Santa Cruz “Mystery Spot”

Magnetic anomalies emanating from the Bermuda Triangle. Anti-gravitational forces caused by UFOs. An “ineffable, natural phenomenon that cannot be described or explained.”

Supernatural gabble gushes from the house of illusions in Santa Cruz known as the “Mystery Spot,” one of more than a dozen places in the nation where stunning visual illusions compel people to reach for metaphysical explanations to describe their experiences.

At Santa Cruz’s “Mystery Spot,” balls roll uphill, chairs sit on walls and people lean over so far they can’t see their shoes, yet they don’t fall down.

Nineteenth-century psychologists had theories to explain illusions like this, but the explanations left considerable room for mystery.

Now, Berkeley psychologists have generated a new theory based on experimental data that goes much further in explaining all the effects of the phenomena known collectively as “the mystery spot.”

Central to their thesis is a new emphasis on the human need to establish horizontal and vertical orientations and the extent to which people take their cues from the immediate context if they can’t see the earth’s horizon.

“All the visual illusions in the Mystery House derive from the fact that the house is tilted,” said William Prinzmetal, adjunct associate professor of psychology. He conducted the studies with colleague Arthur Shimamura, also a psychology professor.

“You know the house is tilted, but you don’t know how much. Everything is tilted. You can’t look outside and get a horizon, so you think that what you see is right. It’s very compelling,” said Prinzmetal, an expert on perception who has been to the Mystery Spot a dozen times. Although he has studied these illusions, he said his visual perceptions still are distorted when he goes into the house, which is tilted at a 20-degree angle from the ground.

It doesn’t take a scientist to know that cockeyed rooms affect perception. If floors are slanted, for instance, people will hang pictures on a slant.

But what has not been known before is that when the perceiver’s body also is tilted, the distorting impact on vision is greatly magnified — up to two or three times the effect of slanting the visual field alone.

“In the tilted condition, you are much more affected by the immediate visual context,” said Prinzmetal, who has tested dozens of subjects in a laboratory chair tilted at a 30-degree angle. In that position, he tests their ability to line up vertical dots in a slanted matrix in a darkened room where they have no clue to the true horizon. With their bodies tilted, he said, people’s perceptual distortion more than doubles, compared to when they see the same matrix from a level chair.

“We are such visual animals,” said Prinzmetal. “The mechanism in us that’s responsible for determining the horizontal and vertical is mostly affected by what we see. If the context is screwy, that will throw off what we see as vertical and horizontal.”

He said that other cues to people’s horizontal orientation, such as the vestibular system in the inner ear and bodily sensations of gravity, appear to become less functional in the tilted condition, leaving visual context as the dominant cue.

Prinzmetal contends that understanding the principles of the Mystery Spot is critical for understanding other visual illusions that have remained unexplained for more than a century.

These illusions can make lines appear longer or shorter than they are, or straight lines appear curved and curved lines appear straight, among other distortions of reality.

Many of these visual illusions are also increased by sitting in the tilted chair, said Prinzmetal.

One critical application of the new research is to improve the flying of airplanes.

All cockpits carry an “artificial horizon,” essentially a leveler, that pilots use when the real horizon is not visible. It is the only clue to the horizon when the cockpit is tilted — as the chair was tilted in the laboratory. Pilots are trained to ignore the visual context of the cockpit and fasten their eyes on the leveler.

Unfortunately, they don’t always follow that rule, said Prinzmetal, adding that planes have crashed because the pilot thought he was flying level when actually he was at an angle.

That is said to have happened in one story circulating through government aeronautic circles. According to the tale, the last words heard on the tape retrieved from a crashed airliner was the navigator shouting, “Look at your artificial horizon!” and the pilot responding, “I can’t. It’s broken!”

Prinzmetal said that scientists at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, with new appreciation for the strength of these visual illusions, now are working to make the displays for artificial horizons much more obvious.

Entombed Animals

It is one of the strangest phenomena reported. Something that can’t happen, but stories saying it does turn up again and again anyway. Stories of animals found alive locked deep within stone or wood, with no observable way they could have entered. This is the mystery of entombed animals:

Being at my seat near the village of Meudon, and overlooking a quarryman whom I had set to break some very large and hard stones, in the middle of one we found a huge toad, full of life and without any visible aperture by which it could get there…The laborer told me it was not the first time he had met with a toad and the like creatures within huge blocks of stone…

This account, which appeared in the 1761 edition of Annual Register, was attributed to Ambroise Pare, the chief surgeon of Henry III of France in the 16th century. It is an early example of phenomenon. Logically this report is impossible. The stone had to be thousands, if not millions of years old. The toad shouldn’t have a lifetime of more than a few years. If it was really sealed in the stone, how did it get there? Or if it was entombed when the stone was made, how did it survive?

