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Explained: What sparked the Loch Ness Monster mystery 90 years ago?


By Val Sweeney

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It was 90 years ago this week that hotel manageress Aldie Mackay and her husband were startled by a strange spectacle as they drove along the shores of Loch Ness.

It was to trigger an enduring mystery which continues to fascinate people around the world today.

Their account of the close encounter with a whale-like beast, which initially appeared in The Inverness Courier before being picked up by the national and international media, was the first reported modern-day sighting of the Loch Ness Monster.

Although there had been stories stretching back over the centuries about kelpies in the loch, it was the first time there was reference to a "monster".

The couple's sighting occurred on April 14 1933 and was reported the following month in the Courier which did not name them.

The first report of the Loch Ness "Monster" appeared in the Inverness Courier in May 1933.
The first report of the Loch Ness "Monster" appeared in the Inverness Courier in May 1933.

It only emerged later who they were and that Mrs Mackay's husband had told Alex Campbell, the water bailiff for Loch Ness and a part-time journalist, about the sighting.

Mr Campbell's subsequent article reported how a well-known businessman, living near Inverness, and his wife – a university graduate – were driving along the north shore of the loch not far from Abriachan Pier when they were startled to see a tremendous upheaval on the loch, which, previously, had been as calm as the proverbial mill-pond.

The sighting occurred less than a mile from shore.

The report continued: "There, the creature disported itself, rolling and plunging for fully a minute, its body resembling that of a whale, and the water cascading and churning like a simmering cauldron.

"Soon, however, it disappeared in a boiling mass of foam. Both onlookers confessed that there was something uncanny about the whole thing, for they realised that here was no ordinary denizen of the depths, because, apart from its enormous size, the beast, in taking the final plunge, sent out waves that were big enough to have been caused by a passing steamer.

"The watchers waited almost half-an-hour in the hope that the monster – if that's what it was – would come to the surface again: but they had seen the last of it."

Aldie Mackay was the manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel which later became the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre.
Aldie Mackay was the manageress of the Drumnadrochit Hotel which later became the Loch Ness Exhibition Centre.

Although they did not see it again, the report opened the floodgates for hundreds of sightings which are now recorded by Gary Campbell, keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Register.

He said although the 1933 sighting was the first modern day one, it was just one of a series stretching back almost 1500 years

But what made it unique was the resulting Inverness Courier article which was picked up by the Daily Mail and the national media – and then the international media.

The lure of seeing something unexplained on Loch Ness continues to attract visitors 90 years after the first reported sighting of a "monster".
The lure of seeing something unexplained on Loch Ness continues to attract visitors 90 years after the first reported sighting of a "monster".

"The Courier story was unique as it referred to a 'monster'," Mr Campbell said.

"This had never been the case before - it was always just the Kelpie.

"The perceived wisdom is that because the film King Kong had just been released a few weeks previously, the world was attuned to stories about large creatures and the Courier article fitted this perfectly.

"The combination of the Inverness Courier and then the Daily Mail picking it up nationally made it an international sensation."

Gary Campbell, keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Register.
Gary Campbell, keeper of the Official Loch Ness Monster Register.

He continued: "There is also a rumour that it was all a PR stunt by the the tourist industry.

"This isn't true – the Courier article was on page five, not a big splash and it took a while for the story to gain wider traction.

"But what did happen was the tourist industry cottoned on pretty quick that it was something they could capitalise on and in short order there were tours to Loch Ness on a daily basis.

"Later in 1933, the first ever electric lights were fitted to the Christmas tree in Inverness Railway station simply to make it a more attractive arrival point for tourists coming to look for Nessie."

Related stories:

Ninety years on after Aldie Mackay's sighting, the lure of spotting the monster continues to draw tourists and Nessie hunters to Loch Ness in their millions.


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