While on a recent book research trip (I’m working on a follow-up to The Beast of Boggy Creek), I passed through Darien, Georgia where I had the opportunity to stop off and investigate a famous cryptozoo creature known as the Altamaha-ha, or “Altie” for short. Although this particular creature does not fit into the scope of my new book project, I did not want to pass up an opportunity to learn a bit more about the legend and visit a few sighting locations.
Cryptomundo has offered some detailed posts about Altie before, but just to refresh the waters, the creature is reported to dwell in the tributaries, marshes, and former rice fields of the Altamaha River near Darien, Georgia. Darien is a cozy little town of less than 2000 people located in McIntosh County about 50 miles south of Savannah and just north of Brunswick.
The first reports of Altie date back to the 1700s before the English settled the area. The Tama Indian tribe had long told of a legendary creature believed to live in the waters, describing it as a “snake-like giant.”
In the 1920s, a group of men reported seeing the creature swimming in the waters of the Altamaha. In the 1940s, the serpent was sighted by a local Boy Scout troop, and later in the ‘50s, it was reported by two officials from the Reidsville State Prison. Modern sightings include a report by a fisherman in 2002, in which he claims to have seen the creature raise its head from the water for a few moments before disappearing again below the surface.
Like all water-bound cryptids, a host of explanations have been offered up in an attempt to explain away the reports. Some theorize that people are actually seeing a dolphin, manatee, alligator, or even a beaver. But regardless, the sightings have given birth to a tradition and legend which Darien has embraced.
The first sign of the legendary creature can be found at the Darien Visitor Center. A large billboard guides you into the parking lot of an outlet mall where the center is located. Inside they feature a fantastic museum-quality replica of Altie created by Rick Spears, an exhibit designer at the Fernbank Science Center. Spears based the design on witness descriptions, resulting in an impressive piece. (So just in case you aren’t able to get snapshot of the “real” Altie down by the river, this makes an eye-catching substitute.)
The visitor center also provides a wealth of information on local attractions, including a nice tri-fold brochure on the subject of Altie. The brochure includes a run-down of the history and sightings, with a map to their locations. You can even buy a few stickers with the creature’s image.
Heading out across I-95 from the visitor center, you can drive down U.S. 17 where it’s easy to find spots to pull over and view the Darien and Altamaha Rivers. Myself and my research partner, Cindy Lee, stopped at several waterfront locations where we were able to contemplate the possibility of Altie’s reality with our video camera at the ready. We were not lucky enough to get a glimpse of any such lake monster, but nonetheless we were able to catch a large gator on film as it lazily traversed the dark waters near Butler Island. (And just for the record, it just seems impossible that anyone would mistake a large alligator for a serpent. It was easy enough to tell the difference.)
The entirety of this area along U.S. 17 – with its numerous waterways, picturesque structures, boat docks, and seafood restaurants – gives off a lazy air of old-world charm. The fact that it has a famous cryptid associated with it makes it even better. Cindy and I both agreed that if you are passing through the area, or if you have a particular fascination for freshwater monsters, then it’s definitely a place worth visiting!