Since late June, a series of reports of giant snake sightings in Westbrook has transfixed the state and nation. The first witness said the snake, spotted at Riverbank Park, was “as long as a truck and [with] a head the size of a small ball.” Later, two Westbrook police officers described the same mystery animal: an enormous snake, at least 10-feet long, which appeared to be eating a beaver.
But this isn’t without precedent. Two historical Maine incidents of 10-foot-long snakes have been documented. Cryptozoological historian Chad Arment mentions these two cases in his 2008 book, “ Boss Snakes.”
The October 1878 sightings by the inhabitants of Winslow, Maine, on the banks of the Kennebec River, tell of a large, spotted snake, eight to 10-feet long, accompanied two smaller snakes. First seen by Mrs. Smiley, and then by Deacon Palmer, these two people were the primary eyewitnesses. Palmer felt for sure the giant mystery snake was 10 feet long.
Then in August 1895, a man in Gardiner, near the Pickering farm on the Brunswick Road, said he saw a “10-footer” — a giant snake unknown for the area.
Perhaps more comparable to the high interest over “Wessie” this summer, were the “Giant Pennsylvania Snake” sightings beginning in July 1833, and lasting through 1875, from southern Pennsylvania and into northern Maryland.
This monster snake was said to be 15-20 feet long, and called a “Devil Snake” when first seen on Big Round Top, south of Gettysburg. The 25-foot-long snake of Allentown was seen chasing and eating roosters and cats in 1870 and 1871. Just across the border, the 15-foot “Anaconda” of Hall’s Springs, Maryland, reportedly terrorized the summer of 1875 by swallowing pigs, a turkey, and a chicken. These giant cryptid snakes were never caught, but kept locals on the lookout for monster snakes for 42 years.
The story of Ohio’s “Peninsula Python” of 1944 became so famous that Atlantic Monthly in 1945, and newspapers coast-to-coast, reported on this beast through the summer of 1946. Rumors, sightings and encounters gave accounts of a 20-foot-long python seen near Peninsula, in Cuyahoga Valley, Ohio, that supposedly escaped due to a circus accident. Never mind that the alleged circus train was never tracked down. Local people saw the snake and described it as “round as a telephone pole and twice as long.”
The Peninsula Python has become so famous that in 2008, more than 60 years after the first reports, the little community officially began celebrating “Python Day” every July 19 in the village, with pie-eating contests, live snakes on display in the local library from the Akron Zoo, snake-face painting for the kids, live music, python t-shirts and a “Python Costume Parade” on downtown Main Street.
Will a local tradition spring up around Wessie? A local “Wessie” beer has already been brewed, with its own Wessie t-shirt, and an exhibit is on display at the International Cryptozoology Museum.
Perhaps, someday, a Wessie Festival will be held annually at Riverbank Park.
Loren Coleman is director of the International Cryptozoology Museum at Thompson’s Point in Portland.