Student Experience Blog

Of Monsters and Mango Ice Cream

At first glance, McCall, Idaho seems like your average resort town; beautiful beaches, eclectic shops, and some of the best ice cream this side of the Mississippi River (unproven, but I’m pretty sure that’s accurate). But, as I learned while vacationing there last week, McCall might also be home to Idaho’s best kept secret. You see, below the glimmering surface of the lake lies something…mysterious, which has puzzled residents of the picturesque town for decades and had me embracing my inner Nancy Drew as I endeavored to discover the truth behind Sharlie, the monster of Payette Lake.

My first stop was at one of the many shops along the town’s main street, where I met Helen, a lovely woman in her 60’s who was all-too-excited to tell me about Sharlie. She showed me the children’s books written by a local woman about the monster. Then we went outside where, just beside the store, is a large, ornate bench. It is carved to look like a giant serpent and the plaque tells visitors it is in honor of Sharlie. These people take their monsters pretty seriously, I realized.

Stopping at the beach next, I jumped into the water to escape the heat. I wasn’t too worried about the potential to meet Sharlie up close and personal, as Helen had told me she only comes out on days the water is calm and free of boats. And besides, her home is somewhere in the deepest recesses of the lake, not the shallow dock area outside the Yacht Club (another mystery in itself as it is neither a club or for yachts. When asked about it, the locals were oddly mum about the subject). I wanted to take a boat out, to see if maybe I’d be able to discover something the locals had missed. But, despite how cool it would be, I have always lacked the proper disposition to be a pirate (I’m too keen on hygiene and have never plundered a day in the life), and thus couldn’t commandeer a vessel.

Even the great Sherlock Holmes deserved a break from sleuthing, so I stopped by McCall’s famous Ice Cream Alley…and never wanted to leave. The ice cream there is amazing (I recommend the mango, as it is, essentially, heaven in a waffle cone) and it’s an ideal place to people watch. Mostly there are tourists, in for the summer for McCall’s famed recreation activities. There is no excuse to be bored in McCall, between the lake, hiking, helicopter rides, the odd Pat Banetar concert, and, of course, monster chasing. As I ate my ice cream, I wondered idly if I could make a profession out of this. How awesome would that business card be? Ashley Miller- Monster Hunter.

In the afternoon, my search grew frustrating. While the library kept a record of the several documented sightings of Sharlie since 1920 not one photo had been taken. It seems Sharlie, like most potentially-mythical monsters tended to be, was camera shy. Where were the Hardy Boys when you needed them?

In the end, as we headed back to our cabin for the night, I was still no closer to discovering the truth about Sharlie. Helen had told me about the Native American belief that Sharlie was a restless spirit, doomed to curse the waters for all eternity. But she also told me the theory that Sharlie was merely a large sturgeon living in the 300 feet deep lake. While the residents are decidedly firm when it comes to which idea they believe to be true, this blogger isn’t deciding yet. Years from now, I’ll come back to McCall, when the water is calm and there aren’t any boats on the lake, and wait.  Maybe it will just be a large fish living the cool water, too shy to come out, and I’ll be disappointed. But maybe, just maybe, there is a giant serpent hidden in the depths of Payette Lake, waiting to be found.

- Ashley Miller

Ashley is a sophomore creative writing major from Payette, Idaho.