Perhaps one such story over a period of hundreds of years can just be dismissed as a folktale or a hoax, but there are others. Workers doing an excavation in Hartlepool, England, on April 7, 1865, split open a block of magnesium limestone to discover a living toad. The Hartlepool Free Press reported, “The cavity was no larger than its body, and presented the appearance of being cast for it. The toad’s eyes shone with unusual brilliancy, and it was full of vivacity on its liberation.” The animal was very pale when first discovered with a color similar to that of the rock that had encased it, but later the toad turned to an olive-brown. “It appeared,” the Free Press continued, “when first discovered, desirous to perform the process of respiration, but evidently experienced some difficulty, and the only sign of success consisted of a ‘barking’ noise, which it continues to make invariably at present on being touched. The toad is in the possession of Mr. S. Horner, the president of the Natural Historical Society, and continues in as lively a state as when found. On a minute examination of its mouth it is found to be completely closed, and the barking noise it makes proceeds from its nostrils. The claws of its fore feet are turned inwards, and its hind ones are of extraordinary length and unlike the present English toad.”

We can also see an example of a wood entombment by looking at a story from South Africa. In 1876 the Uitenhage Times printed an article reporting that a timberman who was cutting a tree into planks came across a cache of 69 tiny toads, each the size of a grape. The toads were confined to a hole in the tree. “They were of a light brown, almost yellow color, and perfectly happy, hopping about and away as if nothing had happened. All about them was solid yellow wood, with nothing to indicate how they could have got there, how long they had been there, or how they could have lived without food, drink or air.”

Another toad-in-a-tree story comes from the Memoir’s of the French Academy of Sciencesin 1719. The article reads “in a the foot of an elm, of the bigness of a pretty corpulent man, three or four feet above the root and exactly in the center, has been found a live toad, middle-sized but lean and filling up the whole vacant space.”

According to the Michigan Argus of December 1st, 1871, one man was so curious about these stories he tried his own experiment to see if such things were possible.. M. Herissan, a French savant enclosed three live toads in separate cases of plaster in February of 1771. In April of 1784 Herissan opened the cases, which were still whole, and found two of the toads still alive, though the third was “a martyr to science.” The article continued saying that the animals were handed over to the Academy of Science and a careful examination showed that “the animals had no communication with the external air, and must have existed without the least nourishment.”

Toads aren’t the only subject of these stories. An 1821 edition of Tilloch’s Philosophical Magazine reported a stone mason named David Virture discovered a “lizard imbedded in the stone. It was about an inch and a quarter long, of a brownish-yellow color, and had a round head, with bright sparkling projecting eyes. It was apparently dead, but after being about five minutes exposed to the air it showed signs of life.” The rock the lizard had been found within had been some 22 feet underground. “It was coiled up in a round cavity of its own form, being an exact impression of the animal,” the article continues, “This stone is naturally a little damp; and about half an inch around the lizard was soft sand, the same color as the animal…The stone had no fissure, was quite hard, and one of the best to be got from the quarry of Cullaloe…”

Turtles have also gotten this treatment. In August 1975 construction workers in Fort Worth, Texas, were breaking up concrete that had been laid down more than a year before when they came across a living green turtle. The animal must have been caught in the concrete as it had been poured because the body-shaped hole in which it had stayed during that time was clearly visible.

Sometimes two different types of animals have been found together as the account from a World War II British soldier reported in Jerome Clark’s book Unexplained shows:

In Algeria in the early part of 1943, I was working with a team whose job it was to quarry stone that was then used for making roads and filling bomb craters…One morning, we had set off the charges as usual and I started to prise away the rock from the quarry face when I saw in a pocket in the rock a large toad, and beside it a lizard at least nine inches long. Both these animals were alive, and the amazing thing was that the cavity they were in was at least 20 feet from the top of the quarry face. Try as we might, we couldn’t find how it was possible for the two creatures to be where they were – there were no inlets, cracks or fissures leading to the cavity…

Parts of the scientific establishment have taken both an interest in the phenomena, while other members scoff at it. In an article in an 1890 Scientific American a writer declared “Many well authenticated stories of the finding of live toads and frogs in solid rock are on record.” While a few years later the editor for the magazine Nature argued, “It matters little to tell the reporters of such occurrences that the thing is absolutely impossible, and that our believing it would involve the conclusion that the whole science of geology (not to speak of biology also) is a mass of nonsense.”

Most explanations for these events depend on the reporters being hoaxers or bad observers. “The true interpretation of these alleged occurrences appears to be simply this – a frog or toad is hopping about while a stone is being broken, and the nonscientific observer immediately rushes to the conclusion that he has seen the creature dropping out of the stone itself,” says a writer in Nature. This explanation runs in the face of many of the reports where the animal was found in a cavity shaped like the animal itself.

Some reports, however, are just so fantastic that it seems the reader is left with no conclusion but to believe the writer has been pulling their leg. For example:

In 1856 workmen in France were digging a tunnel for a railway line through some Jurassic limestone when a large creature stumbled out from inside. It flapped it wings, croaked, and then died. Workers said it had a 10-foot wingspan, black leathery skin and a toothed mouth. It was identified by a paleontology student as a pterodactyl…

Cases of entombed animals remain a mystery. Clearly the Scientific American writer is correct in saying that there seems to be no answer to this puzzle unless we are willing to rewrite the science of geology or biology. Still, it seems the phenomena exists. Undoubtedly some of the reports are hoaxes, others are errors, but many remain a true mystery for a future scientist to resolve.

