Pressie: A Lake Superior Monster or Copper Loving, Ojibwe Mishipeshu? TAP TO GET PODCAST
Lake Superior is known for its mysterious, vast waters. But did you know Lake Superior is also said to be home to a mythical, aquatic beast that lives deep within the underwater caverns? In this episode, we learn of one diver’s terrorizing encounter that sounds less like an underwater excursion and more like a late night bar brawl.
Lake Superior is a body of water so massive that it borders Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Ontario, Canada. By surface area, Superior is the largest lake in the entire world, spanning a massive 31,700 square miles and containing 1/10th of all freshwater there is. And while Lake Superior is home to its fair share of fishermen, water sports enthusiasts, and beachgoers, if the stories are true, it’s also home to a multitude of cryptid encounters along its shoreline and into the depths of its 1300-foot-deep trenches. So let’s weigh anchor and set sail into the wild and monstrous tails of Lake Superior.
It mesmerized him but to be honest, he couldn’t quite understand what he was seeing. A group of copper mining prospectors had made the journey out into lake superior and set up camp on one of its many islands. They had spent the day analyzing the surrounding areas, and here on this particular island, things seemed promising. So as evening drew in, they opted to skip the long return trip back to base camp and crash here on the beach in hopes of getting an early start to their underwater expeditions.
As evening turned to night, the damp wind licked across the massive lake, leaving their fire weak and in constant need of tending. So when one of the men got up from his makeshift pallet to go grab some more wood to keep it during, he saw something other-worldly in the waters ahead. Entranced, he called out to the other prosectors to come and take a look.
As they made their way closer to the shoreline, the green glow began to grow brighter. The aquatic luminescence began uncoiling in the waters, worming and folding over itself until it spread out to nearly 30 feet in length. That’s when one of the men had a startling return of memory. He looked over to the crewmen on his left and stated, Do you remember hearing the Native American tales of a creature that lives in this lake? The one that is said to pull hunters from the shoreline and capsize boats? What if this thing is none other than the Mishipeshu? Upon hearing this, the prospectors snapped from their trance! One of the men grabbed his rifle and fired into the glowing water. Instantly, the green light faded, and the night returned.
Fearful of the idea that whatever this was might return, the prospectors took shifts the rest of the night, firearms in hand, watching the waters to ensure that the alleged beast didn’t come back. And finally, as the sun began to just barely glisten across the water, everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief. Despite their long and fearful night, their plan to camp over and get an early start seemed to be working in their favor. But little did they know, their encounter with the green glowing beast had only just begun.
The prospectors all climbed back aboard their boat and made the quick journey around from where they were camping to a cove where they had spotted promising signs of copper ore. They suited up their diver in the cumbersome canvas dive suit, bolted down the breathing helmet, checked to ensure the breathing pump was functional and attached the speaking tube – which was a tube attached to the helmet and ran back to the boat that, in theory, allowed for very basic communication. Once the green light was given – no pun intended, their diver grabbed his bucket and crowbar, fastened his utility knife to his belt and safety line, and stepped off the edge of the vessel, where he then sunk 30 or so feet to the cove’s floor.
As the soot settled, it didn’t take long to realize that they had struck gold…er. I mean copper. The lake’s floor was covered in a green tarnish that signaled this was the spot they’d been looking for. He followed the vein of copper along until he reached a large, overhanging rock and what looked to be some kind of underwater cavern. He continued into the mouth of the cave but quickly realized his hoses were pressing against the outcropped rock. He’d run out of slack. So he turned to head back out of the cave and back to the boat, but just as he did, the light spilling in from the cave’s entrance went dark.
Quickly, the diver reached out his hands and began to feel his way along the rocky walls, but as he progressed, the cave wall seemed to shift. At first, the stones felt familiar under his thick canvas gloves, but now it was as if the walls began to sink as he pressed against them. He pressed harder to try and comprehend what he was feeling, but as he did, he noticed the walls begin to glow.
