In Episode 316 Jeff Belanger and Ray Auger row out on Lake Memphremagog near Newport, Vermont, in search of a lake monster called Memphre. Sightings of a giant serpent-like creature date back more than two centuries. The creature has been studied, photographed, even video-recorded, but what exactly is it?
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[ROWING ON A BOAT]
RAY: There’s not much summer left, Jeff. This may be one of our last chances to get out on the lake before the weather turns.
JEFF: Especially this far north! We’re back on Lake Memphremagog in northern Vermont. In fact, most of the lake can be found on the Canadian side of the border.
RAY: Right. You can’t go any further north than where we are without a passport.
JEFF: That’s true.
RAY: We’ve been to this lake twice before.
JEFF: We have!
RAY: We came here looking for fur bearing trout way back in 2020. And we came here looking for a local eccentric they called Little Maggie back in May.
JEFF: This lake is legendary. Let there be no doubt about that.
RAY: If we’re back again I’m guess we didn’t catch everything the first two times.
JEFF: No. We didn’t. Maybe we saved the best for last. Or at least we saved the biggest for last!
RAY: Okay, I’m listening.
JEFF: We’ve rowed our boat out into the middle of Lake Memphremagog in northern Vermont to use ourselves as bait to try and find a lake monster they call Memphre.
JEFF: I’m Jeff Belanger and welcome to Episode 316 of the New England Legends podcast.
RAY: And I’m Ray Auger. Thank you for joining us on our mission to chronicle every legend in New England one story at a time. We can’t do it without you! If you’ve got a strange tale for us to check out, please reach out to us anytime through our Web site and tell us about it. And also subscribe to our podcast wherever you get your podcasts. New episodes every Thursday and From the Vault every Monday.
JEFF: We’ll go searching for Memphre the lake monster right after this word from our sponsor.
RAY: Great… so we’re bait for a lake monster?!
JEFF: Yeah. Pretty cool, right?
RAY: No! It’s not cool. I hate fish. So the only thing I could hate more than fish is a lake monster!
JEFF: Yeah, this tiny rowboat in the middle of a lake is a tough spot for someone with your phobia, Ray.
RAY: This lake is huge. It’s 31 miles long, 41 square miles of surface area, and it’s 350 feet deep at its deepest point.
JEFF: That’s a lot of water.
RAY: And we’re out here in a little rowboat.
JEFF: Right. If Memphre or Gog as he’s also sometimes called… decided to rear up right now we’re literally sunk.
RAY: Then we’re gonna need a bigger boat.
JEFF: That’s probably true. But this is the best we can do on our budget. Anyway, Memphre is described as a giant serpent of a creature, though witnesses can’t be sure if it’s a serpent or just a long neck attached to a dinosaur-like body.
RAY: So like a giant, slimy creature either way.
JEFF: That’s right. Though the earliest sightings date back to the year 1816, we’re going to travel back to 1995 and search for Memphre the lake monster.
[SPLASHING, KIDS HAVING FUN, MOTORBOATS]
RAY: It’s August of 1995. The height of tourist season here at Lake Memphremagog in northern Vermont. It’s been a busy summer between boating, water skiing, barbecues, camping, fishing, swimming, and all of the other great activities we do around lakes.
JEFF: But in the middle of all of this summer fun there’s some stories floating around… stories about a monster.
RAY: People who grew up around Lake Memphremagog or even those who have visited the lake more than once, have already heard the stories about a strange creature. Every now and then there’s a sighting, sometimes even a photo, and everyone starts buzzing about it again.
JEFF: That’s been the case this past summer. One witness saw a giant serpent-like movement near the surface of the water.
RAY: With the waves from boats and everything else, could that really be one animal?
JEFF: I get it! Sometimes there could be multiple fish feeding on bugs or whatever. But people who know the lake, know the lake, you know what I mean?
RAY: I get it. I’m sure some locals pride themselves on knowing just about every creature that’s ever lurked in and around this lake. But mistakes can be made.
JEFF: Of course. And sometimes you see something you just can’t figure out. And the legend of Memphre grows.
RAY: Do you think we’re in any danger here?
JEFF: There’ve been no reports of human attacks. But when you see something 30 feet long or bigger gliding through the lake, you can’t help but do the math and wonder if it could swallow you whole.
RAY: Considering there have been hundreds of sightings over the years, wouldn’t you think we’d have some kind of proof by now?
JEFF: Short of killing and/or capturing the animal, I’m not sure what kind of proof we can get other than eyewitness account. But I can tell you this: it’s against state law to kill Memphre if you find it.
RAY: You’re kidding…
JEFF: Nope, check out this article from the March 18, 1987 Burlington Free Press.
RAY: The headline reads: House Passes (Memphre) Monster of a Resolution. (LAUGHS) The article goes on to say quote, “The House Tuesday passed a resolution on Memphre that says the animal should be protected from harm and encourages scientific inquiry into the existence of unusual animals in Lake Memphrémagog. That’s funny.
