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Archive for September, 2015

Mark Twains final work dictated by Ouija board?

Title page of Jap Herron

Title page of Jap Herron

It’s 1917 and there is a deal of controversy about a new book called Jap Herron. Why the controversy? The publishers claimed that the book was written by Mark Twain, dictated through a series of sessions with a Ouija board.  The book can be read in its entirety through the publicdomainreview.org site. This was weird in a number of ways. Twain was one to poke fun at such things. In 1866 he wrote an account of attending a seance in the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise.

Twain’s family was not happy about the book. His daughter Clara sued to halt publication. The woman who published the work, Emily Grant Hutchings, was not interested in a court battle, so she agreed to halt distribution and most copies were destroyed. It is a blessing of the technical world that we can have access to it at all. I hate when any kind of creation is completely destroyed.

While Twain was the most famous, he was not the only author said to reach across the veil and type their works through a planchette. In 1913, a 17th-century woman named Patience Worth, who said she was killed in an Indian raid, began to communicate with Pearl Curran. Shortly after the first sessions, Patience began to dictate poetry, novels, and plays. The link between Pearl and Patience became so strong that they were eventually able to abandon the board and the words just came into Pearl’s mind so she could speak them outright. (Dictating one letter at a time must be grueling!)

The site patienceworth.org contains a large collection of her poems. Her books Hope Trueblood and The Sorry Tale are available to read online. There is also a contemporary book, Patience Worth : a psychic mystery by Casper Yost, that gives you an idea of how this was seen at the time.

Jane Roberts began communicating in 1963 with an entity that identified itself as Seth. Over time they accumulated a good deal of information that was published as The Seth Material. I also found some interesting video on YouTube of Roberts talking about her encounters with Seth. All of this work seems more geared to spiritual teaching rather than literature.

Recently, the band The Mars Volta claimed their album The Bedlam in Goliath was inspired by a Ouija board. This NPR review lets you hear some of the album and considers the Ouija claim. There is also a YouTube video of an interview with Omar Rodriguez-Lopez (WARNING: CONTAINS SOME ADULT LANGUAGE) where he talks about the more troubling aspects of that experience.

If we consider talking boards to be gateways to other worlds and other beings why wouldn’t they want to express themselves? It seems like a great way to keep in touch with one’s public. Of course, who gets the royalties?

If you are in the Austin, Texas area, I will be participating in a special event presented by the Austin Horror Society centered around talking boards. It’s at Sherlock’s pub on Tuesday, October 13th and it’s free! See more on the Facebook event.

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World survives and NASA reports water on Mars

If you are reading this then it means that we all survived the Blood Moon phenomenon on Sunday and we got through 9-28-15 without being sucked into an artificial black hole or anything. Now NASA announces that they have found actual liquid water on Mars. Did you miss it? Here’s the announcement. Don’t worry. It’s short!

So, what does this mean? It means that we don’t always know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know. Just a few years ago the article A Tale of Planetary Woe was published on NASA’s Science News web site. In it the author says :

“Mars today is bitter cold and bone dry. The rivers and seas are long gone. Its atmosphere is thin and wispy, and if Martian microbes still exist, they’re probably eking out a meager existence somewhere beneath the dusty Martian soil.”

While it’s true that we have not discovered a lush oasis on Mars, we’ve found that it’s a little less desolate. Does that translate into a Martian civilization? Probably not. However, it seems to be a moving target.

In 2009 scientists believed they had identified fossilized bacteria in a meteorite with Martian origins. This suggests that there was some sort of life, if only microscopic, long long ago. However, the idea of liquid water erodes the idea that life “could not exist” on Mars, making it “probably doesn’t exist.” That leap is huge.

This kind of exploration is literally not an exact science. It is finding information, making the best sense of that information with existing knowledge and then digging deeper. I’m very happy to move from “bone dry” to “under certain circumstances, liquid water has been found on Mars.” Now the idea of water can be part of the thinking about Martian exploration. As that thinking adapts the methods for exploring adapt and we’ll find new things because we begin to look for them.

The existence of water certainly changes the views of a manned expedition to Mars (actually considered by 2030). It’s all very exciting news.

Of course, we hope that none of this is disrupted by the actual martians! Remember this guy?

B&W photo showing a shadow of the Mars rover with what appears to be a shadow of a person doing maintenance.

Photo from Mars rover shows what appears to be a human doing something to the machine.

If the Martians do appear, we hope they are wise and wonderful like it Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land.

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Weird world of spirit photos

Photo of a young lady posing in front of a skeleton on display

One of our Museum guests poses with Emily, the haunted skeleton. Alas! No ghosties.

When someone in the Museum seems to have an especially strong connection to Emily, our haunted skeleton, I always try to take a couple of photos of them standing next to her. I take two so that I can see any differences between them. If I was using a proper camera rather than my phone I’d use the automatic feature to take several frames. That way if there is any sort of anomaly such as an orb I have a better chance to catch it.

