Sunday, 17 June 2018

Another Land Sighting from Days of Yore



It was while I was finishing off an article on the Alfred Cruickshank land sighting, I was reminded by someone of another such story related by Mr. Cruickshank himself. It comes from Nicholas Witchell's book, "The Loch Ness Story", and it comes after he finishes relating the Cruickshank case with this brief note about another possible land sighting:

Mr Cruickshank also recalled that towards the end of the 1920s, he spoke to a girl working in a baker's shop in Fort Augustus who told him that she had once seen a large animal hauled up onto a beach near Fort Augustus. "She said that she was coming down the hill east of the village on her bicycle when she saw a big animal lying on the beach below her. She was so frightened she jumped off her bicycle and ran the rest of the way home."

Now when I read this again, I was reminded of the Margaret Munro land sighting of 1934, for this short account surely happened on the same beach as her famous account. The girl is described as cycling downhill east of Fort Augustus when the creature came into view. Now where the creature may have been in this story is a matter of some speculation, but a guess will be made.

Certainly, until recently, as you drove down the B862 road to Fort Augustus, Borlum Bay did not come into view until you were nearly at the bottom of the hill. The trees covering the hill prohibited an earlier view, but recent forestry work has cleared the trees to bring us a magnificent view of the loch.

As to the state of this treeline in the late 1920s, I am not sure and so we will assume the bay only came into view for her near the bottom of the hill. Now, I am just looking at this from the point of view of how people react to traumatising situations, but I doubt I would be dismounting a bike and running until such an unsettling sight was behind me rather than before me.

Also, as I explained in my Munro article, most of the beach would not be visible from the road level as it flattened out from the hill. So, I would suggest the creature came into view when she was higher up, just as the bay below came into view and just before the road levelled off. In that light, I place a "B" at the point where she claimed to have seen it and I place an "A" where I think the Munro creature was.




People can feel free to speculate, but the stretch of beach upon which this creature is said to have been on is shown below.




One can imagine Alfred Cruickshank, having been shocked by the sight of that strange creature crossing the road in front of him in 1923, becoming interested in anything anyone else had to say about strange creatures about the loch. With perhaps a combined sense of reticence but also a great curiosity to learn more, he may have asked the locals to keep him informed of events. And when this girl came forward with her tale, it would have naturally resonated with Alfred and stuck in his mind until interviewed by Nicholas Witchell in the 1970s.

It was a pity the story was not followed up as the girl may well have still been in the area by the time Witchell spoke to Cruickshank in the early 1970s, being (I suppose) in her 60s. But then again, going by my own experience and without a name, such investigations can often just run into dead ends.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Tuesday, 12 June 2018

A Look at a Recent Nessie Video





I thought I would make some comments on a recent video purporting to show the Loch Ness Monster. It is a mobile phone recording of a webcam stream appearing to show a large dark shape moving along the waters of Urquhart Bay for quite a long time by monster standards. Gary Campbell's Loch Ness Monster Sightings website puts it thusly:

30 April 2018 - Eoin O'Faodhagain from Co Donegal took a ten minute video from the Loch Ness webcam at 1207 hours. The creature moves from right to left and there were no boats visible on the water when he first noticed it but as it swam towards Urquhart bay, two cruisers came down the middle of the loch from the north and it sank briefly then came up again, but seemed to be lower in the water than when it first appeared. As the cruisers got closer to the object, it sank completely and never came back up. 

And from the Daily Record, they put the account in these terms:


Of all history's greatest questions - who killed JFK? was the moon landing faked? who shot Phil Mitchell? - none is more mysterious than 'is the Loch Ness Monster real?'. Well a fan says he has an answer after filming the mythical beast frolicking about in the waters of the famous Loch for 10 minutes ... allegedly. Eoin O’Faodhagain was given a "terrific shock" after appearing to capture Nessie diving down before resurfacing. The clip has been accepted by the Official Loch Ness Monster Sightings Register, according to The Mirror.

Nessie watcher Eoin, 53, from Co Donegal, Northern Ireland, said:

“I couldn’t believe my eyes and started recording it on my phone. It was certainly something big. It dived down and up again and dived and disappeared. It was not a boat. I would say it was Nessie.”.

Gary Campbell, keeper of the sightings register, said:

"As far as Nessie footage goes, this is a feature film. Normally you only get videos of one or two seconds. It is remarkable in its length. Clearly it is something that dives in and out of the surface with water splashes and reflections. The object would be no larger than 20ft.”

The news comes just days before DNA sampling on fragments of skin and scales collected from the loch in the Scottish Highlands.
 



Mr. O'Faodhagain clearly thinks he has captured the famous monster on his mobile phone camera and he certainly has an interesting video. The clip was recorded off the computer screen which was running the live stream from the popular Nessie webcam run by Mikko Takala. The camera is mounted on a roof on a hilltop overlooking the castle (which is out of view).

Based on the camera's position, the object in the clip is likely no closer than 450 meters away. Add to this the fact that the resolution of the live stream is only 360p (HD is at least 720p) then you can see why the image is fairly indistinct. A 1080p stream would be great for Nessie hunters, but that would cost more money and most of the Loch Ness money goes into the pockets of hotels, restaurants and exhibitions.

But we can say some things about the video. An estimate of the size of the dark object can be made by comparing it to a known object taken from the same webcam. So below is a snap of a cruise boat coming in from the right making its way to the castle. I am not sure what boat it is, so I will assume it is one of the rented cruise boats which come in at at least 30 feet.





