Friday 10 January 2020

Another Painting by Constance Whyte

It was back in July 2015 that I featured a painting done by famed Loch Ness Monster author, Constance Whyte. Well, another one has turned up on eBay entitled "Window on the Vatican". The seller states it is an attic find which suggests it has been hidden away from human eyes for perhaps a very long time.

Either way, it is yet another work highlighting her art skills. The back of the canvas has two texts, "Window on the Vatican, Constance Whyte, Clachnaharry, Inverness" and "Medical Art Society, 1957". The latter is written on a label from "James Bourlet & Sons" who are still in business today offering framing and restoration work.

I believe Constance was a doctor (GP) which would explain the link with the Medical Art Society which also exists to this day and features art by doctors, dentists and vets. She may have submitted this work in 1957 (around the time she published "More Than A Legend") to the Society for their consideration and eventually ended up in the attic of someone connected with them. However, the Andrew of the third text "To Andrew, August 1956", may have had more to do with that.

Which finally begs the question, did Mrs Whyte ever paint the Loch Ness Monster? Unlike her previous subjects, I doubt our favourite cryptid struck a prolonged pose for her to reproduce on canvas. Nevertheless, she did sketch various outlines of creatures according to eyewitness reports. One would have thought this a temptation to great for her to resist. Now that is a painting I would love to see. If you fancy bidding on the painting, the eBay link is here.


A commenter below asks a very good question, who painted the cover of Constance Whyte's very own book? As reproduced below one wonders what it is showing. I am asking if it is indeed a painting of Loch Ness as the distant channel between the two hills looks quite restricted for the loch. There are two water disturbances in the foreground that may or may not have been added for monster effect. So what it shows is not entirely clear, but it could have been painted by Constance.

A look inside the book says "Jacket design by BIRO" and there is a small "biro" signature in the bottom right of the front cover. Who is BIRO one may ask? Is it Constance Whyte or someone else? Examining the various acknowledgements in the book makes no mention of the picture's painter which may suggest it was done by the author. So a little mystery within a mystery to conclude this article.

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Monday 6 January 2020

Nessie Hunting in 1971

On the 16th January 1972, the New York Times published an article by their correspondent, Martin Kasindorf, on his trip to capture the Loch Ness Monster on film. Did he succeed? You may well know the answer but his visit to see the established monster hunters constitutes the bulk of the article and makes for a good read. I will leave my comments and observations to the end of this article.

INVERNESS, Scotland—“You're not like most Americans with all their cameras and fancy lenses,” one of my wife's cousins told me approvingly last fall during three days of hand shaking in Glasgow.
I felt complimented. But during the rainy drive northward past Loch Lomond to Loch Ness, I regretted mustering only an Instamatic and my Japanese binoculars for the search. Considering that sonar, mini‐submarines, a gyrocopter and pebbles coated with sex hormones had failed to establish conclusively the presence of the so‐called Loch Ness Monster, I would certainly need luck.

Still, I thought, my equipment worries would affect only the spare hours in which I would not be standing official watch for the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau. This well‐organized and well‐equipped body of zoological amateurs was established in 1962 to “identify the species” reported in fearful sightings since St. Columba saw whatever it is in A.D. 550.

The Big Question

Did I see the monster? Well … but before we go into that, let me say that my New Year's resolution is to make use - later this year on a repeat visit - of the tips I picked up at Loch Ness last year. Now, to return to my recently completed first safari, I should explain that before we travelled to Scotland my wife wrote the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau's office in London (Room 209, Artillery Mansions, Victoria Street, SW1) and requested a one‐year's membership in the organization to give me as a present. It cost her $12.

“Can you send me something I can put in a box?” she stipulated. Back came a yellow membership card imprinted with a black, plesiosaur‐like figure rearing a long neck and a small conical head above two of the characteristic humps that are usually the only features of the species sighted. Neatly wrapped in a box was a narrow blue tie with the same Nessie creature in white. A copy of the bureau's annual bulletin mentioned something about members being able to help “take the watch” for a week. I soon lost the bulletin. I was going to Inverness‐shire, anyway, and decided to show up as a volunteer.

