Since the dawn of civilization, nightmares have haunted the human mind. But what are they, exactly? Why do some people think they’re more than hallucinations? Listen in to learn about the superstition and science surrounding sleep paralysis.
In 1982 a terrifying phenomena was lifted from the pages of parapsychology literature and turned into the highly successful film, Poltergeist. Although the film was not based on a real case, and the phenomena in the film veered wildly from the historical symptoms, it did make this peculiar type of event culturally available in a way it had never been before. So when a trouble household in Columbus, Ohio began experiencing flying objects and mysterious disturbances, one had to wonder: was this a poltergeist or merely zeitgeist?
Enthusiasts of paranormal lore will know that the word poltergeist is derived from the german words for noisy and spirit. Before we get into the particulars of the Columbus Poltergeist, lets talk about skeptics and hauntings. Skeptics are often depicted as dismissing the idea of ghosts and spirits without investigation, but there is actually a rich history of thorough scientific investigations of such alleged phenomena. The most difficult challenge is that the allegedly paranormal events rarely manifest themselves when skeptical researchers are present. This leaves the investigator to more of a forensic role and sometimes with nothing but a collection of anecdotes.
Even the terminology for such events is difficult because a skeptical view of any such phenomena is predicated on examining each unusual component rather than collectively viewing them as a haunting. This is a problem for paranormal believers too in that ghost investigations are all trying to explain elusive phenomena. Consider these words: phantoms, shadows, phantasms, ghosts, spirits… there is a robust lexicon to describe these non-corporeal entities, but no scientific proof that any of them exist. For the purposes of this article I’m going to talk about various aspects of this field but remember that these are terms which the scientific community – and Skeptoid – do not endorse as real or genuine. So when I talk about hauntings I’m not endorsing the existence of supernatural manifestations, but using the word to mean “the collection of unusual events” associated with such cases.
Poltergeists cases are characterized by loud noises, things being thrown, apportations of tiny objects, mysterious liquids appearing, rocks falling on the roof, and occasionally people being pushed, clawed, pressed or otherwise harassed. In most cases the poltergeist events are centered around one person – often a teenager. Many times when this central figure is removed from the scene the events stop and do not follow them to other locations.
In 1984 the home of John and Joan Resch became the scene of such events. Glasses, photographs, telephones and lamps were being thrown about and broken and the events all seemed centered on the Resch’s adopted daughter Tina.
A large riverboat vanished without a trace on the Mississippi River in 1872. Or did it?
We’re all familiar with ship disappearances in the Bermuda Triangle. Though many say they’re the result of some supernatural force, it’s far more likely that each incident is a case of a big, stormy ocean taking its toll on small, poorly-maintained, or simply unlucky craft. But when a ship disappears without a trace from a river, it’s harder to imagine an explanation. And the legend of the SS Iron Mountain is difficult to explain away.
Here is how her story is usually told. This is an excerpt of the version on paranormal.about.com, complete with the picture that’s most often associated with the SS Iron Mountain:
In June, 1872, the S.S. Iron Mountain steamed out of Vicksburg, Mississippi with an on-deck cargo of bailed cotton and barrels of molasses. Heading up the Mississippi River toward its ultimate destination of Pittsburgh, the ship was also towing a line of barges.
Later that day, another steamship, the Iroquois Chief, found the barges floating freely downriver. The towline had been cut. The crew of the Iroquois Chief secured the barges and waited for the Iron Mountain to arrive and recover them. But it never did. The Iron Mountain, nor any member of its crew, were ever seen again. Not one trace of a wreck or any piece of its cargo ever surfaced or floated to shore. It simply vanished.
Some versions go on to say that ghostly voices can be heard near the site screaming “They’re trying to hurt me! Help!”
As with most legends, there is some truth and some fiction. Let’s see if we can separate the two.
By K.Fane via Listverse
Humankind has long dabbled in the supernatural, lured by the promise of obtaining power and enlightenment. Several texts have been devoted to this practice, outlining complicated and mysterious rituals that were presented as the key to achieving communion with otherworldly spirits.
The Greek magical papyri from the second century B.C. listed spells, rituals, and divinations. These included instructions for how to summon a headless demon, open doors to the underworld, and protect yourself from wild beasts. Perhaps most tantalizing of all, they describe how to gain a supernatural assistant, an otherworldly entity who does your bidding.
The most commonly found spells in the Papyri are divination spells—ceremonies that offer you visions of the future. One of its most well-known passages provides instructions for how to forecast upcoming events using an “iron lampstead,” “an offering of frankincense,” and an “uncorrupted and pure” child. After being placed into a deep trance, the child sees images flickering in the flame.
Among the Papyri’s most famous components is the Mithras Liturgy. This ceremony describes how to ascend through seven higher planes of existence and communicate with the deity Mithras.
Originating in France in the 18th century, The Black Pullet focuses on the study of magical talismans, special objects engraved with mystical words that protect and empower the wearer. It was reportedly written by an anonymous officer in Napoleon’s Army, who claimed to have received the contents from a mysterious mage while on expedition in Egypt.
The Pullet includes detailed instructions for how to construct talismans out of bronzed steel, silk, and special ink. Among these invocations is a spell to call upon a djinn, a creature made of smoke and fire who will bring you true love. If your ambitions are slightly more cynical, then the Pullet also provides talismans that will force “discreet men” to tell you their secrets, allow you to see behind closed doors, and destroy anyone who is plotting against you.
The apex of the book’s mystical teachings is acquiring the Black Pullet itself—a hen that can find buried treasure.
The Ars Almadel is Book Four of the Lesser Key of Solomon, also known as the Lemegeton, a significant grimoire of demonology compiled in the 17th century by an unknown author. This particular book of the Legemeton provides a blueprint for constructing an Almadel—a magical wax altar, somewhat like a ouija board, that allows you to communicate with angels.
The Almadel is composed of four Altitudes, or “Choras,” each of which corresponds with a unique set of angels with different domains. The text provides the names of the angels of each Chora (Gelomiros and Aphiriza, for example), the proper way to direct your requests to them (ask only what is “just and lawful”), and the best calendar dates for invoking them. It also includes brief physical descriptions of these angelic manifestations. The Angels of the Third Chora, for example, come in the form of “little women dressed in green and silver” wearing crowns made of bay leaves.
