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Poe’s Law: Mississippi River Monster Edition

Back in November 2012 I went on a road trip from San Diego to Chicago. At one point I spent a full day in Memphis and while there took a ton of photos. I was taking some photos of the Mississippi river when I saw this green pipe thing sticking out of the water.

Photo of a green pipe sticking up out of the Mississippi river

I realized that from far away it sort of looked like a sea creature and thought it might be fun to create a photo that made it unidentifiable enough to be mistaken for a creature. I turned the manual focus on so I could make it a bit blurry and took a wide-angle shot. When I got home from my trip, I zoomed in on the pipe to give it a bit of a pixelated look and switched the photo into black and white.

B&W Blurry Photo of a pipe in the Mississippi River that looks like a river monster

I promptly uploaded my “sea creature” photo to Facebook and Flickr and posted it in the Chicago Skeptics group so I could brag to my skeptic friends about seeing a sea creature on my trip. I dubbed the creature “Missie.”

Just to be clear, this was just a joke. I thought it would be funny to create a photo that looked a bit like the classic blurry sea creature photos of the Lochness Monster. Although I uploaded it publicly to Flickr, I did not put any type of warning on it to let people know it was fake because I assumed that was obvious. I mean, it should be obvious that it’s fake, right?

Recently I’ve been using the service Pixsy which does an image search for all my Flickr photos and lets me know when there are matches so I can easily find people who are stealing my photos on the internet. This week I was looking at some of my Pixsy matches and noticed that my Missie photo was being used on the Cryptozoology website Frontiers of Zoology, a blog by self-described cryptozoology researcher Dale Drinnon. He’s got lots of in-depth reporting on his website, such as this excellent investigation entitled Bigfoot Boob Bounce.

Drinnon posted my Missie photo along with the following description:

screen shot of Drinnon's cryptozoology website

“Missi”, the Mississippi River Monster, at the level of Tennessee, from Flickr (During WWII reports referred to “Submarines” with “Periscopes”. “Missi” is the proper regular name for the creature anywhere along the lenth of the River, and several reports at New Orleans state it is the same creature seen there as at the River’s source)
[NB, I have no confidence in this photo as representing the Mississippi River Serpent, unfortunately]

What? Drinnon does not have a lot of confidence that my obviously fake photo is not a photo of the actual Mississippi River Serpent? I’m am so disappointed in you, Drinnon. What tipped you off? The photo has also now been posted on other cryptozoology websites, using Drinnon’s page as a source.

So, this is how I unwittingly created a hoax sea monster. I never set out to create a hoax. It just never occurred to me that anyone would take it seriously. No one tell him about my bigfoot photo.

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Jamie Bernstein

Jamie Bernstein is a data, stats, policy and economics nerd who sometimes pretends she is a photographer. She is @uajamie on Twitter and Instagram. If you like my work here at Skepchick & Mad Art Lab, consider sending me a little sumthin' in my TipJar: @uajamie

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5 Comments

  1. Many years ago (about 1968, give or take a year) I had just read the Report on Unidentified Flying Objects, and decided to fake some pictures. I got a real insight into human nature. Most people who saw them were taken in, but when I explained how the pictures were made and pointed out the evidence that showed they were fake they were more amused than anything else. There were, however, a few who were infuriated, the one I remember most vividly said that it was people like me (bad people, presumably) who stopped people from believing in UFOs. He seemed to think I must be the spawn of Satan or something similar. True Believers in almost anything can be kind of scary.

    1. I’ve had people cite groups of mostly non-Indian academics who claimed to be our allies. I started going through my social networks, finding ndn activists who may have heard of them, no one from the NCAI, from AIM, from Idle No More, or from any other org ever had. I called the person on this. He continued to cite them. I continued to call him on it. And I get blocked from more Facebook pages that way than any other.

  2. Question, related to the plausibility of Bigfoot existing:
    Some of the people who believe cite our finding of other new species, which is superficially fair, but when was the last time we found a land animal of a similar order of size that was a new species we hadn’t seen before? Also, is species the right level of differentiation? Genus? Family?
    I tried a little google, but my google fu is weak. It mostly returned a ton of dinosaur discoveries, which are great, but not what I meant =P

    1. I think there was a member of the horse/zebra family discovered in the jungles of southeast Asia about 30 years ago. It is very rare and very similar to other wild horse species, not an extremely distinctive animal in an unexpected environment like a Bigfoot would be. People catching glimpses of it or discovering remains would probably have assumed it was one of the known horse species or a feral domesticated horse or pony.

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