If the 24‐mile‐long, mile‐wide loch were near my home in California, Nessieburger stands would choke the shores. In the still remote Highlands I found little commercialism. Aside from a post card showing a swimming green dragon jauntily wearing a plaid Tam o' Shanter, the locals allude to their tourist attraction only in a restrained picture book and in the bookshop presence of a scholarly paperback, “The Great Orm of Loch Ness” by F. W. Holiday, who opts for the giant worm or slug theory.

“Loch Ness Investigation Research Headquarters. Visitors Welcome,” read the sign on Route A82, a two‐lane road which tracks the northerly shore from Fort Augustus to Inverness. Under a sunless gray sky I pulled into the bee infested parking yard of the modest camp. Its long wooden shack, two trailers, three cars and two camper trucks were all painted a dark forest green and arranged in a C, like the hastily formed defense perimeter of a wagon train. The camp's position 200 feet above the peaty, 700‐foot‐deep lake commands a 17‐mile view for a tripod‐mounted 35‐millimeter movie camera (with 36‐ inch telephoto lens) mounted outside the shack next to a spinning wind meter. The camera was shrouded.

I hung my binoculars around my neck and flashed my membership card at a robust, sweatered man of about 60 in the shack‐museum. “You will have to pay the 10‐pence [26 cents] admission charge, anyway,” he said frostily. Shaken, I paid and wandered around the wind‐buffeted cabin, looking at the exhibits; maps color‐coded for the locations of sightings and photographs; British military intelligence's analysis of some 1960 films concluding that a meandering hump “probably is an animate object”; an Identikit rendering of, “the creature,” which is often said to possess two horns and a horse-like mane, and reminders that similar mysterious wildlife has been seen in other Scottish lochs as well as in Ireland, Iceland, Sweden and Canada. There must be at least 20 Nessies in Loch Ness for the being to have survived, a biologist's text said in display.

Request to the Public

“Any members of the general public who genuinely believe they have seen an unusual creature or object in or on the shores of Loch Ness,” a placard pleaded, “are requested to report the occurrence to our expedition headquarters at Achnahannet, two miles south of Urquhart Castle. Should anyone in the vicinity either catch or find a mauled fish, we would appreciate having a sight of the fish.”

I circled back to the desk and asked about the watch. “Oh, the season ended last weekend,” said the staffer, Jeff Hepple, a retired English baker who had been signed up in the bureau by his son Rip, 36, a forester. The fluctuating crew of up to 19 who take the four camera vans around the lake from April to September was now down to four. By October, only one man would be left.

“Except for resident staff, who get their food, it costs the volunteers £5 [$13] each a week to keep watch,” the Hepples explained. “It is all arranged through the London office; we get teachers, doctors, college students and as many women as men - usually in their late teens and early 20's."

“We give two days of training in the use of the long‐lens cameras. A volunteer lives in the camp and does a day's cooking and washing every week. In decent weather he alternates in watching at five different sites. The first watch starts at photographic light, about 5 A.M. You watch until noontime. Then the second‐line crews take over till 9:30 P.M. Off watch, you do odd jobs and oversee the shack. We get up to 200 visitors a day and the admission money at the museum helps pay off our overdraft at the bank. We have two boats, and a volunteer might put the bait down. After the evening meal we go to the Drumnadrochit Lodge for a drink and a singsong.”

Said bachelor Rip Hepple, who has been on the scene for two years, “I didn't find the monster - but I found the bureau.” It had been a terrible summer for monster‐seeking, in fact. Over the years, 90 per cent of the sightings have occurred in conditions of warm sun, dead calm and a mirror surface. Except for one 82‐degree day, the summer of 1971 was cloudy and windy. There were 15 “sightings” but not one by a bureau member. Reports came from two truck drivers, a milkman, a telephone engineer, hydroelectric workers and tourists staying at The Clansman, a handsome cedar inn up the shore.

“We got some film but it was inconclusive - the distance, the sun,” said Dick Raynor, who filmed a believed seven‐foot creature (reports say they range up to 40 feet) in the form of a white wake in 1967. “The tourist cameras are usually inadequate - Brownies,” he sighed. I asked Raynor about the mauled fish. “The theory is that you are how you eat,” he said. Nessie is thought to be particularly fond of the salmon and sea trout which make their way into the loch through the Caledonian Canal.

