Monday, 4 July 2022

Marmaduke Wetherell makes a Film


Before Marmaduke Wetherell engaged in his most famous production - the Surgeon's Photograph of 1934, he was in the African continent making another production, though this one was more based in fact being the story of the 19th century missionary, David Livingstone. The image above is the front cover of a promotional magazine from 1925 shows Wetherell playing the lead part. I saw the item on eBay which describes it thus:

Programme for one of the (presumed) first British screenings of the silent movie Livingstone, directed by “Duke” M. A. Wetherell, who also played the title role, David Livingstone the explorer of Africa. (For more on Wetherell and the Loch Ness Monster, see below) The film opened in the UK in January 1925, and though the programme has no date or venue it was certainly produced at around that time. The cover has an image of Wetherell as he appeared in the movie and the 5.5” x 8.5” programme is stuffed with information about the life and expeditions of Livingstone as well as the making of the film in October and November 1924. It includes a cast list, photos of film scenes, and even photographs and biographies of two African performers, one of whom claimed to have been Stanley’s servant as a boy, and therefore present at the actual meeting between the two men in November 1871. Eleven of the twelve pages are devoted to film-related content, with the only advert being one for Osram light bulbs on the back cover. In fair condition, the programme has some creases but is clean and bright. A very rare programme indeed.

* M. A. Wetherell was the hoaxer behind the famous “surgeon’s photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster. Details can be found on the Monster’s Wikipedia page, but it is interesting to note that the photo was actually taken by Ian Wetherell, who played David Livingstone at age 10 in the movie Livingstone.

Here is a picture of Wetherell from that magazine which tells us he had spent fifteen years in Africa up to that point. It made me wonder if he had ever heard of the mysterious Mokele-Mbembe of the Congo being the big game hunter he claimed to be. Then again, Africa is a huge place, and him being in Rhodesia must have put over a thousand miles between him and that cryptid.

Another player in the Surgeon's Photograph drama was his son, Ian Wetherell, who took part in the taking of the model photo at Loch Ness. As it turns out, he is in this film playing a young David Livingstone as shown below. Another person mentioned in this magazine is Gustave Pauli, who is credited with the photography. Now some may remember him as Wetherell's cameraman when he mounted his Daily Mail expedition to Loch Ness in late 1933. He is shown below with his beret on with his camera at the ready beside Wetherell at the loch. The location is Dores Beach on the pier which is now just a number of decaying posts sticking out of the water.

A thought passed my mind on the matter of Pauli. He had been at Wetherell's side since at least 1925 helping him with photographic matters. So he would seem the natural choice to get these monster pictures properly processed with the minimum chance of error. Not much is known about him and perhaps he was an honest man who would have nothing to do with Wetherell's planned revenge upon the Daily Mail. 

The eBay item can be viewed here.

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Sunday, 19 June 2022

Arthur Grant's Wall


Its a funny old world sometimes. Just a couple of weeks after posting on Arthur Grant and whether our favourite beastie had to negotiate a wall to get back to the safety of deep waters, something turned up on eBay. It was a Mexican magazine called Duda issue No.9 from July 1971 devoted to the subject of the Loch Ness Monster. The title "Duda" means "Doubt" in Spanish and they seemed to have published on various mysteries from all parts of the world over the years. A look at the pages displayed on the listing showed that the author had included the Grant case as you can see below.

As was the case with these illustrated magazines, they did like to go a bit beyond what had been reported in the original testimony from the primary source newspapers of the time. The more dramatic the picture, the better the sales I guess. Here we see Arthur Grant fully kitted out in motor cycling gear, leather boots, goggles and all. The creature itself is more threatening than what Grant described with human chomping teeth included. I suspect Grant is a bit too close to the creature here for his own good.

But then the wall appears and the creature clambers over it. The translation from the Spanish reads "and awkwardly climb the wall that separates the road from the loch". One would be interested to know what the magazine's source material was for this account as none I know of mention a wall. Either way, their version of Nessie with powerful hindquarters knows how to get over a wall.

