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January 05, 2017

Noblesville’s Loch Ness Monster

Noblesville’s Loch Ness Monster

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

There has been a lot of talk recently about “fake news”.  Of course, any historian can tell you that this sort of thing has been around for a long time.  In fact, fake news or newspaper hoaxes were regarded by some newspaper publishers as an income producer.  I’ve talked about newspaper hoaxes before, here and here .  I’d like to go into more detail about one that I mentioned which appeared on page two of the Noblesville Democrat for July 15, 1892.  Quoted in full, it says:

A Big Snake Story

Last Friday morning Samuel Applegate and George Farris, two young men of this city whose reputation for truth and veracity cannot be questioned, saw a strange sight which they converse very freely about.  They were driving north on the Cicero Pike between the Lake Erie car bridge and the wagon bridge when their attention was attracted towards White River when they noticed what they at first supposed to be a large dog splashing in the water.  Closer observation changed their opinion as to the character of the animal.  A few moments later they saw the entire body of the monster, which had the form of a huge serpent twelve feet in length and perhaps three feet in circumference with a forked tail.  On catching a glimpse of a man, the animal immediately disappeared and has not been seen since.  It is supposed that it came down White River from some larger body of water during the recent floods.

The Indianapolis News had mentioned it in the July 12 paper with a short sentence:
“Noblesville imagines a sea serpent is infesting the waters of White River.”

The story was picked up by the Greencastle Democrat (July 23) and Jasper Weekly Courier (July 29), and had the same short mention in both newspapers:
“A new kind of varmint, said to be twelve feet long, was seen in the river near Noblesville.”

There are several facts to be examined in this story.  The two witnesses, Applegate and Farris, seem to be normal people.  Applegate was a 32 year old Cicero drayman (wagon driver) who later moved to Montana and died in a carriage accident in 1910.  Farris was 24 year old Noblesville tailor who later got patents for developing new kinds of clothing display racks and died in California in 1940.  I can’t find that either man had a reputation for tall tales.

The “Cicero Pike” is now Highway 19.  The “Lake Erie car bridge” is the Lake Erie and Western railroad bridge, which now has the walking bridge to get to Forest Park.  The “wagon bridge” is the Logan Street bridge, which was a covered bridge at that point in time.  It’s curious that the men are described as driving north, but the story mentions the railroad bridge before the Logan Street bridge.




The photograph above is combination of two photos that were taken from the courthouse tower around 1910-1915.  It’s looking northwest with the Logan Street covered bridge on the left and the railroad bridge on the right.  You can see the top of Syd’s bar at the lower right, the Howard & Associates Law Office in the lower center, and the buildings in the lower left are where the Judicial Center is now.  The road on the other side of the river is the Cicero Pike (Highway 19) which merged to the south with the Westfield Road (Highway 32).  This is probably very similar to how it would have looked in 1892.

It is true that there were large floods in central Indiana in June of 1892.  This was the time period when the neighborhood of Johnstown acquired its nickname.  A new factory under construction in southwest Noblesville was destroyed by one of the rainstorms.

A fact not mentioned in the article about the monster is that White River was not a healthy place in the 1890’s.  There was raw animal sewage from the livery stables on Conner Street which drained to the river before the bridge was built.  The Strawboard plant on the south side of town was particularly bad – it dumped gallons of muriatic acid and other waste straight into the river.  It was toxic enough to burn the mouths of animals who drank out of the river downstream.  The factory was shut down for a short time by the state in 1893.

Finally, there were no other witnesses and no one before or since has seen an animal of this size in the river.  I strongly suspect that this was a hoax by the newspaper.  Interestingly, a newspaper in Vincennes reported a very similar story as happening near there in April of 1892.  There were also serpents reported in Clarksville in southern Indiana and Knightstown.  Editors back then were not averse to stealing ideas that might sell more newspapers.

There have been other water monsters reported in Indiana, with one of the most notable first spotted in the 1820’s in Lake Manitou in Fulton County.  It’s the subject of a painting by the pioneer artist, George Winter.  Now, with the “White River Serpent”, Noblesville can claim a monster of its own.