Tuesday, 30 September 2008

Ghosts Of The Underground: Part Four

Since last I posted about the Underground ghosts, I've gotten myself a new job. One that involves twice daily trips on Underground network, so maybe I shouldn't have started researching this subject!

Anyway, today I bring you the much promised discussion on what might possibly cause the Underground to be such a fertile place for ghost stories.

When compared to similarly aged subterranean transport systems, such as the New York Subway or the Paris Metro, the London Underground is simply in a league of it's own in terms of the amount of ghost stories associated with it.

Well firstly London is a city with history. Those who visit or live in this city can not fail to absorb that sense nor, perhaps, allow their imagination off it's leash for a little while. Add to this the rather oppressive, ancient feelings engendered by traveling upon the aging Underground system and you have a mind on the edge of believing in the impossible. The urban legend that a race of underground cannibals lives in some of the tunnels might seem ludicrous above ground but when you travel deeper and deeper into the labyrinth tunnels of some tube stations you might start to question your scepticism.

So as you can see, the average tube worker and traveler is already primed and ready to interpret anything anomalous in a more romantic, dramatic fashion than they might above ground.

But there is another factor of immense importance, something not often mentioned; infrasound.

Infrasound is sound whose frequency makes it too low to be heard by human ears. But just because your conscious brain does not detect the sounds, it doesn't mean they don't have an affect on your body and mind.

Studies have suggested that such sounds can make people feel awe, fear, anxiety, pressure on their chests, feelings of revulsion and many other startling dramatic emotions. The sounds can cause things to vibrate quite violently and can even cause vibrations in the eye which can create optical illusions. What's more in the documentary I mentioned many posts ago, The Ghosts of The Underground, one scientist took infrasound readings at a few "haunted" spots. You probably won't be surprised to find that he discovered very high levels of infrasound at some of them.

So you're deep under the ground, in a city renowned for it's history (and it's ghosts!) with your body being bombarded with wave after wave of sound which has properties still being discovered. Is it any surprise that the London Underground is a prime ghostly location?

Of course this doesn't adequately explain all the supposed hauntings but I think it cannot be ruled out as being the cause of most of them. Add a couple of factors in and it's easy for a ghostly story to emerge through no deception on the part of the eyewitness.

I don't want to suggest all reports of ghosts are merely illusions. I would love to believe some of the stories were true. But I also see that a lot of so called hauntings are simply badly researched cases of misidentification.

Do not let this turn you away from the magic of London, nor of the mysterious nature of the underground. You never know what you might encounter as you descend hundreds of feet below the ground.

Monday, 29 September 2008

Andrew Crosse - A New Genesis?

In 1836 a sensation ran throughout the land. Had Andrew Crosse, using just an electrical current and a few samples of rock, created a new species of insect; "acarus crossii"? Many protested at the impertinence of a man to claim such a thing, to claim to have the power hitherto held only by God himself. What sort of man was this?

Andrew Crosse was born on the 17th of June 1784 in Somerset. He became fascinated with electricity, and was bright enough (and well off enough) to attend Oxford.

His parents died young leaving him responsible for their estates. In his spare time he began to experiment with electricity and his experiments became quite sophisticated. Some were so grand the villagers near by began to refer to him as 'the thunder and lightning man", some began to grow suspicious of what he was up to in his secluded manor.

But the experiment that drew the most attention was one perform in 1836. During an electrocrystallization experiment (Crosse's favourite type) he observed something odd. A "perfect insect, standing erect on a few bristles which formed its tail" had appeared right in the middle of his experiment and over the next few days they began to move. Within weeks there were hundreds of these insects and they moved around seeking shelter just as you'd expected any normal insect to act.

Crosse happened to mention the incident to some friends and published the results with the London Electrical Society. A local paper picked up the story and it soon spread to the nationals and even to Europe. Just as the press now can barely understand science (their reporting on the LHC was close to criminal in the high level of errors and misinformation, I might make errors but I'm not being paid to write for a national newspapers... they are!) the press then got the story a little mixed up. The people of our great country, in a grand tradition that continues to this day, got things mixed up and the inevitable death threats and outlandish accusations (such as Crosse causing a local crop failure) followed. They accused him of playing God and insulting the beliefs of the Christian nation of Britain. He went into hiding at his manor to avoid further trouble.

Of course Crosse had never claimed to have created life. He in fact attributed the emergence of the insects to a contamination of his experiment with insect eggs. Other later critics agreed with his assessment (although sadly many have not done their research and unfairly join his detractors in accusations of insanity against Crosse, little realising he was the first person to disown himself from the press' claims).

So... Andrew Crosse didn't create life... did he?

I'll leave you with this quote from wikipedia...

Other scientists tried to repeat the experiment. William Henry Weeks took extensive measures to assure a sealed environment for his experiment by placing it inside a bell jar. He obtained the same results as Crosse, but due to the controversy that Crosse's experiment had sparked his work was never published.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Who Am I And What Do I Want?!

Firstly, can I just say thanks to all those who've been here and taken the time to read my posts. It means a lot to me. This post is just a little "disclaimer" to ensue people don't misunderstand what I write. I'll stick this post in the sidebar sometime.

Who am I? I'm an interested observer of the paranormal and chronicler of the unexplained. I come from Folkestone, Kent and live in Greenwich, Greater London, United Kingdom. I was brought up atheist (well I was brought up without belief, there was no atheist agenda behind my upbringing!), went through a Christian stage, followed by a Wiccan stage and final ended up... atheist!

My interest in the paranormal goes back for as far as I can remember. My fascination probably stems from the urban legends and ghost stories my friends and I used to share on the school playground. But I've experienced something that also gives me a personal interest in exploring the weird phenomena that colour our lives.

As a boy who dreamed of being a zoologist when I was younger, you'll find a lot of cryptozoological articles but don't despair, my interests are varied; from unsolved crimes, to swashbuckling adventures through to the supernatural. Hey, I don't even discriminate against UFOs! If it's all cryptozoology on the front page check out my archives and you never know what you'll find.

Now what do I actually believe? When it comes to the unexplained, I'd suggest I'm somewhat agnostic. You could also say I'm a sympathetic sceptic. I'm not going to dismiss stories out of hand, but nor am I going to suddenly declare myself a wholehearted believer in alien abductions, ghosts or in the treasure of the Oak Island Money Pit.

This is a journey that I've undertaken to explore those dark corners of history and of life and hopefully sometimes shine a little light on the matter.

If you are a total sceptic or a true believer in one of the subjects I discuss please do not take offense at anything I say in my posts. I don't know everything and your opinion is just as valid as mine. If you have a different viewpoint or even think I've made a factual error please feel free to leave me a comment. All I ask is that you are polite and understand I do not pretend to be an expert. I am always happy to receive constructive criticism from a polite person. But also don't be surprised to find I will ignore rude posts (but there's no moderation here, so even you're rude you'll get through), the internet is full of rude people who forget they are dealing with a human being. Those people are not welcome here.

Most importantly always remember: I want to believe. I'm not your usual sceptic. I am desperate for there to really be a giant ape wandering the forests of North America, and for the spirits of the dead to still be hanging around their old homes trying to get rid of the new owners, and for there to really be an invisible pink unicorn. But I shall not fall into the trap of allowing my urge to believe to cloud my mind to alternative, logical ideas.

Keep reading, I hope you'll find that my eclectic style of posting will bring things to your attention that you may never have heard of before.

Again thanks for taking the time to check out this blog, I hope you come back soon.

Friday, 26 September 2008

Ghost Ships: The Derelicts Part One

The oceans of the world are still strange places to us, and can cause our mind to imagine allsorts of magical things, be it mermaids or sea serpents or even ghost ships. But when it comes to the oceans there is no need for us to make things up, they already present us plenty of mysteries to keep us going. Sometimes we discover a new creature such as the giant squid or the megamouth shark. Sometimes we discover things we'd thought were lost. That is where the real ghost ships of the world come into play. They are not supernatural entities but ships thought lost or abandoned which suddenly reappear.

The Mary Celeste

The most famous case is, of course, the Mary Celeste. The appearance of this ship with it's crew missing has caused allsorts of myths to be created over the years from a simple man overboard situation turned to tragic farce all the way through to alien abduction. Nevertheless the Mary Celeste was a real ship and I'm fairly sure the explanation for it's fate lies in the real world.

