Today In History: The First Modern Sighting Of The Loch Ness Monster

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Along with Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster is one of the most famous "cryptids" in the world. There is a massive aquatic reptile, possibly a relic dinosaur, living in the huge Scottish lake. Or so the myth goes. Today in 1933, the Loch Ness Monster was allegedly sighted for the first time in modern history, setting off the media flurry that would catapult the creature into global infamy.

The 1933 sighting was prefaced by about 1,500 years of sporadic eyewitness accounts of a water monster. A sixth century monk claims to have witnessed a beast attack a man in the River Ness, which flows from the north end of the loch to the ocean. But it wasn't until a newspaper called the Inverness Courier carried a story about a Scottish couple who lived near the loch, who claimed to have seen "an enormous animal rolling and plunging on the surface."

The creature was first dubbed a "monster" by the Courier's editor. UK newspapers dispatched reporters to Loch Ness to cover the story, which had erupted into a media sensation. Loch Ness tourism was further encouraged by a circus which offered 20,000 pounds to anyone who could capture the monster.

The Daily Mail, a London paper, paid a big-game hunter named Marmaduke Wetherell to attempt the capture. Although he was unsuccessful (obviously), Wetherell claimed to find huge footprints on a Loch Ness shoreline, that belonged to a large, four-legged animal. "MONSTER OF LOCH NESS IS NOT LEGEND BUT A FACT," the Mail headline trumpeted.

Loch Ness mania reached a fever pitch. People flocked to Loch Ness to see the beast. Other than some hoaxed footprints and a very hazy photo of a squiggle, there was no evidence that the Monster was real.

In 1934, the Daily Mail published the famous "surgeon's photograph," taken by a gynecologist named Robert Kenneth Wilson, which showed what appeared to be the Monster's back and serpentine neck and head above the water's surface. The photo was, at the time, taken as further evidence of the Monster's legitimacy, but has since been conclusively debunked as a hoax.

The surgeon's photograph led to the popular belief, now canon, that the Monster was a prehistoric animal that somehow eluded extinction. People speculated that it might be a plesiosaur, a dinosaur that hasn't lived for 65 million years. Others thought it must be an archeocyte, a long-necked whale that died off 18 million years ago. Still others insisted that people were seeing nothing.

Over the coming decades, many expeditions were launched to try to furnish evidence of the Monster. Sonar sweeps and underwater photography yielded a few curious findings, but hard evidence has never been found. The Loch Ness Monster is still a cottage industry, with believers and skeptics entrenched on both sides of the ongoing debate.

One fascinating possible explanation for the phenomenon came from an unlikely source - in an episode of River Monsters, host Jeremy Wade speculates that high-water conditions might bring Greenland Sharks into the River Ness. Greenland Sharks, one of the largest sharks known to exist, are deep-water sharks that are known to travel into fresh water and are confirmed as living off of Scotland's northern coast.

Is the Loch Ness Monster real? Probably not. But perhaps time will prove otherwise. In fact, a story was reported today of the first Monster sighting in eight months. Published by? The Daily Mail, of course.

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