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Alaska’s Prehistoric Monster

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 4th, 2008

Cryptotourism has been in play for ages, especially highlighted by such sites as Loch Ness, which boasts of Nessie. Smaller examples of monsters and places, such as the Lizard Man of South Carolina or Tessie of Lake Tahoe, dot the maps of the world.

But a new trend is the recognition of cryptids, history, and places in various locations, often further overlooked. Glacier Island’s monster is one case that even turned up in the old Books of Charles Fort. In Mr. X’s Hypertext of the works of Charles Fort, he notes the passage from Lo!:

It may be that there have been several finds of remains of a large, long-snouted animal that is unknown to palæontologists, because, though it has occasionally appeared here, it has never been indigenous to this earth. New York Sun, Nov. 28, 1930 — “Monster in ice has long snout.”(41) Skeleton and considerable flesh, of an unknown animal found in the ice, upon [121/122] Glacier Island, Alaska. The animal was 24 feet long; head 59 inches long; snout 39 inches long. In some of the reports it was said that the animal was covered with hair, or fur. Conventionally one thinks of mammoths of Siberia, preserved for ages in ice. But, if nothing proves anything, simply that something is found in ice may not mean that for ages it was preserved in ice. [122]

It is intriguing to see today the report being acknowledged by the Alaskan site’s local centennial committee chairperson, who gets to the bottom of the fantastic tale and realistically comes up with some possibilities. (No photographs are published with this article, although they are mentioned.)

One of the strangest chapters in Cordova’s history began on Nov. 10, 1930, when Jerry O’Leary and Charles Gibson discovered the carcass of sea creature floating in Eagle Bay on Glacier Island.

O’Leary, a fox farmer, and Gibson, his employee, were making their rounds to feed their foxes and spotted the carcass floating on its back amid the icebergs from Columbia Glacier, six miles to the north.

The head and tail sections were devoid of flesh. However, the midsection was mostly intact.

O’Leary and Gibson towed the carcass to shore and chopped off the meat and hung it in the smoke house, intending to use it as feed for the foxes. Gibson described the meat as “looking and smelling like horse meat.”

They saved the skeleton, which was described to be anywhere from 27 to 42 feet long, with a long tail and peculiarly shaped flat triangular-shaped head. They ventured to guess that it had been entombed in the Columbia Glacier before breaking off and floating in the sea ice.

Word of its existence reached Valdez and Cordova and sparked the interest of Charles Flory of the U.S. Forest Service and W.J. McDonald, the district forest supervisor of the Chugach National Forest. McDonald, Lee C. Pratt, Captain E.N. Jacobson, John V. Lydick, Howard W. Stewart and A.C. Faith launched an expedition to document the creatures’ remains.

The Cordova Daily Times notified the Associated Press, and a reporter contacted Bernard Brown, a curator of the American Museum of Natural History.

Brown expressed his interest in the creature and said, “So far we know of no prehistoric animal of the dimensions given in the Alaska dispatches, but if the creature was encased in ice, it must have lived when the ice was formed.”

The prehistoric animals in Alaska are the mammoth[,] buffalo [actually the bison] and many small creatures, but none that would reach the dimensions of the lizard-like creature, which the description suggests.

It appears that the reptile is similar to the dinosaur, but they died out millions of years before the ice was formed. The only other possibility is that it would be a marine creature, such as a whale.

An expedition led by McDonald set out on the U.S. Forest Service launch Chugach on Nov. 25. The men took precise measurements of the skeleton, which measured 24 feet, 1 inch from tip to tip.

Its snout or beak from the tip to the center of the forehead was 3 feet 3 inches with a width of 11 inches at midsection and a circumference of 29 inches. Only the upper left jawbone was found, and it was described to be devoid of teeth.

The head was 4 feet 7 inches long and 3 feet wide at the widest part. The body section from the back of the head to the end of the rib cage was 6 feet 2 inches, and the tail was 14 feet long. The head attached directly to the torso with no visible neck. The skeleton’s flippers were 3 feet 11 inches long with an average width of 8 inches.

The width of the skeleton at its widest part was 3 feet 2 inches, not including the flippers. It contained 37 vertebrae and it was thought that the skeleton was missing a few on the tail.

When the description was relayed to Brown, he stated, “The creature found imbedded in the ice near Cordova may be one of the smaller whales and undoubtedly is of considerable antiquity. The description given me convinces me that it is some marine creature, perhaps one unclassified as yet.”

Howard Stewart took numerous photographs, which were sent to the Associated Press. The skeleton was tentatively identified as that of a pike [lesser rorqual, Balaenoptera acutorostrata] whale, but that did not stop one enterprising entrepreneur from
Cordova from marketing the skeleton as “Alaska’s Prehistoric Monster.”

Tom Vevig, a taxicab company owner, purchased the skeleton for $600 in January 1931. He planned to mount the skeleton and put it on display, first in Cordova and then in the Lower 48. By Feb. 12, 1931, the skeleton was reassembled and on display in the Seattle Room on First Street.

On Feb. 22, Mr. and Mrs. Tom Vevig boarded the steamer Yukon and took the skeleton to Seattle to begin a cross-country tour in a truck specially outfitted to carry the skeleton.

By June [1931], the Vevigs were in Chicago and by August, they were ready to return to their home in Cordova. They had taken the skeleton on tour throughout the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Their public exhibits were advertised as “Alaska’s Prehistoric Monster — Millions of years old. Nearly 30 feet long. Baffles the scientific world. Queerest monster ever found. Discovered in Columbia Glacier. Now on Exhibit. Here for a short time. Don’t miss it. 25 cents Adults, 15 cents, children any time.”

On Sept. 9, the Vevigs were once again back in Cordova without the skeleton. They reported that their skeleton drew big crowds in everywhere it was displayed, but they were homesick for Cordova and decided to come home.

The skeleton had been donated to the National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Thus ended one of the strangest chapters in Cordova’s history.

John Vevig, Tom’s nephew, was kind enough to provide a photograph of the mounted skeleton.

I was able to confirm that the skeleton is in storage at the museum and has been identified as that of a minke whale [and, thus, allegedly the Common or Northern Minke Whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata)]. It is said to be one of better specimens owned by the museum and has been made available to researchers from around the world.

/ Dixie Lambert is the co-chair of the Cordova Centennial Committee./

Source: “‘Sea Monster’ discovery on Glacier Island the buzz of old Cordova,” by Dixie Lambert, May 02, 2008, The Cordova Times, Cordova, Alaska.

Loren Coleman – has written 5491 posts on this site.
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013.


2 Responses to “Alaska’s Prehistoric Monster”

  1. MattBille responds:

    The Smithsonian does not have it on display, and it’s not a holotype or anything. A museum in Alaska should try to negotiate a long-term loan.

  2. Markus responds:

    Someone is interested in viewing this piece of cryptozoological history? I think that this database entry of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History is our old friend (with pictures).



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