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Tessie, the Monster of Lake Tahoe

The state’s largest freshwater lake, Tahoe has long been rumored to be home to both an underwater Mob graveyard, and a huge, unknown creature.
A story often told around Tahoe is that a few years back, a fisherman trolling off the South Shore got his hook caught on something in the deeps. When he finally freed it, and reeled his “catch” back to his boat, he found a well-preserved human ear on the end of the line.  (Another version of the tale has the fisherman snagging a three-fingered human hand.)

According to local legend, the 900-foot-deep waters off South Shore served as a dumping place for Mob victims from the 1920s to the 1950s. Hundreds of gangsters’ corpses are suspended in the depths, they say, preserved from decay and prevented from gas-bloated surfacing by the near-freezing deep waters. So pervasive is this tale that many local fishermen refer to the area as “The Graveyard,” and a Tahoe-boat Mafia execution was featured in the climax of The Godfather Part II.

Even stranger are the tales of “Tessie.”  Locals maintain that a large, unidentified, serpent-like creature lives in the deepest parts of the lake, and usually appears around June in even-numbered years. Dubbed “Tessie” in imitation of Loch Ness’ “Nessie,” the beast allegedly appears in Washoe Indian legend, and may have first been spotted by 19th century settlers.

Tessie made headlines in the San Francisco Chronicle on July 12, 1984, when the paper reported that two women had seen the Lake Tahoe leviathan a month earlier. Tahoe City residents Patsy McKay and Diane Stavarakas were hiking above the west shore when they spotted the creature swimming in the lake.

McKay said the beast was about 17 feet long. She watched it closely and saw it surface three times “like a little submarine.” Her companion said that the creature had a humped back, and seemed to surface in a whale-like, lethargic manner.  She was also sure that it wasn’t a diver, a log, or a large ripple.

Two years earlier, a pair of off-duty Reno policemen had also taken a turn with Tessie. Officers Kris Beebe and Jerry Jones were water-skiing in the lake in June 1982, when an “unusually large” creature swam by them.

Yet another story about Tahoe asserts that there’s an underground river system that links the lake with Pyramid Lake in Nevada. Apparently the bodies of people who have drowned in Tahoe have surfaced in Pyramid Lake, fifty miles to the north. This phenomenon, however, might be due to the corpses floating over the north Tahoe spillway onto the Truckee River, and then downstream to Pyramid Lake.

The closest anyone ever came to figuring out Tahoe’s mysteries was in the mid-1970s. Famed oceanographer Jacques Cousteau brought a mini-submarine to the lake, and did several dives in search of the 1,600-foot bottom.

He returned to the surface allegedly saying, “The world isn’t ready for what is down there,” and to his death refused to release any pictures or data from the expedition.

What did the legendary diver find? Pinstripe-suited, bullet-riddled corpses bobbing in the dark depths?  A colony of living, amphibian dinosaurs?  Or something even weirder?

The answers lie in the chilly depths of blue Lake Tahoe.

 

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