Coastal Tales: Monsters and Heroes Beneath Lake Champlain’s Surface

July 24, 2020

Looking out on its waters, it’s easy to get swept away by Lake Champlain’s history and magic.

After all, it’s been taking names and keeping secrets for who knows how long now? For a brief stint, it was even legally considered one of the Great Lakes.

While no longer officially among “the greats”, we have more than a few reasons to respect the mysteries that dwell beneath its waters.

Photo by: Sandra Mansi, Lake Champlain, 1977

A commemorative “Legends & Lore” sign along the shores of Cumberland Bay in Plattsburgh reads: “Legendary lake monster lives here.” 

That’s right: “Champ”, our illusive Adirondack Coast lake monster, has reached “icon” status!

Lake Champlain’s Champ has long been presumed to lurk beneath the mythic waves. 

Native tribes in the area named it Tatoskok, meaning “great serpent” or “horned serpent”, according to Monsters of New York: Mysterious Creatures in the Empire State, in which the Indigenous people are said to have described the creature with at least one horn atop its “massive” head.

The oldest reported European settler sightings of the long-necked monster were in the early 1800s, with more than 200 documented since. Rumor has it P.T. Barnum of “The Greatest Showman” fame, who founded the Barnum and Bailey Circus, even wanted to recruit Champ for the 1873 World’s Fair. 

(Yeah, we think that sounds like it would’ve been “the greatest show” too.)

The most famous “photographic evidence” of Champ is reflected in the “Mansi photo”, from 1977, published in New York Times in 1981. It remains contested among cryptozoologists.

"Champ is one of those hidden secrets that we only have here," said Adirondack Coast Director of Tourism Kristy Kennedy, “so keep an eye out, you never know when he (or she) might pop up to say hi.”

It isn’t just Champ that calls the lake’s depths “home”. 

Beneath the waters rest sunken gunboats — enshrined and centuries-old — marking epic naval U.S. history.

Photo taken during Battle of Plattsburgh re-enactment.

The vessels were steered by an officer of questionable character, the nation’s best-known turncoat, Benedict Arnold, during the Revolutionary War. Perhaps the most impressive of his remaining identified shipwrecks is the USS Spitfire at 54 feet in length.

Raised above the waters, another boat, the USS Philadelphia, sits in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, as “the oldest surviving American fighting vessel”. It was lifted from the lake, separated from the shared depths of its counterparts, in 1935.

Leading the first U.S. naval battle off the shores of Valcour Island in 1776, Arnold proved expertise that would lead to a career both impressive and fateful.

Though the 3-day-long Battle of Valcour was ultimately a loss for the Americans, it stalled the British in heading southbound toward Saratoga, where the war would be won the next year in 1777.

Two years later, in 1779, Arnold began his now infamous negotiations with the British, forever cementing his American reputation as a traitor.


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Alina Walentowicz

Alina Walentowicz is "The Write Stuff", an award-winning writer and content creator ready to bring your web presence to the next level. A storyteller at heart, Alina combines a range of writing tools and collaborative experiences to help small businesses embrace their growth potential online. With a B.A. in English Writing Arts and Literature from SUNY Plattsburgh (2015) and 4+ years of experience in blogging and digital content creation, she provides writing, editing, and visual content services including blogs, web pages, social media posts, and more. When she's not clicking away at her keyboard, she's living life (and so should you!). Some of her favorite things to do on the Adirondack Coast include: catching a show at The Strand Theatre, overindulging in Wing Night at Monopole, and challenging herself just enough each summer on a few friendly hikes and paddles with pretty spectacular views. Know a good story that needs telling online? Hit her up at

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