Angel Hair

“You and your name-dropping. ‘I knew Michael’. ‘I knew Sammael’. ‘The angel Gabriel did my hair’. It’s like I’m with the Band with biblical figures.”
― Cassandra ClareCity of Fallen Angels

A cobweb-like and jellylike substance which is also slightly radioactive often falls to the ground shortly after UFO sightings. The substance dubbed “angel’s hair” evaporates without a trace several hours after the sighting. The “hair” was reported to either disintegrate or turn into cottony tufts with an offensive smell when held in the hand. American ufologists refer to the material as “angel’s hair”; Italians call it “siliceous cotton”; and the French use the term “the Madonna’s present” to describe semitransparent threads that fall from heavens.

Ufologists first began discussing the phenomenon in 1954. Two men, namely Gennaro Lucetti and Pietro Lastrucci stood on the balcony of a hotel located in St. Mark’s Square of Venice, on October 27, 1954. The men suddenly saw two “shining spindles” flying across the sky. The objects left a fiery white trail as they zipped along. Both objects flew at high speed, one of them at some distance away from the other. Then the objects took a U-turn and flew away in the direction of Florence.

There were reports on an unexpected break in a soccer game played in one of the Florence stadiums on that afternoon. The players, referees and about 10 thousand spectators just stood there gazing at two objects which flew over the stadium. A couple of unidentified objects flew over the city thrice from 14.20 to 1429. A number of strange cobweb-like threads started to drop to the arena once the objects disappeared.

The substance was quick to disintegrate if held in the hand. Alfrede Jacopozzi, a student, was the only one who managed to pick up a few threads of it and sealed them in a hermetic test tube. Jacopozzi then handed the tube to Professor Giovanni Canneri, a director of the Chemical Analysis Institute under the University of Florence. Professor Danilo Cozzi, a colleague of Prof. Canneri’s, carried out a series of tests of the mysteries find. “It’s a fibrous material, which is highly resistant to tension and torsion. Once subjected to heat action, the material grows dark and evaporates, leaving transparent sediment that melts away. The sediment was found to contain boron, silicon, and magnesium. Hypothetically speaking, the substance may be some kind of boron-silicon glass,” said Prof. Cozzi.

American ufologist Charles Maney suggested that the material was “the UFO excess energy which materialized.” According to him, “the treads return to their dimension or some other space-time continuum while fading away.” A British ufologist suggested that “angel’s hair” was a variety of ectoplasm emanated during a spiritualistic session.

B. V. Lyapunov, a Soviet-era researcher who did a lot to popularize science, received a sample of “angel’s hair” from New Zealand in 1967. A tightly sealed tube contained some unknown stuff measuring less than one-tenth of a cubic centimeter. A comprehensive analysis of the substance was conducted by a team of scientists. Physicist L. V. Kirichenko, a specialist in radiometry, concluded that the substance “is a fine-fibered material; some of its fibers are less than 0.1 micron in diameter. Most fibers are tangled in the bundles or separate “threads” measuring 20 microns in diameter. The threads look somewhat whitish and semitransparent. There aren’t any known analogues to the analyzed substance.” Summing up the study of the material, Academician I. V. Petryanov-Sokolov said that “the sample is of considerable interest as a material with extremely fine fibers. It is unlikely that the material was formed by nature.”

Unfortunately, the entire amount of the substance was used up during the research. No new samples of “angel’s hair” have ever been obtained though the phenomenon was repeatedly reported in this country.

According to reports spread by the British Society for UFO Studies in August 1998, mysterious cobwebs fell to the ground shortly after an UFO sighting in North Wales. The 60-year-old Mrs. Stanfield and her daughter-in-law saw “about 20 silver balls in the sky” prior to taking note of cobweb-like material which descended to the ground.

There are times when “angel’s hair” falls out from a clear blue sky. Residents of the city of Montgomery in the United States reported the fall of “flying web type substance” in 1898. According to the description provided by eyewitnesses, the threads of the material resembled somewhat fluorescent asbestos fibers. On February 10, 1978, a large number of sticky fibers were falling from the sky for two hours in the vicinity of the coastal city of Samaru, New Zealand. The fibers appeared to be “considerably finer than cobwebs” yet clearly visible against a clear blue sky.

Some of the fibers looked like knots the size of a tennis ball; they were slowly unwinding across the air. Others were floating in a cluster which resembled a jet plane’s heat wake. “I’ve never heard about anything like that,” said a spokesman for the Department of Science and Industry Research of New Zealand.