The Mary Celeste was built in Nova Scotia in 1861 and set sail under the name "Amazon". It wasn't an easy beginning with her first captain dying at the start of her maiden voyage and she was involved in a collision in the English Channel. But this was not a "cursed ship" as some claim for she did have some very successful trips following these early set backs.

Pictured as the Amazon

In 1867 she ran aground and had to be salvaged, and in 1869 she was under new American owners and renamed the Mary Celeste.

Her fateful journey began on the 5th of November 1872 when she set sail for Italy with a cargo of commercial alcohol. She was under the command of Captain Benjamin Briggs, with 7 other members of crew and two passengers; the Captain's wife and daughter.

The Dei Gratia, commanded by Captain David Reed Morehous, left New York harbour seven days after the Mary Celeste and so the crew were surprised to catch sight of her on the 4th of December 1872. She was under full sail towards the Strait of Gibraltar but after observing her over two hours it became obvious to the crew of the Dei Gratia that she was drifting.

They boarded her and found her empty and in "a thoroughly wet mess". There was a lot of water between decks and about 1.1m of water in the hold. Of the ships paperwork only the ship's log remained. The lifeboat appeared to have been lowered intentionally and was missing along with most of the navigational equipment. The last log entry was dated November 24 and placed her 100 miles (160 km) west of the Portuguese islands of the Azores. Of the cargo 9 barrels would later be found to be empty. The crew of the Dei Gratia sailed her to Gibraltar and claimed her as salvage. Suggestions of foul play meant there compensation was much less than is should of been.

Myths about the Mary Celeste include:

1) She was found with food on the table untouched (or showing signs of being half eaten), washing hung out to dry or with a cat asleep on top of a locker.
2) Her name is the Marie Celeste
3) That a cutlass was found embedded in a wooden post suggesting a pirate attack.

These things are complete fiction and mainly became well accepted because of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (who always liked to mix fact and fiction in his books).

So what really happened? As I said before there are plenty of theories, check out this site for a rundown of some of them but the most likely one is probably the most fascinating and I'm going to quote from Wikipedia as I think it says it best:

Of the theories consistent with the account given by the crew of the Dei Gratia, the most plausible are based on the barrels of alcohol. Briggs had never hauled such a dangerous cargo before and did not trust it. Nine leaking barrels would have caused a buildup of vapor in the hold. Historian Conrad Byers believed that Captain Briggs ordered the hold to be opened, resulting in a violent rush of fumes and then steam. Believing the ship was about to explode, Briggs ordered everyone into the lifeboat, failing, in his haste, to properly secure it to the ship with a strong towline. The wind picked up and blew the ship away from them. The occupants of the lifeboat either drowned or drifted out to sea to die of hunger, thirst and exposure.
First put forth by the ship's owner, James Winchester, this theory is perhaps the most widely accepted explanation for the disappearance. Even paranormally-inclined writers like Richard Winer and Colin Wilson consider this the most likely solution to the Celeste mystery. A refinement of this theory was proposed in 2005 by German historian Eigel Wiese. At his suggestion, scientists at University College London created a crude reconstruction of the ship's hold to test the theory of the alcohol vapor's ignition. Using butane as the fuel and paper cubes as the barrels, the hold was sealed and the vapor ignited. The force of the explosion blew the hold doors open and shook the scale model, which was about the size of a coffin. Ethanol burns at a relatively low temperature with a flash point of 13°C or 55.4°F. A minimal spark is needed, for example from two metal objects rubbing together. None of the paper cubes was damaged, nor even left with scorch marks. This theory may explain the remaining cargo being found intact and the fracture on the ship's rail, possibly by one of the hold doors. This burning in the hold would have been violent and perhaps enough to scare the crew into lowering the boat, but the flames would not have been hot enough to have left burn marks. A frayed rope trailing in the water behind the ship is suggested to be evidence that the crew remained attached to the ship hoping that the emergency would pass. The ship was abandoned while under full sail and a storm was recorded shortly after. It is possible that the rope to the lifeboat parted because of the force from the ship under full sail. A small boat in a storm would not have fared as well as the Mary Celeste.

Cold flames scaring the crew off the ship followed by a storm which separated their lifeboat from the ship? Sometimes facts are stranger than fiction. Let us spare a moment however to think of the crew of the Mary Celeste. Whatever happened to her, their fate seems certain, all we can hope is that it was quick. The Mary Celeste went on to sail again until she was finally destroyed as part of an insurance scam in the 1880s.

The Baychimo

The Baychimo is another famous case, and I particularly like this one. She was built in Sweden in 1914 and was a steel 1,322 ton cargo steamer. She operated in the Arctic under the Hudson Bay Company. On the 1st of October 1931 she became trapped in pack ice. The crew abandoned her to seek shelter in a nearby town for 2 days before she broke free and the crew returned. On the 8th of October she was caught in pack ice again and most of the crew was airlifted away. But 15 of them decided to wait out the winter with her and built a wooden shelter nearby. On the 24th of November 1931 a powerful storm and blizzard blew up and when it was over there was no sign of the Baychimo leaving the skipper to decide she must have finally sunk in the storm.

A few days later an Inuit hunter informed the crew that he'd seen the Baychimo floating 45 miles away. The men found her stuck in pack ice yet again, boarded her and decided she wouldn't last much longer. They removed the cargo of furs and finally abandoned her for good. Little did they know that her fate was far from settled yet.

Several months past and then she was spotted again, this time 300 miles to the east of her last position. This was one ship who wasn't going to let having no crew get in the way of sailing.

The following year in March she was seen floating close to shore by a man traveling to Nome with his dog sled team. She was seen again not too long after that.

In March 1933 a group of Eskimos boarded her, but before they could think about salvaging her they were trapped on board by a storm and had to remain there for 10 days. At the end of it they abandoned her, glad to have survived with their lives.

In July 1934 a schooner crew boarded her, but not having the necessary equipment to salvage a ship so big they were forced to abandon her.

Still afloat in November 1939, she was boarded by Captain Hugh Polson, wishing to salvage her, but the creeping ice floes intervened and the captain had to abandon her.

Many times after this she was seen from the shore and at sea floating around the seas of Alaska, never successfully salvaged.

In March 1962, she was seen sailing along the Beaufort Sea coast by a group of Eskimos.

In 1969, 38 years after she was first abandoned, she was found stuck in pack ice once more. She was never seen again.

For at least 38 years this ship haunted the coasts of Alaska, always eluding capture thanks to chance. Perhaps she's still out there, sailing ever onwards. I'd like to think she is.

Further Reading

Ghost Ship: The Mysterious True Story of the Mary Celeste and Her Missing Crew - Brian Hicks

Baychimo: Arctic Ghost Ship - Anthony Dalton

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Update: Millionaire Spooked Out Of Mansion By Bankruptcy?

Last Sunday I mentioned the story of Anwar Rashid, who claimed to have been scared out of his mansion by ghosts.

I expressed some... reservations about this case suspecting that there were more likely to be financial motives rather than supernatural ones behind the move. Lo and behold whilst tracing back a search to this site I found this post at the RichardDawkins.net forum which shows Mr Rashid is going through some rather serious financial difficulties.

Was this ghost story simply a face saving measure so he didn't have to admit his problems? Check out that thread it has a more in depth look at his claims.

Summary Of The Ghosts Of The Underground Part Three

Bethnal Green Station

During the Blitz people began to use Bethnal Green Station as an air raid shelter, at first unofficially but eventually the station became sanctioned for such use.

By 1943 the tide against the Axis had begun to turn and the shelter began to only be used after large bombings of Axis territory by the Allies. Why? Because there was a high likelihood that the Axis would retaliate with bombings of London.

On the night of the 1st of March 1943 the British launched a major air raid on Berlin and the press reported this on the 3rd of March 1943. So when the air raid siren sounded at 8:17pm, people were already prepared and began to file into the station in an orderly manner.

At 8:27pm a nearby anti-aircraft battery let loose a salvo of a new type of anti-aircraft rocket. The people at the station had never heard the sound of that sort of rocket before and panic gripped the people still filing into the station causing the crowd to surge forward desperate to seek shelter. One lady, perhaps with a baby in her arms, tripped on the stairs, causing others to fall and before anyone could stop it 300 people were crushed in one small stair well. 174 people would lose their lives in the incident (173 at the scene), 62 of them were children.

