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The Obsessive Life and Mysterious Death of the Fisherman Who Discovered The Loch Ness Monster

Sandy Gray was fishing in the peat-black waters of Loch Ness when he discovered an unusual animal. It was a sleety Saturday in March 1932, and the animal was a large, elaborately colored bird with a glossy green head, a fan of coppery-red plumes, and a dark-metallic breast. Sandy spent much of his free time on the loch (the Scottish word for “lake”) and knew that this creature was a rare discovery. The bird was badly injured; it appeared to have been shot or trapped. Sandy, a bus driver from the tiny loch-side village of Foyers, attempted to save it. He took it home but could only keep it alive for a few days. After it died, Sandy took it to the nearby town of Inverness to have it identified.

The bird, according to the Inverness librarian, was a mandarin duck. It was native to Asia and entirely alien to Loch Ness, which carves a glaciated furrow through the rugged splendor of the Scottish Highlands. It seemed that the duck had escaped or otherwise been released from captivity into an unfamiliar habitat. Sandy’s remarkable find was reported in newspapers across Scotland. “Beautiful Visitor to Loch Ness,” read one headline.

It was not the last time Sandy Gray would be in the papers for an unusual encounter at Loch Ness.

Alexander “Sandy” Gray was born within sight of the loch on March 28, 1900. He grew up in Foyers, midway along the southeastern shore, in a secluded home known as the Bungalow. His father, Hugh, was a foreman at the British Aluminium Works smelting plant, which was hydroelectric-powered by the dramatic 140-foot cascade of the Falls of Foyers. The stone gable–fronted plant employed several hundred workers, and since opening in 1896 it had transformed Foyers from a tiny sheep-farming community, where many residents spoke the Scots Gaelic language, into an expanding industrial village.

The Bungalow was a large green-painted wood and corrugated-tin structure surrounded by well-kept lawns, rose beds and vegetable patches. Set in trees behind the plant, it had separate dwellings for family and for lodgers, and it became a hostel for plant workers. It also had a large room known as the Bungalow Hall, where Sandy’s mother, Janet, hosted tea parties for the local community and his father hosted temperance meetings. The Bungalow Hall also served as Foyers’ church and schoolhouse before the villagers built dedicated buildings.

Sandy and his younger brother, Hugh Jr., or Hughie, sang in the church choir and attended Sunday school together. Foyers was an idyllic place to grow up, where the local children enjoyed adventures in the forests, by the shore, and on the water. The boys had three young sisters, Bessie, Anne and Mary, though Anne, the middle sister, died in infancy in 1905. There were other tragedies in Foyers. Aluminum smelting was a new and dangerous process, and an explosion killed one young man and seriously injured several others at the works. And inside the rubble-stone plant, amid the volcanic heat of the smelting furnaces, the then-underestimated threat of toxic aluminum dust lingered in the air.

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