A New York Minute In History is offering the first episode of a special series on folklore.
In this initial journey of the “Legends and Lore of The Empire State” series, co-hosts Devin Lander and Lauren Roberts explore the legend behind a storied lake monster in Northern New York.
If you happen to find yourself driving along on Cumberland Head Road in the Town of Plattsburgh, looking out across the brooding blue waves of Lake Champlain you may come across a red and gold sign with the title “Champy.” You pull over for a closer look and read this intriguing legend, told in a mere five lines of text.
LEGENDARY LAKE MONSTER LIVES
HERE. OVER 300 SIGHTINGS
REPORTED SINCE 1819. UP
TO 200 FEET LONG. NYS LAW
PROTECTS THIS REGIONAL ICON.
Town of Plattsburgh Supervisor Michael Cashman holds a copy of the New York state law protecting Champy.
As with all folklore, there is a grain of historical truth to the Champy (or Champ) myth. French explorer Samuel de Champlain noted the existence of large fish in his 1609 journal documenting his exploration of the lake that would one day bare his name. These fish, most likely gar or sturgeon, were described by de Champlain as growing to 8-10 feet long (as told to him by his native guides). He himself saw some measuring approximately five feet long. However, de Champlain’s actual description was modified over the centuries and became much misquoted.
The first sighting of a serpentine shaped lake monster was in 1819 at Bulwagga Bay, near Port Henry, NY. A certain “Captain Crum” described seeing a 187-foot sea serpent with a head shaped like a horse. And so the legend was born and since 1819, Champy has been seen over 300 times. Famed circus promoter PT Barnum even offered a $50,000 reward for anyone who could bring him the hide of Champ. The reward was never claimed.
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