By Jack Sheedy
The swapping of sea creature stories at Christmastime is a Cape Cod tradition that goes back down through the ages … all the way to Monday of this week when I shared a couple of century-old newspaper stories about killer whales (see my blog entry for Dec 26).
And so, we continue…
For the Third Day of Christmas
Sea creatures are certainly nothing new to Cape Cod.
The Cape natives have their tale of Squant the sea woman who would lure men to her underwater lair with her hypnotic song. Apparently this is exactly what happened to Maushop, the native giant who was credited with creating Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard with sand from his enormous moccasins and who made the fog with smoke from his huge pipe.
Squant, who had a body of kelp and a fashionable seaweed hairdo, had her eye on the giant Maushop. After all, he was tall and strong and handsome. So she summoned him with her song. As if in a trance, Maushop ventured to the sea woman’s den, where he ate a big meal and then fell asleep.It is said that Maushop sleeps there till this day.
Talk about the holiday guest who doesn’t know when to leave!
For the Fourth Day of Christmas
Henry Hudson, sailing off the Cape Cod coastline in 1609, witnessed a strange creature, or mermaid, or perhaps Squant herself, frolicking in the surf. Hearing the story of Maushop, he decided to steer clear.
Nearly one hundred years later, around 1719, Benjamin Franklin’s uncle, while living on Nantucket, saw a serpent which had a lion’s head, large teeth, floppy elephant ears...and a beard like that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Of course, Longfellow would not be born until 1807, so it couldn’t have been him.
A serpent in 1817 was pestering Cape Cod fishermen, and another in 1833, resembling a large snake, which eventually brought a Nantucket whaler into Massachusetts Bay to hunt it down. For a couple of weeks the vessel plied the waters between Cape Cod and Boston, but the crew found nothing so they sailed back to Nantucket just in time to appear in an evening performance of the Pirates of Penzance.
Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.