The boat and the object match nicely for proximity and so an overlay can be done to make a size estimate as shown below. Based on this, the screen grab of the object is about 10 feet long. However, other portions of the video show the object extending and decreasing in apparent size which could be partly down to reflection, though the video is too indistinct to separate solid object from light effects.





The object is also considerably slower than the boat I snapped, perhaps more than ten times slower. If this really was 10 feet of solid object, then that points to perhaps 30 feet of total object below the surface. The haziness of the object does open it up to other interpretations. Some will say it is a group of birds slowly swimming along or a log floating past or even a seal.

I would say, however, that the object does appear to submerge, no longer to appear in the video as a boat approaches. That would mitigate against birds for me, which should fly off rather than disappear under the water. Logs can indeed sink, but they are more likely just to be washed ashore since they can take weeks to saturate and sink. As for the ubiquitous Loch Ness Seal, I don't think they show ten feet out of the water.

In some ways, this is how I imagine the 1938 G.E.Taylor film to be, I say that never having seen it, but its apparent shape shifting is perhaps partly explained by what we see here in terms of reflections and water movement. Is this the Loch Ness Monster? It could well be, but let's exercise the other theories to see how well they stand up to scrutiny.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com


Friday, 8 June 2018

The Photographic Problem


Take a look at the photo montage above. Do you believe all the pictures are of the Loch Ness Monster? If so, you are likely what they call a gullible believer. If you think none of them are of the Loch Ness Monster, you are likely a die hard sceptic, whether you say you are a believer or not. I say that because over 85 years and a swathe of good sightings, some of these will be converted into photographs or films. There will be a minimum greater than zero, if you say there are zero pictures, you are effectively saying there is no Loch Ness Monster (this is in distinction to the argument that there should be more pictures which I discuss elsewhere).

How do many people today sit with this logical tension? The answer is due to the assault on these pictures by a band of die hard sceptics dedicated to the task of debunking the Loch Ness Monster. Back in the 1960s and 1970s, most photographs purporting to be of the creature were passed through in a largely uncritical manner by Loch Ness researchers of the time. Or at the very least, they kept quiet about the ones they had reservations about.

Fast forward to the 80s and 90s and we see a form of historical revisionism as those who once believed but no longer believed, attempted to align these photographs and films with their new worldview. Theories were formulated to explain away such pictures in terms of boat wakes, birds, dogs or just plain fakery. Since this was a process which lacked a negative feedback loop, it grew into the bloated form of lazy scepticism we see today.

As we progress in the new millennium it is time for a new form of revisionism which is sceptical of the sceptics and the tools and techniques they employ. This blog has attempted that over the last eight years and one would like to think others are involved too. But what is the problem I allude to? I shall explain in general terms and then apply it to one specific photograph that has recently gained attention.

I titled this article after a chapter of the same name in Ted Holiday's 1968 book, "The Great Orm of Loch Ness". His problem concerned the difficulty of obtaining good photographs at the loch. This article is concerned with the ease of obtaining bad explanations of photographs. Let us start with the example of the Surgeon's Photograph. Prior to the expose by Alastair Boyd and David Martin, several sceptical explanations were offered to explain what had been photographed. We had an otter's tail, a water bird, the branch of a tree and a fake model.




Logically, of those four theories, at best three are wrong, at worst they are all wrong. It wasn't until the Boyd-Martin expose that we got to see who was swimming naked when the tide went out and it was the model theory that won. The other people, despite their detailed and convincing arguments were simply wrong. No doubt they had their followers, but it didn't matter how convincing they came across or the evidence they produced - they were as wrong as wrong can be.

Sadly that is the ongoing state of affairs with Nessie photographs. People make arguments which sound convincing, but may not actually add up to a hill of beans because no one can prove that is what actually happened. When people go around promoting their pet theory as if they had been there when it was being perpetrated, they should remember Burton's otter tail and Mackal's water bird.

Although hoaxes are normally undesirable events which tarnish the reputation of Loch Ness investigation, they do serve a useful purpose in testing the robustness of sceptical theorising. As we just saw with the Surgeon's Photo, if Boyd and Martin had not published, all four theories would have been considered as viable and plausible to this day.

Another chance to see who was swimming butt naked came with the George Edwards photograph of 2012 which was exposed as a fake fibreglass prop by Steve Feltham. Prior to this revelation, another local researcher, but die hard sceptic, had published his own mathematical analysis and concluded the object was 23 inches across above the water.

Without Steve Feltham, people would have concluded this other researcher had with the application of science, crafted an unassailable theory. How wrong they were as the actual exposed part in the water turned out to be 46 inches long. The mathematical wizardry was not 10% out or even 20% out, but 100% out. How many other sceptical theories are sitting pretty claiming they have solved this and that monster picture, but actually are as useful as a chocolate teapot?


THE FALSIFIABILITY PROBLEM

I will revisit this principle as we apply these thoughts to a recent sceptical analysis of a Nessie photograph from 2006, but I move onto another problem with scepticism and that is the problem of unfalsifiability. To put it in a nutshell, no matter what picture you put before sceptics, they will always find an explanation for it. This is a violation of the scientific principle of unfalsifiability which requires that any theory must require a test or experiment to disprove its viability.

