Photos That Changed History: Nessy!

I made another mistake today. I made the mistake of asking History Geek what was the most fascinating thing he could think of. Now, in context, I had been asking about photographs and photography techniques and since the guy can be pretty creative, I thought he’d give me something to work with. However, instead he just muttered “The universe is made of twelve particles of matter and four forces of nature.” I think he’s been listening to the whole Symphony of Science too much again.

I did finally get him to throw me a line when I asked him what was the biggest hoax he could think of involving photography. Art Geek shouted “Bigfoot” but History Geek sighed, rolled his eyes, and growled the subject of today’s post.

Back in the 1930s, Christian Spurling and his stepfather Marmaduke Wetherell took a trip to the Loch. The Daily Mail sent Wetherell — a noted big-game hunter — to try to find actual evidence of the Loch Ness Monster. Wetherell, his son Ian, and Christian made the trek there. However, instead of actually trying to find the monster, they created it. Christian used modeler’s clay to create a serpentine head and put it on top of a toy submarine. Wetherell zoomed in on it, using the fact that, without anything to compare it to, the human eye will trick the brain into thinking that the small model is huge. They then convinced a local surgeon to claim the photo as his own work, lending it an air of borrowed prestige. That is how this photo came to be known as the “Surgeon’s Photo.”

With this “evidence” in hand, the hunt for the Loch Ness Monster kicked into high gear. Several expeditions were mounted over the next decades to scout and scour every inch of the Loch and its bed. The monster was never definitively spotted. In 1994, on his deathbed, Spurling admitted that the photo was a hoax his stepfather had pulled off to get revenge on those who mocked him for being taken in by an earlier prank.

There are still a lot of believers out there who think that there really is some kind of dinosaur-holdover or other monster inhabiting the Loch. So, if you happen to be in that area, keep your camera handy just in case there really is something there.

— da Bird