The Death of Champ: What Happened to the Lake Champlain Monster?

The Death of Champ: What Happened to the Lake Champlain Monster?

In the state of Vermont, a monster has gone missing. Not that I believe there ever was one, mind you. But once upon a time, here in the Green Mountain State the hearts and minds of the local people held fondly the image of a mysterious reptile with a long neck and a humped back who made occasional and usually unverified appearances to locals and tourists alike. We called him Champy, and his image was common along the banks of Lake Champlain. For over one hundred years the myth of the monster in the lake was adored by the people of Vermont, pondered by the tourists who came to visit, and watched for by interested investigators.

Then everything changed. The adored symbol of the lake and cryptic animal of the murky depths was chased away by a frenzy of media attention and profiteering. What the honest, salt of the earth, people of Vermont were left with was a tattered, exploited and laughable anecdote at best.

Since 1883, when the first sighting was actually recorded, tales of the monster seemed to occur every 25 years or so. The claims were nothing unusual, reptile with a long neck seen in the bay here, or a mysterious head poking out of the water over there. Sightings occurred on both sides of the lake and were often made by very reputable people within the local communities. Even when P.T. Barnum offered a $50,000 reward for the monster’s capture, the elusive beast was only seen on occasion and photographs were few and far between.

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That was, of course, until the specter of paranormal entertainment found out about our quaint little denizen of the deep. The subsequent extrusion of every dollar that Champy could offer morphed the legendary creature into the “pink elephant” of the cryptozoological world. No longer was Champ’s plausibility associated with the coelacanth, giant anacondas or even Sasquatch, it was now a ridiculous children’s tale to be ridiculed and scoffed at. Evidence and claims began to pour forth into the media, but the ridiculous claims of investigators and witnesses began to kill the reputation of the creature.

First in 1970, the ridiculous claim that the explorer Samuel de Champlain himself had seen the monster in 1609 while in the region surfaced in an article accompanying a sighting. This claim has since been proven false, but is still propagated by the mass media. The Mansi photograph, taken on July 5, 1977 was the most notable piece of evidence yet of the monster in the lake. It has been unable to be proven as a fake, yet it’s authenticity claim is tainted by the mysterious loss of the original negative immediately following its release. About the same time, the Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation (LCPI) group spent almost the entirety of the 70s gathering reports and evidence of the reptile, finally disappearing more quietly than the monster they were chasing when repeated investigations turned up no conclusive evidence that Champ exists. Their final conclusion was that the beast must be nocturnal since they had not been able to observe it themselves. This was enough to get the States of Vermont and New York to pass protection legislation for the monster, ensuring that the creature could live long enough for everyone to get their money’s worth.

This frenzy grew into full, hour long features about the monster, the lure of which attracted all kinds of ridiculous people who were willing to make a sighting claim for their 15 minutes of fame. Now, I will admit that the people who claimed to see Champ the most often would appear to an outsider to be some unique folks. But here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, unique folks are a dime a dozen. This is the state where hippies and counter culture revivalists merge seamlessly into the quaint New England landscape. But now the claims began to change somehow. Each new story seemed more ridiculous than the first and reports of the creature were coming in every year. In 1993 15 vessels and aircraft towed huge arrays of equipment looking for the creature, returning nothing conclusive except for a sonar blip that indicated a 20 foot object had passed below one of the boats. Ignoring the possibility of a forested lake containing drifting logs and other debris, the media went nuts with the possibilities.

In response to the huge influx of reports resulting from the media frenzy, new groups of researchers began to appear. Most notably, Champquest, founded by Dennis Hall. Dennis Hall began mass marketing the search for the creature. He sent and made appeals to every paranormal or cryptozoological television show in existence. He became the face of the Lake Champlain Monster search, and he was looking to make a dollar or two while doing it. He published books about Champ, he appeared at festivals, and conventions. He published papers linking Champ to a species of extinct reptile called tanystropheus. This is quite the claim considering no image of champ ever showed more than a speck or two of the creatures alleged body. He began submitting copious hazy pictures of humps and bumps in the water. None of which showed anything resembling and actual animal. Hall claimed to have 20 or more sightings of Champ in the same location, yet was never able to produce more than a few dark, distant specks on the water’s surface in that time.

