On a Marvelous Hoax

Dr. Robert Wilson’s word was impeachable.

My interest in the good doctor goes back almost thirty years now even though he passed away in the late 1960s. Several years ago, I made the acquaintance of a wonderful older woman of Scottish descent named Evina Montgomery. Evina was born before World War 2 and has lived a full and thoroughly adventurous life, finally settling in Brentwood, Essex, near London. When I knew Evina, she was doing volunteer work in Romania when I lived there in the mid-1990s. Today, she’s still active in her local community even though she’s in her 90s.

One night in Romania, Evina told me a wonderful story over several glasses of Romanian plum moonshine known as tzuica. You see, she has spent the summers of her youth in the north, in her family’s home near Inverness. For Evina in the late 1930’s, Scotland was another world, a wonderful world, and she made it sound much like filmmaker John Boorman’s memories that he chronicled in Hope and Glory–trips on the lochs, walks in the woods, adventures around every corner.

Well, Evina told me the story about how Dr. Robert Wilson was chosen to take part in one of the greatest hoaxes in history. Seems that one night in a local pub, several Scots were bemoaning the fact that the economy was still in the doldrums. The effects of the Great Depression that hit the United States had yet to end in the Scottish hinterlands. Farmers found that prices for their goods were still low. Most people lived from month to month. Many farms had been abandoned because young people were leaving rural Scotland to find work in the Scottish cities like Glasgow and Edinburgh and even further south in England.

Some of Evina’s relations thus sat in the pub, drank their ciders and ales, and discussed what course they could take that would reverse their economic fortunes. Relying on the government was right out of the question, they realized early on. What they needed was something that would bring money to the area. But what would draw that money to them?

Some of their group remarked that some London newspapers had sent some reporters their way to investigate rumors about a resident of the Inverness area. Now, according to Evina, everyone in the pub knew the rumors weren’t true, but, they reasoned, what would it hurt to pretend that the rumors were, in fact, real?

That’s when some of the group hit upon the idea of using Dr. Wilson to publicize their stories. People would be less likely to believe them–a bunch of local (possibly drunk) Scots–about the veracity of the rumors, but they would be much more likely to believe a respected surgeon like Dr. Wilson, a man who often came to the area to hunt and fish. And, since Wilson had received his medical education in Edinburgh, he was also familiar with the area somewhat. So, the group decided to approach Wilson and his hunting and fishing guide to see if they would support their story about the “truth” regarding inquiries concerning the local resident.

Wilson thought the idea was novel. He was also a good sport. He agreed to back the locals’ stories. The idea was that Wilson would take the information fed to him by the Scots to the London papers. His reputation would give their stories gravitas. And, according to Evina, that’s exactly what happened. Wilson took his “evidence” to London, and it was published in the Daily Mail and made headlines world-wide.

Soon, people began coming to that part of Scotland to see for themselves what Wilson had reported. Evina told me this story with the same twinkle in her eye that I imagine her relatives had when the tourists began pouring into the area, bringing their money with them. And I’ve been one of those tourists, as well, albeit over 80 years when Wilson’s tale first made the London papers.

Yes, even though I know now that it’s a marvelous hoax, I, too, have gone to Loch Ness to look for the monster.


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