whistle was blown on the eleventh of March 1994, and what a resounding
tweet it was. NESSIE AND BIG-GAME HUNTER'S MONSTER EGO screamed the headlines;
CLOCKWORK SUBMARINE AND PLASTIC WOOD FASHIONED A LEGEND. Newspapers and
magazines all over the world carried the story of 90 year-old Christian
Spurling's deathbed confession, and when the dust finally cleared a myth
that had taken sixty years to flourish was reduced to rubble. The Loch
Ness Monster as we knew it was dead. The sceptics were at last vindicated:
the "Surgeon's Photo," thorn in the side to many a disbeliever for more
than half a century, was no more than an eighteen inch practical joke that
went too far. And that, as they say, was that.
However, Spurling's story is a veritable block of moldy swiss cheese so full of holes that Nessie herself might swim through them. To examine this tale en toto brings a new dimension to one of the most controversial photographic images of all time, and might perhaps even prompt some to question how easily they will accept those things that seem "right" over those that seem "wrong."
It wasn't until the twentieth century that the outside world became aquainted with the beast of Loch Ness, though the legend had been a highland staple since 565 AD. Tourists and visitors were few in number to this remote place until the construction of a new road in 1933, one that opened passing eyes to a hitherto unnoticed spectacle. So it was that the first flurry of sightings began, and when a local by the name of Hugh Gray produced a highly ambiguous shot of what he claimed was a large animal rolling and plunging in the waters, the press took notice.
The Daily Mail sponsored an expedition to the loch under the leadership of shameless self-promoter Marmaduke Wetherall, a "big game hunter" who was more likely inclined to see his name in print than he was to find any prehistoric relic. However, forty-eight hours into his quest, he struck gold: a set of two four-toed footprints was discovered near the water's edge, and after a plaster cast was sent to the London Natural History Museum, the intrepid Wetherall made headlines as his findings became front page news. Then, three weeks later, the museum made its report, and the conclusions were dire. If the print in question was made by the Loch Ness Monster, then we knew now that she was a practical joker as well as an elusive serpent: the cast was of a young female hippopotomous foot, and a mounted specimen, at that.
With that Nessie died the first of her many deaths. The Daily Mail cancelled the expedition
as it became the butt of its rivals' jokes, and Wetherall was unceremoniously dropped with decidedly less fanfare than that which had previously surrounded him. He returned home to Twickenham, a clearly irritated man, to sulk within an abode filled with stuffed hippo feet and other shrivelled hunting trophies. All then was quiet. For four months there was silence, and then the storm broke.
In late April of 1934 a new photograph of Nessie appeared, and this one ran rampant across the front pages of even those newspapers that had previously laughed the idea of her existance away without hardly a second thought. The identity of the photographer was witheld, and because it was known only that he was a member of the medical profession, the shot became known as the "Surgeon's Photo." It was a beautiful, classic portrait of an upraised head and neck held over the waterline, as graceful and poised as any swan and yet decidedly serpentine in its visage. This was the photograph that would become the defining image of the Loch Ness Monster, and without it the legend may very well have perished for good. Suddenly the hippo prank was forgotten as would-be viewers of such a spectacle crowded about the loch in droves, all peering out over the water should Nessie decide to come up for an encore. In fact, the media had such a field day with this that the surgeon in question came forward to identify himself for Rupert T. Gould's book The Loch Ness Monster and Others, published just after: his name was Col. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a well respected Harley Street gynaecologist, and his claims of good fortune have since become the source of much debate.
The story goes that early on the 19th of April, Wilson was motoring to Inverness with a friend, and stopping to urinate near Invermoriston, spied a large animal some 200-300 yards from shore. He rushed back to the car for his camera (a quarter-plate with a telephoto lens) and snapped four pictures before the creature submerged. Arriving at Invermoriston he took this film to a chemist named Morrison, announcing that he had seen and photographed the Loch Ness Monster. When developed, the first two exposures were blank and the fourth lackluster when compared to the exceptional third, the one we all know as the "Surgeon's Photograph." Indeed, Wilson not only photographed Nessie, he immortalized her.
