Since opening my little gift shop in Fairport Harbor I have been fascinated with our mysterious Lake Erie monster named Bessie. I have read many stories of a vicious snake-like creature that churns up the water and wrestles it’s prey. Last year the Curious Tale of Bessie told of a graceful mermaid that danced through the water only to change into a terrifying beast when angered by people not being kind to our lake. That tale piqued my interest in Bessie even more and this year I have another story to share.
You don’t often think that freshwaters would be plagued with pirates, but it’s true. Pirates have sailed the Great Lakes since the 1700’s. Calico Jack would steal fishing tackle and cash boxes from ships, and sometimes he stole the entire boat on Lake Huron. In the 1800’s Jesse James Strang was a self-proclaimed monarch of Beaver Island, Michigan. He started the War of Whiskey Point in 1850 and stole goods and land from those that didn’t follow him. Dan Seavey in the early 20th century was a thief, poacher, smuggler, hijacker, human trafficker, and timber pirate in Wisconsin and Michigan. Timber pirates were common in the late 19th and early 20th century. Through my research I found something very interesting though; I never read a story about a pirate on Lake Erie. How could this be? Was our Bessie so frightening that pirates didn’t dare sail her waters? Maybe the mermaid monster had some help patrolling Lake Erie.
I did some more digging, reading, interviewing, and left no stone unturned. It appears Lake Erie did (or still does) have a pirate, but this one is quite different than all the others. SHE pirates the pirates. She protects our harbors and takes revenge on those that harm our lake. She is passionate about keeping Lake Erie clean. Nobody really knows her name and she stays well-hidden. Any sightings of her have been mere seconds and only her copper-colored hair shining in the sun has been spotted. Some even question if our monster Bessie is a shape-shifter, changing from mermaid to monster to pirate whenever she is needed. Clean Mean Bess (as we’ll call her), seems to have watched over Lake Erie for centuries. Maybe she’s one person…or monster. Maybe her protective pirating skills have been passed down through generations. She may even be in Fairport Harbor working among us everyday. I’ve been told someone with that exact copper-colored hair is frequently seen near the Fairport Harbor Creamery.
I’m left with more questions than answers, but I’m happy Lake Erie has someone watching over it. Lake Erie is very important to Ohio’s economy, but is in danger due to overfishing, algae blooms, pollution, and trash. Clean Mean Bess has her work cut out for her and could use all of our help. When boating or enjoying our beaches please leave Lake Erie cleaner than you found her. Help by picking up trash if you come across some, and learn what you can do to decrease algae blooms and/or pollution in the lake.
Junie Balloonie has sponsored a pirate for the Fairport Harbor outdoor art exhibit, Pirates Out Of Water. Our pirate was created by my very talented daughter, Taylor (who is the real Junie Balloonie). “Clean Mean Bess” is on display outside Junie Balloonie at 314 High St. Many other pirates are on display throughout the town. The exhibit runs July through September. Come visit us and see how life is better in a beach town.
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” ~ Jacques Cousteau