Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 31st, 2012
Were you there?
It was the Woodstock of Champ. The August 1981 conference in Vermont, the first scientific seminar devoted to a study of the cryptids that have been reported lurking in the waters of Lake Champlain for the past 300 years, was a great event.
I was there.
I wrote about the conference in Mysterious America. Here’s a sample what I saw and heard:
In the morning session, Joseph Zarzynski ran down the historical background of the Champ sightings and introduced the audience of 200 people to the Sandra Mansi photograph. Projected on a wall-size screen in an old barn on the shore of Lake Champlain, the vivid blues and browns of the photograph presented an image few conference members will soon forget. The showing was coupled with Zarzynski’s impassioned plea for state governments and environmental groups to help protect the monster.
Next, Sandra Mansi, despite being visibly nervous about speaking before a large group, told the story of her experience. Conference goers knew the details, but it was the first time Mansi, who now lives in her native Vermont, had spoken publicly. She stirred the audience when she forcefully answered the question raised by the title of the conference: “You don’t want to ask me if I think Champ exists. I’ve seen him, almost on a first name basis. I’ve photographed Champ.”
The afternoon’s session presented analyses by cryptozoologists Roy Mackal and Richard Greenwell, as well as their theories about what the creature might be. Two major camps have developed to explain Champ. The leader of one, Greenwell, is convinced that Champ is a plesiosaur, an extinct marine reptile, not unlike the Loch Ness monster. He feels that both creatures, and others in Northern Hemisphere lakes, were trapped in the inland lakes formed at the end of the last ice age. In frank disagreement with Greenwell’s theory is Mackal, who is certain that these temperate-zone lake monsters are relics of an early era, related to zeuglodons, primitive whales thought to have died out 20 million years ago; he also believes they have access to the oceans via waterways.
Did you attend?
In 2007, I received the top photograph of myself at that conference from Gary Mangiacopra via Chad Arment. Gary was undertaking a massive project. He was editing old tapes of the sessions at that conference, compiling them for the first proceedings of the event, and also gathering all the photographs that can be found from the conference.
Their efforts resulted in one of the most underdiscovered recent cryptozoology books of recent years.
The 256-page book was published in 2007, and still is an incredibly important contribution to cryptozoological history.
It was published by Coachwhip Publications, Does Champ Exist? Notes on the Historic Lake Monster Conference held in Shelburne, Vermont, 29 August 1981 by Gary S. Mangiacopra and Dwight G. Smith.
Does Champ Exist? was written, according to Chad Arment, to preserve the transcript of the (so far) only cryptozoological conference held to discuss the possible existence of an unknown species of animal in the waters of Lake Champlain.
Speakers at the conference included Dr. William H. Eddy, Jr., J. Richard Greenwell, Dr. Roy P. Mackal, Dr. Philip Reines, Joseph Zarzynski, and Dr. George Zug. Several witnesses to Champ phenomena also spoke briefly, including Sandra Mansi, Mary Carty, Elsie Porter, Joan Petro, and Eugene Viens, Jr.
The transcript was created (with cooperation from the speakers) from a series of audio cassettes that Gary Mangiacopra (a conference attendee) used to tape the activities. Audio quality in some spots made clear transcription impossible, but this preserves the bulk of the proceedings.
As the Coachwhip summary concludes, the book also includes limnological notes on Lake Champlain, a chronological listing of Champ sightings, and reprints of several historical Champ-related newspaper accounts.
Some photos taken at the conference are also included.
I attended this conference, as I mentioned already. What a fantastic event. It was great to meet all the attendees and researchers there, to hear Sandra Mansi tell her story, to personally interview her for articles, and then my 1983 book. It was great to compare notes with friends like Zarr. After it was over, I got in my Datsun pickup, turned on the radio (yes, “Puff the Magic Dragon” was playing), drove back to Boston, and was inspired to immediately pen an article on the conference for Boston Magazine.
Many of us have waited over a quarter of a century for this complete conference book to be written. My continued deepest congratulations to Gary, Dwight, and Chad for getting this done!