To put it another way, if one asked a sceptic what kind of photograph would prove immune to any of their explanations, you may not get an answer. Even a close up picture of the monster, nostrils and all, may just elicit the response, "good CGI picture". I would go further and say that if a genuine picture of a large unknown creature was taken, we would get a raft of theories explaining why this is anything other than what is shows!

I ask you what use such a theory is if it always produces a sceptical result? It is of no use and is just a shell game. Now we know that photographs of misidentified objects and downright hoaxes exist and some kind of scrutiny needs to be applied to them. However, the problem is not so much the theory but the warped version of it applied in an unscientific and biased manner by certain people.

The final point I would make in this regard is how, once formulated, such explanations are handled in the context of Occam's Razor which states that the theory with the least assumptions should be accepted. Here some pseudo-intellectual pressure is applied when it is argued that since a sceptical theory requires less assumptions than a monster theory for a given picture then it should be given priority.

The problem here is that since it will be argued that a large creature in Loch Ness is a big assumption, then people will be led to always accept a sceptical theory over a monster one, even if they sound flawed. The flaws are papered over by invoking the "big assumption". The truth is that if a theory with less assumptions is flawed, then it is just as wrong.


DEGREES OF PROOF

Now I am not saying you cannot prove a photograph to be a hoax. This has been done in various ways. The first line of proof is participant confession. We had this with the Surgeon's Photo and Christian Spurling. I would prefer a corroborating confession and we got that with the 1975 newspaper article citing Ian Wetherell's confession and his part in it. Such confessions are few and far between in the Nessie world.

The second is physically direct evidence of fraud. There is no better example of this than Frank Searle's infamous 1976 "Brontosaurus" picture where it was obvious to even the most gullible believer that Frank had superimposed a silhouette from a contemporary postcard onto the waters of the loch.



That is the closest one gets to empirical facts, but after that the "facts" weaken and become more indirect and circumstantial. In other words, they become deductional rather than empirical. At that level of proof, we have Anthony Shiels' infamous 1977 Nessie picture. Unlike Frank Searle, we have no model and no confession that he faked this photo. However, we have a taped confession of Shiels discussing how to fake sea serpent photographs and a confession that he faked a multi humped object in, ironically, Loch Shiel (below).




That is indirect evidence rather than direct evidence, but the waters begin to get murkier after this. One favoured mode of what is called indirect evidence is inconsistency of eyewitness testimony. This is a very contentious area of analysis which attempts to find contradiction in a testimony such as a time or a place. For example, the witness may say he was in such a place when the photo suggests he was elsewhere. They may say the event happened at such a time when the photo suggests the sun was in the wrong place for such a time.

Sceptical interpretations will seize on these apparent discrepancies and say "It looks like they lied about this, so how can we trust them on the actual photograph?".  But it has been demonstrated that such an approach can often be ambiguous and easily challenged.

When a photograph of a curious fin like object in Loch Ness was published back in 2016, the aforementioned researcher who erred with the Edwards hump declared he did not think it was taken at Loch Ness (due to the lack of background hills) and was likely a dolphin. When Steve Feltham produced the uncropped picture, the insinuation that the photographer was lying was retracted and the dolphin transformed into an osprey. But what if there had been no background hills, the sceptic's almost dogmatic pronouncement would have seemed important.

Likewise, the same researcher took the Lachlan Stuart photograph to task because he claimed the sun was visible above Urquhart Bay which would have been impossible if Stuart had taken the picture when he claimed. However, comparison shots done by myself showed that the bright patches were easily reproduced by clouds above Urquhart Bay reflecting light from the sun when it is on the opposite side of the loch. Again, a dogmatic decree becomes an easily challenged opinion.

The examples could go on as the analysis dilutes to the point where empirical fact goes from deduction and onto pure speculation. Example of speculation include objections that the testimony of the photographer does not sound right. By that one may produce objections such as "why did he do that instead of this" or "why did he not do that instead of this". Such low levels of analysis do not need empirical or deduced facts and are especially useful to debunkers when the person is no longer around to answer and silence is taken to mean guilt.

These are the levels of analysis and they are quite legitimate to use so long as one recognises their relative strengths, the problem arises when there is no one to cross examine them when the researcher is preaching to the converted.


THE REPRODUCIBILITY PROBLEM

Perhaps one of the biggest issues regarding investigation of cryptid images are reproductions. By that I mean experiments where investigators attempt to reproduce an original image using what they think were the original hoaxing ingredients. This has been attempted at various times over the decades with various famous pictures of the Loch Ness Monster.

Some examples will suffice. A few years back an attempt was made to reproduce the 1951 Lachlan Stuart photograph with its famous three humps and head. Since a Richard Frere had claimed that Stuart had confessed to him that hay bales and tarpaulin were used, these constituted the main ingredients for this particular experiment. It is important where possible, to use items which were readily available at the time with no modern contrivances involved.

The results were arguable for reasons I laid out in my response to that staging. The bales did not look like the triangular peaked humps of the original and there was no third hump reproduced raising questions as to whether a third bale would have sunk, bringing the whole experiment into question.

The Tim Dinsdale film has also had the reproduction rule run over it with distant boats being filmed with an original Bolex cine camera and film back in the 1990s. Maurice Burton attempted to reproduce the Peter O'Connor picture with inflated bags and sticks. The Surgeon's Photo has been the focus of floating necks on styrofoam and other materials. And to bring things right up to date, the recent debate over the anonymous 2006 picture is discussed below.