“There is little we can do for you, unfortunately,” said the younger Hepple amiably. “It is a case of being in the right spot at the right time.” He told me that the chill southwest wind was Force 5, the temperature was 60 and the whitecaps marching evenly on the loch up to Inverness were four feet high. “Another poor viewing day.”

I began driving up the brooding loch, whose slate waters reflect the thickly wooded hills of the surrounding region. Hating to watch the road lest I miss a sight of the greatest wildlife mystery of all time, I wobbled past a stone monument to Sir John Cobb, killed on Loch Ness during a 1952 attempt at the world's water‐speed record. (The locals say Cobb's speedboat collided with “one arm of a V‐shaped wake which had appeared without any apparent cause.”)

Photographic Vigil

At Inverness, I bid farewell to Route A82 and circled down the south shore on the narrower Route B852. While halted at various turnouts to let cars and trucks pass, I snapped useless pictures and once walked through the bracken to a rocky beach, stirred to the marrow by the possibilities so hopelessly underwater.

On this road one day in 1933, when Route A82 was being blasted into the opposite shore and vibrations were spreading through the lake, a vacationing London corporation director named George Spicer was motoring with his wife near the aluminum‐factory town of Foyers. Mrs. Spicer shouted in terror and her husband later reported, “I observed the most extraordinary form of an animal crossing the road. It was horrible - an abomination. First we saw an undulating sort of neck, a little thicker than an elephant's trunk. It did not move in the usual reptilian fashion, but, with three arches in its neck, it shot across the road until a ponderous body about four feet high came into view. When we reached the part of the road it had crossed, we stopped, but there was no sign of it. … It was terrible. Its color … could be called a dark elephant gray. It looked like huge snail with a long neck.”

It is a matter of being in the right spot at the right time. Judging from many reports and the few good pictures the Loch Ness creatures, possibly mollusks or incredible marine worms, are shy, warty and slimy. They can be black, red‐brown or yellow. They exist. One day soon a resident expert from the Loch Ness Investigation Bureau may succeed in crossbowing a biopsy dart into the animal's side to take a piece of flesh for classification. Then the bureau will disband. Meanwhile, Its volunteers help keep the watch. Next summer my timing will be better.


Forty eight years on from the penning of that article, it may seem easy to be sanguine, cynical, nostalgic or motivated. Make your choice according to your outlook on the matter. I was still in Primary School at the time and was oblivious to all that was going on up north, though every Scottish kid knew about the Loch Ness Monster. Meantime, there are some today, now drawing their state pensions, who participated in those events and will have mixed views on what it all meant.

The title of of his article makes me wonder if he had picked up a copy of Holiday's "Orm" book which he saw in  a shop and then goes into the slimy details of worm like monsters. You would be hard pressed to find any tourist outlet putting Holiday or any other such author on their shelves today.

Holiday makes much of the Spicer land sighting and so I presume our journalist, like many, saw it as a Nessie sighting par excellence worthy of inclusion to sum up the grotesqueness of what these amateur hunters were in pursuit of. Did he meet Holiday? It doesn't sound like it, but he did meet Rip Hepple, publisher of the well respected Nessletter, and his father, Jeff. To that list we can also add Dick Raynor, now an arch-sceptic, who regards it all as a great zoological waste of time.

No one else is named and that is probably due to it being October. Martin had been a bit disorganised in enthusiastically turning up to volunteer to man a watch station, only to be told the hunting season had just finished (and it had not been a good one weather wise). After some interviews, he conducted his own watch from the south shore and that was that. And, as you may guess, Nessie did not pop up for his camera. As the man told him, you have to be in the right place at the right time. A truism that continues to hold to this day.

Martin concludes by stating the Bureau would disband when conclusive evidence was obtained. As it turns out, they disbanded the very same year his article was published and it was down to the more mundane matter of the lease on the Achnahannet HQ site. The story of the Bureau was soon to be supplanted by an organisation led by Robert Rines not mentioned by Kasindorf and they were to obtain a photo in August 1972 which would set the cryptozoological world abuzz. But that's another story.

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