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The Great Snake Scare of 1828 May 16, 2012

Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

A cute little WtH story from deepest Devon (Tavistock) about a cryptid snake. Beach knows that nineteenth-century newspapers had a great time making up serpents and other monsters, cue ‘the 200-foot-long Hideous Ice Worm‘ with hat tip to Invisible. But in this case local tradition seems to have done the job for them.

I think it was in the summer of 1828 that an application was made to a magistrate to issue an order, for the security of the neighbourhood, that a certain monstrous snake, first seen in Pixy Lane, and afterwards in our orchard, should be well looked after. If the magistrate had to issue this order to apprehend the snake, or to secure the attention of the constables, the applicants themselves did not very clearly define. I never heard such a story as speedily found its way amongst the lovers of the marvellous.

No doubt, however, the snake that had been seen was an extraordinary one; and, as a matter of curiosity, I set to work to learn the most credible account of it that could be met with. One boy offered to take his ‘bible oath’ that he was leading up (i.e. walking up) Pisgey Lane with another lad, and on going to the hedge to pick something, a great snake leapt out, over the little boy’s shoulder, as he was standing beneath; crossed the road with great rapidity, and an old man who was near the spot, declared that the body of the long cripple (for so they here call a snake [long creeper?]) was as thick as his thigh [!!]; and so long, that he would not say how long it could be. I also heard an old woman, considered here a wise one, declare ‘the reptile was for all the world just such another snake as tempted Eve to eat the apple’.

Beach had a couple of years ago the experience of coming (literally) face to face with a snake when one reared up and started hissing at this blogger. The effect, even with a stick in your hand, is primal: humans are evidently hardwired to fear serpents. Beachcombing can understand then how a very long adder could have been exaggerated into this semi-monster. But ‘as thick as his thigh’?!? Perhaps the old man was a consumptive with  nil protein intake? Perhaps his thigh was as thick as our arms? Parallels maybe? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com In any case, our author continues.

In our orchard, however, [the presence of the snake] produced a very different effect; for the formidable monster, luckily for us, having been there last seen, proved as good a guard as any dragon to the fruits there found, so that we had fewer apples stolen that year than we ever had before. What became of the snake no one could tell; but not in the days of monkish superstition could more extravagant tales respecting a reptile have been circulated or believed. On hearing these, I no longer wondered at the credulity of the old chronicler, who recorded that marvellous story about the monstrous snake at Rouen in Normandy, which swallowed knights whole, armour, horse and all, and at last required a saint himself to kill it.

Beach doesn’t want to bore his non-fairy loving readers but Pixy/Pisgey Lane, of course, refers to the fairies of the south-west. Make of that what you will…

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9 June 2012: BB writes in with: A personal story this time, not a link .Back in the Bronze Age when I was 19, I had a summer job for two seasons as a  camp counselor. Day time hours only  and my specialty was introducing kids from disadvantaged families to the wonders of swamp life in eastern Massachusetts. There were some genuinely  terrific swamps on Cape Cod and its upper extensions in those days, filled with a diversity of wonderful creepy, terrifying snakee and other monsters. One beautiful, blue sky summer day, I strode into the local swamp with ten 8 year olds in tow. Sure enough, the gods favored us and before long I spotted a large black swamp snake. Here was an opportunity to show these kids a wondrous local monster. I reached down, and stupidly grabbed the snake by its tail. Never grab a snake by its tail, your chance to make friends will be lost forever. This snake immediately sized up the situation, as I blurted out ‘I’m sorry, truly sorry!’ Never meant to grab you tail. Really, I’ll do anything to make this up.. you can have my Mars Bar.’ For the record, old, very large water snakes do not bargain and have No sense of humor. In a flash, this swamp monster, now revealed to be about 6′ long, wrapped itself around my right arm and began chewing its way down from elbow to wrist. When it reached my wrist, now a rich blood red .. snake looked back and said something that cannot be printed here, and slithered off with tail and head held high. I now had ten screaming, crying eight year olds who could not believe that all that blood did not signify my immediate death. Four hours later, I had them all calmed down and waiting for their late afternoon ride home.. and was thoroughly bandaged from shoulder to wrist on the right arm as well. The Motto of this Tale is clear. Never, never  and never  reach down to grab a large water snake unless you are 101% certain your grip is will  land firmly behind water monster’s head. I bear the snake no ill will at all, and hope that mean old snake is now terrorizing the occupants of the condos that went up  nearby a few years later. Yeah.. Old Snake Monster.. Go Get ‘Em!! Thanks BB!