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Inside Idaho’s famous lake monster: Does Sharlie really exist?

Deep down in the dark waters of Payette Lake lurks the legend of McCall’s very own Loch Ness Monster.

Growing up, my imagination went wild as I pictured what she looked like and hoped for a glimpse of the elusive creature as I stared out at the calm waters.

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Formed from a glacier, the lake spans nearly eight square miles and reaches 392 feet at its deepest point… the perfect habitat for a big lake creature?

“The Native Americans who once spent summers in Long Valley were said to fear the calm seemingly bottomless waters of the lake, telling stories of an evil spirit that lurked in its hidden depths,” the VisitMcCall website says.

Suspicious sightings

The first sighting of something strange lurking in the lake happened in 1920 when railroad workers thought they saw a huge log floating in the water.

“The log began to move forward. Then the log began to undulate,” the VisitMcCall site notes of the supposed sighting. “Then the ‘log’ created its own wake as it rapidly left the area.”

More than twenty years later, in 1944, there was another sighting near the Narrows – the rocky and narrow passage between the north and south side of the lake near Ponderosa Park.

Witnesses said the creature was “at least 35 feet long, with a dinosaur-type head, pronounced jaw, humps like a camel, and shell-like skin”.

This sighting made national news, and the creature, then coined “Slimy Slim,” was the main character of the August 1944 Time Magazine.

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The infamous sea monster was then supposedly seen many times in 1954, and that’s when residents decided she needed a better name. That’s when the Star-News of McCall held a naming contest.

The winner? Sharlie.

While dozens of sightings have been reported over the last century, no official evidence proves she exists. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t, either.

Other explanations for Sharlie

Sharlie McCall, Idaho
Sharlie celebrated at the McCall Winter Carnival on the streets of McCall in 2015. Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

Many theories have been floating around the town since Sharlie’s first sighting.

One of those is that a sturgeon migrated up the Snake River to the Payette River and into the lake. This would have had to happen before the Snake River dams were built in the late 1970s.

Sturgeons can reach up to eight feet long, weigh over 300 pounds and live over 55 years. According to Fish and Aquatic Conservation, lake sturgeon are a migratory species and move back and forth between lakes and large river systems.

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Over the years, many have reported spotting large waves in the middle of the lake with no boats or other forces to cause them. This has lead many to believe in Sharlie’s existence.

However, there is a scientific explanation that could also explain these waves.

A weather phenomenon called a seiche is a standing wave that happens when rapid changes in atmospheric pressure push water from one end of a body of water to the other.

Sharlie: A symbol of McCall

McCall, Idaho - home of Sharlie
McCall, Idaho – home of Sharlie? Photo: Don Day/BoiseDev file

In the town of McCall, you will find her legend lives on at events like at the McCall Winter Carnival parade and as an ice sculpture every year. She shows up in the names of businesses, on restaurant menus (like the Sharlie burger at My Father’s Place), and even on the name of Shore Lodge’s summer camp.

In 2007, Boisean Lynda Johnson published the book Sharlie – “an imaginative tale for anyone who can still see the magic and beauty abounding in our natural world.” The non-fiction book paints an imaginative picture of Sharlie’s life.

Sharlie book, McCall, Idaho

As a result of the many sightings and theories around the mysterious lake creature, she has become an icon in McCall.

Whether you think you’ve spotted her or, like me, have walked the shoreline hoping for a glimpse, this local legend continues to spark mystery and imagination 100 years later.

Anna Dalyhttps://boisedev.com/author/annadaly/
Anna Daly is a reporter for BoiseDev. She's an Emmy-winning journalist, and a professor at the College of Western Idaho. Contact her at [email protected].

Inside Idaho