A Brief account of life with Cryptids
Cryptids are defined as creatures which exist in eye-witness accounts that have not yet been proved in science. Famous examples of these include Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, and America’s Yeti (or Bigfoot). The study of these creatures is called cryptozoology, and while their existence has yet to be proven, there are thousands of people around the world who believe that many – or all – cryptids are real.
Cryptozoologists will sometimes separate cryptids from mythology on the basis that they are not looking for a magical creature, but rather one that is scientifically plausible, and simply has yet to be discovered. This, of course, disregards the fact that for much of history many mythology creatures were thought to genuinely exist. Narwhale tusks were sold as genuine unicorn horns and there are accounts of mammoth or dinosaur bone being displayed as dragon bones – to the people of the ancient world, these creatures were just as plausible as immortal plesiosaur, or a monkey-man. As humans continued to explore the planet, belief that there were mythical monsters and magical beast hiding in undiscovered corners of the world began to wane. Even so, there are still people who believe that there are monsters hiding in places to difficult for us to search in their entirety. Nowadays, we call these monsters cryptids.
One of the most iconic cryptids is Scotland’s Loch Ness Monster, or Nessie. Nessie actually predates the term ‘cryptid,’ with the word being coined in 1983, and the first sighting of the mysterious Nessie occurring in 1933. Nessie is said to live in Loch Ness, and is described has having a long neck, a humped back, and fins or flippers.
The first official citing of Nessie made news in 1933, with newspapers recording the tale of a couple who saw the creature cut in front of their car and then dive into the loch. Though this was the first time that the creature made news, local legends of a monster living in the loch were common in the area. The sighting soon captured the public’s imagination, with reporters flocking to the area in the hopes of seeing the monster, and a £20,000 reward was issued for her capture. Marmaduke Wetherell, a big game hunter, was hired to find proof of Nessie’s existence, and he did manage to find footprints around the lake, indicating that a large creature really was living in the water. However, further examination from the Natural History Museum found that the footprints were a hoax made with a hippo foot – likely used as the base of an umbrella stand, as was popular at the time.
Adding fuel to the fire was the iconic Surgeon Photo in 1934. Sent to the Daily Mail by Dr Robert Kenneth Wilson, the iconic photograph shows the shadowy head and long neck of Nessie emerging from the loch. For years this photograph, and whether it actually shows proof of Nessie’s existence, was debated back and forth. In 1994 however, the issue was finally put to rest after a man named Christopher Spurling confessed that he had been involved in orchestrating the picture – along with big game hunter, Wetherell! Angry at the ridicule he had faced for falsely identifying the hoax footprints as genuine Nessie tracks, Wetherell had come up with the photo as a way to get revenge. He and Spurling had attached a model of the monster’s neck to a toy submarine and floated in on the loch long enough to get a photo. They then sent this photograph to their friend Dr Wilson, as he enjoyed practical jokes, and it was thought that his position as a doctor would make him more trusted by the papers.
Though the photograph has now been discredited, there are still hundreds who flock to Loch Ness in the hopes of catching sight of the elusive Nessie. Science’s many attempts to offer alternate explanations for the sightings (giant eels, floating branches, large fish) have done nothing to dim this enthusiasm and Nessie remains a popular tourist attraction, bringing an average of £41 million into Scotland each year.
Another famous cryptid is Bigfoot, or Sasquatch, usually sighted in mountainous regions of North America. He is usually described as a large mannish ape, covered with hair and (as the name suggests) with huge feet. He is often conflated with a similar creature from the Himalayas called the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman.
Like the Loch Ness monster, Big Foot is thought to originate from older stories, in particularly the legends of some First Nations tribes where he is sometimes accused of stealing children. The name Sasquatch comes from the Sasq’ets, meaning ‘wild man’ in the First Nation language Halkomelem. The name Bigfoot, however, was coined in 1958 by a group of loggers in Northern California who discovered a series of large footprints following vandalism of their site. They wrote to a journalist about their discovery and, as with Nessie, the story became widely popular. Casts of the footprints were taken by a man named Roy Wallace, which were used as evidence of Big Foot’s existence, though many believe this to have been a hoax by Wallace.
The most compelling piece of evidence for Big Foot, however, is a piece of footage taken in 1967 by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin. The short video was taken near Bluff Creek in California and shows an ape-like figure walking across the screen. Though the film has received criticism and been accused of merely showing someone in a monkey suit, no one involved in the footage have ever admitted to it being a hoax.
Though Big Foot has yet to be proven, 11% of adults in the USA do believe that he exists, and bounties do exist for any one able to bring the monster in – either alive or dead. Oklahoma even has a $2.1 million bounty on him and plans to put in place a Big Foot hunting season – though this was engineered by the state’s tourism board who (judging by the size of the reward) are probably a bit more sceptical of Big Foot’s existence than the hopefuls hunting him.
One of the more recent cryptids to appear in modern myth is Mothman. Unlike both Nessie and Big Foot – who could arguably be natural creatures – myths about Mothman are a bit more supernatural.
Mothman was first sighted in 1966, Point Pleasant, West Virginia, by gravediggers who saw a strange man-shaped creature fly over their heads and land in a nearby tree. Only a few days after this, a couple reported being chased in their car by a winged figure with glowing red eyes. After that, sightings of Mothman continued to spread until they ground to a stop only a year later, in 1967. This was shortly after a terrible tragedy in Point Pleasant saw a bridge collapse, killing 46 people.
With his disappearance Mothman might have faded out of the public consciousness, however a book written by John Keel made sure that this did not happen. In Keel’s book, ‘The Mothman Prophecies’ he claims that Mothman was a bad omen, – foreshadowing the collapse of the bridge. Mothman has also been said to be an escaped government experiment, or to have mutated from radiation exposure from a series of World War 2 bunkers located close to the sightings.
For those who favour a more mundane explanation, some believe that the sightings were caused by a prankster in a particularly convincing Halloween costume. Dozens have claimed that they were the one to come up with the prank – though none have been conclusively proven. Others have put forwards different birds that, in the dark, people might have mistaken for something else. One such bird is the Sandhill crane, another the barn owl. Despite these proposed explanations, Mothman remains a popular cryptid, and Point Pleasant has reached fame as the birthplace of the legend. A statue of Mothman was erected in 2003 and a festival is held every September, inviting Mothman enthusiasts to visit.
As well as these famous three, there are hundreds of cryptid sightings all around the world. Some are only seen once or twice, while others become features of local legends. Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido has its own local lake monster – Kussie, while America has Champy from Lake Champlain near New York.
As we explored more and more of the Earth’s surface, one might expect belief in the unproven to fade. So far, however, this has not been the case. People’s fascination with the unexplained and the impossible continues to be as strong as ever, and the people who once might have searched the mountains for dragons now hunt the lakes for monsters and the forests for reclusive ape-men.