The Tahoe Tessie is an alleged lake monster that lives in Lake Tahoe, an alpine freshwater lake at an elevation of more than 6,200 feet in the Sierra Nevada mountain range that straddles California and Nevada.
At a maximum depth of 1644 feet, Lake Tahoe is the second-deepest lake in the United States.
The legend of Tessie originated from the traditions of the Washoe people. The indigenous people have shared stories of strange creatures inhabiting the deep lake for generations.
Nessie, the resident monster in Scotland’s Loch Ness, inspired the name Tahoe Tessie.
According to folklore, the Tahoe Tessie lives in caverns and tunnels at the bottom of the deepest parts of Lake Tahoe.
The tunnels allegedly pass under Cave Rock on U.S. Route 50 in Nevada.
Local legends claim that tunnels under Lake Tahoe extend to Nevada’s Pyramid Lake, about 90 miles away.
Tahoe Tessie is a serpentine monster
According to cryptozoologist George Eberhart in his Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology (2002), local accounts claim that Tessie is a serpentine monster about 12-25 feet long.
Patsy McKay, an alleged witness in 1984, said Tessie was about 17 feet long. McKay’s companion, Diane Stavarakas, said the monster was humped and brown in color.
It was an enormous creature that moved slowly and heavily in the water, causing waves and splashes like a whale.
[Note: Other accounts claimed the creature cut swiftly through the water.]
The women compared it to a submarine breaking the water’s surface.
Tahoe Tessie generates strange wake patterns
Multiple eyewitnesses reported that the cryptid generated elaborate wake patterns while swimming near the surface.
Sightings and Tales
The legend of the Tahoe Tessie originated in the oral traditions of the Washoe native tribes who lived near Lake Tahoe on the California-Nevada border.
The centuries-old legends of the natives claimed the lake was home to supernatural water babies that lived around the sacred Cave Rock.
The first reported sightings by European settlers occurred in the 19th century.
The earliest report on record of an alleged monster in the Lake Tahoe region was an account in 1897 by San Francisco resident I.C. Coggin, published in the Examiner.
Coggin alleged that in the 1860s, he had an encounter with a 600-foot serpentine colossus in the forest around Lake Tahoe.
The alleged monster’s head was 14 feet wide and it had black eyes. It chased Coggin through the forest, uprooting small trees. Coggin managed to escape by hiding behind a pine tree.
He acknowledged that people wouldn’t believe his story. But added ominously that a creature that size couldn’t remain hidden from the world for too long.
Officers Kris Beebe and Jerry Jones
In 1982, officers Kris Beebe and Jerry Jones reported sighting Tessie while water-skiing in the lake.
The pair said an enormous cryptid emerged from the water and swam past them.
Patsy McKay and Diane Stavarakas
In July 1984, national media report about two residents of Tahoe City–Patsy McKay and Diane Stavarakas–who claimed to have seen the lake monster.
The women reported they saw it while hiking on the West shore. They creature surfacing multiple times (read McKay and Stavarakas’s description in the preceding section).
The women were sure they hadn’t seen a log, a vessel, or freak ripples in the water.
In the 1970s, oceanographer Jacques Cousteau investigated reports of the Tahoe Tessie using a mini-submarine. He also dived to the bottom of the lake, about 1,644 feet.
Some sources reported that when people asked him what he saw at the bottom, he refused to talk, saying the world wasn’t ready to hear about it.
Cousteau reportedly never talked about what he saw at the bottom of Lake Tahoe. He also allegedly never released pictures or data collected by his mini-submarine.
People have since speculated about what Costeau saw.
Some suggested he might have seen human corpses at the bottom of the lake. Local legends claimed that during the middle of the last century, mobsters used Lake Tahoe for dumping corpses.
Mickey Daniels, a former Placer County Sheriff’s Officer and hobby fisherman, reported sighting Tessie in Lake Tahoe in the 1980s. He spotted the alleged creature from his 43-foot charter fishing boat, Big Mack II, about half a mile offshore.
According to a report in the L.A. Times, it was a calm and brightly sunlit morning, and Daniels was looking forward to a bountiful harvest of mackinaw trout when he saw something mysterious in the water.