This was the worst loss of life ever on the Underground network, and the Government tried their hardest to censor information about it in order not to dampen the spirits of the already distressed citizens of London. A small plaque does now mark the spot.

In 1981 a station manager, John Graham, was working by himself in an office at the station when he began to hear the sounds of children crying softly. The crying grew louder and was joined by female voices which turned into the screams of women. The sounds grew louder and louder for nearly 15 minutes while the station manager attempted to ignore them as they couldn't possibly be real. Eventually he left the office at a run, terrified by the noises.

The office was not far from the ticket hall and when sound tests were done outside the ticket hall they found that the sounds were amplified inside however the sounds couldn't be heard from the office during the test. Given that we have no ability to go back and find out exactly what was going on at the station at the time we'll never know whether the station manager really heard the last screams of the victims of Bethnal Green or if there is a more logical answer.

Aldwych Station

Aldwych tube station is in fact a ghost station! What I mean is, it is one of the many abandoned stations on the tube network. If you want to know more about these relics of the past check out the rather excellent Underground History site. Prior to the closure of the station in 1994 many station staff reported seeing a ghost here.

The station itself is built on the site of the old Royal Strand Theatre, and the female ghost seen wandering the platforms and tunnels is presumed to be that of an actress. The Ghost-Story.co.uk site goes on to add:

A 15 strong camera crew from TV's Most Haunted spent 24 hours at Aldwych station in 2002. Derek Achorah managed to contact a ghost called Margaret, who could be the actress sighted many times before. During the investigation the crew walked through the tunnels in complete darkness. Yvette Fielding thought she saw someone or something in the tunnel. Meanwhile, over another platform, a motion detector was set off, yet nobody was near enough to trigger it.

The idea that the ghost is an actress has no real basis in fact as far as I can see and relies upon the idea that the previous building here was a theatre. It seems to me this ghost may be nothing more than an urban legend (sorry Derek Achorah but I don't hold much hope for your analysis) or a vision caused by other factors which I promised to go into in this post when I signed off my last Ghosts of the Underground post. Oops. Lies. I will do it next time, I promise! For now I've got one word for you: Infrasound.

Ghost Trains

No train system would be complete without a ghost train story. The London Underground manages to keep it's most haunted reputation by not settling for just the one...

South Kensington station - 1928

A passenger arrived at the station on the last westbound train one evening when he was bemused to hear a train whistle coming from the eastbound tunnel... a ghostly train shot past with a man wearing a reefer jacket and peaked cap hanging off the side. He, and the train, disappeared off to the east, never to be seen again. Now exactly how he knew it was a ghost train I don't know but hey speculation is welcome!

Highgate high level station

Highgate high level station was never actually completed and the sidings are now overgrown. Nevertheless local residents claim to occasionally hear the sounds of a steam train puffing down them.

So that's it for this post, I'm trying to keep them short where possible. Part 4 will hopefully conclude our visit to the darkest depths of London.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Spring Heeled Jack At The London Word

I'd just sat down to research a post about Spring Heeled Jack when I spotted in my blog reader a post today from Neil Arnold at the London Word on the subject. So instead of attempting to compete with a published writer, I'd suggest you just go and read his fascinating article.

In the meantime I'll go back to the drawing board and think up a new subject for tomorrow...

Focus On: The Lost Cosmonauts Of The Soviet Union

We all know about the oft-quoted conspiracy theory that suggests NASA faked the moon landings. It's been repeated so often that it actually has quite a few believers now. But there's another rumour from the space race that flies under most peoples radar; did the Soviet Union cover up the deaths in space of several cosmonauts?

Our story begins with two Italian brothers, Achille and Giovanni Judica-Cordiglia. They were extremely intelligent men with a passion for radio who grew fascinated with space travel. When the Soviets first launched Sputnik I, they were so proud of their achievement that they published the radio frequencies of the instrumentation for all to hear. Achille and Giovanni quickly set up some radio equipment and listened in. They curiosity was fueled by this success and during the next few Soviet and American launches they began to enhance their equipment and even managed to pick up the radio transmitted heartbeat of Laika, the unfortunate dog on board Sputnik II. They set up a small radio observatory in an abandoned bunker, which they named Torre Bert, and achieved a small measure of local fame. Their success was not just down to their own abilities, their home city was Turin and northern Italy was the only part of Western Europe under the Soviets orbital path. They were the perfect people, in the perfect place, to capture some of the most famous radio broadcasts in history.

On the 28th of November 1960 things took a turn into both the bizarre and, possibly, the tragic. The brothers heard that a West German observatory (the Bochum space observatory) was reporting weird signals coming over a Soviet frequency. They quickly listened in. Hearing nothing they were about to give up when they were astonished to hear an SOS signal being sent by Morse code. Worse, by their Doppler calculations this was not from a craft in orbit but one moving away from the Earth. The signals gradually faded and disappeared. Did the brothers pick up a signal from a cosmonaut lost in space?

This story got them a job working as the space experts for a nearby radio station. On the 2nd of February 1961 the brothers were listening for any signs of activity on Soviet frequencies, when they picked up an unusual series of sounds. The brothers thought it sounded like a man suffocating and quickly took the recording to Professor Achille Dogliotti, a local cardiologist.

“I could quite clearly distinguish the clear sounds of forced, panting human breath,” said Dogliotti.

There was no reports of a Soviet launch at that time, although a few sources do state that a couple of days later the Soviets confirmed there had been an unmanned space
launch which had failed. I haven't found any confirmation of this as yet.

After this experience the brothers had a far happier successful radio capture; they caught the transmissions of Yuri Gagarin orbiting the Earth on the first, official, manned spaceflight. Thanks to a tip off they were aware of the Soviet success well before most in the West. But this happy time was not to last...

On the 19th of May 1961, they picked up a transmission that was the clearest evidence they had to date of problems with the Soviet space program... as they listened they heard a female voice saying in Russian:

“Come in… come in… come in… Listen! Come in! Talk to me! I am hot! I am hot! Come in! What? Forty-five? What? Fifty? Yes. Yes, yes, breathing. Oxygen, oxygen… I am hot. This… isn’t this dangerous?

Transmission begins now. Forty-one. Yes, I feel hot. I feel hot, it’s all… it’s all hot. I can see a flame! I can see a flame! I can see a flame! Thirty-two… thirty-two. Am I going to crash? Yes, yes I feel hot… I am listening, I feel hot, I will re-enter. I’m hot!”

The signal cut off.

Sound clips of this and some of the other recordings can be found in the transcript of a Skeptoid podcast on the story

The brothers couldn't speak Russian but understood the urgency in this ladies voice so were not surprised when their sister offered the above translation.

Not more than a few days later they picked up a further short piece of transmission:

“Conditions growing worse, why don’t you answer?”

That would be the last such recording they reported. They went on to have success in capturing transmissions of the first astronaut in space and further adventures which are all recorded in a well written Fortean Times article.

So, did the brothers really pick up the cries for help from cosmonauts in distress? Would the Soviets really be able to cover up such failures even after the Soviet Union fell?

Well we do know that the Soviets did cover up a lot of problems with the space program, including fatalities on the ground and going so far as to airbrush people out of some official photos. You can see more about that over at The Lost Cosmonauts. So we can safely assume that if such accidents did occur the Soviets would have done they darndest to cover them up, especially in the competitive atmosphere of the Cold War and the space race. However would we really not have heard about these from the post Soviet Russia? There have been suggestions by some former cosmonauts of fatalities in space but nothing concrete.

The brothers increasing fame could have lead them to feel a need to keep satisfying their friends, families and local peoples hunger for more information. Could this have lead them to make up these stories? I think such speculation might be unfair, given their obvious achievements and abilities.

As time passes it will become more difficult to discern the truth. Already many involved in the space program at that time are dead, and the veil of secrecy can only grow stronger.

I truly hope the brothers did make it up. For there could be few worse ways to die than to burn up in our atmosphere or, worse still, to drift, lost and alone further and further away from Earth desperately, but hopelessly typing S-O-S until you fall into an eternal sleep.

Yes, let us hope they are lying because if they are not then the Soviet Union has a few more bloody secrets still left to reveal.

