While I am fairly convinced that the 1933 photo taken at Loch Ness, Scotland by Hugh Gray (see my earlier article) shows a strange and still-unknown animal, the same cannot be said for every photo that is said to show a Nessie. Indeed, there is no doubt that the most famous photo of all is a hoax. There can be absolutely no doubt that of all the many and varied photographs that have been taken, and which purport to show a mysterious creature in the waters of Loch Ness, the one that provokes controversy on an unparalleled scale is known, somewhat incorrectly, as the “Surgeon’s Photograph.”
The picture was taken one year after Nessie hysteria began. I say “somewhat incorrectly” because the surgeon in question actually took two photos, although it is just one of the pair that has become famous. The other languishes in relative obscurity, even to this day. For decades the famous photo was championed by Nessie seekers as hard evidence that Loch Ness harbors monsters. Today, however, its reputation is in tatters.
The story dates back to April 19, 1934, which was when one Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson claimed to have both seen and photographed one of the Nessies. The story seemed solid, since Wilson was a respected, London-based gynecologist; hardly the sort of person to perpetrate a hoax, right? Wrong. It was a story – and photo, of course – that the Daily Mail newspaper was more than happy to share with its readers. Although, at the time, Wilson flatly refusing to have his name attached to the story, preferring instead to just focus on how he came to be in the right place at the right time.
There’s no denying the photo was taken in Loch Ness, and there’s no doubt that it shows what appears to be a prominent head and neck above the surface of the water. But here’s the problem: the famous – arguably iconic – photo that was presented by the Daily Mail, and which can be found in the pages of numerous books and periodicals and at countless blogs and websites, is actually a carefully cropped version of the original. It was deliberately cropped in a close-up fashion to make the neck look impressively large. When one looks at the original, panoramic image, however, and when one compares both the head and neck to the size of the surrounding ripples on the loch, it’s easy to see that the monster is not just small but ridiculously small.
It was in 1994 that the complicated and convoluted truth was finally made public. The monster was actually a sculptured head, one that was affixed to a toy submarine! It all began with a man named Marmaduke Wetherell. He was a big-game hunter of the extremely pathetic type who think it’s cool and macho to slaughter elephants, giraffes, or Cecil the lion. One year previously, specifically in December 1933, the Daily Mail pretty much assassinated Wetherell’s character after he loudly stated that he had found footprints of a monster at Loch Ness. They weren’t. Wetherell was the victim of a hoax. The prints were those of a hippopotamus, most likely taken from an umbrella-stand made out of a hippo-foot. Wetherell was both enraged and embarrassed and decided to get his revenge on the Daily Mail.
Wetherell’s son-in-law was a man named Christian Spurling, who was a sculptor. Spurling – using plastic-wood materials purchased by Wetherell’s son, Ian – created a Nessie-like head and neck, which was then carefully attached to a toy submarine. Also in on the act was an insurance agent named Maurice Chambers. The game, as Sherlock Holmes was so fond of saying, was afoot. A test-run, in a small pond, was successful. And, so it was soon time for the conspirators to perform the final act. The particular stretch of water where the famous photos were taken was, by all accounts, somewhere near to the Altsaigh Tea House.
With the submarine carefully placed in the water, and with the neck and head standing proud and tall, the photos were quickly taken, after which the monster was scuttled and disappeared beneath the water – never to be seen again. It was then Chambers’ role to provide the less than priceless pictures to his friend, Colonel Robert Kenneth Wilson, who became the fall-guy in the saga and who sold the famous picture to the Daily Mail. The photo remained a matter of controversy until 1994, when then-ninety-year-old Christian Spurling finally fessed up. Five years later, a book, titled Nessie: The Surgeon’s Photo Exposed and written by David M. Martin and Alastair Boyd, was published and the entire saga exploded.