February 1, 2010



©2010 by Joseph A. Citro

In 1977 Sandra Mansi snapped a photo of what might be Champ, the so-called “Lake Champlain Monster”. In 1979, when she released it to the press – including The New York Times, Time magazine, The Today Show, and hundreds of other media -- the whole world quickly learned about Vermont’s underwater wonder.

Ms. Mansi’s odyssey was dramatized on NBC TV's Unsolved Mysteries and Fox's Sightings. Japanese television produced a 90-minute documentary. Hundreds of books, magazines, and newspapers flaunted the story.

Over the last thirty years Lake Champlain’s elusive critter has become a cryptozoological superstar.

But what nobody knew is that an equally mysterious photograph was snapped that same year. It wasn’t shanghaied by the press; no media exploited it. It never went viral.

Instead, the curious photo was filed away, essentially kept a secret, remembered by only to a few believers and skeptics.

This remarkable “whatzit” was photographed on land, in the depths of the forest, once again raising the question: Are there really monsters in our midst?

Not a new question, to be sure.

For hundreds of years Vermonters have been seeing strange things in the woods. Some of these encounters have been documented – enough so as to provide a continuing ribbon of weirdness starting, perhaps, in 1609 with Samuel de Champlain himself. He heard Native American stories of oversized, hairy men who hid in the dense woods. Monsieur Champlain disregarded the stories as too fanciful.

Perhaps he was too hasty.

Historically, the first recorded encounter came in 1759, witnessed by a man named Duluth, a scout with Roger’s Rangers.

While they were retreating after the raid on the Abenaki settlement of Odanak, near Memphremagog Bay, the men “were ever being annoid, for naught reason, by a large black bear, who would throw large pinecones and nuts down upon us from trees and ledges, the Indians being also disgusted, and knowe him, and call him Wejuk or Wet Skine.”

Wet Skin, renamed “Slipperyskin” by the white settlers, was still around as Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom began to grow. There, during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the towns of Lemington, Maidstone, Morgan, Victory, and Westmore, were routinely harassed by this fearsome oddity. Those who confronted the thing identified it as a bear of tremendous proportions. It terrorized the inhabitants with a series of hostile pranks, including destroying their gardens, frightening their livestock, attacking their children with stones, stealing food, and destroying machinery. All attempts to trap it or kill it were predictably unsuccessful.

But here’s the thing: Slipperyskin was like no bear anyone had ever seen.
Not only was it extraordinarily intelligent, but it always walked on its hind legs, never on all fours.

Recently, researchers have taken a new look at this old tale. Could Slipperyskin have been something other than an uber-bear?

Most likely.

Whatever it may have been, it seemed to be trying to discourage the encroachment of human settlement into an area that had once been its own.

Suspects more tangible than myth include a disgruntled Indian, a hermitical eccentric, or quite possibly what we know today as Bigfoot.

To be continued . . .

Bigfoot image by Steve Bissette from our book The Vermont Monster Guide