Dry As Dust

A Fortean in the Archives


The child murder that gave voodoo its bad name



An
engraving–probably made from a contemporary artist's sketch–shows the
eight Haitian "voodoo" devotees found guilty in February 1864 of the
murder and cannibalism of a 12-year-old child. From Harper's Weekly.

A new post at the Smithsonian site looks at a sensational trial in mid-nineteenth century Haiti - and the negative effects it has had on perceptions of voodoo ever since.

In the cave of the witches

When the Sect needs a new Invunche, the Council of the Cave
orders a Member to steal a boy child from six months to a year old. The
Deformer, a permanent resident of the Cave, starts work at once. He
disjoints the arms and legs and the hands and feet. Then begins the
delicate task of altering the position of the head. Day after day, and
for hours at a stretch, he twists the head with a tourniquet until it
has rotated through an angle of 180, that is until the child can look
straight down the line of its own vertebrae.

There remains one last operation, for which another specialist is
needed. At full moon, the child is laid on a work-bench, lashed down
with its head covered in a bag. The specialist cuts a deep incision
under the right shoulder blade. Into the hole he inserts the right arm
and sews up the wound with thread taken from the neck of a ewe. When it
has healed the Invunche is complete.

The world’s last great witch trial took place as recently as 1880. It
was held on the remote Chilean island of Chiloé, and featured
remarkable allegations of mass murder, child mutilation and sorcery, all
committed in the name of a strange sort of alternative government known
as La Provincia Recta – ‘The Righteous Province’ – a sect of
warlocks, based in a hidden cave and given to flying about the island
wearing magical waistcoats stitched from the flayed skin of the recently
deceased.

Walking to utopia



The Land of Cockaigne, in an engraving after a 1567 painting by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. Cockaigne was a peasant’s vision of paradise that tells us much about life in the medieval and early modern periods. A sure supply of rich food and plenty of rest were the chief aspirations of those who sang the praises of this idyllic land.

Men and women have always dreamed of paradise – and for many, in the years
before the world was fully explored, it was somewhere that might have a
physical existence in some distant corner of the earth. This week's Smithsonian essay takes
a look at what's been said about an earthly arcadia, from the medieval
Land of Cockaigne (a villein's playground that offered a mirror image of
life as it was led in this period, with plenty of rest, a ban on work,
and food that literally threw itself into the mouths of inhabitants) to
Russia's much more spiritual peasant paradise, Belovode, the "Kingdom of
White Waters." More intriguingly, it tracks some of the many very real
expeditions that set out over the years to locate these lands of dreams –

The Monster of Glamis

Glamis Castle

“If you could even guess the nature of this castle’s secret,”
said Claude Bowes-Lyon, 13th Earl of Strathmore, “you would get down on your knees and thank God it was not yours.”

That awful secret was once the talk of Europe. From perhaps the 1840s until 1905, the Earl’s ancestral seat at Glamis Castle, in the Scottish
lowlands, was home to a “mystery of mysteries”—an enigma that involved a
hidden room, a secret passage, solemn initiations, scandal, and shadowy
figures glimpsed by night on castle battlements.

The conundrum engaged two generations of high society until, soon after
1900, the secret itself was lost. One version of the story holds that it
was so terrible that the 13th Earl’s heir flatly refused to have it
revealed to him. Yet the mystery of Glamis (pronounced “Glarms”)
remains, kept alive by its association with royalty (the heir was
grandfather to Elizabeth II) and by the fact that at least some members
of the Bowes-Lyon family insisted it was real.

This celebrated historical mystery seems to be largely forgotten now, but as
late as the 1970s it was chilling new generations as a staple of
numerous ghost books. Come to think of it, paperback compilations of old
ghost stories seem to have gone the way of the dodo as well, but those
crumbly Armada books used to frighten me when I was young. Anyway, you
can read the unexpurgated story over at Past Imperfect.

The mystery of the five wounds

Padre Pio

On September 14, 1224, a Saturday, Francis of Assisi—noted ascetic and holy man, future saint—was preparing to enter the second month of a retreat with a few close companions on Monte La Verna, overlooking the River Arno in Tuscany. Francis had spent the previous few weeks in prolonged contemplation of the suffering Jesus Christ on the cross, and he may well have been weak from protracted fasting. As he knelt to pray in the first light of dawn (notes the Fioretti—the ‘Little flowers of St Francis of Assisi,’ a collection of legends and stories about the saint),

The wizard of Mauritius

Port Louis, Mauritius, in the first half of the nineteenth century

In
1782, an unknown French engineer offered his government an invention
better than radar: the ability to detect ships at distances of up to 700
miles. There were many who said that his ideas worked. But was Étienne
Bottineau a genius, a fantasist or a fraud?

