Did the U.S. Navy concoct a big fish story to hide its submarine tests in Lake Pend Oreille?
It’s very likely, according to Jim McLeod. The North Idaho College teacher has chased the legendary Pend Oreille Paddler for 14 years.
Sightings of the mythical creature, which supposedly lives in the 1,200-foot-deep lake, oddly coincide with Navy submarine tests. And what better way to disguise a top-secret operation than to start a rumor of a lake monster? McLeod said.
“I think the Navy directly or indirectly perpetuated the monster rumor for some time to disguise what they had been doing in the lake. They did not want the public sticking their noses in it,” McLeod said. “There is something behind these creature sightings, and I think I have found my answer.”
McLeod is not into conspiracy theories. In fact, if the Navy did invent the monster, he gives it credit for a job well-done.
“It’s been a good laugh for everybody along the way, I think.”
McLeod’s theory about the Pend Oreille Paddler appeared as a cover story in Omni magazine this month.
He says the creature surfaced when Navy tests began in the 1940s. Those who told stories of seeing bizarre activity on the lake - most likely, model submarines - were written off as fools or pranksters.
The Navy pretty much chuckles at the idea that it dreamed up a monster.
“The Navy would not go to that extent or effort to create some story to cover up the fact we are involved in submarine testing,” said Commander Rick Schulz, who heads the Navy’s David Taylor Acoustic Research Center in Bayview. “I think that is definitely false. But I can’t say that in the past an employee sitting at the bar didn’t lean over to a buddy and say, ‘Hey, did you know…’ that sort of thing.”
The submarine testing facility opened on the south end of the 43-mile long lake in 1946. The base works with model submarines and torpedoes, designing ones that are invisible to sonar.
McLeod said his theory fell into place after digging up documents, interviewing Navy personnel and people who supposedly spied the creature with a periscope neck, long tail and wide body.
One of the first reports of the monster came from the Farragut Naval Training Center - now Farragut State Park - near Bayview in 1944. The Farragut News reported it, somewhat tongue-in-cheek, and had a photo of the creature.
McLeod believes the Navy started testing submarines about the same time as the first sighting. Other sightings surfaced around Bayview in the 1970’s when the Navy was testing torpedoes. The model weapons and submarines are towed to the depths of the lake and released. When they break the surface of the water they can fly 20 to 40 feet in the air. Other equipment has been towed just below the surface of the lake on 300-foot long cables.
After the tests, stories surfaced in several newspapers about a lake monster.
“It began to be an awful lot of coincidence there,” McLeod said. Those who claimed to have seen something in the lake were treated as crackpots and drunks, he said, which helped keep a lid on the fact submarines were in the lake.
It was not until about 10 years ago that the Navy was forthcoming about the type of tests it was doing in the lake.
The story of the Pend Oreille Paddler may have started as a drunken hoax by some locals, McLeod says, but he’s sure the Navy used it to its advantage.
“I don’t think it was policy of the military to concoct this story, but I certainly think they helped foster the lake monster myth to their benefit if they didn’t instigate it.”
The Navy has actually played along in good humor. The base held an open house last month to help dissolve its decades old shroud of secrecy. The base played noises it had recorded in the lake and then, as a joke, played the sound made by the Pend Oreille Paddler.
“I think the Navy has a long history of perpetuating the myth,” McLeod said. “This business with the Paddler noise is just another example.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: WEB SITE The mystery of the Pend Oreille Paddler is explored in Omni Magazine. To read its recent cover story on the Internet, go to Web site http://www.omnimag.com.