The idea of photographing ghosts is almost as old as the camera itself. The first reported ghost photo was taken by a man named W. Campbell in 1860. It was a picture of a chair which, when developed, was found to contain the ghostly figure of a boy. Early camera technology was primitive and very long exposures were required to get a good image. Everyone had to remain very still for a minute or so. Any movement or someone stepping in or out of the picture would create a ghostly apparition. Campbell maintained that this was not the case in his photo. (I looked but have not yet found a copy of this image to share.)

1872 photo of a bearded man with a faint figure of a woman

First spirit photo taken in 1872

Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln in black with a ghostly figure of Abraham Lincoln resting his hands on her shoulders

Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln with the apparition of Abraham behind her

However, after the rise of spiritualism, people began trying to capture images of ghosts on camera. The original king of spirit photography is William H Mumler. His first spirit photo shows the apparition of his deceased wife. Mumler became the first one to do portraits of people that contain ghosts. His most famous one is probably the photo he took of Mary Todd Lincoln which shows her husband standing behind her in an apparent gesture of tenderness.

Remember that these were in the days before digital photography and enhancing photos with Photoshop (or the freely available GIMP). Everything had to be done on glass plates. If we assume the Lincoln photo is faked it still shows a remarkable amount of skill!

Others began to do spirit photos. William Hope started his own line of photos in 1905. Here are examples of his work.

Early 1900s photo of several people seated around a table as a ghostly hand reaches up from a mist

A ghostly hand rises up to rap on the table during a seance.

Early 1900s photo of a seated man as squiggles of light surround him

This man appears to be surround by swirling mists of energy.

Early 1900s photo of a famly visiting a deceased man. An apparition peers leans into the picture.

A ghostly photobomb?

A larger collection of Hope’s photos is available for study. Here is another excellent collection of spirit photos from various sources by photographers Jack and Beverly.

Of course, with all of these apparent fakes does that mean that there were no legitimate spirit photographs taken? Before you decide you might want to take a look at this photo gallery from the folks at paranormal.about.com. These are the cream of the crop from many, many submissions that people receive.

We actually have a video, recently received from a guest that shows some unusual activity. We need to mask a child’s face for privacy reasons but the we will share it with you. If you have ghostly photos you have taken, please share them with us! You might be featured in a future blog!

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Dollhouses of death

B&W photo of a older woman int he 1930s working on a miniature scene

Lee works on another of her macabre dollhouse scenes

This kindly grandmother was  a master of creating intricate dollhouse scenes…with one small twist. Her scenes depicted detailed accounts of actual murders.

Frances Glessner Lee, born in 1878, developed a fascination with forensic pathology, something that was distinctly not ladylike for her time. In the 1940s she began to construct a fascinating series of miniature dioramas that showed details of various crime scenes. They were used to instruct investigators about finding clues and correctly viewing a site. They are still used to day.

Looking at these tiny little snapshots of murder created with toys is quite disturbing. The detail is equal to anything one would see on CSI. Each scene is clearly from an older time, showing quaint iceboxes and a day before televisions dominated the home.

Miniature dollhouse scene in an old paronage with a girls body laying in the center of the floor

Here is an example of Lee’s gruesome creations

Details of bloody walls, bruising and wounds on a body, discarded objects and murder weapons are all intricately reproduced. It is simultaneously compelling and horrifying, as though Ken finally slipped and went on a rampage.

You can see detailed views and explanations of Lee’s works on the Death in Diorama web page. While the images are compelling all on their own, the detailed analysis of what the viewer should consider from each scene is fascinating.

Of course, there is a documentary about Lee, her work and the influence it has had and continues to have on training forensics experts. This video is an NPR story about the film, Of Dolls and Murder. Narrated by John Waters, this film is an eerie glimpse into the world of murder in miniature. Frances Glessner Lee is one weird grandma!

Hendrix seance artifact up for auction

Waxwork of Jimi Hendrix posed playing guitar

This wax figure of Jimi Hendrix stands in Mme Tussauds of London
Photo by Denis Bourez [CC BY 2.0] via Wikimedia Commons.

We have a number of bizarre artifacts in the Museum of the Weird, but I don’t think I’ll be able to talk Steve into bidding on this one. It’s a hair charm that Jimi Hendrix wore and it contains some of his actual hair!

You don’t think that’s weird enough? According to this article from the radio station 3WV site, this charm was actually used in a séance held by Guitar World Magazine in 1993, 23 years after the guitarist’s death in 1970.

Celebrity séances are not at all unusual. Who wouldn’t like the opportunity to talk to somebody famous? Even in the Bible we have the tale of King Saul who asked the Witch of Endor to put him in touch with Samuel (1 Samuel, Ch 28). That did not go so well.