Inside the Great Pyramid

Great Pyramid

No structure in the world is more mysterious than the Great Pyramid. But who first broke into its well-guarded interior, and when? And what did they find there?

A reinvestigation of a neglected mystery. Old Arab accounts say that it was the Caliph Ma’mun who first broke into the Great Pyramid in 820 AD – driving a new tunnel into the north face of the monument and, by an astounding coincidence, striking the interior network of passages at precisely the point where the hidden upper network of tunnels leading to the King’s Chamber branches off from the main descending passage.

How credible is this story? Why has every writer on the pyramids since the mid-nineteenth century misdated Ma’mun’s visit to Giza by more than a decade? And what exactly is the lost source for some of the most remarkable of the details given in traditional accounts?

Fresh research in medieval Muslim chronicles provides at least some of the answers… and you can read the full story here.

"Tamám Shud"

SOmerton Beach mystery

The man – name still unknown – at the heart of the mysterious 'Tamám Shud' case

Name: unknown. Cause of death: unknown. Occupation: unknown – but perhaps a
former ballet dancer. Possessions: one pack of cigarettes (half filled
with a different brand of smoke); one hidden pocket, concealing a scrap
of paper with two words in Persian, torn from a rare first edition book;
five lines written in an unknown code. Welcome to the world's most
perplexing cold case. Can you help to solve the mystery?

The discovery of a body on an Adelaide beach in December 1948 sparked an
investigation that remains active to this day. Was the dead man a lover
or a fighter – a new father or a spy? Why might an expert witness at the
inquest suggest that he had habitually worn high-heeled shoes? Was
Australia's most eminent pathologist right conclude he had been killed
by an ultra-rare muscle relaxant normally used to tip poison arrows in
Somalia? And what of the mysterious phrase 'Tamám Shud'? It's from Omar
Khayyam, but how is it that the two editions of the poet's famous Rubaiyat that are central to the case seem not to actually exist?

Adventures in time #2: Three 1950s youths in a medieval plague village

    Kersey in 1957. Although Jack Merriott's watercolor presents an idealized image of the village – it was commissioned for use in a railway advertising campaign – it does give an idea of just how 'old' Kersey must have looked to strangers in the year it became central to a 'timeslip' case.

"Looking back, the really strange
thing was the silence. The way the church bells stopped ringing as the
little group of naval cadets neared the village. The way even the ducks
stood quiet and motionless by the shallow stream that ran across the
road where the main street began."

When Bill Laing and
two other new recruits to the Royal Navy were ordered to take part in a
routine map-reading exercise one October day in 1957, the aim was to
find their way a few miles cross country to the Suffolk village of
Kersey - not back in time to the village as it had been sometime between
1349 and 1420. But the strange, frightening and deserted place that the
three boys encountered looked nothing like any 20th century hamlet. So
where - and when - were they?

Moving on up

Just a brief note to let everyone know that for the time being, at least, I'm going to be consolidating the work I do on the blogs I write – this one, the mirror maintained at A Fortean in the Archives, and my history blog A Blast From The Past. Or to put it another way, I'm going to be writing future posts – mostly historical, but with some Forteana thrown in when I get the chance to do it – for a new blog, Past Imperfect, which is being launched by the Smithsonian.

There are a few reasons for this decision. The Smithsonian's a high profile and prestigious institution, and it makes sense to use its considerable clout to get my work in front of as many new people as possible. They're willing to pay me, which isn't that common in the blogosphere. And because of that I can justify creating a lot more content, which ought to work for everyone, I hope. I'm certainly painfully aware that I've been letting work for the CFI slip for quite a few months now.

The deal I've done gives the Smithsonian exclusive rights to new content for the first three months, but after that I'm free to repost. So I plan to announce new articles of Fortean interest here with a preview and a link for now, and will come back and repost full articles when the exclusivity period expires. 

The good news is the first article the Smithsonian has selected is Fortean in content – it's another timeslip case, a sister piece for my post on the Battle of Nechtanesmere. And there should be more of interest to readers of the CFI site within a week or two.

