Anybody in the market for a monster turtle?
A new real estate listing near Churubusco, Indiana, includes more than just 43 acres of land and a fully stocked lake for fishing. People in Churubusco will tell you the lake, Fulk Lake, is home to the “Beast of Busco”, a 500-pound turtle.
Located in northeastern Indiana, just a half-hour north of Fort Wayne, Churubusco is a city of about 1,800, that calls itself Turtletown, U.S.A. Its nickname stems from reports of the giant turtle going back to just before the turn of the century.
According to local legend, back in 1898, a farmer named Oscar Fulk reported that he’d seen a giant turtle on his property. Accounts vary, but most say he talked to others about it for a while, but then dropped the matter when no one believed him.
Some 50 years later, in July 1948, two men fishing in the lake, Ora Blue and Charley Wilson, reported that they had seen the turtle, and later, Gale Harris, the then owner of the farm and lake was on his roof with his pastor and claimed he’d seen it too.
As word spread, the tale of the giant turtle reached the ears of a UPI reporter from Fort Wayne who came out to do a story on the turtle. It was Cliff Milnor, a columnist for the Fort Wayne, Indiana, Journal-Gazette, who dubbed the turtle “The Beast of Busco.”
The story of Harris and his turtle fever spread across the country, but locally, there were doubters. Harris decided that he was going to catch “Oscar the Turtle,” named after the farm’s original owner, and prove to everyone Oscar did exist.
In his first attempt, reports from the day said, Harris built a trap out of wooden stakes, rolls of chicken wire, and raw bait. The trap was shaped like a funnel that would force the turtle into a small area with a little more than 10 feet of water. As word got out that Harris was trying to catch Oscar, townspeople stopped by the farm, some armed with cameras, hoping to catch a glimpse of the creature.
In some reports, Oscar did show up and swam into the trap to get to the bait, but that the chicken wire couldn’t contain the beast, and he escaped.
Harris didn’t give up though. He tried a periscope into the water, but the lake was too murky. Then he got a diving suit and talked a friend into diving into the lake. That dive was called off because of a leak in the helmet. When the leak was fixed, Harris talked another friend into diving into the lake to find Oscar. That dive was called off when the diver got stuck chest-deep in mud.
With his last attempt, Harris decided to drain the lake. Again, hundreds of people showed up to finally get a chance to see the monster turtle, only this time, Harris charged admission. Using the money from the admission fees, he attached a pump to his tractor and started removing the water. It took a few days, but he was finally able to get the seven-acre lake down to a one-acre lake just five feet deep. Some people report that a lone duck landed on the water and started swimming around when out of nowhere a giant head popped out of the muddy depths and swallowed the duck whole.
Harris’ luck turned again after that. At that depth, the pump started pulling up mud which eventually clogged the pump and broke the tractor beyond repair. His efforts eventually bankrupted him, and Harris was forced to sell the farm at an auction to pay off bills and taxes.
Oscar was never captured, but Harris’ attempts captured national attention.
That’s when Churubusco officials started to take notice. They dubbed their community Turtletown, U.S.A., and started the Turtle Days Festival. Since 1950, the Turtle Days Festival draws thousands to the small town.
Held June 16 – 19 this year, Madalyn Sade-Bartl, the town’s clerk and treasurer said, the festival drew record crowds.
“This year, there were probably 5,000 people,” said Madalyn Sade-Bartl, the town’s clerk and treasurer, and the secretary of the Turtle Days Festival. “It brings in people from all over. I know people who come here for their vacation. People bring in their turtles to be in the turtle races. This year we had someone come in who has a YouTube channel who did something on it.”
Money raised from the festival goes to local parks, as well as to scholarships, community organizations like the Chamber and the Rotary, as well as to numerous non-profits, she said.
Experts say if Oscar exists, he could be the result of traveling salesmen.
Rusty Reed, a snapping turtle expert in the area, told MidwestGuest.com that in the late 1800s traveling salesmen from southern Indiana would take live baby snapping turtles with them as a source of fresh meat while they were on the road. Some became turtle soup, he said, while others the salesmen gave away to children, sold them, or released into local lakes when they weren’t needed.
Reed thinks if Oscar did exist, he’s more than likely long gone. If he weighed as much as legends say, he was too large to support his own weight on land, and likely suffocated under the mud when Harris drained the lake.
Others have speculated that Oscar would swim out of the lake through underground tunnels to other lakes.
Justin Griffin, with Whitetail Properties, the real estate agent listing the property, said he’s never seen the turtle, but he’s heard about it.
“I have had a few calls asking about Oscar and they are interested in the story and not necessarily the land,” he said in an email interview. “I don’t mind talking to them because it is a great legacy and I love hearing their side of the story. I have not seen the turtle. I have seen turtles on the land, but no giant turtle.”
Sade-Bartl said no one in the town is concerned that the home of “The Beast of Busco” is up for sale. Their “Oscar the Turtle” is a costumed mascot that shows up at Turtle Days, and other community events.
“We’ll still have our Oscar the Turtle mascot, and he’ll still be around,” she said. “He’ll always be our hometown hero.”