Where’s Wessie?

Where’s Wessie?
Illustration by Christine Mitchell Adams.

A renowned cryptozoologist hunts for Westbrook’s whopper of a snake.

[dropcap letter=”O”]n a recent summer afternoon, Loren Coleman, the world’s leading cryptozoologist and author of more than 40 books on the likes of bigfoot, sea monsters, and chupacabras, walked along the banks of the Presumpscot River in downtown Westbrook, scanning the dense vegetation for a 10-foot-long, beaver-eating snake with a head the size of a soccer ball. Three weeks prior, an anonymous witness reported sighting the giant snake, and others had since come forward, including two police officers who shot a blurry, predawn video of it swimming across the river. Locals have taken to calling the elusive snake “Wessie.”

“Seen any snakes lately?” Coleman asked a couple with a stroller.

The mother shook her head. “There’s no snake!” she yelled over her shoulder, walking away. Coleman shrugged.

“Skepticism can be high with people with kids.”

Coleman’s used to being brushed off, and he himself often doubts the true believers. “I’m somewhere in the middle,” he said. “Skeptical but open-minded.” In Maine, Coleman’s well known for founding Portland’s International Cryptozoology Museum, recently reopened in the trendy multi-use development at Thompson’s Point. He has a background in anthropology and psychology, so he takes particular interest in the pop culture that surrounds phenomena like Wessie — now the possessor of a Twitter handle, subject of a folk song, and name of a beer at a Westbrook brewery. “I expect to see t-shirts soon,” Coleman said.

He peered down from a footbridge upstream of Westbrook’s SAPPI paper mill. “Nice little river,” he said. “Lots of ducks.”

Many have taken solace in the fact that Wessie will likely freeze to death come winter, but Coleman wonders if the mill’s warm outflow might keep the snake alive. As a boy in Decatur, Illinois, he heard reports of rogue alligators swimming near the corn mill downtown; ever since, he’s devoted himself to what he considers the true goal of cryptozoology: discovering new species. He’s wary of news media’s tendency to sensationalize obvious hoaxes. As for Wessie’s seemingly legitimate case: “This one feels uncomfortable for the media,” he said. “They got very involved in it. They did morning reports, evening reports, reports every hour. Now, they’re left holding the bag.” He added, “Unless there’s a dead one found, or — heaven forbid! — a dog gets snatched, we’re probably not going to hear anything else.”

As Coleman made his way back to his car — his custom plates read CRYPTO1 — he noted the sign at a Subway sandwich shop, which used to ask: “HAVE YOU SEEN WESSIE THE SNAKE?” Now, it simply read: “MAKE IT A WRAP.”

He shrugged. “Well, it’s over. Wessie-mania has officially left Westbrook.” — Jaed Coffin

Note: On August 20, a large snakeskin was found near a boat launch in Westbrook, indicating the snake has stayed in the area. 

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