April 21, 1934: Famous “Surgeon’s Photograph” of Loch Ness Monster Taken!

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A Brief History

On April 21, 1934, one of the most famous photographs in history was taken by a London gynecologist!

Digging Deeeper

Loch Ness, one of a number of lakes in the Scottish Highlands, is said to be inhabited by a monster(s).

Loch Ness, reported home of the monster

The earliest reference to such a creature in Loch Ness goes back to 6th century, when a man was allegedly attacked by an unknown beast. The modern history begins in 1933 when the term “Loch Ness Monster” was first used in a newspaper article which was followed by numerous “sightings” and the first report of the monster on land by a Mr. Spicer and his wife.

Although not the first photograph of “Nessie” as the monster is affectionately called, the “Surgeon’s Photograph” is relatively clear compared to the first photo taken by Hugh Gray. The photo appears to show the long neck and small head of a creature swimming along with its body hidden just under the water.  Critics have said the photo is of an elephant moving under water with its trunk extended out of the water. Other opined that the photo was of a waterbird such as a goose or loon.

The “surgeon’s photograph” of 1934, now known to have been a hoax

In 1975, the actual photographer, Christian Spurling, revealed that his photo was a hoax, and later described the entire process in book, Nessie- The Surgeon’s Photograph Exposed (1999).  Spurling admitted that the hoax photograph was of a small submarine (bought at Woolworth’s) with the head and neck constructed of plastic wood.

Of course, other researchers and documentary makers have a vested interest in the continued belief in Nessie and dispute Spurling’s confession. So much “research” has been done by investigators keeping the Loch under 24 hour camera surveillance, extensive sonar mapping of the depths and attempts at underwater photography, not to mention the tourist dollars that having the public convinced the whole thing is a hoax would cost these people plenty of money.

Interest in the Loch Ness Monster seems not to have been diminished by Spurling’s assertion that his photo was a hoax.  An incredible variety of research has continued through the 2000’s up to this day. An enormous array of books, movies, television programs, comic books and cartoons, amusement park rides, video games, and even rock and roll songs and videos have starred or featured Nessie!  (A list of all the cultural references would be longer than this article.)

Is Nessie real? Is she a prehistoric dinosaur relative, perhaps a plesiosaur?  Is she really a giant eel, one or more seals, an unknown aquatic mammal, a diving bird, or what?  Tell us what you think, hoax or real, and if real, then what?

Historical Evidence

For more information, please see…

Campbell, Steuart.  The Loch Ness Monster: The Evidence.  Prometheus Books, 1997.

Schach, David.  The Loch Ness Monster (Torque Books: The Unexplained) (Torque: The Unexplained).  Bellwether Media, 2010.

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About Author

Major Dan

Major Dan is a retired veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He served during the Cold War and has traveled to many countries around the world. Prior to his military service, he graduated from Cleveland State University, having majored in sociology. Following his military service, he worked as a police officer eventually earning the rank of captain prior to his retirement.