Harry Houdini, famed turn-of-the-20th-century magician who spoke out aggressively against mediums and séance, died from an accident in 1929—Halloween night to be exact. For years after his death, his wife, Bess, worked to contact him through an annual séance. They were supposed to have a code word he would giverher to prove it was him. Her final attempt was in 1936. While the code was never received, a horrible storm raged over the rooftop where this final event was held. It seems that the storm was isolated to that area and did not affect those surrounding. Weird…

A story in the biography of William Butler Yeats tells how the poet was inspired by a séance to do automatic writing, which resulted in his book A Vision.

Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln

Portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln somewhere between 1860 and 1865. This is around the time she tried to contact her dead son.

After their son Willie died, Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln, held several séances in the White House. Abraham was also said to have had some troubling dreams and visions that could have pointed to his assassination in 1865. Lincoln was not the only First Lady with an interest in this sort of thing. This article on FirstLadies.org describes ways that many presidential wives brought more than cookie recipes into the White House.

Some stars such as Elvis, John Lennon, and Michael Jackson attract a lot of attention. I talk to someone at least once a week who would like to reach Elvis if they could.

So, if we had this very personal item from Jimi Hendrix would we be able to contact him? There’s really only one way to find out. What I do know is that, before you go to bed, if you focus deeply and ask sincerely, Hendrix—or anyone for that matter—can visit you in your dreams. You might be very surprised at the connection!

Phobia causes actions beyond reason


Aftermath of freak crash by wane.com

You may have heard of the bizarre accident in Northern Indiana where a woman found a spider on her shoulder and leapt from a moving car. Her nine-year old son was in the back seat and tried in vain to get control of the car, which crashed into a school bus. If you managed to miss it, here’s a brief report from local TV station WXIN.

While most stories have focused on the strange nature of the crash, we are interested in the incredible fear that caused a mother to overcome her instinct to protect her son in order to flee a spider. You see, at the Museum of the Weird we encounter certain levels of fear like this daily.

Small children will sometimes be nervous about the shadowy nature of our artifacts, expecting something to jump out at them, though it never does. However, adults are sometimes taken aback by the idea of our ghost and the dealings that I might have with objects and spirits. Some people have needed to leave the Museum at the very thought of such things.

What causes such strong reactions? The term “irrational” is sometimes used, but is that a fair judgment? This article from Scientific American talks about the nature of phobias and our difficulty in finding root causes for them. There doesn’t seem to be a specific genetic reason for an overpowering fear of spiders, but there might be genetics that would make one more susceptible to environmental issues or conditioning. What would develop as an aversion becomes a devastating fight or flight reaction.

One thing to keep in mind is that someone experiencing such a phobia is not thinking rationally. They may even be fully aware of the way their response is out of proportion to the situation. That doesn’t matter. Understanding that it’s irrational doesn’t fix it. It must be treated using methods that range from hypnosis to reconditioning.

When I encounter a child who is scared I will get on their level and do my best to assure them that everything in the Museum is safe and that they are surrounded by parents and myself who want to look out for them. When I encounter this reaction from adults I have to do my best to simply bypass the subjects altogether. In either case I take their concerns seriously and don’t use it to mess with them.

As we saw in the news story, fear like this can drive people to do things that are far beyond even their own expectations. They can abandon their own safety and yours just to get away from what frightens them. If you are lucky it’s just awkward. In a worse-case scenario someone gets hurt.

The 9-year-old boy, who sprang into action to stop the moving vehicle, thwarted only by not having driving instincts—because he’s 9—received some minor head injuries, but seemed to be otherwise OK. The school bus that collided with the car had no children and its driver was unharmed. The mother will be haunted by the fact that something she could not control made her do something unimaginable.

Please respect people’s fears rather than preying on them. If you know you have a serious phobia consider looking into ways to conquer it. We want you safe!


This may be my last entry

Painting of the four horsemen

Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse (V. Vasnetsov, 1887)

OK, folks. This one is weird and I don’t know what to tell you. I’m stepping outside of my reporter voice and sharing something personally interesting with you. More regular news tomorrow…if that’s still possible.

Today I was catching up on an episode of Midnight in the Desert, Art Bell’s Internet (soon to be on-air again) broadcast. Yes! I’m a subscriber! (You do know about Art Bell, right?)

The episode was from August 25 and Art starts with some startling information that I want to share with you. It’s weird.

First, you must know something about the CERN project. CERN is a particle accelerator along the Franco-Swiss border near Geneva. It is being used to study the nature of our universe at very fundamental levels and is responsible for some extraordinary discoveries in science.

CERN is also mentioned prominently in the mysterious John Titor story. Titor was a man who claimed to be a time traveler from our future. He painted a gloomy image of society’s fall into dystopia. In some cases his predictions seemed to line up well with things happening in the world. Many are confident that Titor is just a clever hoax while others still wonder at the story. You’ll have to decide for yourself. johntitor.com is dedicated to continuing to explore the questions.

