Champ Sighting | Lake Champlain's Mysterious Photo
“When I was little, my grandfather would tell us that if we didn’t sit down in the boat, he’d throw us in the lake and Champ would get us. But nobody believed it. Now my mind said, This must be Champ. But being a Vermonter, my mind also said, There must be a reasonable explanation for this. There has to be. This doesn’t happen to people like me.
“We got into the car, and it was like, ‘Okay, what just happened? What did we see?’ And my children were like, ‘Mom what was that?’ I said, ‘I don’t know.’ My son said, ‘I know. It was a 2,000-pound duck.’ Anthony said we should tell someone. I said, ‘Who are you going to tell? Are you going to a state trooper and say we just saw something in the lake?'”
Mansi looks at me and shrugs. She says there have been doubters ever since, because she has never been able to say with certainty where she took the photo. “I know we were north of St. Albans,” she recalls. “It was very rural. I’m not sure where we were. I know I was on the Vermont side, close to Missisquoi Bay.” But all she has is a single frame–no negative, no roll of continuous shots.
“You know what?” she says, and her voice rises just a bit. “People say, ‘Why didn’t you take more?’ It wasn’t a conscious thing. And I’ve never kept negatives. What good are negatives? I never had any use for them. We just sent it to the Fotomat. I mean, that’s how insignificant we thought it was. And I wouldn’t even have thought about saving it.
“[I know] people thought I was lying. But this is what happened. We didn’t know what it was. And when [the photo] came back, it was like Oh, my God. There’s no more rationalizing, or trying to figure out what it is. But what do we do with the information? I knew people would say we were crazy. I said, ‘Let’s not tell anyone.’ And Anthony agreed. So we decided [to] just put it away. Soon we got married, and we slid it behind our wedding photos. And then we hardly mentioned it.”
Richard joins us. He’s sturdy, with a trim beard; he’s handy with tools, at home in the woods. “I’ve heard her tell this for 30 years,” he says. “It’s never changed.”
Mansi picks up the story after she and Anthony divorced in 1980. (He died a few years later.) Her coworkers were going to Scotland to do submarine overhaul; some said they hoped to go to Loch Ness, see Nessie. “Big-mouth me,” she says with a hoarse laugh. “I said, ‘You don’t have to go to Scotland. We have something like that a lot closer.’ And I brought the picture in. I asked them not to say anything–but next thing you know, I was getting calls. It was like opening Pandora’s box.”
Her photo and her story made its way to cryptozoology experts–people who study “hidden” animals–including Joseph Zarzynski, who would later write Champ: Beyond the Legend, but whose mission at the time was to persuade Vermont and New York to pass protective legislation against anyone harming the mysterious lake creature. It was only a matter of time before the media pounced. Mansi had the photo copyrighted and gave it to her lawyer for safekeeping.
“I was in fear of its getting exploited,” Mansi says. “I wasn’t looking to gain financially from it. National Enquirer offered a lot of money. I said no. I wanted to keep its integrity. I wanted credibility.”
In June 1981, the New York Times published the photograph, and Sandi Mansi braced for the response: “I knew I had to have the conviction to say, ‘Okay, this is what I saw. You tell me what it was.'”
Dr. George Zug of the Department of Vertebrate Zoology at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History told the New York Times in a follow-up story that “evidence was mounting that some creature inhabited the cold lakes of the Northern Hemisphere.”
Mansi says that at first the sudden burst of attention drew her in. “I learned that it’s so easy to get caught up in one thing and let that dictate your life,” she says. “I lost track of my priorities. This was all new. I went on The Merv Griffin Show. A limousine picked me up.
“Then reality settled in when I got home. I was living in Winchester, New Hampshire, then; a single mom bringing up two children. I had my children stay with friends for four days. What kind of mother is that? That bothered me terribly. So I said, ‘This is my priority–my family. This is something that happened to me, and I will deal with it,’ but I never left my children again. I felt God gave us a gift. I’ve never told anybody that. What we do with the gift will make a difference in our lives.”
I ask her, “What was the gift?”
“The gift of witnessing something not everyone has seen,” she replies. “And then the gift of weighing it out. I asked, ‘What do you want me to do with it, God?’ And He wouldn’t answer me. So I tried to follow what I thought was right.