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The Nantucket sea serpent hoax of 1937 – a beach prank by the puppeteer Tony Sarg, hoping to get Nantucket in the news

David Goran

In the summer of 1937, stories started appearing in the local papers of Nantucket carrying photographs of giant footprints found on a local beach. With the region of New England’s long history of sea-serpent sightings, rumors quickly began to circulate reporting that, at last, one of the elusive creatures had come ashore. Copies of the photographs were even sent for scientific analysis, though Dr. W. Reid Blair, director of the New York Zoological Society, was skeptical :

“No marine mammal could have left the tracks as they do not move so much on their flippers as they do on their second joint and on their bellies. Evidence of their passage would be seen on the beach only in a slight indentation. As for a land mammal, there is nothing on Nantucket Island that could leave such large tracks“.




The excitement started in early August of that year when fisherman Bill Manville rushed in to the office of the Nantucket Inquirer & Mirror claiming he had seen a “green sea monster — which reared its head several times off his starboard bow before turning seawards.”

The report of Manville’s sighting got picked up by the news wires and ran in papers throughout the country. Some in Nantucket suggested that Manville might have been “seeing things,” but his sighting was seconded a day later by amateur fisherman (and teetotaler — as the local paper was quick to point out) Gilbert Manter, who saw the creature while he was fishing for bluefish off Smith’s point.

Manter said that the creature “looked like a combination snake and whale, with a head much bigger than the neck.” He added that it was grayish green with “sort of a horned head” and was “something like 120 feet long and stood up, at least a dozen feet out of the water.”

A local scientific society launched an investigation and concluded that the creature might be a previously unknown species, scoliophis atlanticus (Atlantic humped snake). However, skeptics denounced the sightings as a hoax.

Blair’s skepticism proved to be unfounded when, a few days later, the sea serpent itself, in its entirety, washed ashore. It was indeed about 120 feet long, with large teeth. However, it had no horn on its head and it was also a giant, inflatable balloon.


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Large crowds turned out to see the unusual sight, which remained in place for several weeks. Numerous photographs of the sea serpent on the beach have been preserved by the Nantucket Historical Association. The installation was a great success and stayed for several weeks on the beach.


















The whole thing had been an elaborate publicity stunt by the puppeteer Tony Sarg, hoping to get Nantucket in the news. Sarg was an American puppeteer, illustrator, designer, and painter. He is famous for creating balloons for the Macy department store parades and many illustrations for magazines. He owned a store in Nantucket, the Tony Sarg’s Curiosity Shop.

The monster made another appearance a few months later, floating above the streets of Manhattan, when it participated in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.


Photos: Nantucket Historical Association

David Goran

David Goran is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News