Champy spotted at Essex ferry dock?!?! Once upon a time…
I’m gambling that it was around 1980 for no reliable reasons except the look and condition of the Old Dock Restaurant, the presence of ice shanties on a throughly frozen lake with no ferry canal, and the incredibly well executed snow/ice sculpture just north of the Essex ferry dock. It’s this last one that triggered a cascade of memories and lead me to hope that the photograph was taken by Jan Peden around 1980. More on that in a moment.
I make no effort to disguise my enthusiasm for hyperlocal ephemera and other artifacts, especially yesteryear photographs and other representations of our fair village. So you just might be able to imagine my excitement when I received this message from friend and neighbor, Kathryn “Kathy” Reinhardt.
Sorting papers and I found two Essex postcards you might like. One of the Split Rock lighthouse with a postmark and message from 1910. The other card was not used and shows the snow covered ferry dock with a frozen Champ swimming alongside. Photo is by Jan Peden; card was published by ECHO.” — Kathryn Reinhardt
Champy & Nostalgia
I’m hoping that this post might rekindle community memory enough to learn who helped sculpt this superb likeness of our favorite surviving dinosaur. The uninitiated may remember Champy from the Sid Couchey painting/illustration of the friendly monster cavorting off the end of Rosslyn’s boathouse. I shared it waaayyy back on April 27, 2012, so it’s say it’s time for a resurface.
Ostensibly a cousin to the Lock Ness monster, our Lake Champlain mystery monster is considered a myth by some, a fundamental fact by others. Happy hour sightings along the lake’s waterfront apparently offer particularly plausible viewing opportunities, though I’ll admit having never witnessed the friendly fellow (or is Champy a she?).
I suggested earlier that my instinct to date this postcard photograph sometime near 1980 derives from vivid memories of the years prior to and after the 1980 Winter Olympics which took place in Lake Placid. I was a boy, so my memories are likely ripened with nostalgia, but it seems that there was community-wide embrace of winter in those years. Likely catalyzed by preparations for the Olympics and then the afterglow, it seems that there were abundant winter happenings — toboggan runs, outdoor jogging contests, cross country ski races, skating rinks, fish fries with freshly caught smelt, and snow sculptures — that drew people outside into the out-of-doors from community revelry. I remember competing in a cross-country ski race on the Westport Country Club golf course, and “red nose runs” in Elizabethtown. I remember fish fries at the old Westport beach, and the most horrifyingly thrilling toboggan chute down the hill and out onto the frozen lake. I believe that much of these memories are clumped around an annual midwinter event that was called the Westport Outdoor Weekend (WOW). And one of my favorite parts of this annual festival was the snow sculpture contest. Homes throughout the area competed for the bet snow sculpture. We used to drive around and admire them all. I believe I recall the Valley News even showcasing winners some years. And so this flood of nostalgia underpins my suspicion that this handsome facsimile of Champy might date to those years.
It’s interesting to me that the postcards, produced by ECHO, drew attention to the Essex-Charlotte ferry pier and history of service without a more inclusive mention of the Essex waterfront or the handsome snow sculpture!
Split Rock Light
Let’s turn now to the second postcard that Kathy sent me. Although I and others usually refer to the historic lighthouse presiding over the dramatic geographic promontory jutting out into Whallons Bay as the Split Rock Lighthouse, I’ve notice this older references, especially the further back into history they fall, refer to it as Split Rock Light. That’s neither here nor there, but I find those little linguistic shifts intriguing.
I recently shared an almost identical postcard of the Split Rock Light, likely created from the same source photograph. The coloring, layout, and captioning differs between the two, but I imagine both images were late at the end of the 19th or beginning of the 20th century and then repurposed. It’s a compelling angle, especially because this same view today is less open. Here’s the postcard that I published on November 21, 2022.
It’s fun to flip back and forth between the two images to see what’s similar and what differs. Back in November I was struck then as well by how thinly forested the Split Rock Light grounds were at the time.
The historic lighthouse located at Split Rock in Essex, NY reigns over a promontory bearing a curious resemblance to an arboretum, more landscaped and less wild than today. A copse of diverse specimen trees here, a granite outcrop there, a grassy bluff here,… I can’t help but see a sort of Split Rock botanical garden. (Source: This is Not a Metaphor)
That notable difference with the same location a century or so later vies for my attention, but so too does the message on the reverse of the postcard that Kathy sent.
In many respects this is the most formulaic, most universal postcard missive. We’ve all read (and possibly written) versions of this, right? But there’s a personal pleasure in the final two lines:
Having a delightful sail on this. — B.H.
As a boater in general, and a sailor in particular, this subtle sign-off hooks me. So often Susan and I spy this beautiful, historically significant spot by boat, and often by sailboat. So even though B.H. mostly went through the motions in the message area of the card, the fading memory of a sail on Lake Champlain, indeed on the enchanting broad-lake-to-narrows transition, appeals to my romantic imagination.