In the good old days before the internet, if you wanted sensationalized, unsubstantiated facts, and absurd story-lines, one had to peruse the check-out lines at your local supermarket, for it was there where you would find the “rags,” a.k.a., the tabloids. These “news” magazines were sordid sheets that filled the public with salacious gossip, fashion trends, crazy diets, alien sightings, roaming creatures, and mythical beasts that prowled the night. Most of it was either “fake news” to borrow a phrase, or at the very least, exaggeration to the point of absurdity in order to titilate the public. (Not unlike your local “Community News,” with their stories of high school sports, and garage sales, and breathless reporting regarding the new skateboarding park, and other such nonsense that nobody would ever believe.)
Alien sightings as well as the occasional mythical beast recordings are usually the stories that grab our attention first. We so want these things to be true. The idea for example that we are not alone in the universe is something that has intrigued mankind for almost its entire existence. How wonderful would it be to know that there are other intelligent beings zipping around the universe, perhaps looking for interstellar BFF’s? Unfortunately, at least according to the late Stephen Hawking, if this is true, then we are most likely royally screwed. Hawking claimed that if there were other intelligent beings, and he believed that there were, then we’d best keep our proverbial shades drawn since they aren’t likely to be friendly. In fact, Hawking believed that they would come here, use us for our resources, and then dump us in a wormhole like so much trailer trash.
However, if you read the trashier tabloids you will often encounter stories of people who say that aliens have already been here, and for some reason, have an unhealthy obsession with probing people in their most intimate of areas. (As a man over 50, I’ve already been probed on multiple occasions, and all I know is, while my insurance took care of the bill, I’m not sure they will pay for an alien probe seeing that it would be performed out of network. Thanks a lot Obama!) There are multiple issues regarding these kinds of stories, not the least of which is that they always seem to happen to people who either live way out in the woods or in a trailer in the desert, or in countries where it’s hard to verify whether their stories are true or not. Russia seems to be a favorite place for aliens to probe. (Literally and figuratively.) Is Putin aware of this? Does he allow such nonsense to go on? Sometimes it’s a place like Uzbekistan, or Kazakhstan, or some other such location where aliens seem to enjoy running wild.
It’s the same with mythical beasts. They always seem to appear in places where it is difficult to verify whether the stories are true or not. Just once I’d like to see a Yeti in Clifton Park. (I’m not counting the Yeti I use to keep my beer cold either.) How about a nice friendly sighting of Bigfoot in Colonie Center? Would it be so terrible to drive down the road and find that Bigfoot is waiting on line at Jumpin’ Jack’s in Scotia because he also enjoys coleslaw on his burgers? Once, just once, I’d love to see this type of sighting near where I live so I can actually believe that such wild happenstance is possible. Well, it would appear I’ve come to the right place.
Incredibly, the Capital Region is host to not one, but two mythical creatures. The first is a beast whose story has been told and retold for many years. I first heard the tale of the great leviathan known as Champ back in the fall of 1994. At the school where I teach, Rensselaer High School, one of the requirements that all seniors must meet is to make a 20 minute presentation to a panel of teachers on practically any topic that may be of interest to the student. Topics have included historical events, great artists, sports figures, local traditions, and of course, unsolved mysteries. It was here where a student of mine told us about a creature that lurks in the depths of Lake Champlain. He is known as Champ.
If the story of a great serpent like beast trolling through the waters of a fresh-water lake sound familiar to you, then you know your unsolved mysteries. Scotland’s famous and infamous Loch Ness Monster is often considered the “gold standard” of mysterious aquatic beasts. Champ may not have the international fame of the Loch Ness Monster, but it has its fans to be sure. How do these two great sea monsters compare? Well…
Loch Ness Monster (Fun Facts)
The land of kilts, thistles, haggis, and instantaneous rage is the home of one of the world’s most fascinating myths, the story of Nessie. Loch Ness (Loch is Lake in Welsh.) is an enormous freshwater lake located in central Scotland. It is a long, narrow shaped lake, not unlike Lake Champlain. It holds more water than all of the lakes and rivers in England and Scotland combined. It is only six degrees Celsius all year, or 42 degrees Fahrenheit. (Prime for shrinkage gentlemen.) Loch Ness is a dark and murky lake which would explain why it’s so difficult to spot a sea monster swimming around in its depths. The first sightings of Nessie dates back to 565 AD. The myth of Nessie really took off in 1933 when George Spicer (No relation to Sean) reported a sighting. Nessie which means “pure” is good for the local economy, generating 25 million pounds annually. Some believe it might be a plesiosaurus, which had its heyday around 205 million years ago. There have been dozens of searches, and despite the fact that there are approximately 25 sightings per year of the monster, no official search has ever turned up anything. This includes the time when Margaret Thatcher, the “Iron Lady” herself planned to bring in dolphins from America (Larry Csonka and Dan Marino?) to search for Nessie, and still nothing turned up. Most of the famous photographs depicting a sea-serpent like creature poking its head up above Loch Ness have turned out to be hoaxes.