A bit of a fun coincidence. Maybe someone can translate the Spanish and I include the other pages I saw and wonder what report they are referring to when the monster pops up in front of a man in a boat. The one from 11th July 1935 in the adjoining Loch Dochfour is the Mrs Gerald McGrath head and neck account from 11th June 1935 which I include at the end from The Scotsman of the 12th June. The description of two rows of fin like "excrescences" refers to some kind of abnormal protuberances which is quite curious and difficult to envisage without a sketch.

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Monday, 6 June 2022

Interesting selection of Cryptozoological items

Just a quick note to refer readers to a long listing of dozens of Loch Ness Monster books and other cryptozoological items on eBay just now by seller roman10818. I don't think I have seen quite a good collection coming under auction from just one seller in my years of watching eBay. The listings include books from Gould and Oudemans in the 1930s right up to the present day and they can be found here.

Now I admit I own practically all of the Nessie items but I have been scouring the book landscape for decades. One item I did not own was an original copy of Frank Searle's unpublished "Loch Ness Investigation: What Really Happened", presumably posted out by Searle. I only have a photocopy given to me by one of Frank's supporters back in the 1980s. 

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Wednesday, 1 June 2022

Arthur Grant meets a Wall of Scepticism


I have to say that Arthur Grant is one of my favourite accounts of the Loch Ness Monster. A giant creature lurching across a lonely road under a full moon before a befuddled motor cyclist? What's not to like? Of course, the dramatic story line makes some think it is just that - a made up story. I cover this account in my book, When Monsters Come Ashore, and will no more than quickly reproduce some words from the time to bring you up to speed. The event happened in the early hours of the 5th January 1934.

"It was," said Mr. Grant, "a bright moonlight night after rain had fallen. When almost forty yards away under the shadow of the hills, a short distance from the part of the reconstructed Glasgow-Inverness road near Abriachan, I observed what appeared to be a large black object on the opposite side of the road. I was almost on it when it turned what I thought was a small head on a long neck, and the creature, apparently taking fright, made two great bounds  across the road and plunged into the loch.

"I had a splendid view of the object; in fact, I almost struck it with my motor cycle. It had a long neck with an eel-like head and large oval-shaped eyes, just on the top of the small head. The body was very hefty, and I distinctly saw two front flippers. There were other two flippers, which seemed to be webbed behind, and there was a tail, which I estimate would be from five to six feet long. The curious thing about the tail was that it did not, so far as I could see, come to a point, but was rounded off. The total length of the animal would be from 15 to 20 feet.

"Knowing something about natural history, I can say that I have never seen anything in my life like the animal I saw. It looked like a hybrid. 

"I jumped off my cycle," said Mr. Grant, "but the animal with great speed had rushed into the loch, splashing the surface violently and making away."

Having written the chapter on this event, it is never wise to close the book as things always turn up for further discussion and insight. For example, news of a three toed cast found back then came to light after I wrote the book (see link). Today, the focus is on addressing another attempt to discredit this account by sceptics. In this case, pictures of the then newly developed Glasgow to Inverness have been posted with what is claimed to be an important feature - walls. One is shown at the top and another below and they were part of the completed construction of the new road running for miles.

If you wonder what walls have to do with this case, then the implication is that if there was a wall in front of the alleged Nessie, it would not have got over it. Ergo, Grant lied and the sceptics can remove another famous case from their hit list (though I suspect they think they have done that already). Now by my estimate, these walls could be up to two or three feet high as they seem to vary. It is not clear if there was a consistent height depending on the situation or risk at that point by the shoreline. One can still see them today in various states, some missing stones or covered in vegetation and so on.

The first question to ask is whether our creature could hurdle such an obstacle? That depends entirely on what kind of species the animal is and so we could go off in different directions speculating on our own favoured beast. Could a mammal such as a long necked version of a seal get over such a wall? I would say yes going by this video clip of a much smaller seal negotiating an imposing rock of similar height to the walls by Loch Ness. One would think a larger pinniped would have less trouble getting over.

Could a plesiosaur negotiate it? Now you're asking a question. Are you talking about the ones preserved in the fossil record or the evolved one popular in the 1970s? When a plesiosaur is proposed to have evolved, there is no end to the adaptive qualities one may add to achieve ones ends. Well, I see no reason why it couldn't, but I am not being authoritative on that matter. And so we may go through the list of candidates.

