|| CHAMP AND OTHER LOCAL LEGENDS - Part I|
AlienLove Staff Writer
Names: Champ (VT); Champy (NY); Chaptany; Champtanystopheus; Le Chaosaraou (Quebec and Native American); Tatoskok (Abanaki Tribe); Tany (baby).
Champ, is the beloved ‘sea monster’ of Vermont’s Lake Champlain, and is a protected species. While some scoff at tales of this sort, like reports of Big Foot, legends of lake and sea creatures abound across the world. Vermont alone boasts at least two: Champ, of Lake Champlain and Memphre of Lake Memphremagog. Lake Tahoe, CA has legends of Tessie, while British Columbia’s tales are of Ogopogo, and I think almost everyone has heard of Nessie in the Loch Ness of Scotland.”
Part I of this series will focus on Vermont’s own “Champ,” and its history from Native American times through 1900. Part II will deal with the more than 300 reported sightings in the past hundred years......(Read More)
Champs’ Early History
Native Americans, who inhabited the region long before the Europeans arrived, had tales of a ‘horned serpent’ that lived in Lake Champlain’s waters. There were at least three tribes in the region: Abnaki, Algonquin, and Iroquois. The Abnaki’s name for Lake Champlain’s serpent was Tatoskok, and it was described as having horn-like protuberances from its head. The tribes also revered a natural formation of rock in Lake Champlain, now called Split Rock. These odd formations, near Essex NY resemble petrified snakes.
“The History of Eastern Vermont”, written in 1858, includes an illustration by Benjamin H. Hall titled “Indian Rock.” His writings include the following description, “…in the town of Brattleboro is situated the Indian Rock. It’s location is about one hundred rods west of the point of junction of the Wantastiquet and Connecticut rivers. It lies low, and during a part of the year is covered with water, or with sand and dirt…On first examining this rock, the figures on the upper part of it were alone visible. Just below them, the rock was covered with earth to the depth of six feet. The earth was removed until a surface measuring ten feet in width and eight feet in height was exposed….Of the ten figures here presented, six are supposed to designate birds, two bear a resemblance to snakes, one is not unlike a dog or a wolf and one conveys no idea either of bird, beast, or reptile.”
The creature, which Mr. Hall could not name, is now thought to represent Champ or Tatoskok. Dennis J. Hall of http://www.champquest.com collects reports of sightings and continues the search to rediscover “Indian Rock” among the many ancient carvings that can be found in the rocks along the banks of the Connecticut River. To see photos and read an article about the Native American carvings that can be observed in Bellows Falls, VT, check out http://alienlove.com/modules.php?name=News&file=article&sid=7.
In 1609, French explorer and founder of Quebec, Samuel de Champlain, discovered the lake, which was later named for him. Located on the border between Vermont and New York, it also extends into Quebec. Like other lakes where sea monsters have been reported, Lake Champlain is extremely deep and wide. It is the fourth largest lake in the U.S., and covers an area of over 480 square miles and reaches depths of 400 feet. Samuel de Champlain claimed to have seen an animal that looked like a giant snake in the lake. He described it as a “serpentine creature about 20 feet long, as thick as a barrel, and with a horse-like head.” It’s color he described as a dark mahogany, almost black.
During the early 1800’s settlers, in search of cheap land, began relocating to the Lake Champlain region. The Plattsburg Republican appears to have been the first newspaper to publish an account of “Champ” on July 24th, 1819. It described a group of settlers in the Port Henry NY area, who reported being momentarily paralyzed with shock before running away, upon the appearance of the head of an “enormous serpent,” in Bulwagga Bay. These witnesses (in some sources referred to as settlers; in others, as a group of railroad workers) described the creature as having a round and flat head, with bright silvery scales glistening in the sun. The head had “…a hood spreading out from the lower part of it like a rubber cap often worn by mariners.”
In 1870, in Charlotte, VT a full steamboat spotted Champ. There was another sighting in 1871 in the Horseshoe Bay area, on the steamship Curlew, when passengers spotted a head and long neck that created a noticeable wake.
W. Haden Blackman, in The Field Guide to North American Monsters, states, “Between 1870 and 1900 in particular, there were over twenty separate encounters, most involving witnesses of impeccable character. Nineteenth-century accounts of the monster were so vivid that P.T. Barnum was compelled to post a $50,000 reward for the monster’s carcass.”
Newspapers (including the New York Times) began reporting detailed sightings of Champ in 1873.
Champ had begun making itself known to the settlers living on the shores of the Lake Champlain, near Dresden NY. So much livestock was stolen from the banks of the lake, that enraged farmers began searching for the sea creature, and allegedly discovered it! However, the creature’s glowing green eyes and growls were said to have scared the hunters away from its cave at the edge of the lake.
In November of 1873, three University of Burlington students observed Champ swimming in the Appletree Point area, and described seeing fifteen feet of its body above the water. Some sources indicate that a tourist steamboat, the W.B. Eddy, came close to overturning after striking the creature, in 1873. Newspapers reported that Champ was seen after the collision about one hundred feet from the boat. Both passengers and crew observed the ‘sea monster’ swim out of sight. Other sources indicate that Champ was fired upon by a steamship crew, and superficially injured, before sinking beneath the water. In any case, several years ensued before the sightings began again.
In 1883, a Clinton County Sheriff spotted “an enormous snake or water serpent,” he claimed was approximately 25 to 35 feet long. A farm boy spotted Champ in the lake, “making noises like a steamboat,” in 1887. Later that year, near Charlotte, VT, a group of picnickers witnessed an animal described as, “big and round as a barrel,” and more than seventy feet long. The creature is said to have charged the beach, swerving just before it grounded itself. Terrified witnesses fled, the following account is attributed to Coleman, “the creature made a spectacular appearance as a group of East Charlotte, Vermont picnickers saw it come around a bend, its flat snakelike head visible above the water, and made straight toward them. As it grew closer at a terrific speed, several people screamed, and the monster whirled to the right and disappeared under the waves.”
Champ made one more, recorded, memorable appearance in the 1800’s. On August 4, 1892, during an American Canoe Association annual outing, Champ surfaced near Willsborough, NY. The lake serpent’s unexpected arrival abruptly ended their gathering, as canoeists scattered in terror.
Still don’t believe in Champ? Well the state governments in VT and NY do! On April 20, 1982 the Vermont House of Representatives passed Resolution H.R. 19 in order to protect Champ “from any willful act resulting in death, injury or harassment.” Within a year, both the New York State Senate and New York State Assembly passed a similar resolution, “encouraging serious inquiry into the existence of unusual animals in Lake Champlain, especially one commonly known as Champ, protecting Champ from any willful act resulting in death, injury, or harassment; and encouraging report of sighting of such animals.” Thus making Champtanys a protected species in Vermont and New York! Vermont’s Secretary of State has a kid’s page devoted to the “Sea Monsters in Vermont!” (http://www.sec.state.vt.us/Kids/seamonsters.html)
Sightings during the past century will be discussed in Champ And Other Local Legends, Part II.
To see a photo of Champ click:
Resources for this article:
History of Eastern Vermont, by Benjamin H. Hall, 1858
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