The mouth of the Columbia River is no place to be – dubbed the Graveyard of the Pacific, hundreds and hundreds of ships have crashed upon the shore and sunk with nary a soul surviving. The sheer force of the waves is deadly. Orcas frequent this wild place, as do great white sharks and humpback whales. Into this swirl of mayhem came a most foul beast. And one day in 1934, the crew of the Lightship Columbia spotted the creature. It was like nothing they had seen before. A monster from the deep…
1934. Columbia River Bar. The waters were calm one night but the stillness was broken by the shudder beneath the waves, the tung, tung, tung, rapping across the metal hull – a giant beast beneath, but what, whatever could it be? Near to the Columbia River Bar, a shark, perhaps a giant whale? L.A. Larson, a crewman, scrambled to deck to gaze out at the endless ocean, binoculars in hand as all around eagerly waited to hear what he could see. And there, in the water, a creature, a strange creature, a creature not a shark or a whale but something altogether different. Larson could hardly speak.
“It was about 40 feet long,” he said much later on. “It had a neck some eight feet long, a big round body, a mean-looking tail and an evil, snaky look to its head.” HERE! A beast below! He shouted to his fellow crewmen, pointing out a creature that was now so close to them you didn’t need the binoculars. Together, the crew spent hour after hour watching the odd creature swim around and around below. Captain! Can we get closer, we MUST get closer!
In the horror movie, it’s about now they get eaten…
The Captain, wisely, refused. The crew they wanted to take a small boat and go after the creature but ever more, the Captain refused. Why? Why refuse? He believed the creature would devour them if they got any closer, a huge beast more than capable of sinking the ship. The seas were rough, notoriously rough. The crew had endured a month’s worth of storms. One crew member SNAPPED. “He became insane,” wrote another crewman. “He had to be tied up for safety until a lighthouse tender was able to creep close enough three days later to take him off and hustle him ashore when he could relax and quiet his nerves.”
Was the sighting of the strange creature pure madness? Like that brought upon the other crewman? They refused to admit it, madness? Surely not. Something WAS out there, but what? And from where did it come? The crewman dubbed their little oddity ‘Colossal Claude’ and from then on, a legend was born, thought of as a distant sea shanty from the mouths of a crew driven insane by the storms. But interest in Claude took an altogether less fabled turn in 1937…
In that year, policemen were inundated with calls, calls from fishermen who had spotted out in the sea a strange oddity. Was it Claude… YES! It was Claude, Colossal Claude! A massive… serpent… monster… WE DON’T KNOW! Look, out there! There it is! In the same year, a trawler, the Viv, docked in Astoria and the skipper, Charles E. Graham, came ashore all in a panic – I saw it, too! “A long, hairy, tan-coloured creature, with the head of an overgrown horse, about 40 feet long and with a four foot waist measure.” One fisherman, one of many, listening to the tale of the skipper, nodded. He knew. “It’s Claude,” he said. Claude for them was very much real.
Marine experts at the time rushed to dismiss some dinosaur-sized ancient beast stalking the waters – it’s a shark, a whale or even a whale shark, but by then, the legend had overwhelmed any theories any scientist had. More and more reports started flooding in and they were spreading. 150 miles away from the last-known sighting, at a place known as Devil’s Churn, a couple reported seeing a similar animal. 150 miles away! Claude was on the loose.
In 1939, the Argo, another fishing vessel, got up close and personal with Claude once more near the mouth of the Columbia. The mighty creature reared up, towering over the petrified crew, slamming back onto the water’s surface with an ALMIGHTY thud. Claude did not attack, no, but it watched the bemused crew calmly as it grew closer and closer, SNATCHING a 20 pound halibut from the ship’s lines, eating it right before their eyes. Chris Andersen, the ship’s captain, described the creature as having, “The head of a camel. His fur was coarse and grey. He had glassy eyes and a bent snout.” What the hell was happening?