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A group of 7 West Virginians looked for a crashed UFO in the hills and ended up getting the fright of their lives.
Today we tackle a terrifying tale of an alien encounter that goes by many names: “The Braxton County Monster”, “The Sutton Monster”, “The Green Monster” and “The Phantom of Flatwoods,” just to name a few. Growing up as I did in nearby Kanawha County, I had always heard the tale told using the Braxton County Monster moniker, so that’s what I’ll keep using here to avoid confusion. The story goes that in the evening of September 12th, 1952 seven witnesses saw a light from the sky land in the hills outside the town of Flatwoods, West Virginia, and when they went to investigate they came upon a being which frightened them to their very core. So was the Braxton County Monster a true case of an alien encounter in the hills of West Virginia? Or did a confluence of unlikely events lead to a group getting the fright of their lives?
Even contemporary reports made within days of the incident vary in some details of the actual event, but most agree roughly on the following points. Around 7:15pm several local boys (reports differ on exactly how many there were and their identities) were playing football at the nearby elementary school. They noticed a bright light streak across the sky and over a hill, seeming to touch down on the property of the farm owned by a Mr. Bailey Fischer. The boys then raced to the home of Kathleen May, a local beautician and mother of Edison and Fred, possibly two of the boys playing football, to report their sighting of a UFO. The group recruited a few more local boys, including 17-year-old national guardsman Eugene Lemon and his dog. The group, now made up of, Kathleen May, Eugene ‘Gene’ Lemon (17), Neil Nunley (14), Teddie Neal (13), Edison ‘Eddie’ May (13), Fred ‘Freddy’ May (12), Ronnie Shaver (10), and possibly Tommy Hyer (10), headed outside of town and up the hill towards the farm.
Upon cresting the hill to a ridge, they were engulfed in a malodorous mist and spotted a pulsing red light emitting from a ball-shaped object hovering just above the ground. Gene’s dog growled at something to their left side, where whomever was holding the flashlight, reports differ, immediately pointed the beam. What the light fell upon was terrible to behold. A large creature, between seven and 12 tall, stood hovering next to a nearby oak tree. It appeared to be wearing some sort of green armor, and a black cowl shaped like a spade from a playing card over it’s blood read head and bright glowing red eyes. Some of the witnesses reported seeing two claw-like hands near the creature’s head, one of which may have been holding a device. Upon seeing the group, the being let out a shrill hiss and started towards them in a slow gliding motion.
The group, gripped with terror, ran headlong down the hill back into town, whereupon they immediately called Braxton County Sheriff Robert Carr. The sheriff was not at his station in nearby Sutton, because he had been called out to investigate a plane crash reported by Woodrow Eagle, who had also seen a light in the sky disappear into the mountains along the Elk River south of Gassaway. By the time Sheriff Carr was able to make it to Flatwoods, local newspaperman A. Stewart Lee of the Braxton Democrat was also on the scene. While the entire group of witnesses was visibly shaken, Gene worked up the nerve to lead a gun-toting posse back to the scene to investigate. The craft and the creature were gone, all that remained was a faint sulfuric odor, some track marks in the grass, and some oily residue along with bits of a black rubber-like substance. In the aftermath of the event, several members of the group described suffering from irritation and swelling of the nose and throat, followed by vomiting and convulsions for another few weeks. These were said to be symptoms of exposure to mustard gas and were attributed to the mist surrounding the area the craft and creature had been spotted in. Whatever had happened, it had clearly make an impact, both emotionally and physiologically, on the witnesses.
UFO investigators, Gray Barker, who actually grew up in Braxton County, and naturalist Ivan T. Sanderson both went to Flatwoods to research the events of September 12th, with Sanderson arriving as early as September 18th. They explored the site, interviewed witnesses, and wrote reports of their findings that were later published. They both concluded that the group had encountered an extraterrestrial craft and it’s occupant.
Nikola Tesla has become something of an Internet hero. According to legend, he was a mad genius who almost never got the credit he deserved in the money-hungry world of science. It’s easy to argue that Tesla didn’t make it further because of his eccentricities: He hated everything, suffered from severe obsessive-compulsive disorder, and might have been autistic. The truth, however, is far simpler: Many of his ideas just weren’t viable. Although many people would like to believe otherwise, Tesla was far from perfect.
10 • Alleged Eidetic Memory
It’s often claimed that Tesla never needed to write anything down because he had either a photographic or eidetic memory. While scientists have not ruled out the claim, the researchers who have studied the phenomenon have admitted that they can’t even prove its existence, although others have pointed out flaws in their methodologies.
As a brilliant scientist and inventor, it’s quite possible that Tesla had excellent visual memory, but it was never tested. It’s certainly not true that he never needed to write anything down—Tesla kept copious notes on his inventions and ideas, many of which have survived to this day. Scientists were thrilled by the possibilities they might contain, but upon examination, these notebooks were found to be highly speculative and contain no useful scientific knowledge.
9 • Irresponsibility With Money
Many people claim that Tesla died penniless, and some go so far as to say he always was. This is decried as a great injustice against such a brilliant mind. The truth, much like the man himself, is a little more complicated. There is some evidence that he could have made more money if his patents had been secured better or he had not been exploited by people like Thomas Edison. Tesla never cared much for the business aspect of his work, though, and even if he had made a fortune, he likely would have blown it.
Tesla had a reputation for hemorrhaging money. He lived in fancy hotels and sunk the rest of his money into increasingly ambitious—and expensive—projects. He had a history of borrowing money from friends and getting evicted from those hotels. He would sometimes even leave some of his notebooks behind as collateral for the debt when he moved out.
Tesla once commented on his poverty when the city tried to force him to pay a tax bill, admitting that he had no money and “scores” of other debts he owed. He explained that he had been living on credit at the Waldorf for several years. He had plenty of opportunities to pay off his debts and keep his patents from lapsing, but instead, he maintained his lavish lifestyle until the day he died.
8 • Wild Claims
Thanks to the Tesla revival, every absurd claim he made to newspapers back in the day is now being repeated as fact. The truth is that Tesla made many claims so far out of left field that they would destroy a scientist’s credibility even today, often with no evidence or results to back them up. But if Tesla was crazy, he was crazy like a fox. Oftentimes, his claims were reported shortly before the historical experiments of other scientists.