Regardless, the Loch Ness Monster faded from public interest shortly afterward with the coming of the second World War and the rise of an even greater monster, Adolph Hitler. Indeed, during the next twenty years Nessie was largely forgotten but for a few photographs, none of which were as compelling as Wilson's. However, in 1960, aeronautical engineer Tim Dinsdale came to Loch Ness, spurred by his own detailed analysis of the "Surgeon's Photo" and took a motion picture of the animal that renewed interest in a way never before seen. Thus it was that the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau began constant vigil of the waters in the early sixties and the Academy of Applied Science took underwater photos in both 1972 and 1975 that would seem to prove the creature's existance if not for the sceptics that argue vehemently from the sidelines. Still, despite even the numerous photos, motion pictures and sonar readings that have built up a more tangible case in the sixty-five years since Wilson first saw something in the water near Invermoriston, it is the "Surgeon's Photo" that has been the Shroud of Turin for so many Monsterhunters. And in 1994, their Shroud was claimed to be a Wet Nap. After that, all other evidence was forgotten.
recent American television programme intent on disproving cryptozoological
mysteries summed up the alleged "Surgeon's Photo Hoax" thusly: "Attributed
to a respected surgeon, it was considered proof for sixty years that a
monster inhabited the murky waters of Loch Ness. But in 1994 it was ultimately
revealed as a hoax in a stunning deathbed confession by one of those responsible."
This has since become the mantra repeated by the uneducated Everyman, and because of the photograph's universal notiriety is in direct contrast to later and more convincing evidence, Nessie was relegated to punchline material in a manner not seen since the great hippo prank of 1933. The story, however, is a bit meatier than that.
In 1993, Loch Ness researchers Alastair Boyd and David Martin came across an article in the Sunday Telegraph from 1975 in which Marmaduke Wetherall's son Ian claimed he and his father had once fabricated a photograph of the monster. By this time Ian was long since dead and only his step-son, ninety year-old Christian Spurling, was alive to tell the tale.
According to Spurling's memory of events occuring sixty years prior, Wetherall had been so incensed at losing the Daily Mail expedition that he decided to "pull one over on them." He and his son Ian had decided on staging a photo, and after purchasing a clockwork submarine and several tins of plastic wood, they approached Spurling, an expert model-maker, with the idea. "It was modelled on the idea of a sea serpent," Spurling recalled. He built it in eight days.
The four photos were taken, Spurling said, in a quiet bay and then given to R.K. Wilson after a mutual aquaintance of Wetherall and the surgeon named the latter a suitable candidate. Wilson supposedly had a devilish sense of humour and would be ripe for the prank. So history was made and Wetherall vindicated, choosing instead to laugh quietly to himself after the photo became international news. It had, he felt, gotten too out of hand to bulldozer now, and he remained uncharacteristically silent until his death in the 1950's.
Such was Spurling's story. All involved were long since gone--Wilson passed away in 1969--and no one was left to either confirm or deny the reminiscings of a ninety year-old man in poor health. In an odd turn, Spurling himself died shortly after, but it was five months before the scandal hit the public. By then, of course, it became a "deathbed confession," despite the fact that Boyd and Martin sought out Spurling, not the other way around. Giving it the more tragic spin has certainly helped perpetuate a myth in its own right. However, the myth is hardly airtight, and if one listens very closely they can just hear the sound of leaking air.
Let us start first with the photo itself.
"Surgeon's Photo" is a staple of crypto lore, and no book of Forteana is
compleat without it. It has been discussed, denied, explained, dissected
and dismissed millions of times and will go through the same workout a
million times more. Why is it so difficult to dismiss? The answer is quite
simple: It just looks right.
Take a look at any of the other fraudulant images to come down the pike within the past sixty years to see what I mean. Ballyhooed photoraphs taken by Frank Searle and Anthony "Doc" Shiels have all had their five minutes of fame and then seen for what they are: cheap and derivative. Alas that the Loch Ness Muppets shall continue to thrive and multiply well into the next century.
Wilson's photo is different. Perhaps it doesn't look quite as rigid and lifeless as Searle's monsters; perhaps it doesn't look as ridiculously "lively" as Shiels'. There is nothing overstated about the image presented here, and it is the subtlety and poise that makes such a dramatic impact. Simply put, it's much harder to believe that this is an eighteen inch piece of modelled plastic wood than it is to simply let go and believe it to be the four foot neck and head of an undiscovered creature. Other phony images have been easier to detect, and oddly enough, the "Surgeon's Photo" was never speculated to be anything but a living animal--prehistoric or otherwise--until the late seventies when naysayer Steuart Campbell proposed it to be a hoax (he has since gone on to say the same of almost all the other classsic photos as well). Before that time he believed it to be an otter, and considering Campbell's decidedly negative view on the subject, this opinion is quite charitable. Other theories considered were the crested grebe, the dorsal fin of a sick pilot whale, a young deer whose antlers were still unformed, and, in a ridiculous notion quickly disposed of (and the only inanimate theory proposed), a tree branch. But for the Linnean Society's "stick hypothesis," it was accepted by all that this was an animate object. No other Loch Ness photograph has had similar uniformity of opinion.
