July 3, 2010

HIS SNAKESHIP

What follows in my June, 2010
public radio commentary about
BIG SNAKES.

If you'd rather hear me read it, please go to www.vpr.net/episode/48716/


Oversized oddities are at the core of many monster stories. Take a mouse; it’s not too menacing. But imagine polliwog the size of "Champ"!

Interestingly, during the 19th and early 20th centuries, newspapers routinely ran accounts of giant snakes. Editors seemed to compete to see who could report the biggest, especially in places like Vermont, where no such thing should exist. Giant snake stories were so common that their protagonists took on exalted titles, like "Boss Snake" or "His Snakeship."

In the 19th century, one was spotted in the Taconic Mountains of southern Vermont. Mr. T. Owsley reported that it was - and I quote - "as large as a common stove-pipe and about 12 feet long." The Troy [NY] Post pro claimed it was, "The largest snake ever heard of in this part of the world..."
But there’d be more contenders.

On July 22, 1878, The New York Times that William Fields of Richmond saw, "two large snakes the color of boa-constrictors." He said they were at least six feet long and as thick as his arm. They raised their heads, opened their mouths, and darted their tongues at him. The newspaper concludes, "Mr. Fields did not stop to interview them."

In that same area, a Dr. Bromley was making his rounds when he saw what appeared to be a rail across the road. But then it moved! The snake, Dr. Bromley estimated, was a good 10 feet long.

Flash forward to the 20th century. Around 1940, Betty Paige of Woodstock was driving home at night. The snake she saw in her headlights extended completely across the road and into the underbrush. She watched it until it got out of the way. Then she did the same thing.

A more recent sighting comes from Bethel, circa 1953. The pseudonymous Lori Kearns was walking along a wagon path near her home. She says, "I saw something up in front of me stretched along the pathway, laying in some sunlight coming through a break in the big maple trees." At first she thought it was an oddly colorful garden hose. But it was way too big and too active! She thought, Glory Be, it’s a huge snake!
A multi-generational Vermonter, Lori had never seen anything like it. Its color was a swirling blend of browns, reds, yellows, and blacks. Greatly puzzled, she tried to compute its size. The snake stretched across the path - a width of at least 5-feet - with perhaps another foot on either side vanishing into the goldenrods. That would make it at least 7 feet long! She says it was as big around as her lower leg, making its girth between five and seven inches. She says, "I have tried looking up photos of the snake... but never found one which looked exactly the same."
But hey, that was way back in the 20th century. Can such serpentine specters be slithering through the Green Mountains today? Who knows? I guess we've got other things to worry about.

The following excerpt is allegedly from the US Government Peace Corps Manual for volunteers working in the Amazon Jungle. It details what to do if an anaconda attacks you.

Related to the boa constrictor, the anaconda is the largest snake species in the world. It grows to thirty-five feet in length and weighs 300 to 400 pounds. There are none in Vermont. Supposedly.

1. If you are attacked by an anaconda, do not run. The snake is faster than you are.
2. Lie flat on the ground. Put your arms tight against your sides, your legs tight against one another.
3. Tuck your chin in.
4. The snake will begin to nudge and climb over your body.
5. Do not panic.
6. After the snake has examined you, it will begin to swallow you from the feet end - always from the feet end. Permit the snake to swallow your feet and ankles. Do not panic!
7. The snake will now begin to suck your legs into its body. You must lie perfectly still. This will take a long time.
8. When the snake has reached your knees slowly and with as little movement as possible, reach down, take your knife and very gently slide it into the side of the snake's mouth between the edge of its mouth and your leg, then suddenly rip upwards, severing the snake's head.
9. Be sure you have your knife.
10. Be sure your knife is sharp.

*These illustrations are by Stephen R. Bissette, used with permission, from THE VERMONT MONSTER GUIDE by Joseph A. Citro and Stephen R. Bissette.