Discover a new guide to the Museum inspired by the Cape Ann Sea Serpent by Gloucester-born artist Michael Grimaldi.

April 1, 2021

Unattributed, Sea Serpent, c.1880s-1890s (reproduction of an 1817 engraving), collotype on paper. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. Gift of Eleanor C. Dexter, given in memory of Harold C. Dexter, 1993 [Acc. #2834].

Dear Friends,

The Cape Ann Sea Serpent has been spotted in the Cape Ann Museum! Sightings are anticipated in the galleries later this month, and that's no April Fools' Day prank...!

During April Vacation Week, families with children under 18 receive complimentary admission and will discover four new installations of the Cape Ann Sea Serpent, affectionately nicknamed Cassie. Created by Gloucester-born muralist, graphic designer, and Monserrat College of Art graduate, artist Michael Grimaldi, Cassie provides a new dynamic invitation for family-friendly exploration of the Museum's collections.

Please join us in visiting the Museum to see Grimaldi painting live on April 16, watch a Virtual Lecture with the artist on April 17, or book a reserved entrance from April 22-25 to be one of the first to follow Cassie on a Scavenger Hunt throughout the galleries.

Oliver Barker, Director

The Cape Ann Sea Serpent

“Being observed by hundreds, if not thousands, of people, from all walks of life, often for durations of many minutes, and in some cases, even hours, it remains the most sighted sea serpent in history. Indeed, a case can be made that more people saw what they believed to be a sea serpent in Gloucester Harbor and nearby locations in the early nineteenth century, than have seen all other aquatic cryptids combined, including those thought to reside in both Loch Ness and Lake Champlain.” (France, Robert L. Disentangled: Ethnozoology and and Environmental Explanation of the Gloucester Sea Serpent. Nederland, Wageningen Academic Publishers, 2019, p. 16).

For over two hundred years, the Cape Ann Sea Serpent has captured the imaginations of local residents and spectators from around the world. On August 6, 1817, the first reports emerged of “an unusual fish or serpent” in Gloucester Harbor. These testimonies continued until 1819, at which point hundreds claimed to have caught sight of the creature. Since then, reporters, historians, scientists, and artists have all tried to get to the bottom of this legendary visit. In this issue of CAM Connects, explore the lore of the Cape Ann Sea Serpent through archival materials, local public art, recorded lectures, and a new family-friendly gallery guide affectionally nicknamed Cassie the Sea Serpent.

From Billet Head to Bestiary

Billet Head, 1855, carved wood, gilt, paint. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum, Gloucester, MA. Gift of George W. Woodbury, 1936 [Acc. #747].

This sea serpent-like billet head once adorned the prow of the schooner Diadem, which was built in Essex in 1855. The vessel was co-owned by its captain, John H. Welsh and David Elwell Woodbury, a Gloucester merchant. The billet head remained in the Woodbury family until 1936 when David’s son George W. Woodbury donated it to the Cape Ann Museum.

Sea Serpent Scrapbook created by George Woodbury, 1940s. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA. Gift of George W. Woodbury, 1951 [Acc. #1505].

Around the same time, George began work on a scrapbook that painstakingly documented sightings of sea serpents on Cape Ann and around the globe. He continued to add to it until 1951 when he donated it to the Cape Ann Museum’s archives. The scrapbook details dozens of accounts of sea serpent sightings from the 1840s through the 1940s. It contains clippings from periodicals as well as personal testimonials typewritten by Woodbury (the earliest of which dates back to an 1844 sighting off Magnolia). One clipping (pictured) from a 1912 issue of the Gloucester Daily Times reports Capt. John McKinnon of Gloucester slaying “The Great Sea Serpent” off the Maine coast. Beside it is handwritten, “This account is accurate as I remember it,” and is signed and dated by McKinnon in 1933. This verification 21 years after the article was published suggests Woodbury must have tracked down his neighbor to doublecheck the claim. Why did George spend 20 years collecting these stories? Was he inspired by the billet head which once adorned his father’s vessel? Did his father or perhaps John Welsh see something in the water? Unfortunately, the scrapbook offers no insights into Woodbury’s passion for sea serpents. And so, just as we may never know the truth about the Cape Ann Sea Serpent itself, we’ll just have to use our imaginations.

