Sunday 29 March 2020

The Story of Arthur Kopit's Land Sighting

I have been looking into some less familiar reports of the Loch Ness Monster on land and this led me to this blog for today which raises the profile of one such case involving an unexpected figure. I had been aware of the case of Arthur Kopit for some eight years, but a recent Internet search has given enough information to tell you more.

The source for the story was a letter Arthur wrote to the New York Times which was printed on the 1st August 1976. The newspaper had been running various features on the loch, the monster and its followers awaiting the result of Robert Rines' AAS expedition. On the heels of the success of the 1975 underwater pictures, the Times signed a contract with the Academy ensuring first refusal on all findings.

As it turned out, the AAS returned empty handed, presumably once they positioned their camera and sonar rigs properly. But that is another story. Meantime, the events of 1975 prompted people to come forward with their stories and so we come to Arthur Kopit and we reproduce the text of his letter which turned up on the Internet and is below.

Oh monster, poor monster

One night in August 1962, I was in the vicinity of Urquhart Castle, on the shore of Loch Ness. I had no idea at the time that this area was the site of the most frequent Loch Ness “monster” sightings. It was perhaps 11, and there was a full moon shining toward us across the loch.

When I parked my car outside the castle gate, at least 100 yards from the loch, I was able to hear a very loud sound. I did not have to strain to make the noise out; indeed, I, and the girl I was with, heard it as soon as we left our car. And as we approached the castle, it quickly became clear that the sound was emanating from a spot beyond the castle - that is to say, the water.

It was a halting sort of sound; uneven breath; a kind of gasping. It made me think of an asthmatic walrus (not that I have ever met one), or some such amphibious creature that could breathe on land but with effort only. A large creature, surely, to expel such a volume of air. The thing was obviously eating a lot. Munch munch munch. Snap snap snap. By the time we reached the castle we had no doubt about what was happening: A large amphibious creature of some sort was feeding on a bush or tree.

At the castle (as I recall) the ground rose so that one could walk from the grass or dirt directly onto the parapet. As we walked up said parapet we realized (she, apparently, to her delight; I to my consternation) that “the thing” was directly beyond the parapet on a small beach or spit of land.

It did not sound like a cow or sheep or dog; it sounded like an aquatic/land creature, Also, the loch is extremely cold; nothing sensible (like dogs or cows) would swim in it by choice. From where I stood, I could see there was no apparent way for a land creature to walk around the castle and get to this spot; it was guarded from land approach by the castle walls.

Well, all I had to do was poke my head over the ledge beside the parapet and I would have seen what it was. However, it occurred to me that whatever it was would also see what I was. Perhaps Nessie was a predator. “You go first,” I whispered to the girl I was with, and she pointed to me. Whereupon I devised a plan: to find a large rock, drop it over the side and (no, not knock it out) drive the creature toward the water, whereupon we would be able to glimpse the thing in retreat. Safely.

However, I made a bit more noise than necessary and the creature departed into the water. The girl I was with claimed she saw a long tubular creature slide into the water. That is her report. I did not see it. I believe I saw a V‐shaped wake in the water by the edge of the beach, but then I may have wanted to see the wake and will not swear I truly saw the wake, as I swear to everything else I report.

Subsequent to this event, it has seemed to me that I came upon, by accident, a favorite feeding spot of “the creature.” Possibly my information may help you in obtaining clear photographs and irrefutable evidence of the thing's existence.

I hope you will not take my slight jocular tone as a sign of a hoax. I really have better things to do than make up this tale. It is just that I have told the story so often to friends - like Jack and Carol Gelber - who have smiled very skeptically, that I suppose I have developed a kind of joking tone in the telling.

This is a grand adventure. Wish I were with you.


Middletown, Conn.

Now this is not a story that made it into the classic literature, since Arthur only put it into print in 1976, but it appears again in a letter printed in the September 1999 issue of the Fortean Times. This letter was written by researcher, Ulrich Magin, in response to a previous Nessie article. However, in the letter, the name of Arthur Copit was the name associated in the literature with this event, which led to some fruitless online searching.

But the original letter names him as Arthur Kopit and a google search soon revealed this was the same famed American playwright. His picture below is taken from his Wikipedia page. In fact, the letter title "Oh monster, poor monster" is derived from one of his best known plays, "Oh Dad, Poor Dad, Mamma's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad".

Arthur is now aged 82 and so I began a search to make contact with him. This was finally achieved with the help of his daughter who was glad to make my acquaintance and told me how her Dad's Nessie story was a "classic" within the family and "it really sounds like he did encounter her". Evidently, like so many eyewitnesses, Arthur still stands by his story.