JEFF: But kind of cool, right? Annnnd of course not everyone voted on the resolution. Check out the quote from Rep. Frank DaPrato.
RAY: He’s quoted as saying: “If we keep this up, we’ll have monsters in every pond in Vermont. I think it’s ridiculous that we get involved in something like this. I think we should be doing something more constructive with our time.”
JEFF: I bet that guy is no fun at parties.
RAY: Probably not.
JEFF: However… whether Memphre needs state protection or not, there is someone from the Canadian side whose been working on gathering more evidence. In fact, he’s been credited with coining the name Mamphre. His name is Jacques Boisvert.
RAY: Jacques Boisvert is an historian, and ecologist, a monster hunter, and a prolific scuba diver. Boisvert was born in 1933 in the town of Magog which sits on the norther side of the lake in Canada. Back in 1978 he began collecting reports of lake monster sightings. He had searched through newspaper archives and found many reports of a strange creature in the lake. He’d heard the First Nations people legends of a lake monster, and he knew locals whispered about the monster if you got a few drinks in some of them. So Boisvert made it his mission to chronicle these sightings and take them public.
JEFF: Once he’d gathered over 40 accounts of sightings, Boisvert went public. And given the many credible and rational reports of eyewitnesses, Boisvert wanted to take a closer look for himself.
[SPLASH / UNDERWATER SCUBA BUBBLES]
JEFF: So he started diving Lake Memphrémagog looking for the creature, or where it might dwell. Maybe an underwater cave? Maybe some other place? Boisvert dove, and began searching.
RAY: Dozens of scuba dives in the lake eventually turned into hundreds and then thousands over the years. Any chance he got he dived the lake looking for evidence.
JEFF: Over decades of doing this, Boisvert has become a magnet for these encounters. When someone sees or photographs something strange, they reach out to him.
WITNESS_1: It had the head of an ox, but half as big… similar to the head of a horse. We could see movement over a distance of approximately 2000 feet. Nearby, there was a couple and when I shouted to them to look, the creature plunged and didn’t return to the surface.
RAY: Witness after witness tells similar stories. Sometimes a photo pops up showing something in the water that looks strange. Hese encounters turn up year-round, except in the winter when the lake freezes over.
JEFF: And Jacques Boisvert catalogs as many as he finds out about, which is most of them. In his dives he uses underwater cameras, he uses sonar, he investigates various regions around the lake where sightings have occurred. All of his work and research turns Memphre into a bit of a cottage industry. And that brings us back to today.
JEFF: So on the Canadian side in Boisvert’s home town of Magog, the “Memphre Tower” was erected in 2003. It’s a covered platform on the shore where visitors can go up and gaze out over the lake and look for Memphre sightings.
RAY: Jacques Boisvert was the guest of honor at the dedication of the tower when it opened. Sadly, Boisvert died from a heart attack February 4, 2006, though his legacy lives on.
JEFF: That it does. Not only did he log over 5,000 dives in the lake looking for this creature, he started a Web site called Memphre.com. Outside of his office in Canada there was a sign that reads: The International Dracontology Society of Lake Memphrémagog.
RAY: What is Dracontology?
JEFF: Boisvert felt that cryptozoology was too broad of a term, so dracontology deals with hidden animals associated with lakes. He pushed the term enough to get it accepted in the American Heritage Dictionary. And of course the Memphre sightings continue to this day. In fact, there was a sighting September 4th 2022 at 6:16PM that was captured on camera and uploaded to YouTube. We’ll post a link to it from our Web site. But Ray, give this video a look.
RAY: Okay, it was obviously taken with a cell phone.
RAY: The lake looks really calm. But yeah… in the water in the distance I can see what looks like a long snake sort of moving in a straight line in the water. It’s tough to judge the distance and size, but it’s clearly pretty long and moving in a wave-like way just at the surface of the water.
JEFF: And the legend continues. Documented sightings for two hundred years, folklore legends that go back much further than that, which makes you think there must be something big in the waters of Lake Memphrémagog.
RAY: And we would assume that this must be a species. Not a single animal, right?
JEFF: Right! A snake can live up to 30 years. Some species of turtle can live for centuries. So maybe we don’t have all of the answers here. But yes, you’d assume that there would need to be more than two of these creatures for them to continue on.
RAY: And no one has ever found a dead one?
JEFF: Not yet. Unless it sinks to the deepest parts of the lake when it dies and is lost.
RAY: More questions than answers once again.
JEFF: The best legends do that. They force us to take a second look at the world we thought we knew.
RAY: After seeing that video and reading some of the eyewitness descriptions, I guess I can’t help but stare out on the lake a little longer than I would have otherwise.
JEFF: That’s the power of a legend. We can’t help but want to become part of it with our own sighting.
RAY: And that brings us to After the Legend where we take a deeper dive into this week’s story and sometimes swim off course.
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We’d like to thank Michael Legge for lending his voice acting talents this week, thank you to our sponsors, thank you to our patreon patrons, and our theme music is by John Judd.
Until next time remember… the bizarre is closer than you think!