But one may cut through this and say if the creature managed to get out of the loch, get on to the road and over it then surely it can retrace its route in reverse with similar skill? One can see the logic there, though another may retort that it may have disembarked at an easier point further away. Such is the cut and thrust when information is lacking. But another observation may come to our aid. As explained in my book, the location of the Arthur Grant encounter is almost certainly along the stretch of road now occupied by the Clansman Hotel. The Google image below shows the hotel and note the green Nessie statue to the left conveniently reminding us of the event nearly ninety years before.

A look around shows a lack of walls such as this shot where the only visible wall bridges over a stream. Obviously, the metal barriers are a modern addition. The second image is looking the opposite direction towards the south and you can see the entrance to the pier where various vessels such as the Jacobite tourist cruisers pick up passengers. One would surmise that a brick wall is less likely to be found at a pier as it would hinder access for vehicles and if a boat had to be towed onto land.

A look at contemporary ordnance survey maps may help us here. The first is the one inch per mile (1:63360) "Popular" edition published from 1921-1930. You can see the pier clearly marked and note that the red road is delineated by either solid black line or dotted black line. According to the symbols of the time, the solid line with a red road indicates a main route between towns but if it changes to dotted line then it is an unfenced boundary. The road goes from solid to dotted as the pier approaches and for a distance after before going solid again. We can take it that this means any wall disappears to accommodate access to the pier. This stretch of unfenced boundary is where I think Grant encountered his monster.

However, this map was published in 1929 and Grant himself refers to the reconstructed road in the account above five years later. Did that result in a wall being constructed near the pier? A look at another map from 1940 says not. It is a military map at at scale of 1:25000 and the broken/unbroken lines follow much the same pattern. So no wall along the shore and I think we can dispose of this sceptical objection.

Of course, other objections to the Arthur Grant land sighting have been made over the years. The arrival of Marmaduke Wetherell at the scene gave sceptics the opportunity to play the guilt by association card. However, an expedition led by Mr. A. F. Hay, a Fellow of the Zoological Society of Scotland, visited the site and their report was published by the Scotsman newspaper. They had examined the road and beach and proposed a walrus was the best candidate. Curiously, they did not mention anything about walls getting in the way and I have no reason to doubt this was because there was no wall there.

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Monday, 2 May 2022

A Recent Video Examined


A few days back came the latest video published by the Daily Mail of a wake filmed by an anonymous couple from above Urquhart Castle at about 6am on the 25th April. Below is the relevant text from that article:

The woman had woken up just after 6am on Monday and decided to take some photographs as the loch was so still that its surface was like glass. But after spotting something large moving in the water, she began filming on her iPhone and could be heard saying ‘What on Earth is that?’ as her husband joined her to watch what was unfolding. The couple filmed for two minutes and 37 seconds from 6.21am as the mysterious creature – they estimated it to be between 20 and 30 feet in length – swam beneath the water and gave them tantalising glimpses as it broke the surface.

It appeared to have at least one fin or limb, which paddled under the water ‘like an oar’. The woman also took several still pictures from the vantage point of their holiday cottage set on the hillside opposite Urquhart Castle, around a quarter of a mile from the loch. She added: ‘I really don’t know what it was in the water. It was something large. I don’t think it really equates on the video quite how large it was. ‘We don’t know what the creature was. It was propelling itself with something. It wasn’t how a fish would do it.

‘You could see it much clearer than it’s come out in the photos. The lumps or humps or whatever they are kept disappearing under the water, but it was still pushing forward under the water. ‘You could see something under the water, then it rushed forward and turned round. From what we could gauge, it was between 20 and 30 feet long. There was nothing else on the loch, no boats, nothing.’

The shot below with the castle in the foreground gives some context. Now when I read the headline that it was a double hump film and the best footage for twenty years, I thought I have to see this. But as they say, the trailer is often better than the film and I was disappointed with what I saw. In fact, I struggled to see much detail in the mobile camera clip. We are told they were high on a hillside about a quarter of a mile away from the loch.

And therein lies the problem, they were in a comparable position to the controversial webcam clips that have regaled newspapers in recent years. Though admittedly, the resolution of this is a bit better. I believe this is a 640x360 resolution (at 25 frames per second) and it looks like the webcam is 480x360 and so the couple's video has about 33% more information. This is not much compared to the webcam, though I suspect the original iPhone video would be higher, perhaps 720p. If so, an investigation is incomplete without seeing this original file.