EDIT: Interesting piece debunking the brothers claims here, as shared by "Anonymous" in the comments.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008

Police Chase Ghost Car?

I just can't resist posting this old clip. The effect at the end of the video is not just convincing but rather spooky.

The Ghost Car - The most amazing home videos are here

If you check the video again you'll see the fence is actually rather messed up suggesting he did hit it, and managed to slip underneath with the fence springing back into place before the cop pulls up in front of it. No ghost here, just a criminal getting a lucky break!

But still... it's a rather awesome chance happening.

Big Cats In Britain Part One: The Surrey Puma

The most celebrated case of an alien big cat (alien in the sense of ecologically alien!) in Britain is, of course, the Surrey Puma. This is the case that set the public imagination aflame and brought the stories of big cats roaming the countryside to the attention of the nation.

But, amazingly, the stories of a puma (and for the sake of brevity I'll continue to refer to it as such throughout, even if it may not be a puma!!) in the area go way back! For a rather impressively researched (if sometimes factually wrong as you may notice after reading my first sighting summary) timeline check out this page.

The first known sighting occurred in the late 18th Century by the famous William Cobbett. In an entry dated 27th October 1825 from his book "Rural Rides" he writes:

I showed him an old elm-tree which was hollow even then, into which I, when a very little boy, once saw a cat go, that was as big as a middle-sized spaniel dog, for relating which I got a great scolding, for standing to which I, at last, got a beating; but stand to which I still did. I have since many times repeated it; and I would take my oath of it to this day. When in New Brunswick I saw the great wild grey cat, which is there called a Lucifee ; and it seemed to me to be just such a cat as I had seen at Waverley.
It's possible this was a large house cat or even a member of some small surviving colony of European Wildcat, however Mr Cobbett was a very well traveled man which makes his testimony interesting, at the very least. A Lucifee by the way is probably a Canadian Lynx and there does happen to be a European Lynx so it's possible that such an animal might have made it's way to Britain through means unknown.

The next possible report of some anamolous activity can be found in a letter in the Field Magazine published 19th March 1938. Sent in by Irene Roberts of Lightwater, Neil Arnold of Kent Big Cat Research reports it thus:

an Irene Roberts wrote a letter to The Field magazine, to speak of the strange cries she was hearing outside her bedroom window of a night. Some of the cries, which she heard during the early hours of one July day, in 1937, were described as, “…of peculiar intensity, expressing, it seemed, mortal fear and physical pain”. However, Irene seemed quite knowledgeable of the sounds made by foxes or a rabbit being killed, but attributed these cries as from an unknown animal.
It was in the fifties that the sightings and reports of a big cat in the Surrey area really started to heat up.

In 1955 a lady reported seeing a big cat scurrying away from a dead calf in Abinger Hammer. In 1959 there were several reports, including to the police, of large cats around Surrey and the surrounding counties. One described it as a "lion".

In 1961 a "black bear" is seen near Croham Hurst Golf Club by some golfers. Is this the first big black cat sighting linked with the Surrey Puma?

Over the following few years the cases sky rocketed, with water board employees, motorists and road workers all describing the same sort of creature. Between 1964 and 1966 there are 362 reports of big cats submitted to the police who start to take the stories seriously. One retired police photographer takes a picture of what some experts said was a puma, although the people at London Zoo disagreed. Another, PC. Bill Cooper of Surrey Police manages to get some casts of paw prints while investigating a big cat report at Stileman's Racing Stables. Whilst London Zoo experts do recognise it as a puma print, it is a third bigger than the usual puma footprint.

The reports continued into the seventies despite a report from a farmer that he'd shot a puma. Police Inspector Eric Bourn says he saw a puma like cat in 1970 and described it as ginger. His colleague however said it was black!

Reports remained constant through the eighties and nineties. In 1995 Steve Ashcroft, a policeman from Bookham, reported a sighting of a puma chasing a roe deer by St Teresa's school.

The noughties have seen a revival in sightings of both sandy coloured pumas and more ominous black cats. There is a high level of consistency in the reports placing the animals at around about the size of a ladbrador.

So what could be causing these sightings? Well the most obvious answer (and the one I believe covers many sightings) is that these are misidentified domestic cats and dogs. I don't want to be too sceptical but I find human error should always be the first answer one looks for in such things. I myself have seen cats in the distance who look huge but turn out to be nothing more than a rather gorgeous domestic cat. So I know how easy it is to misidentify things.

But I also do not believe that this solution covers every case! I think (ok... I hope!) that there might be a big cat population in this country and that a particular group have taken a liking to the Surrey area. People can let their imagination get away from them but not so many people over so many years.

Some, such as Nick Redfern in Three Men Seeking Monsters suggest a supernatural origin for the sightings linking big cat sightings with every other cryptid and supernatural being on these isles. Other more sceptical people ascribe all the sightings to misidentification, something that, in my opinion, stretches believability even more than the supernatural idea.

There really isn't anyway that the non existence of this creature can be conclusively proven, so until a body shows up the arguments between the true believers and the sceptics will continue to rage on.

I'm sure a few of you, at least, are thinking this is all madness. Of course there can't be any alien big cats wandering the British countryside! Well I wouldn't be too sure... take a look at this page which has a rather long list of captures and remains of alien big cats in the United Kingdom. So who knows, the Surrey Puma may well be out there, crouching in the darkness planning it's next kill.

If you want to see a map of the sightings check out this BBC Southern Counties page.

Further Reading

Big Cats Loose in Britain - Marcus Matthews

Mystery Big Cats - Merrily Harpur

The Surrey Puma: The Natural and Unnatural History of Britain's First Alien Big Cat - Roman Ilmar Golicz

Monday, 22 September 2008

Ghosts That Go!: A Summary Of The Ghosts Of The Underground Part Two

Elephant and Castle

Often, after some late night, drunken bowling in the Elephant and Castle shopping centre, I've caught a late train back home from Elephant and Castle. But maybe I should be pleased I have never stayed so late as to need to take the last train...

Stories say that on the last Bakerloo line train each night the ghost of a girl passes from one end of the train to the other before disappearing when she reaches the drivers cab.

Eyewitness testimony from h2g2
"'Twas around six of the evening at a Bakerloo line Underground Station - about a week ago. I was in pursuit of my duties as an employee of London Underground (Northern Line - and I should apologise to all who are condemned to this line - not my fault Really. Heh! Heh!)

So I join the train at the terminus at Elephant and Castle and walk forward to the front of the train with a view to travelling with the driver. At this point the driver has not arrived so I put my bag down and move to the rear door to wait for him. While I am waiting a girl gets into the carraige - she walks straight through the carriage and I have to move aside making some muttered apology - I sort of have to do this since I was in uniform!

A minute or so later the driver turns up, and we move toward the front of the train. I notice that the girl is not in the carriage and this is a rather immediate cause for concern - she could not have left the train without passing me - I had full view of the carraige and platform at the time. My reaction was to inform the driver - the only place she could have gone was to have walked down the tunnel - not really what we want! The driver's response was unusual: 'Oh, her. We hear about her all the time - she's even been in the papers.'

Lovely - my first real ghost is a media celebrity, - and, it must be said, very, very boring indeed."
After the station has closed employees have reported hearing the footfalls of a runner and tapping in the elevators.

Finally there is a rather spooky Bakerloo line urban myth. On northbound trains (i.e. those starting at Elephant and Castle) you might sometimes see the reflection of someone sitting next you, when nobody is.

So what have we learnt from this? Never, ever take the last train from Elephant and Castle and it's best to travel in groups on northbound Bakerloo trains ;)

Covent Garden

This is one of the more famous cases. I don't know whether you've ever been to visit the station at Covent Garden but it is a very old fashioned place where it doesn't take much to feel like you've been transported back a hundred years. One piece of advice to the wise, never use the stairs!! They just go round and round forever. I once stupidly decided to as the queue for the lift was huge and I'm sure I encountered some lost souls sitting on the steps halfway up who'd started the journey sometime in the late eighties and were still trying to get up to the top. I think this might be one possible explanation for ghosts at the station... they don't disappear they just never make it to the top of the stairs!!

There is a very good article on the hauntings here at Ghost-Story.co.uk including some eyewitness testimony.

