Everyone knows about the Loch Ness Monster, and most New Yorkers have probably heard about our own state’s famous cousin to Nessie, Champ, who reputedly dwells in Lake Champlain. But did you know that there’s an alleged Hudson River monster as well, called Kipsy after the City of Poughkeepsie? Sightings have been attested in a June 1899 issue of The New York Times, and also attributed to the crews of the Half Moon, the Clermont and the Clearwater.
Stories about Kipsy are part of the content of Legendary Creatures of the Hudson Valley, a program developed by Brian James for the Esopus Library. James presented the material online for the first time on August 19, in PowerPoint format, and both the video and the slide show remain accessible to all visitors on the library’s website. Watching the program earns youngsters a badge in the library’s virtual summer reading program. It’s a fun wallow for imaginative folks of all ages who enjoy cryptid lore.
According to James, the plesiosaur-like Champ and Kipsy could be manatees, harbor seals and sturgeon. Some believers suggest that remnant populations of zeuglodons – prehistoric toothed whales thought to have gone extinct 34 million years ago – might still persist in parts of the world. Because they’re mammals rather than reptiles, zeuglodons could conceivably survive in our cold northern latitudes. James said that their fossils had been found in the Champlain Valley.
New York State, including the Catskills and Hudson Valley, has its share of Bigfoot sightings as well, including a recent report from Dutchess County. James linked these tall, hairy humanoid creatures with the Wendigo, an evil spirit common in legends of Algonquin peoples from the Atlantic Coast to the Upper Midwest and Canada. A sort of personification of greed, gluttony and excess, the voracious creature is thought to have been used by indigenous tribes to reinforce cultural taboos against cannibalism during harsh winters. A horror movie titled Wendigo, directed by Larry Fessenden, was filmed in Shokan in 2001.
Venturing farther afield, James explained the folklore behind the Headless Horseman who appears in a terrifying practical joke played on the hapless Ichabod Crane in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.” Washington Irving’s inspiration was derived from tales of the ghost of a Hessian soldier decapitated by cannon fire during the Battle of White Plains. But Irish immigrants to the Colonies had brought with them older tales of the Dullahan or Dark Man, a terrible headless fairy who drives a coach made of bones to collect those doomed to die.
Viewers of this presentation will also learn about Eelissa, the White Lady, a famous ghost from the Rochester area, as well as that dreaded bat-winged cryptid of the Pine Barrens, the Jersey Devil. But you won’t need to stray far from home for stories of UFO sightings. The mid-Hudson has long been a hotbed for these, peaking from 1985 to 1992 and again from 2008 to 2018. Often described as enormous, silent and triangular in shape, these aerial visitors seem to favor southern Dutchess County and the Pine Bush area on the Ulster/Orange border.
So, if life in our neck of the woods during the year of Covid 19 is beginning to feel mundane and humdrum, here’s a chance to remind ourselves that things can always get a little weirder. Check out Legendary Creatures of the Hudson Valley at www.esopuslibrary.org/legendary-creatures-of-the-hudson-v.