The Loch Ness Monster: Real or Fake?MYTH
In Scottish folklore, the Loch Ness Monster or Nessie is a creature said to inhabit Loch Ness in the Scottish Highlands. It is often described as large in size with a long neck and one or more humps protruding from the water. Popular interest and belief in the creature has varied since it was brought to worldwide attention in 1933. Evidence of its existence is anecdotal, with a few disputed photographs and sonar readings.
The scientific community regards the Loch Ness Monster as a phenomenon without biological basis, explaining sightings as hoaxes, wishful thinking, and the misidentification of mundane objects. The word “monster” was reportedly applied for the first time to the creature on 2 May 1933 by Alex Campbell, water bailiff for Loch Ness and a part-time journalist, in an Inverness Courier report. On 4 August 1933 the Courier published a report by Londoner George Spicer that several weeks earlier, while they were driving around the loch, he and his wife saw “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life” trundling across the road toward the loch with “an animal” in its mouth. Letters began appearing in the Courier, often anonymously, claiming land or water sightings by the writer, their family or acquaintances or remembered stories. The accounts reached the media, which described a “monster fish”, “sea serpent”, or “dragon” and eventually settled on “Loch Ness monster”.
On 6 December 1933 the first purported photograph of the monster, taken by Hugh Gray, was published in the Daily Express; the Secretary of State for Scotland soon ordered police to prevent any attacks on it. In 1934, interest was further piqued by the “surgeon’s photograph”. That year, R. T. Gould published an account of the author’s investigation and a record of reports predating 1933. Other authors have claimed sightings of the monster dating to the sixth century AD.
Does the Loch Ness Monster exist, or was it just a hoax? Some say it was a myth and was made up in order to generate tourism for the area. Perhaps we will never know.
The History of Nessie
The earliest report of a monster in the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the sixth century AD. According to Adomnán, writing about a century after the events described, Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he encountered local residents burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man was swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” which mauled him and dragged him underwater. Although they tried to rescue him in a boat, he was dead. Columba sent a follower, Luigne moccu Min, to swim across the river. The beast approached him, but Columba made the sign of the cross and said: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.”The creature stopped as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled, and Columba’s men and the Picts gave thanks for what they perceived as a miracle.
Believers in the monster point to this story, set in the River Ness rather than the loch itself, as evidence for the creature’s existence as early as the sixth century. Sceptics question the narrative’s reliability, noting that water-beast stories were extremely common in medieval hagiographies and Adomnán’s tale probably recycles a common motif attached to a local landmark. According to sceptics, Adomnán’s story may be independent of the modern Loch Ness Monster legend and became attached to it by believers seeking to bolster their claims. Ronald Binns considers that this is the most serious of various alleged early sightings of the monster, but all other claimed sightings before 1933 are dubious and do not prove a monster tradition before that date. Christopher Cairney uses a specific historical and cultural analysis of Adomnán to separate Adomnán’s story about St. Columba from the modern myth of the Loch Ness Monster, but finds an earlier and culturally significant use of Celtic “water beast” folklore along the way. In doing so he also discredits any strong connection between kelpies or water-horses and the modern “media-augmented” creation of the Loch Ness Monster.
In October 1871 (or 1872), D. Mackenzie of Balnain reportedly saw an object resembling a log or an upturned boat “wriggling and churning up the water”. The object moved slowly at first, disappearing at a faster speed. Mackenzie sent his story in a letter to Rupert Gould in 1934, shortly after popular interest in the monster increased.
Modern interest in the monster was sparked by a sighting on 22 July 1933, when George Spicer and his wife saw “a most extraordinary form of animal” cross the road in front of their car. They described the creature as having a large body (about 4 feet (1.2 m) high and 25 feet (8 m) long) and a long, wavy, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot (3–4 m) width of the road. They saw no limbs. It lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards (20 m) away, leaving a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.
