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.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Missing Persons

I recently picked up Missing 411, David Paulides' fascinating look into inexplicable disappearances in wilderness areas. And I really do mean inexplicable. Two and three year old kids found miles from where they were last seen, missing clothing but in perfect health. People who disappear and are later recovered, in the form of bone fragments. Weird associations with water, missing or torn clothes and missing memories. I could probably go into a full article on these, but it'd be a waste of time. What I will do is bring up a few of my own ideas on the subject.
Missing persons clusters in nat'l parks

First off, there's got to be some kind of correlation between all these cases. Dozens of people disappearing in wild areas with this much similarity between events can't be a coincidence. The level of parity between all these cases is amazing, right down to what witnesses say and where people (or bodies) are found. But according to Paulides, this entire phenomenon is being ignored by law enforcement except in some highly unusual cases, which suggests that either someone somewhere knows what's going on, or it's being purposefully ignored. Either of those is a creepy thought. The books also mention how difficult it was to get any kind of information on these cases from the National Parks Service, which reinforces the theory that someone knows what's happening.

So, if we accept that this is happening, the obvious question is who or what is behind it. That's the question that fascinates me, and that I can't even begin to theorize on. Bigfoot is definitely a candidate, but the event locations really don't fit with the classic distribution of the sasquatch. The big clusters are in and around national parks, specifically Yosemite and Great Smoky Mountains. Yosemite could definitely house a small undetected hominid population, but the Great Smoky Mountains are much too far east to be what I'd consider Bigfoot territory. The Carolinas and Tennessee both seem to have more of an affinity for the skunk ape. So where does that leave us? There's a few possibilities. One is that it's somehow human activity. This one is both the most and least likely. On one hand, humans do some strange things, and a national park would be a good place for a criminal to hide. On the other though, you've got the areas in question and the state of what remains are found. Often it's just bone fragments. No man could reduce a body to a fine enough state that only long bones, teeth and skull pieces are ever found.

Dennis Martin, age six
The strangest of these cases, and the one that most suggests something strange going on to me is the disappearance of  Dennis Martin in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. On June 14, 1969, Dennis Martin was playing hide-and-seek with his family in an area known as Spence Field. He was last seen hiding behind some brush. Once the Martin family realized that Dennis was missing, they immediately went to the NPS for assistance in searching for him. Despite an extensive search spanning a period of months, no sign of Martin was ever found.

The disturbing twist to this case is what was reported by the Key family in a nearby area of the park, only hours after Dennis went missing. The Keys were hiking in a region of the park called Cades Cove, approximately six miles from Spence Field. They'd gone to this area hoping to see a bear, but what they actually saw was significantly more unusual. Harold Key, the father, reports hearing a bloodcurdling scream. His son then saw movement behind a bush. Key at the time believed it to be a bear, but later said it was in fact a man, apparently carrying something slung over his shoulder.

During the course of the search, Army special forces troops arrived in the park, ostensibly to assist in the search for Martin. However, Paulides later interviewed a Mr. Dwight McCarter, author of a book concerning missing persons in the Great Smoky Mountains, who claims that the Green Berets on-site communicated very little with NPS employees and civilian searchers. In addition, they were apparently armed. What could they be expecting?

In a final, morbid twist to the Martin case, the lead FBI agent, Jim Rike, later committed suicide. His reasons for this are unknown.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hairy Homonids

A still from the Patterson film.
It was bound to come up eventually: Bigfoot. Or more specifically, a load of explanations for various types of hairy bipeds spotted around the world. Heavily inspired by Loren Coleman's wonderful book The Field Guide To Bigfoot And Other Mystery Primates, which I got for Christmas and have probably read cover-to-cover three times already. The main aspect that a lot of researchers seem to miss is the blatantly obvious conclusion that this phenomenon can't be accounted for by a single species! Anyone seriously looking into these reports will see a number of clearly delineated types of being. In no particular order, the classifications I use (derived and simplified from Coleman's) are: giant anthropod, primitive hominid or wildman, mystery simian, and one that might be a bit of a cop-out, uncategorized or not fitting with any of the above. I'll limit each type entry to one or two regional holotypes and an analysis of their theorized origin and behaviour.