Tristan and Isolde

“True lovers may never know what love means. A man may love a woman out of his reach. She does not know he loves her, and he will never speak of it.”
― Rosalind MilesIsolde, Queen of the Western Isle

The story of Tristan (Tristram) and Isolde (Yseult) rivals that of Lancelot and
Guinevere as one of the great romantic love stories of the Middle Ages. It tells how
Tristan, orphaned nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, goes to Ireland to be cured of
what would otherwise be a mortal battle wound by the skilled Isolde. Mark falls in
love with Tristan’s reports of Isolde, and sends Tristan back to Ireland to woo her for
him. Isolde accepts. On the return journey from Ireland to Cornwall, Tristan and
Isolde inadvertently drink a love philtre intended for Mark and Isolde. The rest of the
story concerns Tristan and Isolde’s resulting love and the conflict between this love
and the allegiance which both lovers owe to King Mark; Mark’s alternate suspicion of
the lovers and the stilling of that suspicion; Tristan and Isolde’s exile; and Tristan’s
unconsummated marriage to another Isolde, Isolde of the White Hands, for her
name’s sake.
Ultimately, Tristan is again wounded by a poisonous weapon. Only the Irish Isolde
can heal him. He sends for her, arranging as a sign that the sail of the ship sent for her
should be white if she agrees to come to him, and black otherwise. Isolde comes and
a white sail heralds her arrival, but Isolde of the White Hands, motivated by jealousy,
tells Tristan that the sail is black. He dies of despair. Isolde arrives and kills herself.


Mark Antony and Cleopatra

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale
Her infinite variety; other women cloy
The appetites they feed, but she makes hungry
Where most she satisfies;…
 – William Shakespeare

Antony and Cleopatra is a literary work by William Shakespeare. It is about the relationship of Antony and Cleopatra from the Parthian War to Cleopatra’s suicide. She was born in 69 BC and was the only Ptolomaic ruler who learned Egyptian. She was not only a beautiful woman, but also very charming and seductive. She had relationships with two of the greatest Roman generals – Julius Caesar and Alexander, the great and was destined to be the last leader of the dynasty of Ptolemy I. She was not an Egyptian, but of Macedonian decent.

Cleopatra VII was not only known for her beauty, but for her intellect as well. This is something that people generally don’t know. Consider this – she was an expert in nine languages and a skilled mathematician. Indeed amazing! She became Julius Caesar’s mistress, but after he was slain, there were rumors that she had helped Cassius, one of the assassins of Caesar. These rumors became so widespread that Caesar’s successor and best friend Mark Antony had to summon Cleopatra to his headquarters at Anatolia.

A common trait of Cleopatra and Mark Antony was that they were both loyal to Caesar. Both of them had met earlier during the reign of Caesar. When Cleopatra crossed the Mediterranean to see him, they both fell in love. There is no doubt that until Caesar’s death they were just good friends. Later, he accepted her invitation to visit Egypt. With the relationship between these two powerful people growing, the Romans were wary of the emergence of the Egyptians as a powerful force. Also, they didn’t appreciate their love affair, but despite all the threats, Cleopatra and Antony married at Anatolia, Syria in 36 BC.

Octavian, Antony’s arch rival for power in Rome, was wary of the power of Cleopatra and Antony. What added salt to his wounds was, when Antony gifted Cleopatra much of the Middle East – Egypt, Cyprus, Crete and Syria, as a wedding gift. She, together with Caesarion, her son, was the ruler of these countries. Octavian, a blood relative of Julius Caesar, declared war against Antony in 31 BC. The battle took place in Actium, Greece. Antony lost the battle even though he had 500 ships and 70,000 infantry, compared to Octavian’s 400 ships and 80,000 infantry. The reason was that Antony’s soldiers were more experienced in land rather than sea battles.

What the actual result of the battle was, is still not known completely, but it’s said that while fighting Antony got a false news of Cleopatra’s death. He was devastated and thought he had no reason to live. He fell on his sword and died. Another legend is that he along with Cleopatra fled to Egypt, when they lost the battle. But Octavian arrived there too and to escape punishment, Antony committed suicide. Cleopatra was shattered on hearing the news of Antony’s death. She was taken as a prisoner of Octavian and held captive.

While a prisoner, with the help of some loyal servants, she managed to arrange for a poisonous snake, an asp. She wrote a letter to Octavian asking him to bury her with Antony. In the absence of her chambermaids, she put on her royal robes and made the asp bite her breasts. She left behind a love story that the world will remember forever. Love is indeed another name for sacrifice. Thus the love story of Cleopatra and Mark Antony, like all great love stories, ended tragically.

Prince of Poyais

“Clever as the Devil and twice as pretty.”
― Holly Black


Sir Gregor served in the Peninsula war in Spain before leaving Europe in 1811 to fight the Spanish in South America. Simon Bolivar, the Liberator of Latin America, was impressed by the Scotsman’s energy, bravery, and skill as a military leader and promoted him to general. Later he allowed him to marry his niece, Josefa.

Coming from a family with more history than money, it was the lure of riches that drove the increasingly impatient MacGregor. From 1817 to 1820, he lived the life of a pirate, attacking Spanish strongholds in the Caribbean and up the coast of Florida, then still in Spanish hands. His exploits included capturing and occupying Amelia Island off Florida in 1817.

MacGregor planned to sell off the land to the fledgling United States and then invade the rest of Florida. Left high and dry by the failure of his supposed American allies to send reinforcements, he was forced to sell the island to a pirate acquaintance before disappearing into the Caribbean once more.