There are clearly reason for this. One need only look to see the concentric rings around the head and neck to see that this isn't simply a bit of twig bobbing about in the shallows. It's all a matter of dynamics. Simply put, a rising object will propell water first up and then about, creating a bulls-eye of sorts. This is quite obvious in the "Surgeon's Photo," and it says something about the object in question. If this were indeed a model monster floating along on a clockwork submarine, all disturbance would be trailing behind the neck, not expanding about it. Alastair Boyd has actually built up a case for this point despite attempts to do the contrary: on three telvision documentaries he has demonstrated, using a "Nessie" built to the original specifications, how the hoax was done. In none of these demonstrations were rings evident, reinforcing a simple truth: the creature shown in Wilson's photo, whatever it may be, rose from under the water.
(It is interesting to note that in Boyd's "recreations," the faux-Nessie that he has assembled is true to the original specifications but for one point: it is a styrofoam neck and head he has mounted upon a clockwork submarine, not one of plastic and wood as Spurling claims. This is an interesting observation, and further prompts us to be suspicious as to whether or not the submarine claimed to have been used could have even supported the weight. Chances are it could not and would have tipped over, sputtering about on its side. Until Boyd builds a model true to the story he supports, however, we'll never be sure.)
We most also consider the analysis made by Tim Dinsdale in 1960. As he writes in Loch Ness Monster (italics author's own): "...it is possible to make out a second smaller ring of ripples, caused by some disturbance well to the rear of the neck...Being smaller in diameter than the ring caused by the neck, it follows that it must have been generated after the head and neck broke surface in the position shown, because in water, all ripples, whether caused by a big splash or a minute disturbance, move outwards at the same speed--it is only the height or 'amplitude' of the ripple that varies. This is fundamental, and means that ripples cannot catch up on each other; and this proves irrefutably that with the neck appearing in the position shown, there is also a part of the animal underwater, considerably behind it." Indeed, if one looks at a copy of the "Surgeon's Photo" none too generously cropped, this second ring can be seen just to the left and up from the neck, and basic principles of motion, are, after all, basic principles of motion.
There is of course, yet another twist to the story that has not been addressed by Alastair Boyd or David Martin, and that is the issue of the second "Surgeon's Photograph." A contact print of this image was kept by Morrison, the chemist who developed Wilson's shots in 1934, and it is due to his impulse that this crucial piece of evidence exists. Time has not been kind, however, as the grain on the print makes it impossible either to enhance the image or enlarge it to a size comparable to its companion piece. Thusly, the image is small and blurred and in direct contrast to the clarity of the "Surgeon's Photo." However, despite the flaws, when one views an uncropped copy of both shots side by side they become quite similar and reveal something very interesting: no matter how you slice and dice it, the animal in the second, lesser-known photograph is in a different configuration entirely. If the first shows the neck raised, the second shows it descending back into the water with its head held at an angle that does not compliment the former. Simply stated, there had to have been two models to accomplish this feat, and Christian Spurling claimed only to have made one.
This "lost" photo is the bane of Spurling's story, and in all tellings, its existance is carefully removed. After all, how can you compromise these two images when the hoax allegation caters only to one? Does this not suggest that the teller was perhaps unaware of the second photograph in the first place, and by leaving it out of his tale thusly backs himself into a corner? Indeed, had he not died as suddenly as he did or had the story been brought to the media sooner, the pro-Nessie camp might have had the opportunity to cross-examine. This, sadly, was not the case, and a tragedy it was: had Spurling lived, someone might have pointed out that for this to be a model planted upon a submarine, the angle of the neck in the second photo would clearly show the submarine's tail jutting out the water! But, these points are omitted; to leave them in place would only make the "crackpots" seem "right."
