In the summer of 1855, a legend turned real and touched off a tourist frenzy in little old Silver Lake.
Silver Lake historian Bob Murphy says "there was a legend from the Seneca Indians that there was a monster in the water."
And on the night of July 13th, two boys and five men set out in a boat on a moonlight fishing trip. A fishing trip they'd never forget.
According to a report in the Wyoming County Times from the day, after bobbing in and out of sight, suddenly, "the SERPENT, for now there was no mistaking its character, the head and forward part of the monster rising above the surface of the water."
It was kind of greenish and about 20 feet long and they eventually went back to shore and reported this.
That report touched off a fire-storm of interest...soon people from all over the world were flocking to the lake and the nearby village of Perry.
Murphy says "It started kind of like a frenzy, and over the next year or so it drew thousands of people here, thinking we had the next Loch Ness monster."
Well it turns out that that sea serpent may have been more about marketing than mystery and the brain child of a hotel owner in Perry.
And that hotel owner, A.B. Walker, was happy to feed the frenzy.
According to Murphy, "they brought in sailors and whalers and harpooners to try and catch this thing. They set up watch towers and Walker and his friends kept spreading the stories about cows that were taken or came up missing from the monster."But the big issue is that despite all of the experts that came to town... The only thing missing WAS the monster. And Murphy explains the simple reason for that?
"The Silver Lake sea serpent is probably the original fake sea serpent legend in the United States."
A hoax discovered two years later when a fire broke out in the Walker House Hotel.
There in the attic, a burnt out pile of coiled wire and green-ish canvas. Walker admitted that it was the remains of a serpent he built. The faux-beast was said to have been controlled by pulleys, hoses and bellows.
In fact, right here in Perry's historical museum, behind the Pioneer Cabin sits what many say is the key piece of evidence in this mystery. A huge set of bellows, similar to those used in a blacksmith shop, that some believe were used by Walker to power his water-bourn beast.
Interestingly enough though, Murphy adds that there are many who say that Walker could not have pulled off the stunt that he claimed.
"Whether or not there actually was a serpent made of coiled wire or the people in the boat were part of the scam to say there was something there... The hoax itself could have been a hoax."
Either way, it is a legend that people embrace to this day. The Perry Chamber of Commerce even started a Sea Serpent Festival in the 60's to celebrate the history, and try to resurrect the tourist attraction of the previous century. They even built a serpent for the festival and then stored it in a boat house. That boat house burned down. Then they built another serpent two years later and stored it in a barn. That year the barn burned down.
So were the Seneca's right? Is there a nightmarish creature lurking in the waters of Silver Lake? Or was it just a marketing dream? Wherever the truth lies, it is one of the Unknown Stories of Western New York.