Now the image at the top of the article is taken from the Daily Record presumably was a highly zoomed in frame from the video. I say that because we also learn that some photographs were taken by the lady and I suspect they may provide more detail than the video. At this point, I do not have access to these and again the investigation may be incomplete without them. However, if this is an enlargement of a photograph, then perhaps they are not that useful.

But what we see in the top image is interesting in that the two dots are behind the bow of the wave which is being generated by something else. In fact, there appears to be nothing at the head of the wave. Clearly there has to be something there and the conclusion is that whatever it may be is lost in the pixellation.

We have the video and there are photos, but we must not discount the naked eye testimony as others are wont to do. The eyewitness said what they saw with the eye was superior to what was recorded and that I can agree with. The human delivers something which no camera can. In that context, some details come out:

It appeared to have at least one fin or limb, which paddled under the water ‘like an oar’. ... The lumps or humps or whatever they are kept disappearing under the water, but it was still pushing forward under the water. ‘You could see something under the water, then it rushed forward and turned round.

Nevertheless, they were still a quarter of a mile away or about 400 metres. This is not a great distance - unless a thirty foot creature wholly breaks the surface with a double hump and long neck display and goes on a swim for a good few minutes. But certainly, going by the video alone, nobody could conclusively identify what is in the sequence - unless somebody comes forward and confesses they had a vessel or something in that area at that time. However, the lack of detail in the video should not be taken as a reason to discount the naked eye testimony.

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Tuesday, 19 April 2022

The Usse of North England


Here is a clipping from the Cleveland Standard dated May 5th 1934. The news of a monster in Loch Ness brought out various interesting stories from the end of 1933 onward as some newspapers vied for attention bringing up stories about their own local monsters both past and present. This one goes right back to the 17th century for one of oldest tales that I have come across. Here is the text of the article:

Just an Usse!

I have just come across something which will make the Loch Ness Monster wish he had never seeen the light of publicity. It is an Usse. There is recorded in an old 17th Century volume I was looking at the other day an account of a queer monster stated to have been found at Coatham back in 1615. The entry reads:

October 28. Being Satterday, 1616. In Teasmouth, besides Cotham, in the Countie of Yorke, came ther to land a mightie ffish, the length whereof was 19 yards. The bodye in compass 20 yards. Betwixt the eyes four yards with 32 teeth as big as one's arme, long 9 inches. In coloure like the blewe sky. Skynn without skaylis with haire like the seale. The same (as some may yt having seen such fish) is an Usse. Sir Henry Bellansys having the title and right to all sea wrecks and pisces regale from Runswick to Yarme, sold the cyle and parmasetye to one John Whyte, of Cotham, for £120.

And now we know!

The town of Coatham is located near the modern city of Middlesbrough and the creature appears to have been stranded at Teasmouth or in or near the estuary or mouth of the River Tees. The location is shown below in two maps.

One can certainly imagine big fish stories coming from the East of England bordering the North Sea. But what of this strange beast called an "usse" by this narrator from over four hundred years past? So we have a beast almost sixty feet long, which excludes a lot of candidates right away. The "compass" of twenty yards we presume to be the circumference, in which case if it was a circular body would equate to a diameter of 6.4 yards or nineteen feet across. So the length to diameter ratio perhaps was three to one indicating a bulbous body.

However, no mention is made of our typical long tail or neck associated with the Loch Ness Monster. In fact, perhaps in the manner of a catfish, we have a great gash of a mouth four yards long dominating the front of the beast, which was not far off our suggested body diameter of six yards. Add to this the teeth each of nine inches and we have a formidable beast. With blue skin like that of a seal, what could it have been?

The fact that this was deemed a rare find is shown in the fact it was sold for £120, which is over £30,000 in today's money. This suggests this was something that didn't arrive on those shores very often. In fact, a clue lies in the word "parmasetye" which equates to our modern word "parmacetti" which I am told "is the pearly white, waxy, translucent solid, obtained from the oil in the head of the sperm whale: used chiefly in cosmetics and candles, and as an emollient."