A green light began to light the cavern around him. Thoughts of the previous night came flooding back, and the diver began to panic. He turned to try and hide deeper in the cave, but his lifeline and breathing tube were stretched to their limits. As panic took over, he began to yell into his diving helmet that he needed help, just hoping that his speaking tube would work as they’d hoped. And his yells worked alright. Except, instead of alerting his fellow prospectors back up on the boat, he turned to find himself just inches from a giant, yellow, menacing eye.
Just then, a bursting flash of green lit up the cave. The creature began to writhe and flail at the diver, but in a last-ditch effort, he had unclipped his knife and began slashing at the creature’s advances. The more he cut and stabbed, the more angry the monster became until finally, it whipped around, grabbed the man by the waist, and lifted him from the lake floor. With his air hose now kinked under this creature’s firm grip, time was drawing short. He took one more blind swing at his green, glowing foe and severed the arm that held him completely off, causing the monster to shrink back in pain and slip back off into the dark depths of the cavern.
The diver desperately pushed himself out of the cave’s mouth, attempting to tug on his lifeline, but the water was leaking into his helmet now. Black stars began to dance around him as he realized his oxygen line had been severed, and he slipped out of consciousness.
Minutes later, his eyes snapped open. Where was he? What had happened? He looked up to see… to see the sun. He was somehow back on their boat? As he sat up, looking around at the rest of his crew, he could see the look of terror on their faces. They told him how they heard him yell from the speaking tube, and then the boat began to shift as if something had been pulling at his lines from below. As soon as they felt a bit of slack, they quickly began to pull him back to the surface. He then recounted back the harrowing tale of coming face to face with the green, glowing monster they had seen the night before, showing them the crimson-stained knife still tied to the safety rope on his suit.
The group of prospectors quickly turned and set sail away from that cursed island and back to their main camp, swearing never to tread the waters of lake superior again.
On Thursday, August 26th, 1886, the Manitowoc Pilot published this daunting tale we just shared. And while I am sure many of us would love for this tale to be true, the reality is this is most likely just another case of “Yellow Journalism.”
“Yellow Journalism” was all too common in the late 1800s. You know the sort – those articles that, to us now, are obviously over-exaggerated sensationalism conjured up to spike sales on slow news weeks. It was a common tactic in the days when the news wasn’t so fast passed and getting information wasn’t as easy as tapping a piece of pocket glass.
And while this form of sensational storytelling is still quite common today, though often laced with slightly more believable lies from more “reputable” sources, in the late 18 and early 1900, ’s Yellow Journalism was literally the norm. I can’t help but think back to our first episode, where we discussed the Alkali Lake Monster in Nebraska and the many theatrical stunts the local paper’s chief influencer of the time, John G. Maher, pulled to sell a few papers… and ended up creating an international news sensation.
So as you can see, yellow journalism IS powerful. Storytelling is how humans communicate. And the more elaborate the story, the more the story takes hold. But just because this one story has yellow roots doesn’t mean Lake Superior’s water doesn’t have its share of mysteries. Because if the legends are true, our probably fictional divers from our story were right to fear the lake. And they should be thankful that the creature they encountered wasn’t the monster that is said to have called Superior its home for thousands of years.
He stood watching as they cast out their nets, but he never expected to see this. Father Paul LeJeune, a French missionary to the Ojibwe first nation peoples in the Lake Superior region, had grown to love spending time with these local natives, even going so far as to learn their languages to better understand those he sought to share the gospel with. But as he curiously watched from the shore, he noticed the natives fish out something rather… peculiar.
The fish looked to be over a meter and a half or about 5 feet long. With a strange, lizard-like body and with the head of a turtle. Father Paul watched curiously as the men quickly cut the creature free and hastily released it back into the water.
Later that evening, Father Paul enquired as to what the fish was but the Ojibwe quickly corrected him. That was no fish. No, that was a monster! A creature so powerful it could conjure storms large enough to wipe out entire villages. We regret catching such a fiend and only hope that by releasing it, the Mishipeshu will spare us its wrath.