In 1820 he hit upon the idea which was to bring him fame, fortune and – ultimately – disgrace. He sailed with his loyal retinue of followers to the unpromising-looking swampy part of Central America known as the Mosquito Coast. Here he befriended the local ’King’, George Frederic Augustus. At a meeting in April 1820, MacGregor plied his new friend with whisky and rum before the pair signed an extraordinary deal.

The Scotsman was to be granted more than eight million acres of land along the coast and far inland, apparently forever. In sober reflection, Frederick was to have a very different recollection of just what he’d given to MacGregor, but the deed was done. Armed with this huge area of land, MacGregor and his beautiful wife immediately set sail for Britain, where he announced himself in London with great pomp and ceremony as Gregor I, Cazique (or Chief) of Poyais, the name he had chosen for ‘his country’.

Such was the promotion’s success, that at least one ballad was sung in MacGregor’s praise; books and pamphlets extolled the merits of this fine new nation and an excited public clamoured to buy into this irresistible country led by its charismatic and heroic Prince. Buoyed by his success, MacGregor opened an official Poyaisian Legation to Britain in the City of London and opened land offices in Glasgow, Stirling and Edinburgh. Many poorer people, who could not afford to buy the expensive bonds, bought small parcels of land or signed up as shoemakers, shopkeepers, jewellers, teachers and clerks or other craftsmen, all with skills apparently much needed by the booming new state.His plan to make money from his ‘kingdom’ had two different approaches. One was to raise capital of £200 000 (millions in today’s money) by issuing 2,000 bearer bonds at £100 each, the other to sell land and commissions in Poyais. In this he was aided by a skilful and shameless marketing campaign promoting the virtues of what one marketeer called ‘this unsurpassed Utopia’. There were no half-measures in the hard sell. Poyais was extravagantly described as a land of cathedrals, public buildings and banks, with all the other trappings of a civilised nation. Its capital, St Joseph, was said to boast an opera house among its fine buildings. Meanwhile, the land itself was described as having unimaginable fertility and beauty, a land where gold nuggets and diamonds and pearls were as ‘plentiful as pebbles’ and where grain could grow without the need for sowing.

MacGregor – who often referred to himself as Sir Gregor, though no one knows who bestowed the title on him — even issued his own Poyais currency and sold commissions in the nation’s army. By the end of 1822, MacGregor had assumed the status of a Sovereign Prince and the bond and land sale schemes were making him, in today’s terms, a multi-millionaire. The whole elaborate edifice however, now threatened to become a victim of its very success.

Early In 1823, two ships — the Honduras Packet and the Kinnersley Castle – set sail from Leith, bound for Poyais. On board were some 240 excited emigrants, many of them Highlanders, eager to inhabit the wonderful land they had invested in with their life’s savings and possessions. They included a Mr. Gauger, a banker from the City of London who was excited at the prospect of becoming the first manager of the Bank of Poyais, and a Scottish shoemaker equally entranced at the thought that he was to be the Official Shoemaker to the Princess of Poyais.

The starry-eyed colonists were assured the only legal currency in their new home would be the Poyaisian dollar and so, before departing, they exchanged their old Scottish and English pounds for this exciting new currency. What did they care for old money from the old country anyway? A wonderful new world of plenty awaited them.

What the settlers thought when weeks later they arrived at their new home one can scarcely imagine. Indeed, it was reported that some of them insisted on sailing further up the coast, so sure were they that they had been taken to the wrong place.

But the truth soon became horribly apparent. As the hapless settlers rowed ashore a desolate, wretched scene confronted them. Standing where the towering buildings, opera house and banks of the shining capital of St Joseph were supposed to be were instead four tatty, rundown shacks, built amid the remains of a doomed British colony abandoned back in the 18th century. Where the rich fertile plains and gold nuggets were promised were instead inhospitable swampy forests, full of biting insects, venomous snakes and deadly disease.

There was no Poyaisian army, no royal family, no civil service, not even one solid building. The great, prosperous nation of Poyais had all been an elaborate illusion, a heartless fraud committed on men and women from hard-working backgrounds who had dared to hope for a better life in the Americas. They managed to send word of their plight to the British colony of Belize and a rescue mission was launched. Out of some 240 who left Leith harbour, barely 50 made it back to their homeland.

Quite how MacGregor had expected to get away with it once anyone arrived in his ‘paradise’ is unclear. Possibly he had planned to make an escape with his millions but was undone by the timing. Perhaps he had even begun to believe his own propaganda that such a place existed. Incredibly, MacGregor at first tried to bluff things out, blaming the Belize colony for interfering and even for the theft of Poyaisian belongings, and he tried to raise yet more money on a re-issue of the bonds.

By November the game was up. The bonds were worthless and there was growing public rage at the enormity of the fraud he had perpetrated, especially among his fellow Scots. His funds were also evaporating as he spent money on his retinue and trying to re-ignite interest in Poyais.

