Tuesday, December 6, 2016

CHUDs And Other Strange Underground Phenomena

From the paranormal and the downright creepy (and whale skulls), for this entry I've decided to dive into the many, many urban legends surrounding assorted underground things. Alligators in the New York sewers, tribes of cannibals living in the London Underground, ancient civilizations beneath the Southwest American deserts, and government facilities honeycombing the planet. Weird, unverifiable, unsubstantiated stories from around the world, all tied to the subterranean depths.

Let's start with the one everyone's heard: beneath the streets of New York City lurks an unusual and carnivorous menace. A population of alligators that terrorizes sewer workers, feasting on the immense rats and the garbage dumped into the labyrinthine sewers every day. Unlike most of the rest of the stories in this entry, this one's got some actual facts behind it. One day in February 1935, a group of boys clearing snow in East Harlem spotted something moving in a storm drain. Upon closer examination, it turned out to be an eight-foot alligator. How it came to be in a storm drain in East Harlem has never been properly explained. Since then, tales of alligators populating the sewers of the Big Apple have been circulating the world. Variations include colonies of blind, albino gators mutating there, sewer inspectors killing gators with .22-caliber rifles, and even alligators finding their way into the subway via flooded sewers. Is there any truth to these legends? Unlikely. New York City is, of course, far from the warm waters alligators usually call home. Cold-blooded reptiles like alligators don't handle cold temperatures well. However, I do have one personal theory on how they might survive. Consolidated Edison runs a large network of steam pipes beneath Manhattan, to supply heat to older buildings. These pipes tend to leak, having been constructed starting in the 1880s. What if a pipe somewhere deep within the guts of the sewer has been leaking for a very long time, producing a constant tropical atmosphere in some remote corner of the system? Could a small population of alligators not survive in such an area, subsisting on vermin and garbage, occasionally venturing out into sight?

A Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dweller
Next up, and probably my personal favourite out of all of these, is the stories of a "lost tribe" of cannibalistic troglodytes living in or beneath the London Underground. It's over-the-top, there's no verifiable sources for it, and it's totally awesome. What we do know is that the London Underground was dug through layers of history, running into "plague pits," mass graves of victims of the Black Death. There's loads of supposed hauntings in the  Underground, and even some rumours (unsourced, of course) talking about "ancient" tunnels running underneath the system. There's legends of train cars in bricked-up spaces carrying a cargo of fully-dressed skeletons, titanic, intelligent rats, and in a strange twist to the American sewer gators, pigs living in the London sewers. But let's get back to the cannibals. Stories about them have clearly been circulating long enough to capture the popular imagination, culminating with the 1972 release of Death Line (Raw Meat in the US), a horror film regarding the mutated descendants of Irish labourers trapped in a collapse during the Underground's construction. But the most interesting segment of this story comes from a former London police officer, interviewed by Nick Redfern. The officer, a Mr. Frank Wiley, claims that he was assigned to investigate a series of brutal murders in the Underground between 1967 and 1969. Wiley claims that the bodies (late-night commuters and hoboes) were always found dragged hundreds of feet into the tunnels, with brutal injuries. Limbs ripped off, throats slashed, stomachs torn out. But the most peculiar part was that the injuries apparently resembled bite marks. Chances are, of course, that it's all bunk, but it's a fun story nonetheless.

And now for the two weirder ones: deep underground military bases (known by the rather disappointing acronym of DUMBs) and the lost city of Death Valley. This is where things start diving further into the conspiracy theory area than I usually go. DUMBs are a pretty simple concept, and not hard to believe: massive subterranean facilities scattered throughout the United States and operated by the military (and occasionally...other groups, I'll get to that shortly), kept hidden from the public and buried deep underground. The idea is hardly unprecedented, during the Cold War a large number of CBRN-hardened sites were constructed around the US, including the Greenbrier, Raven Rock and Mount Weather installations not far from D.C, the NORAD bunker at Cheyenne Mountain, Colorado, and the numerous launch silos for Atlas, Titan and Minuteman intercontinental ballistic missiles, not to mention the (mostly above-ground) Nike missile defence grid and the bunker at CFB North Bay. Plans were even drawn up for larger sites such as the Deep Underground Support Center (over a kilometer down, capable of housing 200 people for a month or more), as well as a machine to build them, the nuclear subterrene.

A mural at Denver International
The speculation, of course, is that instead of shelving the deep underground complex idea, any number of these bases were constructed and put to use for often nefarious purposes. The most commonly-referenced ones are S-4 (located near Area 51 and a key component of the Bob Lazar saga), the Dulce base not far from the New Mexico town of the same name, and something beneath Denver International Airport. The connecting thread between all of these seems to be the idea that a "shadow government" is hiding something big from the public. At S-4 and Dulce, it's commonly held to be extraterrestrials. S-4 is apparently home to a research branch reverse-engineering alien technology, which is consistent with Area 51's official purpose of classified aircraft development. Dulce is altogether more sinister, hosting a (sometimes tense) cooperation between humans and extraterrestrials of the grey and reptilian persuasion. It's alleged that these aliens are performing hideous experiments on Earth life, including humans, for their unknowable goals. One story even goes into detail on a battle between American special forces (Delta Force/SFOD-D and USAF special operations) and the occupying alien contingent sometime in the late 1970s. As for Denver? Nobody can quite say what's up in Denver, but there is some seriously weird art scattered around the airport, and rumours continue to circulate about tunnel networks beneath it.

The USS Thresher, underway in 1961
And to wrap up, one of my favourites: the mysteries of the Mojave. This one goes from the days of the Gold Rush right up until the present. The first report(s) are the "lost city" supposedly found under Death Valley by a pair of prospectors, who entered a cave only to find themselves wandering into a city quite literally paved with gold, lit by natural-gas torches in the walls, and perhaps most intriguingly, home to heavily-decorated gigantic human skeletons. Of course, no sign of this city has been found since. The other story out of the Mojave that I like is something of a hairball with very little verifiable information, but sounds straight out of a solid adventure novel. The basic allegation is that large areas of California and neighbouring states are resting on top of a vast network of natural caverns connecting to the Pacific Ocean, if not a shelf floating on the Pacific entirely. The most interesting detail claims that a US nuclear submarine (either the USS Scorpion, or the USS Thresher) was not in fact lost in an accident at sea in the Atlantic, but vanished into the caves! This source confuses things by not specifying which boat was lost, and further muddies the waters by claiming Howard Hughes was instrumental in the cover-up "search." Of course, this is mixing up Hughes' known involvement in Project AZORIAN (AKA Project Juliet), a CIA-funded attempt to recover the Soviet submarine K-129 under the guise of mining deep-sea manganese nodules, but would still be a great premise for a fictional account.

Oh yeah, and one last thing, an update on me: no, I didn't lose my head in Nahanni Valley, or vanish mysteriously into the woods, I've been here same as always but horribly unmotivated. So I decided to polish up this draft a bit and finish it off in an attempt to get back to writing.