Ameranthropoides Loysi

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:LoysApe.jpg

What is this? Is it a spider monkey? Or is it some unknown primate? We may never find out — this is the only photograph that survives from a strange encounter in the Venezuelan jungle in 1920.

Swiss oil geologist François De Loys was exploring near Lake Maracaibo when two creatures angrily approached his camp. The animals behaved like monkeys, holding onto shrubs and branches. The male escaped, but De Loys shot the female, which proved to be 1.57 meters tall, about half a meter larger than any known spider monkey. He said the creature had no tail, though it’s impossible to tell from the single photo he took.

All traces of the creature itself are lost — De Loys skinned it and kept the hide and skull, but he lost them during the difficult expedition (20 of the 24 explorers died).

Since then, authorities have argued endlessly about “Ameranthropoides loysi” — but it’s worth noting that that’s a regulation crate it’s sitting on, which supports De Loys’ contention about its size, and that its face, chest and hands differ in significant respects from a spider monkey’s. And there have been occasional reports of similar creatures in South America: “Mono Grande” may yet be discovered there.

Malden Island

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NASA-MaldenIsland.jpg

This is Malden Island, an uninhabited speck of land more than 1,500 miles from Hawaii. When Lord Byron’s cousin discovered it in 1825, he found a series of ruined stone temples in the interior, but the island was deserted. Who were the builders, where did they come from, and what became of them? No one knows for sure.

“The Human Lightning Rod”

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A U.S. forest ranger in Virginia’s Shenandoah National Park, Roy Cleveland Sullivan (1912-1983) survived being hit by lightning seven different times:

  1. In a lookout tower in 1942, the first bolt struck him in the leg. He lost a nail on his big toe.
  2. In 1969, a second bolt struck him in his truck, knocking him unconscious and burning his eyebrows.
  3. The third strike, in 1970, hit him in his front yard, burning his left shoulder.
  4. The next bolt struck in a ranger station in 1972 and set his hair on fire. After that, he began carrying a pitcher of water with him.
  5. In 1973, a bolt hit Sullivan in the head, blasting him out of his car and again setting his hair on fire.
  6. The sixth bolt struck him in a campground in 1974, injuring his ankle.
  7. The final bolt hit him in 1977, when he was fishing. He was hospitalized for burns on his chest and stomach.

Sullivan shot himself in 1983 … reportedly over a rejected love.

A Note From the Neighbors

At 5:12 p.m. on November 26, 1977, an unidentified voice appeared on the transmitters of Southern Television in the United Kingdom. Identifying itself as Vrillon, representative of the Ashtar Galactic Command, the voice broke in to a news broadcast to warn viewers of “the destiny of your race,” “so that you may communicate to your fellow beings the course you must take to avoid a disaster which threatens your world and the beings on other worlds around you.”

Accompanied by a deep buzzing, the voice warned against the use of nuclear weapons and stated that humanity had “but a short time to learn to live together in peace and goodwill” before it destroyed itself.

Investigators decided that pranksters were behind the broadcast, aiming a transmitter at a VHF receiver to overpower the “official” signal with a joke message.

But no one knows for sure.

Jerimoth Hill

If you’re visiting Rhode Island, you might be excused for wanting to visit Jerimoth Hill: It’s the highest point in the state.

Unfortunately, you’d be taking your life in your hands. Jerimoth is private property, and it’s owned by a singularly cranky 77-year-old named Henry Richardson, who monitors the trail with motion sensors. Here’s how he’s greeted other visitors:

  • Assaulted them verbally (“Shoot all the damn highpointers!” “Get the hell off my property!”)
  • Threatened to break cameras
  • Started fistfights
  • Let the air out of their car tires
  • Shot them with rock salt
  • Chased them through three states by car

Under pressure, Richardson’s son agreed in 1998 to let hikers visit the highpoint on national holidays. Before that, the 812-foot rise “was considered less accessable than Mt. McKinley.”

Who’s On First?

http://www.sxc.hu/index.phtml

Mount Everest has lost a lot of its intrigue since Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit in 1953. Indeed, it’s become a big business in Nepal: Between 1998 and 2001, 560 people reached the “top of the world”; last year Pemba Dorjie Sherpa set a new record by making the climb — five miles straight up — in 8 hours and 10 minutes.

Still, it’s perilous, particularly in the “death zone” above 26,000 feet. Hundreds have died, and most of the corpses remain where they fell, frozen solid.

One of those bodies may hold some astounding evidence — proof that the summit was reached 29 years before Hillary’s achievement.

In June 1924, two British climbers, George Mallory and Andrew Irvine, had climbed to within a few hours of the top. They were using oxygen, which doubled their speed; their geologist reported seeing them climbing “with great alacrity … near the base of the final pyramid” shortly after noon. But the climbers were obscured by mist, and vanished. Had they succeeded?

In 1933 one of their ice axes was found above a large snow terrace. This narrowed the search. If the bodies could be found, Eastman Kodak thought it could retrieve “fully printable images” from their cameras, which would presumably show the summit if they’d reached it. (Irvine was an avid photographer.)

