Lake Merritt: Sea Monster Habitat

The Lake Merritt Monster, sometimes called the “Oak-ness Monster” due to its similarity to the famous Nessie or “Merrittzilla” as decided by a recent online poll, has acquired a dedicated local following today. A 1946 article by Jack Burroughs, a reporter for the Oakland Tribune, describes an early concrete sighting of the creature:

“The legend, which some go so far as to disbelieve, dates back to that far-off time when turgid streams snaked their way down from the hills to form the San Antonio creek. On a day of untoward lightnings and unseemly thunderings a vast, slimy, amphibious creature slithered along one of these water courses into San Antonio creek, waded along the creek till he came to the estuary, swam out the estuary into the Bay and thence out to sea. But before he left he hollowed out with a fillip of his tail, the basin that later became Lake Merritt. He must have been wired for sounds, for before he left he roared, in a voice that echoed from Mt. Diablo to the Farralons, a prophecy that has since been freely translated from the old Crow Indian dialect as follows: “Lake Merritt… home!””

The monster’s story faded from the Oakland consciousness for many years; the swamp monster of Ohlone legend was forgotten and condemned to survive only as a name in old newspaper archives. However, it was rediscovered in the Oakland Public Library by Justin Kanalakis, at about the same time that cleanup efforts made restored the lake’s clarity and made sightings possible, and its popularity skyrocketed from there. The story was given new life by features in local news stories and websites, and has gained the support of a community of cryptid enthusiasts and scientists who claim that the creature has returned to its ancestral home in the lake and can be sighted by careful observers, and sightings have become more and more common since the story began circulating again around 2006. It has been linked to a legend among the Ohlone Native American tribe of a swamp monster that required sacrifices to be appeased; this theory, however, has caused some raised eyebrows since Lake Merritt is a man-made pleasure lake created relatively recently. Some people claim that there is more than one creature, to account for discrepancies in descriptions over the decades but it is generally agreed—or hoped—that the creature or creatures are harmless. Oakland’s own sea monster has returned to claim the hearts of its people along with its home: passerby in the Merritt area are happy to pass on the stories they’ve heard when asked, an online poll to decide the creature’s name was hotly contested and filled with local in-jokes and puns, and you can even buy t-shirts and other merchandise of the monster through various websites. Although most cities can boast of haunted houses and ghostly visitations, how many can claim to have an ancient sea monster living in the heart of the urban bustle?

Cite this Page:

Savannah Stelzer, “Lake Merritt: Sea Monster Habitat,” Street Stories: Oakland, accessed October 16, 2018,
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