What the other material named "cyle" is I am not sure, but we seem to be in the realm of toothed whales such as the sperm whale, whose teeth indeed can reach up to nine inches as a maximum and sixty feet is easily achievable as a length. They can also be blue-grey in colour. So perhaps not such a competitor to Nessie as first suggested.

As for that old English word "usse", that is the mystery to me. The word "whale" was already in use at that time. In fact, the King James Bible, published at that time uses the word "whale" when referring to some large sea creatures. So why didn't they just refer to it as a whale? Perhaps it was a local dialect used by people from that region? Suggestions are invited in the comments.

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Tuesday, 12 April 2022

Day Trip to Loch Ness


It was a quick trip to the loch this Sunday as I got up at 0630 in Edinburgh and arrived at the village of Inverfarigaig by about 1030. Surprisingly, I was greeted by patches of snow around the outer lying villages, though the loch seemed pretty clear. I also had to dodge an unusual number of cyclists until I realised the Loch Ness Etape cycle race was coming soon and there was plenty of practise runs going on.

The day basically consisted of watches from four areas. The first was near the Wall which is less than a mile on from Inverfarigaig at a parking spot where I sometimes like to watch the loch from. The loch surface was pretty calm as the sun occasionally broke out from the clouds but it stayed dry. From there it was a drive of a few miles to the second spot at Whitefield and the beach where Lachlan Stuart took his famous three hump photograph in 1951.

I walked for a long distance south crunching through myriads of pebbles keeping an eye on the loch but also the low lying branches that sprouted towards the loch. There was what looked like a big black water tank lying on the beach. Did it come from the road or from the loch? It was a bit hard to say either way, I suspected it was fly tipped from the road and rolled down the short hill. Either way, it is a shame that rubbish is too often encountered on the beaches.

Driving onto to the outskirts of the northernmost village of Dores, I disembarked again with camera and binoculars for a walk along the southern side of the beach, heading back the way I had come from towards the salmon farm. Everything was setup for photographing an appearance, but the old girl would not oblige. By the way, here are some tales from the salmon farm, as told by Ally MacLeod on Steve Feltham's Facebook page, here and here.

The salmon farm has had some monster stories over the years. It was not long after this blog started that I covered the interesting picture taken by Jon Rowe (link). The annotated picture below shows the two "protuberances" to the left, the shadowy water and my impression of the back. All speculation of course, but they certainly were not two birds bottoms up. Some suggest this place should be crowded by Nessies trying to get at all those salmon. The only problem with that is the fish are impossible to nab but I always fancied this was a good spot for CCTV or a webcam.

It was then onto Dores and I grabbed the camera and binoculars again and went for a walk along the southern part of the beach. I went down almost as far as the salmon farm but nothing showed despite the ideal conditions for a surfacing. With that I drove on and parked by the Dores Inn and walked along the top part of the beach as far as Tor Point. The forest there has been landscaped to allow tourists and locals to walk along a nice path around the point and onto Aldourie. It was a pleasant walk with various points from where you can go straight to the shoreline. I stopped at one such place and conducted a final watch opposite a point close to Lochend (picture below).

A white cruiser made its way along the opposite shore and the background hills gave the odd impression of being made of two parts with a split down the middle. It was near this walk that a local gave me an account of their sighting with a friend back in August 2018 (link) and one of the sketches is below. I chatted with them but they wished anonymity, which makes me wonder how many sightings are like this because of the reception they may get from sceptics?

As an aside, I had trouble finding the above 2018 report and had to look through the annual reviews which I have now updated up to 2021 and are useful as a kind of index for events since 2012 (link). On the way back, I checked in with fellow monster hunter, Steve Feltham, who was working  on his models. We chatted through the issues of the day such as webcams, the salmon farm and other recent events. I have to agree with Steve that the webcam is done once the paddle boarders came forward as some alleged "mysterious" objects.

I would just say to anyone using this under powered webcam to do some "calibration" and present clips or images of what you identify as known objects be they boats or otherwise. With those provided, they can be compared against what is claimed as "unknown". But to this day, no one down below has corroborated any of these images, so case closed for me. However, we hope for better, shinier, whizzier webcams for all those budding remote hunters to move over to. Just don't expect the same number of mystery hits, people.

With that it was back on the road south and the expectation that I will be back up next month for an extended visit. Good luck to all who endeavour to capture images of that elusive monster in the months ahead.

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