For example, when Marconi was gearing up for some important radio signal tests, Tesla told the media that he had already received radio transmissions that he believed were from Mars. With his technology, he claimed, we would soon be able to communicate with other planets almost instantaneously. Other projects he claimed to be working on included a torpedo that could be recalled even after being fired and a powerful death ray.
As bizarre as these claims sounded, they gave the impression that Tesla was light-years ahead of everyone else. But if the general public was impressed, the scientific community was decidedly not, regarding Tesla as being mostly full of hot air. While this is an overreaction—Tesla certainly did contribute to our body of scientific knowledge—the plausibility of many of Tesla’s inventions is greatly exaggerated.
7 • Strange Visions
Tesla’s tall tales weren’t confined to his inventions or supposed interactions with Martians. He also believed that he received a variety of important visions. The first occurred when he was walking in the park with a friend after suffering a nervous breakdown due to his constant lack of sleep.
According to Tesla, he had a vision of the entire model for his AC motor and started drawing it in the dirt. Considering that he had already stated that he had been thinking about the idea for about six years, he probably wasn’t being entirely truthful.
His second “vision” occurred much later in life, involving his beloved pigeons. He claimed that he was alone in his hotel room one night when a white pigeon for whom he harbored particularly great affection came to see him. He was then suddenly blinded by two powerful beams of light that communicated to him that he had finished all of his life’s work and would die soon.
6 • Insomnia And Addiction To Work
Tesla’s visions could probably be more reasonably attributed to his lack of sleep than any mystical properties. He was known to be a workaholic, to the point that any kind of rest was inconceivable. He claimed that he went to bed at 5:00 AM and rose only five hours later, and only two of those hours were spent sleeping. Once a year, he indulged himself and actually slept all five hours. He never stopped thinking about his work, even when he was snoozing.
There’s no doubt that Tesla’s insomnia had a profound impact on his physical and psychological health for his entire life, but it’s likely that its extent was another of his exaggerations. Humans simply aren’t capable of maintaining such a lack of sleep and remaining alive. However, it is possible Tesla had simply deluded himself. The hotel employees who attended his room said they often found Tesla standing silently, apparently awake but totally unaware of his surroundings. It’s likely that he slept more than he realized, falling into these nap-like trances as a natural reaction to that level of sleep deprivation.
Legend says that Grigori Rasputin, the “Mad Monk”, was hard to kill. What does the history say?
The legend started almost as soon as the cold, lifeless body was fished out of the water. Gregory Efimovich Rasputin, a man who claimed powers from God but whom many saw as the Devil himself, did not die easily. Legend says that his assassins first poisoned him , then shot him, then shot him again, then beat him, and then finally dumped him into the Malaya Nevka River where he drowned only after struggling out of his bonds. Is this unlikely story true? Let’s see if the history agrees with the legend.
Rasputin was born in early January, 1869, in the Siberian village of Pokrovskoye. As a young man he developed a strong interest in religious mysticism. He eventually abandoned his family and went to stay at a nearby monastery, where he read theology and debated Scripture with the monks, though he never became a monk himself. In 1890 he claimed to have a vision of the Virgin Mary which marked him as someone chosen by God for a greater purpose. Eventually, he began to claim the powers of a spiritual healer, saying that through prayer he could cure illness.
Rasputin’s reputation as a healer grew, eventually bringing him to St. Petersburg, where he came to the attention of Tsar Nicholas II and Tsarina Alexandra, the reigning couple of the Romanov line. You see, they were keeping a dark secret: their only son Alexis had been born with hemophilia. The next Tsar of Russia was fated to bleed to death long before he could take his father’s place. When the boy became very ill in 1907, and no doctor was able to bring him back to health, a desperate Alexandra decided to place the fate of the royal line in Rasputin’s hands. Rasputin visited the palace and prayed for the boy; to the Tsarina’s surprise, Alexis improved.
Over the next decade Rasputin developed an increasingly influential relationship with the royal family and a complex yet undeniable place in Russian high society. Alexandra became convinced that Rasputin had been sent by God to save her son, and he eventually became a close confidant of the Tsarina. Rasputin, in turn, used his new favor to wield both social and political influence. Getting into all of the subplots and side stories of Rasputin’s life amongst the Russian elite would be an episode unto itself. Suffice it to say that Rasputin quickly became a noted, sometimes notorious figure, and in doing so made both political and religious enemies, some of whom eventually decieded to remove the bothersome peasant.
The first attempt on Rasputin’s life came . . .
By Leif Pettersen via USA TODAY
The items on this varied list may not all warrant heightened vigilance and tin foil hats, but better safe than sorry. So we’re all better prepared for welcoming the Lizard People, when they finally choose to reveal themselves, and assimilating to the New World Order, here are some of the best conspiracy theories and urban legends in the U.S.
10 • Area 51, probably underground, Nev.
Arguably, the country’s most famous conspiracy theory is focused on this remote part of Edwards Air Force Base in Southern Nevada. Also known as Groom Lake, it’s assumed the base is used to test aircraft and weapons systems. The air space overhead is absolutely restricted. Even Air Force pilots aren’t allowed to breach the perimeter. The extraordinary secrecy surrounding the base has fueled several Area 51 conspiracy theories over the years ranging from a lab/prison for studying aliens (both living and dead), a meeting place for Earthlings and aliens working in tandem on various projects, reverse engineering and testing of captured/recovered alien technology, developing a weather control system, time travel and teleportation technology and much more. All that said, nothing can be certain as everything that occurs in Area 51 is classified as “Top Secret/Sensitive Compartmented Information.” The CIA didn’t publicly acknowledge the existence of the base until July 2013.
9 • Denver Airport, Colo.
