Do Preserved Bodies Dwell in Lake Tahoe's Depths?! The Truth Behind Tahoe's Myths

11 min
Emerald Bay is home to mysis shrimp, which are making the battle to keep Tahoe's waters blue more difficult. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

Lake Tahoe is the backyard playground for many in the Bay Area, so earlier this year we asked the Bay Curious audience what questions they had about this recreational hot spot. We collaborated with TahoeLand, a podcast from Capital Public Radio, to answer those questions. Let's get to it!

Are the depths of Lake Tahoe so deep that the lack of light, oxygen and life stops decay and there are dead bodies (some even human) floating in perfect preservation at these depths?

- Kasey Jones

A grisly legend is often repeated about Lake Tahoe. Story goes: The lake was once a place where mobsters would dispose of the bodies of their victims. And because the lake is so deep, and so cold, those bodies are still in perfect condition, floating at the bottom of the lake.

Thankfully, this legend is false.

"The water of Lake Tahoe is alive with microorganisms and larger organisms that feed on dead plant and animal matter," says Dave Antonucci, a longtime Tahoe resident and engineer. "So over time, what happens is the body decomposes as it normally would, and all you're left with is fillings, body piercings and joint replacements."

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In 2016, a group of divers with the Undersea Voyager Project spent a month exploring the depths of Lake Tahoe. While they did find 2,000-year-old trees, sunken boats and undocumented species -- they did not find any bodies.

I know I'll be swimming a little easier the next time I'm in Lake Tahoe.

What is the history behind Tahoe Tessie?

- Allison Savage

Tahoe Tessie is Lake Tahoe's version of the Loch Ness Monster — a mysterious, prehistoric-looking creature of considerable size. Over the years locals and visitors alike have traded stories of supposed sightings.

But Dave Antonucci points out that the lake is only 3.5 million years old, so anything living in the lake can't be prehistoric. Still, there might be something to the sightings. He thinks people might be spotting a sturgeon.

“If you've seen one, it kind of has a prehistoric look to it,” he said. “It's kind of scaly, with large fins and kind of a dinosaur-looking snout. They grow quite large. They can grow up to 22 feet long, and the conditions in Lake Tahoe are such that they could survive.”

An example of a very large sturgeon. (Geoff Parsons/Flickr)

What would it take to have more frequent and usable Amtrak train service from the Bay Area/Sacramento to Truckee?

- Anonymous

We consulted KQED's resident transit enthusiast Dan Brekke, and here's his response:

Right now, train service from the Bay Area to Truckee is on Amtrak's California Zephyr. Two trains make the stop each day -- one eastbound, one westbound.

Even though the Zephyr is a long-distance train — it runs from Emeryville to Chicago — there's some evidence that folks in California are using it to get to the Sierra. Zephyr ridership to Truckee has increased about 50 percent over the last five years, according to numbers compiled by the Rail Passengers Association, and the top seven stations for Zephyr riders coming to or leaving Truckee are, in order, Emeryville, Reno, Sacramento, Martinez, Richmond, Roseville and Colfax.

But we're not talking about huge throngs of riders using the Truckee stop. The daily average last year was about 40 people. Now, the question is, what would it take to run more frequent trains?

And here's where I get more non-authoritative: On one level, I'd like to think that all we'd need to do is find a few trains and put them on the rails, and that would be that. But since the rails are privately owned and the service would almost certainly need to be publicly financed, what you'd need, in no particular order, would be: money, an agency to plan and run the service, money, equipment, money, and access to rails. Oh, and money.

Right now, all of the above are lacking. The recently adopted California State Rail Plan does raise the question of further service to Truckee — but only as a study to be launched in 2022.

It's kind of a disappointing answer if you're a train fan.

Need more? Here's some additional reading

Our friends at TahoeLand answered more listener questions, and have a lot more to offer about how climate change is impacting Lake Tahoe. Here are a few links to check out: