Although he’s not as famous as the Loch Ness Monster, Oscar of Churubusco has his very own summer festival. Since 1950, folks in Whitley County have paid tribute to their own version of “Nessie” during Churubusco Turtle Days. Named for the site of a crucial American victory during the Mexican-American War, the northeastern Indiana town toasts its legendary mascot every June with a parade, carnival rides and…turtle races.
Churubusco’s reptilian connection began in 1898, when a farmer named Oscar Fulk claimed there was a giant turtle living in the lake on his property. Years passed and the farm changed hands, but in July 1948 two men fishing on the lake allegedly spotted a turtle with a back the size of a dining room table and a head as big as a child’s. The assertion held water this time around, and over the next few months, attempts were made to photograph and capture the so-called “Beast of Busco.”
A number of reputable townsfolk swore they’d spied the behemoth in Gale Harris’s small lake on Madden Road, serving to escalate the investigation—and the media flurry. In March 1949, a future town councilman surveyed the lake from a plane. Reporters from the Indianapolis Star and a Fort Wayne gazette—along with a representative from the Cincinnati zoo—confirmed having seen the creature, alternately dubbed “Oscar” after the property’s original owner. A photographer from Life magazine came to cover the sensational story, though his pictures were never published. As many as 400 cars an hour were counted passing the farmstead that spring; the Harris family selling coffee and hot dogs to the hopeful sight-seers.
The U.S. Coast Guard got involved once diving began; and attempts to hunt and trap the beast elicited responses from the Noble County Game Warden and the Indiana Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. When all else failed, a 200-pound female sea turtle was introduced into the lake as a lure; but Oscar still proved elusive. Fulks Lake was subsequently drained, and the farm sold. The town of Churubusco began celebrating Turtle Days the following summer, and adopted the nickname “ Turtle Town U.S.A.”