It has been claimed that sightings of the monster increased after a road was built along the loch in early 1933, bringing workers and tourists to the formerly-isolated area. However, Binns has described this as “the myth of the lonely loch”, as it was far from isolated before then, due to the construction of the Caledonian Canal. In the 1930s, the existing road by the side of the loch was given a serious upgrade (just possibly this work could have contributed to the legend, since there could have been tar barrels floating in the loch)
Hugh Gray’s photograph taken near Foyers on 12 November 1933 was the first photograph alleged to depict the monster. It was slightly blurred, and it has been noted that if one looks closely the head of a dog can be seen. Gray had taken his Labrador for a walk that day, and it is suspected that the photograph depicts his dog fetching a stick from the loch. Others have suggested the photograph depicts an otter or a swan. The original negative was lost. However, in 1963 Maurice Burton came into “possession of two lantern slides, contact positives from the original negative” and when projected on screen it revealed an “otter rolling at the surface in characteristic fashion.”
On 5 January 1934, a motorcyclist, Arthur Grant, claimed to have nearly hit the creature while approaching Abriachan (near the north-eastern end of the loch) at about 1 a.m. on a moonlit night. According to Grant, it had a small head attached to a long neck; the creature saw him, and crossed the road back to the loch. Grant, a veterinary student, described it as a cross between a seal and a plesiosaur. He said he dismounted and followed it to the loch, but only saw ripples.
Grant produced a sketch of the creature which was examined by zoologist Maurice Burton, who stated it was consistent with the appearance and behaviour of an otter. Regarding the long size of the creature reported by Grant; it has been suggested that this was a faulty observation due to the poor light conditions. Palaeontologist Darren Naish has suggested that Grant may have seen either an otter or a seal and exaggerated his sighting over time.
The “surgeon’s photograph” is reportedly the first photo of the creature’s head and neck. Supposedly taken by Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynaecologist, it was published in the Daily Mail on 21 April 1934. Wilson’s refusal to have his name associated with it led to it being known as the “surgeon’s photograph”. According to Wilson, he was looking at the loch when he saw the monster, grabbed his camera and snapped four photos. Only two exposures came out clearly; the first reportedly shows a small head and back, and the second shows a similar head in a diving position. The first photo became well-known, and the second attracted little publicity because of its blurriness.
Although for a number of years the photo was considered evidence of the monster, sceptics dismissed it as driftwood, an elephant, an otter, or a bird. The photo’s scale was controversial; it is often shown cropped (making the creature seem large and the ripples like waves), while the uncropped shot shows the other end of the loch and the monster in the centre. The ripples in the photo were found to fit the size and pattern of small ripples, unlike large waves photographed up close. Analysis of the original image fostered further doubt. In 1993, the makers of the Discovery Communications documentary Loch Ness Discovered analysed the uncropped image and found a white object visible in every version of the photo (implying that it was on the negative). It was believed to be the cause of the ripples, as if the object was being towed, although the possibility of a blemish on the negative could not be ruled out. An analysis of the full photograph indicated that the object was small, about 60 to 90 cm (2 to 3 ft) long.
Since 1994, most agree that the photo was an elaborate hoax. It had been accused of being a fake in a 7 December 1975 Sunday Telegraph article which fell into obscurity. Details of how the photo was taken were published in the 1999 book, Nessie – the Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed, which contains a facsimile of the 1975 Sunday Telegraph article. The creature was reportedly a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell had been publicly ridiculed by his employer, the Daily Mail, after he found “Nessie footprints” which turned out to be a hoax. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell perpetrated his hoax with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent). The toy submarine was bought from F. W. Woolworths, and its head and neck were made from wood putty. After testing it in a local pond the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos near the Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell sank the model with his foot and it is “presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness”. Chambers gave the photographic plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke”. Wilson brought the plates to Ogston’s, an Inverness chemist, and gave them to George Morrison for development. He sold the first photo to the Daily Mail, who then announced that the monster had been photographed.
Little is known of the second photo; it is often ignored by researchers, who believe its quality too poor and its differences from the first photo too great to warrant analysis. It shows a head similar to the first photo, with a more turbulent wave pattern and possibly taken at a different time and location in the loch. Some believe it to be an earlier, cruder attempt at a hoax, and others (including Roy Mackal and Maurice Burton) consider it a picture of a diving bird or otter which Wilson mistook for the monster. According to Morrison, when the plates were developed Wilson was uninterested in the second photo; he allowed Morrison to keep the negative, and the second photo was rediscovered years later. When asked about the second photo by the Ness Information Service Newsletter, Spurling ” … was vague, thought it might have been a piece of wood they were trying out as a monster, but was not sure.”
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