April 21: The Surgeon’s Photo

NessieThe Loch Ness Monster has been in the news again recently, so it’s rather fitting that today marks a significant anniversary in the history of the famed cryptid. It was on this day in 1934 that the British tabloid The Daily Mail published a photo of the monster (right); the famous “Surgeon’s Photo”. Obviously, it was all a hoax.

Now, there had been reports of an alleged Loch Ness Monster dating back to the sixth century. It’s said that the Irish monk Saint Columba was attacked by a frightening “water beast”. Over the ensuing centuries, the myth of “Nessie” grew and grew, with the Surgeon Photo as its acme. The story, as it appeared in the Mail was as follows: A surgeon known only as Dr. Wilson (later revealed to be a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson) was looking at the Loch when he saw a small head and long neck come poking out of the water. He quickly snapped five photographs, only one of which clearly showed the creature.

Although there were some doubts about the authenticity of the photo, it wouldn’t be revealed as a hoax until December 7, 1975, when The Sunday Telegram ran an expose revealing the hoax. It turns out the “monster” in the photograph was actually a toy submarine that had been outfitted with a sculpted head. The hoax was the creation of Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter who had been hired by the Mail to investigate the Loch Ness Monster in 1933.

During his Mail funded expedition Wetherell thought he had discovered the monster’s tracks. He proudly announced his findings, but then researchers from London’s Natural History Museum determined that the tracks had been made by a dried hippo’s foot, like the kind that were popular used as umbrella stands in those days. Wetherell was promptly and frequently ridiculed by the tabloid, and he soon retreated from public life. So, Spurling and Wetherell hatched a plan to make the Mail look foolish by printing a fake photo. They took the picture of the toy monster and then had the respected Dr. Wilson submit the photo to the tabloid. Amusingly, some people who believe in the Loch Ness Monster have claimed that the story of the hoax is in fact a hoax designed to suppress knowledge of the Loch Ness Monster and that the photo was authentic. Those people are generally idiots.

On this 80th anniversary of the Mail‘s publishing of the “Surgeon Photo”, let’s drink a Loch Ness. Naturally, this cocktail is made with scotch and it is a fierce, monstrous drink that will knock you off your feet. It’s a strong rework of the Rob Roy that adds a touch of Pernod.

Loch Ness

  • 1 1/2 ounces Scotch
  • 1 ounce Pernod
  • 1/4 ounce Sweet Vermouth

Shake with ice and pour, unstrained, into a chilled rocks glass.

Tomorrow: The Blue Marble.


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