Hello, Peter Slight of the Puppet Challenge here.
The residents of Nantucket, Massachusetts were in for a big surprise one August morning in 1937 when giant webbed footprints were discovered on Nantucket beach by a local fisherman. This came after a recently reported sightings of ‘a creature about one hundred feet long with a head like a barrel and red-rimmed glaring eyes the size of dinner plates’ which had reputedly been seen (and reported in the local paper) by another fisherman who was left ‘pop-eyed’ by the incident.
Photos of the tracks appeared in more papers, and copies were sent to scientists in New York City for analysis. Interest in the story began to grow.
The residents of Nantucket didn’t have to wait long to find out who or what had made the tracks. As its carcass was washed ashore onto Nantucket beach in its entirety only a few days later.
The sea serpent was almost exactly as had been described, at around 120ft long and pretty fearsome – but it also turned out to be an giant inflatable!
The creature was left in place for several weeks and generated a lot of interest, drawing in large crowds.
The whole thing had been cooked up in collaboration with the local papers as a publicity stunt to help generate interest in the town. The man behind the hoax was Tony Sarg (1880 – 1942) a German American puppeteer, puppet maker, animator and illustrator.
Tony made puppet-related animated window displays for Macy’s seen over the Thanksgiving and Christmas period. But crucially it was also Tony who built the tethered helium filled balloons for the Macy’s Thanksgiving day parades.
He was described as “America’s Puppet Master”, and in his biography as the father of modern puppetry in North America.
Above is a picture of Tony Sarg looking rather dapper and pleased with himself in front of his creation. I can only imagine the excitement this stunt must have created among the children (and adults) of Nantucket (and further afield) It really would have been like Christmas morning running down to the beach to find this massive beastie waiting for you. I have to say I admire Tony Sarg, he was a true creative, in every sense of the word, with the spirit of a showman capable of turning his hand to a multitude of different disciplines, but also for creating things that could generate so much excitement and mystery making the world a more colourful place.
The sea serpent put in another appearance at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade a few months later and could be seen floating over Manhattan this time.
Tonys protégé who helped build his Macy’s helium balloon constructions was Bil Baird who later went on to find fame himself as a puppeteer with his wife Cora. I wrote about them and their rather nifty puppets here
Ah, back when hoaxes were not quite so easy to concoct and not connected to electronic trickery! I like this tale, Peter Slight.
Here in Cooperstown we have the “remains” of the Cardiff Giant, yet another thing that makes the place somewhat unreal.
I had no idea that there was a ‘Cardiff Giant’ in Cooperstown. Now I’m going to have to try and find some images!
I’ve been to take a look, and have found him to be not from Cardiff-in-Wales… which was what first ran through my mind… but a home-grown American giant. Cooperstown is clearly a fascinating place, and one day I will explore it.
Glad you liked it Marly 🙂
I remember reading about the Cooperstown Giant in my encyclopedia of monsters by Daniel Cohen many years ago – but as I recall the photo in the book had the giants hand modestly covering his ‘unmentionables’ but after a quick look on Google to refresh my memory of the story, I see everything is on display, So I think the photo in the book may have been ‘doctored’ to protect the childrens delicate sensibilities!
What a delightful post, Peter. Thank you for this. It started my day with a smile!
Good, i’m glad Clive! 🙂
Hello Peter, and Clive. There is a wonderful children’s book about Tony Sarg. I’m not sure if it is available in the UK. It is titled, “Balloons Over Broadway“. Our children love it.
Hi Sean, Thanks for letting me know about the book, it sounds great. I will be ordering a copy shortly!