The Lake Champlain monster, or “Champ,” is credited with a long history, which it may or may not deserve.
In older articles about Champ, the claim is made that the first white man to see the Lake Champlain monster was the lake’s namesake, explorer Samuel de Champlain, who in his journal entry for July 1609 records an observation of a serpentine creature about twenty feet long, as thick as a barrel, and with a horse-like head. Champlain wrote that the Indians called the animal a chaousarou. Today, most cryptozoologists think that what Champlain saw was a sturgeon.
Between the time of Champlain’s sighting and the 1800s, there were no known reports of Champ sightings, perhaps because the area was sparsely settled until just before the War of 1812. Previously, the only Europeans in the Champlain Valley were mostly Jesuits and soldiers, and they left no stories of any missionary or military encounters with the creature. By 1810, however, Champ reports began to come into the record, as 150,000 settlers looking for inexpensive land found their way to the lake.
Lake Champlain is the largest body of water in the U.S. other than the Great Lakes, occupying portions of what is now Vermont and New York as well as the province of Quebec in Canada. It is almost 110 miles long and 13 miles wide, with a maximum depth of 400 feet. The surface area is 436 square miles. The action of ancient glaciers carved out the lake, and as the ice sheets retreated, they left behind a finger of inland sea that at different times was connected to the ocean. Like Loch Ness in Scotland, Okanagan Lake in British Columbia, and scores of other deep, cold-water lakes in the northern temperate zone, Lake Champlain appears to be an ideal home for monsters.
The early inhabitants came to believe that the lake was the residence of a monster of its very own. Accounts of the time, published in the Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Republican, tell of how, in 1819, pioneers were alarmed by a beast as it stuck its head above the surface of Bulwagga Bay, near what is now Port Henry, New York. Between the arrival of the steamboat, around 1870, and 1900, according to one historian, the lake’s creature was reported on at least twenty occasions. In all but two instances the monster was seen by a number of people of “unimpeachable character,” according to news accounts.
On August 30,1878, for example, as the yacht Rob Roy lay becalmed off Button Bay Island, the boat’s party of six saw a large monster swimming rapidly by, its head occasionally projecting through the “smooth as glass” surface of the water. On November 5, 1879, three University of Burlington students saw the monster—fifteen feet of it visible above the water—travel gracefully from Appletree Point, near Burlington, around Rock Dunder, and head for Essex. On July 9, 1887, the creature made a spectacular appearance as a group of East Charlotte, Vermont, picnickers saw it come around a bend, its flat snake-like head poking above the water, and make straight toward them. As it grew closer at a terrific speed, some witnesses screamed, and the monster whirled to the right and disappeared under the waves. On August 4, 1892, the American Canoe Association’s annual outing, at Willsborough, New York, was abruptly ended when the monster surfaced near their gathering, and canoeists scattered in panic. During this “monster scare” of 1870 to 1900, P. T. Barnum offered $50,000 for the “Champlain Sea Serpent” carcass, which no one was able to produce.
In 1915, according to a New York Times account, observers viewed the monster as it was stranded in the shallows at the entrance of Bulwagga Bay near the Crown Point fortifications. The animal, said to be forty feet long, lashed the waters trying to escape, eventually releasing itself. It swam for the Vermont side, to sink “submarine fashion, leaving a wake which was well defined on the glassy surface of the lake.”
The next series of monster sightings occurred in the 1930s and 1940s. One especially close encounter was experienced by a Mr. and Mrs. Langlois, while fishing in their motorboat off Rouses Point, New York, in August 1939, when the monster headed for them and the couple hastily veered to avoid being hit. As they fled for shore, the monster disappeared below the lake’s surface. In 1943, Charles Weston watched through binoculars as a large animal churned up the water off Rouses Point. In 1945, a Winooski, Vermont, woman aboard the S.S. Ticonderoga related how she and other passengers witnessing a bridge dedication saw the beast raise its head from the water nearby.
Through the 1950s, 1960s, and early 1970s, sightings of the Lake Champlain monster were either infrequent or infrequently reported. But all that changed with the arrival in the early 1970s of Joseph Zarzynski, a dynamic investigator, lecturer, and social science instructor at a junior high school in Saratoga Springs, New York. He organized the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation and made the search for Champ his life’s passion. Zarzynski’s no-nonsense approach to monster hunting meant that those who for years had been ridiculed because they saw something “strange” in the lake now had a sympathetic ear.
The towering, six-foot-six Zarzynski’s friendly manner and confident style made him one of the most trusted cryptozoologists of the 1970s and 1980s (?) [Note from editor: the last date isn’t clear]. Zarzynski also talked with the scores of witnesses who have seen Champ. Among them was Sandra Mansi, a thirty-four-year-old tinsmith and amateur photographer with no previous exposure to cryptozoological controversies. She produced what Zarzynski calls “the single most impressive piece of evidence” for Champ. Without Zarzynski, Mansi’s incredible photo of Champ might have never been made public.
Mansi’s adventure began on July 5, 1977, as she, her husband-to-be, and her two children were picnicking and sightseeing along the Vermont side of Lake Champlain, north of St. Albans. The group decided to get a closer look at the lake and cut across a farm field. The day was bright and sunny.