Problems may arise as to what constitutes original hoax ingredients and a lack of such knowledge may lead to researcher bias selecting the materials that produce the best results without any regard as to whether they had anything to do with the alleged hoax. In the Stuart case, we have an unverified claim by Frere, it's the best they have, so they go with it. Others have less to work with.

But the problem I allude to is one of psychological manipulation rather than any degree of proof discussed previously. Sceptics love to craft these reproductions, trying to get them to look as much like the original, like some artist copying the Mona Lisa. The trouble is, a very good reproduction of the Mona Lisa does not make the original a fake.

Perhaps some will claim that a decent reproduction of an original is proof that this is how the photograph was done. Actually, all it proves is that they can produce a photograph that has a resemblance to the original. Whether the original picture was created using this technique cannot be proven from such an experiment.

For example, suppose we raise further theories that the Lachlan Stuart photo was faked with three airbags or three rocks (as implied by Ronald Binns). People may discuss the merits of either theory and similar looking photos may be reproduced. However, at least two of these three theories are completely wrong even if convincing reproductions are made! The only way to know which, if any, of the three techniques is true is further evidence as discussed in the previous section, be it a confession from one of the participants or physical evidence found near the scene.

Note I am not saying that I have disproved the meaningful use of such reproductions, only that another level of proof is required to corroborate the use of the image. Beyond that, it is a matter of opinion how to interpret the reproduction.

Ultimately, I am fairly convinced that even if a genuine monster photo was presented to a group of sceptics, they would come up with a theory as to how it was faked and they may even go out and stage a similar looking picture. What does that say about the whole process? I think the operative word is again "unfalsifiable" and in this age of CGI, sceptics have a safety net to fall back on if things get too tough to debunk.


A REPLY TO AN ANALYSIS OF THE 2006 PHOTOGRAPH

Now having said all that as a backdrop to the photograph from 2006 that I recently published, there has been various opinions offered as to the nature of this picture. The one I will focus on here is Steve Feltham's reply which basically states it is a monster shaped piece of bird excrement on a window photographed over a passing boat but not its wake, this giving the impression of a monster on the move.

This opinion was not the first as another person, Aleksandar Lovcanski, had suggested a similar theory some days before, but using a monster cut out stuck on a window. Indeed, this is all rather reminiscent of the 1955 Peter MacNab photograph which debunkers to this day claim is no more than a black cut out over another boat wake passing the castle.

Nessies on windows is nothing new. I took the picture below in 2014 as I took a ride on the Cruise Loch Ness boat out of Fort Augustus. It's a little trick for tourists to snap pictures to kid on people back home. Obviously, no one is fooled by it and neither is it intended so. But can you fool people in  a serious way with this technique?




So Steve has put out an article detailing his investigation which you can find here. In summary, he thinks the photo was taken from the windows of a rented house near the Clansman Hotel based on what he perceives as similar foreground vegetation and some other cues. he also attempted his own monster cut out experiment which I shall address below. Steve is pretty confident he has the solution, but I am not so convinced and will begin with this photograph he took from the rental house.




The first thing I did with this photograph was to overlay the original 2006 picture on top of it, line up the major topological features and see how the two compare. The result is shown below and presents some difficulties. The first thing to note is that the tree which is claimed to be the same as the vegetation in the 2006 picture is not in the expected position in the overlay.




As you can see, the 2018 tree is well to the right of the 2006 vegetation (be it tree or bush). Based on that discrepancy, I do not accept that these are the same objects and therefore we must look elsewhere for the location of the 2006 picture. We are also told that the second item of vegetation seen in the 2006 picture is located just behind a large hedge which now dominates the foreground.

Again, there is little information in the 2018 comparison photo to make that deduction since the object is largely obscured by the hedge and so no compelling conclusion can be drawn. There is also the matter of that hedge. Obviously, no hedge is present in the 2006 picture and so we are asked to assume that it was not there or not high enough back then. Should we make that assumption or should we ask for more proof of this assertion? Be that as it may, the picture does not square up for other reasons.

In fact, comparing trees in pictures is not the easy task it is made out to be. We are led to believe that the twelve year gap between the original and comparison pictures is a matter of no consequence. Look again at the two trees in the overlay. They are practically at the same height, should that be accepted after a time gap of twelve years?

I don't know what the trees are in either photo, they could be birch or hazel, in which case, annual growth rates can be from 1.5 to 3 feet per year. You can do the maths for a 12 year growth period and again conclude it is unlikely these two trees are the same tree. One could also take trimming into account but still come up with an essentially unknowable scenario.

Steve also questions whether any of the nearby parking spots on the road were suitable due to the background tree heights. The first point to make here is that the height of the trees will again be different compared to 12 years ago, be it due to growth or any trimming done. Secondly, we do not know exactly where the car stopped to take the photograph.  That requires further investigation with the proviso that this 12 year gap has to be taken into account.


PAPER NESSIES

That alone could conclude this analysis, but there are some other items to discuss. Steve went further in his analysis by trying to demonstrate how such an image may be produced. He glued a paper cutout of a notional monster onto his car window and snapped pictures as boats passed and were obscured by the cutout. I compare one of his photos below with the 2006 picture (zoomed and flipped).





Now no one in principle is saying that you cannot produce a Nessie like object superimposed over a boat wake. Indeed, that accusation has been around since sceptics turned their attention to the MacNab photograph. However, that principle has two requisite components - reproducibility and repeatability.

