Far and away the most famous Lake Monster in the continental United States, this creature can lay claim to one of the most fascinating photos ever captured to date of an unknown aquatic animal.

Laying on 125 mile strip between the border of New York and Vermont — as well as extending a little into southern Quebec — Lake Champlain is the reputed home of a large, aquatic creature, which matches numerous other reported Lake Monsters in its plesiosaur-like description.

That having been said, there are some accounts which claim that Champ is covered with an epidermis of interlocking, silver scales, rather than the smooth grayish-black, or elephantine epidermis of the more typical Lake-Monster. Whatever its actual appearance is, the entity known as “Champ” has — for better or worse — garnered the reputation of being The American equivalent of the legendary LOCH NESS MONSTER.

Although this account is controversial, many believe that the animal was first brought to international acclaim in July of 1609, when famed French explorer (and Quebec founder) Samuel de Champlain, spotted a creature — which he described as a “20 foot serpent, thick as a barrel, with a head like a horse” — while navigating a river near the lake that would one day bear his name.

Although that alleged event would seem to mark one of the earliest European sightings of the beast, the Native American population of the region had long since grown accustomed to the presence of this incredible animal. Both the Iroquois and the Abenaki tribes, who lived along the lake, had numerous legends regarding this creature, the Abenaki even named the lake dweller Tatoskok.

The first confirmed sighting, however, would come in July of 1883, when one Sheriff Nathan H. Mooney claimed to have seen a colossal, “water serpent” from a range of approximately 150-feet, while patrolling along the northwest portion of Lake Champlain (on the New York side of the lake). The animal, which reportedly swelled almost 5-feet out of the water, was estimated to be approximately 27-feet in length.

Mooney said that he and his accomplices were so close to the beast that they could actually see a series of oval, white spots inside the creature’s mouth. Scores of sightings followed Mooney’s encounter, serving as a prelude to the “Nessie” controversy, which was still to be 50 years in the making.

Over the next nine decades reports of this amazing animal would continue to filter out of this region. In fact, the animal garnered so much acclaim during the 19th century that famed showman, P.T. Barnum, offered the gratuitous sum of $50,000 as a reward for creature’s corpse, so that he could include the incredible carcass in his epic World’s Fair Show.

Even with all of the hype surrounding this animal in the 1800’s, it wouldn’t until July 5, 1977 — when amateur photographer Sandra Mansi and her family had an unsettling encounter outside of St. Albans, Vermont — that Champ truly became America’s lake monster.

According to Mansi, her two children were wading at the base of a 6-foot bank in the shallows near the shore, when suddenly they began to scream. Mansi followed her childrens’ horrified gazes toward a massive surge of water, which was emanating from the center of the lake.

Mansi’s fiance, Anthony, sensing that the youngsters were too panic-stricken to move, wasted no time in retrieving the terrified children. Mansi (much to the eternal gratitude of fortean researchers worldwide) managed to keep a cool enough head to focus her Kodak Instamatic camera and take a single snapshot of the creature after it emerged from the center of the turbulence.

After Mansi had the film developed, she was astounded to see what seemed to be the head, neck and back of a large aquatic sauropod, which was apparently sunning itself in the now placid waters of lake Champlain.

Convinced that she and her family would receive nothing but ridicule and media harassment if she ever revealed her photograph to a spectacle hungry public, Mansi promptly filed the astonishing picture away in an old photo album, which was stuffed away in a dingy attic where it seemed likely never to resurface.

The legend might have died there, if not for three years later when a friend of the family convinced Mansi to copyright the photo and let renowned author, teacher and founder of the now (unfortunately) inactive Lake Champlain Phenomena Investigation, Joseph W. Zarzynski, have a look at it.

Zarzynski was immediately impressed with the picture, and without hesitation brought the photo to George Zug of the Smithsonian Institute’s Department of Vertebrate Zoology. Zug examined the photo and was forced to admit that it bore no likeness to any known animal in lake Champlain or anywhere else. It wasn’t long before both the media and the rest of the scientific community got wind of the phenomenal photograph.

Experts at the University of Chicago and the University of Arizona, who studied the original photograph (the negative had long since disappeared,) determined that the image had not been re-touched or tampered with in any way, and seemed to show what they believed to be a living creature. The media frenzy surrounding the photo became so great that it was eventually published by the New York Times in June of 1981, followed by an even more prestigious appearance in Time magazine in July of the same year. Next came the inevitable question: “What exactly is the creature?”

There are numerous theories regarding this creature’s species and origin, from the oft cherished land-locked plesiosaur hypothesis to that of a rogue, soft-shell turtle — from a prehistoric whale to the skeptics’ eternal cry of sturgeon.