At first the mystery only deepened. A Chinese porter told of finding an “English dead” near the terrace in 1975, but he died in an avalanche before he could reveal any details. Then, in 1999, Eric Simonson found Mallory’s body, with rope trauma indicating that the two climbers had fallen together. But there were no cameras, and still no sign of Irvine’s body.

That’s where the mystery stands now. Last year a new effort began to recover Irvine’s body — details are at Mallory & Irvine: The Final Chapter. So far they’ve retrieved some puzzling artifacts, but no clear answer. Stay tuned.

Project Habbakuk

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During World War II, Lord Mountbatten and Geoffrey Pyke approached Winston Churchill with a novel plan to reach German U-boats in the mid-Atlantic, where land-based planes couldn’t reach them. They wanted to build an aircraft carrier out of solid ice.

It sounds crazy today, but if they’d gone through with it Project Habbakuk might well have lived up to its biblical billing (“be utterly amazed, for I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told”). Mountbatten and Pike planned to assemble 280,000 blocks of ice into a ship 600 meters long, with a displacement of 2 million tons (today’s Nimitz-class carriers are 333 meters long and displace 100,000 tons). It would carry electric motors, anti-aircraft guns, an airstrip, and a refrigeration unit to keep everything from melting.

Pro: It would be practically unsinkable.

Con: It would take 8,000 people eight months to build it, at a cost of $70 million.

In the end they made a little prototype in Alberta, but the project never got any further. Still, it’s a credit to Churchill that he even considered such an outlandish idea. “Personally I’m always ready to learn,” he once said, “although I do not always like being taught.”

The Headington Shark

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Oxford_shark.jpg

The Headington Shark landed on the roof of 2 New High Street on Aug. 9, 1986, the 41st anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb on Nagasaki.

The house’s owner, Radio Oxford presenter Bill Heine, said, “The shark was to express someone feeling totally impotent and ripping a hole in their roof out of a sense of impotence and anger and desperation. … It is saying something about CND, nuclear power, Chernobyl and Nagasaki.”

That sounds nice, but it’s still a big shark. The city council couldn’t argue that it was dangerous — Heine had special girders installed to support the 25-foot fiberglass body — but in 1990 they insisted it counted as unpermitted “development.” Heine appealed to the secretary of state for the environment, Peter Macdonald, who supported him: “As a ‘work of art’ the sculpture (‘Untitled 1986’) would be ‘read’ quite differently in, say, an art gallery or on another site. An incongruous object can become accepted as a landmark after a time, becoming well known, even well loved in the process. Something of this sort seems to have happened, for many people, to the so-called ‘Oxford shark.'”

So the fish stayed. And it seems to be growing on people. In 1992, Times writer Bernard Levin called the shark “delightful, innocent, fresh and amusing — all qualities abhorred by such committees.”

Edmund Trebus

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Image:25378254536.jpg

As a packrat, Edmund Trebus took the cake. He also took washing machines, rotting clothes, wood, motorcycles, windowpanes, and old refrigerators. Before the Polish émigré died in 2002, at age 83, he had filled his four-story London house with mountains of garbage collected at local junk shops and building sites. One room was full of vacuum cleaners, another with cameras. He collected Elvis Presley recordings maniacally.

In their garden, his wife used to sit in a deck chair among towers of crap. When she left in 1981, he filled in the hole. In the end Trebus was living in one corner of the kitchen, with only a Jack Russell terrier for company. He needed ladders to get in and out of the house, which had no running water, working bathroom or electricity.

In 1997, after being buried under one of his own “litter traps,” designed to catch burglars, he was hospitalized for gangrene. When he got out, he found that the town council had finally got a court order declaring the house unfit for human habitation. Six men and five trucks took 30 days to remove 515 cubic yards of waste.

He’d filled it up again by 2001.

Spring Heeled Jack

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Jack2.jpg

A villain worthy of DC Comics, Spring Heeled Jack leapt liberally around England between 1837 and 1904, attacking isolated victims who described him as a muscular devil in an oilskin.

If he was the devil, he wasn’t a very ambitious criminal, generally just crashing carriages and groping women. But he could jump 9-foot walls, perhaps using spring-loaded footgear, judging from some ill-preserved prints.

An anonymous letter implied that a human prankster was terrorizing London on a bet, and incidental reports began to mount. In 1838 four witnesses saw him breathe fire and jump to the roof of a house, and in 1845 he threw a 13-year-old prostitute from a bridge, his first killing. On the night of Feb. 8, 1855, long trails of hooflike prints were seen in the snow throughout Devon, crossing roofs, walls, and haystacks. By 1873 thousands were gathering each night to hunt the ghost.

Nothing seemed to stop him, including bullets, and he even attacked a group of soldiers at Aldershot Barracks in 1877. He was last spotted in 1904 in Liverpool, leaping over a crowd of witnesses and disappearing behind some neighboring houses.

There’s no good explanation. Some suspected the Marquess of Waterford, who was known to spring on travelers to amuse himself, but the attacks continued after his death. Others have suggested a stranded extraterrestrial, a visitor from another dimension, or a real demon. We’ll never know.