I will admit that this story fascinates me. It’s a wonderful blend of possibilities and improbabilities that make me wonder. I like wonder.

So, now here is what Art Bell shared on his show, and you can see it for yourself:

Step 1: Do a Google Search for 9-23-15.  You will find a series of articles and conversations that talk about an apocalypse that begins…well…tomorrow.

Step 2: Do a Google Map Search for 9-23-15. You will find that it takes you to the CERN facility. Forget that entering a date like this in a map search isn’t even a normal way to search. CERN pops up? Really?

Photo of Shiva with dramatic shadows from the night lighting

This statue of Shiva, the destroyer, stands outside of the CERN facility
Photo by Arpad Horvath [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Now, consider that standing outside the CERN facility is a statue of Shiva, donated by India. If you are not familiar with Hindu deities you might be surprised to know that Shiva is also known as the Destroyer. He ends the universe periodically to make way for new creation. (See a more detailed explanation.) Officially we are a little early for the Kali Yuga, when everything changes, but not everyone agrees on the dates. It’s complicated.

CERN is aware of people’s thoughts on these matters and has even set up a convenient rebuttal page to set your mind at ease. The scientists clearly have a sense of humor about this, as shown in this April Fools article, where they claim to have discovered the black hole that Titor predicted. (The article now has a big giant retraction at the top for people who were taking it seriously. There is a lot of interest in this!)

So, are these just a series of coincidences? Google has been known to play games with their maps by giving people silly directions for impossible trips. Did someone at Google add this little Easter Egg as another joke? Does this mean something more?

This is probably all just here to play on our worst fantasies. It couldn’t possibly be real. It couldn’t possibly mean anything. Or…this may be my last transmission. Either way, we’ll see each other on the other side.


Our haunted hotel neighbor

Photo of the Driskill Hotel

The amazing Driskill Hotel is just a few blocks up the street from the Museum of the Weird
Photo by Nika Vee [cc-by 2.0] via flickr

A few blocks west of the Museum of the Weird lies a beautiful, old hotel called the Driskill. It was built in 1885 by cattle baron Colonel Jesse Driskill and designed to be the finest hotel this side of the Mississippi in its day. The hotel has been fully restored to its original glory and is one of those places where time disappears once you enter. It’s also very haunted.

Celebrities Annie Lennox and Johnette Napolitano both are reported to have had experiences in the hotel. Napolitano was inspired by hers to write the song Ghost of a Texas Ladies Man (see the video).

The ghost of a suicide bride haunts the corridors and is occasionally encountered by guests.

The ghost of a young girl, daughter of a U.S. Senator, who was killed after a fall down a marble staircase, is said to bounce a ball and disturb the doors and fixtures in the upstairs bathroom.

Some have reported a strange disturbance in their room. The bathroom mirrors are fogged as though someone had a shower and mysterious scribbling is found on the pad between the beds. The first occurance was discovered when the couple returned to their room one afternoon. The second was discovered when the people awoke that morning!

Staff in the hotel have told me about touches and pinches they have received working in parts of the building, especially on the top floor. In some cases it seems that the spirits will haze the new people a little by giving them some special attention until they show respect.

Several years ago, a colleague and I had our own encounters. We took a digital camera to the 5th floor to take pictures around the legendary room 525. As we stepped down from the elevators into the old part of the hotel my camera ran out of battery. I had thought they were good, but apparently not. We satisfied ourselves with simply walking around and taking the place in. Later, on the street, I activated the camera again to see if it had enough juice to pull the motorized lens back in so I could put it away. It came up with full charge and worked fine for several hours. It just didn’t want to work on that floor.

My colleague reported strolling around on that hallway and hearing a woman’s voice singing what sounded like an old tune in the vicinity of 525. There was work being done on the rooms and they appeared to be unoccupied at the time. He said it sounded “old” to him, not like modern singing, and that I would know what he meant if I’d heard it.  He was with two other people who heard the same thing and could not determine a source for the singing.

Photo of LBJ and his family watching television

LBJ watches the 1964 election results from his suite at the Driskill Hotel in Austin, Texas.

The Driskill is a delightful place. It’s housed many wealthy and powerful people. During the time that the Texas State Capitol was built, the legislature held meetings at the Driskill. LBJ watched his election results there. Many other politicians have made it their center while in Austin.

The next time you are by the Museum, take some time to walk up the street and visit our neighbor. You are guaranteed an experience, though it may not necessarily be a ghostly one. Of course, if you do encounter something otherworldy, please let us know!

Cave may be a pre-human catacomb

Yesterday, while giving a tour of the Museum, I was talking to a gentleman about the Bigfoot connections in Texas and the Bigfoot mystery overall. Skeptics rightly say “Ubi corpus?” (Where is the body?) Why have we not found at least a corpse of Bigfoot?