The Mishipeshu, or Great Lynx, is a creature the Ojibwe people have told of for hundreds, if not thousands, of years. This powerful aquatic creature is said to live near Manitoulin Island and is often revered as a symbol of Lake Superior’s power. Traveling along the lake’s underwater tunnels, the natives claim the Mishipeshu can summon ferocious storms, massive waves, and consuming whirlpools.
With the body of a reptile, the head of a cat, and the horns of a bison, the mishipeshu is no creature you would want to offend. But how would one offend a water panther with mythological powers? Well, by taking the one thing it loves most, copper!
See, Lake Superior is home to an abundance of copper, and this copper holds a very sacred significance. When the Ojibwe people arrived here in the 1500s, there were already dozens of ancient copper mines dating, by some estimates, all the way back to 2,500 BC. These copper veins represent heritage and history, both things the Ojibwe value greatly. It was not uncommon to find chunks of polished copper handed down for generations as a sort of totem or charm symbolizing strength.
And as long as there have been people mining these copper mines, there have been tales of massive, aquatic dragon-like cats with glistening copper horns protecting them. You can even see evidence of this for yourself at Agawa Rock, a sacred lakeside site located in the Lake Superior Provincial Park in Canada. There, resting at eye level, carved into the face of a massive, 15-story tall granite cliff, rests the depiction of a monstrous creature with a scaly back, feline head, and powerful horns like that of a bison.
If you are a regular of our tour here or an active lover of anthropology, then you probably already figured out that the Mishipeshu is not just a powerful water dragon-cat but rather a guardian symbol of this most sacred commodity. That’s why tales of this creature snatching people off the shorelines who dared pocket too much of this precious resource are common tales in the Ojibwe Nation. And luckily, over time, the Ojibwe people developed ways to appease the Mishipeshu. Small offerings of tobacco and other goods seemed to satisfy the beast enough to allow for safe passage. On rare occasions, the Mishipeshu would find itself in a good mood, offering medicine, protection, or a good day of fishing to the occasional local.
But, by and large, the Mishipeshu is, well, a troublemaker. Often bored just chilling underwater living its best life, the Mishipeshu has been known to step out of line, casting judgment for the most simple of things. Playing the archaic role of the trickster god, Mishipeshu has been known to strike for no there reason than to satisfy its chronic boredom.
Take the story of a group of friends out enjoying a day on their yacht in 1897. While they were out cruising along the lake, one of the gentlemen on board slipped when their vessel struck an unusual wave. He fell backward and tumbled over the rail, splashing into the water below. Just then, a massive serpentine creature with the head of a cat came bounding out of the depths, wrapping around the man and squeezing the air from his body until his eyes began to bulge. The other passengers began to yell and toss things at the mischievous mishipeshu until it finally released the man and splashed away.
Tales of the mishipeshu drowning children who are left unattended by the waterside have often been passed down. In the Churchill River area, it’s not uncommon to find modern children playing a game of “mishipeshu” based on this creature’s morbid habit. One child plays the role of the monster, attempting to toss all their friends into the water. When you manage to soak all the other kids, you win!
Monster tales have a way of springing up wherever tragedy falls. As we stated before, stories are the way humans communicate best. Trying to explain landslides? Maybe it’s a Slide-Rock Bolter. Why did the bridge collapse? Could it have been the Mothman? Why does my friend suffer from depression? Probably Walking Sam. Why did that shipwreck or that child drown? It must have been a Mishipeshu.
We use stories to convey messages. We put faces to feelings and shapes to tragedy. But these stories often teach us beautiful lessons about the value of community, how to be wise with our commodities, and how to better respect our fellow humans. Really, I feel we could all learn a thing or five about how to be better stewards of our time, resources, money, and relationships if we would make it a point to take these stories in and really chew on their meanings.