It wasn’t just salty old seadogs seeing this mythical monster – in 1963, the Shell Oil Company recorded a video tape showing a 15-foot animal with barnacled ridges swimming in the water. Scientists at the time were baffled. Nobody knew what they were seeing, only that it wasn’t… ‘usual’. Only a few years later, in 1967, Peter Cairns, who described himself as a ‘Portland writer of reasonable sobriety and credulity’, said, “It looked as though Colossal Claude would provide the state’s chief competition for Scotland’s legendary Loch Ness Monster… [it’s] regularly seen by reputable witnesses, although there undoubtedly were some tall tales told about him, too.”
The problem? The sightings were drying up. Claude was vanishing at with him, any chance of figuring out what people had seen. In fact, by the 1970s, Colossal Claude was gone. No more sightings. No more tales. So what was he? Was it madness? Or a hoax? Misidentification? Or some truth wrapped in tall tales to the point where you can’t distinguish truth from lie?
Many suspect that Colossal Claude was a whale of some kind, not seen around those parts so unknown to many. Some even speculated a seal. In these waters, marine mammals thrive, teeming with fish and seals and sea lions, the turbulent waters churning up all kinds of life. Some even wonder if it’s a surviving plesiosaur, a top predator and a powerful swimmer. Could it have survived the age of the dinosaurs, remaining hidden until the 1970s when it simply vanished? Truth be told, we can’t be sure of anything.
Colossal Claude remains a mystery. But I certainly believe Claude to be real. I don’t think the fishermen were lying, they were known for being honest, even if they did garnish the tale with fantastical elements, like a ‘mighty beast rearing up from the ocean’ – more likely, a huge unknown beast just stole their dinner and they wanted to jazz up their story. I kinda like not knowing for sure. Whatever it was, was lost to the ocean many decades ago. The mystery and the intrigue is what keeps Claude alive. Some stories are better left without an ending. It keeps the magic alive.
Plus, they named him Colossal Claude! Goes straight to the top of my favourite cryptid names, let me tell you…
Colossal Claude. A cryptid I shall award 148 points using my patented Cryptid-o-Meter, putting it 21st in the list of 101, with The Pope Lick Monster still bottom and The Beast of Gévauden still holding top spot.
Join me again soon for more tales of the unknown…
Post 1,259: Comments, Likes & Follows Greatly Appreciated :)
Thanks Ally, These are my stomping grounds, I know the Devil’s Churn very well as most of the Mid to northern Oregon coast up to Astoria. Having been born in Portland, Oregon. As Whale watching is a must, speaking of the twice annual migration of the humpback whales. And delighting in the rarer Orca whales that venture down to mid and southern organ as the pod hunts further south. These Oregon shores of the cold and rugged pacific seas are spooky as all hell, and with uneven beach waters at the torrent oceans edge. One evening while we my wife and I stroll southern upon wet sand upon higher beach, out then young adult (youngest of two daughters) was walking at just ankles depth, inches over her top of foot while wearing a long black dinner dress, we were talking when she suddenly disappeared from our sight. Just dropped off. She came up spitting sea water and screaming, as she merely had stepped off of a sand shelf, were upon she had met massive tentacles brushing by her legs while under water. I can not say for sure what she encountered in the sea. As her father I calmed her nerves in assuring her it was merely a thick and long strand of Kelp, seaweed being taken out to sea in the current. I didn’t inform her these are the waters of the humboldt Squid (Diablo rojo) which swim in mass pods. The Humboldt Squid do live in deeper waters and with that, I also assured my nerves it was an encountering with sea kelp. Also to mention we lose a lot of tourists and locals to sneaker waves here. Leaving parents of little children and or spouses to be suddenly taken and swept off their feet out into the chilled and torrent seas. If ever there was a perfect shoreline for such a creatures as Claude, the almost 400 miles of Oregon coastal seas of the Pacific ocean would be quite fitting and sustaining for such a aquatic beast. Thanks for sharing of Claude Ally.
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