When these claims failed to elicit the enthusiasm they once had, the story began to change. Suddenly, Hall claimed his father, in 1954, had cornered and photographed a 14 inch long mysterious reptile while swimming in the lake. The photograph was, of course, to be released for the first time in Hall’s upcoming book about the Lake Champlain Monster. To this date, the photo of the immature cryptid has not surfaced, and thankfully, neither has the overpriced book. The last stunt to be pulled by Mr. Hall was to convince the U-Haul company to add a picture of his version of Champ to one of the trucks in their fleet. The Champ fervor began to subside as other news agencies including ABC got involved. Their viewer submitted video pieces on Champ were quickly explained away as underwater logs or back-lit deer swimming across a small inlet.

And there, the monster known as Champy, ended it’s life as a respectable myth and mystery. All the money had been squeezed out, the links to Champ websites began to go untended. The Champquest site returns a 404 message and video links are not found. And now, when The Monster of Lake Champlain is mentioned around the campfire, gone is the image of a formidable and elusive beast, replaced by a logo or icon for t-shirts and tourist memorabilia; a cryptic reptile reduced to a plush toy by the activities of self promoters and the media.

I write these words to warn the people of the paranormal community. When the media and the producers come knocking on your door, turn them away. Tell them nothing of the places and legends that you hold dear to your heart. The ridiculous results of money making will kill their memory. Your hallowed halls will be hung by a staged tug on a jacket, your ancestors will be desecrated by an ill advised blood letting ceremony and your oral history will be erased by doctored photos and pseudoscience. A few friends of mine use the term “adventuring” rather than “investigating.” I think I agree with them. Let’s allow the mystery of the paranormal to stay what it is, because once Syfy, A&E or Discovery has their way with it, you will have nothing to pass on to your children.


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18 Comments

  1. WickedJenn

    01/11/2010 at 9:11 PM

    Ah John, you made me nostalgic for a good local legend, reading this. It’s just such a shame that something as cool as this got blown up into such a circus. I fear that is happening all too often nowadays, and makes me leery of telling anyone any interesting old stories that I know of.

    With the Paranormal TV craze, it’s difficult now more than ever for places like that to sustain their historical and cultural value.

    It is a desecration of sorts…these people stampede in, use it for their gain, and leave it forever scarred thereafter.

  2. Nopaosak

    01/12/2010 at 8:14 AM

    “They say there’s a monster in that lake.” That’s what my grandfather said to me when I was around ten. I remember shooting him a skeptical look, but I was filled with intrigue at the same time. The fun thing about it is back then, before the hype, if I told someone else what my grandfather had said, they would have replied with something along the lines of, “That’s what they say.” Now that the mystery of the creature has been replaced by obvious hoaxes and backlit deer, people just don’t talk about it anymore. Vermonters want nothing to do with it because it has become synonymous with a farce rather than a legend, thanks to overzealous money makers. I mean how many “Champ Tours” can you run with zero results before people start to get annoyed? The need to be the person who gets rich off the monster, and scientifically prove its existence killed it. I have nothing wrong with science or culture, I just have a problem when people purposefully pit them against each other to appear more intelligent or for personal gain. You can be skeptical about monsters, but you don;t have to be a dick and tell every kid there is no such thing as Santa Claus. I hope there is enough time between now and when I have grandchildren so I can tell them about the monster without them being ashamed to hear it or think I am an old fool.

    • Andrew

      08/16/2016 at 6:05 PM

      See my comment above and have hope that the time will be when not only will they not be ashamed, but they will beam with pride. We are working on it.

  3. Jason Korbus

    01/12/2010 at 8:08 PM

    I really enjoyed your take on this subject. Keeping the legend alive for the sake of a little fun and whimsy. Great work!

