Mysteries, Oddities, And Everything Strange: Champ


Bridget Vaughan, Staff Writer

Champ: American Nessie

As addressed in a previous edition of this column, the Loch Ness Monster (also known as Nessie) is one of the most famous cryptids in zoological history. A so-called living dinosaur who lives in a lake in Scotland is jaw-dropping, especially to conspiracy theorists intent on discovering the truth and cryptozoologists eager to study the traits of these mysterious creatures. So there it is: a dinosaur living in Scotland. But we, in the United States, have no reason to worry about it. Nessie lives across the Atlantic Ocean, barred from even touching our shores without making a multiple hundred mile journey. But maybe this comfort isn’t as comforting as we might think. Maybe there exists a dinosaur just as Nessie on our own continent, prowling in the depth of a body of water waiting to emerge at a correct moment. And from there emerges Champ, the American edition of a creature beloved in folklore.

From the over 300 eyewitness accounts of Champ, it seems to be an exact replica of its Scottish counterpart. Resembling water-born dinosaurs like the Elasmosaurus or the Plesiosaurus, Champ has been dated as far back as 1609. The lake Champ supposedly calls home is Lake Champlain, the lake that divides New York and Vermont and stretches up into Canada. 

The first legends of Champ come from local Native American tribes, like the Iriquois and the Abenaki. They

Champ the lake monster in Lake Champlain, Vermont. Original image from Carol M. Highsmith’s America, Library of Congress collection. Digitally enhanced by rawpixel. ( / Carol M Highsmith)

told of a giant sea snake resembling a horned serpent residing in the lake. As European explorers docked on American shores, these indigenous people warned them of the creature in the lake, advising they avoid it at all costs. The first reported European sighting came from Samuel de Champlian, whom the lake is named after, reportedly witnessing a 20-foot sea snake with a massive, slender head and an enormous body. Apparently, this account has been fudged, and what Champlain did document came in the form of a monstrous fish. His account connects his sighting to that of a peculiarly large garfish.

The next most famous account of Champ occurs nearly 200 years later in 1819 in the Pittsburgh Republican newspaper. According to this report, a man named Captain Crum was aboard his ship in the lake on Saturday, July 24, 1819, when he supposedly witnessed a nearly 200-foot creature leap from the water and make an extravagant show before disappearing back into the depths of the lake. In 1873, a railroad crew saw a strange sea creature with glistening silver scales, and later that year the Clinton County Sheriff named Nathan H. Mooney documented seeing a 25-to-35 foot sea serpent underneath the surface of the water. In 1873 still a steamship was nearly toppled by a massive creature, according to tourists aboard. 

At this point, P. T. Barnum took interest in Champ. He was constructing his world show full of “unique” attractions, and issued a $50,000 reward to anyone who was able to provide him with a hide of the great sea beast in order to include it in his show. Unfortunately, this reward was never cashed in, and P. T. Barnum had to search elsewhere for his show-stopping attractions. In 1945, a group of passengers aboard S. S. Ticonderoga were horrified by the sighting of the beast as they chugged along the lake. 1977 saw Sandra Mansi capture a famous photograph of Champ while she was on her family vacation, though it was likely a tree stump or log drifting in the lake’s shallow waters. In the 1990s, sightings reached an all-time high, and there was even a photograph snagged by some curious children.

Champ is an essential part of popular culture in the areas surrounding the lake. The Today Show did a segment on the creature, as well as NBC and Fox. The Discovery Channel aired a show about “America’s Loch Ness Monster” and wrote about it in the Discover magazine. The lake is protected legally in both Vermont and New York, the lake deemed a safe haven for the sea monster. A local baseball team, the Vermont Lake Monsters, boasts Champ as their mascot, and there even exists a statue of Champ overlooking the lake in all his glory. Champ Day is held on the first Saturday of every August in celebration of the local legend, complete with food and festivities. Local car washes and charities use Champ as their image, and Champ lives on in local culture.

So the likelihood of such a creature like Champ existing could be pretty low, but the culture surrounding his inception is undoubtedly massive. Champ serves as a local legend for people in northern New York and Vermont to unite around and encourage no matter their belief. Maybe someday Champ and Nessie can meet up and have a little chat, as their notoriety continues for generations to come.