Wish me luck.

The dog that did bark in the night

Dog

Dog
Arthur Koestler

Koestler

Reading
the diaries of John Rae, the renowned controversialist and long-serving
headmaster of Westminster School (1970-86), turns up an interesting
anecdote that illustrates some of the problems that parapsychologists
encounter outside the laboratory, where they are all too often at the
mercy of unexpected variables – especially when they are too prone to
believe.

Some experiments with severed heads

Wiertz guillotined headEarly
on the morning of 18 February 1848, two men and a woman walked into
the square in front of the Porte de Hal, in Brussels [below left], where
a public execution was due to take place shortly after dawn. They were
there to conduct a ground-breaking scientific study, and, by prior
arrangement with the Belgian penal authorities, were permitted to climb
onto the scaffold and wait next to the guillotine at the spot where the
severed heads of two condemned criminals were scheduled to drop into a
blood red sack.

One of the men was Antoine Joseph Wiertz, a well known Belgian
painter and also a fine hypnotic subject. With him were his friend,
Monsieur D_____, a noted hypnotist, and a witness. Wiertz’s purpose on
that winter’s day was to carry out a unique and extraordinary
experiment. Long haunted by the desire to know whether a severed head
remained conscious after a guillotining, the painter had agreed to be
hypnotised and instructed to identify himself with a man who was about
to be executed for murder.

Tracking the trends via Google's New Book Database

Anyone who suspects that Google, like Starbucks, is secretly planning to take over the world might well point to the search giant's latest innovation and smile knowingly. That's because Google has, with surprisingly little fanfare, released a new tool that exploits its unparalleled – and ever faster-growing – holdings of data, and promises to revolutionise the lives of linguists, lexicographers and English scholars, while simultaneously churning odd the odd bit of useful data for the rest of us. As today's New York Times explains, the company's latest launch is its New Book Database, containing 500 billion words culled from 5.2m digitised books. Quite a few of those words can already be accessed in their intended order via Google Books, but the NBD has another function – it allows users to search across time (the database covers the period 1800-2000) to track the changing popularity of individual words, and it allows them to compare the usage of several different words over the same period.

The NYT rather worthily put the new database to use comparing the frequency with which the likes of "men" and "women" feature (turns out the latter overtakes the former around 1986), but for our purposes it's rather more revealing to track the progress of various Fortean topics. The results turn out to be rather revealing. Take the frequency with which the phrase "Loch Ness Monster" appears, for example: 

A matter of life and death

Topkapi palace from across the Golden Horn
The Topkapi palace, Istanbul

Ottoman executioners were never noted for their mercy; just ask the teenage Sultan Osman II, who in May 1622 suffered an excruciating death, "by compression of the testicles," at the hands of a wrestler-cum-assassin by the name of Pehlivan. There was reason for this ruthlessness, however; for much of its history (the most successful bit, in fact), the Turkish empire flourished thanks, at least in part, to the staggering violence it meted out to the highest and mightiest members of society.

Erotic secrets of Lord Byron's tomb

It was hot and dusty in the crypt, and it had been hard work breaking into it. Now the vicar had gone, along with his invited guests, to take supper. The churchwarden and two workmen armed with spades were left to wait for their return, loitering by the grave they had come to examine – the tomb of Lord Byron the poet.

"We didn't take too kindly to that," said Arnold Houldsworth. "I mean, we'd done the work. And Jim Betteridge suddenly says, 'Let's have a look on him.' 'You can't do that,' I says. 'Just you watch me,' says Jim. He put his spade in, there was a layer of wood, then one of lead, and I think another one of wood. And there he was, old Byron."

"Good God, what did he look like?" I said.

"Just like in the portraits. He was bone from the elbows to his hands and from the knees down, but the rest was perfect. Good-looking man putting on a bit of weight, he'd gone bald. He was quite naked, you know," and then he stopped, listening for something that must have been a clatter of china in the kitchen, where his wife was making tea for us, for he went on very quickly,  "Look, I've been in the Army, I've been in bathhouses, I've seen men. But I never saw nothing like him." He stopped again, and nodding his head, meaningfully, as novelists say, began to tap a spot just above his knee. "He was built like a pony."

"How many of you take sugar?" said Mrs Houldsworth, coming with the tea.