One possible theory is that these creatures are intelligent enough to not just leave their dead lying around. This BBC article discusses how other animal species seem to have mourning rituals when one of them dies. This Quora discussion talks about how chimpanzees, magpies and elephants will do some covering of a corpse.

Now, I find this news of a new discovery in Africa. An ABC News report shows how researchers made their way into an obscure area of the Rising Star Cave to find a chamber filled with bones and artifacts from what may be an early human ancestor. It appears that earlier versions of humans may have had a burial ritual. If that’s the case, is it possible that Bigfoot does the same thing?

Bigfoot remains a mystery, but here is video covering the amazing expedition and details about the find. The history of earth becomes more and more fascinating as we find new clues.

Amazing discovery inside “living fossil”


65-million-year-old fossil of a Coelacanth
Photo by Haplochromis [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Researchers studying the Coelacanth, a mysterious living fossil, discover something amazing.

Thought extinct, the deep-ocean-dwelling creature was found alive and well when fishermen caught one in 1938. The bizarre fish has a number of unusual qualities. It has matching pairs of lobe fins that stick out like legs and even move like the legs of a four-legged animal. It has a hinged skull which can widen it’s mouth to eat larger prey. It has an electrosensory organ in it’s snout that may help it hunt.

Now we find that it once had lungs!

Photo of a diver swimming with a Coelacanth

Living fossil swims with a diver
Photo by Mordecai 1998 [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

An article in Discover News tells how researchers exploring the body of a Coelacanth have found what appears to be an obsolete lung. Humans have an appendix, an organ that seems to serve no real purpose for us, but might have been important long ago. Similarly, it appears that this fish may have once used lungs to breath air and that the organ has faded back over time.

This suggests that the Coelacanth was once an air-breather that evolved to become a creature of the deep. This may be what saved this species while other creatures of the period were wiped out, possibly by a single event.

Earth’s history is a  strange array of creatures, and discoveries like this just fuel the imagination. Will we ever get a clear picture of it all without a time machine? Perhaps not. However, each clue shows us that it was all weirder than we thought. Weird is good!

Who’s your Buddie?

NOTE: This information is provided for entertainment purposes only and is not intended to express support or opposition to the legalization of marijuana.

Photo of Buddie, a green-headed superhero shaped like a marijuana bud

ResponsibleOhio’s mascot, Buddie, cheerfully endorses the legalization of gajna.

Ohio is preparing for a vote on the legalization of marijuana. Pot, weed, Mary Jane, reefer, grass… It goes by many names and many are lobbying to legalize this plant. Is that a good idea? It’s not really our place to say. We are just thrilled by all the weird ways that people are using to get their message out.

We’ve seen one side of the argument, eloquently depicted in the classic Reefer Madness film from 1938 and on police dramas, from the Dragnet of radio days to whatever was on last week.

As the ballot moves forward in Ohio, the ResponsibleOhio group has unleashed a new superhero. His name is Buddie, and he’s got a big, green, leafy head and the kind of muscles that you won’t typically find in a donut shop. He’s part of the Green Rush Bus tour of college campuses. Some are comparing him to Joe Camel, the infamous cigarette icon which was banned because of its appeal to children. Is Buddie using the same playbook?

In these matters, it’s important to have someone we can trust to help boil it all down. Fortunately, Stephen Colbert has examined this issue and provides insight.

Good luck, Ohio, whatever you decide!

Massive grave contains bodies of the insane

More details have come to light as archaeologists unearth an extraordinary mass grave in the UK. This video, provided in an article by the Daily Mail, shows the scope of the operation.

The unmarked graves were accidentally discovered by Crossrail construction workers who were building the new Liverpool Street rail station. The discovery grew to hundreds and then 3,000 skeletons are expected to be brought up.

Some of the bodies may date back to the late 1500s and would include victims of the Great Plague in 1665. Many others were patients of the Bethlem Royal Hopital, which later became known as Bedlam. It was Europe’s first dedicated psychiatric facility. Bethlem has a pretty unsavory history, and existed in a time when mental illness was treated with what we see today as a great deal of cruelty. Though, some day people may look back on our own modern practices as barbaric.

Very few of the graves contained anything other than bones. A crucifix was found in one and a few other artifacts were recovered. It seems that these souls were too poor to have anything else laid to rest with them.

Commentary on the article is interesting with many crying out against the excavations, wanting to let the dead rest in peace. Is it a good idea to disturb these graves? Movies like Poltergeist (the good, original one) suggest that building over the dead and disturbing graves can have unpleasant consequences. There are certainly plenty of stories by people who feel they are haunted because the dead do not want to be disturbed. On the other hand, we learn much by studying the old and ancient dead. Perhaps this will bring us closer to our brothers and sisters of the past.

Man in bear suit harasses bears

Photo of a camera crew recording someone wearing a realistic animal suit

Was this weirdo wearing a suit like this one from Animal Makers?