The interesting thing about this haunting is that the sightings are very consistent in their detail across several people and even the fact that the name supposedly heard spoken by the ghost turned out to be the name of an actor, William Terriss, who not only bore an amazing resemblance to the ghost but who used to frequent the bakery on the site many years ago.

Northern Line

Now comes a compelling case. In 1984 Paul Fisher was training to be a manager on the Underground. As part of his training he had to carry out a series of every day tasks for various jobs on the system. One of these jobs was track walking on his own towards Stockwell. On his way through the tunnel he encountered a workman holding an old oil lamp. They exchanged pleasantries and Fisher stopped for a second to inquire after the lamp, which was a tad old fashioned. The man just said he preferred an oil lamp, and Fisher said goodbye and finished his walk.

At the end he quickly informed the relevant people that he was out of the tunnel, and in passing mentioned he'd had a nice chat with a guy down there. They were confused, no one else should of been down there. They quickly organised a search party as it was now getting close to service needing to restart for the day and they couldn't do that if there was still a man in the tunnel. The search overran as no man could be found, much to the inconvenience of the traveling public and Fisher got called before his trainer to explain himself.

His trainer thought he was playing a prank as, the trainer went on to say, there's a story of the ghost of a worker who died in that tunnel (called South Island Place). Fisher was a little put off by this... he'd never heard that story before!

In the 1950s a worker was killed there when he failed to hear an oncoming train. The driver of the train reported he was holding a tilly lamp at the moment of the collision. Creepy.

Next time I return to this subject I'll be asking what makes the London Underground the most haunted transport network in the world. Let me just say I've been doing some research and I can barely find any ghosts stories on the New York Subway or the Paris Metro. What makes the London Underground so different?? I've found a few good theories including one scientific theory which is absolutely fascinating.

P.S. if you do know any ghost stories from the New York Subway, Paris Metro or any other subterranean transport systems please let me know.

Further Reading

Haunted London Underground - David Brandon and Alan Brooke

Sunday, 21 September 2008

News; Millionaire "Spooked Out Of Home"

Anwar Rashid claims to have been forced to stop paying his mortgage after eight months of living with ghosts.

He and his wife Nabila, 25, moved into Clifton Hall - which dates back to the Norman conquest - with their daughters, aged seven, five and three, and 18-month-old son.

Mr Rashid said: "I fell for its beauty but behind the facade it is haunted...

"The ghosts didn't want us to be there and we could not fight them because we couldn't see them."

He said the paranormal experiences began on the day they moved in, ranging from tapping on the wall and unexplained voices to ghostly presences taking the forms of their children.

Mr Rashid added: "When we found red blood spots on the baby's quilt, that was the day my wife said she'd had enough. We didn't even stay that night."

Even paranormal experts were unable to solve the problem.

The family left in August 2007 and Mr Rashid, who now lives in Wollaton, stopped paying the mortgage in January. The Yorkshire Bank finally reclaimed the hall on Thursday.

He said: "When people used to tell me about ghosts, I would never believe them and would say 'whatever'.

"But I would have to tell any new owner that it was haunted having experienced it."

An interesting story but we must remember that we have tough times economically at the moment and it wouldn't be the first time a ghost had been used as a convenient excuse to cut loses.

Focus On: The Ghostly Black Dogs of Britain

The idea of big cats wandering the wilderness of Britain enthralls me and, Dear Reader, you can rest assured that I shall be bringing that topic up regularly. But before I do we need to look into a related series of stories from the folklore and history of this country, ones I'd hope anybody with a little historical knowledge of Britain will have at least heard of: the Ghostly Black Dogs. Perhaps some of the answers to the incidents of large black cats here in Britain lie with this phenomenon.

Stories of large, supernatural black dogs are worryingly common around the United Kingdom. I first became aware of them when I was quite young visiting Leeds Castle in Kent when, as I was being dragged around the worlds only dog collar museum, someone told me about the Ghost Dog of Leeds Castle

The stories range from the Channel Islands, through the south and Wales and up to Lancashire and Yorkshire. The dogs have many names be it the infamous Black Shuck in East Anglia or the Tchian d'Bouôlé (Black Dog of Bouley) in Jersey. But some things are common across most of the stories; they are generally much larger than your average dog, jet black with glowing eyes (usually red). And, worst of all, they are generally considered to be evil (a few benevolent black dog stories are around).

The first recorded account of black dogs appears in the ‘Anglo-Saxon Chronicle’ in 1127.

" Let no-one be surprised at the truth of what we are about to relate, for it was common knowledge throughout the whole country that immeddaitely after his arrival [Abbot Henry of Poitou at Abbey of Peterborough] - it was the Sunday when they sing Exurge Quare o, D - many men both saw and heard a great number of huntsmen hunting. The huntsmen were black, huge and hideous, and rode on black horses and on black he-goats and their hounds were jet black with eyes like saucers and horrible. This was seen in the very deer park of the town of Peterborough and in all the woods that stretch from that same town to Stamford, and in the night the monks heard them sounding and winding their horns. Relaible witnesses who kept watch in the night declared that there might well have been as many as twenty or thirty of them winding their horns as near they could tell. This was seen and heard from the time of his arrival all through Lent and right up to Easter."

Picture is taken from the back cover of The Hamlyn Book of Ghosts in fact and fiction' by Daniel Farson (1978).

Black Shuck is by far the most famous example of this folkloric creature. The legend goes back as far as the Vikings but he shall always be infamous for one particular incident.

The story goes thus; On the 4th of August, 1577 a service at St Mary's Church in Bungay, Suffolk was interrupted when Black Shuck crashed through the church doors during a thunderstorm. He tore through the congregation, violently killing two people and leaving one injured. He fled out the north door leaving large black scorch marks that can still be seen today. He headed to the nearby village of Blythburgh and after scaring the congregation of the Holy Trinity Church he left again marking the doors in a similar fashion to those in Bungay. Accounts seemed confused over the doors and the deaths and over which church they occurred at, but one of the churches (Blythburgh if my sources are correct) still shows the scars on it's door.

A more sober account states that at least at Blythburgh a great storm brought down the steeple, which fell into the church and damaged the font on that date. Local superstition may have filled in the much needed Devil Dog to explain why such misfortune should affect a church. If lightening struck both churches on the same day during services, you could see why the superstitious congregations may have felt it to be the work of the devil rather than an act of God.

One interesting correlation between most of the dogs is their association with marshes: Black Shuck was considered to be a Devil Dog of the marshes and other local names for such apparitions suggest marsh links: Yeth, a southern name, means heath while Wish, as in the southern name of Wish Hounds, is a Sussex word for marsh. Either there is an original story from which each local story was born regarding marshes, or because of the fact these apparitions were supposedly found out in the wilderness then it's just a coincidence. Of course there is always the possibility that there really are giant black dogs stalking the marshlands of the south east. Beware Romney Marsh dwellers!!

Black dogs were usually encountered by travelers, on roadsides and other trails which must of been quite the sight! Just imagine walking along a dark, muddy road when out of the gloom comes first a pair of glowing red eyes and then a giant, snarling black dog attached to them. You see it's muscles tensing as it prepares to pounce. What would you do? Most of the stories do not end in immediate violence or death but suggest the black dog to be a harbinger of doom. The folklore was quite clear that seeing him meant it was highly likely that either you, or someone close, were not long for this world.

If you think these stories are just folkloric tales from the post, you'd be quite wrong. People have been reporting seeing these creatures up until very recently. The following stories are taken from: Apparitions Of Black Dogs

Here is a case which was collected by Miles (1908) during an investigation of strange animal apparitions which had been reported in a lane in Laburnham Villa, a village situated approximately halfway between London and Bristol. The apparitions were believed to be the spirit of a local farmer who had hung himself in an outhouse about a century earlier. One of the villagers gave the following account:

" In the beginning of January, 1905, about half-past seven in the evening, I was walking up from the Halfway [a local inn]. I suddenly saw an animal that seemed to be like a large, black dog appear quite suddenly out of the hedge and run across the road quite close in front of me ; I thought it was the dog belonging to the curate. I was just going to call it to send it home, when it suddenly changed its shape, and turned into a black donkey standing on its hind legs. This creature had two glowing eyes, which appeared to me to be almost as big as saucers. I looked at it in astonishment for a minute or so, when it suddenly vanished. After that I hurried home, for the sight of this creature with the large shining eyes gave me a shock. The evening was a light one for the time of year." (Miles, 1908, p.259).

