All Clear

Lloyd’s of London does not charge higher insurance rates for ships passing through the Bermuda Triangle. It says the area is no more dangerous than any other high-traffic piece of ocean.

The U.S. Coast Guard agrees.

Some Secrets Last Forever


This conical tower, part of the Great Zimbabwe ruins of sub-Saharan Africa, has stood for a thousand years, and we may never learn what lies inside: The tower is 30 feet tall and has no windows or doors.

Man-Made Lightning


Flames conduct electricity. Forest fires near high-voltage transmission lines can actually discharge them to the ground.

A Superhero Monk


The Loch Ness monster is not only shy, he’s old. The Life of St. Columba, by the 7th-century Scottish abbot Adomnan of Iona, contains an account of the monster attacking a Pict in 565, and being fought off by the courageous saint:

[He] raised his holy hand, while all the rest, brethren as well as strangers, were stupefied with terror, and, invoking the name of God, formed the saving sign of the cross in the air, and commanded the ferocious monster, saying, “Thou shalt go no further, nor touch the man; go back with all speed.” Then at the voice of the saint, the monster was terrified, and fled more quickly than if it had been pulled back with ropes, though it had just got so near to Lugne, as he swam, that there was not more than the length of a spear-staff between the man and the beast. Then the brethren seeing that the monster had gone back, and that their comrade Lugne returned to them in the boat safe and sound, were struck with admiration, and gave glory to God in the blessed man. And even the barbarous heathens, who were present, were forced by the greatness of this miracle, which they themselves had seen, to magnify the God of the Christians.

CSS Shenandoah


The Civil War didn’t quite end with Lee’s surrender. The Confederate man-of-war CSS Shenandoah was in the Arctic Ocean at the time, and kept attacking Union ships for four more months.

By the time it stopped, the Shenandoah had carried the Confederate flag completely around the world. It sank or captured 38 ships, two-thirds of them after the war ended, and took close to a thousand prisoners. Oops.



Behold the Principality of Sealand, a self-declared “micronation” on an old sea fort in the North Sea.

Its population is only five, but it has its own government (“Their Royal Highnesses Prince Roy and Princess Joan of Sealand”), constitution, government bureaus, senate, postage stamps, and currency.

And, now, it has an official athlete: In 2003 Darren Blackburn of Oakville, Ontario, Canada, started representing Sealand in local marathons and off-trail races. Presumably short ones.


Kidnappers don’t always target humans. On Feb. 8, 1983, a group of men abducted the Irish racehorse Shergar, winner of the 1981 Epsom Derby.

A local radio station received a ransom demand for £1.5 million, but the horse was never recovered, and to this day his fate is still unknown.

Hopping Center

Wallabies aren’t unique to Australia — not anymore. There’s a been a colony of wild red-necked wallabies living in England’s Peak District since World War II, descended from animals in a private zoo.

The wild colony numbered as many as 50 at one time, but a severe winter in 1962-63 cut them down. Some believe the last one died in the late 1990s, but then a sighting was a claimed in 2000. Keep your eyes peeled.

“A Battle on Stilts”


“In the year 1748 the great Marshal Saxe, who was travelling through the Low Countries, came to the town of Namur in Belgium. There the citizens did everything in their power to make his stay pleasant and to do him honor, and among other things they got up a battle on stilts. These inhabitants of Namur were well used to stilts, for their town, which has a river on each side of it, lay very low, and was subject to overflows, when the people were obliged to use stilts in order to walk about the streets. In this way they became very expert in the use of these slim, wooden legs, and to make their stilts amusing as well as useful they used to have stilt-battles on all holidays and great occasions. …

“Things are different in this country. It is said that in 1859 a man walked across the rapids of the Niagara river on stilts, but I never heard of any of his taxes being remitted on that account.”

— Frank R. Stockton, Round-About Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy, 1910

“Georges Le Gloupier”

Victims of Belgian “entarteur” Noël Godin, who flings cream pies at the self-important:

  • Microsoft CEO Bill Gates
  • French novelist Marguerite Duras
  • Choreographer Maurice Bejart
  • French anchorman Patrick Poivre d’Arvor
  • French politician Nicolas Sarkozy
  • Filmmaker Jean-Luc Godard
  • Philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy

Godin told The New York Times he’s trying “to function in the service of the capitalist status quo, without really using his intelligence or his imagination.” Touché.