As she sat there, watching her children play in the water, Mansi noticed an object near the middle of the lake. At first, she took it to be a large fish, then the hand of a diver surfacing, but eventually she realized it was the grayish-brown head and long snake-like neck of a creature breaking the lake’s surface. The thing’s head seemed to be twisting around, scanning the countryside. Though frightened, she rushed to get her Kodak Instamatic camera from her car, and snapped one shot of the beast. Once the photograph was taken, she grabbed the children and fled the scene.
Fearful of the jokes and ridicule she might be subjected to, Mansi hid the picture for three years. Finally, encouraged by friends and the growing interest in Champ promoted by Zarzynski and his investigation, Mansi, now living in Winchester, New Hampshire, produced the photograph for scrutiny by some academic types allegedly interested in the monster who had approached her. The fact that Mansi had lost the negative, and had never known the exact location of the sighting, led to some difficult moments, until Mansi was introduced to Zarzynski.
After interviewing Mansi, Zarzynski contacted other figures in the field of cryptozoology to help him evaluate her evidence. Roy Mackal, a University of Chicago zoologist famed for his Loch Ness Monster work, and J. Richard Greenwell and B. Roy Frieden, both of the University of Arizona, examined Mansi’s photograph and subjected it to computer tests. According to Frieden, a professor of optical sciences, no evidence of a montage or superimposition could be found. Greenwell and Mackal were similarly convinced that Mansi had a picture of an unknown animate object in the lake. Greenwell was convinced that the object in Mansi’s photo was a plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile, like the ones he believes to be responsible for Loch Ness Monsters. Mackal, on the other hand, speculated that the creature—in common with other Lake Monsters—was a zeuglodon, a primitive whale generally thought to have become extinct 20 million years ago.
Zarzynski has ceased active involvement in the investigation of what he used to call “the Champ animals.” Today he devotes his spare moments to the search for shipwrecks. The work at Lake Champlain during the 1990s is largely in the hands of Dennis Jay Hall, the director of Champ Quest.
The Encyclopedia of Loch Monsters,Sasquatch, Chupacabras, and Other Authentic Mysteries of Nature
Written by Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark – Copyright 1999 Loren Coleman and Jerome Clark
Champ is the nickname for the Lake Champlain monster, a creature that has been reported more than three hundred times in Lake Champlain, a large, deep, cold body of water that separates the states of Vermont and New York. Sightings are particularly numerous in Bulwagga Bay, located on the New York side of the lake. Experts on Champ disagree on when it was first sighted. Some say it was in 1609, when explorer Samuel de Champlain wrote in his journal about seeing a monster in the lake that appeared to have the body of a snake and the head of a horse; however, many cryptozoologists believe that Champlain was actually seeing a large fish, perhaps a sturgeon. Other sightings of what was apparently the same creature Champlain saw occurred between 1810 and 1873. But beginning in 1873, newspaper reports described a creature that clearly was more reptilian than fish: a giant silver-scaled serpent 25 to 40 feet (7.6 to 12m) long, its body 18 to 20 inches (46 to 51cm) thick, its head at least 20 inches (51cm) in diameter, moving across the water’s surface at a speed of approximately 10 miles per hour (16kph). Among the first of these reports was an August 1873 story in which the crew of a steamship claimed to have tracked the creature and shot it, whereupon it sank. Despite many searches, however, no one discovered the body, and sightings of the creature continued.
During the 1970s, descriptions of the creature changed slightly. Now Champ was said to have not only a horselike head and snakelike body but two bumps or humps that thrust about three feet (.9m) above the surface of the water. In July 1977 a family saw this creature on the lake somewhere near Saint Alban’s Bay and the Canadian border; the mother of the family, Sandra Mansi, took a photograph of it before it disappeared beneath the surface. The image and surrounding waves in the Mansi photograph suggest that this Champ, which had a humped back, was anywhere from 24 to 78 feet (7.3 to 23.8m) long, and according to Mansi, its head appeared to rise as much as 8 feet (2.4m) out of the water.
For a time the Mansi family kept this photograph, and their experience, to themselves, fearing ridicule, but in 1980 they shared it with Joseph W. Zarzynski, a schoolteacher who showed it to some experts in zoology, biology, oceanography, photo analysis, and other disciplines. As a result of their analyses, Zarzynski concluded that the photograph was genuine, a position he then argued in a 1984 book titled Champ—Beyond the Legend. In support of this view, many people have noted that the Mansis were credible witnesses without any motive to perpetrate a hoax. Nonetheless, sceptics believe that, for whatever reason, the Mansis somehow faked the photograph.
Comparisons between the photograph and one supposedly taken of Scotland’s Loch Ness monster show many similarities. Consequently, some people believe that Champ is either the same species or one related to the Loch Ness monster. One theory is that both animals are some kind of plesiosaur, a marine reptile thought to have become extinct millions of years ago.
- lake monsters;
- Loch Ness monsters
The Greenhaven Encyclopedia of Paranormal Phenomena – written by Patricia D. Netzley © 2006 Gale, a part of Cengage Learning