In terms of reproducibility, the question is asked whether the reproduced image has the same "look and feel" of the original. Looking at the two pictures above, the answer is clearly "No" as the reproduction is of an inferior quality and is obviously a fake. The retort may come that it was not the intention to fully reproduce the original, to which one can legitimately ask how much quality needs to be lost before the reproduction experiment is rejected? I suspect the answer to that depends on one's own bias.

In terms of repeatability, this is a requirement that the original tools are used to reproduce the original image. This is something that is often overlooked in modern analysis as corners are cut to produce an image with psychological impact. The issue here is that the initial reaction to the 2006 photo was that the blurred nature of the object suggested it was out of focus due to its proximity to the camera.

The reproduction here actually shows the overlaid object is not much less blurred that its surroundings. The point being that a digital camera from around 2006 may be a better candidate to resolve the issue of whether the blurring is due to motion or focus as well as inform on any other differences between itself and a modern camera.

In this case, the theory is that the opportunistic tourist was lucky enough to have a piece of monster shaped bird excrement on his window. The one thing I would point out here is to look again at the overlay picture (below) and you will see that a cruiser boat is passing very close to where the 2006 object is. Note how the object is not big enough to cover the boat and so one wonders what kind of boat it would have to cover and still produce a noticeable wake?




So a substitute method was used in the reproduction and thus we have no idea if the originally proposed method is actually viable. Is the original proposed scenario something you find on demand? I agree it is not and so we must logically take the position that the conclusion is "inconclusive" on whether the originally proposed method would work.

I hope to do some further onsite and offsite investigations on this photo in due time, so watch this space.


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com







Sunday, 3 June 2018

The Peter O' Connor Photograph Part V




I have been told to expect another sceptical critique of the Peter O'Connor photograph in the weeks ahead. I will leave any comments on that article for next month, but in the meantime, the author mentioned some things that reminded me of my own previous research on the topic. If you wish to see my prior thoughts on the subject, you will find them listed under the Photographs of Nessie section linked on the right of this page. What Aleksandar Lovcanski tells us was this:

Maurice Burton claimed that he stumbled upon THREE distinctly different versions of the photograph during his archival research of a certain newspaper.

Now when I was researching this topic some years back, I contacted researcher Steuart Campbell for further information. He replied with some documents and I quote a portion of a letter from Maurice Burton to Steuart dated 12th December 1984. As stated before, Burton took his family on a visit to the loch in June 1960 to fact find for his forthcoming book, "The Elusive Monster", the very first sceptical work on the Loch Ness Monster.

He came, he saw and he thought he had conquered as he visited the O'Connor camp site and found various items he deemed part of a conspiracy to create a fake photograph. My very first article on this picture demonstarted that all was not as clear cut as Burton had claimed. However, Burton mentioned something else to Steuart Campbell is his letter:

There is a tailpiece to all this. Several years later I called at the offices of the Daily Mail. I wanted to be able to examine the original negative of the London Surgeon's photograph. The art editor was most helpful. He took from a safe a folder containing Wilson's negative. In the folder I noticed a contact print of 35mmm film (I think it was 35mm).

There were three frames, not separated but in one strip. One frame showed O'C's picture as published in the Weekly Scotsman. The second showed the same object sagging in the middle. The third frame showed the same object moderately well restored to its original shape. There was no sign of a picture of the alleged animal creating a commotion (see Dinsdale 1961, p.152, 6 lines from bottom). Indeed, the whole account as reported by Dinsdale on pp.152-3 just makes me laugh.

What struck me during the brief glimpse of these three pictures was that O'C had allowed the most damning evidence to find its way to Fleet Street. And I marvelled at the obtuseness or naivete O'C had shown in allowing such a thing to happen! In fact, this second frame was comparable with Forbes' results and my own. But since my aim at that time was to seek an interpretation of Wilson's photo I did not pursue the matter. 

So there you have it. According to Maurice Burton, there are not one but three pictures taken by Peter O' Connor on that day of May 27th 1960. What do we make of this astonishing claim? Now when I read it at the time, I was dubious in the extreme and put it down to another of Burton's exaggerations. Quite simply, if I had stumbled upon two new O'Connor photos, I would have most certainly have made time to obtain copies of these pictures and publicised them. But Burton just breezes past them as if it was some minor detail

To add to the puzzle, one would have presumed he would have gone back to the Daily Mail to retrieve these alleged photographs, but he did not! We can see how much contempt Burton had for O'Connor (as well as Tim Dinsdale), so these would have been his equivalent of finding a hoard of gold coins and a final victory for Burton over O'Connor - if indeed the images were as bad as he claimed.

But not only did not go back to get them, he also doesn't bother to make this known to anyone else for twenty years! In that light of these inconsistencies, I dismissed it. Perhaps Aleksandar has further information on these alleged missing photographs? We will find out soon enough but I highly doubt Burton would have passed up on such an opportunity back in the early 1960s.

Likewise, I would also have marvelled with Burton at O'Connor's "obtuseness" and "naivete", so much in fact that I would further doubt the whole Burton story. Do hoaxers tend to give publishers their pre-hoax setups and experiments as well as the final, perfected picture? Yes, I though they tended not to either. But if Aleksandar can produce this contiguous strip of three pictures, I may change my mind

You may say I am being hard on Maurice Burton, but he has previous form in giving other researchers the run around and making statements that are not true (how much of that is due to misremembering or plain deception I would not say). Others may swallow everything Burton has said but this blog would prefer to see something more.

