Urban Legends – The Whale of the CIA
Hungary once had a whale parading on her streets. That’s a fact. But was the whale part of a covered CIA mission? Did it play a part in the Cold War? Or was it just the rotting corpse of a once mighty mammal?
The Urban Legend
Goliath, a mounted whale was the greatest attraction showcased in City Park in December, 1961. The 22–meter long behemoth weighed 68,200 kilos (only its tongue was 2,200 kilos in itself) and was transported around the country on a heavy duty truck. The whale arrived from the other side of the Iron Curtain, and was said to be an American secret agent. Not only the carcass was suspicious, but the parameters of the truck itself were very similar to those of a ballistic missile carrier. The combined weight of the truck and the whale was supposed to give the Americans an idea about how well Hungarian roads would cope with missile carrying vehicles. So the whale show from the West toured the whole country, testing all the roads.
Is it true?
Although the Cold War was never colder than in the early ‘60s, you’d think the spy game was a bit more sophisticated than a freak show. Considering that nine James Bond novels were already published by 1961, and who could imagine 007 touring with a dead whale instead of employing his clever gadgets? But romantic fiction aside, historians also say that there were simpler and less spectacular intelligence methods available. U2 spy planes were tested right here in Eastern Europe in the ‘50s, not to mention that any properly trained spy could have given a reliable description on the state of things just by looking at them. So the idea of the CIA employing a whale on a truck to gather information onHungaryseems way too absurd even for Cold War standards. The accompanying staff might have had some trained spies among them though. But what do you know, we have no proof either way.
What we do have proof for is that Goliath first arrived in Budapestin December, 1961 and toured the country in spring 1962. In November 1963, Goliath returned to Hungary, so if anyone missed gaping at the dead whale could make up for it. Tickets were sold by the thousands, IBUSZ (the first national travel agency) organized trips from neighboring villages to the towns where Goliath was on show. The comings and goings of the whale excited not only ordinary people, but inspired writers and artists too. Lajos Parti Nagy’s short story Giuseppe undo Pusztay, László Krasznahorkai’s novel, The Melancholy of Resistance and Béla Tarr’s film (based on the latter) Werckmeister Harmonies all feature the whale.