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Muck Monster - Belfast

Every year, a group of student designers at the Maryland Institute College of Art goes to Belfast, Maryland to participate in Project M, a camp that challenges students to immerse themselves in the community and create socially relevant art. When this year's students arrived in Belfast, they found some mentions of a serpent in a local lake while researching local folklore. Deciding to delve into the legend, the group interviewed residents. Only a few had heard of the monster, but nearly everyone had heard some kind of legend about Kirby Lake.

One resident thought that the muddy pond was 1,000 feet deep.

Another had heard that an elephant had drowned in the lake.

"All of these stories started sprouting up," said Project M participant Stephen Edmond. "When we heard about The Muck, we imagined this ocean-width body of water, and found that it was just this little frozen pond."

Numerous cars have gone into the pond, not all of which have been recovered. One interviewee claimed to have seen a serpent in the lake on two occasions, but may have been drunk.

So the students put together a creative art exhibition with imitation artifacts from the monster's history:

The students researched the mythology of serpents in Penobscot Bay and found legends that could arguably be applied to The Muck dating back centuries, from settlers and in the folklore of the Penobscot tribe. During the course of a week, they assembled a show of recreated artifacts relating to the Muck monster myth, using distressed paper to make plausible-looking samples of the monster's skin, recreating drawings of Penobscot encounters with the serpent, and including the requisite grainy and blurred photographs of what might be the head and neck of the serpent emerging from the water.

On Friday, March 18, Edmonds and four others from the group were busy hanging the artifacts on the walls of an empty downtown storefront, in preparation for a one-night-only show that evening dedicated to the monster, for whom the group appeared to have developed a charitable fondness, giving him the approachable name “Melvin.”

"We feel like he's gotten a bad rap," Edmonds said, recounting a Penobscot story of a woman who was supposedly eaten by the monster.

"We don't think Melvin would have done something like that. We think maybe he was so excited to have some company and he tried to give her a kiss or something," he said.

Another Project M participant, Colin Dunn, was standing nearby and he summed up the plight of the ancient monster in modern terms.

"He's misunderstood," he said.

The two were looking at a drawing resembling a compass rose that Edmonds said was a reproduction of a Penobscot image. Edmonds and Dunn gave a deadpan explanation of the piece, which was affixed to the top of wooden disc — a hockey puck, as it turned out. It was a ruse, but a sly one that made a facsimile of an old artifact from modern day one, likely found by the students at the pond. Whether people believe it or not wasn't the point.

"We wanted a forum in the community where we could get younger kids talking to stakeholders," he said. "Maybe we can bring people into the same space to talk about something interesting."

Edmonds said he was impressed with the humor and kindness of people in Belfast but was aware that the group could easily come off as interlopers.

"I think people will realize we're not making fun of the town," he said. "And that they will be excited that we're doing something interesting in the community — that we're latching onto this legend and getting really artistic with it."

SOURCE: Villagesoup.com