Sometimes words just fail. Several news outlets, including the Daily Mail, reported that a man dressed in a bear suit was harassing some real bears feeding from the Chilkoot River near Haines, Alaska. A mother and her two cubs were fishing the stream. A crowd had gathered to watch, including a park official who was counting fish.

The man in the suit approached, unnoticed at first. Then he began to jump up and down, coming within 10 feet of the cubs. Alaska Fish and Game technician Lou Cenicola moved the bears away before something very bad happened and then spoke to the man. Cenicola is not law enforcement, so he was a little out of his element.

The man never identified himself and drove away without removing any of his costume. He reportedly told Cenicola “You have the license plate number. You figure it out.”

Photo of a strange costumed character in Beaumont, TX.

Photo of a strange costumed character in Beaumont, TX.

Fortunately, in Texas, we don’t have bear issues. We get gun-toting bananas. Oh, well. I guess it’s weird all over!

Haunted mirrors

photo of an Asian woman brushing her teeth in a mirror with a ghostly figure of a Victorian woman reflected behind her

Are mirrors gateways into other worlds?

Mirrors are creepy. They show us a backwards view of our own world, suggesting that there is another realm just beyond. Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass gave us that image of what it might be like to pass into that world. Of course, he’s not the only one.

Jewish tradition dictates that mirrors should be draped when someone dies, a tradition that was adopted by the formal traditions of Victorian mourning. Reasons for this vary with the source. Some say it’s more about peace for the mourners. Others say it’s about the dangers of these spirit doorways which are more vulnerable at the time of someone’s passing.

Some of us have played Bloody Mary and similar games, actually daring something to reveal itself in the mirror. Is this childish or unwise? Are these just silly, spooky thrills or do we actually risk opening the door to let something nasty in?

Photo of a Victorian mirror hanging over a table with a bust statue of a woman

Does this mirror on the Myrtle Plantation contain the spirit of tortured souls?
Photo by Corey Balazowich [CC BY-ND 2.0] via flickr

There are many instances of haunted mirrors. One famous legend involves a mirror on the Myrtles Plantation in Louisiana. It is said that this mirror holds the spirit of Sara Woodruff. After Sara died this mirror was accidentally left uncovered and she will appear or leave handprints here.

Of course, there are haunted mirrors right here in Austin, Texas. The famously bespooked Driskill Hotel, a few blocks from the Museum, has the Maximilian Room. It’s named for the Mexican Emperor Maximilian and contains mirrors that he commissioned for his wife, Carlotta, before he was killed in an uprising. They were beautifully crafted in France, but never delivered. Three years after Carlotta died, The Driskill purchased the mirrors and hung them in an elegant new dining room, often used for weddings.

Legend has it that a mysterious White Lady is sometimes seen reflected in the mirrors. Some suggest that this apparition is the Empress Carlotta.

Do you have any stories of strange things in a mirror? Do you think they really can be doorways to other worlds? Share with us.

In the mean time, we take care with our mirrors, because you just never know.

Stonehenge outdone

Photo of Stonhenge against a dark, stormy-looking sky.

Stonhenge, located in Wiltshire, England,
is probably the most famous henge in the world.
Photo by Diego Delso [CC BY-SA 4.0],
via Wikimedia Commons

Stonehenge is one of the world’s most mysterious places. The ancient structure, located in a field near Wiltshire, England, brings to mind images of druids and mysterious rituals. What if Stonehenge is really just an overture? What if there was something bigger…much, much bigger?Researchers have recently uncovered a series of standing stones that dwarfs Stonehenge. It’s called the Durrington Walls, and lies about 3 kilometers (1.86 miles) northeast of Stonehenge. People have been aware of the structures, but it’s not until recently that underground imaging helped us to see the scope of it all.  This dramatic video by the Irish Times shows how the full structure might look if it was all unearthed and restored.

Some people take these sorts of mysterious sites pretty seriously. A story from the Irish Examiner tells of a grave warning given by local lorekeeper, Eddie Lenihan, if the West Pharmaceutical Services factory destroys an ancient fairy fort in Waterford. He portends a run of horrible luck that will bring the new facility to ruins, along with all who work there. With that on the line, perhaps the construction could account for a little fairy park? It would be a nice place to have lunch!


Very little is truly known about the origins and uses of these structures. Perhaps we will never know. In the mean time, we look forward to learning more about the Superhenge.


Fatal selfie


Artist rendering shows how an unsuccessful gun selfie might look before the final moment.

In a previous article from July we highlighted some of the amazing ways that people have died while taking selfies and the steps the Russian government took to warn people of the danger. Apparently these tips have gone unheeded.

A Reuters report describes how a 19-year old Houston, Texas man fatally shot himself while posing with his gun for social media.

Houston police spokeswoman said “A witness told police he was taking a selfie with a gun. The gun accidentally discharged.”

