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Crockery Creek Monster hasn't returned

Kevin Collier • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:24 PM

The June 18, 1967, edition of the Grand Rapids Press announced that the creature had returned to the creek and was witnessed by several residents along the waterway that winds from Crockery Township to Muskegon County.

Legends tell the tale of the giant fish that got her name one cold February day in the early 1860’s when a farmer named Cornelius Van Dyke was cutting ice on the creek. After his second load of ice one morning, two horses attached to Van Dyke's carriage broke through the ice and fell into the water. He severed the harness with an axe and saved his sled.

It is said Van Dyke witnessed an enormous fish devour his horses in what was described as “a fury of foaming water.” The Grand Rapids Press reported that as the creature was finishing off the last horse, the animal’s harness somehow slipped over its head and lodged snugly behind her gills.

The harness had brass bells attached, and ever since the creature made her debut 150 years ago, the sound of bells has announced her return.

Of the 1967 sightings, one farmer said he “distinctly heard her bells jingle as she jumped the waterfall between Ravenna and Nunica.” A truck driver from Nunica, hunting near where Crockery Creek empties into the Grand River, claimed the monster ate his beagle hound “like a dry fly” as the dog swam across the creek.

A Ravenna woman said “a dozen ice skating children had to scramble for the banks” of Crockery Creek during the winter of 1967 when Old Jingle Bells came by. She reported the enormous fish “swam swiftly past, her dorsal fin ripping through the ice,” revealing a trail of open water.

A theory as to the creature's origin suggests the monster was created when approximately 55 gallons of Sperm Whale oil spilled into Crockery Creek when a wagon full of supplies driven by Archibald Langlois — owner of the Crockery Street General Store — hit a hole, tossing the barrel into the stream, busting it.

It was reported for years following her debut, and it became customary for adults and children living near the creek to lounge on the bridge at the waterfall to see the monster as she leaped the falls.

What initially was a recreational spectacle soon turned to fear, as no one dared fish the creek anymore or enjoy its many swimming holes. Many who witnessed the strange fish leap the falls hesitated to cross on a bridge.

The Grand Rapids Press reported that “the only serious attempt to catch the great mother Muskie resulted in a battle” that is remembered by some Crockery Township residents to this day, it is claimed.

Carl and Adolph Wolfgang, members of a wild Crockery Creek clan, had been drinking “White Mule” one day when they decided to try to catch the creature. It is told, “They were men of action and not lacking in certain innate intelligence.”

The brothers drove their buckboard into Muskegon, where they bought a 200-foot length of ship hawser. Next, they wrangled a piece of railroad track they received from a section foreman, and with the help of an interested blacksmith, the piece of track was formed into a hook and attached to the hawser.

The Wolfgang brothers returned to Church Crossing and rigged their tackle. The hawser was secured to the steeple of the old church across River Road, and a 30-foot A-frame was built to cast the line. The two men used a Shetland pony for bait, and it took just three casts before Old Jingle Bells rose from the water.

The published account said, “The mighty Muskie made a run downstream and hit the end of the line with a lunge that made the hawser hum and started the church bell ringing in the steeple.”

Residents by Crockery Creek appeared within minutes, cheering on the Wolfgangs. It is said the battle lasted seven hours ending when the fish chewed through the hawser and headed downstream.

The church, pulled off its foundation, now was across the road on the bank of the creek. With no way to move it back to its original location, residents jacked up the structure and built a new foundation under it. For decades it was known as the only church in the county with a steeple at the rear.

Crockery Township fishermen argued for years that the Wolfgangs would have caught the creature if they had used a logging chain leader and had allowed for more play in the line.

Fish scales from “Old Jingle Bells” were reported to be found downstream for years after the epic battle. It was claimed some farmers used the scales for “well covers.” Legend says over a century later, some are still in use.

The monster hasn't been seen since 1967 and perhaps never will reappear. According to one story, told by a seafaring Nunica man, the creature made her way through the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Atlantic Ocean.

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