By Tom Woron
Scotland has Nessie. Over here we have Champ. Or does Scotland really have Nessie? And for that matter, do we really have Champ?
Everyone has heard of the legendary Loch Ness monster, affectionately named Nessie, and usually referred to in the singular sense. Nessie is the alleged unknown water creature that inhabits Loch Ness, a long and deep lake in Scotland. Whether Nessie really exists or not has been the subject of much study and debate for over a century. The Loch Ness monster, if it does exist, is a cryptid.
Cryptozoology is not a recognized branch of true science. Rather it is more or less a separate cult whose mission is to seek out creatures of hearsay, legend and folklore that have not officially been documented to exist in reality by mainstream science but rather might exist or might have once existed. Creatures large and small that mainstream science cannot prove nor deny the existence of are referred to as cryptids. The definition of cryptids can also be extended to include animals that existed at one time in reality but are officially recognized as being extinct. The possibility that creatures officially considered to be extinct but may possibly still exist is one subject of cryptozoology.
The cryptid that allegedly inhabits Loch Ness, while eyewitness descriptions often vary, is usually described as serpentine in nature possibly resembling a sea serpent that existed during the time of the dinosaurs. Whether it’s an unknown animal that hasn’t yet been documented or really a creature that never actually went extinct, it’s existence is very much disputed to this day.
In North America is Lake Champlain, a large natural lake that is located between the states of New York and Vermont but also stretches to the north into Canada into the province of Quebec. Lake Champlain is 107 miles long and 14 miles wide at its point of maximum width. The lake covers 514 square miles and has an average depth of 64 feet with a maximum depth of about 400 feet. Lake Champlain has also long been said to be the home of a serpent-like cryptid.
In 1609 the French explorer Samuel De Champlain, the discoverer of Lake Champlain, is said to have documented “a 20-foot serpent thick as a barrel, and a head like a horse.” This quote by Champlain has been published repeatedly but its authenticity in describing a creature in Lake Champlain is in dispute. Historians and scholars who have read Champlain’s writings seem to think that he was describing something that he saw near the St. Lawrence River. Champlain did however, describe seeing some fish in Lake Champlain that were five feet long, as thick as his thigh, with a double row of very sharp and dangerous teeth and with silvery-gray scales so strong that a dagger could not penetrate them. The native peoples of the area told him that some of them were known to be up to 10 feet long.
Earlier legends told by the native Abenaki and Iroquois tribes, both of whom long lived and hunted near Lake Champlain, spoke of a large horned serpent or giant snake that lived in the lake. The early French explorers were warned against sailing on the lake so as not to arouse the serpent.
Since the early 1800s up to the 1990s there have been approximately 200 reported sighting of a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain with over 600 witnesses claiming to have seen it in many different parts of the lake. In 1873 an article in the New York Times reported that a railroad crew working alongside the lake saw the head of a huge serpent, with silvery scales that glistened in the sunlight, rise above the surface of the water. The crew left the scene in a hurry.
The unknown or mythical creature of Lake Champlain, affectionately named Champ, is very often described as an unusually large snake or water serpent. The serpent is, at times, described as having a head like that of a horse. Sightings of Champ have sometimes occurred to multiple witnesses at the same time occasionally to groups of passengers sailing on steamships on Lake Champlain. A common size estimate of Champ is between 20 and 40 feet long although historically there have been descriptions of a water creature in the lake that was estimated to be over 180 feet long.
In 1977 Sandra Mansi, a woman from Connecticut who was on a family vacation alongside Lake Champlain, supposedly took what is widely believed to be the first known photograph of Champ (like Nessie, Champ is usually referred to as a single creature). But just like with alleged photos of the Loch Ness monster, whether or not Ms. Mansi’s photo shows a large, unidentified creature in Lake Champlain is a matter that is hotly disputed. It is pointed out that Ms. Mansi could not locate the original negative and could not later identify the precise location where she took the photo. Both would have been useful in further studies of the object in the photo. Does the Mansi photo really show a water serpent or a large partially submerged floating tree trunk? The debate goes on.
The 21st century has brought many additional reports of sightings of a lake monster in Lake Champlain including a video taken by 2 fishermen in 2005. Analysis of the video can be interpreted to show a snake-like creature or the long neck and head of a creature similar to a prehistoric reptile, but again, the video is a matter of much dispute. Although it is believed that the video is not faked nor tampered with, a retired FBI forensic image analyst who examined the video does not believe that any animate object is shown in it.
So what have people been seeing at Lake Champlain for the past few centuries? Are they seeing an oversized eel or multiple eels? Maybe a large sturgeon or group of them? Perhaps Champ is a northern pike or muskellunge that grew way beyond the normal size that one would be. Is Champ possibly a giant northern water snake that grew to an immense size? Or is the Lake Champlain monster really a serpent that is undocumented by science or a prehistoric reptile long thought to have been extinct? One has to wonder what did the railroad crew see in 1873 that frightened them to the point of fleeing their worksite. Recently I talked with a fisherman who fished Lake Champlain frequently. He told me he’s seen some weird things around the lake and definitely believes Champ exists. The search for Champ goes on.