Not all urban myths deal with shadowy organizations and cabals that control our everyday lives. Most do, but not all. To wit, the abundance of stories and claims surrounding various cryptozoological critters. In the past we’ve told you about Bigfoot, but this week we turn our gaze to Nessie, the infamous monster said to live in the Scottish Highlands’ Loch Ness.
Unlike a lot of cryptids, the Loch Ness Monster has a long history, with our current, contemporary interest in the monster beginning more than 80 years ago. Though there were earlier sightings and reports of some kind of monster in the Loch Ness, the creature was brought to a wider awareness back in August of 1933, when the Loch Ness’ water bailiff, Alex Campbell, wrote about it in The Inverness Courier. The article claimed that a man by the name of George Spicer saw a creature resembling a dragon or a prehistoric monster moving on land toward the water.
Following this initial report, additional sightings began to flood in, as is typical when a cryptid is reported on by a trusted source. Like most facts surrounding urban myths and conspiracies, this information can be taken one of two ways. Believers will posit that these additional sightings are added proof of the creature’s existence, reported by people who were previously too scared or ashamed to come forward earlier. Meanwhile, skeptics will suggest that they are nothing more than copycat sightings, made by people who want a bit of fame for themselves, or perhaps are only seeing what they want to see.
Another possible reason for the sharp uptick in monster sightings is the fact that they were nothing new for the area, and the nearby residents may very well have already been primed to believe in such reports. That’s because while the 1933 sighting was what catapulted Nessie into wider recognition, there was a report of a water monster in the Loch Ness that appeared in the 7th century! And that report? It told of an event that happened about a hundred years earlier!
In the later parts of the 7th century, Adomnán of Iona wrote a hagiography of his relative, Saint Columba. One anecdote within the tome claims that Columba, having heard of a murderous “water beast” within the River Ness (which flows from the Loch), used one of his followers to lure the creature out before scaring the thing off with the sign of the Cross and some stern words. The Nessie faithful point to this as evidence, but skeptics are quick to note that biographies of saints frequently take some poetic license with real events, and that water monster’s in particular are a pretty common trope.
In between that 7th century claim and the 1933 report there were some limited sightings of the monster, but they were few and far between with many of the most notable only coming to light after 1933, making them somewhat less credible. From August of 1933 onward, however, there was no lack of additional sightings, claims and reports on Nessie.
That initial report was given additional credence only a few months later in December, when a photo of the monster taken by Hugh Gray was printed in the Daily Express. Like most cryptozoological photography, Gray’s pictures were exceptionally blurry, but could certainly be interpreted as being of a plesiosaur-esque beast splashing its way through the Loch Ness. Of course, skeptics have suggested that the photo is really just of Gray’s dog having a swim. Regardless of what the photo really was, however, it spurred believers forward, and even prompted the Secretary of State for Scotland to request the police to prevent attacks on the alleged monster.
One of the most enduring pieces of evidence of the Loch Ness Monster is the “Surgeon’s Photograph” from 1934 (pictured above). But after decades of inconclusive analysis, in the 1990s it came out from the men behind the photo that it was, in fact a hoax, making use of a toy submarine with a homemade plastic monster head attached. But despite so many claims — including those of the people who put forth the photo – there are those who would still believe that there is a monster swimming around in Loch Ness, putting forth the idea that the claims of a hoax are actually, themselves fraudulent, or that while this particular photo and sighting was a hoax, others are not.
And there have certainly been others, as sightings have continued to steadily occur in the intervening decades, mostly likely encouraged by the thriving Nessie-based tourism that the Loch Ness enjoys. But while there have been countless other sightings, photographs and videos purportedly of Nessie, there has never been any large consensus regarding their validity. Many of the reports don’t even agree on size, shape or nature of the beast, as evidenced by the fact that some early reports describe the creature walking on land, while more recent ones position it as a type of water-based dinosaur or, in at least one case an “elephant squid.”
Interest in Nessie has been so great and so persistent that there have been multiple concerted search efforts made. But once again, while several of these claim to have found something, the jury is still out on what it is they actually found. Opinions run the gamut from the monster itself, to tricks of the light, to mundane wildlife and more outright hoaxes.
It might seem strange that in 2016 there could be a mystery surrounding whether there is a monster living in a freshwater Loch. One might assume that with such a relatively limited area to search, it’d be easy to either capture the beast or completely rule out its existence. But the Loch Ness is exceptionally massive, containing more fresh water than every lake in England and Wales combined. And what’s more is that due to all of the peat in the soil, the water is extremely murky. As for how Nessie could elude not just inarguable sightings, but capture as well, believers point to the fact that the Loch Ness is connected to multiple bodies of water in Scotland, eventually leading to the sea.
What do you think? Is belief in the Loch Ness Monster nothing more than a combination of wishful thinking and hoaxes, or is there a giant prehistoric beast lurking at the bottom of that murky loch? Tell us below in the comments!
Aubrey Sitterson is the creator of SKALD, the ongoing sword & sorcery serial podcast, available on iTunes, Stitcher & Podomatic. Follow him on Twitter or check out his website for more information.