And what of Marmaduke Wetherall, publicity seeker and self-promoter? Are we to believe that he got his revenge on the Daily Mail and sat on it? This is in direct contrast to his character and simply cannot be reconciled with what we know of him. The bottom line is, the man wasn't intelligent enough to have pulled off a hoax of this caliber. To understand this, we have to return once again to the hippo prank and ask the question: was he or was he not in on that as well?
Depending on what book you may have read, Wetherall's involvement in the orgin of the footprint varies. So let us examine it both ways. Let's say that some sources are correct and he did have a collection of stuffed hippo feet, thereby implicating his guilt. Very well, then. Consider: would any sane man who put such stake in his career and reputation front a heavily publicized expedition, announce bogus findings that he knows are identifiable to the scientific eye...and then allow them to be sent off to the Natural History Museum for analysis? Pretty scary thought. While we're theorizing, let's look at it the other way and wonder: would any sane man going off to search for a monster that's considered blarney to ninety-nine percent of the populace see two solitary tracks sitting near the water and think they were genuine? Look out the window after a snowfall: if one sees a pair of footprints standing off by themselves without any other markings about, one would tend to be suuspicious. Thusly, it's quite easy to see that Wetherall just wasn't up to a prank on the scale of the "Surgeon's Photo." The poor fellow just didn't have it in him.
There have been dozens of points and counterpoints made, and urban legends are born. FABLE: Wilson felt so embarressed by his role in the affair that he refused to talk about the subject forever after, dropping hints that the photo was faked (eg the "photo session" actually occurred on April 1, or "All Fool's Day," as it's known in Great Britain) and even going so far as to say he didn't believe in Nessie at all. FACT: Wilson proudly stepped into the limelight, quite obviously pleased by the fame his photograph was getting, but soon became disgusted and timid when warned by the medical authorities that the publicity was bringing his profession into disrepute. It's just this sort of sloppy, melodramatic journalism that casts doubt over the whole affair, and is in fact as sensationalized as it blames its topic for being. Facts are dropped, and in doing so, the whole story changes.
The frightening part is that the public buys into the whole "Surgeon's Photo" hoax because it's far easier to do than to consider the existance of an undiscovered animal swimming about in Loch Ness. It's definitely a clever tale, though, but it's simply a bit too thin. One point that has been forgotten is that this story was made public just over a month before the photo's sixtieth anniversary, a milestone that shouldn't be ignored. To "burst the bubble," one could hardly pick a better time. Is this to say that Spurling was a liar? No, and it's very possible that he and Wetherall did hoax a photograph at one time or another, but it's also within the realms of possibility that Spurling's memory wasn't quite as sharp as it may have been and he'd been talking about something else altogether. On the darker side, this might simply have been his way of allowing the long deceased Wetherall to finally get his "back" on all of us: by attributing the "Surgeon's Photo" to the man when there was no one left alive to argue the point. It seems odd that Ian Wetherall's original story was published back in 1975 and no one ever asked him about which photo he claimed to have faked in all that time. If it really was the "Surgeon's Photo," someone had to have been told, and with a story like that, wouldn't they have rushed to make it public? Alastair Boyd and David Martin certainly did. Perhaps he told the truth the first time, and the faked shot was so insignificant in the annals of Loch Ness history that no one cared. Perhaps only by saying that it was the "Surgeon's Photo" did Spurling interest the greater public. And perhaps the timing of his death simply couldn't have been any worse for those of us who would have cared to ask these all of these questions.
The story stands, however, that it was a "deathbed confession" and, of course, who would tell a lie under such circumstances? Listeners all over the globe ate it up despite the fact that 1) it wasn't a deathbed confession at all and 2) there were still so many variables to be considered. The problem here is that the public is never made aware of such holes in continuity, because no "sane" person believes in fringe subjects anyway. After all, what newspaper or magazine would actually risk their reputation telling an unbiased story on the subject when there's the chance that they might lose readers in the process? Such are the cards Nessie has been dealt: she'll never gain respectability until all evidence is offered to the public, but the public doesn't want to even entertain the idea, and so the facts are witheld and altered to make a more "comfortable" story. It was this way in 1993, and, sadly, it will be this way well into the next century.
So for now, the Loch Ness Monster is dead, but if we recall a certain hippopotomous foot's ability to squash a legend and a mere photograph's ability to resuscitate it just after, then perhaps the cyclical nature of things will bring a new chance for Nessie to rise again to the surface and receive the attention she so badly deserves. So long as minds remained closed, however, and the media continues to cater toward such a negative way of thinking, that day may never come.