On a similar theme, Burton mentions a person by the name of Forbes in the above quote who he claims found the stick used to mimic the monster's head-neck. Where is this stick now you may well ask? Alas, Burton tells Steuart Campbell he was, like the two missing O'Connor frames, unable to retrieve it and display it to the world because Forbes lost it in curious circumstances:

Shortly after my return to London, Professor Peacock, of Dundee (or was it Aberdeen), brought a certain Angus Forbes, retired journalist, to see me. He told of having visited O'Connor Cove soon after we left. Among other things he told of having found, in the bivouac, a stick lying on the ground, beside where the occupant had slept, that corresponded as nearly as made no odds with what could be seen of the 'monster's' neck and head in O'C's photo.

"Where is that stick now?" I asked eagerly. To this Forbes embarked on the following story. It seems he (Forbes) came to the same conclusion as we did and having found the stick decided to use it to reconstruct O'C's monster. Returning home, he obtained a plastic sack, inflated it and weighted it, using the shallows of the river Dee for his experiment. He also chose the hours of darkness for his experiment to screen his activities from curious passers-by. As he was pushing the stick into the mud, in front of the sack, it snapped.

At that moment a stentorian voice demanded what was he doing. He had been mistaken for a poacher. Startled, he accidentally snapped the stick and, during the brief conversation in which he sheepishly explained what he was up to, he had the chagrin of seeing the important part of the stick, the part visible on O'C's photo, drifting downstream to be lost in the darkness.

Forbes' photographs of the inflated sack were not very successful but were sufficient to suggest that had he had more time, free of interruption, he would have produced a convincing 'double' of O'C's photo. That is why I spoke of his photograph not differing "in any significant way from O'Connor's photograph". I did not say 'identical, as you did in your letter.
 
It seems Maurice Burton had no luck whatsoever in getting his hands on all this vital evidence. Mind you, in an earlier article to another journal, Burton himself claimed he had found the stick on the beach during his 1960 visit. Now some might want to point out that I sound like a sceptic handling an eyewitness account of the monster - i.e. they don't handle it and bin it.

To be fair, I have lodged my reasoning here, but if Burton claimed he saw something unusual - like a Nessie witness - I can but leave the door ajar and we shall see. But in the light of all this, I think I will take the stance of Peter Costello when it came to things claimed by Maurice Burton:

Nevertheless, Dr Burton would have to produce evidence for the existence of the all too easily found polythene bag before I would believe him.

Note that in the original text, Costello puts the last word in italics. 


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com
  

 

Thursday, 31 May 2018

Ted Holiday's Final Days




It's back into the world of the paranormal as we consider the dark world of cryptozoologist Ted Holiday and events prior to his death in 1979. From time to time I like to to speculate in deference to various believers' theories about the monster and today I put on the paranormal thinking cap.

Holiday's weird adventures have been analysed before by the likes of Nick Redfern in his supernatural Nessie book and Ted Holiday himself had things to say on the various unusual events that followed him around Loch Ness in his final book, "The Goblin Universe", posthumously published in 1986.

One can hardly begin to connect tales of fleeting tornadoes, unusual lights, curious synchronicities and strange men in black with the idea of an unknown but flesh and blood creature swimming the dark depths of the loch. However, I do not wish to dismiss Holiday's tales just because they do not fit with my preconceived notions of what ought to be.

Ted Holiday's encounter with the dark garbed man on the road near Urquhart Castle evoked the classic image of the Men In Black for some investigators. Theorised to be black ops government men or even aliens, they constitute the darker side of the study of UFO phenomena.

This strange encounter was the climax of several days of strangeness which began on Saturday 2nd June 1973 with a tense exorcism of the loch by the Reverend Donald Omand. This was followed on the Tuesday by a traumatic encounter at the home of his friends, the Carys. This involved poltergeist type phenomena as a tornado like effect swept through the garden accompanied by thudding like noises against the house. Meantime, Holiday saw "a pyramid shaped column of blackish smoke about eight feet high revolving in a frenzy" before it all ceased within 15 seconds.

Winifred Cary said she also saw a beam of white light illuminating Ted Holiday's forehead as it shone briefly from the window. Curiously, her husband, Basil, said he saw and heard nothing. All this had come to pass as they were discussing a claimed UFO landing near Foyers back in August 1971 by a Jan-Ove Sundberg. Things got even stranger as I recount Holiday's own words from "The Goblin Universe":

The next morning before breakfast I decided to step down to the lower caravan to collect some oddments from my suitcase. It was a beautiful fresh morning, and the lawns wet with dew. As I turned the corner of the house I stopped involuntarily. Across the grass, beyond the roadway and at the top of the slope leading down to Loch Ness at the top of which the caravan was located, stood a figure.

It was a man dressed entirely in black. Unlike other walkers who sometimes pause along here to admire the Loch Ness panorama, this one had his back to the loch and was staring at me fixedly as soon as I turned the corner. Indeed, to all appearances he was waiting for me. We were about 30 yards apart, and for several seconds I just stared back wondering who the hell this was. Simultaneously, I felt a strong sensation of malevolence, cold and passionless. Vaguely I remembered Sundberg's black figures around the UFO, and for a second tried to form an association. But the notion seemed so utterly absurd in broad daylight with half a dozen friends within calling distance that I shut the idea out.

