The Lake Champlain Monster



Lake Champlain is a large body of fresh water located in North America, mainly within the borders of the United States, with a small portion extending into the Canadian Provence of Quebec. The lake rests on the boarder of Vermont and New York State in an area known as The Champlain Valley, which is the north most unit in a land form system known as the Great Appalachian Valley. Lake Champlain covers a surface area of approximately 490 square miles and has an average depth of 64 feet, though at it’s deepest that number plummets to over 400 feet.  The lake is home to all different types of fresh water marine life including Trout, Salmon, a pesky native Lampray species, and the reputed home of a less common, and much larger creature, The Lake Champlain Monster.

Often referred to as America’s Lock Ness Monster, the Lake Champlain Monster, affectionately referred to as Champ by modern day locals of the region, reportedly has a long oral tradition amongst the lakes native inhabitants, the Abenaki and the Iroquois. It wasn’t until European explorer, and the lakes namesake, Samuel De Champlain discovered the lake in 1609, that the first written account of the Lake Champlain Monster would be documented.

He reportedly wrote in his journal:
“…there is also a great abundance of many species of fish. Amongst others there is one called by the natives Chaousarou, which is of various lengths; but the largest of them, as these tribes have told me, are from eight to ten feet long. I have seen some five feet long, which were as big as my thigh, and had a head as large as my two fists, with a snout two feet and a half long, and a double row of very sharp, dangerous teeth. Its body has a good deal the shape of the pike; but it is protected by scales of a silvery gray colour and so strong that a dagger could not pierce them.”
Historians and Researchers think that De Champlain’s description was probably that of a garfish or lake sturgeon, which can still be found in the lake to this very day. However many of the subsequent eye witness accounts of Champ paint a very different, and much larger, picture of the Lake Champlain Monster.

On July 24th, 1819, an article titled, “Cape Ann Serpent on Lake Champlain” appeared in the Plattsburgh Republican. It gave the account of a Captain Crum who claimed to have seen the monster on Bulwagga Bay the previous Thursday morning. The Captain estimated the creature to be roughly 187 feet in length and described it as being black in color and having a head resembling a sea horse. Other distinguishing features of the creature included in Captain Crum’s account are eyes the color of a pealed onion, a white star on it’s forehead and a belt of red around it’s neck. This is by far the biggest sighting of Champ, and coupled with a remarkable level of detail despite the distance at which the creature was seen, roughly 200 yards, has lead many researches to dismiss this sighting completely.

Reported sightings of The Lake Champlain Monster died down until the latter part of the 19th century after Captain Crum’s account, but picked back up again when a number of high profile sightings of Champ occurred. The first of these sightings appeared in The New York Times in 1873, and told the story of a railroad crew who witnessed an enormous serpent with bright silvery scales that glistened in the sun. In July of 1873 Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney reported seeing a gigantic water serpent which appeared to be about 25 to 30 feet in length from his vantage point on shore. And in August of that same year, 1973, the crew and passengers of the Steamship W.B. Eddy reported hitting the creature, causing the ship to nearly capsize. The amount of credible sightings that year peeked the interest of showman P.T. Barnum, of Barnum and Bailey Circus fame, who offered a $50,000 dollar reward for the “hide of the great Champlain serpent” which he intended to put on display at his World’s Fair Show. Sightings of the Lake Champlain Monster continued throughout the 20th century, totaling over 180 individual sightings, involving more than 600 people, by 1992.

Outside of eyewitness reports there is very little evidence of Champ’s existence. Over the years a small amount of photographic evidence has been presented in support of the Lake Champlain Monster, though most of these are quickly debunked or dismissed as hoax’s. One hotly debated piece of photographic evidence, known as the Mansi Photograph, was taken in 1977 by Sandra Mansi while on vacation with her family in Vermont. As her story goes, Sandra Mansi and her fiance were watching their two children play along the shore of Lake Champlain when she noticed something large emerging from the water about 150 feet from where the children were playing. As they rushed to get the children out of the water she took a single photograph of the creature using her Kodak Instamatic Camera. Mansi continued watching the creature for several minutes before it sank back down below the surface. She would later describe the monster as being about 12 feet long, it’s neck protruding roughly 6 feet out of the water, and having slimy, eel like skin with a texture that appeared, at least from her vantage point, to be similar to tree bark.

