Chesapeake Mysteries Past & Present

By Meg Walburn Viviano

This past week in Anne Arundel County, something odd happened.  No, I’m not talking about the first day of virtual school, when Facebook was flooded with photos of children in their pajamas, ready to sit at home with a laptop all day (though we’d find that odd any other September). 

And I’m not referring to the EF1 tornado that ripped through Edgewater while the entire state was under tornado watches (though that was a surprise to many, and its aftermath is still impacting the community, as you’ll see in our cover story). 

The odd thing I’m talking about happened in the South River. Multiple reports came in from folks claiming they’d seen a burial casket floating near the water’s surface. A somewhat convincing photo quickly circulated on social media of a casket-shaped object covered with barnacles. The Department of Natural Resources went on a hunt for the alleged coffin. What did they discover? You’ll have to read Bay Bulletin to find out ( 

The casket was not the first mysterious sighting in the waters of the Chesapeake, as we well know. There’s also the legend of Chessie the Sea Monster, less The Addams Family and more Creature from the Black Lagoon. There are more than 80 (unconfirmed) Chessie sightings dating back to the 1930s. 

The witness accounts usually describe some version of a massive sea snake, a foot or more thick and at least 20 feet long. A few describe a football-shaped head. In the 1980s, the heyday of Chessie sightings, some saw “humps” reminiscent of the images of the Loch Ness Monster, while others liken what they saw to a moving telephone pole. Chessie must have covered a lot of ground, as sightings came from the Elk River on the upper Bay all the way down to the East River in Virginia’s Middle Peninsula, and dozens of waterways in between. 

Growing up on local waters in the ‘80s and ‘90s, I was naturally fascinated by these reports. My favorite version of the story was pure fiction: Jeff Holland’s song and accompanying picture book, Chessie, the Sea Monster that Ate Annapolis. In this clever rhyming tale published in 1990, Chessie is a giant Chesapeake Bay retriever, not a monster at all. As the story goes: 

She was big enough to have been Moby Dick’s daughter; her head was still dry in five fathoms of water; she made six foot wakes with a wag of her tail, and she slept on a bed made from spinnaker sails. 

As for the “real” serpentine Chessie, the last recorded sighting was in the Magothy River in 2014—the firsthand eyewitness account given directly to Bay Weekly. (Fascinating stuff, and you can still read it at 

Where has Chessie been for the last six years? The question is about as easy to answer as the question of how a burial casket could wind up in the South River. But in 2020, when odd things are known to happen, the return of Chessie wouldn’t be a stretch.