Greetings From the Land of the Make-Believe Species
Postcards provided proof of lake serpents, jackalopes and assorted curious monsters
- By Peter A. Smith
- Smithsonian.com, March 29, 2012
The postcard once provided a fast, reliable means of communication. The images on the cards carried strong implications of objectivity, underscored by concise captioning. Among these postcards emerges a unique flowering of the beastly taxonomic tree: dozens of distinctive, little-known species spotted by solitary farmers, hunters and fishermen, lurking all across the country, creatures that came alive through hyperbole, exaggeration and the perceived authenticity of postcards.
(Courtesy of Loren Coleman, International Cryptozoology Museum)
Under the surface of Silver Lake—“a beautiful sheet of water three miles long”—strange things swam. Native Americans long reported seeing unidentified animals, and one night in 1855, fishermen saw the “most horrid and repulsive-looking monster,” according to the Wyoming Times, a New York newspaper. A subsequent search turned up nothing. Still, crowds flocked to the area to catch a glimpse of the 60-foot-long lake serpent. Two years later, when a fire tore through A. B. Walker’s lakeside hotel in Perry, fireman reportedly found the charred remains of a fabrication of waterproof canvas and coiled wire. What had given wings and scales to the local legend? Probably, as folklorist Harry S. Douglass suggested in a 1956 paper in New York Folklore Quarterly, it was Walker’s collusion with the local press.