Susquehanna Mermaids: Tales of River Nymphs and Water Sirens

Mermaids are said to be enchanting and elusive creatures believed to possess the upper bodies of beautiful women adorned with long, flowing hair and the lower bodies of fish, enabling them to navigate the river’s currents gracefully. They are known for their melodious songs that lure unsuspecting travelers and fishermen to their watery abode. They are said to be guardians of the water, with a deep connection to its natural beauty and serenity.

📷: Lancaster Odditorium

Although traditionally associated with the open sea, the waters of Northeast America are not immune to tales of mermaids. In 1608, Henry Hudson, the first European to famously sail up the river and explore the bay that today bears his name, noted in his logbook that some of his crew spotted a mermaid swimming close to the ship’s side. Here’s one of his entries:

The fifteeiith, all day and night cleere sunshine; the wind at east; the latitude at noone 75 degrees, 7 minutes. We held westward by our account 13 leagues. In the afternoone the sea was asswaged; and the wind being at east we set sayle, and stood south and by east, and south south-east as we could. This morning, one of our companie looking over boord saw a mermaid, and calling up some of the companie to see her, one more came up, and by that time shee was come close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly on the men : a little after, a sea came and overturned her: from the navill upward, her backe and breasts were like a woman’s, as they say that saw her; her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long haire hanging downe behinde, of colour blacke: in her going doAvne they saw her tayle, which was like the tayle of a porposse, and speckled like a macrell.’ Their names that saw her, were Thomas Hilles and llobcrt Rayner.

The ancient Susquehanna River, which flows through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland, holds its own tales of mysterious aquatic creatures, including mermaids.

In 1881, local newspapers highlighted two fishermen, Henry Loucks and Sam Mattis, who spotted a river siren at least six times in the deep waters opposite Dugan Run on the Lancaster County side. The pin on the Google Map below gives the approximate location of where the mermaid was spotted. Dugan Run is due south of the red marker.


The first account found in the June 8, 1881 edition of The Lancaster Examiner said the following:

One of our oldest fishermen reports the discovery of one of these rare nondescripts in the river, about a mile above town, in the deep water opposite Dugan’s run. He has already seen it five times; always either early in the morning or late in the evening.

He says it cames to the surface, looks about it, then gradually sinks down leaving its hair floating on top of the water for a moment or go and finally disappears. It has the face of a woman and beautiful glossy blacks hair, but as it is only shows itself down to the shoulders. he cannot tell what the other end is like.

He said he could shoot it but is afraid he asked if it had a comb or looking glass with it: “It might have bad, but he didn’t see it” and supposes it has a cave somewhere in the bottom of the river under the deep water.

Mr. Henry Loncks, the fisherman above alluded to, is well-known in town, and he is considered as reliable as any fisherman on the river.

The Lancaster Examiner 08 Jun 1881, Wed · Page 2

The second article published a month later in the Lancaster Intelligencer on July 13, 1881, shared Sam Mattis’ brief mermaid encounter.

The mermaid seen by Henry Loucks in the Susquehanna river about three weeks ago, was seen on Saturday by Sam Mattis, near Brushy island. She wore her back hair in beautiful curls, while across her forehead she wore bangs.

Lancaster Intelligencer 13 Jul 1881, Wed · Page 6

Could there be any truth to these fishy-sounding tales? What do you think?

📷: Lancaster Odditorium

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