The Surgeon's Hoax

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It was the evening of July 13th, 1855, when six fishermen in a boat on Silver Lake, in northwestern New York State, spotted something strange in the water. At first they thought it was a log, but then realized they were seeing a "most horrid and repulsive-looking monster." According to the group the creature started thrashing about and they feared the waves it made would swamp the boat.

The creature continued to make appearances throughout that year and the following summer. It brought monster hunters to that remote area in droves. Most of them stayed at the Walker House, the only hotel near the lake.

The nature of the creature remained a mystery until 1857 when a fire struck the hotel. In the ashes of the building was found the remains of the creature. The Walker House's owner and a friend had cobbled the monster together from canvas and wire, then towed it, via ropes, about the lake in an attempt to drum up business for the hotel.

The Silver Lake Monster was not the first, nor the last, cryptozoological hoax. For thousands of years people have tried to impress each other with stories about things that didn't really exist. In some cases it went even further than false tales. From the 1500's to 1800's manufacturing mermaids was a cottage industry in some parts of the world.

Typically these were composed of the shaved head and torso of a monkey sewn to the tail of a fish. As one might suppose the results were far from the image that comes to mind when we think of Hans Christain Anderson's "The Little Mermaid." The specimens were grotesque to say the least. Still, in 1842, P. T. Barnum managed to make a considerable sum of money showing one of these creatures to the public at 25 cents a peek.

The Mermaid

Artefact made from a salmon fish and a monkey crane by a japanese fisherman. Feejee was captured in the ocean near the Fidji islands and sold to an american for 6000 US$ in 1940. Barnum later purchased and exhibited her around the world.


Hoaxers didn't just fake animals for profit. Sometimes it was done for reasons of politics or revenge. Charles Waterton's "Nondescript" was a 19th century example of such.

More recent hoax's include the Loch Ness "Surgeon's Photo," the Minnisota Iceman, and, perhaps the most famous fake in the annals of science, the Piltdown Man.