But aside from the parabolic assimilation we place between these stories and real life, often, these stories have roots in things a bit more tangible. Sometimes tragedy happens, and we use the unexplainable to explain it, but what about when the unexplainable seems to be the only explainable answer? It’s one thing to write fantastical stories about giant squids or speak of water panthers, but what about when it’s not a story? What about when When your eyes can’t explain what you are seeing?
Monsters may make great stories, but what if the stories were true?
Some say it’s just a natural evolution of the story, but others swear it’s true. For the last few hundred years, people have told accounts of something outside of their comprehension slinking about in this ocean-sized lake. Serpentine in stature and with a large, abnormally cat or horse-like head, many could see how the Lake Superior monster seems like a modern telling of that aquatic sphinx. But aside from the scales and head shape, that’s where the similarities seem to end.
“Pressie,” as the creature has been dubbed, partly for its serpent-like movements and more so because people associate anything found in the water with Nessie – less resembles a taxidermic fever dream and more your traditional three-humped, larger-than-life water snake. Heck, in some instances, she even takes on the more familiar form of a plesiosaur. Often depicted as your typical dark green to shades of black in color, Pressie spans 75 feet in length with a long neck and massive, whale-like tail.
And man oh man, are there a ton of sightings!
September 1984, the crew of two separate steamboats on their way to Copper Harbor witnessed a strange creature rising and falling in the water. The monster’s back rose 6 to 8 feet out of the water as it bobbed in and out. Both crews separately gave exacting accounts of what they both witnessed.
July 1895, Another steamboat crew reported an incident off the coast of Whitefish Point where they were tailed by a “hideous creature” that swam alongside them keeping pace with their vessel. The men reported its neck rose 15 feet from the water’s surface and had a jaw a foot wide.
In 1933, two men were out fishing at Pictured Rocks in Munising, Michigan. As they sat there watching their lines, they observed a large, serpent-like creature bobbing across the surface of the water at an estimated 9 MPH. As it passed, the monster created a strong wake.
In the mid-1960’s a family was enjoying the day out near Sugar Island when they saw a massive creature swim through the water, slinking like an inchworm. They claimed the
Beast alternated between a bent, humped shape before straightening out long. They were unable to make out a head or tail.
Summer of 1981, four siblings all observed a serpent-like creature bobbing in and out of the water. Three and then 5 humps broke the waters surface in alternating fashion. They remarked on how when the creature slowed down, the humps would rise higher out of the water, and when it would speed up, the humps would thin out. They said the creature came within about 20 yards of the beach they were relaxing at. The youngest of the siblings, still a child, ran away crying at the sight of it.
In the mid-1990s a fisherman told of how he watched in horror as a large creature rose to the waters surface where it stealthily snuck up on a duck, then bit down and dragged the water foul under, only leaving behind its severed head.
As you can see, the list goes on and on and on. So maybe there is something out in these waters? Maybe the mishipeshu exists! Or maybe it’s a handful of different creatures altogether. Or maybe it’s folklore and fallen logs. Either way, it’s obvious Lake Superior is as mysterious as it is vast.
Water has this way of fascinating us. It is vital yet lethal, beautiful and haunting, gentle and fierce. And like staring into a mirror or into the night sky, we can’t help but feel a sense of wonder and mystery when we look across the water’s glistening surface. It draws us in, at times, to our own demise. And though our stories may change over time, the fact remains that so long as there are depths to explore, our curiosity will draw us there.
If there were any such a thing as a lake monster, I’d place my bets here at Lake Superior. Skeptics and believers alike can both agree that from a strictly biological level, this lake has what it takes to house such a monster. And since we are here, let’s take a look at one more Pressie sighting that might just be the most detailed account of all.
On this Memorial Day, he was in for an experience he’d remember for the rest of his life. Randy Braun was out for a hike near Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park when he witnessed something off in the water alongside him. He snapped a photo and wrote down a vividly detailed (and relatively long) account of the sighting, so in the spirit of authenticity, let’s just read it directly so you can make what you want of it for yourself.
