Monday, August 29, 2011

CryptoWA #25 - An Electric Fish Story

If you think journalistic standards have suffered lately, check out this story from the Tacoma Daily Ledger from 1893. It's a sparkling example of the sort of penetrating, detailed accounts you just don't see these days.

On July 3rd, the newspaper featured a story about a group of local residents and two "eastern gentlemen" who had a hair raising encounter on a and hunting trip on Puget Sound. The group was fishing near Point Defiance on the evening of July 2nd when a shift in the wind prompted them to set a course for "Black Fish Bay, Henderson Island," for a "fine trout stream running into the bay and also an excellent camping place near the fishing ground." Their sloop reached that destination in and hour and a half. The group set up camp near some surveyors from Olympia who were working in the vicinity.

Around midnight both groups were awakened by a "horrible noise" and a feeling that the air was filled with "a strong current of electricity that caused every nerve in the body to sting with pain." The source of this disturbance was a terrifying, large creature in the bay described as 150 feet long with six eyes, a walrus-shaped head and glowing copper colored bands along its length. And a propeller.

When one of the surveyors moved closer to the shore, the monster directed a stream of water resembling "blue fire" at the man, who fell to the ground "as though dead." When one of the Tacoma gentlemen tried to help the fallen surveyor, he too was knocked to the ground by this substance that originated from "two large horn-like substances." Their compatriots retreated into the woods for safety as the electrical beast continued to make horrifying sounds and bright flashes of light. After the creature departed, the men found their fallen friends on the beach, "alive but unconscious." The group called off the rest of their expedition and returned to Tacoma that morning to tell their story. One of the nameless eastern gentlemen said, "I am going to send a full account of our encounter to the Smithsonian Institute, and I doubt not but what they will send out some scientific chaps to investigate."

As far as I know, the scientific chaps never followed up on this one.

It's a funny reflection on our complex local waterways that nobody has ever pointed out that there is no such thing as "Henderson Island" on Puget Sound, much less a Black Fish Bay. There are so many islands and bays that even life-long residents would probably go along with the geography of this story. But let's be charitable. Assuming the eastern visitors mixed things up a bit, let's go with Henderson Bay near Gig Harbor -- about the only plausible place they might have reached by sail within 1.5 hours. "Black Fish" is an old term for killer whales which have been known to visit Henderson Bay from time to time, so if we're feeling extra generous maybe that could be seen as another informational mix-up. The trout fishing isn't half bad there too.

What kills this one for me is that the Tacoma Daily Ledger was a morning paper. It would be tough for the campers to reach the city, tell their story and get it published all in one morning. Maybe they managed to hitch a ride with their electrical friend. It wouldn't be the tallest tale told by returning fishermen.