I walked forward warily, never taking my eyes off the figure. He.was about six feet tall and appeared to be dressed in black leather or plastic. He wore a helmet and gloves and was masked, even to the nose, mouth and chin. The eyes were covered in goggles, but on closer approach, I could detect no eyes behind the lenses. The figure remained motionless as I approached except possibly for a slight stirring of the feet. It didn't speak and I could hear no breathing. I drew level and hesitated slightly, uncertain what to do next, then walked past at a range of about a yard. I stopped a few feet beyond him and gazed down at Loch Ness.

I stayed thus for perhaps 10 seconds, making a decision. Something about the figure seemed abnormal and I felt the need to test whether it was real. I started to turn with the vase plan of pretending to slip on the grass so that I might lurch against the figure and thus check its solidity, but this proved impossible. As I was turning my head, I heard a curious whispering or whistling sound and I swung round to find the man had gone. In two steps I was on the road. There was about half a mile of empty road visible to the right and about a hundred yards to the left. No living person could have gotten out of sight so quickly.

Yet he had undoubtedly gone. I told no one about this incident for months because it seemed logically impossible, and I had not the slightest evidence that it took place.

But what has a "MiB" got to do with the Loch Ness Monster? As a believer in various forms of paranormal phenomena, but without a clear theory on their origins, one is tempted to hold the two in tension for now. With that in mind, I recently read through two books by Ted Holiday which gave me a new slant on things.

The first was the aforementioned "Goblin Universe" and it became clear that Holiday was a man whose strange experiences were not limited to Loch Ness. In that book, I counted at least two UFO sightings he had had near the Irish cryptid lakes and again on the Welsh coastline in 1966. There is even a suggestion that Holiday had a close encounter of the third kind in Wales. Then we have his three ghost and/or poltergeist encounters to which we add the aforementioned phenomena he encountered at the Carys by Loch Ness.

Finally, there are his four Loch Ness Monster sightings which gives us a rather impressive tally of at least thirteen Fortean experiences. Now one could argue as to the reality of these accounts, as some have tried to do with his Nessie stories, and conclude that either Holiday was not a reliable observer or he was in the right places at the right times. If it was the latter, then what was going on here?

Now UFOs and Loch Ness have some kind of parallel history. Ted Holiday mentions some sightings in and around the loch and we have the curious experiences of Tim Dinsdale who was himself an all round paranormal advocate. The aforementioned Sundberg case is certainly controversial and I note Holiday's claim that some people claimed to have seen UFO activity in the area a few days before Sundberg's account.

Investigator Steuart Campbell, known for his sceptical book on the monster went to investigate the case and found that the area where the UFO had purportedly landed was too thick with trees for anything of that size to occupy. Ted Holiday was aware of Campbell's conclusions and was intent on his own investigation before deciding against it on Winifred Cary's advice. That is a pity as we no longer have a second contemporary opinion on the case.

I actually visited the area of the Sundberg case a year ago and made an attempt to locate the claimed landing area. However, the passage of forty six years guaranteed that little headway would be made in this case. Campbell had correlated the location of Sundberg's photograph to a loop of wire in the foreground fence. That loop was no longer present on my walk by the fences and so a determination was made based on Sundberg's map and the photo below gives a suggested location.




Whatever the veracity of Sundberg's claim (and the further claim that he too was harassed by MiB), Holiday was convinced of the UFO-Monster connection as he had just published his second book, "The Dragon and the Disc" only five weeks before the Loch Ness exorcism. Did Holiday regard these subsequent strange encounters as more than mere coincidence? He doesn't quite say so but he certainly regarded the events as paranormal.




But perhaps that curious encounter has nothing to do with a monster in Loch Ness as I looked into a book entitled "The Dyfed Enigma". This was a book Ted Holiday co-authored with Randall Jones Pugh and was published in October 1979. The subject matter concerned strange UFO phenomena experienced in South West Wales in the 1970s. I found one review for this book:

"The Dyfed Enigma" represents a history of some of the more dramatic manifestations of ufological activity that occurred in West Wales between 1974 and 1977. The skeptic and the cynic will doubtless dismiss these case histories as products of the imagination, hallucinations, mental aberrations, or downright hoaxes.

But the authors and the many witnesses interviewed know otherwise, for the bizarre events described in this book actually happened, and involved normal, sane, down-to-earth country people: A 17-year-old youth takes a punch at a silvery-suited monster which suddenly appears before him. An 11-year-old boy is chased by a robot-like figure. For almost an hour, a retired civil servant watches a silver, egg-shaped object hover over a house, accompanied by the grotesque figure of a man hanging motionless in space twenty feet above him. A farmer's wife is chased in her car by a "flying football" for over a mile.

Fourteen schoolchildren view a UFO that landed near their school. How does one explain the weird effects that UFOs have on animals, and in what way does the ancient history and folklore of the region contribute to this strange drama? "The Dyfed Enigma" considers questions such as these, and discusses the implications of the sightings in precise, clinical detail. Scientifically speaking, the events described are an impossibility, since they cannot be scientifically explained. But they did occur. And they are frightening. And they could happen to you. The authors have presented the facts as they know them. They leave the interpretation of them to the reader.

