The First-Ever Loch Ness Monster Sighting

Sam Fentress via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 2.0
Sam Fentress via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 2.0 / Sam Fentress via WikimediaCommons // CC BY-SA 2.0

This iconic picture of the Loch Ness Monster is just a little more than 80 years old, taken in 1934—but the first-ever sighting predates the picture by, oh, about 1370 years.

Daily Mail via Wikipedia // Public Domain

According to a biography of Saint Columba, the Irish abbot was visiting Scotland during the summer of 564 CE and stopped along the Loch Ness shore where a man was swimming. Before his eyes, a large beast loomed out of the water and was about to attack the man when Columba intervened. “Go back with all speed,” he commanded the beast, and it sunk back into the water. Columba was credited for both performing a miracle and saving the man’s life.

Many more sightings have occurred in the nearly 14 centuries since Columba performed his miracle, but most of the modern-day “proof” has been debunked.

In 1933, a big game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell (really) discovered large footprints along the shore that led into the water. Based on the prints, Wetherell estimated that the creature was at least 20 feet long. Casts were sent to the Natural History Museum in London for analysis, but it didn’t take them long to announce that the footprints belonged to a hippopotamus. No, there weren’t hippos wandering around in Scotland 80 years ago—the prints had been created using one of those old umbrella stands, made from the severed feet of some poor elephant or hippopotamus.

The Surgeon’s Photograph—the famous picture above, taken by physician R. Kenneth Wilson—went public not long after the fake prints. For decades, the photo remained the most convincing evidence for the existence of the sea monster. It wasn’t until the early 1990s that a man named Christian Spurling came forward to reveal that his stepfather had helped stage the picture. His stepdad? Marmaduke Wetherell. Apparently embarrassed that his hippo foot hoax had been exposed, Wetherell recruited a couple of friends to “prove” the beast was real. After crafting Nessie out of a toy submarine and a wooden neck, he snapped a picture of it and convinced someone with a more credible reputation—Dr. Wilson—to turn in the photo as his own.