The centuries-old legend of a lake creature is alive today thanks to a handful of folks who are driven by scholarship, obsession and the irresistible mystery.
There it … there it is! Over by that fishing boat. No, there! Omigosh, they don’t see it! They must think it’s a log.
Unless it is a log.
Or a catfish. Or an otter. Or a boat wake.
But it also could be a sea serpent. (It could be.)
For hundreds of years, people have glanced across the glistening waters of Lake Pepin, where the Mississippi River widens to a basin as long and wide as Scotland’s famous Loch Ness (the same size!), and seen … something.
Most often, the sight turns out to be a dead tree hung up on a sandbar, or a huge sturgeon breaking the surface, or the wake of a boat unfurling toward shore.
But not always. (Maybe.)
“I firmly believe there was something at one time,” said Jil Garry, who owns Treats and Treasures in Lake City, Minn., a town of 5,000 on Lake Pepin.
Garry sells T-shirts, bibs, mugs and candy depicting a friendly Pepie, which is what everyone calls the (possible) creature. “There were those accounts of French explorers and the newspaper stories,” she said, then shrugged. “But now?”
Larry Nielson, who plies the lake daily offering tourists excursions on his sparkling paddlewheeler, Pearl of the Lake, doesn’t know, either. A few years ago, he offered a $50,000 reward to anyone providing “undisputable evidence that proves the existence of the real live creature living in Lake Pepin,” according to www.pepie.net.
So far, there hasn’t been a single claim, although he added, half-laughing, that “my wife’s always worried.” No question, the reward is a publicity stunt (and has reeled in some national press) but Nielson also would like some proof because, well, he’s seen “things I can’t explain.”
Such as 11 years ago, on a calm lake, midweek with few boats out, he saw “this wake 200-some feet long and 2 feet high going upstream.” (Upstream!)
Then in 2009, he saw a log in the water — he knew it was a log; it looked just like a log — but then it began moving against the current (against the current!) before slipping out of sight.
Is Pepie real?
“I don’t know,” Nielson said, hands on the spokes of the Pearl’s big wheel. “That’s for you to make up your mind.”
From “Sacré bleu!” to “What the – ?!”