Another conspiracy theory layer cake spot is Denver International Airport. That it was built while Denver had a perfectly good airport much closer to the city is the jumping off point for these theories. (For the record, experts have pointed out that the runway layout at the old airport was no longer efficient enough for the increased traffic.) It’s believed that building the new airport allowed for the secret construction of an underground headquarters for the Illuminati, or the New World Order, or the Neo-Nazis, or the Lizard People and so on. The vaguely Swastika-shaped runways, the (admittedly) disturbing murals and sculptures, and odd words engraved in the floor also fuel the theories. Furthermore, there is the question of funding. A stone in the terminal says the airport was funded by “The New World Airport Commission,” a nebulous entity, sanely theorized to be a group of local businesses, though many claim it doesn’t exist.
8 • UFO cover-up, Roswell, N.M.
Though it’s now mainly fueled by local businesses wanting to cash in on tourist interest, the (alleged!) Roswell UFO incident of 1947 is the most popular (alleged!) UFO cover-up of all time and still merits time and energy among conspiracy theorists and movie/TV writers. Various people claim that a spacecraft with alien occupants crashed on a ranch near Roswell in June or July 1947, which was quietly hauled away for study, possibly by our friends at Area 51. The Air Force reported at the time that the object was a surveillance balloon. The conspiracy chatter didn’t flare up until 1978 when Major Jesse Marcel, who was involved with the recovery of the debris, gave an interview describing a spacecraft crash cover-up by the military. Since then additional witnesses have emerged, describing the cover-up and alien autopsies. These days, even passionate pro-UFO advocates generally dismiss Roswell as a hoax.
7 • Grassy knoll in Dallas, Texas
The Warren Commission concluded that there was no conspiracy involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963. However, after Lee Harvey Oswald was killed by Jack Ruby, an event that also brims with conspiracy, the theories that Oswald didn’t act alone or maybe wasn’t involved at all started flying. The situation was exacerbated in 1979 when the United States House Select Committee on Assassinations announced “…a high probability that two gunmen fired at [the] President.” Furthermore, while he was living in Belarus, it’s said Oswald was such a terrible shot that friends were afraid to go hunting with him. The dazzling list of conspiracy theories put forward at one point or another involve the collusion of one or more parties including the CIA, the FBI and/or FBI director J. Edgar Hoover, the Mafia, anti-Castro Cuban exile groups, Castro himself, then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, and the KGB.
6 • Kensington Runestone, Runestone Museum in Alexandria, Minn.
Evidence that Scandinavian explorers pushed as far as the Midwest of the future United States in the 14th century or a 19th-century hoax? The Kensington Runestone is a 200 lb slab of greywacke inscribed with runes on the face and side. The story goes the stone was found in 1898 in the rural township of Solem, Minnesota (it gets its name from Kensington, a nearby settlement) by Swedish immigrant Olof Olsson Ohman. The Stone appears to describe an expedition of Norwegians and Swedes who camped in the area, then retreated to their boat at “the inland sea” after 10 were slaughtered by unknown assailants. Runologists and linguistic experts overwhelming agree that the language used on the stone is too modern (circa the 19th century, coincidentally) and didn’t match other writing samples from the 1300s. However, the legend persists, being occasionally revived with new evidence and arguments, some as recently the 1990s.
5 • D.B. Cooper airplane hijack, ransom and parachute jump, somewhere in the Pacific Northwest
The only unsolved case of air piracy in U.S. history was perpetrated by an unidentified man who the media came to call “D. B. Cooper.” (The hijacker purchased his ticket using the alias “Dan Cooper.”) On November 24, 1971, Cooper hijacked a passenger plane (a Boeing 727) during a Portland-Seattle flight. Claiming he had a bomb, he made his ransom plans known to the crew. On the ground in Seattle, Cooper released the passengers after officials gave him the requested $200,000 (equivalent to $1,160,000 today) and two parachutes. With only Cooper and the crew aboard, the plane then took off heading for Mexico. When they stopped in Reno to refuel, Cooper was gone, having jumped from the rear stairs while the plane was likely still over Washington State. Cooper was never found and it’s widely believe he couldn’t have possibly survived the fall, over remote mountainous wilderness, at night, wearing a trench coat and loafers, no helmet, into an initial wind chill at the airplane’s altitude of “70∞ F. The FBI investigation into the case remains open to this day.
Jack the Ripper is perhaps the most iconic serial killer in history. Part of the mystique of this dark figure is the fact that he was never identified, leaving room for endless sleuthing and speculation. Every Ripper fan has their list of favorite suspects, usually filled with famous and powerful people of the time to add even more interest. My favorite, of course, is that he was a time-traveling friend of H. G. Wells.
Now a private researcher, Russell Edwards, claims that he has finally solved the case. First I will present his story without comment, and then we can take a skeptical look at it.
Edwards claims he acquired a blood-stained shawl in 2007 that is supposed to be from Catherine Eddowes, one of the five fairly accepted victims of the Ripper. The shawl was apparently recovered from the scene of Eddowes murder, and was covered in her blood. Acting Sergeant Amos Simpson took the shawl home as a gift for his wife. She was, apparently, not impressed and stored the shawl away without cleaning it.
The shawl remained in the possession of his family until they auctioned it off in 2007 and Edwards acquired it.
Edwards then solicited the help of Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a Finnish expert in historic DNA. Louhelainen found that the 126 year old shawl contained a great deal of blood, likely all from the victim. However, he also found a semen stain on the shawl. Genomic DNA is unlikely to have survived 126 years sufficiently intact for DNA matching. However, mitochondrial DNA is more hardy and likely did survive.
Sperm, however, contain few mitochondria (almost none). Fortunately, Louhelainen was able to isolate an epithelial cell from the region of the semen stain. Epithelial cells line many tissues, and so it is possible that the cell (which would contain mitochondrial DNA) was from the same source as the semen itself.
Louhelainen was able to extract and amplify the DNA, and then type it, finding that it belonged to . . .
Also See: How Jack the Ripper Worked (howstuffworks)
The 887 giant moai statues on Easter Island have turned one of the most isolated islands in the world into one of the most well known—and most mysterious. With each year, more theories arise concerning the island, the statues, and the Rapa Nui people who once lived there. Here are some of the most fascinating ones.
10 • The Moai Walked
A longstanding point of contention over the years has been just how the moai statues on Easter Island got to their final resting places. The tallest of the statues, “Paro,” stands at almost 10 meters (33 ft) and weighs in at 74 metric tons (82 tons). All of them are immensely hard to move.
