Churubusco, Indiana rests in Whitley County, about 15 miles from Fort Wayne. An 18471 amalgamation of two villages produced this small town, home to roughly 2000 people-- and, if one believes local lore, a monstrous snapping turtle.
Sightings of the-- or, at least, a-- monstrous turtle date to 1898 when a farmer, Oscar Fulk, claimed to have seen such a beast in the small lake on his property. No one seems to have made much of the sighting, nor of a similar report in 1914. Fulk eventually sold his property. The lake, which covers about seven acres, received his name, and little of interest passed in 'Busco until the late 1940s.
In 1948, two locals, Ora Blue and Charley Wilson, went fishing on Fulk Lake, and returned with a fisherman's tale. Rather than an outsized trout or a record-breaking perch that got away, they claimed to have glimpsed a monster turtle. At this point, no one really knew how to take the story; according to locals, Wilson had a reputation for spinning yarns. But within a year, Gale Harris, who owned the property, also saw the beast. Reportedly, it was the size of a dining room table. Harris's story met with some ridicule and, in March of 1949, he began searching to prove the existence of the beast, dubbed "Oscar" (presumably after the property's original owner) and "the Beast of 'Busco" (for the town's nickname). The story struck some sort of bizarre chord, and newspapers and radios across North America and a few in Europe snapped up the tale.
Harris and several others first attempted traps of wood and chicken wire. Though these failed, a home movie camera allegedly captured Oscar on film. In a development familiar to followers of weird phenomena, that footage is no longer available. Later that month, Harris tried peering into the soupy lake with a homemade periscope. Two divers braved the dark, turtle-haunted waters, but found nothing of interest. Professional trappers offered their services. There were turtle sightings and rumors of turtle sightings. Meanwhile, reporters and curious outsiders travelled to the lake.
In April, some men from Indianapolis announced that they had captured Oscar. In fact, they had procured an ordinary sea turtle in an attempt to cash in on the craze.
After a summer filled with increasingly bizarre attempts to bag the beast, Harris began using a sump pump to drain the lake. By this point he had quit his job to search full time and sunk a considerable sum into the effort. He therefore charged admission to gawkers, who shelled out good money in hopes of seeing the legendary reptile. On October 13, 1949, multiple witnesses were apparently rewarded with a momentary glimpse of some sort of giant creature.
Harris's equipment suffered breakdowns, and the turtle hunter himself went to hospital with appendicitis before the end of the year. That winter, the area experienced record precipitation, and the lake refilled to its former levels.
Harris sold his farm the next year and left town. No reliable sightings of the Beast of 'Bosco have occured since 1949, and I leave it to the individual to decide how reliable those sightings might be.
Oscar may well have existed. The alligator snapper turtle, while not common in Indiana, is not unknown that far north. These relatives of the more common snapping turtle can reach weights of 200 pounds; a few larger specimens have been recorded. Granted, even a record-breaking alligator snapper would be smaller than Oscar, but none of the witnesses ever saw the entire beast out of water, and a brief glimpse of a 200-pound turtle might stir the imagination. Then again, Oscar might be a hoax or a tall tale that took on a life of its own.
If past legends involving mysterious monsters have taught us anything, it is that they make a passable tourist draw. In June of 1950 Cherubusco hosted its first Turtle Days Festival, which since has become an annual tradition in the small town. Over the years, the festivities have included the expected small-town fair rides, games, and shows, turtle races, and even a Miss Turtle pageant. One nearby restaurant displays a giant shell, which proprieters purport belonged to Oscar. Several local businesses have adopted the turtle theme, and the town's website assures us that Cherubusco has become "world renown as TURTLE TOWN, USA." Clearly, the small community and its beast are happy together.
1.A local resident had a relative who fought in a battle at Churubusco, Mexico on August 20, 1847. She suggested the town's name.
Churubusco Net. http://www.churubusco.net/
Phil Hoebing. "The Turtle in Missouri Folklore." http://websites.quincy.edu/~hoebiph/turtleman.html
Gary Kauffman. "One man's obsessive search for a giant turtle ended just like the fable — the turtle won." Northern Indiana Perspecive. Reprinted at Cherubusco.net, http://www.s91225942.onlinehome.us/busco/tdpart1.htm
Amanda Repine. "The Beast of ‘Busco." Knot.magazine. http://knotmag.com/?article=16
Some book I read in the 1980s.