Late that year he, Josefa and their two small children, Gregorio and Josefa, followed the traditional route for British fraudsters, by fleeing to Boulogne in France and from there on to Paris where their third child, Constantino, was born. However, the world had still not heard the last of Gregor MacGregor and his fantasy kingdom. By 1825 he had repeated the entire hoax once again on the French public, raising thousands of pounds on the dream of Poyais. By now, though, his luck was failing him.

An associate in Paris was jailed for fraud and MacGregor himself spent some time in jail before he was released and acquitted on appeal. An impertinent return to London was ill-advised and once again he had to talk his way out of a prison sentence as angry investors sought his indictment. For some years he lived in Edinburgh, vainly trying to sell plots of land in a kingdom that didn’t exist, with land he didn’t own. However, by the time his loyal wife Josefa died in Scotland in 1838, MacGregor had become a lonely, broken man. He left Scotland quietly in 1839 to return to Venezuela, the scene of many of his epic military adventures. There at least he was treated with respect as a returning war hero and lived comfortably on a military pension until his death in 1845.

His name can still be seen on a giant monument, built in Caracas to honour Venezuela’s heroes of Independence. However, his legacy in his homeland is very different. His outrageous fraud cost more than just the livelihoods of those he fooled. It may have been a brilliant fraud by an often brilliant and courageous man, but Gregor MacGregor’s extraordinary life was overshadowed by the deaths of his poor, unfortunate victims.

Green Children of Woolpit

“Time is a game played beautifully by children.”
― Heraclitus

This story was told by medieval writers (Ralph of Coggestall and William of Newbridge), about the discovery of fairy children in the South of England in the twelfth century.There are two versions of the story, one placed in Suffolk and one in Norfolk, with only a small distance separating them.

This article explores the tale is based around the Suffolk village of Woolpit – the village name is believed to originate from Wolfpittes, where the last wolf in England is said to have perished in the 12th century after being trapped in a wolf pit. No doubt in homage to the Green Children folktale, the village sign in Woolpit features two green children and a wolf.

In Suffolk, at St Mary’s of the Wolf Pits (Woolpit), a boy and his sister with green tinged skin were said to have been found at the mouth of the old wolf pits. When first discovered they were both extremely frightened, and no one could understand their speech. They were eventually taken to the home of Sir Richard de Caine at Wilkes.

They would not eat normal food, although it seemed that they were both starving. When some beanstalks were brought into the house, they made gestures to have them brought to them and proceeded to try and open the stalks to get at the beans. They were shown how to open the pods and ate beans and nothing else for a long time.

The boy remained depressed all the while, and soon succumbed to illness and died. The girl remained in good health, and eventually began to eat other food and lost her green colouring. She was baptised and lived in the service of the knight.

When she had learnt how to speak English, she related the story of how they had come to be at the entrance to the pits. She said they had come from a land where there is no sun, but light such as at our twilight all the time. She and her brother were following their flocks, when they chanced upon a cavern. They entered this cavern and heard the sound of bells and were so enchanted by the sweet music, that they stayed exploring until they came to the cavern’s entrance.

They passed through and into the bright sunlight of our world. They were blinded for a while and rooted to the spot by the sudden change in atmosphere and temperature. Eventually they were caught by the villagers and brought to the hall.

Green Sickness
The green hue of the children’s skin could be the striking symptom of green sickness, the term once given to dietary deficiency anaemia. In the tale, the girl is said to have lost her green tinge, which is to be expected once a healthy diet is resumed.

The second folktale based in Norfolk follows a very similar theme but, the land the children describe is named as St Martin’s Land. These stories were probably regarded as factual at the time, and it is difficult to know what to make of them.

Green Children

Orcadian Temple

I am a tale of woe and secrets,
I am a mystery.
― Lise McClendon


THE discovery of a Stone Age temple on Orkney looks set to rewrite the archeological records of ancient Britain with evidence emerging it was built centuries before Stonehenge.

Archeologists have so far found undisturbed artefacts including wall decorations, pigments and paint pots, which are already increasing their understanding of the Neolithic people.

Experts believe the huge outer wall suggests the site was not domestic, while the layout of the buildings has reinforced the view it might have been a major religious site. Archaeologists think the temple was built 500 years before Stonehenge, regarded as the centre of Stone Age Britain.

However, only 10% of the site at Ness of Brodgar has been excavated and it could be years before the scale and age of the discovery is fully understood.

It sits close to the existing Ring of Brodgar stone circles and the standing stones of Stenness, near to the town of Stromness.

The uncovered wall around the edges of the site was built with 10,000 tonnes of quarried rock and may have been up to 10 ft high.

Thermal technology also indicates the site could cover the same area as five football pitches, with some parts potentially older than Stonehenge, in south-west England, by as much as 800 years.

Charcoal samples from beneath the wall indicate it was built around 3200 BC. A 30mm high figurine with a head, body and two eyes, and called the “Brodgar Boy”, was also unearthed in the rubble of one of the structures.

About 18 months ago, a remarkable rock coloured red, orange and yellow was unearthed. This is the first discovery in Britain of evidence that Neolithic peoples used paint to decorate their buildings.