In the early ’80s, researchers tried to recreate some of the statues and move them using only tools that the islanders had to their disposal. They found this almost impossible to do. Then in 1987, American archaeologist Charles Love managed to move a 9–metric ton (10 ton) replica. He put it on a makeshift vehicle consisting of two sledges, and he and 25 men rolled the statue 46 meters (150 ft) in just two minutes.
Ten years after this feat, Czech engineer Pavel Pavel and Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl built their own statue of the same size. They tied one rope around its head and another around its base. With the help of 16 people, they rocked the statue from side to side. They cut the exercise short because they were damaging the statue, but Heyerdahl estimated that they could otherwise have moved the statue (or one twice as big) 100 meters (330 ft) per day.
Americans Terry Hunt and Carl P. Lipo have recently investigated the sensational theory that the Rapa Nui people tied ropes around the massive moai statues and moved them into place with a walking motion. Their team managed to move a replica 100 meters (330 ft) in this manner. They also argue that this explains Rapa Nui folklore, which tells of the statues walking, animated by magic.
9 • Ecocide
A well-known theory states that the island natives cleared large forests to make room for agriculture, mistakenly thinking the trees would grow back fast enough to sustain the environment. The growing population just added to the problem, and the island eventually just couldn’t support its inhabitants. This theory was especially popularized by Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by UCLA geographer Jared Diamond. Diamond names Easter Island as the most prominent example of resource misuse destroying an entire society.
Now, however, a new theory suggests that there is very little evidence this happened. The Rapa Nui people were in actual fact very intelligent agricultural engineers. Intensive study shows that the islanders’ agricultural fields were deliberately fertilized by volcanic rock.
Terry Hunt and Carl Lipo, in their continuing study of Easter Island, also theorize that even though the islanders cleared most of the forest, they replaced it with grasslands. The pair do not believe that any self-inflicted catastrophe killed the islanders. Anthropologist Mara Mulrooney supports Lipo and Hunt in the matter. Her radiocarbon data indicates that Easter Island was inhabited for many centuries, and its population only dropped after Europeans started frequenting it.
8 • The Rats Did It
Lipo and Hunt offer an alternative explanation for the population drop. The lack of predators and an overflow of food on the island have provided a paradise for rats hiding in the canoes of the island’s earliest settlers. Though the natives cut and burned trees, it was the rats that prevented regrowth by feasting on the new plants.
But while rats may have hurt the island’s ecosystem, they gave the islanders a new food source. The discovery of rat bones in rubbish dumps on the island indicates that the natives dined on the rodents. This kept them fed while they worked at building their fields to sustain themselves long-term.
7 • Alien Transport
A popular goofy theory about the Easter Island moai says that the massive statues were created (or, alternatively, influenced) by aliens.
Author Erich von Daniken helped spread this theory with his book Chariots of the Gods?: Unsolved Mysteries of the Past. Daniken also believes the ancient Egyptians could not possibly have built the pyramids by themselves as they lacked the intelligence and strength. Similar theories explain the Mayan pyramids and the Nazca line drawings.
The stone used to build the moai was actually taken from the island itself, from an extinct volcano on the northeastern side, not from another planet. There’s no actual mystery about who built the statues. The only real mystery is why they did so. Many island researchers fully believe that each of the statues represent the head of a family. This, however, remains speculation.
What is the real source of the ancient nautical legends of the Flying Dutchman ghost ship?
Some say it is a spectral schooner seen under full sail, sometimes in the distance, sometimes at night or through the fog, sometimes gliding above the water; its sails may be torn to ribbons, or it may be making great headway even in the lack of wind. Some say the Dutchman refers to the captain of the ship, a man cursed to sail the seas forever and never make land. Some say the captain and his ship are doomed to forever try to round a stormy cape, never quite succeeding and always being beaten back by the howling wind and waves. But whatever the specifics of the legend, the Flying Dutchman has become a mainstay of maritime lore.
With such a famous story, it would seem worthwhile to see whether it grew from some seed of fact. References to the Flying Dutchman have been around for more than two centuries, and sailing ships were plowing the salt water for centuries before that; so it seems a practical certainty that we should be able to nail down exactly what triggered the stories. A good place to start is its most famous iteration in pop culture. In Wagner’s 1840 opera Der Fliegende Holländer, it is not the ship that is named the Flying Dutchman, but refers to the captain of the ghostly vessel.
The Dutchman, who is unnamed in the opera, commands a ship with only a spectral crew. He makes port in a storm in Norway, and grapples to the ship of Captain Daland. The Dutchman reveals to the captain that years ago, me made a curse during a storm, swearing to Satan that he would round the Cape of Good Hope even if he had to keep trying until doomsday. Satan took him at his word, and cursed him to never be able to make port until he found a woman who would love him until she died. Fortunately, the captain has a nubile daughter, Senta, who, upon hearing of the Dutchman’s terrible plight, falls in love with him. But another suitor, the muscular and handsome huntsman Erik, reminds Senta that she had once promised herself to him. When the Dutchman hears of this, he assumes he is lost forever and casts off with his ghostly crew. But Senta’s love was true, and when she sees the Dutchman sail away, she throws herself into the ocean and drowns. The terms of the curse thus fulfilled, the Dutchman and his ship are seen ascending to heaven (thus becoming the “flying” Dutchman), where he will finally be able to rest.
Interestingly, the Cape of Good Hope is not the cape infamous for its stormy seas; that’s Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America. The Cape of Good Hope is the tip of the peninsula jutting south from Cape Town, South Africa, and is some 150 kilometers west-north-west from the true southern tip of Africa, Cape Agulhas.
The ship is known for its many ghostly appearances; showing up out of the dark or the fog and then disappearing, often terrifying the sailors who witness it. An interesting point shared by so many of the books and articles written about the Flying Dutchman is that they all list the same half dozen or so famous sightings of the ship; but these reports are all terrible, because in not a single instance is there any reason for the witness to have identified the ship as that of the infamous Dutchman. They saw, or believed they saw, unidentified wooden ships under sail. Let’s have a look at a few:
In 1881, the future King George V of the United Kingdom was a midshipman aboard the H.M.S. Bacchante, when he reported unambiguously that a ship he identified as the Flying Dutchman had crossed their bow. Thirteen men on the Bacchante and two other ships saw it, and it remains in the Admiralty’s official publications in The Cruise of H.M.S. Bacchante.