And within our lifetimes... well not mine but you know what I mean!!

Here is an account of an experience that I had as a small child, aged probably 3-5 years, when I was living in Spalding in Lincolnshire, England. I wrote this account as part of a school topic book when I was aged 9-10 years of age.

"The year was about 1974. I had been in bed a couple of hours. I awoke to hear a patter of feet. I looked up thinking it was my dog, but to my terror I saw a massive black animal probably with horns, but perhaps ears, galloping along the landing towards my bedroom. I tried to scream but I found it impossible. The creatures eyes were bright yellow and as big as saucers. The animal got to my bedroom door and then vanished as quick as it has appeared. I then managed to scream and my mum came in to calm me down. She said it was a reflection of car headlights what I thought was a ghost. I believed this until a few years later when I was reading a local paper which had an article about a haunted council house which was inhabited by a poltergeist. A variety of objects were hurled at the family's baby child. The father claimed that a black dog rushed at him and then disappeared. He also claimed that a black goat had been seen running around the house. I also thought I saw a ghostly black goat on the landing of my old house. After reading this article I was convinced that what I thought had happened a few years back had most probably happened."

Although it is difficult for me to recall a visual image of the 'apparition', I estimate that the animal was 2.5-3.0 feet high; its fur was standing on end and it seemed to be snarling or at least it was baring its teeth. It was this experience that stimulated my interest in parapsychology and the paranormal. An account of the effects that this experience has had upon my life was published in the Exceptional Human Experiences (EHE) journal and the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research in 2000.

I do think that whatever is responsible for this phenomena, be it psychological or supernatural, must be linked to reports of Shadow Men, and the story above has similarities with my own experiences.

So briefly, what are some of the proposed explanations?

Well of course these could be the ghosts of dogs that had died, but why they would come back in such a form is not immediately obvious.

Some think they might be "projections", i.e. "real" apparitions projected from a persons mind. Which is all fine except that is creating a whole new scientific law.

Others suggest dogs that have been "possessed" might explain the phenomena, but that doesn't cover the weird ghostly way they come and go nor explain the whole possession thing.

It's suggested that these are stories told to children to keep them away from roads at night or told by workers in graveyards (where the dogs often appear) to keep grave robbers at bay.

Hypnagogia (waking sleep) is cited as a possible explanation, although this does not really explain sightings made by more than one person.

A final explanation could be that these are actually large black cats (as in big cats not just oversized moggies!) who may have been misidentified as black dogs.

Personally I think it might be a mixture of explanations depending on the circumstances, some from above and some we haven't discussed. Whatever the cause it is certainly an interesting phenomenon... and not one now limited to just our countries... reports have been received from as far away as Brazil and the USA. So whatever is causing this it is a universal thing rather than merely a cultural one.

If you do happen to find yourself alone on a dark British country road at some point in the future and you hear a dog barking in the distance, maybe you might want to pick up your pace... otherwise you might find yourself getting up close and personal with Black Shuck himself...

Further Reading

Three Men Seeking Monsters - Nick Redfern - An attempt to explain... well everything! It's a fun road trip around Britain during which a theory forms that may well connect the black dogs with lake monsters, bigfoot, ufos and the fairy people. Or they may just have been drunk at the time. Whatever the case it's a great read.

Explore Phantom Black Dogs - Robert Nigel Trubshaw

Ghostly Black Dogs

Saturday, 20 September 2008

Focus On: Gef The Talking Mongoose

Gef the talking mongoose is another story I once read about in the many weird and wonderful books I somehow accumulated as a child. On a sidenote I really wish I knew what had happened to those...

I don't think I could tell the story better than the following well researched and well written site so I suggest you head on over to Gef: The Eighth Wonder Of The World and read all about this mysterious little creature. But I will "summarise" in my own very long winded fashion!

Gef made his first known appearance in September 1931 on the Isle of Mann in the home of James, Margaret, and daughter Voirrey Irving (13). The first sign of his existence was a scratching sound wall which they, sensibly, thought might be rats in the wall. But soon it began to demonstrate different qualities, making weird sounds before mimicing sounds made by James Irvine. Over time Mr Irvine taught him to speak using the repetition of nursery rhymes.

He introduced himself as Gef, a mongoose from New Delhi, India, who was born in 1852. All three family members caught glimpses of the ever elusive Gef but the only person to ever see him fully was Voirrey who described him as the size of a small rat with yellowish fur and a large bushy tail.

Could Gef be a yellow mongoose as shown to the left? Doubtful as the yellow mongoose comes from southern Africa... and Gef didn't really resemble any known mongoose from India.

Gef was fairly pleasant to the Irvings, especially to James and Voirrey. But he did have a very variable attitude, a lot like a poltergeist or a teenage girl!, and was sometimes aggressive towards Mrs Irving. She was once returning home when someone began throwing stones at her.

"Is that you, Gef?" she called out. "Yes, Maggie the witch woman, the Zulu Woman, the Honolulu woman!" taunted the impertinent mongoose.
He wasn't exactly shy, nor humble, and described himself often including the following little dittys:

"an extra extra clever mongoose",
an "earthbound spirit",
"a ghost in the form of a weasel",
and last, but not least, "I am a freak. I have hands and I have feet, and if you saw me you'd faint, you'd be petrified, mummified, turned into stone or a pillar of salt!"

Word got around the island about what was going on and Voirrey was teased about the subject at school. Soon the mainland press had become involved and investigators headed over to the island to see if they couldn't find out a little bit more about the subject.

Sadly Gef was known for his elusiveness and many times wouldn't even make himself known in anyone else's presence. Hair samples were obtained but turned out to be from the family pet, a dog named Mona, and a paw prints were shown to come from no known mammal... except some might be a dog. And finally investigations into his voice seemed to indicate human sounds and Voirrey never seemed too far away whenever his voice was manifested.

Personally I think that the whole incident was a child's prank that got out of Voirrey's hands when her father not only fell for it completely but put the word out to everyone he could about his amazing house guest. Voirrey still maintains Gef was real but indicates that it might have been better if he'd just left them alone.

But here's some interesting little tidbits:

The Irvings left their home in 1937, reportedly having to sell the farm at a loss because it had the reputation of being haunted. In 1946, Leslie Graham, the farmer who had bought their farm, claimed that he had shot and killed Gef. The animal was, however, black and white and much larger than the famous mongoose, and Voirrey Irving was certain that it was not Gef.
He also liked to catch rabbits, would Voirrey really have been able to capture and kill a rabbit without leaving obvious signs of a human hunt? Saving the best until last:
A neighbouring farmer had imported Mongeese to the island 20 years earlier to curb the local rabbit population.
So you never know... perhaps Gef really was just an extra, extra clever mongoose.

Again the ultimate resource for Gef related reading is going to be the marvellous Gef: the Eighth Wonder of the World.

Further Reading

Poltergeists: A Study In Destrutive Haunting - Colin Wilson - Further reading on the related phenomena of poltergeists.

Review: Derren Brown's Messiah

Yes, Dear Reader, I know this show came out 3 years ago but even so I've only just seen it and I think it is a show anyone, who truly wants to understand certain paranormal and religious experiences, should want watch.

I've seen Derren Brown live and one of the things I really enjoyed about his live show was his honesty. He did crazy, impossible things but left you with no doubt that this wasn't the work of real magic nor anything supernatural but a trick. An amazing, astounding trick, let's not dismiss it, but he did not pretend to have anything other than the ability to deceive and to control the human mind. For me that made the show all the more interesting.

And it's the same with Messiah. Derren Brown set out to visit America and see if he could fool 5 experts in 5 different fields into giving him their personal endorsements.

His first stop was to visit some psychics. He had one go into another room out of sight but within speaking range. They were to draw several images on paper and he was going to relate to the other psychics what he thought they had drawn. He used subtle manipulation in his conversation with the woman in the other room to suggest images which she then drew, completely without realising what he was doing to her. For example, on one occasion when Brown was telling the participant to draw the next picture, he instructed the lady to "let some ideas sail into your mind" and not to go "overboard on detail". She then drew a boat on water. Despite this all being a trick the psychics completely accepted him and did not once question him on his veracity. He had stated throughout that if they did he would immediately come clean to them that he was a charlatan.