In an interview with the L.A. Times in 2005, Daniels recalled that the water around was calm, but he noticed a big wave with an enormous V-shaped crest forming ahead of him.
The wave couldn’t be the wake from his boat. It looked like a disturbance the head of an enormous creature would form while surfacing from the depths and just breaking the water’s surface.
The wave appeared and disappeared multiple times. Although he never saw anything above the water, years of experience as a fisherman told him something enormous was lurking beneath the wave.
The incident made an impression on him, and for years he kept looking out and searching the water in hopes of an answer but never got one.
He talked to many people who claimed they had seen the lake monster. He believed that scores of people who reported seeing Tessie couldn’t have been lying or mistaken.
Mike Conway and Virgil Anderson
In 1985, Mike Conway and Virgil Anderson reported filming a finned lake monster that left a wake about 20-25 feet long in the water.
The sighting occurred while filming a commercial at Zephyr Cove on the Nevada side of the lake.
Conway said the crew was filming a romantic stroll scene and children were lounging on the dock when a monstrous wake appeared suddenly. The wave agitated the water, causing an 18-foot boat to bounce back and forth. Then a brown beast with a hump surfaced. The children screamed in fright.
Conway told the crew to swing their cameras to film the water. But he said he didn’t have the footage because people he declined to name destroyed it.
Bob McCormick’s Tessie book
The Tahoe Tessie is known to thousands of children from Bob McCormick’s illustrated book, The Story of Tahoe Tessie: The Original Lake Tahoe Monster, published in the 1980s.
He attended events wearing a costume that promoted the image of the lake monster as a friendly creature.
Researchers have proposed multiple explanations for the alleged Tahoe Tessie sightings. Below are a few of the theories.
The University of California’s professor of limnology and zoology, Charles R. Goldman, once suggested that Tahoe Tessie sightings might have been due to a phenomenon known as pareidolia.
Pareidolia is a psycho-cognitive phenomenon in which the observer sees a pattern or meaning in otherwise meaningless visual stimuli.
Pareidolia may intervene when someone observes any natural phenomenon from an unusual angle or sees something unfamiliar.
Experts from the University of California, Davis suggested in 1984 that some of the reports might have been due to an enormous sturgeon artificially introduced to the water. According to research scientist Bob Richards, someo people might have deliberately or accidentally dropped a sturgeon in the water.
A sturgeon would explain frequent reports of a serpentine fish-like creature with scales on its back.
Sturgeons are ancient fish belonging to the family Acipenseridae. The oldest fossils date back 100 million to 65 million years in the Late Cretaceous.
Modern-day sturgeons are bottom feeders. They live in rivers and lakes and along the coastlines of Europe, Asia, and North America.
Many species grow very large, often reaching 7-12 feet. The largest ever was a beluga female caught in 1827 in the Volga Delta, measuring more than 23 feet.
Where to find
Mysterious Creatures: A Guide to Cryptozoology, George M. Eberhart (2002).
https://www.latimes.com/style/la-os-tessie3may03-story.html, “It came from the deep,” accessed on March 25, 2023.
https://renoscuba.com/blog/adventure/tessie-the-monster-of-lake-tahoe, “Tessie, the Monster of Lake Tahoe,” accessed on March 25, 2023.
https://www.sfgate.com/renotahoe/article/050521-lake-tahoe-tessie-monster-myths-16150906.php, “There’s something out there: The enduring legend of Tahoe Tessie,” accessed on March 25, 2023.
https://www.altaonline.com/dispatches/a36588651/tessie-lake-tahoe/, “Read This Before You Swim in Lake Tahoe,” accessed on March 25, 2023.
https://www.tahoedailytribune.com/news/dark-shapes-in-the-lake-tahoe-tessie-legend-remains-alive-for-visitors/, “Dark shapes in the lake: Tahoe Tessie legend remains alive for visitors,” accessed on March 25, 2023.
Featured Image: The Tahoe Tessie is a lake monster native to Lake Tahoe in the United States. Pic credit: Pixabay