In 1942, Nazi admiral Karl Dönitz, at that time the senior commander of the U-boat forces, is reported to have said that “Certain of his U-boat crews claimed that they had seen the Flying Dutchman during their tours of duty east of Suez.”
In 1939, dozens of people at Glencairn Beach in Cape Town reported seeing the Flying Dutchman charging toward shore under full sail, only to disappear just before disaster.
Lighthouse keepers at the Cape Point Lighthouse are said to have frequently sighted the Flying Dutchman during storms.
In 1835, a British ship came near having a collision with the Flying Dutchman, approaching at night under full sail in a storm, but it vanished at the last instant.
And so on, and so on.
Tall ships remain common all around the world, and have been ever since they first took to the water. Even most modern Navies maintain a multi-masted square rigged ship for training purposes, such as Norway’s Christian Radich, the American USCGC Eagle, and Japan’s Nippon Maru II. Oman is even launching a brand-new three masted, square rigged ship in 2014. Combine these with the hundreds of other square rigged ships afloat and at sea worldwide, and it’s very possible to go out today and see what you might think to be the Flying Dutchman.
So to narrow it down, let’s work backward from Wagner’s 1840 piece, to can see what source materials were available for him to work from.
Today we’re going to go back more than a century and a half to a hot summer day on the central coast of California, to the town of Santa Barbara. June 17, 1859 began as a summer day much like any other, clear with plenty of warm sunshine, plus a cool breeze to make it just perfect. But according to legend, something happened that wrought sudden death and destruction: from out of nowhere, a wind with temperatures usually reserved for baking ovens blasted down from the hills, killing animals and injuring people. It immediately set the country’s highest recorded temperature. They named it the simoom, after the hot Sahara wind of the same name. But it turns out that data is hard to come by. Was the Santa Barbara simoom a true freak of nature, or perhaps merely a tall tale told to visitors?
Here is a snippet about the 1859 simoom from the Insider’s Guide to Santa Barbara:
Until 1934, Santa Barbara had a record high temperature on the U.S. Weather Bureau’s books. On June 17, 1859, a simoom (scorching wind) swept down from the northwest, and the mercury soared to 133° Fahrenheit (about 56° Celsius). Cattle dropped dead, and birds fell from the sky. The record was topped when the mercury hit 134° Fahrenheit (about 57° Celsius) in Death Valley in 1934.
It sounds a bit like a tall tale, a perfect subject for our skeptical eye.
Sudden, hot winds are absolutely a reality on the California coasts. They’re called the Santa Ana winds, and are the main contributors to the wildfires that can so often be so destructive to coastal communities. Dry air from the Mojave Desert and even the Great Basin further inland forms a high pressure region which cools, sending it spilling downhill toward the coast. The wind is very dry and gusts can reach hurricane forces at their strongest. The wind is usually hot, but not because it came from the desert; it gets heated on the way by adiabatic forces; basically, compression. Santa Ana winds can happen at any time of year, but are most common in the late autumn and early winter.
Although Santa Barbara is a ways up the coast from the Santa Ana winds, it is indirectly affected by them. The high pressure systems that create the Santa Anas are usually moving east, so a few days before they collapse into Santa Anas, they often cause a similar phenomenon in Santa Barbara that locals call the Sundowner. When the Sundowner winds spill over the Santa Ynez mountains and rush to the sea, they can wreak some havoc; but because their path is much shorter, adiabatic compression forces don’t have as much opportunity to heat the Sundowners as much as their more southerly cousins.
Today we’re going to up in altitude, back into history, and down in temperature, to the days when the most daring adventurers wore wool, cotton and leather instead of advanced lightweight synthetic materials. They had heavy wood handled ice axes instead of aluminum. Their canvas and nylon sleeping bags and tents weighed at least three times what today’s climbers use. They packed calories with heavy metal tins of fish and fruit instead of dense energy bars and electrolyte shots. Their only support was sparsely manned expeditions, rather than today’s crowds of competing porters and contractors and rope layers. Their chances of survival were far slimmer, yet even in the punishing days of the mid 20th century, men managed to compete to be the first to summit the world’s tallest point: Mt. Everest.
Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay were the first to summit the mountain and live to tell the tale, which they did in 1953. But they certainly weren’t the first to try; Tenzing had, in fact, made it the previous year to a point only 240m short of the summit with a Swiss expedition. A competing claim exists from about 30 years earlier, when climbers George Mallory and Andrew Irvine disappeared while on the final leg of their climb. Their claim is a thin one; it’s based only on the fact that they disappeared and thus aren’t proven to have failed. But today we’re going to examine what evidence there is, and see if we can arrive at a “best guess” at who was first.
Let’s look at some foundational information about the mountain. Everest is, in broad strokes, a three-sided pyramid. Its north and east faces are in Tibet, and its southwest face is in Nepal. The boundary between the two countries follows the ridge lines over the summit, so only that northeastern ridge is entirely in one country, Tibet. Tibet and Nepal were both originally closed to outsiders, so nobody had ever been able to try and climb the mountain. But in 1921, Tibet was persuaded to allow access, giving mountaineers access to the north face, the east face, and the northeastern ridge between them. Thus, this ridge, today called the north ridge route, became the route used by the early mountaineers, including Mallory and Irvine. Its grand finale is a series of technical walls that must be climbed, called the First Step, Second Step, and Third Step. The Second Step is the hardest of the three. In 1950, coincident with China’s assertion of its claim over Tibet, access to foreigners was closed, and the north route was no longer available.
So when Hillary and Tenzing’s 1953 expedition succeeded, it was via the southeast ridge route. Having secured permission from Nepal, climbers start from the base camp west of the mountain in Nepal, ascend to that southern ridge dividing Nepal from Tibet, and head northwest to the summit, straddling the border all the way. This route remains the most popular today, and is significantly easier. Its most famous obstacle near the summit is the Hillary Step; besides that, it’s mostly no more than a strenuous hike.