[Rogers p.134]

Naked as nature intended? Catherine Crowe in Edinburgh, February 1854

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You might call it parapsychology's greatest mystery. Did Catherine Crowe – sixtysomething literary stalwart of the mid-nineteenth century, passionate advocate of the German ghost story, and author of that runaway best-seller The Night Side of Nature (London, 2 vols.: Newby, 1848) – really tear through the streets of Edinburgh at the end of February 1854, naked but for a handkerchief clutched in one plump hand and a visiting card in the other? And, if she did, was it because she had experienced a nervous breakdown, or because the spirits had convinced her that, once her clothes were shed, she would become invisible?

Crowe's name may not ring too many bells today, but a century and a half ago she was famous. Born in 1790, she was noted as a novelist (she wrote Susan Hopley, an intricately plotted crime procedural that was some way ahead of its time) and as a friend of the great and good (she knew Thackeray, Dickens and Charlotte Brontë, among many others). Nowadays, however, she is best remembered as a pioneer parapsychologist – "a hugely important figure in the emergence of modern ghost-seeing culture chiefly because of her relentless calls for society to turn its attention to the unexplained phenomena in its midst and investigate them in an objective manner." [McCorristine p.10] 

The chupatty movement

Chupatty movement"There is a most mysterious affair going on throughout the whole of India at present," wrote Dr Gilbert Hadow in a letter to his sister at home in Britain dated March 1857. "No one seems to know the meaning of it... It is not known where it originated, by whom or for what purpose, whether it is supposed to be connected to any religious ceremony or whether it has to do with some secret society. The Indian papers are full of surmises as to what it means. It is called 'the chupatty movement.'" [Hibbert p.59]

Pope Pius XI: cryptozoologist

Pius XI - cryptozoologistEleven Popes have sat on the throne of St Peter since the turn of the last century, and most authorities would rank Pius XI (b. Achille Ratti, r. 1922-39) among the two or three most influential of that number. An able diplomat, fighter for social justice, noted critic of capitalism, fervent opponent of contraception and, inter alia, a one-time librarian and founder of the Pontifical Academy of Science, Pius was the first Pontiff in nearly half a century to abandon successive Popes' self-imposed exile within the precincts of the Vatican. In the course of his reign, he had to deal with the rise of Fascism and Nazism – which he condemned rather more forcefully and consistently than his controversial successor, Pius XII. But in his spare time, it now emerges, Il Papa was also an enthusiastic cryptozoologist.

Lord Dacre's ghost

Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre)Adam Sisman's sympathetic new biography of Hugh Trevor-Roper (Lord Dacre), the brilliant if acerbic historian, contains an unexpectedly fascinating passage on the great controversialist's declining years that sheds a ray of light on the way in which witnesses perceive ghosts.

In his late 80s, Sisman notes, Trevor-Roper was diagnosed with glaucoma and then developed a cataract. Soon afterwards, he began to suffer some alarming hallucinations: "He would look up from his desk and see the trees in leaf in mid-winter, or the landscape whizzing by as if he were aboard a train... Once, as he went to put out the dustbin, he found himself lost in a cemetery of dead machines, surrounded by rusting combine harvesters, lorries, cranes and derricks. Inside, the house grew an extra staircase." Other outlandish figments of the historian's imagination included gigantic trees and even a complete train at a platform at Didcot Station (which Trevor-Roper attempted to board).

When Satan came to Pembroke

Satanic ritualIt's thirty years now, more or less, since I first began writing for Fortean Times, and in all that time I doubt we covered a more shocking or more important story than the great Satanic Ritual Abuse panic of 1989-1991.

It's hard to convey to those who did not live through those years just how widespread – and how widely accepted – allegations of SRA were. Cases actually began well before 1989, and ran past 1991, and they were reported from across the English-speaking world, most often from the USA, Canada, Australia and the UK. I know of no reliable overview of the entire panic, but it certainly involved, at minimum, well over a hundred individual episodes and must have affected several thousand families in all. What's most remarkable, looking back, is just how outlandish many of the allegations were. High-profile cases typically included suggestions that large gangs of well-organised, hereditary Satanists were abducting, abusing and murdering dozens, if not hundreds, of young children. Sometimes it was alleged that the abusers were using pre-schools to identify and groom their targets; in the UK, most of the cases involved families who were supposedly assaulting their own children. There were numerous allegations that the rituals included sacrifice – that is, murder – as well as abuse.

