone’s dog in June of 1897. That year, a local newspaper headline noted that the serpent had arrived two months earlier than usual that season.
Years later, the lake was being dredged off the shore of Olbrich Park when something clogged the sandpipe. It was said to have been several huge vertebrae belonging to the skeleton of the serpent.
7. Lake Winnebago Water Monster
No one’s quite sure what this thing is: Lake monster or massive sturgeon? The legend of the Lake Winnebago Monster seems to originate from a Native American legend of a massive creature that lived in the lake, consuming deer and elk that got too close to shore. In the book Blue Men and River Monsters: Folklore of the North, author John Zimm writes: “These [deer] it bore beneath the water and devoured, horns and all. Native Americans are said to have been too scared to cross the lake or any of the rivers, lest the monster hunt them.”
After a sighting off the point in Neenah, a local newspaper headline tried to claim the monster as the Neenah Sea Serpent.
This menacing creature is said to often lurk at the mouth of the Fox River waiting for its meals, and some tales even claim it had babies that still roam the waters of Lake Winnebago today.
8. Mississippi River Monster
Early settlers of La Crosse had to contend with a poisonous serpent that lived in the Mississippi River. The beast vanished for awhile, and then made a comeback in 1901, when a La Crosse newspaper reported that a group picnicking on the shore of the river encountered the creature. They discovered it wrapped around a log on the beach. As they approached, the serpent made a hissing sound like “escaping steam” and then slithered back into the river.
9. Pepie – Lake Pepin
Legends of Pepie are said to date back to the Native Americans who once lived on Lake Pepin’s shore, who had to construct stronger canoes to prevent the creature from piercing them. The creature continues to be seen to this day, with descriptions matching those of the legendary Loch Ness Monster of Scotland. It’s said to live in the shadowy depths below Maiden Rock, and is still seen to this day.
“The lake was smooth as glass, and I saw a single wave about 100 feet long and about a foot and a half high, but there were no boats around to cause it,” steamboat captain Larry Nielson said. “Something was making it, but what, I don’t know for sure.”
After his sighting, Nielson decided to offer a $50,000 reward for proof of Pepie’s existence. Provide a good photo and a sample for DNA testing, and the money could be yours.
Some believe Pepie is just another case of a large, ancient sturgeon, but those who have actually witnessed it know better.
10. Monster of Lake Michigan
Lake Michigan is big enough to conceal all manner of aquatic horrors, so it’s no surprise that whatever is in there has only been glimpsed a few times. Around the turn of the century, several encounters were reported in the papers. Just off Jones Island in Milwaukee, fishermen saw the head of a the monster sticking up out of the water near their boat, but were laughed at when they returned to shore and shared their story. Soon after, some boaters saw what they believed to be a cask floating in the water. When they passed close by the object, however, they realized it was a large serpentine animal.
The next time this creature was seen, it was swimming down the Milwaukee River, where it was witnessed by an observer on the Michigan Street bridge.
Around the same time off the coast of Racine, a fearful creature some 30 feet in length was terrorizing construction workers and horses as it churned the shallow waters near shore.
11. Devil’s Lake Monster
The Nakota Sioux who originally named Devil’s Lake M’de Wakan, or “Bad Spirit,” were often dragged beneath the surface by the tentacles of some giant inhabitant of the lake. According to a story once told by a local chief, there was a bad drought one summer that dried up much of the lake. One morning, the people awoke to the horror of a kraken-like beast flailing about to free itself from a dried up patch of land.
Devil’s Lake was also regarded as a “Cthulhu power zone” by certain occultists, who would gather at its shore to conjure Lovecraftian horrors from the deep.
12. Whitewater Lake Monster
Whitewater is known for witches, spirits and poison murders, but there’s also something lurking in the lake. In 1923, a large creature with tentacles dragged two fishermen out of their boat and into the depths. They fought it off and scrambled to shore, where they discovered tiny bite marks all over their bodies. Then, in 1992, students from nearby UW-Whitewater had rented a house on the lake. During the night, they heard chanting and discovered robed figures conducting a ritual on the beach. As they watched, a thick fog with an eerie green glow rolled in off the lake.
“We heard the water start splashing and this deep gurgling noise,” one of the students told police. “We all just looked at each other, but when we heard this slurping sound and saw something coming out of the water, we ran like hell.”
13. Jenny – Lake Geneva
For a decade, from 1892-1902, Geneva Lake was home to prankster lake monster named Jenny, who was known to tip over small boats, and was sometimes seen swimming along in the wake of the lake’s grand steamboats. Jenny was first encountered on the evening of July 22, 1892, when the beast chased three swimmers out of the lake. “The creature chased the horrified trio to shore,” David J. Nennich writes, “then made its way back out into the lake, emitting loud bellowings, slithering like a great snake, carrying its head out from the water while in rapid transit.”
Jenny was described as a 65-foot-long serpent with a scaly green body 8-10 inches in diameter, and a monstrous snake-like head three feet wide. It was said to have fierce eyes, and a large, wide mouth with rows of sharp hooked teeth.
It’s been said that every lakeside resort town had a lake monster back in those days, and that newspapers often printed exaggerated or entirely made-up headlines, “yellow journalism,” in order to sell papers. Jenny is often chalked up to that, but the fact that sightings were reported by numerous reputable persons deepens the mystery.
Have you had an encounter with something strange in Wisconsin waters? Share your lake monster story with us in the comments below!