In Episode 192, Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger dive into the legends of Lake Willoughby in Westmore, Vermont. From Devil’s Rock, to a giant serpent, to a mysteries underwater tunnel that may connect to another nearby lake, Willoughby is home to many strange legends. Devil’s Rock is still here, and we found newspaper articles related to the killing of the giant serpent, but could a descendant of that giant beast still be lurking in these cold waters?
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[MOTORBOAT ON THE LAKE]
RAY: This spring weather is just what the doctor ordered, Jeff!
JEFF: I agree, it’s a great day to be out on Lake Willoughby in Westmore, Vermont. We’re not too far from the Canadian border. So though the sun is shining, there’s still a chill coming off of this windy lake.
RAY: Lake Willoughby is far from the largest lake in Vermont. It’s about 5 miles long, running mostly north and south, and about a mile wide at its widest point. It’s spring fed, which means it’s cold, and the waters are crystal clear. It’s a beautiful spot! In 2010 Yankee Magazine named this Lake as the third best in New England, so they’re doing something right here.
JEFF: Since we’re here in the spring we don’t have to worry about ice right now, but keep your eyes pealed around the lake surface, Ray.
RAY: Okay. I get the sense maybe we’re searching for some kind of strange cryptid today?
JEFF: Officially, this lake is 328 feet at its deepest point, but if we’re to believe the legends, that might be up for debate, because there’s talk of an underwater tunnel at the bottom that will connect you to another nearby lake, and maybe that underwater tunnel is the home of the Lake Willoughby Monster.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Welcome to Episode 192 of the New England Legends podcast. If you give us about ten minutes, we’ll give you something strange to talk about today.
JEFF: Lake Willoughby in Westmore, Vermont, is the next stop on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We’re glad you’re riding along with us. So many of our story ideas come from you legendary listeners, so please keep those ideas coming. Reach out to us through our social media, our super secret Facebook group, or our Web site where you can find our entire show archive, photos, plus clips from the New England Legends television series that you can watch right now on Amazon Prime!
RAY: Before we jump into the chilly waters of Lake Willoughby, we want to take just a minute to tell you about our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals.
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JEFF: We know there’s no shortage of strange monsters that lurk in and around New England lakes.
RAY: Right. We’ve gone searching for Champy in Lake Champlain, furry trout in Lake Memphremagog, and even a spectral moose at Lobster Lake.
JEFF: Lake Willoughby has a variety of strangeness associated with it, but before we head back to figure that out, let’s take the boat over to the eastern side of the lake sort of near Mt. Pisgah.
JEFF: We’re heading to a place called Devil’s Rock.
RAY: Okay… It’s pretty tough to miss that!
JEFF: I agree.
RAY: We’re looking at this rock cliff-face right up against the water. It’s maybe 20 feet tall at its highest point, then it slopes down to our left. Someone has painted a red devil holding a pitchfork silhouette right on the rock, and there’s a small deck at the top that’s fenced in.
JEFF: That would be the section they call Devil’s Den. Daring swimmers jump from the top into the water. The origins of this spooky rock, have to do the way the rock looks – they say it forms an eerie face.
RAY: I’m looking, I don’t see anything other than the jagged rocks.
JEFF: It’s most visible when the waters of the lake are perfectly still. Turn your head on its side and look at the rock again…. Nope, tilt your head the other way.
RAY: Oh wow… yeah, that’s freaky. If you look at the rock and its reflection on the water, it looks like a spooky face frowning.
JEFF: So that would be Devil’s Rock. But to find the secret underwater tunnel, and the lake monster, we’re going to head back to 1868.
RAY: It’s the summer of 1868 here at Lake Willoughby in Vermont, and there’s talk of a lake monster. This isn’t the first time a lake monster has been mentioned, of course, but this summer the debate is heating up.
JEFF: The town of Westmore got its charter in 1781. Back then it was just a few farming families. In the 1830s, the town started to grow as some mills moved in. The lake is named for the Willoughby Brothers who held the first title to the lake shore property. Once a road was constructed in 1850 on the eastern shores of the lake, some hotels popped up, and suddenly folks were coming to Lake Willoughby for the scenery and for the fishing and boating.
RAY: As people take their boats out on the lake, they’re spotting something strange in the water. Something no one has seen before. It’s a monster.
JEFF: What kind of monster?
RAY: It’s described as a giant serpent. Some say it’s 100 feet long, with a head big enough to swallow a swimmer whole!
JEFF: 100 feet? Come on…
RAY: Yeah, it sounds like a fish story, but some people swear they’ve seen it, others say it’s just a hoax made up to scare people. By the summer of 1868, the talk of this giant serpent is reaching a fever pitch.
JEFF: That’s how these things go. You see something, you tell others, and they call you a liar. They say you didn’t see what you thought you saw. It happens all the time. So frustrating.