Project manager Nick Card said the discoveries are unparalleled in British prehistory and that the complexity of finds is changing the “whole vision of what the landscape was 5000 years ago.” He said it was of “a scale that almost relates to the classical period in the Mediterranean with walled enclosure and precincts”.

Mr Card added: “It’s a huge discovery; in terms of scale and complexity there really is nothing else quite like it.

“At first we thought it was a settlement but the scale and complexity within the buildings makes you think along the lines of a temple precinct. It’s something you would associate with the classical world.”

Archeologist Julian Richards, who has written several books on Stonehenge, added: “The indication is that building was taking place when Stonehenge was still, relatively speaking, insignificant. We have tended to think we know how things were in the Neolithic period, then something like this turns that on its head.”


Piri Reis map

“I was beginning to see, though, that the unknown wasn’t always the greatest thing to fear. ”
― Sarah DessenJust Listen

In 1929, a group of historians found an amazing map drawn on a gazelle skin.

Research showed that it was a genuine document drawn in 1513 by Piri Reis, a famous admiral of the Turkish fleet in the sixteenth century.  

His passion was cartography. His high rank within the Turkish navy allowed him to have a privileged access to the Imperial Library of Constantinople.

The Turkish admiral admits in a series of notes on the map that he compiled and copied the data from a large number of source maps, some of which dated back to
the fourth century BC or earlier. 

The Piri Reis map shows the western coast of Africa, the eastern coast of South America, and the northern coast of Antarctica. The northern coastline of Antarctica is perfectly detailed. The most puzzling however is not so much how Piri Reis managed to draw such an accurate map of the Antarctic region 300 years before it was discovered, but that the map shows the coastline under the ice. Geological evidence confirms that the latest date Queen Maud Land could have been charted in an ice-free state is 4000 BC.

The official science has been saying all along that the ice-cap which covers the Antarctic is million years old.
The Piri Reis map shows that the northern part of that continent has been mapped before the ice did cover it. That should make think it has been mapped million years ago, but that’s impossible since mankind did not exist at that time.

Further and more accurate studies have proven that the last period of ice-free condition in the Antarctic ended about 6000 years ago. There are still doubts about the beginning of this ice-free period, which has been put by different researchers everything between year 13000 and 9000 BC.
The question is: Who mapped the Queen Maud Land of Antarctic 6000 years ago? Which unknown civilization had the technology or the need to do that?

It is well-known that the first civilization, according to the traditional history, developed in the mid-east around year 3000 BC, soon to be followed within a millennium by the Indus valley and the Chinese ones. So, accordingly, none of the known civilizations could have done such a job. Who was here 4000 years BC, being able to do things that NOW are possible with the modern technologies?

Piris Reis Map

Mystery at Dyatlov Pass

“Our opponent is an alien starship packed with atomic bombs,” I said. “We have a protractor.”
― Neal StephensonAnathem

Dyatlov Pass Camp


February, 1959, the Ural Mountains in Russia – Ten young cross country skiers from the Ural Polytechnical Institute, eight guys and two girls led by Igor Dyatlov, set out for two weeks of adventure. One became ill and turned back: Little did he know he would be the only one to return alive. Weeks later, searchers found one of the most bizarre scenes in modern lore. The bodies of the nine victims were scattered over a wide area of the frozen landscape. Some were wearing only their underwear. Some were wearing each others’ clothes. Two had head injuries. One had no tongue. Two had severe internal chest injuries. None had any visible external signs of trauma. Some of their clothes were found to be radioactive. Circumstances suggested that some the victims may have been blind. Various other witnesses in the region reported bizarre orange spheres in the night sky; and strangest of all, the bodies had orange skin and gray hair.

This was the Soviet Union in the middle of the cold war, and few details other than what I just gave were reported. Journalists attempting to give more information found their books and articles censored. Independent investigators found official records to be missing or classified. Many fingers have pointed at military testing. Did radioactivity from some secret weapons test drive the group insane? Some people think UFOs are responsible for the deaths, citing the reports from other skiers in the region who saw the orange spheres in the night sky in the direction of the Dyatlov party. Russian authorities closed the case, called the cause of death a “compelling unknown force”, and classified it top secret. The mountain was renamed Dyatlov Pass. And that’s about all that anyone’s ever been able to learn about the case.

I found some translated articles from Russian media and some western articles, and although the case offers some really compelling mysteries, it also offers an elephant in the room: The possibility of avalanches being the culprit. I wanted to see how likely avalanches would have been in that area, so I looked it up on Google Earth. Turns out it’s hardly the type of place you’d expect avalanches. The hills are low and rounded, much better for cross country skiing than for avalanches, at least according to my personal informal assessment from looking at the terrain on Google Earth. And, obviously, the group felt comfortable enough with any potential danger to make camp where they did. But I also found a Russian tourism brochure for the area that warns of avalanche danger on slopes steeper than 15°. According to the police reports, the slope immediately above the campsite was at 22-23°, and 50 to 100 meters above the campsite it increased to 25-30°. That’s quite steep. There was a cornice, and the snow at the campsite was 2 meters deep. There has also been much discussion in the Russian press about the possible role of avalanches in the Dyatlov Pass incident. So I’m going to go ahead and call avalanches a plausible factor in the tragedy.