We regret any unnecessary death and our heart goes out to this young man’s family. We hope that anyone reading this will take the following steps if choosing to take firearm pictures.

  1. Make sure that the firearm is not loaded.
  2. Do not point the gun at your head or at anyone. Treat it as if it were loaded.
  3. MAKE SURE that the firearm is not loaded.
  4. Use a timer to free yourself to give proper focus to the firearm so you are not distracted. Treat it as a dangerous thing that can hurt you if you’re not careful.

Of course, accidents do happen. Even people trained with firearms can have unfortunate incidents, as we are reminded by this footage from January, 2015 where a Kentucky police officer accidentally shot himself in an elevator

We hope that all of our readers take heed and are exceedingly careful with weapons. Guns aren’t the only danger. This story from the Rakyat Post tells how a man from Kuala Lumpur had a similar accident, shooting himself with a steel arrow!

Please be safe!

Adventures in time and space

Can you tell the difference between the blue boxes below?

Photo of two blue portaloos standing in a lush field

Photo © Copyright Karl and Ali and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence


Photo © Copyright Meirion and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

The first ones are a welcome site for someone who has had two much beer at the festival. The next one is a welcome sight for someone who wants to leave their humdrum life behind and go adventuring through time and space with The Doctor.

A woman who attended the Newlyn Fish Festival in Cornwall may not be able to tell the difference any more. She stepped into a porta-potty to take care of some personal business. While she was inside a forklift picked the unit up and moved it to a new location on the other side of the harbor. The woman was not injured, but confused about how she got to the new location.

She must have been very confused. How could someone not be aware that the “little room” they were in was being hoisted and rolled to a new location? Perhaps it’s one of the new, smooth-riding forklifts. The incident was reported by BBC news, so we know it’s true!

Send in the prehistoric clones

Museum Nature Science Woolly Mammoth

Will we be able to see these magnificent creatures in the flesh?
Photo by Joseph Martinez [cc-by-nd 2.0]

If you read our article from 2011, you may have been wondering when that woolly mammoth clone would be available? It may be closer than you think.

A new laboratory in the icy wastelands of Siberia is devoted to cloning extinct animals, including the woolly mammoth. Located in Yakutia, the facility may have the largest collection of remains from prehistoric animals—everything from prehistoric dogs and horses to the enormous precursor to the elephant that once roamed the earth.

An article in Russian magazine, Ogonek (see original or English translation), reports that the lab is very focused on cloning mammoths as their first project in collaboration with the Sooam Biotech company, which has already had success in dog cloning. They’ll never do it, though. Right?

This article from the Telegraph tells how Harvard University researchers have already copied 14 woolly mammoth genes into the genome of an Asian elephant. While their work has not yet been published, and the genes have only lived in a lab at this point, it’s an important step toward a living, breathing mammoth.

While it would be fantastic to be able to see these prehistoric creatures in the flesh, there is always the question of whether this is a good idea. Should creatures whose time on the planet has come and gone be allowed to rest in peace? In the mean time, we’ll keep an eye on developments.

There is no spoon

The word pareidolia has been bandied about quite a bit as a result of the strange pictures coming from Mars that seem to depict everything from a jedi woman to machinery. Now we have a strange picture that appears to be a spoon floating on Mars.


NASA’s response is predictable:

It seems that we are to believe that Mars is filled with nothing but rocks and dirt! Perhaps it’s true, but where is the fun in that? I didn’t spend all my time reading H. G. Wells and watching Devil Girl from Mars to have my hopes dashed. It’s…it’s just disappointing!

Actually, it’s fascinating how our minds are so geared to find meaningful patterns. It’s what allows us to appreciate art. It’s what makes emoticons work. 🙂

It seems that that our brains are wired to seek patterns, especially faces. In his book Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark Carl Sagan wrote

As soon as the infant can see, it recognizes faces, and we now know that this skill is hardwired in our brains. Those infants who a million years ago were unable to recognize a face smiled back less, were less likely to win the hearts of their parents, and less likely to prosper. These days, nearly every infant is quick to identify a human face, and to respond with a goony grin.”

Recognizing your parents is good, but it’s probably also helpful to see the potential for anything that might eat you. While we are less concerned about sabre tooth tigers today, haven’t we all had a moment where we saw something that looked like an intruder? The heart pounds, the body prepares to fight or fly. It ends up being a pile of clothes. From a defensive position, though, wouldn’t you rather that your body geared up for action and discovered it was a false alarm than to only activate as something was reaching out for you?

So, this fascinating ability of our brains causes us to recognize all sorts of thing, and keep the NASA public relations team up nights trying to fend it all off. Or…they really are out there and it’s all a big cover-up. Fortunately we still have pictures like this, which appears to show the silhouette of a man doing maintenance on the rover.


Now, tell me what kind of rock that is! To help you keep the dreams alive, here is a trailer for Devil Girl from Mars. You might even be able to find a full version to watch!

Keep watching the skies!