His next stop was to visit an evangelical preacher. He pretended he was a recent convert to Christianity who had the power to convert people by the merest touch. To prove to this preacher his abilties he gathered together a group of agnostics, atheists and sceptics and, using subtle manipulation techniques which I was unable to fathom, set about converting them to Christianity in short order. This was good old revival type stuff with people falling over into his arms and into their seats. One girl described getting a warm "inner hug" when he touched her face. The audience were convinced and the preacher was impressed but wanted to meet him again before endorsing him. Don't worry, Dear Reader, he deprogrammed the new convertees back to their old beliefs afterwards!

Next he visited a new age guru, where he claimed to have invented a dream catching machine which would record her dreams. When he put it on he seemingly related all her dreams for the last 5 days back to her, in minute detail. Again it was all about manipulation and influence over the subject. Did this make it any less impressive? Absolutely not. And she was so convinced she gave her endorsement of his abilities.

His fourth stop was to two very nice UFO researchers. He claimed to be an abductee and that since returning to Earth he now had the ability to see people's medical history. He went into minute detail again about one of them and they were totally blown away by his ability. They called for him to be brought to the attention of the most esteemed scientific journals in the land. He again gained their endorsement despite it all being a trick again.

His final stop was one he wasn't entirely comfortable with. He gathered a group of New York sceptics together to give them messages from the dead, all to impress a leader of a spiritualist church. Did him impressive one and all? Of course he did, much to his obvious discomfort as some descended into tears at the accuracy of his readings. I've seen him do this one live and I have to say it was good in an awful way even when he was upfront about it all being a lie. This took it down to a very uncomfortable level of deception. But I felt it was for a worthy cause.

That cause? Derren Brown had set out to show that believers will always pick up on what they want to believe and will be unlikely to dismiss contrary evidence without it being brought up to them directly. He ended the programme stating not that he wanted to insult others beliefs but that he did want those who believe, in pretty much anything, to always question and analyse their beliefs and not be blind to evidence that might be uncomfortable to them.

I think that's something we can all agree on. I absolutely must ask you to go and watch it for yourself, as always Youtube is our saviour and part one can be found here.

Further Reading

Tricks of the Mind - Derren Brown - A book with similar themes to the show.

Friday, 19 September 2008

News: Robbie Williams Is Not The Most Insane Person In The World

Well we've had his "alien encounter" and now comes this little humourous piece of what I hope is just self promotion rather than real full blown insanity.

Robbie Williams could be abducted by aliens and "come back as an ambassador for their race", an expert claims.

The UK pop star, who is known to have become increasingly fascinated with UFOs in recent months, has been warned he is in danger of being taken from Earth.

Michael Luckman, Director of the New York Centre For Extraterrestrial Research, explained: "Robbie is now becoming a point man for contact with extraterrestrials.

"None of the experiences I've seen are in the same category of what Robbie appears to have experienced. Robbie could easily disappear and then come back as an ambassador for their race."

Luckman warned the singer that his attitude to the phenomenon puts him even more in the firing line. "He's unusually pro-active, even putting his musical career on hold.

"And he is more likely to make contact because of where he is spiritually - he takes it to the max", he continued.

I'm glad to see Mr Luckman is keeping some sensible levels of perspective on the matter. Not! "Spiritually". That word says it all.

He also added:

He said: “This is an unprecedented situation, there’s no guidebook. The aliens could be 1,000 times more intelligent, perhaps 100,000 times more intelligent than humans.

They could also be 10 times or even a 100 times more stupid! Why can't people stop talking out of their arse, it seems obvious Mr Luckman is only after publicity for his conspiracy theories of Government cover ups and alien contact.

We at Moonlight Investigation like to keep an open mind but it's people like Mr Luckman that make us particularly dubious when it comes to ufology.

Focus On: The Oak Island Money Pit

Happy Talk Like A Pirate Day!

Now this is a case to really get your teeth into and it absolutely fascinates me. It's probably best if you get this diagram up before you read further.

The story of the Oak Island Money Pit is a mystery and adventure in the grand tradition of swashbuckling epics. It's also a tale of tragedy, failure and perhaps even stupidity.

Our story begins in 1795 with a sixteen year old boy named Daniel McGinnis. He made a discovery on the Nova Scotian Oak Island while fishing which would, over the next two centuries, cause people to lose their minds, and sometimes their lives. It was just a simple circular depression in the ground. The depression was under a tree and suspended from the overhanging branches was a tackle block (a type of pulley). This piqued his young, pirate adventured filled interest and he and a couple of friends (John Smith [in early accounts, Samuel Ball] and Anthony Vaughan) decided to "excavate" it.

A few feet down they discovered a layer of flagstones and I suspect at this point they all gave each other knowing grins. A pulley system, a hole and signs of protection on an island on the Atlantic seaboard? Did somebody say "treasure"?!

As they continued to dig, and I'm sure with a little more enthusiasm now, they noticed the walls of the pit were pitted with pick marks and at every 3 meters they found a layer of logs.

30 feet down (that's 10 metres for folks like me) they decide to give up, probably not without much soul searching. They promised to come back and continue where they left off once they were better prepared.

There was some talk in the press of the discovery but it took another 8 years before anyone returned to the Money Pit.

Daniel, Anthony and John plus Simeon Lynds formed the Onslow Company and set out from central Nova Scotia to resume digging. Now they had the backing of an eager workforce willing to work for a slice of the treasure. This time they managed to get to 90 feet down and found layers of logs about every ten feet (3 m) and layers of charcoal, putty and coconut fibre at 40, 50 and 60 feet (12, 15 and 18 m).

Now this is where things take a turn for the interesting. Supposedly at 90 feet they found a large stone with inscriptions upon it. Various people tried to translate it with one coming up with "forty feet below, two million pounds lie buried." Wishful thinking or amazing detective work? Sadly, but unsurprisingly for such a story, the stone disappeared in the early 20th Century.

They had been experiencing problems with visibility and waterlogging the Saturday following their discovery and after breaking through another layer of logs they called it a day. The next day was Sunday and by the time they returned on Monday the pit was flooded up to the 33 foot mark. After a brief attempt to bail out the water, the project was abandoned until the next year. That next year they tried to drain the pit by building a second shaft, but this ultimately collapsed and finally defeated they accepted the treasure was not to be theirs and left the island for good.

Many years later in 1849 the Truro company was formed by investors and they excavated down to 86 feet before the pit flooded once more. But they weren't going to let that put them off. They decided to drill deeper to see if they could recover any further evidence of what might lie beneath... the drill passed through a spruce platform at 98 feet (30 m), a 12-inch head space, 22 inches (560 mm) of what was described as "metal in pieces", 8 inches (200 mm) of oak, another 22 inches (560 mm) of metal, 4 inches (100 mm) of oak, another spruce layer, and finally into clay for 7 feet without striking anything else.

There was nothing else they could do but give in and call it a day.

In 1861 a new company, the Oak Island Association, began a new attempt but the curse of the Money Pit would strike again; this time the bottom of the shaft collapsed (depending on your viewpoint either into a natural cavern or into a bobby trap). Then disaster following disaster there was the first, but not the last, fatality on a Money Pit dig when the boiler of a pumping engine burst. By 1864 the company had exhausted their funds and their options and, inevitably, they gave up.

At least 8 further attempts would be made between then and the 1960s (including one in 1909 which featured a rather famous prospector; Franklin Roosevelt!) and most met with no success. One fared worst of all when a worker fell to his death in 1887.

In 1928 Gilbert Hedden read about the mystery in a newspaper and it wasn't long before he'd purchased the part of Oak Island which contained the money pit. He eventually began excavating in 1935. He attempted to dig where he thought a previous secondary shaft had been excavated in 1897. He dug 163-foot down and found several pieces of work gear and a Cornish pick. But given the amount of work carried out he couldn't ascertain whether this was from a previous dig or from the original excavation that supposedly created the Money Pit.

In the 1960s the excavation was brought into the modern age with the use of a 70-ton digging crane with a clam bucket to create a huge pit, over a 100 foot wide and 134 feet deep. Despite this nothing was found. Sadly tragedy struck once more and four people lost their lives when they were overcome by fumes in the shaft.

In the late sixties Triton Alliance arrived on the scene and bought most of the island.