The Sea Serpent Sculpture at the Museum

Chris Williams - Making the Sea Serpent

Video still from Chris Williams: Making the Sea Serpent, 12/18/2010. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

Beginning in 2018, Essex sculptor Chris Williams spent months working on a bronze sculpture of the fabled Cape Ann Sea Serpent. Commissioned in honor of outgoing director Ronda Faloon, the sculpture is now on permanent display at the entrance of the Cape Ann Museum on Pleasant Street. Throughout the creation process, The Bridge Cape Ann worked with Chris Williams Sculpture to chronicle the making of this iconic piece. Click here to view the process from start to finish!

Origins of the Cressy’s Beach Serpent

Cressy’s Beach Sea Serpent painting and detail. Photograph by CAM Staff.

As the weather continues to improve, and before the summer crowds descend, it is the perfect time to get outside and rediscover some of Gloucester and Cape Ann’s great historical treasurers, including our legendary Sea Serpent. Cressy’s Beach can be found at Stage Fort Park accessible by Hough Avenue in Gloucester. Around 1955, Robert Stephenson, a young lifeguard stationed at Cressy’s, painted an image of the serpent on a large granite outcropping overlooking the beach and Gloucester’s Outer Harbor. Over the years, the image has been repainted numerous times, a testament to people’s continuing fascination with the mysterious creature. To learn more about Robert Stephenson, click here.

Gloucester’s Sea Serpent Presentation
by Wayne Soini

VL29 - Gloucester's Sea Serpent with Wayne Soini - 12-18-2010

Video still from CAM Video Vault VL29 – Gloucester’s Sea Serpent with Wayne Soini, 12/18/2010. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA. Click here for lecture transcript.

In this recorded program from 2010 available through CAM’s Video Vault, Gloucester native Wayne Soini discusses his book Gloucester’s Sea Serpent that details the historical context and documentation surrounding the 1817 sighting of this legendary Gloucester Harbor visitor. Soini divulges that, based upon his research, he believes there really was a mysterious creature swimming in local waters during this time. He concludes by inviting the audience to join him in singing his original tune, “The Sea Serpent Song.”

CAM Library & Archives

Drawing of Serpent in George Woodbury's Sea Serpent Scrapbook, 1933. This Week magazine article "Are There Sea Serpents, Really?," 1955. Testimony of John Low compiled by Charles Lennox, 1817. Detail of map showing Sea Serpent sighting locations and dates, from An Exciting & Authentic Narrative by Irma Kierman, 1950. Gleason's Pictorial Magazine, 1854. Linnaean Society Report on Gloucester Sea Serpent, 1817. Collection of the Cape Ann Museum Library & Archives, Gloucester, MA.

The above collage is just a small sampling of the holdings of the CAM Library & Archives’ records that document various sightings of the Cape Ann Sea Serpent. Outside the extensive scrapbook kept by George Woodbury noted above, the collection consists of first-hand accounts and testimonies from a string of sightings in 1817-18, the Linnaean Society report that quickly followed these sightings, newspaper and magazine articles, and maps. Other resources include this article by the late CAM docent Tom Halsted, and for the performers amongst us, this entertaining Dramatic Jeu d’Esprit.

If you have interest in further study on the Sea Serpent and would like to consult any of the documents listed and seen above, or research other topics, the CAM Library & Archives has begun Research Appointments at the Janet & William Ellery James Center at the CAM Green each Monday. To make an appointment, email

Introducing Cassie the Sea Serpent

On Friday, April 16, reserve a timed entrance to the Cape Ann Museum to see local muralist, Mike Grimaldi, live painting CAM’s new family-friendly guide, Cassie the Sea Serpent, in four galleries throughout the Museum. 

Families with children under 18 are invited to visit the Museum for free from April 22 – 25 during April Vacation Week. Throughout your next visit, keep your eyes open for a head, fin, or tail and make sure to check out the artwork that she stopped to look at. Don’t forget to drop by the front desk and pick up a copy of Cassie’s Scavenger Hunt to find some of her favorite pieces in the Museum!

Live Painting in the Gallery
Friday, April 16 from 1:00-3:00 pm
Free with Museum admission

CAM After Hours: Live Painting
Friday, April 16 from 6:00-8:00 pm
Members Event

Virtual Lecture: Bringing Cassie the Sea Serpent to Life
Saturday, April 17 at 1:00 pm
Free for members, $10 for non-members

April Vacation Week
Thursday, April 22 – Sunday, April 25
Free Museum entrance to all families with children under 18