Ambitious Cryptid

For an imaginary creature, the Popo Bawa of Zanzibar seems pretty eager for publicity. According to legend, the creature — described as a one-eyed dwarf with batlike wings and sharp talons — seeks out men who deny its existence, sodomizing them for up to an hour and threatening longer, and repeated, attacks unless they tell their friends and neighbors about the experience.

Strangely, the creature’s attacks are said to rise and fall with the local election cycle. Maybe it’s campaigning.

Beauty and the Beast

Last year Sharon Tendler married a bottle-nosed dolphin.

Tendler, 41, first became captivated with the animal during a dolphinarium show in Eilat, Israel. She visited him regularly for 15 years (“The peace and tranquility under water, and his love, would calm me down”) and finally approached the trainer for permission for an unofficial ceremony.

On Dec. 28, 2005, Tendler walked down the dock in a white silk dress, kissed the dolphin, and whispered “I love you” into his blowhole (video). They had to make some concessions, of course: Instead of rice, the crowd threw mackerel.

Surviving Mammoths


Mammoths generally died out with the last ice age, but some survived on Russia’s Wrangel Island until 1500 B.C., around the same time Stonehenge was built.

Reportedly the Soviet Air Force spotted a group of mammoths in Siberia during World War II but subsequently lost them.

Over Easy


Madagascar’s elephant bird died out around Shakespeare’s time.

So it’s a little weird that two eggs were found in Western Australia in 1930 and 1993.

Did they float there? No one knows.

A Freak of Navigation

En route from Vancouver to Australia on Dec. 30, 1899, the captain of the S.S. Warrimoo spotted a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. At midnight, he stopped the ship at the intersection of the international date line and the equator.

At that moment, the ship was straddling two different hemispheres, days, months, years, seasons, and centuries, all at the same time. By passing between the bow and the stern, passengers could stroll between winter and summer, north and south, and the 19th and 20th centuries.

The downside: For the Warrimoo, Dec. 31 disappeared entirely.

(Roberto Casati points out that if you return to this point on June 21 and lie down on the deck, at midnight your left hand will be in summer, your right hand in spring, your left foot in winter, and your right foot in autumn.)

“The Spectre of the Brocken”


A gigantic figure haunts the Vosges Mountains, known by the name of “The Spectre of the Brocken.” The ignorant peasants were, in former times, in great fear of it, thinking it a supernatural being, and fancying that it brought upon them all manner of evil. And it must be confessed it was a fearful sight to behold suddenly upon the summit of a lofty mountain an immense giant, sometimes pointing in a threatening attitude to a village below, as if dooming it to destruction; sometimes with arms upraised, as if invoking ruin upon all the country; and sometimes stalking along with such tremendous strides as to make but one step from peak to peak; often dwarfing himself to nothingness, and again stretching up until his head is in the clouds, then disappearing entirely for a moment, only to reappear more formidable than before.

But now the Spectre of the Brocken is no longer an object of fear. Why? Because men have found him out, and he is nothing in the world but a shadow. When the sun is in the right position, an ordinary-sized man on a lower mountain will see a gigantic shadow of himself thrown upon a cloud beyond the Brocken, though it appears to be on the mountain itself, and it is so perfect a representation that it is difficult to believe it is only a shadow. But it can be easily proved. If the man stoops to pick up anything, down goes the spectre; if he raises his hand, so does the spectre; if he takes a step of two feet, the spectre takes one of miles; if he raises his hat, the spectre politely returns his salute.

— Frank R. Stockton, Round-About Rambles in Lands of Fact and Fancy, 1910

Cargo Cults

“Almost all absurdity of conduct arises from the imitation of those whom we cannot resemble,” wrote Dr. Johnson.

During World War II, 300,000 American troops were stationed in the New Hebrides (now Vanuatu). Greatly impressed with the Westerners’ wealth and power, the natives began to worship a messiah they called Jon Frum, “the king of America,” who lives in the crater of a local mountain.

To this day, every Feb. 15 they celebrate Jon Frum Day by offering prayers and flowers at a red cross — that’s the date the believe Frum will return bearing cargo from heaven. They also conduct a flag-raising ceremony and a military parade with bamboo “rifles.” The movement even has its own political party.