“On Memorial Day Weekend in 1977, I was camping at Presque Isle campground north of Ironwood, Michigan, with a friend. I don’t remember if it was Saturday or Sunday, but it was a beautiful morning, and Lake Superior was like glass. Visibility was remarkable when looking out across the Lake, and distant land was visible. There’s a trail that leads east from the campground, which crosses the Presque Isle River that I was navigating, however, the bugs were unbearable, and I headed north towards the lake, hoping that walking along the beach would be more comfortable.
When I reached the tree line, there was the beach but about one hundred feet below me. The slope leading to the beach was close to a 45-degree angle with short dead trees protruding from the moss-covered rock, and come to find out also very slippery. It still amazes me to this day how I was able to control my slide with a full backpack. I sheared off some of the scrub trees on the way down. Then again, I was young and experienced, having had an extensive background in forestry and working in Idaho and Montana. I was twenty-six years old then, and now I am forty-eight. The beach was maybe thirty feet from the waters edge to the slippery slope, and as I continued to walk east, sometimes no beach at all. Instead, there was water with tangled lake debris amid dead-standing trees. The water was knee-deep to waist-deep but difficult to get through, and as I think about it, I’m glad “it” wasn’t lurking in there. After crossing through a couple of these beach barriers, it was clear beach as far east as I could see, and I stopped by a 3’x3’ boulder, sat, and began to eat lunch.
When I looked straight out to open water, I saw two very distinct dark bumps which seemed to be separated by just a few feet. First, one bump would go underwater then the next bump would do the same, but only after the first one surfaced. I had a 20x spotting scope with me and couldn’t quite make out what they were. Then they began to move east and to my left, one bump going under and then the other, but one bump always stayed on top of the water while the other submerged.
It became frightfully apparent to me that this object was close to one thousand feet out, and as it gained speed, I realized there was a third smaller bump and that the object was undulating. It moved very rapidly, “VERY RAPIDLY” to the east and quartered towards and nearly up to the shore. The now obviously living thing stopped maybe several hundred feet from me and began moving and weaving around large boulders that were in the water and directly toward me. IT WAS BIG and resembled an anaconda with the girth of a Volkswagen. Don’t laugh it wasn’t funny.
There was nowhere to go for me because of the slippery slope and the water barriers, so I jumped behind the boulder and grabbed by 35mm Yashica. As it moved towards me, it slowed down considerably but was making a noticeable wake. It was strangely quiet while it snaked towards me and stopped dead in the water right in front of me. IT WAS BIG! I steadied my camera on top of the rock and fired one picture but was afraid to move after that. The thing sat there for about thirty seconds with its huge horse-shaped head and large dark left eye staring at me. On the nose was a visible catfish-type whisker, maybe two feet in length and wiggling.
I don’t talk to many people about it and have the original negative, which I used to make an 8×10. The picture is high quality, and everything plus more makes it quite a conversational piece. Incidentally, Doctor Reines from the State University of New York in Plattsburgh, New York, has an 8×10 I’ve sent some twenty years ago. The picture is copyrighted, so he didn’t pursue purchasing the photo, at least, that’s what I think. At the time of the incident, I lived in northern Illinois, but now, ironically, I live in Michigan and only several miles from Lake Superior.
I don’t swim in any deep water lake anymore and occasionally have nightmares of being consumed by the thing I saw.“
Mishipeshu, Pressie, The Lake Superior Monster, whatever you want to call it, there’s no denying that people are seeing something out in this water. Maybe it’s the sheer size of the whole thing throwing off people’s perceptions. Maybe it’s just old tales and superstitions. Or, Maybe there really is something out in those copper-laden waterways and bluffs. And no matter which way you lean, there’s simply no denying that the water like our own imaginations are deep, dark, and beautiful mystery worth exploring.
Randy Braun Pressie Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UANazZX7u9A
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Thanks for touring Cryptids Across the Atlas. Until next time, keep your eyes open. You never know what you might see just on the edge of the road.