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The Loch Ness Monster (aka “Nessie”)

Famous Loch Ness Monster photo taken by Colonel Robert Wilson was later proven a fake.  Here is the original, uncropped version of the infamous Nessie photograph

Early “Nessie” Sightings

The earliest report of a monster associated with the vicinity of Loch Ness appears in the Life of St. Columba by Adomnán, written in the 7th century.  According to Adomnán, the Irish monk Saint Columba was staying in the land of the Picts with his companions when he came across the locals burying a man by the River Ness. They explained that the man had been swimming in the river when he was attacked by a “water beast” that had mauled him and dragged him under.  Hearing this, Columba sent his follower Luigne moccu Min to swim across the river.  As expected, the beast came after him, but Columba made the sign of the Cross and commanded: “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.”   The beast immediately halted as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and fled in terror.

Many years later, iEarly "Nesesie" Sightingsn October 1871 (possibly 1872) Dr. D. Mackenzie of Balnain spotted what looked to him like a overturned boat ‘wriggling and churning up the water.’ Eight years later (1879) two separate groups of people reported a similar sighting and described what the modern day world envisions ‘Nessie’ looks like – a large gray beast with a small horse-like head at the end of a large neck, large flippers, and two humps on its back.

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 high and 25 feet long), and a long, narrow neck, slightly thicker than an elephant’s trunk and as long as the 10–12-foot width of the road.  The mysterious creature lurched across the road towards the loch 20 yards away, leaving only a trail of broken undergrowth in its wake.  News of Spicer’s sighting made it The Inverness Courier newspaper where the creature was first reported as “The Loch Ness Monster”.

These were the first recorded sightings of the Loch Ness Monster. To date there have been well over 10,000 reported sightings of Nessie who lives in the largest fresh water lake in the world – Loch Ness, over 20 miles long, 1 ½ miles wide, and 1000 feet deep.

Scientific Theories

Many researchers believe there may actually be several of these creatures living in the Loch Ness lake. The most common theory is that the animals are holdovers from the days of the dinosaurs – a surviving plesiosaurs that became trapped in the Loch’s murky waters when the water formation was first formed. This very plausible explanation combined with photographs, films, and sonar recordings give this strange anomaly much credibility.

Hugh Gray Photo

The first photo of Nessie, taken by Hugh Gray in 1933, is generally regarded as authentic. It shows the body of a large animal with a long neck extending out of the water, swimming in the Loch.  Gray was walking along the loch after church when he spotted a substantial commotion in the water.  Gray says that suddenly, a large creature rose up from the lake.  He had a camera on his person and quickly snapped the historic photo below.  The image is blurred suggesting that the creature was moving or splashing about as Gray had described.

Hugh Gray photograph - November 12, 1933

The Colonel Robert Wilson (the “Surgeon”) hoax photo

The famous ‘surgeons’ photograph (taken by Lt. Col. Robert Kenneth Wilson), seen on the newspaper cover in the photo below, made headlines after a highly respected British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, came forward with a picture  that appeared to show a sea serpent rising out of the water of the Loch.  Wilson claimed he took the photograph early in the morning on April 19, 1934, while driving along the northern shore of Loch Ness. He said he noticed something moving in the water and stopped his car to take a photo.  Wilson himself refused to have his name associated with it. Therefore it came to be known simply as “The Surgeon’s Photo.”

For years, many were sure that the photo was a hoax. But no rigorous studies of the image were conducted until 1984 when Stewart Campbell analyzed the photo for a 1984 article in the British Journal of Photography. Campbell concluded that the object in the water was only two or three feet long, far smaller than Wilson had claimed.

The truth about the hoax came out in 1994 when Christian Spurling, before his death at the age of 90, confessed to his involvement in a plot to create the famous Surgeon’s Photo, a plot that involved both Marmaduke Wetherell and Colonel Wilson.  According to Spurling, he had been approached by Wetherell (his stepfather) who wanted him to make a convincing model of the Loch Ness Monster.  He did so using a small plastic model and a toy submarine.  The model was then placed in the Loch Ness lake and photographed. The picture was then given to Wilson, whose job it was to serve as a credible front-man for the hoax.  In the original version of the image (see photo above) the diminutive size of the Nessie model in relationship to the Loch can be easily seen.  The original image that given to the newspapers was cropped to hide this perspective, making the “monster” appear larger than it actually was.

First sonar contact with the Loch Ness Monster

In December 1954, the crew of the fishing boat Rival III observed unusual sonar readings while moving across the Loch.  The ship’s sonar recorded a large, underwater object keeping pace with the boat.  Sonar showed the object to be 480 feet below the surface.  The object then dove to 2,600 feet and contact was lost.  The incident is widely believed to be the first sonar contact with Nessie.

Conclusive Evidence?

Daily Mail newspaper cover following British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson's famous Lochside photoWhat should have been regarded as the final conclusive evidence of the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, still failed to convince some scientists. In 1972, the Academy of Applied Sciences took the first underwater photos of the creature. After suddenly picking up two large objects on sonar, cameras were dispatched to record underwater photos of the objects. The undeveloped film was rushed to the head office of Eastman Kodak in the United States. The developed photo showed what looked like a large flipper attached to the right side of an apparent body. Other photos clearly showed the long neck and bulky body.

Some of the detail of the creature was obscured due to the peat-sogged murky waters of he Loch. For this reason, the photos were brought to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) where state-of-the-art photo enhancements could be performed. Much of the graininess of the originals was successfully removed. The pictures that appeared in Nature magazine and elsewhere, were these cleared up versions, not the grainy originals. Skeptics quickly atoned the ‘doctored’ photos crushing their potential impact, even though the original untouched photos still clearly showed the creature’s details.

The Academy team produced even more astounding photos in 1975 but were still unable to win over skeptics who continually referred to the incident of the doctored photos three years earlier. The mystery of the Loch Ness Monster remains unanswered…

Photos of the Loch Ness Monster throughout history


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