Message in a bottle over a century old!


This bottle, discovered on a German, may contain the world record for a recovered message.

April 17th, retired postal worker, Marianne Winkler, was walking along the shore of the German island of Amrum on the North Sea coast when she found something very curious on the beach. It was a well-sealed bottle with a message inside. The Winklers tried to get the bottle opened, but were finally forced to follow the directions to extract the paper: BREAK THE BOTTLE.

It turned out to be a post-paid postcard from The Marine Biological Assocation of the UK with instructions to send the postcard back for a 1-shilling reward.

This is an image of a message that was found in a bottle from the The Marine Biological Association of the UK

Front of postcard found in the bottle.
Photo by Marine Biological Association of the UK


Back of postcard found in the bottle.
Photo by Marine Biological Association of the UK

It’s likely that the price of postage has gone up since this bottle was dropped into the water sometime between 1904 and 1906. It was one of nearly 1,000 bottles released as part of an study on currents.

“We were very excited,” Guy Baker, a spokesman for the group, told AP, London. “We certainly weren’t expecting to receive any more of the postcards.”

Photo of front and back of 1906 Shilling coin

Example of a 1906 Shilling Coin

To reward the Winklers for their find, the Association sent them a shilling from the period which they found on E-Bay.

Information about this find is currently being reviewed by Guinness for a possible world record.


Nazi gold train discovered?

Today’s story combines two powerful ideas: Nazis and treasure.

Nazi villainy is legendary. They were a powerful, invasive force. They were responsible for unspeakable horrors that can never be forgotten. Their leaders were genuinely interested in tapping into supernatural forces to achieve victory.

Gold, jewels, the promise of treasure have excited countless generations. Some tales of treasure hunting are inspiring. Others are more horrific. People are capable of amazing things when they believe it will lead to riches.

So, here is the scene. There is a legend of a Nazi train filled with guns and gold that disappeared in Poland about 1945. If stories are to be believed this ghost train contains 30 tons of gold along with jewels and other valuables. Did such a train actually exist? Is it still findable?

See this video about a startling ground radar discovery:

If this is the real thing, Polish law entitles treasure hunters to receive 10% of anything found. I imagine a mere 3 tons of gold could make one pretty comfortable.

Of course, there is an ethical question. If these valuables were taken from Polish Jews by the Nazis, then is it right to take a “finder’s fee?” This question is at the heart of the controversey as people explore the best way to excavate the possible train. It’s currently buried in rock that will require careful blasting to reach.

If this is a Nazi train, even one carrying only military cargo, this is quite a find. The artifacts are likely well preserved and would be valuable in their own right.

If this ends up being a treasure train then it’s even more incredible. We will have to see how this all progresses. We’ll share more as news becomes available.

Underground wonder park

Photo of the entrance to Salina Turda, a small, shell-shaped building with elaborate glass panels and surrounded by a railing

Photo by Ana Maria Catalina (Own work) [GFDL or CC BY-SA 4.0-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The building, standing alone in Transylvania, looks unassuming. It’s a little artsy building which could be a museum or a gallery. Indeed, there is art inside. Then, you step into the elevator and descend into an amazing site, an underground amusement park.

This is Salina Turda, a medieval salt mine that was in operation as early as 1075. It ceased mining operations in 1932.

In 1992, people began using the mine as halotherapy center, attracting tourists. The salt atmosphere is considered healthful and the air in the mine may be some of the purest on the planet due to the many layers of natural filtration.

Beginning in 2008, the Romanians undertook a massive renovation project, transforming Salina Turda into a wonderland. The park features table games, boats to paddle around an underground lake, a Ferris wheel, an amphitheater, and more, engulfed in the surreal, subterranean atmosphere of the gigantic caverns. It’s not exactly Six Flags. It’s not built for thrills, but I can’t imagine anyone coming down here without getting goosebumps.

This video shows the architecture and many of the sites. There is a wonderful gallery of photos on their web site and any image search will turn up beautiful, haunting pictures.

Here are additional photos:

Salina Turda tunel de acces 4

Entrance tunnel
Photo by Cristian Bortes from Cluj-Napoca, Romania (Salina – Turda) [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Salina Turda - sala principala

The main hall with salt stalactites on the left side
By Strainu [CC BY-SA 3.0 ro], via Wikimedia Commons

Salina Turda 045

Rudolf hall is 80 m (260 ft) long, 50 m (160 ft) wide and 40 m (130 ft) high.
Photo by Cosmin Danila [CC BY-SA 3.0 ro], via Wikimedia Commons

Salina Turda 007

The Crivac hoisted salt to the surface.
Photo by Cosmin Danila [CC BY-SA 3.0 ro], via Wikimedia Commons

Salina Turda Img 4166

View of the underground lake and UFO-shaped constructions
Photo by Adymark [CC BY-SA 3.0 ro], via Wikimedia Commons