And, incidentally, don't let the literature fool you, friends: the "Surgeon's Photo" was taken on April 19th, not on the first, as the sceptics would have you believe. Rupert T. Gould's The Loch Ness Monster and Others was the book to innocently start this rumour, and the missing nine has been attributed to a misprint...
But such are the things that myths are built on.
I wish to draw your attention to the egreguious errors in the article.
First Myers cites the model monster on the submarine as 18 inches tall. This is incorrect Spurling's monster head was 14" tall.
Secondly he states
that Wilson got out of the car to "urinate" when they spotted the monster.
Where did he get this from? Not one of the reliable writers on the subject
has ever mentioned this. What is Myers' source?
He also atates that "all" accepted this as an animate object other than the Linnean Society. Who are "all"? On the contrary most observers of the photo with a hint of impartiality have stated the only animation in the photo is the rippled rings around the object. Which bring me to the
next point. Myers states like Dinsdale before him, that the riples indicate something rising from the water. What they both failed to mention is that the same type of rings occur when something is dropped on the water. Boyd has replicated this to my satisfaction on no less than three occasions.
Erik Myers writes
about Robert Wilson from reading books and other reports. Has he ever talked
to people who knew Wilson personally.? Boyd has. I come from the same town
in England as Alastair Boyd and Robert Wilson also lived in our town: Southend-on-Sea.
Boyd lived around the
corner from me and I inspected a mountain of evidence he compiled from people in Southend who knew Wilson who described him as a "great teller of tales". In other words what Wilson told you had to be taken with a barrel of salt.
In addition to
this he also categorically stated to military personnel in Northern England
where he was stationed during WWII that he had faked the 1934 event. He
told this story so many times in the officers' mess that the living witnesses
who heard this story were absolutely fed up
with it. Their testimony is on paper in the hands of Boyd and Martin.
In 1982 Ronald
Binns wrote the Loch Ness Mystery Solved and in this volume he records
the admission of Robert Wilson's youngest son that his father had pulled
off a hoax. If Wilson's own son confesses to the facts back in the late
1960s, what more is there to say about the
authenticity. Nothing. The fact that the Loch Ness Investigation chose to ignore what Wilson's son candidly admitted is to indicate how blindly they wanted to believe in the monster and not interested in the facts. Also Ian Wetherall owned up to the fact that the hoax as taken place as far back as 1975. Again the Loch Ness investigators shamelessly refused to interview him. If they had done so back then, the Surgeon's photo hoax would have been exposed 24 years ago rather than in 1994.
I also take Myers
to task for asserting the second and lesser known photo is of the same
animal as the Surgeon's phot. There is a categoric difference in the shape
of the heads and the thickness of the necks. Only those who want
to beileve that this is the Loch Ness monster would unwisely insist this
is the same object. The lesser known photo shows no background whatsoever
unlike the uncropped version of the Surgeon's photo so it could have been
taken anywhere in the world and is therefore
inadmissible as evidence . Wilson obviously did not give the Daily Mail the second photo because anyone with normal vision can see that the two objects are different. I surmise that the second picture was a prototype of the finished false head on a submarine created by Spurling. By the
way, there is no proof either that the Surgeon's photo was even taken at Loch Ness. There is not one single identifiable landmark anywhere in the photo. However, I am willing to accept that it was based on what Spurling had to say.
Myers also says
that the date of the event was 19th April. It could not have been. The
weather data fromn that day in 1934 indicates that the weather could
not have created the conditions we see on the Loch that day. However, the
weather report from 1 April, 1934 is consistent with
the conditions in the photo (see Leblond, Cryptozoology). Wilson not only told Gould it was April 1st, he also told Constance Whyte, author of More than a Legend, in a letter that it was April 1st.
I would strongly suggest that Myers read my book In the Domain of the Lake Monsters, Key Porter Books, for more facts about the false Surgeon's Photo. I have seen evidence produced by Alastair Boyd that categorically indicates that Wilson, Maurice Chambers, Marmaduke Wetherall, Ian Wethgerell and Christian Spurling hoaxed the photo that is a false benchmark of what the Loch Ness monster should look like.
Let me say that I have concluded that there IS a Loch Ness monster, but it is certainly not depicted in that prank photo shot 1st April, 1934.
In the Domain of the Lake Monsters,
President, British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club.
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