Records show there never was an actual Jon Frum. But a separate cult has found a real messiah: They worship Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.

Song of the Sphinx

The Colossi of Memnon, in Egypt. After an earthquake, the one on the right began to “sing” every morning at dawn, producing a light moaning sound probably related to rising temperatures and evaporating dew. In “The Sphinx,” Oscar Wilde wrote:

Still from his chair of porphyry gaunt Memnon strains his lidless eyes
Across the empty land, and cries each yellow morning unto thee.

Hearing the song brought good luck, so the colossi began to attract pilgrims from across the ancient world. It stopped in 199 when Emperor Septimius Severus tried to fix the damage. Nice going.

The Chase Vault

It’s bad enough that the Chase family of Barbados had to inter six members between 1808 and 1819.

But each time they opened the family vault, they found that the coffins had been rearranged into awkward positions.

After the last instance, the island’s governor pressed his personal seal into fresh cement in the vault’s door. The seal was intact when the vault was opened the next year — but the coffins had been rearranged again, with one thrown up against the door.

Finally the coffins were buried separately in the Christ Church graveyard. No explanation was ever found.



On Oct. 25, 1924, witnesses reported a three-hour fight between two whales and a “giant polar bear” off the coast of Margate, South Africa. The creature attacked the whales using its tail, lifting itself out of the water by as much as 20 feet, but eventually succumbed.

When its body washed up on shore, residents reportedly saw a 47-foot fishlike animal with snow-white fur 8 inches long, an elephant’s trunk, a lobster’s tail and a carcass drained of blood. No head was visible; the trunk extended directly from the body.

Strangely, though the body remained for 10 days on Margate Beach, no scientist investigated and no photographs were taken. Most likely it was a whale whose decay made it appear furry, but we’ll never know.

Der Giftpilz


Yes, it’s a Jewish toadstool.

In 1938, fanatical Nazi Julius Streicher published a children’s book called Der Giftpilz (The Poisoned Mushroom), which compared perfidious Jews to poisonous fungus.

“Our boys and girls must learn to know the Jew,” a mother warns her children. “They must learn that the Jew is the most dangerous poison mushroom in existence. Just as poisonous mushrooms spring up everywhere, so the Jew is found in every country in the world. Just as poisonous mushrooms lead to the most dreadful calamity, so the Jew is the cause of misery and distress, illness and death.”

Disturbingly, Streicher had worked as an elementary school teacher before joining the German army in 1914. He published propaganda for Hitler, and after Nuremberg he was the only sentenced Nazi to declare “Heil Hitler” before being hanged. At least he was consistent.

“Quake Hairs”

From a Scientific American account of a Thai earthquake on May 13, 1848:

During the shock, there spontaneously came out of the ground a species of human hairs in almost every place — in the bazaars, in the roads, in the fields, and the most solid places. These hairs, which are pretty long, stand upright and adhere strongly to the ground. When they are burned, they twist like human hairs and have a burned smell which makes it to be believed that they are really hairs; they all appeared in the twinkling of an eye during the earthquake. The river of Chantibun was all rippling, and bubbles rose to the surface, so that the water was quite white. It is thought that these hairs may have been produced by electricity.

Similar “hairs” have been reported after other Asian earthquakes. Some have been identified as fibers from the hemp palm Chamaerops fortunei, a native tree. Others remain unexplained.

Special Delivery


Where there’s a will, there’s a way. In 1849, Henry Box Brown escaped slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia.

Brown stood 5’8″ and weighed 200 pounds, and he spent 26 hours in a box 2’8″ x 2′ x 3′. Unfortunately, he spent a lot of it upside down. “I felt my eyes swelling as if they would burst from their sockets,” he later wrote, “and the veins on my temples were dreadfully distended with pressure of blood upon my head.” The trip from Richmond covered 275 miles by overland express stage wagon.

When the box was opened, his first words were “How do you do, gentlemen?”

“The Racetrack”


In Death Valley, rocks move. No one’s actually seen it happen, but they leave tracks hundreds of feet long. Experts attribute the phenomenon to a combination of wind, ice, and mud, but some of the stones weigh as much as a man. One 700-pound rock disappeared altogether in May 1994. Hmm.

08/28/2014 UPDATE: The puzzle is solved! (Thanks, Dan.)