Tales of surviving megalodons, the giant sharks of prehistoric times (the above picture is the jaws of this animal, with a man for scale) are a persistent feature in cryptozoological lore. The following is a little-known rumor of one such monstrous shark from the Chesapeake Bay.
In 1987, Annapolis Capital journalist John Mellin uncovered an old account penned by Reverend James L. Smiley of St. Anne’s Church in Annapolis (coincidentally, in the 1980s Nellie Walston reported a sighting of the Bay’s most famous sea monster – “Chessie” – just off the cemetery of St. Anne’s). Smiley, who made unsuccessful runs as a Congressman for Maryland throughout the 1920s, wrote a memoir in the 1930s and it is in this book the following account is found.
The queer visitor had first been sighted off the Virginia Capes. He had been seen by the war vessels as they came into the Chesapeake Bay en route to Annapolis Roads. He was described as a monstrous white shark of tropical haunts, apparently about 40 feet long.
Popular conjecture had it that this shark, a ferocious man-eater, had gotten the wanderlust and had migrated north on a sightseeing tour. Appearing at intervals farther and farther north, it was not long before he was seen just north of Kent Island and then only 15 miles from Annapolis.
Then the civil and naval authorities took decisive action. They warned all small craft to stay at home. Two state police boats were ordered out with instructions to shoot to kill. That these guardians of fishing failed to hit the monster was acclaimed with delight by the populace, for everybody wished to see him alive.
Later in the account, Rev. Smiley says that the local boating charter companies responded, as they would in any B-movie, by promptly launching tourist boats from Baltimore nd Annapolis in search of the monster. He further notes a rather inhumane way of baiting the monster to the surface.
Whenever the monster was sighted, the boat would steam slowly towards the spot and throw a live dog overboard. Within a few seconds there would be a streak of swift wave, a flash of brown fins and white belly, and then the poor dog would disappear in an immense mouth ferocious with rows of glittering teeth… Dogs soon became a very scarce article in Annapolis. Their prices soared phenomenally. Some humane citizens protested against this cruel use of dogs for shark bait. But others contended it was a very merciful way to dispose of homeless canines.
Rev. Smiley provides no real concrete date for the event however, only “after 1871.” And, all told, we need only accounts of the monster rampaging through Annapolis or Baltimore for the tale to sound rather like a draft script for The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Whether true or not – most skeptics and even most cryptozoologists discount the rumored survival of megalodon – was there some real event that led to the rumor?
In his 1987 article, Mellin did find that there were several articles in the Annapolis Advertiser in 1886 detailing a number of sharks seen near the mouth of the Severn River, and also he noted that other articles in the same newspaper do indicate that there was a severe overpopulation problem of stray dogs in Annapolis immediately after the Civil War. An article in the Richmond Times in June, 1891 recalls a man named John Howard, who fell overboard off the ship Silver Queen and was eaten by a school of sharks, later seen in Hampton Roads.
Also, 30 miles south of Annapolis are the Calvert Cliffs, well-known for their rich deposit of fossilized aquatic life from the Miocene period (17 million years ago). These fossils run the gamut of nearly every type of sea life, from insignificant shellfish to whales, and most significantly, many remains (only the bony remains, teeth and jaws, of course) of Carcharocles megalodon. Megalodon was renamed a few years ago from Carcharodon after it was discovered it was not quite as closely related to the great white as had previously been thought.
Another possibility is conjured up by Rev. Smiley’s mention of “brown fins” – could it have been not a predatory species, but one of the harmless plankton-feeding shark species that had made its way into the waters of the Chesapeake? Both the basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus) and whale shark (Rhincodon typus) are native to the area, brownish in color, and of sizes comparable with the rumored monster.
All of this, of course, is assuming the event was indeed a real one and not just born from Rev. Smiley’s imagination.