So, since Hillary and Mallory took different routes to the summit, we can’t directly compare them. Hillary made it up the southeast ridge route, no problem; and will only be dethroned if evidence ever surfaces that Mallory made it up the north route thirty years before. The only way we can ever solve the mystery is to . . .
When Anne Mitchell-Hedges found a crystal skull at a Belizean excavation site, rumors spread like wildfire. People claimed that the skulls possessed supernatural powers. Science has debunked these claims, but they still persist. Why?
When bad things happen, it seems to be a reflex that people look around for someone or something to blame. And this week, Slender Man (more recently written run together as “Slenderman”) is the convenient target.
I’ve written about Slender Man before, in a post two years ago in which I pondered the question of why people believe in things for which there is exactly zero factual evidence. And in the last two weeks, there have been two, and possibly three, violent occurrences in which Slender Man had a part.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this particular paranormal apparition, Slender Man is a tall, skinny guy with long, spidery arms, dressed all in black, whose head is entirely featureless — it is as smooth, and white, as an egg. He is supposed to be associated with abductions, especially of children. But unlike most paranormal claims, he is up-front-and-for-sure fictional — in fact, we can even pinpoint Slender Man’s exact time of birth as June of 2009, when a fellow named Victor Surge invented him as part of a contest on the Something Awful forums. But since then, Slender Man has taken on a life of his own, spawning a whole genre of fiction (even I’ve succumbed — Slender Man makes an appearance in my novel Signal to Noise.)
But here’s the problem. Whenever there’s something that gains fame, there’s a chance that mentally disturbed people might (1) think it’s real, or (2) become obsessed with it, or (3) both. Which seems to be what’s happened here.
First, we had an attack on a twelve-year-old girl by two of her friends in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in which the girl was stabbed no less than nineteen times. The friends, who are facing trial as adults despite the fact that they are also twelve years old, allegedly stabbed the girl because they wanted to act as “proxies for Slender Man” and had planned to escape into Nicolet National Park, where they believed Slender Man lives, afterward. They had been planning the attack, they said, for six months.
A new two-hour Discovery Channel “documentary,” Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives, revisits the curious case of nine Russian skiers who died under unclear circumstances in the Ural mountains. It is packed with dramatic “found footage” recreations, dubious derring-do, a pulse-pounding score, and piles of speculation.
Here’s the premise, based on a press release for the show:
“On February 2, 1959, nine college students hiked up the icy slopes of the Ural Mountains in the heart of Russia but never made it out alive. Investigators have never been able to give a definitive answer behind who – or what – caused the bizarre crime scene. Fifty-five years later, American explorer Mike Libecki reinvestigates the mystery—known as The Dyatlov Pass incident—but what he uncovers is truly horrifying…. Based on diary accounts, forensic evidence and files that have just recently been released, Mike pieces together the graphic stories in search of what really happened that evening. According to the investigators at the time, the demise of the group was due to a ‘compelling natural force.’ The students’ slashed tent was discovered first with most of their clothing and equipment still inside. Next, the students’ bodies were found scattered across the campsite in three distinct groups, some partially naked and with strange injuries including crushed ribs, a fractured skull, and one hiker mutilated with her eyes gouged out and tongue removed… Mike first heard about the Dyatlov Pass incident on a climbing expedition in 2011 and since then has become obsessed with the case… Determined to find answers, Mike hires Russian translator Maria Klenokova to join him. Together, they set out to one of the most remote and inhospitable places on Earth. However, nothing prepared them for what they were about to discover. Following the trail of evidence, Mike finds proof that the hikers were not alone—a photograph, taken by one of the hikers a day before they died that suggests that they encountered a Yeti. But just how far will they go to find the answers?”
Focusing on the undisputed facts in this case, we know that after nearly a week of skiing the group led by Igor Dyatlov, at some point on the night of February 1-2, 1959, cut slits in their tent and left through the cut for the safety of the wooded area below, most of them wearing their underwear or a few scraps of clothing. After they failed to return, a rescue party was sent, and tracks were followed from the tent to the woods, where all the skiers were found, some of them many months later. According to the autopsy, the cause of death for all of them was hypothermia, or freezing to death; four of the nine also had internal injuries, and one of them, Ludmila Dubinina, was missing a tongue and had additional injuries to her eyes. The biggest mysteries are why the group abandoned their tent (with their supplies and clothes inside), apparently in a hurry through a cut in the fabric; and what caused their injuries.
There are many elements and claims to the Dyatlov Pass story, and many theories including UFOs, top-secret government conspiracies, and unusual natural phenomena. I won’t be addressing those claims (in fact as we will see there’s really no need to invoke those anyway), but instead focusing on the plausibility of the newest theory as promoted in the new Discovery Channel show: That a Yeti was responsible for the mass murder of nine Russians in 1959.
Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives begins with the premise that the injuries sustained by the skiers were so grave and extraordinary that could only have been inflicted by an inhumanly strong creature. The shows says that according to the autopsy, the hikers suffered “horrific injuries” including fractured ribs and a fractured skull attributed to a “compelling natural force” (in other words, some sort of blunt force trauma such as a fall or being crushed).
Unfortunately for the show, photographs of the dead hikers undermine most of the sensational claims. The photographs are crystal clear: the bodies were not “mutilated”. They were actually in fairly good shape for a party who had skied into the remote area, froze to death, and were discovered months later after exposure to the elements. Those who had cracked ribs were found at the bottom of a 13-foot ravine, and could have sustained the injuries falling into it, or at some point after their death during the months before they were found when buried by an avalanche or the weight of wet snow crushed them.
While a fractured skull might be considered “horrific” depending on your comfort with bodily trauma, according to the Mayo Clinic . . .
As of this writing, the Discovery Channel schedule shows the following broadcast dates and times for Russian Yeti: The Killer Lives:
Part 1 via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Nowadays, zombies are big business. But outside of the horror films and video games, is there any truth to the zombie legends?
Part 2 via Stuff They Don’t Want You to Know – YouTube
Some experts believe that Haitian zombies are victims of tetrodotoxin poisoning — sometimes they’ve been buried and revived, but they were never actually dead. So what are the odds of actually resurrecting a corpse?
Cultures across the planet have legends describing giant, human-like creatures. Usually, these stories are dismissed as folklore — yet some people believe a race of giants did exist at some point in Earth’s past.