The Marian apparitions at Marpingen, Germany, #3. A village "not marked on normal maps"

Blessed Virgin Mary with blue sashWe've seen, in two earlier posts, how the Saarland village of Marpingen experienced a dramatic series of visions of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) during the mid-1870s, with associated claims of miraculous cures and healing, and how the leader of the three girls who claimed to have encountered the apparition in woods outside the village eventually confessed that the entire experience had been invented – thanks, in part, to leading questions asked, and pressure placed on the three child-witnesses by, the eager adults of the village. Today I'm going to conclude this series of analyses, drawn from David Blackbourn's magnificently detailed study of the episode, Marpingen: Apparitions of the Virgin Mary in Nineteenth Century Germany, by taking a closer look at the reasons why there was so much expectation and religious fervour in Marpingen in the summer of 1876, and why the appearance of the BVM meant so much to the villagers themselves.

The Marian apparitions at Marpingen, Germany, #2. In which the BVM joins the childrens' games, and rolls with them down a hill

Shrine in the Härtelwald at MarpingenA couple of days ago we looked briefly at events in Marpingen, a German village in the Saarland, during harvest-time in 1876, and saw how a group of young female visionaries claimed to have witnessed an apparition of the Blessed Virgin Mary in some woods outside the village [right] – an account written up in vast detail by the Harvard history professor David Blackbourn in his 1994 book Marpingen. Today we're going to follow Blackbourn deeper into the local archives and look in considerably greater detail at the witnesses, at what they said they saw, at how their accounts of their experiences were shaped, and varied over time – and at what the raw data from Marpingen may imply about the gradual processes of sanitisation and consolidation that have worked to produce the much less controversial, much more uniform visions that have been formally approved by the Roman Catholic church. All this, as I noted in my first post on the subject, comes from an extensive collection of official and private documents assembled at the time, and gives us an unusually close look at what actually happened during one apparently quite typical set of Marian visions in the late 19th century – as well as offering several keys to understanding such events.

The Marian apparitions at Marpingen, Germany, #1. The visionaries, the events of 1876, and their aftermath

Marpingen from the airI've already mentioned, in these pages, the alarming lack of awareness Forteans show of all the progress being made in the fields of academia. Only rarely does one see purely scholarly works cited in the literature, and this considerably impoverishes us – most obviously because it limits our capacity to understand the subtle underpinnings of a wide range of phenomena.

The Emperor's electric chair

1890s electric chairMany countries have folk-tales that feature foolish kings – monarchs whose vanity causes them to make catastrophic misjudgements or attempt impossible things. Greek mythology offers the tradition of King Midas, who lived to regret wishing for the power to turn everything he touched into gold; for we Brits, the foolish ruler is King Canute, who – at least in the common modern telling of the tale – allowed courtiers to flatter him that even the seas would obey his commands, and consequently got his feet wet in a failed attempt to turn back the tides.1

Most of these legends are, of course, hundreds of years old, but the motif is a potent one and it still crops up from time to time. Here, for instance, is a story that has stuck firmly in my mind ever since I first read it in The Book of Lists, a best-selling compendium of all sorts of remarkable trivia, first published in 1977:

"Our artist pictures what the witness saw..."

Artist's impression of Arthur Grant Loch Ness land sighting, 1934Let's begin with the obvious: the camera lies. And because we know it lies, we tend to doubt the things it tells us. A million gallons of ink have been spilled on analyses of classic photographic images, very often with devastating results for those who have chosen to place faith in them as "proof" of any sort. Adamski's UFO: a chicken brooder.* The Surgeon's Photograph: a model mounted on a clockwork submarine. The ghosts snapped from the SS Watertown: nothing but a cut-and-paste job. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall: a simple case of double exposure.

The consequences of this home truth are profound, if obvious. Photos can't be trusted. The stuff that does exist tends to fall broadly into two categories. On the one hand are the hazy, badly-focussed shots of "something" – which might possibly be genuine, but are rarely proof of anything. On the other are unambiguous, clear images, which look exciting at first glance but are almost always fakes. And the whole field is the Fortean equivalent of a money pit, sucking up endless resources without producing anything concrete in return.