After getting the photo developed Mansi placed it in a photo album where it stayed until 1981 when a coworker of Mansi’s began telling people of the image. After having the photo copyrighted, she allowed it to be published in the New York Times for the world to see. Over the years the Mansi Photograph has stood up to all manner of scientific scrutiny and analysis, including efforts by scientists from the Smithsonian Institute and the University of Arizona Optical Science department, all of which failed to discredit the photo. For a long time the Mansi photo stood as a beacon of hope in the cryptozoological community, providing conclusive proof to those who believed in the Lake Champlain Monster, and to lake monsters as a whole.

However, in 2005, researchers Ben Radford and Joe Nickell, members of the Committee for the Scientific Claims of the Paranormal, cast series doubts on both the size and identity of the object in the Mansi Photo. The two researches claimed that not only was the object in the photo much smaller than reported by Sandra Mansi, but that it wasn’t an animal at all. Through various computer simulations and field tests, the two proposed that the object in the Mansi Photo was actually a tree, brought to the surface by a gas build up caused by decay.  Drift wood is fairly common along the shores of Lake Champlain, and it’s not out of the question that a long submerged tree would finally build up enough gas to cause it to rise to the surface, bob around while slowly releasing the built up gas, and then sink back to the depths once sufficient gas had escaped.  Believers are quick to dismiss this theory, while doubters are just a quick to adopt it, and the truth is we’ll never truly know, though the photo is relatively clear, nothing definitive can be seen to support either side, and with the negatives long lost, the debate is sure to continue.

Besides the Mansi Photograph, other photographic and video graphic, evidence of the Lake Champlain Monster exist, however none are as clear or definitively show something like the Mansi Photo. A video shot in 2005 by two fisherman, Dick Affolter and Pete Bodette, seems to be the best video evidence of Champ, though it does not show anything clearly. The video, which begins by showing a strange wake and something moving around near the surface, ends with a shot of something along the side of their boat. What exactly appears besides the boat is still a mystery, bur there are those that insist the video clearly shows the creatures head and long neck coming into view before turning away from the boat, exposing a flipper to the camera, and then disappearing back into the darkness. The video appeared on ABC News where two retired FBI analysts reviewed it and deemed it to be authentic, though they could not make out a clear enough picture of what the object was.

Another interesting piece of evidence are recordings from inside Lake Champlain of what sounds like echolocation, recorded by Fauna Communications Research Institute of North Carolina while working as part of a Discovery Channel Program. The echolocation was recorded at three separate parts of Lake Champlain including a man mad navigation channel in the deepest part of the lake. Those who have studied the recordings note that the sounds are very similar to those made by Beluga Whales or Orca, with one researching concluding that the echolocation sounds closer to that of a false killer whale. None of these creatures are known to inhabit Lake Champlain though, and most researchers believe that if they happened to be in the lake, that they would be seen more frequently as they are are social animals who need to surface frequently to breathe. Analysis conducted by the scientists who recorded the echolocation suggest the source creature has an extremely advanced brain, though the creature the created the sounds remains a mystery.

So the question remains, what exactly is the Lake Champlain Monster? Echolocation would seem to indicate it is some form of mammal, though the sightings seem to rare for an animal which would need to surface to breathe air. Some, including noted cryptozoologist Dr. Karl Shuker, believe Champ may be a relic population of Plesiosaur, similar to what many believe the Loch Ness Monster to be. Others, including Roy P Mackal, believe Champ may be a surviving Zeuglodon, or Basiloaurs, which were large serpentine like whales who lived during the Eocene Epoch. Other theories include giant eels, a yet undiscovered species of long necked Pinniped, similar to seals, and a species of large surgeon, which can grow to be as large as 20 feet long and live almost exclusively on lake bottoms, rarely coming to the surface.

What ever the true identity of the Lake Champlain Monster is, one thing is clear, the people who live around Lake Champlain generally love their monster. Shops around the lake sell Champ memorabilia, Port Henry celebrates their Annual Champ Day on the first Saturday of August, there is even a minor league baseball team named after Champ, The Vermont Lake Monsters. Champ is so important to the residents of the Lake Champlain region that local government even stepped in and passed several laws protecting Champ, with Port Henry declaring it’s waters a safe haven for Champ in 1981, the State of Vermont passing a house resolution protecting Champ in 1982 and both the State Assembly and State Senate of New York doing the same in 1983.

Written by Sean – PACC Admin

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