  4. elizabeth

    01/16/2010 at 3:56 PM

    hey mr.d i love your blog

  5. Jeff Stewart

    02/02/2010 at 12:00 PM

    I have been investigating Champ sightings with my group for years and haven’t seen any evidence that would support this creature. I’m a very skeptical person, but growing up here in Vermont, I was told of Champ! and told he was real! since then i have done a few investigations, but no proof. Mansi photo is all we have?, not enough so this past summer PI-NE closed the case on Champ…good bye old buddy!…ok, that was lame LMAO. great blog! now on to the creatures in the Bennington Triangle! you still up for that John?

  6. Nopaosak

    02/02/2010 at 5:31 PM

    You bet Jeff! I need something new to write about now that my Champ adventure is all done. Let’s dig up something spooky or sinister in an abandoned town. We might do some gold panning while up there too…if the rumors are true…

  7. jeff stewart

    02/03/2010 at 5:13 PM

    GOLD!! i can see the newspaper now…..Paranormal Investigators looking for the unknown, finds the gold! lol, You have a metal detector?

  8. Philip Guica

    02/04/2010 at 5:15 PM

  9. jeff stewart

    02/05/2010 at 1:53 PM

    We investiagted that case as well, Mr.Olson made that video and says that he never said it was “Champ” but a new creature, the media jumped on it and called it Champ, we still have that one open and have a report from Mr.Olson.

  10. Nopaosak

    02/06/2010 at 8:59 PM

    I have seen that video as well and unfortunately, using the buoy in the film as a reference, that is much more likely to be a deer swimming. They are very good at it and they look exactly the same as that video. They cross the river behind my house all the time in the summer trying to get to my garden. In fact, the deer’s head becomes pretty identifiable by the middle of the video.

  11. Jeff Stewart

    02/08/2010 at 3:52 PM

    That’s about what we came up with, we thought it was a moose, but that seems more like it. funny, i’m reading a book by Joe Nickell and he had a good case that he solved It was a moose but looked like a “lake monster” due to a out of focus camera!

  12. Stef

    02/18/2010 at 11:06 AM

    Loved your article! Great job!!!

  13. Sam

    08/19/2010 at 12:00 PM

    My friends and I ignore the media when it comes to Champ. We still like to believe in him and tell of our own experiences. My children and grandchildren are sure to hear stories from me.

  14. Marc

    06/23/2013 at 7:36 PM

    I grew up in Carmel, California. Clint Eastwood lives there. All we locals have stories about Clint. When he was elected mayor in 1986 the town was flooded with tourists. Carmel is always flooded with tourists, but these people just came to see where city hall was hoping to see Clint, and maybe buy a t-shirt. These were not our usual up-scale visitors.

    They all wanted to know where Clint’s house was, and did I know him. A co-worker of mine who had grown up in a logging community in Northern California compared Clint to Bigfoot. He said many people had seen the creature, but the town was not known for bigfoot sightings precisely for the reason that Carmel experienced while Clint was our mayor.

    We have our local legends, not just ghosts, but strange men in the woods, and little people. We don’t promote them, and few people around here now even know about them, and that’s the way it should be.

    • John Dockum

      06/24/2013 at 3:24 PM

      I love this comment so much.

  15. Katy

    02/20/2014 at 11:06 AM

    As a Champ researcher, I don’t see the harm in promoting the idea of Champ, the legend of this creature started by the Abanaki and continues on to present day.I don’t see anything wrong with keeping this legend alive.I remember when Port Henry had Champ Day and it was a huge hit and im sure a boost to the economy in the area.Now Port Henry is in shambles.I had my own sighting in 2012 and it made me a firm believer these creatures exist.Due to this I now have my own research group called Champ Search, our goal is to study,investigate, prove the existance & protect the species of these creatures that live in Lake Champlain.We do this for the love of the Legend and most importantly to protect the creatures and the stories that have been passed down. If the legend is not kept alive then how will our grandchildren and generations after have a clue about it?

    • John Dockum

      02/20/2014 at 11:33 AM

      Exactly. Love the legend and it will go on as it was intended when the first tales were created a millennia ago; seek profit and fame and it will die. I used to love champ day in Port Henry but unfortunately the pseudoscience killed the flavor of the cultural experience and made the trip unpalatable for most tourists.

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