A multi-witness, indoor, child-centred black dog case featuring animal death... from France

Black Dog - not to scaleFor reasons that ought to become in clear in about a month, I've acquired a bit of an interest recently in Pierre Van Paassen, a Dutch-born Canadian journalist who enjoyed a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent during the 1920s and the 1930s. Van Paassen (1895-1968) [below], who wrote for the New York Evening World and the Toronto Star, led a pretty action-packed life, getting himself thrown into Dachau concentration camp – and later out of Germany – for criticising Adolf Hitler back in 1933, and going on to cover the Italian invasion of Abyssinia and the Spanish Civil War before giving it all up to become a Unitarian minister. That need not concern us here, however. What does is that, long before any of this happened, in the spring of 1929, Van Paassen was living in France when he experienced – or said he experienced – a particularly peculiar series of encounters with a ghostly black dog. These events, so Van Paassen tells us in his autobiography, Days of Our Years (1939) pp.248-51, were corroborated by at least three other witnesses – one of them a priest – and also resulted in the death of a "police dog." And, just to top things off, the priest eventually identified the source of all the trouble as a teenage girl living in the same property, thus suggesting the black dog case had some sort of links to the poltergeist phenomenon.

Curses! Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his astounding death car

Gavrilo Princip arrested, 28 June 1914, SarajevoIt's hard to think of another event in the troubled twentieth century that had quite the shattering impact of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand [below] at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The Archduke was heir to the throne of the tottering Austro-Hungarian empire; his killers – a motley band of amateurish students – were Serbian nationalists (or possibly Yugoslav nationalists; historians remain divided on the topic) who wanted to turn Austrian Bosnia into a part of a new Slav state. The guns and bombs they used to kill the Archduke, meanwhile, were supplied by the infamous Colonel Apis, head of Serbian military intelligence. All this was quite enough to provoke Austria-Hungary into declaring war on Serbia, after which, with the awful inevitability that AJP Taylor famously described as 'war by timetable', Europe slid inexorably into the horrors of the First World War as the rival Great Powers began to mobilise and counter-mobilise against each other.

Walter Powell, the Saladin, and some very early cases of lights in the sky (1881-1902)

The Saladin balloon c.1881At a time when MPs are in the news, and not often for the right reasons, I want to take a moment to dwell on the more worthwhile, and (from a Fortean perspective, anyway) peculiarly illuminating career of a long-forgotten predecessor of the current bunch of petty crooks. His name was Walter Powell (1842-1881) [below left], he was Tory MP for Malmesbury in Wiltshire, and his strange and lonely death offers a good deal of unexpected insight into the perennially fascinating topics of expectant attention and witness perception.

First, a snippet of biography. Walter Powell was the youngest son of a tough and ruthless Welsh mine owner (a tautology, I know) who ran his pits for profit first and safety very much last, emerging during the 1840s as the largest coal exporter in the world. Having driven through a 20% cut in wages and broken the resultant strike, Thomas Powell's mines were plagued by accidents, culminating in two major explosions at Dyffryn, in Aberdare, and the deaths of more than 80 men. According to Walter Powell's biographer, the Dyffryn disasters belatedly shamed Thomas senior into repentence for his past behaviour, and inculcated in Walter Powell a determination to use his own inherited wealth more for the public good.

Of giant eels

Bridge at Ballynahinch Castle

The thing about lake monsters, I think it's generally agreed, is that they really ought to be seen a lot more often than they are. Take even a reasonably substantial body of water, one the size of Loch Ness, for instance, add a self-sustaining monster population (25 animals? 40? Nobody really knows, but it'd have to be a decent number), and the brain begins to boggle slightly at the sheer implausibility of all those creatures paddling about the centre of the Highlands, within a few yards of a major road, and yet being spotted and reported perhaps three times a year.

The real problem, of course, is that virtually all of the usual suspects – the plesiosaurs and long-necked seals and, god help us, giant prehistoric whales (if there's one LM candidate that combines the worst aspects of every conceivable theory in one utterly unlikely package, the zeuglodon is it) – are air-breathers. And you don't have to spend too long at Loch Ness, just 22 miles long and only one mile wide, to realise how preposterous the idea of air-breathing lake monsters is. Seals, which do get into the loch occasionally, are quite regularly spotted and identified, so there's simply no reason to suppose larger animals would go unnoticed. That's why I long ago converted to the idea that the solution to this mystery more likely lay in the realms of witness perception, human psychology and cultural expectation than it did in cryptozoology. But, even so, I still suspect that one type of animal does play a central role in some lake monster sightings: fish.

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