A number of skeptics have addressed the question of radioactivity by pointing out that the mantles used in camping lanterns contain thorium, which emits alpha particle radiation, to the point that there is actually a radiation warning on the packaging. These mantles, if you’re not familiar with them, are little fabric bags that serve as the wick in a burning lantern. They’re quite fragile and easily turn to dust that gets everywhere, like onto the clothes of everyone in the tent, when you replace them, which you need to do pretty regularly. Thorium gas mantles wereinvented in 1891 and were manufactured in many countries for a long time. Coleman, the largest US manufacturer, only phased them out in the 1990’s. I found a blog comment signed “Igor”, a guy who says he’s Russian and went to the same college as the Dyatlov Pass victims, and he states in his comment that thorium gas mantles were not available in Russia in 1959. That doesn’t sound consistent with general articles on the subject, plus I found a Russian WWII lantern on eBay that was kerosene fueled, and all the kerosene lanterns I could find details on do use thorium gas mantles. It’s a question mark, and remains a plausible possibility in my book.

Here is my proposed explanation of what happened. It’s wrong, of course, because it’s done from my armchair 50 years after the fact and with no firsthand knowledge of the region, but it’s completely reasonable and does adequately satisfy the facts as we know them. Nine skiers set up camp in an area with potential avalanche danger, but no more or less danger than would have been found if they set up anywhere else they could have reached before nightfall. Sometime during the night, a loud noise, either from a nearby avalanche, a jet aircraft, or military ordnance, convinced at least five members of the group that an avalanche was bearing down on them. They burst out of the tent wearing whatever they happened to be sleeping in and ran. At some point one of them fell and struck his head on a rock. They became lost in the dark and poor visibility, or simply found themselves stranded with their injured friend, and finally built a fire. They quickly got hypothermia and probably shouted themselves hoarse for their friends. Two of them lost consciousness and the others made a desperation decision: To take what little clothes their two unconscious buddies had and risk it all to try and make it back to camp. One made it 300 meters, the second made it 480, and the third a full 630 meters before all five were dead from hypothermia. Back at camp, the four who didn’t panic and run away in the night got dressed, collected provisions, and began to search for their friends. They searched for hours, circling high and low, until at some point either through a slip or just bad luck, they were caught in a real avalanche. During the resulting turmoil one received a fatal skull fracture, one received twelve broken ribs, and one bit her tongue off, all perfectly plausible injuries during such a traumatic death. Their bodies remained buried until the spring thaw, as is so common with avalanche victims. At the open-casket funeral for the first five victims, relatives saw the combination of five days of winter sunburn in those days before sunscreen, and the mortician’s effort to cover up frostbite and a full month of exposure to the elements, and described it as a strange orange color; though others described it simply as a deep tan, which is consistent with reasonable expectations. And who knows what hair would have looked like after all that exposure and who knows what kind of treatment done by the mortician, so I can’t assign too much significance to what amounts to a few anecdotal reports from some funeral attendees, and not even all funeral attendees. Plus I’m quite certain that if UFOs had turned all of their hair really gray, don’t you think the cold war Russian authorities would have had it colored back to normal for an open casket funeral? Their bodies had been exposed outdoors for weeks. Of course they looked terrible.

What of the radiation on their clothes? Well, there is at least as much uncertainty about what the Russians were doing with their atomic and thermonuclear weapons in that area in those days, as there is about exactly what type of radiation and how much was found on the Dyatlov pass victims. Since we don’t know anything about either, we can’t say that any explanation is inconsistent with what was found. And, the thorium lantern mantle question quite probably makes the entire radiation issue a moot point. Assuming they’d changed a lantern mantle sometime during the trip, which nearly always has to be done, there’s every reason to expect to find low-level alpha radiation on the clothes of anyone who participated.

How about those UFO reports? Well, people all around the world report UFOs every day, and whether anything happened to the Dyatlov party or not, it’s not especially surprising that skiers in the Ural Mountains saw UFOs that night. What did that have to do with the Dyatlov party? We have a statistically insignificant correlation, with a sample size of one, and no reason to suspect that one thing had anything to do with the other. Human psychology encourages us to think anecdotally and assume a causal relationship, but for my money, I consider the UFO question irrelevant. Maybe if the UFOs were identified, and known to have some specific physical capability, then we’d have something to talk about.

The Russian newspaper reports stating that the victims may have been blinded appears to be pure speculation, based only on two observations: first, that some of them were wearing the wrong clothes; and second, that when they built their campfire they didn’t use some dry wood nearby. Is it really necessary to conclude that blindness, ostensibly caused by UFOs, is the most likely explanation for the choice of firewood? Five panicked young people, underdressed, in subzero temperatures in near-zero-visibility darkness, were lucky to get a fire built at all. I think we can cut them a little slack on what firewood they were able to find.

The Dyatlov Pass Incident