April 20, 2009

75th Year: Famous Surgeon’s Photo of Nessie

Taken on April 19th and first published on April 21st, 1934, the famous or infamous photograph, depending on your point of view, celebrates a milestone.

Loch Ness Monster Surgeons Photo

The famed Surgeon’s Photo of the Loch Ness Monster

In 1934, Colonel Robert Wilson, a highly respectable British surgeon, said that he noticed something moving in the water and took a picture of it. He happened to be urinating at the time, according to one version of what he shared later. The resulting image showed the slender neck of what some felt was a “sea=serpent” rising out of the Loch. The photo came to be known simply as “The Surgeon’s Photo” and for decades it was considered to be the best evidence of the Monster.

Then in 1994, when Christian Spurling, at the age of 90, told of (no, it was not a death-bed confession) his involvement in a plot, that included Wetherell and Colonel Wilson, to create the famous photo. Apparently Wetherell’s motive was revenge, since he was humiliated years earlier when the supposed monster’s footprints he found were nothing but dried hippo’s footsteps. Or that’s the tale he told.

The reality is that Christian Spurling’s media-applauded “deathbed confession” is a hoax itself. The guy was telling his fable about “the photo” (even though there are two images – #2 shown above) two years before he died.

Besides, the hidden fact that London gynecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson was at Loch Ness with his mistress has as much to do with the “secretive” nature of these photos as does any spiteful fantasies that Christian Spurling dreamed up about them.

Now, the Scotsman has a good overview of the 75th anniversary of the photograph:

IT WAS a photograph that spawned a multi-million-pound industry, bringing monster hunters from across the world flocking to Scotland.
The shot of a sinister head and elongated neck rising from the brooding waters of Loch Ness was all it took to start a global obsession with Nessie.

And 75 years since the mysterious shape was photographed, the search for the monster shows no sign of abating, with more than 1,000 people claiming to have caught a glimpse of the world’s most elusive monster – despite the picture being revealed as a fake.

The photograph, which was claimed to have been taken by a London surgeon, Robert Wilson, and known as “Surgeon’s photo”, has also helped to bring in millions of pounds in “Loch Ness Monster” tourist trade.

The picture, taken on 19 April, 1934, was published in the Daily Mail two days later and triggered a public passion for “Nessie” that lives to this day. Cary Cooper, professor of psychology and health at Lancaster University, explained why he thought “Nessie” had captured people’s imagination for so many years.

“In general, people’s lives are incredibly mundane and predictable, and from that a desire to find something “inexplicable” – monsters, spaceships or aliens, runs through us,” he said.

“Science says Nessie cannot exist, and even if she did they would have found her by now, but that only seems to fuel the flames for theories.

“The picture has been dismissed as a fake, but that has not stopped people wanting to believe that she is real – that she defies what the scientists tell us.

“If you add to people’s natural leaning for a belief in the unexplained the slick marketing machine behind the monster, then you have a mystery that will never die.”

References to a creature in Loch Ness date back to St Columba’s biography in 565, but the myth only took hold in the modern era after reports of a strange object and then a series of inexplicable photographs appeared in the press during the 1930s. While the first piece of photographic evidence of the Loch Ness Monster was a picture snapped by Hugh Gray on 12 November, 1933, the “Surgeon’s photo” of the following year remains the most memorable.

David Bremner, whose family owns the Loch Ness Centre and Exhibition Experience in Drumnadrochit, as well as the 3D Loch Ness Experience in Edinburgh, said: “It’s one of the most iconic photos in Scotland, recognised all over the world. Although now is recognised as a hoax, it still shouts out “Scotland”.

“People remain fascinated by the idea of the Loch Ness Monster, and in the intervening years we have had more than 1,000 sightings from people, including priests and police chiefs. You can’t put a figure on the millions of pounds the photograph has brought in to Scotland.”

Over the years, local rumours reinforced ancient Scottish myths about water creatures called “kelpies” . In the 1930s, talk of the monster reached fever pitch and Nessie-hunting took hold after a string of sightings.

Circus impresario Bertram Mills reportedly offered £20,000 to anyone who could capture the monster for his circus.

In 1933, a newspaper hired a big-game hunter, Marmaduke Wetherell, to track down the monster and he claimed to have uncovered its footprints by the banks of the loch. However, researchers from London’s Natural History Museum declared that the tracks were fakes.

Mr Wetherell was so angry with the newspaper’s coverage of the fake tracks that he set about ensuring his revenge.

Yet it was only in 1994 that the truth finally emerged – when Christian Spurling, 90, Mr Wetherell’s stepson, confessed to his part in a plot involving both Mr Wilson and Mr Wetherell to fake the “Surgeon’s photo” using a toy submarine fitted with a sea-serpent’s head.

Darrel Patterson, of the Loch Ness Monster Exhibition Centre, said that picture remains one of their top-selling postcards.

“It’s just so iconic,” he added. Source


• LOCH Ness is 23 miles long and 1 mile wide.

• The deepest spot is about 754 feet in the basin just south west of Urquhart Castle.

• John Murray carried out the first bathymetrical survey of Loch Ness in 1901.

• The BBC’s Royal Correspondent Nicholas Witchell wrote the first edition of his book, Loch Ness Story, while living in a hut on a bend in the road just north of Urquhart Castle.

• The Official Loch Ness Exhibition opened in 1980 and the first day’s takings were £80.80.

• The centre now receives more than 300,000 visitors each year.

• In 1969 a model monster was used for the film The Private Life Of Sherlock Holmes. It sank into the loch while being towed by the submarine Pisces.

• In 1982 Dr Maurice Burton proposed in an article for New Scientist magazine that supposed sightings of Nessie could actually be fermenting logs of Scots pine rising to the surface of the loch’s cold waters.


Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.

Filed under Cryptotourism, CryptoZoo News, Lake Monsters, Loch Ness Monster, Photos, Pop Culture