Monday 27 April 2020

The Surgeon's Photo and Long Necks

A recent item on eBay got me interested again in the history of long necked sightings. It was an old postcard shown above featuring an artist's rendition of the monster rephotographed against the familiar backdrop of Urquhart Castle. Now, monster postcards are part and parcel of the commercial and cultural side of the phenomenon. I have many in my collection of postcards but this one may have the distinction of being the first monster postcard or certainly one of the first. 

The reverse side shows it was used and posted on the 12th January 1934, though it appears to have been posted in another part of Scotland in Edinburgh. A lot of these postcards are not postmarked and so the date of their invention can be uncertain, but certainly this is the oldest one I remember and may be dated to at least late 1933 - mere months into the new media sensation of the Loch Ness Monster.

Here is a zoom in on how the artist perceived how the head may look like though one must be wary that such artists may introduce some of their own exaggerated cartoon effects rather than this being a sincere attempt to reproduce what eyewitnesses were seeing. The eyes are certainly an invention as such things are rarely described and one wonders if the artist had the plesiosaur in mind as he drew it?

Now if you read the sceptical literature, you may get the impression that the Surgeon's Photograph was the archetypal and original pose of the long necked monster which others used as some kind of template. This may be presented as some kind of logical discourse, but it is certainly also used psychologically. The reason for this is that if you can link the perception of the monster as a long necked creature to a now discredited photograph, you have instilled the seed of doubt into the minds of those you seek to recruit to your side.

But this photograph was published at least three months after the postcard so there is no need for it as the basis that the newly reported creature had a long neck and it is rather surplus to requirements. A look at the contemporary newspaper reports confirms the already established facts. I will give five examples to prove this.

First and most famously is George Spicer's land encounter with the beast which was reported by the Inverness Courier on the 4th August 1933, in which he describes a long neck. I could include the sketch normally associated with the Spicers published by Gould, but this sketch would only muddy the waters as it was not published until June 1934, months after this postcard.

The Courier then related the experience of Commander Meiklem on the 8th August in which he describes the monster as like a black horse.

We then have the account from the Inverness Courier dated the 3rd October 1933, which relates another land sighting from 20 years previously by William MacGruer and other kids which describes a camel like long neck and small head.

Evidently the idea of a long neck was gaining currency as the national newspaper, The Scotsman, now joined the fray and on the 16th October 1933 published a general article theorizing that the creature was "resembling in form the prehistoric plesiosaurus".

Finally, the Scotsman sent a reporter up north to talk to eyewitnesses and got them to produce or guide sketches of what they had seen. Those sketches are shown below as they appeared in the newspaper for the 15 November 1933. Clearly, the concept of the creature possessing a long neck was well established by the end of 1933 and it was no surprise that our artist drew on these accounts to draw how he or she saw monster.

So it was not the case that the Surgeon's Photograph set the trend. It was the other way around. The trend was already set and it was this that influenced the future forgers of this infamous picture. And if you're wondering how the postcard bid on eBay, it went for the sum of 57 pounds, well above the usual couple of quid for most monster postcards.

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