Meet Champ: Vermont’s Lake Monster

Illustration of Champ the lake monster swimming on Lake Champlain

You can find some fascinating oddities and legends under the green veneer of Vermont, the Green Mountain State. There are cursed statues, mythical pigmen, and a multitude of haunted places. The most famous mystery would have to be Champ or Champy, the Lake Champlain Monster.

Who Is Champ?

Champ is the lake monster of Lake Champlain, near Burlington, VT. If you look at a map of the U.S.A., you will see Lake Champlain separates Vermont and New York in the northeast. Communities on both sides of the lake have reported glimpses of Champ over the years. You could say that Champ gets around and around and around the lake.

If you ask the people who study Champ, “What does the monster look like?” You will get a different answer each time. Some theorize that Champ is a prehistoric whale called a Zeuglodon. The most popular theory (backed up by witness descriptions) is a Plesiosaur. Yet another theory is that Champ is some kind of seal-like animal.

A Brief History of Champy

The first sighting of Champ is from Iroquois and Abnaki. In their legends, he’s called Gitaskog, meaning "great serpent" or "big serpent." The earliest colonist sighting was in 1918 by Captain Crum who noted seeing the elusive Champ. Many used to believe that Cpt. Samuel de Champlain saw Champ, but when his journals were analyzed, it turned out he was referring to a garfish.

The legend continued to grow, with P.T. Barnum offering a reward for Champ’s capture, dead or alive, in 1873 and 1887.

A black and white illustration of the Champlain Lake Monster
Artistic representation of Sandra Mansi's 1977 photograph of "Champ" lake monster by Benjamin Redford is licensed under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

In August 1973, the steamship W.B. Eddy ran into Champ; by tourists’ onboard accounts, it nearly turned the ship over. A photo of Champ from 1977 was featured in Times magazine. On July 30, 1984, in the Burlington VT area of Lake Champlain there was a mass sighting onboard the sightseeing vessel, Spirit of Ethan Allen.

Interest peaked in the 1980s, perhaps due to enthusiastic scholars piggybacking off their studies at Loch Ness.

Similar Tales Across the Pond

The Academy of Applied Science from Boston Massachusetts began studying the Loch Ness monster, and the early 80s is when many of their discoveries were published. Their studies of the Scottish lake monster likely shone light on the similarities to Champ sightings at Lake Champlain.

Champ and Nessie are described in highly similar ways. They are both described as large, long necked, and with one or more humps protruding from the water. Their heads are thought to be snake-like, and their skin is grey, dark tan, or brown color.

All these details are dependent on the telling, but the one thing that is certain is their habitat. They both live in a freshwater lake that is part of a canal system with an abundance of fish and are thought to formerly be extensions of the Atlantic Ocean.

Beloved Local Legend

A statue of Champ the Lake Monster in Burlington
Champ the Lake Monster in Lake Champlain, Vermont, by Carol Highsmith is licensed under CC0 1.0.

Today, there are markers and statues erected for Champ in many communities on the coast of Lake Champlain. Both Vermont and New York governments have resolutions protecting Champ. I think that Champ imbodies the people of Vermont and Upper New York’s pride in the land we live on.

Is Champ real… who can say?! But that's part of why we love him.

About the Author

AJ Ferguson is a Material Handler at Darn Tough. He’s been with the company since 2012. He likes to unite others by their shared experiences through the employee newsletter that he helms.