The Gift: Lake Champlain's Mysterious Photo
“I went, ‘Wow, that’s a big school of fish! Wouldn’t my grandfather like to look at this!’ Then pretty soon the head and the neck broke the surface. And I thought, Whoa–that’s one heck of a sturgeon. I knew what a sturgeon was; they’re absolutely huge. But they’re not that big. And then the head came up, and then the neck came up, and then I could see the back.
“And then Anthony came to the top of the embankment and he saw it, and he was screaming for the kids to get out of the water. They got out, and he got them back in the car.
“And the whole time I was thinking, What is that?! Anthony came to the edge to help me up. And he handed me the camera so he could pull me up the bank.
“I was on my knees getting up, and I picked the camera up, and [the creature] looked over its back, and I took the picture, and Anthony was like, ‘C’mon, c’mon.’ I said, ‘Wait, wait,’ and then we watched it. It never gave any indication it knew we were there. I watched it maybe five minutes. You could see the water coming off it.
“Then the back went down, the neck went down, the head went down. And only then was I caught up in a panic. I heard a boat way off in the distance. He knew a boat was coming. I wasn’t afraid; it was more Oh, my God.
“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.”