In American folklore, Chessie is a sea monster said to live in the midst of the Chesapeake Bay, similarly to the Loch Ness Monster, which is believed to live in the Loch Ness and is known as Nessie. Over the years there have been many alleged sightings of a serpent-like creature with flippers as part of its body. Most sighting reports describe it as a long, snake-like creature, from 25 feet (7.6 m) to 40 feet (12 m) long. It is said to swim using its body as a sine curve moving through the water. There were a rash of sightings in 1977 and more in the 1980s, with occasional reports since then.
Although there are alleged photographs of Chessie, there is no genuine evidence of its existence. Speculation to explain sightings has included a “mutant eel” theory, large river otters, prehistoric Zeuglodons, and South American anacondas escaping from 18th- and 19th-century sailing ships. At least one report of the monster has been identified as a visiting manatee.
The earliest reported sighting of a Chessie-like creature may have been from a military helicopter flying over Bush River in 1936. “Something reptilian and unknown in the water” was observed by the helicopter’s crew.
According to Matt Lake in Weird Maryland, two perch fishermen, Francis Klarrman and Edward J. Ward, in 1943 spotted something in the water near Baltimore.
This thing was about 75 yards away, at right angles from our boat. At first it looked like something floating on the water. It was black and the part of it that was out of the water seemed about 12 feet long. It has a head about as big as a football and shaped somewhat like a horse’s head. It turned its head around several times — almost all the way around.
In 1978, witnesses claimed to have seen Chessie near Southern Maryland’s Calvert Cliffs State Park and in the Potomac River in Westmoreland County, Virginia.
A sketch of an unknown sea creature, drawn by boater Trudy Guthrie, was published by the Evening Sun in September 1980. It was later identified as a manatee from Florida. Manatees are occasionally sighted in the area. Unlike the reports of a serpentine creature, manatees create a “smooth ‘footprint’… as they move” rather than undulating from side to side.
In 1982 Robert and Karen Frew supposedly videotaped Chessie near Kent Island. Their video shows a brownish object moving side to side like an aquatic snake.
Another notable sighting of the beast was in 1997, off the shore of Fort Smallwood Park, very close to shore.
The most recent reported sighting occurred on April 5, 2014, at 1:40 am. While parked on the side of Arundel Beach Road directly next to the Magothy River “when the tide was really high”, a Maryland resident and his friend reportedly saw Chessie less than 5 feet (1.5 m) away from his car. He described it a snake-like creature 25–30 feet (7.6–9.1 m) in length, without fins, topped with a slender football-shaped head, and black in color, although he could not distinguish between having scales or leathery skin. The creature did not rise out of the water, but the head and tail end “just breached the surface” of the water as it moved “with a serpentine motion”. The witness first questioned himself if it was two separate animals traveling behind one another, but soon realized that it was one creature because of the pattern it created on the water surface. There are no known snakes in Maryland that get anywhere close to 25 feet long. Although no photo was obtained because the witness was “so busy trying to figure out what the hell I was looking at” that he did not think to take a picture with his cell phone, the witness was so moved he called the Maryland Department of Natural Resources soon after the sighting.
Chessie, as an environmental icon for the Chesapeake Bay, was used by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service for its educational coloring book in 1986, Chessie: A Chesapeake Bay Story. The coloring book focuses on the Chesapeake Bay and protecting its resources. A second coloring book, Chessie Returns was published in 1991.
In the 1980s, Chessie became a symbol for environmental advocacy in Maryland. Illustrations of the monster in newspapers and government publications, accompanying articles about environmental issues, gave the monster a friendly appearance. Eric Cheezum wrote, in Discovering Chessie: Waterfront, Regional Identity, and the Chesapeake Bay, “The friendliness of the monster, too, could not help but convey the sense that the Bay was a harmless victim of pollution.”
A manatee rescued from the Chesapeake’s cold water in October 1994 was nicknamed “Chessie” before it was returned to Florida. Manatees are unusual so far from Florida but this one has revisited the Chesapeake several times since then. Chessie was photographed in the Patapsco River in 2010 (unconfirmed) and again near the shore of Calvert County on July 12, 2011 (confirmed by U.S. Geological Survey biologists).
A statue of the Chesapeake monster advertises the entrance to Ripley’s Believe It or Not! museum in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor area. According to a company spokesperson, Chessie was chosen for the facade because it is “very much a myth of the area”.
The Cambridge, Maryland-based RAR Brewing features Chessie on many of the beer cans produced by the brewery.