Leviathan

Extract from the log of A.H. Raymer, second officer of the S.S. Fort Salisbury, Oct. 28, 1902, quoted in The Zoologist, January 1903:

Dark object, with long, luminous trailing wake, thrown in relief by a phosphorescent sea, seen ahead, a little on starboard bow. Look-out reported two masthead lights ahead. These two lights, almost as bright as a steamer’s lights, appeared to shine from two points in line on the upper surface of the dark mass. Concluded dark mass was a whale, and lights phosphorescent. On drawing nearer, dark mass and lights sank below the surface. Prepared to examine the wake in passing with binoculars. Passed about forty to fifty yards on port side of wake, and discovered it was the scaled back of some huge monster slowly disappearing below the surface. Darkness of the night prevented determining its exact nature, but scales of apparently 1 ft. diameter, and dotted in places with barnacle growth, were plainly discernible. The breadth of the body showing above water tapered from about 80 ft. close abaft, where the dark mass had appeared to about 5 ft. at the extreme end visible. Length roughly about 500 ft. to 600 ft. Concluded that the dark mass first seen must have been the creature’s head. The swirl caused by the monster’s progress could be distinctly heard, and a strong odour like that of a low-tide beach on a summer day pervaded the air. Twice along its length the disturbance of the water and a broadening of the surrounding belt of phosphorus indicated the presence of huge fins in motion below the surface. The wet, shiny back of the monster was dotted with twinkling phosphorescent lights, and was encircled with a band of white phosphorescent sea. Such are the bare facts of the passing of the Sea Serpent in latitude 5 deg. 31 min. S., longitude 4 deg. 42 min. W., as seen by myself, being officer of the watch, and by the helmsman and look-out man.

The ship’s master added, “I can only say that he is very earnest on the subject, and certainly has, together with look-out and helmsman, seen something in the water of a huge nature as specified.”

Brewing Trouble

A curious excerpt from The Pursuit of the Heiress, a history of aristocratic marriage in Ireland by A.P.W. Malcolmson, 2006:

Another strange tale, which this time ended less happily for the heir presumptive, is that of the 3rd Earl of Darnley, an eccentric bachelor who suffered from the delusion that he was a teapot. In 1766, when he was nearly fifty and had held the family title and estates for almost twenty years, Lord Darnley suddenly and unexpectedly married; and between 1766 and his death in 1781, he fathered at least seven children, in spite of his initial alarm that his spout would come off in the night.

I thought this couldn’t possibly be true, but Malcolmson gives two sources, a letter from the Rev. George Chinnery to Viscountess Midleton, Aug. 18, 1762, kept at the Surrey History Centre in Woking, and a typescript family history by Rear Admiral W.G.S. Tighe. An Irish auction house supports the story.

(Thanks, Donald.)

Signs and Wonders

COLUMBIA, S.C., May 29. — Closely following the appearance of the hand of flame in the heavens above Ohio comes a story from Darlington County, in this State, of a flying serpent. Last Sunday evening, just before sunset, Miss Ida Davis and her two younger sisters were strolling through the woods, when they were suddenly startled by the appearance of a huge serpent moving through the air above them. The serpent was distant only two or three rods when they first beheld it, and was sailing through the air with a speed equal to that of a hawk or buzzard, but without any visible means of propulsion. Its movements in its flight resembled those of a snake, and it looked a formidable object as it wound its way along, being apparently about 15 feet in length. The girls stood amazed and followed it with their eyes until it was lost to view in the distance. The flying serpent was also seen by a number of people in other parts of the county early in the afternoon of the same day, and by those it is represented as emitting a hissing noise which could be distinctly heard.

New York Times, May 30, 1888

Meeting the Locals

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:????????????_???????-?????.jpg

Henry Hudson made this curious journal entry in the Canadian arctic, June 15, 1610:

This morning one of our company looking overboard saw a mermaid; and calling up some of the company to see her, one more came up, and by that time she was come close to the ship’s side, looking earnestly on the men. A little after, a sea came and overturned her. From the navel upward, her back and breasts were like a woman’s, as they say that saw her; her body as big as one of us; her skin very white; and long hair hanging down behind, of colour black. In her going down they saw her tail, which was like the tail of a porpoise, and speckled like a mackerel. Their names that saw her were Thomas Hilles and Robert Rayner.

