As the story goes, an Irish priest named Columba was traveling the Scottish Highlands, teaching Christianity to the Picts. He was walking along the shores of Loch Ness one day, when he came upon some local villagers burying one of their number. The poor unfortunate had swum out to retrieve a boat that was loose from its moorings, when he was bitten by a water creature of some sort. The priest sent one of his followers swimming across the loch to get the boat. The monster rose from the depths once again and was just about to eat the man, when Columba commanded it away.
There’s no telling how it actually happened, because the story was written down 100 years later. The events described took place on August 22nd, 565, meaning that people have been talking about the Loch Ness monster for close to 1,500 years, at a minimum.
Loch Ness is formed by a 60 mile, active tectonic fault, where the hills are still rising at a rate of 1mm per year. It’s made up of 3 lochs; Loch Lochy, Loch Oich and Loch Ness, with Loch Ness being by far the largest. There is more water in Loch Ness than all the other lakes in England, Scotland and Wales, combined. It is 22½ miles long and varies from a mile to 1½ miles wide, with a depth of 754′ and a bottom “as flat as a bowling green”.
Loch Ness never freezes. There is a thermocline at 100′, below which the water remains a uniform 44° Fahrenheit. As the surface water cools in winter, it’s replaced by warmer water rising up from below, causing the loch to steam on cold days. The heat energy generated has been compared to burning 2 million tons of coal. With the steam rising off the water and the occasional seismic tremor, it must be a very eerie place at times.
The first photographic “evidence” of the Loch Ness monster was taken on the 12th of November 1933, by Hugh Gray. Some said the picture showed an otter, while others believed it was “some kind of giant marine worm”. The UK Daily Mail sent a team to look for evidence, headed by the famous big game hunter Marmaduke Wetherell. There was great media excitement when Wetherell discovered enormous footprints along the shore in December. Researchers from the Natural History Museum examined the tracks, which they determined to have come from a dried hippo’s foot; probably one of the umbrella stands popular at the time. That was the end of that.
A British surgeon, Colonel Robert Wilson, took what might be the most famous picture of “Nessie” the following year. He didn’t want his name associated with it, so it became “The Surgeon’s Photo”, showing what appears to be a head and neck rising above the waters of the loch.
In one of history’s more interesting death bed confessions, Christian Spurling claimed in 1994 at the age of 93, that the surgeon’s photo had been a hoax. According to Spurling, his step-father Marmaduke Wetherell, was smarting over his hippo-foot humiliation. Spurling remembers Wetherell saying “We’ll give them their monster”, and asking his stepson to build a credible model of a marine creature. And so he did, the photo was taken, and Dr. Wilson became the respectable front man for the hoax.
An entire study called “Cryptozoology” (literally, the study of hidden animals) has sprung up around Nessie and other beasts whose existence is never quite proven, and never completely debunked. There is Big Foot, who seems to have made it to stardom with his own series of beef jerky commercials. You have the Chupacabra, the Yeti, Ogopogo, Vermont’s own Lake Champlain monster, “Champ”, and more.
Hundreds of images have been taken over the years, purporting to demonstrate that these critters really exist. Some have been transparent hoaxes, for others there is less certainty. In the end, people will believe what they want to believe. The existence of these mythical creatures may never be proven, short of one of them washing up on shore somewhere. Even then, there will be those who argue otherwise.