April 19th marks 85 years since the now iconic photo of the Loch Ness Monster was reportedly taken by Robert Wilson, an Army Colonel and Surgeon – within days the photo was front page news from the Daily Mail, sparking a manic debate about Nessie’s existence that continues to this day. Of course, reports of a creature in the Loch had precedence going back centuries, and the monster hunt had been a year strong before the infamous Surgeon’s Photo; and in more recent years the photo has been analyzed and debunked by scientists and, if that wasn’t enough, a co-conspirator in the hoax made a deathbed confession in 1994 regarding his involvement. This past April Fool’s Day, I asked on Twitter what hoaxes my friends and followers there considered their favorite – mine, of course, was the Surgeon’s Photo. I was surprised (and pleasantly so, I might add!) that there are some true believers who would hesitate to call the photo a hoax. So what makes this photo so enduring, despite the passage of time and the evidence mounted against it?
My personal answer to that question is simple, albeit possibly trite sounding – I want to believe. (OK, definitely trite sounding, now that I’ve typed it.) To get more personal about it requires a bit of my life history – As a child, I was obsessed with dinosaurs. When my kindergarten teachers asked us all what we wanted to be when we grew up, I said “Paleontologist”. The very idea that any living representative of the dinosaur age may still exist in the world excited me beyond my ability to describe. That photo inspired in me a curiosity for all things unseen, unknown, and unusual. Not a passing interest, but a romantic or perhaps even quixotic sense of wonder and along with that, a compulsive book buying habit. Suffice to say, by 3rd grade, I was telling people I’d be a cryptozoologist when I grew up.
That photo, and all it represents to me, is a work of minimalist art writ large in black and white. A true thing of beauty, whether it’s an otter, a fake head mounted on a toy submarine, or the Nessiteras Rhombopteryx herself. It’s put me on a path, for better or worse, filled with Flying Saucers, poltergeists and con men. And I couldn’t be more thankful.
So in celebration of the Surgeon’s Photo’s 85th birthday, I plan to kick off this blog right with a Nessie-a-Day post for a one week period leading up to the 19th – exploring some of the lore, the evidence, the colorful personalities and the theories around everyone’s favorite lake monster. So I hope you join me for a metaphorical cruise around the Loch, and bring a camera – you never know what you might see! (metaphorically)