Reports of the Lake Champlain monster named Champ date back over a hundred years. The creature, which is said to resemble a plesiosaur, has been compared to the Loch Ness Monster in its appearance. Through the years, though, the description of Champ has changed drastically- from a gigantic snake-like creature to the now common plesiosaur body structure.
The first report of Champ stems from a New York Times article from July 9, 1873. The story outlines an encounter several railroad workers had with the creature as they laid track around the lake. The crew claimed to see the head of an enormous serpent, which was rapidly approaching their location. The creature then turned away and allowed the men a better view. The body "seemed to be covered with bright silver-like scales" and water would occasionally flow out of the creature's nostrils, like a fountain, up to twenty feet into the air. The head was snake like, with "small and piercing" eyes and a mouth with "two rows of teeth." The creature's tail resembled that of a fish.
The characteristics reported by the workers do not match up with modern day sightings or evidence. Missing are the now the commonly reported flippers and thick body. Soon after the initial sighting by the railroad crew, farmers began to report missing livestock. Upon investigation, tracks had been found which suggested the cattle had been dragged into the lake. Locals claimed to see "bright and hideous looking eyes" in caves around the lake. Hunting parties were created to help locate and kill the creature but after searching the shoreline and local farms, they came up fruitless.
In August 1880, a small steamship named the W.B. Eddy struck a creature and nearly capsized. The head and neck of the beast surfaced about one hundred feet away, giving passengers quite a fright. On August 9 of the same year, the crew of the Molyneaux thought they had captured the creature in a clump of weeds. Although hidden below the water and out of sight, the crew fired upon the area to kill the animal. After a strange howl, the creature escaped only to be chased down and shot repeatedly. The crew claims the creature sank into the blood red water and "would never to rise more by its own exertions." The body could not be recovered- even after P.T. Barnum placed a $50,000 bounty on the carcass.
On July 31, 1883, Clinton County Sheriff Nathan Mooney reported a snake, or other water creature, which was about twenty-five to thirty feet long. Sightings continued almost daily for several weeks.
Champ took on a new form in the 1970s- the creature began to resemble the Loch Ness monster. The frequency of reports has died down considerably and each report seems to include a different creature.
The biggest breakthrough in the Champ investigation came from Anthony and Sandra Mansi as they were driving past Saint Alban's Bay in early 1977. They decided to stop and let their children play in the water as the couple relaxed on the beach. The Mansi's parked their car and walked about one hundred feet across a field before descending a six-foot bank. The children began to play in the water as Anthony rushed back to their car to retrieve a pair of sunglasses and a camera. As Sandra watched the water, she noticed turbulence about one hundred fifty feet into the lake. Moments later, a gigantic creature rose from the abyss and slowly swam forward. The creature had a small head, long neck and a humped back. The couple ushered their children from the water as Sandra quickly took one photograph before the beast could slide beneath the waves.
Fear of public reticule led the couple to remain secretive of the sighting as Sandra placed the photo in a family album. The negative was soon lost as the family forgot of the encounter. Years later, Sandra showed the picture to several friends and coworkers.
Eventually a Wilton, New York social studies teacher learned of the picture and sighting and started to investigate. The teacher, known as Zarzynski, studied the photo and determined it had not been doctored. A Vertebrate Zoologist at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History concluded the creature did not resemble any known animals of the area. Since the photograph included no reference points, Paul LeBlond had to create an equation based on the waves and wind of the lake. LeBlond found the creature was between twenty-four and seventy eight feet in length. Another analysis of the waves determined the creature came up from beneath the water and had not been dragged to the location.
Due to the amazing clarity of the photograph and such a close and vivid encounter, it seems strange Sandra did not come forward sooner. It seems even stranger, though, that she only took one photograph. In the 1970s, Zarynski formed the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation but there studies have to yet to determine anything conclusive.