Located off the coast of Nova Scotia, Oak Island seems like an unremarkable place — except, that is, for the mysterious site known as the money pit. But what is it, exactly? Who built it? Most importantly, what does it contain?
They might knock on your door on a late, quiet night that you’re home; or if you’re out, they might approach your car while you’re stopped. They might seem to be in need of your help, or they might just want to come in for no clear reason. They won’t look threatening; mere children, in fact. But they do want to come in. They may give you this excuse or that one, but no matter what you say, they will persist. They must get in. And you will say no. You will say no because they are not quite right: their eyes are black. Pure black. From lid to lid, dead black orbs devoid of sclera or iris will send a chill up your spine. They are the black eyed kids.
Stories about these creepy looking children have been multiplying in recent years. Virtually all of them are copy-and-pasted from one web page to another, or appear in self-published, print-on-demand books that are little more than copied Internet content. Thus it’s pretty hard to attribute very many of the stories to credible witnesses. Nobody has ever taken a reliable photograph of a black eyed kid; none have ever been stopped by authorities on the lookout for runaways. Real or not, the black eyed kids are known really only from the many oft-repeated accounts of dubious origin:
I was sitting on the couch watching a movie, when suddenly I heard someone hardly beating the door. I got up went to the closest next to the front door and pulled out a cricket bat. I opened the door and I saw three kids standing there… One of them told me that they were lost and needed to call there mum. They asked to come in, that was the biggest mistake of my life when I said okay… I went into the living room and what I saw amazed me little. All three of them were sitting quietly, faced down. At the same time all three of them looked at me. Those were seriously the most scariest eyes I had ever seen. But staring at them for 10 seconds more and I was screaming like a girl. I ran towards the garage door, I felt all three of them running after me because I could hear their feet thumping the wooden floors. I ran into the garage and locked the door.
• • • • •
I looked through the peephole… Outside were two kids… Had it not been for the feeling of overwhelming dread and fear, I probably would have asked these children in and given them some tea or hot chocolate to get them out of the bitter cold. Something about them seemed off… The older one spoke. She had a voice that was mature, confidant, strong, and accentless. She held her head tilted downward, and I couldn’t see her eyes. She said “We have to use your phone.” I stood frozen in fear. How did she know I was there? She raised her head to face me directly, and that was when I saw her eyes. There was a reason I couldn’t see them through her bangs before- they were black, or midnight blue, or a dark, dark purple- they were otherworldly. She said “Our mother is worried.”
• • • • •
I saw some kid walking back and forth along the sidewalk in front of my parked car… The boy walked over to the side of my car and just stares, I think to let me get a good look at his eyes. To freak me out. Let me tell you.. If you have never seen a black eyed kid.. you have no idea what to imagine. Pupils black as the night sky. The boy whispers “You must let me in” and then i locked the car doors and ducked down into the space below the seats. Five minutes later he was gone. When my mother got into the car she told me a boy with black eyes had came into the hairdressers had insisted for my mother to give him the keys to the car.
Stories told by anonymous posters identified only by their Internet handle. Overall, the body of evidence is not a compelling one. A number of eyewitnesses claim to have called the police and had them show up, but the literature . . .
In December of 1900, three men at the lighthouse on Scotland’s isolated Eilean Mor appeared to have vanished into thin air. But what exactly happened?
You’ve heard of MKULTRA in the US, Soviet psychotronics and so on, but the USSR had another program that might surprise you: For several years they searched Mongolia, Tibet and Eurasia for the fabled city of Shambhala.
It was 1971, in Fouke, Arkansas. Fouke is a small hamlet of under a thousand people, in the Boggy Creek area of southwestern Arkansas, tucked in just between Texas and Louisiana. It’s in the middle of a thousand miles of flat country, dense dark woods rippled with rivers and creeks that twist every which way before finally draining into the Louisiana swamps. It was on a hot summer night in May that two newlywed young couples, and a friend or two, were crashing in the house they’d just rented a few days before after a long day of unpacking. But the mellow evening took a shocking turn for the worse when Elizabeth Ford, 22, thought she’d have a nap on the couch when it happened.
You know that moment when you see something unexpected, but it takes a few seconds for your mind to process what it is? That was Elizabeth’s experience. When she realized that what she was looking at was a huge furry hand with claws, reaching through the open window and groping on the couch as if to find her, she screamed — and Fouke would be changed forever.
Even as the two young couples made emergency move-out preparations, giving up on their new home after less than a week, reporter Jim Powell covered the incident for the Texarkana Gazette, calling it like it was a campy 80s slasher pic:
Elizabeth Ford said she was sleeping in the front room of the frame house when, “I saw the curtain moving on the front window and a hand sticking through the window. At first I thought it was a bear’s paw but it didn’t look like that. It had heavy hair all over it and it had claws. I could see its eyes. They looked like coals of fire … real red,” she said. “It didn’t make any noise. Except you could hear it breathing.”
Ford said they spotted the creature in back of the house with the aid of a flashlight. “We shot several times at it then and then called Ernest Walraven, constable of Fouke. He brought us another shotgun and a stronger light. We waited on the porch and then saw the thing closer to the house. We shot again and thought we saw it fall. Bobby, Charles and myself started walking to where we saw it fall,” he said.
About that time, according to Don Ford, they heard the women in the house screaming and Bobby went back. “I was walking the rungs of a ladder to get up on the porch when the thing grabbed me.”
…The “creature” was described by Ford as being about seven feet tall and about three feet wide across the chest. “At first I thought it was a bear but it runs upright and moves real fast. It is covered with hair,” he said.
The episode triggered a rash of sightings that kept the Texarkana Gazette lively for months. And more significantly, it attracted the attention of filmmakers, who quickly shot the 1973 docudrama The Legend of Boggy Creek. The film dramatized dozens of sightings and featured many Fouke and Boggy Creek residents, telling and reenacting their stories. One of the most fantastic involved a boy named Lynn Crabtree who encountered the beast while hunting in 1965, and shot at it repeatedly without effect.
It’s at this point when, during researching such a story, we start to examine the timeline.
People have told vampire legends for thousands of years, and the monster’s image has continuously changed over time. You already know that some people believe in vampires — but what kind?