Today in History: The Loch Ness Monster Sighting
While stories about the Loch Ness have been told as far back as 1,500 years ago, the aquatic dragon-like creature became modern legend in 1933, when a May 2 sighting makes the local news.
The Inverness Courier told readers of a story about a couple living in the area who spotted the “enormous animal” that was rolling about on the surface of the water and so the legend grew.
The Loch Ness “Monster” was derived from the title the Courier editor had dubbed the animal, bringing on a media frenzy and circus of folks wanting to see the beast or capture it for the 20,000 pound sterling silver reward.
Being the largest area of fresh water in Great Britain, the Loch Ness flows through the Scottish Highlands, creating a perfect place for a monster to live. "Nessie," as the monster was later dubbed, swims around in the nearly 800 feet of deep fresh waters in the Loch Ness and can swim for a length of the water body’s 23 miles. Scottish history speaks of Nessie for as far back as 500 A.D., when the locals carved pictures into the stones jutting from the ground near Loch Ness. The earliest known written word about the monster was written by a biography of Saint Columbia, an Irish missionary who is known to have brought Christianity to Scotland. The biographer writes about Columbia’s travels as he was on his way to see the king of the region. He stopped at Loch Ness to take on a monster that had been killing swimmers and fishermen in the lake. Columbia invoked the name of God as he witnessed a large creature about to attack a man, telling the monster to go back with all speed. The story was written that the creature retired to the lake, never to kill another man.
During 1933, construction of a new road along the lake was finished. The drivers who traveled along the pathway could see clearly into the loch. In April of 1933, a sighting was reported, bringing more interest in the lake and the creature who lived in the waters. May 2 brought about a whole new aspect to the Loch Ness monster – the couple who spotted the creature got a good look at the beast, as he traveled on land near the loch. British newspapers dispersed several reporters to Scotland, including the London Daily Mail. Marmaduke Wetherell, a big-game hunter, was sent along to confront the monster. Wetherell claimed to have witnessed large footprints which indicated a huge four-legged creature. The Daily Mail immediately printed out a story, with large headlines that implanted the idea of the monster not being of a simple legend, but a fact.
Tourists flocked to the loch, taking approach in boats and on the docks, hoping to catch a glimpse of the now-famous creature. Casts of the footprints were taken using plaster and were taken straight to the British Natural History Museum. The tracks were reported to be that of a hippopotamus. The footprints showed the logical aspect of the story, as one particular footprint showed the hippo foot was probably one that was stuffed. The story deflated at this point, ending the Nessie mania. The stories of additional sightings continued to trickle in over the years.
In 1934, a photograph captured a dinosaur-like monster coming from the murky water of the ness. The photograph almost inferred Nessie was a type of extinct plesiosaur. The plesiosaurs that lived in the region had died off with all other species of dinosaur 65 million years ago. Loch Ness had been frozen during the ice age, but this creature still appeared in the photo.
To have lived, the Nessie in the picture would have traveled up the River Ness in the past 10,000 years, and would also indicate the plesiosaurs (believed to be a cold-blooded creature), would not have been able to survive the icy cold waters it would have to travel through to get to the loch. The plesiosaur could not have survived the cold water of the ness either. Once this explanation shot down the idea of a Loch Ness monster of the plesiosaur type, it was suggested it could be an archeocyte or whale of primitive times who had a serpentine shaped neck. These types of creatures have been extinct for over 18 million years. It was argued by skeptics that people were merely spotting oscillations in the surface of the water which were created by cold river water flowing into the warmer loch water.
Some still held a fascination for the creature. They kept a steady vigil to hopefully get a peek at the monster in the loch. British universities sent expedition crews to the area, seeking the famous monster out by sonar equipment. Even though nothing concrete was ever detected, the crews were finding large underwater blotches that were unexplainable. The large objects were moving, to indicate some type of animal or creature swimming in the depths of the loch.
Boston decided to get involved by sending several sonar and underwater photography expeditions out to the loch. The teams were from the Academy of Applied Science. A photograph taken on one of the expeditions showed a large flipper of a plesiosaur type of animal once it was enhanced. More expeditions in the 80s and 90s proved inconclusive results. The examination of the famous 1934 photo showed the picture of the Loch Ness monster was a hoax, however this didn’t stop tourists, and professional and amateur investigators in finding the elusive Loch Ness monster.