By Jack Sheedy
We conclude our Twelve Days of Sea Creatures series not with 12 drummers drumming, but with the granddaddy of all Cape Cod sea serpent tales, which took place in 1886 at Provincetown. The following story can be found in a number of classic Cape Cod books – Edward Rowe Snow’s A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod (1946) and Josef Berger’s Cape Cod Pilot (1937), just to name a couple.
For the Twelfth Day of Christmas
George Washington Ready was the town crier at Provincetown, a position which afforded him some standing in the community at the Cape tip, so much so that he was nicknamed the “Professor.” What he was a Professor of is unclear. According to Webster, besides the educational reference, a professor is “one that professes, avows, or declares.” After reading the following you can decide for yourself if Ready was a “Professor” or a “professor.”
As stated above, the year was 1886. During those times, folks were rather educated in terms of understanding the world around them yet they still clung to some of what we might consider fantastic beliefs. The matter of sea serpents fell into that gray area, somewhere between science and myth.
While walking along the shore at Herring Cove beach, Ready noticed a commotion of foam in the water offshore. Something extraordinary was happening. Alarmed, he hid behind a nearby bush and watched as the turbulence revealed its source. A huge serpent emerged from the sea and came ashore. Ready claimed the beast he saw was 300 feet long and 12 feet wide, with blue, red, and green scales covering its body. It had a large head which held six eyes – three red and three green – the size of dinner plates. Ready said the creature had two-foot long teeth, an eight-foot horn atop its head, and a 20-foot tail.
Further, the “Professor” claimed that an odor of sulfur came from the serpent, which produced some internal heat, setting bushes ablaze. The beast lumbered along to Pasture Pond, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile to a mile from the beach, where it disappeared, presumably down an unknown chasm in the pond where it hid out of sight.
In terms of explaining the creature’s sudden appearance, someone suggested that perhaps the beast had been nudged from its underwater lair by some recent earthquakes, causing it to come ashore to find safer lodgings. To further punctuate the story’s validity, according to A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod and Cape Cod Pilot, Ready signed an affidavit which recounted the story and stated that during the episode he was “not unduly excited by liquor.”
"...and to all a good night!"
Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.