Beware the Mugwump, and other North Iowa legends

2005-10-30T00:00:00Z Beware the Mugwump, and other North Iowa legendsBy DICK JOHNSON, Of The Globe Gazette Mason City Globe Gazette
October 30, 2005 12:00 am  • 

MASON CITY — Is there really a monster snapping turtle lurking deep in the waters of Big Blue pond in Mason City?

Is there a regular old monster-monster hiding out in the Ventura Marsh?

Does a ghost boat with black sails haunt Clear Lake in the witching hour?

Those are some of the ghost stories from around North Iowa.

Halloween is the perfect time of year to visit our favorite creepy local legends. So here we go to find the truth, which is out there (or, some would say, Out There). 

The Monster Turtle of Big Blue — “I’ve heard rumors that there’s one as big as the hood of a Volkswagen, but I don’t believe it,” said Jim Wahl, a fisheries management biologist with the Iowa Department of Natural Resources in Clear Lake. “The rumors I hear come through third-, fourth-hand, scuba-diving sightings. Whether it’s legitimate or not, I don’t know.”

Wahl said Big Blue, in Mason City’s Lester Milligan Park, is not a monster’s kind of hangout: snappers prefer small streams, creeks, marshes and shallow lakes.

Still, it’s a cool story.

“It’s like the 200-pound catfish that lays down in the dams on the Mississippi River,” he said. “You can’t confirm or deny it.”

The Ventura Marsh Monster — Ken Borrill was raised in Ventura and remembers the late Squire Davis, an avid angler, telling kids about a big, hairy, marsh-bound something called the Mugwump.

“I remember that,” said Borrill, 73, of Clear Lake. “He always told us it came out at night. Just spooky stories. In fact, I tease my granddaughters about the Mugwump every once in a while.”

Ron Andrews, a furbearer biologist with the DNR in Clear Lake, has not heard of the Mugwump. But he’s not surprised it’s “out there.”

“It seems like every marsh might have a monster in it,” he said. “‘Monster’ has kind of a ring to it. You can also think about Martians (marsh-ans?), and I think it all fits together.”

Bigfoot — According to the Bigfoot Field Researchers Organization (, there has been one claimed Sasquatch sighting each in Floyd and Franklin counties, and two in Hamilton County.

Humboldt County, smack in the middle of corn country, leads Iowa in “credible sightings” with eight.

“I keep hoping I might see him someday,” Andrews said. “Whenever I see a Bigfoot pamphlet, I always pick it up. There’s a certain mystique associated with Bigfoot. That mystique makes me pick up anything I see.”

* The pirate ship on Clear Lake — Gil Bovard of Clear Lake says it’s out there, a fierce pirate ship complete with black sails, fantails and kettles of fire.

And if you were looking at a regular boat with white sails and the pirate ship passed between you, the first boat “just plain disappeared” with all hands on board.

“You’d see these sails go by,” Bovard said, “and you’d hear moaning and weeping.”

Rescue boats would go out, but the rescuers never found anyone.

“This is an eyewitness account,” Bovard said. “But it was always in October, and it quite often was with the full moon, around Halloween time. I can see that in my mind’s eye right now. It was bigger when I was young, though.”

Crop circles near St. Ansgar — April Fools’ Day 2003 passed without the annual fanciful story by St. Ansgar Enterprise Journal editor Chuck Peterson (i.e., the Green Bay Packers will transfer their corporate headquarters to Carpenter, where they’ll build an 86,000-seat stadium; alligators were spotted near the Mitchell Dam; every washer and dryer in St. Ansgar must be coin-operated to provide new revenue to the city, etc.).

Instead, Peterson struck at Halloween-time. His story and a photo of mysterious crop circles in Mitchell County inspired the masses.

Lirpa Loof, a crop circles “expert” from New Mexico, was summoned to North Iowa.

“People related with it,” Peterson said, “and we were getting a lot of calls: ‘I saw a lot of activity that night.’ It’s hilarious. And people believe what they want to believe.”

Reach Dick Johnson at 421-0556 or

For more spooky tales and creepy legends, try these links:

Copyright 2015 Mason City Globe Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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