Gloucester's legendary sea serpent has vanished again.
And this time mourners can't blame global warming, overfishing or a loss of public imagination.
An uneven coat of white paint applied with a roller did the job, likely under cover of darkness sometime last week.
The green mural-style image — an apparent tribute to the mysterious local sea beast sighted repeatedly in the early 19th century — was a fixture at Stage Fort Park, where it was drawn on a boulder at the east end of Cressy's Beach.
Created decades ago with a dragon's head, snake's tongue and cartoon claws, now only a small faded section of the tail remains uncovered by the white blotch.
"It was a mini icon," said Ed Parks, the summer beach parking manager and caretaker of Stage Fort Park. "Unfortunately, we have had a slight increase in graffiti recently. That may have been a part of it."
Gloucester police, who found out about the white paint yesterday morning, are calling it an act of vandalism.
Lt. Kathy Auld said so far there are no suspects.
Those familiar with the serpent mural spoke of it with fondness yesterday, but no one reached was able to say who painted it — or when.
Parks said the mural was not on the boulder in 1957, when he left the city, but was there when he returned in 1982.
He said at least once in the last few years, someone had renovated the mural and touched up the fading green paint.
But no one in the city knew who it was.
The "real" Gloucester sea serpent was first reported by sailors in colonial times, when tales of fantastical wildlife were not uncommon.
But the legend reached another level in 1817, when a brown 70-foot beast the width of a barrel with the head of a horse was reported swimming around the harbor by multiple witnesses.
Similar to the Loch Ness Monster, the Gloucester creature was reportedly long and snakelike and moved by undulating vertically.
The repeated sightings caused a sensation and drew press and observers from Boston and beyond.
While the world remained skeptical, sightings of serpents around Cape Ann and in other areas on the New England coast remained frequent until the 20th century.
In 1914, a British schooner captain told the Times that he and his crew saw a sea serpent near Thacher Island, but, since then, sightings have become extremely rare.
The mural, nearly 10 feet long, was painted on a tan boulder flecked with silver, black and brown.
When the tide comes in, the tail end of the image sits over the water, possibly preventing whoever was covering it up from getting the whole thing.
Police Lt. Joseph Aiello, who said his memories of the Cressy's Beach serpent go back to his time teaching swimming there, said he had heard that rock formations in the harbor viewed from the beach were often mistaken for monsters, stoking the legend.
"People today look out there and think it's a whale," Aiello said.
Speculation about the motives behind painting over the mural yesterday ranged from youthful vandalism, to an attempt by the artist to take back his image.
Those lamenting the loss of the serpent extended beyond Gloucester.
"Since my first visit to Stage Fort Park with my grandmother, when I was a child, I have looked forward every year to walking on the beach and seeing the sea serpent," said Allyson Hurd of Worcester. "Sadly, all that is left now is an ugly graffiti-like white blotch marring the face of the granite boulder and detracting from the beauty and ambiance of Stage Fort Park.
"I think this is very sad," Hurd added, "and I felt the need to say something on behalf of the tourist community who so love your town."
Patrick Anderson can be reached at email@example.com