In the interest of kicking the New Year off right, I presented a few of Vermont's venerable weird tales to the Burlington First Night audience. I'm repeating the whole rant here on my blog. In part 3 I consider the Creepy Crypto-creature in Lake Memphremagog. . .
To me – and to most people who think about such things – the true granddaddy of all Vermont monster stories is the saga of Champ, the mysterious creature said to live in Lake Champlain.
But here’s the thing. Champ gets a lot of publicity. More than I do. So it’s pretty easy to overlook the fact that we have a second water monster who has been known just as long and who, in some ways, is vastly more mysterious.
Memphre, the so-called “water monster” of Lake Memphremagog, is not BIG NEWS to any of you. But here’s something you may not have considered. Memphre has an odd quality not shared by its cryptid cousins in other lakes. It’s a quality that makes Memphre seem almost... supernatural.
That is, different witnesses describe it in remarkably different ways. We wonder if Memphre is (1.) a “shape-shifter; or maybe it’s an outsized amphibian glimpsed in different stages of its life cycle in somewhat the same way a tadpole look very different than a frog. Or could it possibly be that there are many different species of monster swimming around in the Northeast Kingdom’s great lake?
A few typical sightings – beginning around 1816 -- will illustrate:
In the mid-1800s, Uriah Jewett, Memphremagog's first monster hunter, frequently saw a beast that became known as "Uriah's Alligator." Its name clearly suggests the animal's appearance. In 1935 Dr. Curtis Classen confirmed this diagnosis when an unfamiliar reptile crawled out of the lake looking very much like an alligator. It was 18 inches wide and about 10 feet long.
In August of 1850 David Beebe, while fishing off Magoon Point, was "astonished to behold the head and six feet of body of a huge monster. . . ." Mr. Beebe’s conclusion: it was a giant snake.
In the 1940s, witness Hector Guyon reckoned the “snake” that he saw was 150 feet long! For a while this snakelike version of Memphre was referred to locally as “The Anaconda”.
In 1972, Helen Hicks of Newport saw, "A creature which had… a face somewhat like a horse, with two very red eyes and a body... 75 to 100 feet long…." And in July of 1976, a local fisherman saw what he described as "a seal with a long neck....”
Are you beginning to see the pattern?
Well, there isn’t one, and that's what’s especially vexing about Memphremagog's Mystery Monster. Unlike Champ, who is consistency described more or less as a "water horse," Memphremagog's beast is seen in wildly different ways.
This “Multiple Memphre” phenomenon was first noted over a century ago by an anonymous local poet who composed the following lines:
"Eyes saw the monster, but none saw alike,
He was half serpent, half horse, some said,
While others formed him like a huge long pike
With thick, bright scales and round, not flattened head."
It’s easy to see why the monster became famous and the poet didn’t.
Anyway, recent sightings of the critter only contribute to the confusion.
Bottom line: Descriptions of Memphre are so diverse that at least six distinct categories have been identified: the long-necked seal; the water-horse; the alligator; the "giant fish;" the "living log;" and finally, the snake or serpent.
So what are we to believe? Is Lake Memphremagog the most monster-crowded water in Vermont? Or is there just one Memphre, with a monstrous case of multiple personality disorder?
Oh, and here’s another interesting tidbit:
Memphre is the only Vermont Water Monster ever described as dangerous. Supposedly it frightened the Native Americans in pre-colonial times, then went on to terrorize early settlers. Even today certain senior citizens remember their parents using monster tales to scare children away from the shore.
Legend recalls an Indian who was devoured, canoe and all.
In 1935 Newport mayor Frank Burns disappeared in the lake. Some people insist he was another victim of the monster’s appetite.
In the mid-1960s, some huge, snake-like critter surfaced near Hank Dewey's boat, then chased it all the way to shore!
More dramatically, in 1972, Red Cross director Helen Hicks was relaxing with some friends on a boat. At around 10:00 p.m. she saw, "A creature which had...a face somewhat like a horse, with two very red eyes and a body...75 to 100 feet long...."
Then the demonic intruder pursued their boat! For some reason the motor shorted out. And just then, when all seemed lost, the creature submerged, leaving everyone terrified but unhurt.
Happy ending. But stay tuned for the next blog entry: More of Vermont's weird tales....