The unknown lake creature in Georgia Altamaha-ha, known more casually as “Altie,” defies scientific explanation. Even before European settlement, the Tama tribes people told stories of a giant, snake-like river animal that hissed and bellowed. Over the past century, fishermen, lumberjacks and boy scouts have reported sightings of a creature in the tributaries and marshes of the Altamaha River, which feeds one of the largest river basins on the Atlantic Coast. The eyewitness consensus holds that the Altamaha-ha has a dark, smooth hide, apart from the tire-tread-like ridges on its back, as well as a narrow neck, prominent snout and flat, porpoise-like tail.
Could it be a sturgeon on steroids? A throwback to marine reptiles like the toothy plesiosaur? Maybe the Loch Ness Monster’s cousin from across the pond? I’m skeptical about cryptids, the kind of famous beings like Bigfoot unrecognized by the scientific establishment, but the Altamaha-ha called me with a siren song, despite the likelihood of a search turning into a snipe hunt. But even if the Altamaha-ha isn’t real, it could still have significance.
Founded in 1736, Darien, population 1,719, turns out to be a nexus of Altamaha-ha hot spots. The relaxed little town, 30 miles north of Brunswick on the South Georgia coast, boasts considerable history as the state’s second-oldest planned city and the location of Fort King George. Darien natives treat Altie the Georgia lake monster like the town’s unofficial mascot, comparable to leprechauns on St. Patrick’s Day. “He lays low, but he’s beloved,” says Kathleen Russell, the feisty, silver-haired editor of the Darien News, who maintains a thick folder of Altie sightings, letters and other news accounts. “I’ve seen him a couple of times. Once, a couple of years ago, in Doboy Sound, I saw a wake coming up the river, and there’s nothing that could make a wake like that.”