The first witnesses of the creature were Charles Cotton, Herman Nyland and Charles Shupe on Aug. 9.
“The sight they saw is described as that of a hideous-looking beast moving through the waters with a head like that of a hippopotamus,” the Tribune reported Aug. 13, 1909. “The body resembled a soft-shell turtle about 6 feet in diameter and it had a tail about 10 feet long. The under shell or belly of the beast gave out a phosphorescent light … like a searchlight under the water.”
Cotton and Nyland, with their families, were staying that week at the Gun Club cottage, located near the bridge on Stearns Bayou. Shupe had arrived with his wife for part of that evening.
“The Tribune would give no credence to the report except for the fact that it is authenticated by several of our own well-known citizens whose reputation and veracity is unimpeachable,” the Tribune wrote.
The wives of the men had heard strange sounds after putting the children to bed. The men, who had gone for ice cream, discovered their frightened spouses upon returning to the cottage. Sending the women indoors, the trio began a search of the bayou. That's when they said they saw the creature.
“The three men watched the thing as it moved rapidly up the dark bay to the right of the cottage and, as it reached Clark’s pond, it sank below the surface and out of sight,” the Tribune reported. “The resorters and farmers on Stearns Bayou are getting worked up over the mysterious thing.”
The Tribune reported campers along the bayou had united forces with several area farmers to investigate. On Aug. 12, as many as eight men armed with rifles were patrolling the shoreline.
The creature made a second appearance after the Cottons and Nylands had moved out of the cottage and George McCabe and his family took residence on vacation. On the evening of Aug. 19, after his family had turned in for the night, McCabe was relaxing on the porch overlooking the bayou when he witnessed something strange.
“The dark object had assumed a dim phosphorous glow, which distinctly made visible the outline of a monster turtle-like animal,” the Tribune reported. “Its huge elephantine head projected out on a long, slim serpentine neck and behind trailed a long crocodile-like tail. The creature propelled itself with huge flippers on each side of its round tub-shaped body.”
McCabe said he saw the creature climb up the hill on the beach across the river, where it dug a deep hole in the sand. After an hour, it departed, vanishing into the darkness.
McCabe journeyed over to the spot the next morning in a rowboat and found something remarkable.
“Upon digging where the creature had rested in the sand, a monster egg was found,” the Tribune reported. “It was almost perfectly round, yellow in color, embellished with bright red spots, and was about the size of a large pumpkin.”
McCabe claimed he had retrieved the egg, but it fell overboard during transport.
“Considerable speculation is advancing as to the origin of the monster — but, from the description given, both by Mr. McCabe and the Nyland and Cotton party, it most probably is a relic of the mammals which inhabited these waters in the prehistoric ages,” the Tribune reported.
On Aug. 23, the Tribune reported the Reichardt Book Shop had organized an expedition recruiting Cotton, Nyland, McCabe and Nathan Brown, a professional photographer, deploying a “steel-plated whale-back” vessel to locate the creature.
The venture had achieved some success. Brown, famous for taking “aerial pictures” using a camera attached to a kite sent aloft, reportedly had captured a picture of the monster.
The Tribune stated the “photograph of the monster” had been “rushed to Chicago” to have postcards printed — but then had to break the bad news on Aug. 28: “The very valuable plate obtained with Brown’s kite camera of the Gun Club’s prehistoric monster, which was being rushed to Chicago for a postal card by the book shop, met complete destruction as it was being thrown from the express wagon at the Chicago office.”
The photograph, like the prehistoric egg, was now gone — and so was the creature, never to appear again. All that remained were the players — the “well-known citizens whose reputation and veracity is unimpeachable.” And, historically, that was true.
Charles Cotton was a respected dentist, then a four-term Grand Haven mayor. Herman Nyland owned a confectionary store. George McCabe owned an advertising print shop. Charles Shupe was secretary of Challenge Machinery. Nathan Brown was a pioneering inventor and photographer. And John Reichardt, who eventually owned several successful businesses, was also highly regarded.
Was it a hoax, or was it real? Cotton died in 1925, Shupe in 1927, Brown in 1938, Nyland in 1943, McCabe in 1952 and Reichardt in 1961. And with them departed the secret behind this monstrous mystery.