Randall Jones Pugh, son of a village schoolmaster, was born at Haverfordwest in 1915. On leaving grammar school, he served four years in the RAF during World War II, before qualifying at Glasgow University as a veterinary surgeon. He has had numerous articles published in both farming and veterinary journals, and he became interested in the investigation of UFOs largely through the involvement of domestic animals.

F.W. Holiday was born at Stockport in 1921, and educated in Canada and at the Halton RAF School. He was a columnist for The Western Mail for 15 years, and published eight books, as well as short stories and articles on wildlife subjects. His interest in UFOs began in 1966, when he watched a low-level UFO in Dyfed through binoculars. Until his death in February 1979, he believed that there is convincing evidence, such as UFOs, for paranormal levels of existence.



If the statement here that Holiday died in February 1979 is true, then this makes "The Dyfed Enigma" yet another posthumously published book from him. I noticed further that the ending of the book overlaps with Holiday's "Goblin Universe" in using that exact phrase in moving the conjecture from lake cryptids to UFOs and ancient traditions such as fairy entities (note the term itself is attributed to Bigfoot researcher, John Napier).

When Holiday got involved in Welsh flying saucers is not clearly stated, but given that the phenomena is said to have run from 1974 to 1977, then one could suggest that since he lived in the area and had a sighting there going back to 1966, he was in it from the start. Certainly Randall Pugh said he got involved from at least March 1974. That would put mere months between his Loch Ness MiB and the ramping up of UFO events in Wales.

If he really did see a MiB in June 1973, was it connected more with his recently published UFO-paranormal book and his increasing involvement with UFO events in Wales? Was it a warning bizarrely summed up in a heart attack he suffered at Loch Ness a year later in 1974 very near the spot he had previously encountered his dark stranger? We know this happened because Holiday told us and we are left in no doubt that he thinks this synchronicity is no mere coincidence.

Events took an even stranger turn when his co-author, Randall Jones Pugh, did a radical thing when in 1980 he destroyed his UFO work and walked away from the subject. This happened after a series of personal experiences which he saidwere too frightening to talk about".

Why did he do that? What were these experiences that put fear into him and did the death of his fellow investigator, Ted Holiday, months before add to some intimidation he felt he was under? There is now no way to tell since Randall died in 2003.

Or perhaps one could put on the sceptical thinking cap instead and suggest that after Holiday's first heart attack, he should have taken it easy and not move in such circles. Pugh described Holiday as "incapacitated" after his first heart attack indicating health issues. That may be so, but then again, the events Holiday described are not so easily dismissed.

And so I return to the world of flesh and blood animals ...


The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com








Wednesday, 30 May 2018

The eDNA Hunt Publicity




In the ongoing discussion about the eDNA experiment, I stumbled across the official website for the team who will be conducting the experiment this year at this link. It gives more information on how the whole scheme will be executed, including the added experiment of obtaining "control" samples from Loch Morar and Loch Oich.

I assume they will also be obtaining control samples from lochs with no monster traditions. Actually, one person who has been obtaining samples from Loch Morar for eDNA purposes has been Professor Eric Verspoor of the Rivers and Lochs Institute of the UHI. he has not answered my queries, so it is uncertain if he is part of this experiment or not. He may have something to say on the matter of lochs and eDNA surveys.

I would also assume the funding, which was initially put at £100,000 is now in place, perhaps put up by a TV company such as the History Channel on the condition that they get exclusive rights to the results for a forthcoming documentary some time in 2019. However, the main thing I wish to note is the tenor of the website which is publicising this as the final enquiry into whether the Loch Ness Monster does or does not exist. To that end, we have such statements as "Finally, science can solve one of the world’s biggest mysteries" and "The world has waited more than a thousand years for an answer. It's only months away.". I would suggest that these are statements more inclined towards TV PR than empirical science.

We have had such statements before in the media, such as with Operation Deepscan in 1987 which seemed to leave things hanging on a thread with those three unexplained sonar contacts. They were dismissed as possible seals, even though no one saw any seals in the loch. Let us put it this way in saying that science is not always an exact science, especially when it comes to living things. The point being, what is the definitive test that would prove or disprove the Loch Ness Monster?

Firstly, one may initially suggest a sample of DNA that does not match anything on their DNA databases. That would seem to be the "gold standard" test but the problem is that it does not prove that this is the DNA of the monster, it could be the DNA of another species. We indeed would have an unclassified sequence of DNA, but the question of identity is not clear. Any attempt at such an answer will depend on the proximity of the unclassified DNA to other sequenced species.

Secondly, the eDNA may match so close to a known species that a false negative ensues. In other words, if the Loch Ness Monster was some kind of giant eel, its DNA profile may be so close to that of the known indigenous eels, that it may be construed as such.

Thirdly, eDNA profiling is not a technique with a 100% success rate. Not all species are captured in the survey. That can happen due to inadequate water sampling, the population of the missed species, the type of water body and the taxon of the species. The technique is improving, but I refer readers to this study.

Fourthly, there may be no DNA of the monster to capture and analyse because like salmon, trout and seal, it is itinerant and not always there. Sightings of the creature going up and down the River Ness certainly give weight to that theory. And, of course, if the late Ted Holiday was around, he would expect nothing to be found, because he thought Nessie had no DNA.

Anyway, I believe the team will begin work at the loch tomorrow and I wish them success and accuracy. It was four years ago that I suggested eDNA sampling as a tool to try out at the loch, let us now see how this pans out.

The author can be contacted at lochnesskelpie@gmail.com