A possible photo of Bigfoot.
Might as well start with the one most everybody has heard of: North America's Sasquatch. Better known as Bigfoot. With a range stretching from southern Alaska to northern California, and sightings concentrated from British Columbia through to Washington, this is probably the most-spotted entry on the list. Holotype entry is, of course, the creature filmed by Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin at the Klamath River in northern California. The general description reported in sightings of the Sasquatch (or giant anthropod) are strikingly similar. Witnesses describe an ape-like creature 7-10 feet tall, covered in a shaggy coat of brown or reddish brown hair, with a cone-shaped head and a sloped, flat face. The usual habitat for the Sasquatch is the dense forests of the Pacific Northwest, with isolated populations east into Utah and Colorado. They tend to prefer high-altitude forests. Many researchers speculate that the Sasquatch is a relative of Gigantopithecus, a species of giant ape that lived in south-central Asia until approximately 300,000 years ago. This is quite plausible, as Gigantopithecus blackii existed in China at the same time a land bridge between Asia and North America was passable. I, personally, liked Paranthropus boisei, a robust Australopithecine, before learning that no specimens have been found outside of Africa, and none stand above 4'7" tall.

A classical European wudewasa.
Up next is the wildman, or primitive hominid. Commonly known in Europe as woodwoses, woodhouses and similar, derived from the Old English wudewasa, or forest-dweller (interpreted, of course. The direct translation is roughly equivalent to woods-liver). Further east, the people of the Caucasus mountains know them as almas or almasty. A number of reports also come from Southeast Asia and the Indo-Malayan archipelago.  Names in this region are, of course, far more varied, and the specimens reported are often much smaller than a European wudewasa or almasty. The two holotypical examples are oddly, both scientifically named, albeit not recognized. The woodhouse or wildman was named Homo ferus by Carl von LinnĂ© (AKA Carlus Linnaeus) in 1735. The other commonly reported type (moreso in Southeast Asia) is referred to by the Sumatrans as the orang-pendak, essentially a pygmy. This lines up quite well with a new hominid found on the island of Flores, commonly called a Hobbit, Homo floresiensis. Both holotypes seem to describe a relict population of a primitive human species. The European wudewasa and almasty seem to describe something similar to H. erectus or H. heidelbergensis. The almasty in particular appears to be a form of Neanderthaloid. Similar specimens have been described in Southeast Asia, particularly Vietnam, Burma and Cambodia. However, further south, the hairy pygmy, orang-pendak or H. floreseinsis are more common. The obvious suspect here would be H. floresiensis, as it may have survived until up to 12,000 years ago.

De Loys' Ape
The mystery simian is a bit more complicated. Sightings are primarily restricted to the New World, with scattered reports coming from Africa. Known by a large variety of names including devil monkeys, napes (short for North American apes), skunk apes, boogers, El Mono Grande and Coleman's ape, their range seems to be the southern United States through to Brazil and central South America. Most witnesses report a creature similar in size to known primates, most closely resembling a baboon or chimpanzee. The baboon-like specimens, commonly called Devil Monkeys, tend to have long tails and move by leaping. The chimpanzee type, often known as a skunk ape, walk with a more traditional knuckle walk. The skunk ape type are also associated with a foul odour, often likened to rotting meat or wet dog. There are a number of theories on mystery simians. In places where no monkeys are naturally found, there's speculation that sightings may be escaped chimps. I tend to lean towards the escaped exotic theory for most North American specimens, as a population of baboon or chimpanzee relatives would be difficult to conceal in the heavily-surveyed regions they are commonly spotted in. However, the South American examples, such as De Loys' Ape and El Mono Grande seem much more plausible. A 4-foot spider monkey relative would be quite difficult to find in the vast jungles of South America, and none of the usual problems associated with mystery animals (food supply, habitat, range) would be out of the ordinary. I suspect that as the Amazon continues to be cleared, these will become verified and known to science.