Famed biochemist, engineer and vice-president of International Society of Cryptozoology (ISC), Dr. ROY P. MACKAL, has even suggested that the identity of Champ maybe be that of the presumed extinct Cetacean known as the Zeuglodon or Basilosaurus, but considering that so many of these reports have included serpentine characteristics, it would seem unlikely that this theory will prove accurate.

They mystery is far from over, however, as researcher Dennis Jay Hall (who served as the head of the now defunct Champ Quest) allegedly took a series of photographs of the animal as recently as July 3, 1994, in Button Bay. Hall, a Vermont native, became obsessed with the beast in the summer of 1965, when, at the age of nine, his uncle Pete and aunt Shirley Bigelow told him about the huge creature that swam under their boat while they were sailing in Plattsburgh Bay, Lake Champlain.

On August 04, 2004, ABC News reported that Maryland vacationer Bob Gload, as well as four of his grandchildren, claimed to have witnessed a black, snake-like creature devour a seagull while bass fishing on Lake Champlain near the village of Port Henry. The event, needless to say, discouraged the children from swimming in the lake after that. According to  twelve year-old Taylor Gload:

“Im kind of creeped out something that big is out there. At least if there’s someone with you, it can eat the other people first.”

As if that weren’t intriguing enough, in the summer of 2005, fishermen 64-year old Dick Affolter — a retired defense attorney and a graduate of Cornell University Law School and his son-in-law, 35-year old Pete Bodette, while fishing for salmon on Lake Champlain, claim to have seen a serpentine creature that they say was an approximately 15-foot long, with an alligator-like head.

When the pair initially noticed something on the lake’s surface, they assumed it was nothing more than a gigantic fish surfacing in the water:

“I said to Dick, ‘Just troll over to that thing. As a joke I said, ‘Watch that thing take off when we get close to it.’ Sure enough, we got to about twenty or thirty yards and it just slowly submerged… (I said) that’s a humongous fish. Humongous.”

When it moved the duo realized that they were not dealing with an ordinary species of fish, so they decided to capture some digital video of the creature.

The video shows something large making a wake as it moving across the water, then — even more disturbingly — what seems to be a football sized head attached to a serpentine neck, closing its mouth as it rises up toward the surface of the water next to the boat. Bodette made it clear that what he and his father-in-law taped was something out of the ordinary:

“”I’m not some guy who came fishing for a weekend and thought he saw something funny. I’ve fished all over the world. I’ve been on this lake since I was a little kid. And I believe we saw something there that not many people have seen… I’m pretty certain what I saw isn’t anything you’ll find in any fish and wildlife books… I’m a hundred percent sure of what we saw — I’m not a hundred percent sure of what it was.”

Affolter confirmed just how frightening their unusual encounter had been:

“It made my hair stand on end at the time. It just didn’t fit anything — any creature I had seen.”

The footage, which was first aired on an ABC newscast, has become what many consider to be the best visual evidence for LAKE MONSTERS to date. Gerald Richards, on of the two  retired FBI forensic image analysts who were brought in by ABC to analyze the footage, had this to say regarding the video’s authenticity:

“I can’t find anything in there that would suggest or indicate to me that this has been fabricated or manipulated in any way.”

More recently, on May 31, 2009, Eric Olsen managed to record digital footage on his phone-cam of what appears to be a living creature — with its head and part of its back breaking the waterline — swimming in the lake.

Triangulation of the footage shows that this undulating animal may well be in excess of 21-feet long from head to tail. Olsen has made no claims as to the creature’s identity, but there are many who believe that due to its size there can be only on creature captured on this video.

While the most famous image of the creature will likely remain the Mansi photo, the most extraordinary evidence ever discovered confirming the existence of an anomalous aquatic creature living in lake Champlain, came in the form of a unique audio recording

In 2003, a team of scientists led by Elizabeth von Muggenthaler, recorded a series of high-frequency ticking and chirping noises — similar to the sounds that a dolphin or Beluga whale would make — coming from the lake’s depths.

The most bizarre element of this discovery is the fact the dolphins and whales exclusively use bio-sonar to track their food. There are no known animals that live in freshwater lakes that can make the sounds that the team picked up on their underwater microphones. Muggenthaler had this to say about their momentous discovery:

“It took us totally by surprise. For an instant we just stood there looking at each other with our mouths open… this just doesn’t belong in the same category as crop circles or a Sasquatch sighting. It needs to be treated as real. You don’t want to minimize the scientific importance of this… what we can say is that there is a creature in the lake that produces bio-sonar. We have no idea what it is.”

Whatever this creature is, the folks surrounding Lake Champlain have taken it into their hearts. Every year, for over two decades, the citizens of of the small village of Port Henry on Lake Champlain have joined together to celebrate “Champ Day.”

There’s even a Penn League baseball team called the Vermont Lake Monsters, who uses Champ as their logo and team mascot. It would seem that America’s Nessie is making on name of her own!

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