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Tales still surface of creature in Herrington

September 12, 2005|LIZ MAPLES

Be on the lookout: It moves at the speed of a trolling boat motor or a bobbing log. Length, could be 12, 15 or a gazillion feet long. Color might be green, could be pink and people in the know aren't ruling out purple.

These are the legends of the monster in Herrington Lake.

It seems that everyone with a fishing pole has a story about the monster, but the stories' sources are as elusive as the monster itself.

Outdoors columnist Bud Barnard has heard about it, but doesn't know anyone who has seen it. "I just know there is supposed to be one there," he said.

In August 1972, one Lawrence Thompson saw the monster, and his story was purported in The Courier-Journal and reprinted in The Advocate-Messenger.

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"... it's not a particularly fearsome monster. All (Thompson's) ever seen of it is a snout - not unlike that of a pig, moving along just above the water at about the speed of a boat with a trolling motor - and a curly tail, similar to that of the same animal, coming along about 15 feet behind."

Thompson suggested that the creature was quite shy, and it could choose to live a quiet, unassuming life in a cave in the lake, perhaps some kind of fish that was long thought to be extinct. "What we don't know is colossal; what we do know is minimal," Thompson said.

Somewhere across the lake from Thompson, back in 1972, there was thunderous laughter when the story appeared. The giggles were coming from the Kirkland household.

Cort Kirkland was 6 years old then. He had two dogs, a black Labrador retriever and a miniature German shepherd. Much like Kirkland, the two dogs were always up to something.

One day Kirkland said the pair trotted up in the yard with a pig's head. No one is sure how the dogs got a hold of a pig's head, but Kirkland thinks it might have come from a slaughterhouse in Harrodsburg.

How did the dogs get from Harrodsburg to Gwinn Island Road with a pigs head? Maybe only the monster knows. Kirkland's dad and his neighbor threw the pig's head in the lake and it landed in a pile of drift wood.

A few weeks later Thompson's monster story came out in the paper.

"I believe that it's awfully coincidental," Kirkland said, giggling loudly.

"... It died laughing"

Long-time lake resident Ken Caudill has heard of the monster. "Yeah, I heard there was a big monster in the lake, but it died laughing."

Davey Mill said if there is a monster then it doesn't live on the King's Mill Marina side of the lake in Garrard County. "A monster couldn't fit back here ... too shallow," she said.

Sherri Hurst of Junction City believes Mill. She says there's no such thing as the monster in Herrington Lake. "It was an alligator."

In February 1990, Hurst called the newspaper to tell all about her gator sighting in the lake.

It's been 16 years and Hurst still says, "That's my story and I'm sticking to it."

Hurst hasn't been swimming in the lake since she saw the monster, and she said she never will again. People still question her story. "They say, 'What were you drinking that day?' I said, 'Nothing.' ... I go to Florida all the time I know what an alligator looks like, and that was an alligator. ... I think we ought to name it, Harry the Herrington Lake Monster a.k.a. alligator."

Some people suggested to Hurst that it was a catfish. There are quite a few stories about giant catfish around the dam. The fish are so big they could swallow a man whole, or sometimes they are so big they could swallow a car whole. Some have said that the divers working on the dam for Kentucky Utilities insist on going down in cages because they are so afraid of the catfish.

Never happened, said Cliff Feltham, spokesman for KU. He reports no diver has ever gone down in a cage, and no one has ever reported a catfish big enough to eat a man or a car, not even a compact.

Rattlesnakes that parachute from Black Hawk helicopters

Dave Baker has some guesses. He works for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, and says he's heard every tall tale with a critter character in Kentucky.

Besides monsters, he's also heard that Kentucky has mountain lions, black panthers, and Baker's personal favorite, rattlesnakes that parachute from Black Hawk helicopters.

He does believe that Herrington Lake might have some big catfish. The largest one caught in Kentucky was about 100 pounds.

"We do have big catfish, but not big enough to eat adults whole, " he said, unable to control his laughing.

As for alligator, Baker said it's more likely it's alligator gar, a menacing looking fish with a snout kind of like an alligator. Alligator gar do live in Herrington Lake, and sometimes can cause giant swirls in the lake when the fish come to the surface to spawn.

Most monster sightings happen during the spring, which is also when trees begin falling in the lake. The bobbing logs fool a lot of people Baker said. "If there was a monster, it's probably an oak or sycamore."

With no more stories or monsters to chase and no certain facts this reporter turned to the true experts in monsters, elementary students.

On Friday, Cheryl Ambrose's class heard the stories, and drew their own versions of the monster in Herrington Lake. Of the 18 students surveyed: 22 percent believe it's a catfish, 11 percent an alligator, 33 percent a tree and 11 percent a pig. With so many stories circulating about the monster in the lake, one thing for sure: It's a story that keeps swimming along.

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