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Storm Hag
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Lake Erie’s Legendary Monsters of Shipwreck

By James Donahue

People who live on or have sailed the Great Lakes know how fast storms can develop and catch fishermen in small craft as well as sailors on the large ships unaware. Lake Erie, the shallowest of the lakes, is said to be the most dangerous of them all. Summer storms, which sometimes can emerge from almost out of nowhere, can turn that lake into a frenzy that has claimed many a fine ship and its crew.

There are mysteries about Lake Erie; stories of lost ships, men and even aircraft that have caused many writers and conspiracy theorists to speculate that this lake has its own version of the infamous Bermuda Triangle. And then there are the stories told by the old men who claim to have seen or at least heard about a monster living in those waters referred to as the Storm Hag. Another eerie legend about Lake Erie involves the appearance of a ghostly black dog.

The Storm Hag is said to live at the bottom of Lake Erie, just off the Presque Isle Peninsula. She appears as a hideous she demon with yellow eyes that shine in the dark and a pale green skin. Her teeth, also green, are sharp and pointed like those of a shark, capable of tearing her victims into shreds. The nails of her fingers are long and pointed like talons, and are capable of injecting poison. Thus a scratch or prick from one of her fingernails can paralyze a man. Her arms are long and powerful. Once she wraps them around her victim, is impossible for them to escape as she proceeds to consume her prey.

Because even her teeth are an ugly shade of green, some sailors refer to her as Jenny Greenteeth. That name alone links the legend of the Storm Hag with a legend known to sailors around Yorkshire, England. Jenny Greenteeth and hags of other names were known to have drowned children and elderly folks along riverbanks. The stories clearly followed the European sailors to the Great Lakes.

It is said that when she is near, the Storm Hag sometimes sings a quiet song over the waves that only a few have lived to talk about. It is said that when she attacks, the Storm Hag calls up a violent lake storm that tosses the ship and its crew so violently that she can reach her long arms from the water and grab her victim. Others have said she waits until the storm abates before rising from the waves, spewing lightning and winds with so much force the vessel is immediately sunk, taking its entire crew to a watery grave.

It is said that sailors who pass near Presque Isle claim to hear the phantom screams of the Storm Hag’s victims who have been taken over the years.

The story of the Black Dog of Lake Erie is strangely more troubling than the Storm Hag. This is probably because it appears to have been based on a true event involving the senseless killing of a pet mascot that fell overboard and got crushed while the vessel was locking through the Welland Canal, between Lakes Erie and Ontario.

As the story is told, the dog, a large Newfoundland, fell in the water and swam for a while alongside the vessel as it was entering the lock. Instead of attempting to rescue the dog, the sailors made sport of the creature as it worked to keep up with the ship. But then the animal got crushed in the lock gate. The ship was left stuck for a while in the lock while workers struggled to dislodge the dog’s corpse and get the gate working again. That night the crew was haunted by the baying of the ghost of the dog they failed to rescue.

After this, a ghostly black dog has been said to have appeared on ships just before they sank. The stories suggest that the dog may be there to curse the ships or warn the crews of impending danger. Some say the dog has eyes like coals of fire.

While known as the Black Dog of Lake Erie, most of the stories of the appearance of the black dog before ship disasters have happened on other lakes. They include the Issac G. Jenkins that sank in Lake Ontario in 1875, whose helmsman reported seeing a large black dog climb aboard the ship and run across the open deck before leaping from the opposite rail. The helmsman left the ship at the next port and the Jenkins sank with all hands a few days later.

Stories were told that a black dog also appeared on the schooner Thomas Hume before it disappeared without a trace somewhere on Lake Michigan in 1891. The disappearance of the Hume has remained one of the greatest mysteries of the lakes because it was a wooden ship and should have left debris. There was none to be found.

Yet another strange phenomenon reported by residents along the Lake Erie shoreline, not far from the City of Erie, has been the visions of burning ships far out on the water. The sightings have usually been observed in the fall.

A story in the Erie Dispatch that appeared in November, 1867, told how every autumn sailors and coastal residents observed what they believed was a burning ship, but when vessels were sent to get more information or help save anyone caught in the conflagration, they found that it was only a mirage.

Are these ghostly images of disasters past? It was said that for years after the steamship Erie caught fire and burned on Lake Erie, claiming about 250 lives off Silver Creek in 1841, the glowing lights of a burning ship were often seen by passing ships and folks on shore. When they attempted a rescue, nothing was ever found.