Skull of H. heidelbergensis, a possible giant.
Finally, the cop-out: unclassified or outside the classifications discussed above. This category covers anything from unidentified gigantic anthropods spotted in the Pacific Northwest to aquatic anomalies, so a single holotype won't be named here. The one I find most interesting in this class would be what Coleman refers to as True Giants. True Giants range from 10-15 feet in height, and are often reported as being significantly less robust than the Sasquatch, to the point of being quite lanky. They are, of course, covered in a thick pelt of reddish brown hair. Oddly, however, some reports paint them as being apparently more intelligent than their smaller cousins. True giants have been seen carrying primitive clubs, wearing basic fur clothing, and making sounds that could be a form of language. The range of the true giant seems to have greatly decreased since antiquity. It's commonly believed that the true giants existed almost globally at some point in the past, as almost all cultures have lore of gigantic man-eating homonoids. Most current reports place them as being restricted to isolated regions the world over. Aquatic specimens are also quite interesting, in that their range is again global, and their existence fits quite well with a fascinating theory I've run into a few times, the Aquatic Ape Hypothesis. In essence, the aquatic ape hypothesis theorizes that the root ancestor of the modern human as well as H. neanderthalensis was partially aquatic. A branch of the Hominidae specifically adapted for marine life would explain a large number of mythical beings. Note that I'm not accepting this as much as previous classes, as evidence for the true giant and aquatic homonoid is far rarer and more difficult to verify than that of the more common types. Both are theoretically possible, but strike me as being much less plausible than the above mentioned categories.

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Point Pleasant Phenomena And Other Flying Oddities

I just realized it's been months since I actually did what I meant to with this. Time to fix that. I'm going with a subject I've found really interesting for a long time, the Point Pleasant Phenomena. You may know it as Mothman.

The story of the Point Pleasant Phenomena (I prefer to call it this, because there was more to it than Mothman.) starts right around now, back in 1966 in the small city of Point Pleasant, West Virginia. On the night of November 15, four people driving through an abandoned munitions plant known locally as the TNT Area spotted a bizarre figure in the dark. They would later describe it as a "flying man with glowing red eyes and ten-foot wings." It would be easy at this point to write the incident off as the product of imagination gone wild. But the story is only starting. Sighting reports continued through the week, with reports of the creature terrorizing dogs, flying over houses, and generally harassing everything surrounding the TNT Area. These and other unexplained phenomena kept up for over a year. Connected events include UFOs, encounters with the fabled "Men in Black" detailed here, and the fascinating encounter just prior to the beginning of these events on Highway 77.

The Highway 77 incident is possibly one of the most interesting mysteries I've ever come across. On November 2, 1966, a man driving down the I-77 heading into Point Pleasant was confronted with a strange sight. A large, egg-shaped flying craft descended from the sky, landing near his car. As anyone would do, the man stopped. The craft opened up, and a tall man in an unusual jumpsuit exited it. This figure proceeded to approach the stopped car, and begin what is assumed to be a telepathic exchange. The man identified himself as "Indrid Cold", and asked the driver a short series of questions. What exactly was said is hazy, but once the "conversation" ended, Cold re-entered his craft and left at a high rate of speed. This incident remains relatively unknown outside the unexplained community, and I fully believe it warrants further investigation.

A supposed entity on a bridge, location unknown.
The Point Pleasant phenomena came to a head in late 1967. The sightings tapered off over the summer, but came roaring back in December. On the 15th of December, the Silver Bridge, connecting Point Pleasant to Kanauga, Ohio over the Ohio River, collapsed. This accident cost the lives of 44 people, with an additional 2 never found. That same night, over a dozen unusual lights were spotted above the TNT Area, in addition to a number of Men in Black sightings. There' not much doubt that the Point Pleasant phenomena and the Silver Bridge collapse were related somehow. As for how, that's another matter. I personally think it was some sort of omen.

Believe it or not, this wasn't the first time an avian creature with glowing eyes was seen at the site of a tremendous loss of life, nor would it be the last. Two other incidents seem to relate strongly to this phenomenon, both taking place in Easter Europe, oddly. The headless horrors of the Crimean War, and the Black Bird of Chernobyl.

