Last Gasps


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Wouldn’t it be nice if there were unicorns or rivers of milk chocolate?

Unfortunately, as nice as those dreams may sound, they just can’t exist in the real world. Many of the myths and fables of our world fall into that category. As nice as they might sound, they just don’t exist.

Written by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr.

Nos tibi credere.

Phenomenon explored

Loch Ness Monster


How do you bring tourist dollars to an isolated area in northern Scotland that otherwise would be ignored by the world at large? You add a monster, a few bad photos and a gullible public.

The Loch Ness is a glacial lake and the largest body of fresh water in Great Britain. Until 18,000 years ago, the area surrounding the Loch (as well as most of northern Scotland) was under ½ mile of ice from the Pleistocene glacier. Stretching twenty two and a half miles long while averaging a little over one miles wide, the lake reaches a depth of 754 feet. With a surface area of 14000 acres and holding over 16,430,000 gallons of water, there is more water in Loch Ness than all the other lakes in England, Scotland and Wales put together. 7 major rivers (which include the 1922 Caledonian canal) feed the Loch but the river Ness, which flows from Inverness to Moray Firth, is the only outlet. Because of the depth, the Loch never freezes. This is because below 100 feet, the loch is permanently 44®. As the surface water cools, the cold water sinks down and the 44® water rises. As a result, there is a blanket of steam over the lake in winter.


Prior to the first report of Nessie, Scotland had a rich history monsters. The Stronsay Beast washed ashore in 1808. The Sea Serpent of the Isle of Lewis was reported in 1856. The boobrie was a giant carnivorous water fowl. The Buarach-bhaoi was a 9-eye eel. The biasd na srogaig was a one-horned beast with vast legs. There was even a monster called the 12-legged Big beast of Lochawe.

Beyond the beast of legend, Loch Ness has a history of hoaxes and misidentified “monsters” prior to Nessie. The 1868 “water-horse” scare was a prime example. In this particular case, the “monster” was in fact a “bottle-nosed whale about six feet long” that had been caught at sea and cast into the Loch. The body had been enough to cause a scare in the area. A similar “monster” bodies was found in 1972 when the body of an elephant seal was dumped in the Loch. In 1852, the inhabitants of the Loch were prepared to go to war against monsters when two unidentified creatures were sighted moving across the Loch. While there were fears that it was a sea serpent, the villagers armed with hatchets, scythes and pitchforks faced a pair of ponies that had swam across the Loch.

The first modern report of a monster in the Loch was on 27 August 1930 from three fishermen. The Northern Chronicle reported:

About 8:15 o’clock we heard a terrible noise on the water, and looking around we saw, about 600 yards distant, a great commotion with spray flying everywhere. Then the fish – or whatever it was – started coming toward us, and when it was about 300 yards away it turned to the right and went into the Holly Bush Bay above Dores and disappeared in the depths. Duringits rush it caused a wave about 2½ feet high, and we could see a wriggling motion, but that was all, the wash hiding it from view. The wash, however, was sufficient to cause our boat to rock violently. We have no idea what it was, but we are quite positive it could not have been salmon.

While at the time, the story failed to generate any interest. On 14 April 1933, the story was recycled and embellished by a reporter named Alex Campbell. Two of Campbell’s associates, Aldie and John Mackay from the Drumnadrochit Hotel, had seen something in the Loch. While the Mackay sighting was little more than a disturbance on the water ¾ of a mile across the lake with water splashing and resembling a whale surfacing with a boiling “mass of foam,” when Campbell repeated the story of the 3-anglers, the story was extended into one of fearsome monster sightings over generations.

The Mackay story caught the collective imaginations of the people surround the Loch. One key to this public acceptance came thanks to the 1933 release of KING KONG in Scotland. Kong had been released in London on 10 April 1933 Audiences were stunned and excited by the stop-motion monsters that fought each other on the giant screens. Sudden prehistoric monsters were all the rage.

For the rest of the Summer a few vague reports of monsters came from the Loch. The on 4 August 1933 the Inverness Courier published a spectacular story from a London visitor named George Spicer. According to Spicer, he had seen “a dragon or prehistoric animal” with a long neck pass in front of him across the road. Ironically, much of Spicer’s description echo the events from King Kong with the long-necked water monster. Ironically, in an interview, Spicer even reference the fact that the creature looked like the monster from Kong.

After the Spicer case, reports of monster sighting skyrocketed. Old legends suddenly began to be tied into modern sightings. Water-horse stories became early Loch Ness monster sightings. Stories of Saint Columba were mined to take his battle with a river serpent as an encounter with the monster.

Additional excitement in the idea of pre-historic monsters still being alive had grown of the previous century as science and popular literature speculated over the continued existence of creatures from the ages of dinosaurs. Jules Verne’s popular 1864 book Journey to the Center of the Earth featured plesiosaurs. Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World prominently featured a variety of plesiosaurs that could have been found in the Loch.

Perhaps captured by the moment of fame, suddenly Campbell began having frequently monster encounters to write about. Fairly soon, Campbell’s reports degenerated into farce.

Quickly the tourist industry seized on the idea of the Loch Ness Monster. Travel companies began to advertise train and bus tour packages to see the monster. In fact, so many buses came to the area that special safety rules were introduced. Sudden crowds were coming to Scotland and the monster was an advertising icon. Radio scripts, comic strips and even movies began to appear. From Floor polish to cereal to plush toys, the monster became the icon of Scotland. One newspaper even joked, “Monster Bobs Up Again… Hotels Doing Fine.”

The next big monster news came when a man named Hugh Gray took five impossibly bad photographs of what he claimed was a monster. While four of the five photos were blank, the famous photo that had a picture is completely beyond recognition. While the validity of the photos is questionable, it is important to note that Gray reported a questionable number of Nessie sightings.

Frauds continued to occur. The December 1933 hunt from “big-game hunter” Marmaduke Wetherell was sent by the Daily Mail to find the monster. After only two days, Wetherell found the first “proof” of the monster in the form of footprints. It was later revealed in 1999 that the prints were a hoax made by using a dried hippopotamus foot.

By far, most famous photo of the Loch Ness Monster was taken on 21 April 1934 allegedly by a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson. The photograph, referred to as the “Surgeon’s Photo,” shows the long necked monster with its head poked out of the water. Generally this photo is shown tightly cropped and looks quite large. When seen uncropped it is much more apparent that it is a small object in a large lake. In reality, the Surgeon’s Photo was simply another hoax from Marmaduke Wetherell and Maurice Chambers. This fraud was admitted in 1975 by Ian Wetherell, Marmaduke’s son, who has assisted in constructing the model for the photo shoot.

The next major photo was the Lechlan Stuart photograph in July 1951. It is perhaps the most clearly a fraud of the monster pictures. The 3 large humps emerging from the water were for many argued as authentic but are now universally considered frauds.

Even as recently as 2014, Nessie sightings continue to be reported.  Thanks to a variety of monster hunting television shows, the search for the beast is constantly producing vague sonar reading and blurred pictures (in spite of the fact that most modern television cameras can produce clear pictures from extreme distances). Even sources like Google Maps as used to hunt for Nessie. Sadly things like boat wakes are often mistaken for monsters by those that don’t understand how satellite images work.

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A Nessie toy

Nessie in a VW advertisement

Marmaduke Wetherell discovering Nessie footprints in 1933

2014 Google map version of Nessie Photo

Hugh Gray 1933 Nessie photo

Faking the Surgeon’s photo

Uncropped Surgeon’s Photo

Lechlan Stuart photograph in July 1951