“Whatever explanation be attempted of this apparition,” wrote Philip Gosse, “the ordinary resource of seal or walrus will not avail here. Seals and walruses must have been as familiar to these polar mariners as cows to a dairy-maid. Unless the whole story was a concerted lie between the two men, reasonless and objectless, — and the worthy old navigator doubtless knew the character of his men, — they must have seen, in the black-haired, white-skinned creature, some form of being as yet unrecognized.”

Hidden Monsters

Last year, University of Queensland psychology undergraduate Sean Murphy was collecting images of faces while preparing an experiment. As he skimmed through them, he noticed that they began to appear grotesque and deformed, though when viewed individually they appeared normal and even attractive. (The demonstration above uses photographs of celebrities.)

“The effect seems to depend on processing each face in light of the others,” writes grad student Matthew Thompson, who published the result last year with Murphy and Jason Tangen. “By aligning the faces at the eyes and presenting them quickly, it becomes much easier to compare them, so the differences between the faces are more extreme. If someone has a large jaw, it looks almost ogre-like. If they have an especially large forehead, then it looks particularly bulbous. We’re conducting several experiments right now to figure out exactly what’s causing this effect.”

(Tangen, J. M., Murphy, S. C., & Thompson, M. B. (2011). Flashed face distortion effect: Grotesque faces from relative spaces. Perception, 40, 628-630.)

The Flatwoods Monster

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flatwoods_monster

On Sept. 12, 1952, three West Virginia boys saw a floating reddish sphere drop behind a hill, where it emitted a steady glow. As they went to investigate, they were joined by a local beautician and three others boys.

A dog ran ahead of the group, barked furiously at something, and fled with its tail between its legs. The first boys to reach the site saw a “big ball of fire” among a foul-smelling mist to their right. To their left were two points of light. When one boy turned his flashlight on them, the group saw a grotesque, armless creature with a head shaped like the “ace of spades,” with a circular window through which two pale blue beams of light played.

The creature, which was more than 6 feet tall, glided toward the group at first, then turned toward the glowing ball as the group fled. When a reporter from the Braxton Democrat arrived at the scene, he noticed an unusual odor in the grass that irritated his nose and throat.

No one knows what the group saw that night, but the most likely explanation seems to be a meteor and a startled barn owl. Flatwoods held a “monster festival” in September 2002, on the 50th anniversary of the event; the alien, if that’s what it was, failed to attend.

Ballot Box

In October 1956, Los Angeles mentalist Jack Swimmer declared that he would predict the exact number of votes that President Eisenhower would receive that year in the nation, in California, and in Los Angeles County. A small box containing his predictions was placed in a larger box, which was locked in a county safe on Oct. 10, and Swimmer deposited $5,000 with the county board of supervisors, saying they could give it to charity if he failed.

On Nov. 13, a week after Election Day, the supervisors opened the smaller box and found a tiny roll of paper on which were written three numbers:

33,974,241
2,875,637
1,218,462

These corresponded exactly to the published totals. The board returned Swimmer’s money, and he donated it to charity anyway, saying he was happy with his “small part in bringing out the vote.”

Swimmer wouldn’t say how he had accomplished the feat, though he said there was nothing supernatural about it. “Some of the spectators later said the tiny roll of paper on which the figures were written could have been hidden in a hollow key and injected into the box when it was unlocked,” noted a UPI account. “But by the time they thought of it, the key was no longer available for inspection.”

The L-8 Mystery

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:L-8_blimp.jpg

At 6:03 on the morning of Aug. 16, 1942, U.S. Navy blimp L-8 ascended from Treasure Island in San Francisco Bay to conduct an anti-submarine patrol along the coast of California. Aboard were pilot Ernest Cody and ensign Charles Adams. The flight proceeded uneventfully until 7:42, when Cody reported that they’d spotted an oil slick and were going to investigate.

At 11:15, caddies at a seaside golf club saw the airship float in from the sea, its motors silent. Descending, it struck some telephone lines and the roofs of several homes before coming to rest in Daly City. The first person to reach the downed ship, volunteer fireman William Morris, was surprised at what he found: “The doors were open and nobody was in the cabin.”

There was no trace of Cody or Adams. Though most of the fuel had been dumped, the parachutes and life raft were stored appropriately, and the radio was in working order. Only the crew were missing.

After a search, the Navy declared itself certain that “the men were NOT in the ship at any time it traveled over land.” Two fishing vessels near the oil slick testified that they’d seen the blimp descend to investigate, but nothing had fallen or dropped from it.

That’s all. A Coast Guard search found nothing. Cody and Adams were both declared missing, then pronounced dead a year later. No one knows what became of them.