In 1971, Triton workers excavated a 235-foot (72 m) shaft supported by a steel caisson to bedrock. According to Blankenship and Tobias, cameras lowered down the shaft into a cave below recorded the presence of some chests, human remains, wooden cribbing and tools; however, the images were unclear, and none of these claims have been officially confirmed. The shaft subsequently collapsed, and the excavation was again abandoned. This shaft was later successfully re-dug to 181 feet (55 m), reaching bedrock; work was halted due to lack of funds and the collapse of the partnership.

The pictures are thought to be so fuzzy you could really see anything on them. But this still hasn't daunted diggers! Until recently excavations had stalled due to continuing legal wranglings in Triton Alliance. But this year, finally, a new company Oak Island Tours Inc has begun to excavate on the island once more... in hopes of finding the treasure I'm sure...

So is there really treasure in the Oak Island money pit? Could it possibly be just a sinkhole? Wouldn't that be ironic.... but it is one of the more likely theories regarding the money pit. But let us not dwell upon this too sensible, heartless theory and instead ponder who might have buried treasure on Oak Island?

Many of the more romantic treasure hunters believe it is pirate treasure and not just any old pirate! No, some believe that Captain Kidd used the island to store his treasure before he died, and Gilbert Hedden even traveled to the United Kingdom to follow up his belief that this was the case.

Other believe French army engineers, hoping to hide the contents of the treasury of the Fortress of Louisbourg from the British, dug the hole which might explain the complicated construction.

And if you thought these theories were grand, you haven't heard nothing yet... some believe a servant of Marie Antoinette managed to persuade the French Navy to hide her jewels here. And things really start to go insane here; still others believe that the last works of Shakespeare are buried under the Money Pit and some even believe the Knights Templar (those stock conspiracy theory guys used to explain every mystery ever) buried the Holy Grail here! Now that would be a turn up for the books.

Millions of all sorts of currencies have been spent attempting to excavate this pit, in search of possible unknown amounts of treasure. 6 lives have been lost and people have spent many years of their life dreaming of what be lying below their feet. But nothing concrete or substantial has ever been found... only tantalising hints and clues, just enough to keep hope alive and ensure that people will probably still be trying to excavate the pit in a hundred years time. And who can blame them? Whether it's a sinkhole, a hoax or buried treasure one thing the pit has offered up is a sense of adventure, purpose and mystery. Maybe that is the real treasure after all.

Further Reading

The Secret Treasure of Oak Island - D'Arcy O'Connor

Thursday, 18 September 2008

American Hauntings: The Ghosts Of San Francisco Part One

Well Dear Reader, I've been trying to research some ghosts outside of Britain just to ensure I have plenty of material for ghostly tales in the future. To make this job a little easier I've started on one of my favourite cities: San Francisco.

San Francisco's modern history doesn't go very far back. Most people would date the real beginning back to the Gold Rush that hit it's peak in 1849 (of course I'm well aware that there was plenty of action going on in the area for millenia before!). I've owned cutlery that's older than that! Nevertheless not only has San Francisco built up an interesting history of characters over it's short life, it also seems to have picked up a few otherworldly residents too.

Sadly a lot of the stories appear to be ill disguised urban myths. I'm not saying that most ghosts stories are not urban myths. But most hide it a little better than those from San Francisco!

Headless Man On The Bay Bridge

On the 17th of October 1989 an earthquake rocked San Francisco and evidence of this is still easily visible around the Bay. But did it leave more than just physical scars? Could this be the cause of an apparition that supposedly now haunts the San Francisco - Oakland Bay Bridge? During the Loma Prieta earthquake a section of the Bay Bridge collapsed and one person lost their life. Did their spirit stick around long after the rescue crews had left?

Late night drivers on the bridge's lower deck say that when driving across the bridge late at night they hear a tapping on their side window and sometimes when they turn to look they find a headless body running, and keeping pace, alongside their car.

Do I believe it? Hmm... my sceptic hat says no... Far too urban myth like. I can't find any sources except for some forums from "witnesses" but I can't exactly trust them now can I?!

The Ghost Ship Of San Francisco Bay

The ghost ship has been sighted on "many occasions" according to the sources I read, most of whom point to the SS Tennessee as the originator of apparition.

The SS Tennessee was a steamer ship which brought thousands of gold-seekers to the City. On the 6th of March 1853 she sunk just outside of the San Francisco's always foggy headlands, in an area now known as Tennessee Cove. Though the ship was lost all the passengers, baggage and mail were rescued, and as such it seems an unlikely candidate for the ever popular title of "ghost ship".

Some stories told of the ship attempt to make it "spookier" (as if the apparition of a sunken ship was scary in itself!) by claiming all hands aboard were lost. This is a lie, as can be seen from this contemporary report. 3 people did die but not from the sinking but more likely from exposure and stress setting off previously known of conditions.

A famous sighting occurred when the U.S.S. Kennison passed an unusual vessel in the straights, which didn't appear on their radar, on the morning of September 15, 1942. One of the better sites (who does not reference the Tennessee might I add!) describes the incident thus:

It was cutting through the fog toward the Golden Gate Bridge, when seaman Howard H. Brisbane heard a series of faint hissing noises from his watch station, followed by creaking and popping sounds. As the morning fog lifted, Brisbane began to see a ship.

"It wasn't just any ship," Brisbane said. "It was an old-fashioned sailing ship, the kind with two masts and lots of rigging." He went on to say that it appeared to be unmanned, and that "She was unpainted, and the rigging was clearly dilapidated. "She was under full, but ragged, sail."

He called other sailors to come see the strange sight, and torpedoman Jack Cornelius informed the bridge about the strange ship. The event was noted and the ships log and forgotten, although the phantom schooner still makes an occasional appearance in the bay.

Based on his description, and also the supposed reference to the Balclutha in some 911 calls reporting a ship loose in the bay, I'd suggest this apparition (if of ghostly origin or not) is definitely not the SS Tennessee. Take a look at the picture on this page and you'll see the ship was quite clearly not as described above.

That's not to say a ghostly ship doesn't haunt the Golden Gate. But if it does I'm sure it's story is far more tragic than the rather unexciting sinking of the Tennessee.

But that isn't the only ghost ship mentioned in San Francisco (given the amount of old ships lying in the bay and around the headlands this is hardly a surprise!) check out the ghost ship Squando

I'll be writing a post totally about Ghost Ships at some point in the future, because they fascinate me... especially the real ones! Yes, Dear Reader, there really are "ghost" ships out there but they might not be quite what you are thinking of...

Phantom Cow of Yerba Buena Island

It's one of those stories you can't pass up. I saw it here:

Before California became a state, however, Yerba Buena Island was known for its phantom cow, which could be seen wandering the island mooing mournfully. Supposedly the story goes that the cow's calf was butchered and devoured by pirates. The cow now sorrowfully roams the island searching for its lost eaten calf.

I couldn't find mention of it anywhere else, but I don't care if it's true or not. It is just a great little story. Plus in my searchings I did come across another bovine related story of Yerba Buena! Check out... the Bull Patrol!

Goat Island became a favorite resort for holiday-makers and at times they were a tax on the Dowlings. However, an ingenious device for keeping off intruders was adopted, by allowing a bull, with a marked antipathy for strangers to range about the island. His presence, together with his reputation had the desired effect. Finally the bull became a menace to those living on the island and a hunting party was organized to despatch him. Not finding him for a time, the party divided and one of the divisions came upon him suddenly in an open path. The situation was dangerous, but not without humor, the six sportsmen, armed to the teeth, taking refuge in the upper branches of neighboring trees. But in their haste, they dropped their weapons and these the bull trampled into uselessness. However, that evening Taurus was ingloriously noosed and executed in cold blood. A reminder of this terror of the island remains in the doggerel:

"On Goat Island's secret shore
Many's the hour we've whiled away
Listening to the breaker's roar,
Which haunts the beach, both night and day
When we landed on the isle,
Dowling met us with a smile,
And his bull gave us a roar
As we left Goat Island's shore."
And on that note, this post has gotten mighty long and I think the tales of the Ghost of San Francisco will have to rest and I'll come back to them another day...

For all your San Francisco history needs go to Sparkletack. It's just plain great.

Further Reading

Ghost Hunter's Guide to the San Francisco Bay Area - Jeff Dwyer