RAY: That’s true, until one day in late July when Lake Willoughby monster debates suddenly end.
[SPLASHING IN WATER]
RAY: Right near the shore there’s a big commotion! So big all the area newspapers pick up the story. Like this article from the August 6, 1868 Burlington Free Press.
NEWSMAN: It is reported that the great water snake at Willoughby Lake, the existence of which has been recently denied, was killed Wednesday of last week by Stephen Edmonds, of Newport, a lad of twelve years. Rushing boldly upon the monster he severed its body with a sickle. On actual measurement, the two pieces were found to be 23 feet in length.
JEFF: 23 feet! That IS a monster!
RAY: Just to give you some perspective, the largest snake reported in Vermont is the Eastern Rattlesnake which can grow to just over 6 feet in length.
JEFF: So this snake is just about four times bigger.
RAY: It is.
JEFF: I guess that settles that. The Lake Willoughby serpent is real, because a local kid killed the thing and the papers wrote about it.
RAY: Yes, it’s settled… sort of.
JEFF: What do you mean?
RAY: Stephen Edmonds killed ONE giant snake.
JEFF: Good point. That snake obviously had parents.
JEFF: So God knows if that was the biggest!
RAY: For all we know that one was the runt of the litter. This summer will NOT be the last of the sightings.
JEFF: One of the strangest stories they’ll tell you about this lake has to do with a mysterious tunnel at the bottom. They say back in the earliest days of the lake, a team of horses was crossing the ice with their driver. Somewhere around the middle, the ice cracked, and the entire team and driver sank to the bottom like a stone. A tragic event, of course. And those on the shore were helpless in the matter. If they go out there, they’ll fall through too. And if the driver didn’t immediately drown, he wouldn’t last more than 20 minutes or so in the icy waters before hypothermia killed him. There’s nothing they could do but wait for spring and try to recover any bodies if they could. The strange thing is, when spring came, no bodies of horses or people turned up on Lake Willoughby.
RAY: But some bodies of horses and a drowned person DID show up on the shores of Crystal Lake which sits four miles to the west of Lake Willoughby, which leads some people to speculate that perhaps there’s some underground tunnel connecting the two lakes that sucked the bodies from one lake and spit them out at the other.
JEFF: Okay, that sounds like a tall tale.
RAY: It’s what they say… and that brings us back to today.
RAY: There’s another story kicking around about some divers back in the 1950s who went searching for the victim of a drowning and saw something strange. They claim there were some giant eels near the bottom coming out of an underground cave.
JEFF: Sure, but there’s a big difference between a cave and a four mile tunnel.
RAY: That’s true.
JEFF: We checked the newspaper archives on this. There are plenty of articles about people drowning in the lake. Cars go off the road and trap the driver inside, boating accidents, swimmers who cramp up and drown. There have been deaths here, and scuba divers have been called in for recovery, but we found no record of the underground cave.
RAY: Okay, let’s talk about Crystal Lake – which immediately makes me think of the Friday the 13th movies.
JEFF: That’s right! We should send our kids to summer camp there!
RAY: Yeah right. But the story of the bodies turning up on Crystal Lake is strange.
JEFF: It is strange. It makes me wonder if possibly a team of horses broke through the ice at Crystal Lake and drowned. But through some mix-up in the story, some locals may have been told it was actually Willoughby, so when the bodies turn up at Crystal Lake…
RAY: Suddenly there must be some mysterious tunnel connecting the two.
JEFF: In fairness, we didn’t find any record of a team of horses going through the ice at either lake. It doesn’t mean it didn’t happen, but we didn’t find it.
RAY: However, in September of 1986, there was another lake monster sighting at Lake Willoughby. A New Jersey woman vacationing at the lake described an unknown creature that she described as long and dark with two or three humps in its back moving through the water. She documented her sighting with a local researcher.
JEFF: The legends live on at Lake Willoughby. There are modern-day sightings, Devil’s Rock is still here, there’s the old newspaper article about the giant serpent, and there are enough stories still floating around from the past to keep us gazing at the waters of this lake and wondering if some giant beast is about to crack the surface.
RAY: This is episode 192, if this is your first episode with us, then you’re just cracking the surface of the many strange legends we’ve covered throughout New England.
JEFF: So true. Please join our group of legendary patreon patrons! These folks help fund so much of what we do and help our community continue to grow. For just $3 bucks per month they get early access to new episodes, plus bonus episodes and content that no one else gets to hear. Just head over to patreon.com/newenglandlegends to sign up.
RAY: We’d like to thank our sponsor, Nuwati Herbals, we’d like to thank Michael Legge for lending his voice acting talent this week, and out theme music is by John Judd.
JEFF: Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think.