- Robert Hodge
In July, 1872 it was reported an enormous serpent, supposed to be a python, anaconda or boa constrictor, escaped from a traveling menagerie. Its body was said to be the thickness of a lamp post, and it had been seen in the meadow below the papermill (today's water treatment plant). It had also been seen in the trees overhanging the water at Beck's Island, and "we may soon expect to hear of the disappearance of the boys who go bathing" there.
No further reports were recorded until in September, 1885 when Mr. Charley Shepherd was walking along the cliffs lining the Rappahannock above the dam. He and his friend discovered a huge serpent lying partly out of the water. Having a Winchester rifle they fired four shots into its head, but without fatal results.
The monster was badly wounded, and its captors fastened a grape vine securely behind its immense head to prevent its escape.
Mr. Shepherd described the reptile as having a comb upon its head like a chicken-cock and that it bleated like a calf. Its constant writhing and twisting prevented its being accurately measured, but its captors thought its length between 80 and 120 feet. It required several days of tightening the noose of the grapevine about the snake's neck until it died. Four men were required for three days to skin the serpent and a derrick and two horses were required to lift the skin up over the cliff.
Mr. Shepherd had hopes of selling the skin to Barnum so that it might be stuffed and exhibited along side that of Jumbo.
Unfortunately, no further notices were found as to the final disposition of the skin, but one wonders if the 1872 monster could possibly have been the same as the 1885 one?
This article originally appeared in the July 1978 issue of The Fredericksburg Times and is used here with the author's permission.