Champ (Fun Facts)
Lake Champlain, named after the great French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, the man known as the “Father of New France,” and the person who made being snooty all the rage in the “New World,” is a relatively narrow lake running 120 miles along the New York and Vermont border. It is located in northeastern New York, and its northern shore reaches into Canada. Like its cloudy cousin Loch Ness, it is long and narrow, and like Loch Ness, it supposedly houses a mysterious dinosaur like creature in its depths. Unlike the murky Loch Ness, more than 200,000 people drink from Lake Champlain, and a few years ago, supporters of Lake Champlain petitioned for it to be awarded the status of “Great Lake.” That’s correct, Lake Champlain was being championed as being worthy of becoming the sixth Great Lake. A bold step to be sure, however while those who sought this incredible honor for the lake they loved were plucky and determined, Lake Champlain was refused Great Lake status, and has been forced to wear the label of being just “pretty good.” As for Champ, he is believed to be anywhere from approximately 20 to 80 feet long. He allegedly has a serpentine like body, and has several distinct humps on his back. His head allegedly looks like that of a snake or a dog. No eyewitness account of Champ has ever been substantiated, but the legend goes back centuries, and local Native American tribes used to warn Europeans not to disturb the monsters that live in the lake.
While everybody loves a good sea monster, perhaps the most famous mythical beast known to man is the enigma known as Bigfoot, or as the Natives referred to him, the Sasquatch. Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, is allegedly a seven foot tall man/beast, covered with hair, and apparently, has a healthy sized foot. Some have suggested that the Bigfoot is the much sought after missing link, the elusive primate who is missing in evolutionary theory. Others have put forth the theory that Bigfoot emanates from a group of hominids that have somehow escaped detection from modern man. Still, the more skeptical amongst us have simply dismissed it as a hoax, and essentially nothing more than utter nonsense. This idea gained steam when a few years ago, the most famous sighting of Bigfoot, the one captured on eight mm film, was admitted to be a fraud by the person who allegedly filmed it.
(Here’s all of the Bigfoot sightings you’ll ever need. I didn’t include the video from Harry and the Hendersons due to potential copyright violations. You Tube)
Real of not, most Bigfoot sightings have taken place in California, and in the Pacific Northwest. So why should we be concerned here in the Capital Region about the legendary Sasquatch? Well, as fate would have it, there may very well have been a Bigfoot sighting in our little section of the country. Apparently back in August, a truck driver on his way to Vermont on Route 4, or as the New York Post referred to it, “An upstate highway,” spotted a 6-6 1/2 foot black and hairy unidentified creature crossing the road. What makes this sighting a little bit more of interest than the average Bigfoot spotting is that a similar event took place in almost literally the same spot nearly 12 years ago. A cast was taken of the footprint that the unidentified beast left behind, and incredibly, the foot size was very large.
For the good people of Whitehall, this comes as no surprise. This type of sighting even has a name, it’s called a “road crossing sighting.” (No I didn’t make that up.) While several have claimed to have seen the Bigfoot in Whitehall, very few people come forward and give their name over fear of being ridiculed. (I suppose this is a form of bullying. “Bigfoot sighting shamers?”) However, this may all be changing, at least in Whitehall. The town recently adopted Bigfoot as its official animal. (Who knew towns could have official animals? I’m hoping that in Clifton Park it’s the turtle. Steady, calm, reliable, doesn’t make a lot of waves, just like all us Clifton Parkonians.) This embrace of the mighty Bigfoot may open up an entire tourist industry for the good people of Whitehall. Before you know it, Bigfoot may be as synonymous with Whitehall, as hippies are with New Paltz.
It never hurts the reputation of an area to have a little mystery. If a town or a region is known to contain a beast of mythical renown, or is known for a few unexplained phenomenon, than that area is most likely to reap the benefits. If Whitehall has a Bigfoot to call its own, or if lurking somewhere in the murky waters of Lake Champlain is a plesiosaurus known affectionately as Champ, then why not be proud of our possessions. Who knows, maybe this winter somebody will eyeball a Yeti, or a simple suburbanite out walking their dog might come eye-to-eye with a Coy-dog, or perhaps you will hear the screams of the feral cat off in the distance somewhere. Either way, if you’re smart and industrious, you will quickly put the image of said beast on a hat, or a t-shirt, and perhaps even a doormat, and find yourself wealthy beyond your wildest dreams. Now you’ve become one of the most rarely seen species known to man, a multi-millionaire, and a member of the one-percenters. Of course that means you’ll be hunted by Bernie Sanders, but fear not, he’s old, you can outrun him.