A flying entity supposedly seen in NYC on 9/11/01.
In April 1986, citizens of the city of Pripyat, Ukraine, reported seeing a creature nearly identical to the descriptions of the Point Pleasant Mothman, a tall, headless winged being. Records of these sightings are somewhat difficult to find for two reasons: one, the wall of silence imposed by the Soviet Union, and two, the catastrophic events of April 26, 1986. Of course everyone is familiar with this event by now, so I'll pare the information down to the barest essentials. On April 26, at 0123 local time, the V.I Lenin Nuclear Power Station, known to all now as Chernobyl, experienced an uncontrolled criticality incident resulting in a core meltdown and breach, caused by a steam explosion. 360,000 people were evacuated following the incident. Among the stories that came to light afterwards is a particularly terrifying one. A number of workers who survived the explosion (only to die of radiation poisoning) reported seeing an enormous black figure flying through the pillars of smoke and steam above the breached reactor. These reports are again difficult/impossible to verify, but they seem as credible to me as anything else.

V.I Lenin Reactor, December 1986.
The creatures of the Crimean War are a different, albeit similar story. The descriptions of it (or  them) are varied, and for obvious reasons, impossible to verify. Some claim it was a headless crow, others immense flesh-eating bats, and still more relate it to Mothman. What's known is that on March 15, year unspecified, a truce was declared between the British and Russian armies. However, a small band of Russian soldiers planned to take advantage of the ceasefire to raid a British encampment at midnight. When the group found themselves approximately halfway between the Russian and British lines, something truly bizarre happened. The skies above them turned pitch black, revealing an immense silhouette that the only survivor would later describe as a massive, headless bird. The leader ordered the rest to keep moving towards the British line, but it seems they'd lost their way and become turned back towards the Russian camp. As they approached, all but one were shot by sentries. At least, this is one version of the story. The other claims that the soldiers were Turks, not Russians, and replaces the single beast with an apparent swarm of bat-like creatures.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Whale Job, Ears and Cold

So the temperature hasn't gotten much above zero since last week, the full skull is sort of on hold. And by that I mean I'm trying to figure out what the hell to do with a foul-smelling chunk of greasy bone for the next 6-8 months. And there's still rebuilding the jaw and filling a few places besides. I did, however, figure out what the two small bits floating around the tub were. I'd assumed they were teeth, but no. Apparently they're tympanic bones, which house the smaller ear bits that you've probably read about in biology class. Sizes vary depending on the species. A blue whale's are roughly the size of your fist. These are about an inch or two long. Asymmetric, which has me wondering if they've been damaged, but from a quick look under peroxide it doesn't look that way. I pulled them out of the ice on the bottom of the tub and soaked them in hot water for a while before dropping them in a plastic thing of 3% hydrogen peroxide.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Whale Job: More Cleaning

This cleaning thing is proving to be really, really not fun. I mean, getting hypothermic the first time I tried to remove the head was more fun than this is. I've been switching the water on it whenever the opportunity comes up, so once every couple days. Starting to be difficult now, as it's nearly November, cold makes the process significantly slower. There's been barely any change in its state since early October on account of it being anywhere from 10°C to -5°C. And snowing. But that's not really relevant. Anyhow, I pulled out the most cohesive bits to scrub today. It was...unpleasant to say the least. On the upside, the braincase is clear, which I was rather concerned about. The downside is that I believe the skull may be spawning an Elder Thing, as it's covered in worm-like protrusions. God, I hope it's an Elder Thing, because otherwise it's some kinda bone maggots, and that's horrifying. The jaw sockets are terrifying as well, infested with whatever the hell the worm things are. What I'm going to do with it...okay, I have honestly no idea at this point. It's a foul-smelling wormy mess of bones that still need to be worked over, degreased and have any remaining flesh removed. And bleaching, but I figure I may just let that go by sunlight. Not like the birds are going to carry it off.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Whale Job, Cleaning

So the ammonia idea was a no-go. Couldn't get enough, and even if I could I'd have needed more. Time for plan B. Extended soaking in water and enzyme-based laundry detergent. Might take a while, but seems to be working so far. But the smell...it's quite literally worse than when I was sawing the thing off in the first place. I choked a few times, and had to get upwind from it.