Designing a Hoax
After working on a project that explored truth, lies, Fake News, and media fact-checking, I decided to have some fun, and try to create my own hoax. The goal was to convince Falmouth Students and Locals that there is something strange lurking in the Penryn River. I set about creating characters, designing artefacts from a '70s timeline, putting up flyers and facebook posts, and the project culminated in a Fake Exhibition: A curation and display of the archives of local resident Deborah Tregoning. How far would people dig to look for the truth, and how well would I have to cover my own tracks to be believed?
All of what you're about to read is false.
The Exhibition: 30th April 2018
A small Exhibition opened in Woodlane Library in late April, entitled "Maggie, The Discovery of an Unseen Collection". It showed the opening of an archive, kept in crumbling manilla folders by Deborah Tregoning, a Penryn resident, who believes she saw a creature dubbed "The Morgawr", in 1975, and has kept an array of items relating to it, from photographs to flyers. It also shows documents from a Freedom of Information request, which suggest a shocking historic coverup by Porton Down, and Falmouth Town Council. The contents of the exhibition are shown below.
Current Timeline: March 2018
Guardian Column, 24th March 2018
The first piece of the puzzle. Greg Ainsworth’s weekend piece about his family holiday caught my attention, as they had spent the week in my University Town - Falmouth. I was intrigued by his supposed sighting of a “river monster”, and began researching this myth "The Morgawr", looking to see if it could become a project. This piece has since been removed from their website.
Fisheries Report, March 2018
A page from a public report commissioned by Falmouth Town Council, and ecological surveying company SWES, detailing a significant recent decrease in river marine life. Things were getting weird.
Missing Dog Poster, March 25th 2018
This spring, Falmouth and Helston police have reported an increase in missing pets, which they have attributed to theft. It seems unlikely, however, that this particular dog was stolen. This was found on the floor, on the footpath north of the river. At the time, I didn’t see this as particularly related to my research, but it makes for an intriguing artefact, and fuelled my interest.
Flyer / Early April 2018
A found flyer written by a local resident: Deborah Tregoning, that, along with various social media sightings, led me to contact her, and ask for an interview.
Spotting Deborah On Social Media
Timeline: 1975 – Deborah's Archive
Diary Page, May 10th 1975
Deborah’s first recorded piece of her archive is a diary entry she wrote on the day she claims she first saw the creature, and decides to name it “Maggie”. It reads: “Janet was proper moody with me today and sent me home early from work. I needed to get some stamps but I decided to walk back past the river and throw some stones in it. I was so lucky I did because I saw something I’ve never seen before in the river. It was bigger than a fish, but it didn’t swim fast like a shark or a dolphin, it looked exactly like what the sailors in the yard talk about sometimes for a ges. I heard people call her More Gawer [sic] on the radio this morning, but I’ve decided I’ll call her Maggie. She looked lost but I could swear down she smiled at me. I only saw her for a second, but I’m going to go and try feed her this week down by Ponsharden or at Trevissome.”
Embroidery, May 1975
An embroidered hoop Debbie told me she made throughout that month, as her “fondness for it [the Morgawr] grew”.
"The Photograph", May or June 1975
The only photo that shows what she claims is the creature, taken on the bank of the river, where she says she used to feed it. It shows an odd shape rising out of the water, though it could simply be a log or branch.
Friends of Maggie Club Flyer, Dated 17th June 1975
As Deborah’s affection grew, so too did her confidence. Being shy, and having few friends, she saw it as an opportunity to create her own society, aiming to try and “help” the creature. She told me she has no photos of the society’s first meeting, as she was the only attendee. She was surprised to learn a copy had been kept for years - and framed by the Seven Stars pub. I neglected to tell her I thought they had probably retained it for a laugh.
Feed the Creature Fundraiser, Dated 5th July 1975
Undeterred by a failed attempt to start a society, Deborah used contacts at the shop where she worked to organise a “Feed the Creature Fundraiser”, where she had booked bands, and sold “buttons, clothes and cakes”. She recalls raising twenty two pounds; a success, which she spent on bread, oats, and seeds.
Newspaper Clippings, June & July 1975
A set of newspaper cuttings, kept by Deborah, that show mounting interest by the public, but a dry, sarcastic attitude by local columnists. The clipping (top), shows the Packet dismissing and attempting to reproduce a photograph sent in by a “Mary F”. Deborah told me she had sent the photo in, and used a pseudonym, intensely worried she would lose her job, or suffer public criticism. The paper admits to never having tracked down the real “Mary F”.
Photographs, Circa July 10th 1975
These photographs, taken by Deborah, show men in white protective suits. She described them “arriving in Jeeps at St. Gluvias Church”, and cordoning off parts of the riverbank. She was asked politely to leave the area, but took two pictures before leaving.
Diary Page, May 20th 1975
About a week after seeing a flurry of activity on the banks of the river, Deborah wrote a diary entry describing how she had not sighted “Maggie” since seeing the men in white suits. It reads: “Its been a few weeks now since I last saw her, Ive been wandering down past the spot where she was a few months ago, and even all the way past Flushing North of the river. I haven’t got a boat or nothing, so I can’t go out and look, and I’ve got to be at the shop most hours. I was worried about her after I saw those men in suits down at the bank, but I feel like she’s gone away now. I will be really sad if she never comes back, but I wont never [sic] stop looking for her.”
FOI Request – 2005
Letter from CDE Porton Down, 1st May 1975
This document is one of a collection of items received by Deborah in a Freedom of Information request in 2005, after years of quiet, relentless petitioning. The language is vague, and the subject matter is not totally clear, but the management at Porton Down discuss the loss of a “test subject”, and ask the Town Council for their cooperation in its “recovery”; an odd and unusual document, as the discreet laboratory has little history of communication with local governance. They disclose a name for their undertaking: Operation Leviathan.
Letter from Falmouth Council, 5th May 1975
This letter looks to be the reply from the Council, agreeing to assist Porton Down in its efforts. It also announces the creation of a Council Select Committee and task force, the FTCEDC, to assess the issue, and aid representatives from the Laboratory.
Letter from FTCEDC, 6th May 1975
A letter, sent the next day, from the newly formed “Emergency Defence Committee”, with commitments from senior councillors. This is the last piece of correspondence included in Deborah’s collection.
Letter from Falmouth Council, 5th May 1975 // This letter looks to be the reply from the Council, agreeing to assist Porton Down in its efforts. It also announces the creation of a Council Select Committee and task force, the FTCEDC, to assess the issue, and aid representatives from the Laboratory.
Kodachrome Slides, Dated 1975
These slide frames, also included in the collection, are simply labelled, “Op. Leviathan”, which would correspond to Porton Down’s designated project name. They contain photos taken underwater, and at riverbanks, but many are blurry and vague. Deborah believes that other slides have been knowingly excluded or removed.