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The Lake Gun   By: (1789-1851)

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The Lake Gun

by

James Fenimore Cooper

The Seneca is remarkable for its "Wandering Jew," and the "Lake Gun." The first is a tree so balanced that when its roots are clear of the bottom it floats with its broken and pointed trunk a few feet above the surface of the water, driving before the winds, or following in the course of the currents. At times, the "Wandering Jew" is seen off Jefferson, near the head of this beautiful sheet; and next it will appear anchored, as it might be, in the shallow water near the outlet.

{"Wandering Jew" = The medieval legend of Ahasueras, who mocked Christ on his way to the cross and was condemned to live until Judgment Day, is widespread throughout Europe, though he was only identified as a "Jew" in the 17th century students at Geneva College (now Hobart College) applied the name to a supposedly unsinkable floating log in Lake Seneca, identified as the legendary "Chief Agayentha"; Jefferson = I am indebted to John Gormley of Burdett, NY, for the information that the Village of Jefferson, which I had been unable to locate, was renamed "Watkins" in 1852 and then the current and well known "Watkins Glen" in 1926. (August, 2011)}

For more than half a century has this remnant of the forest floated about, from point to point, its bald head whitening with time, until its features have become familiar to all the older inhabitants of that region of country. The great depth of the Seneca prevents it from freezing; and summer and winter, springtime and autumn, is this wanderer to be observed; occasionally battling with the ice that makes a short distance from the shore, now pursuing its quiet way before a mild southern air in June, or, again, anchored, by its roots touching the bottom, as it passes a point, or comes in contact with the flats. It has been known to remain a year or two at a time in view of the village of Geneva, until, accustomed to its sight, the people began to think that it was never to move from its berth any more; but a fresh northerly breeze changes all this; the "Jew" swings to the gale, and, like a ship unmooring, drags clear of the bottom, and goes off to the southward, with its head just high enough above water to be visible. It would seem really that his wanderings are not to cease as long as wood will float.

{Village of Geneva = now the City of Geneva, at the northern end of Lake Seneca}

No white man can give the history of this "Jew." He was found laving his sides in the pure waters of the Seneca by the earliest settlers, and it may have been ages since his wanderings commenced. When they are to cease is a secret in the womb of time.

The "Lake Gun" is a mystery. It is a sound resembling the explosion of a heavy piece of artillery, that can be accounted for by none of the known laws of nature. The report is deep, hollow, distant, and imposing. The lake seems to be speaking to the surrounding hills, which send back the echoes of its voice in accurate reply. No satisfactory theory has ever been broached to explain these noises. Conjectures have been hazarded about chasms, and the escape of compressed air by the sudden admission of water; but all this is talking at random, and has probably no foundation in truth. The most that can be said is, that such sounds are heard, though at long intervals, and that no one as yet has succeeded in ascertaining their cause.

{"The Lake Gun" = The "Lake Gun" or "Lake Drum" is a mysterious booming sound occasionally heard on Lake Seneca (and on neighboring Lake Cayuga), which has been given a variety of scientific, literary, and legendary interpretations.}

It is not many lustrums since curiosity induced an idler, a traveler, and one possessed of much attainment derived from journeys in distant lands, first to inquire closely into all the traditions connected with these two peculiarities of the Seneca, and, having thus obtained all he could, to lead him to make the tour of the entire lake, in the hope of learning more by actual personal observation... Continue reading book >>




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