She gave me his phone number but I was told that he was in relatively poor health but would be willing to talk. But given that and the current circumstances worldwide, I was more inclined to take a rain check on that and contact Arthur later to get his story and also ask about his female friend who actually saw the creature. But let us move on with what we have.

Now what can we say about the story itself, these fifty eight years on? In August at that latitude, the sun would have set by then, but we are told there was a full moon which places the event around the 14th August which places sunset more precisely at 9pm. But it is a full moon which provides a reasonable degree of illumination. But unlike the well lit castle at the top of the article, I doubt there were any spotlights around and the modern visitor centre was nowhere to be seen.

Having said that, Arthur did not see the creature as the idea of popping your head over the wall did not come across as a great idea to him. I can wholly sympathize with that view. If you heard loud animal noises beyond a wall and it began to dawn on you that the stories of 40 foot creatures may be true, would you stick your head above the proverbial parapet? 

The tactic to disturb the beast and then catch a view of it retreating sounds eminently reasonable, but the monster's classic aversion to noise was not known to Arthur and it was off before its appointed time. However, his female friend is stated as seeing "a long tubular creature slide into the water". That could be interpreted in two ways. She may have seen the long neck of the creature swimming away or it could have been a more extended view of the body. There is no way of knowing more as things stand.


But what Arthur lost in the visual was made up for in the auricular. What are we to make of sounds like asthmatic walruses and munching and snapping noises? Reports of noises associated with the Loch Ness Monster are rare indeed, so we should pay some attention to them when they do come along. The first thing to be said is that the sound was associated with something large. It was heard from 100 yards away and that was with the castle between them acting as a sound buffer.

Naturally seals or some other larger pinniped may be suggested by those more sceptical of a monster and the description of it being akin to a walrus noise may lend credence to that idea. If you want to know what a walrus sounds like, there is a link here. I guess Arthur had looked into some aquatic calls as part of his own attempt to understand what he had encountered and this composite idea of a walrus halting or struggling for breath was the best he came to.

But it is not clear whether this halting breath was due to it being out of water or indulging in these crunching and munching noises. It seems unlikely that the monster would draw much if any nutrition from bushes and trees so one wonders if it was just gnawing at them for some dental purpose? A look at the foliage below the castle in a more recent photograph suggests that even if Arthur looked over the wall, he may not have seen anything for dense foliage until the creature was further out in the water.

But this does make me think that monster hunters on their forages around the loch should pay more attention to trees on the shoreline which have suffered damage - especially higher up. It's a bit of a long shot, but who knows? Any such find should involve a search for any material that is not part of the tree and I wish Arthur had gone back the next day in sunlight to check out what had been left behind!

This episode also bring into focus the competing theories of indigenous water breather and itinerant air breather. Could such a noise be made by something that draws its oxygen from gills or similar organs? The answer seems to be "no" unless there is something other than lungs involved here. The only answer there is the strange ability of the creature to rise and sink vertically using some highly efficient buoyancy mechanism which may involve gas intake and discharge. We have some reports where this sinking and rising involves a foaming action around the waterline of the object. Could this be gas discharge as the object descends? How would that discharge sound out of the water?

I know, just a piece of idle speculation, but as I have said before, a lung breathing animal will not be long unseen and unheard in the loch. The only explanation for that scenario is the horned air tubes that have been postulated for our favourite beastie and as perhaps demonstrated in our previous article which brought you Harry Finlay's horned monstrosity.

I am not so convinced by that, but I know others are. But if it was an air breather, why did it sound as if it was struggling to breath? It sounded like this was a creature that was not accustomed to being out of the water on a regular basis like seals and the extra weight on its lungs due to being wholly or partially on land was actually a burden on its oxygen intake process.


Now some are trying to figure out where Arthur was standing when he was at the "parapet". I called upon my extensive collection of postcards and include this one which is a better view of the castle grounds. People can refer to this and others in considering the literal lie of the land. Arthur mentioned

"At the castle (as I recall) the ground rose so that one could walk from the grass or dirt directly onto the parapet. As we walked up said parapet ..."

In the postcard image, there is a small hill rise in the foreground to the castle and a wall along it to the left. It may have been this wall he clambered onto as a first guess. Another possibility are the walls on the far right concerning which I add a second image to show their relatively lower height on the centre right.

So thus ends Arthur Kopit's fascinating account and it may raise more questions than it answers, but isn't that the way with a lot of Nessie stories?

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