Friday, April 21, 2017

Giant Space Clams- Nevada

In popular culture UFOs are assumed to be artificial crafts piloted by extraterrestrial beings. But what if the truth of these anomalies is even weirder? What if they are themselves living creatures?

In the October 1959 issue of Flying Saucer magazine, a letter appeared from an anonymous reader- later claimed by various sources to be named Don Wood Jr.- detailing his encounter with a bizarre pair of otherworldly creatures on top of a Nevada mesa in 1925. According to Wood, he and three other men were flying a set of Curtiss JN-4 airplanes- commonly known as “Jennies”- over the desert. The men decided to touch down on top of a mesa to explore the landscape. They had not been on the ground long when a red disk, 8 feet in diameter, descended slowly from the sky. As the strange object touched down, Wood and his colleagues realized that it was some sort of animal. It appeared to be “breathing” by raising its top half up and down, creating a six-inch opening all along the rim in a manner that Wood likened to a clam opening and closing its shell. A large chunk had been bitten out of the creature’s side, and its body oozed a metallic-looking froth.  After about twenty minutes of rest, the animal began to glow bright red and attempted to float up into the air. Its injuries were apparently too severe, however, because it quickly sank back down.

As the stunned men watched the creature, a shadow fell over them. They looked up to find an even larger disk-shaped being floating down from the sky. This one ignored Wood and his companions as it settled over the injured creature and latched onto it with four sucker-tipped tentacles. In a burst of speed, the newcomer flew straight up with its smaller counterpart in tow and vanished into the sky. Whether the larger disk was helping or attempting to eat the other creature, Wood could not say.

The idea that UFOs could be living creatures, rather than extraterrestrial crafts, has been proposed by several paranormal researchers. Proponents of this theory point to the way many of these objects appear to dance around or chase each other in a manner akin to animals playing. Others have cited the appearance of “star jelly”- strange, apparently organic slime-  falling from the sky or being found on the ground after a flurry of UFO activity (I do need to point out, however, that many samples of star jelly have, in fact, turned out to be slime molds, colonies of Nostoc bacteria, bird vomit and other Earthly biological substances. So this line of evidence is rather dubious).

Author Trevor James Constable believed that many if not all, UFOs were actually gigantic, amoebae-like organisms that were normally invisible to the human eye. Using infrared photo filters, he claimed to have taken hundreds of pictures of these creatures completely filling the skies over Earth.*  Other people have also claimed to witness bizarre, organic-looking beings, collectively known as atmospheric beasts- drifting through the sky at high altitudes.

Constable's aerial amoebae, or "critters" as he called them.

A fairly recent phenomenon may be further evidence of these supposed atmospheric beasts. Within the last few decades, several people have reported sighting what appear to be flying manta rays. The creatures are usually described as being flat gray and translucent, with large fin-like wings, but no discernible heads, tails or limbs. Are these creatures related to Woods’ flying clams? Are both perhaps part of an unseen aerial ecosystem existing miles above our heads much like the “air jungles” of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s short story The Horror of the Heights (which I’ve talked about before here)?

*On a personal note, I’m not a fan of Constable’s book, The Sky Creatures: Living UFOS. While some of his ideas are intriguing, he spends the vast majority of the book just ranting and raving about how the scientific establishment is “terrified” of his findings and are deliberately trying to ignore and discredit the truth that only he has discovered. Being scientifically minded myself, I find Constable’s constant railing against scientists to be obnoxious and juvenile. Plus it makes his book extremely tedious to read. After an hour I ended up just skimming the majority of the work to try to find the actual tidbits of info on biological UFOs scattered amid the endless diatribe.


Flying Saucers, The Magazine of Space Conquest, Issue no. 26, October 1959

American Monsters by Linda S. Godfrey

The Sky Creatures: Living UFOs by Trevor James Constable

Friday, March 31, 2017

Another article in Cryptid Culture magazine.

The newest issue of Cryptid Culture magazine is out! It features my article about the Bishop Fish and the Sea Monk, plus articles about mythical Irish water dogs, and the Van Meter Visitor (one of my favorite cryptids).

I know you’re totally geeked about this, and are most certainly going to go order your own copy right away, right? Right? Of course you are! Go here to get it now, dawg!

Also, here’s some more pics of my totally-the-most-awesomest article

Monday, February 20, 2017

Champ- Vermont

Lake Champlain is a long, narrow body of water situated primarily in Vermont, though sizeable portions of it extend into New York and the Canadian province of Quebec. The lake is named after Samuel de Champlain, a French explorer who mapped much of the area along the Saint Lawrence Seaway and founded the colony of New France.

Like many large bodies of water across the world, Lake Champlain is believed to be the home of a mysterious aquatic monster. Nicknamed Champ, or affectionately “Champy” by locals, the creature is said to be a dark gray or black serpentine beast with a long, swan-like neck and several humps on its back. Fairly typical for lake beasties, really.

According to some sources, legends of a monster living in the lake go back to the original Abenaki peoples who called it Tatoskok. The first known account by a European was in 1819 when a scow captain claimed to have seen a bizarre looking “black monster” that had a head like a “sea horse”, three teeth, onion-colored eyes, a white star on its forehead and a belt of red around its neck. True or not, this incident marked the start of a string of sightings throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. Champ quickly became a popular legend around the Champlain Valley, to the point that in 1873 famous showman P.T. Barnum offered a substantial reward for the beast’s capture.

Perhaps the most famous piece of evidence for Champ was a photo taken in 1977 by Sandra Mansi. According to Mansi, she was at the lake with her fiancée and two children when what appeared to be an animal with a long, swan-like neck suddenly emerged from the water only about 150 feet away. As Sandra and her fiancée scrambled to get the children out of the water, the object appeared to move as if peering around. Sandra snapped a single photo of the thing before it sank back below the waves once more.

The photo very clearly depicts what appears to be the humped back and snake-like head of some sort of creature. While many have claimed that the object in the photo is clearly a living animal, science writer Darren Naish, along with other skeptics, believes it is only a submerged log that briefly bobbed to the surface before sinking again. His Tetrapod Zoology blog has some pretty interesting model images to back up his claim.

Champ, like Nessie and many other lake monsters, is popularly thought to be a surviving plesiosaur. However as a cold-blooded reptile, a plesiosaur would likely not have been able to tolerate the frigid waters of the lake. There is also the fact that plesiosaurs had stiff necks held out straight in front of them, whereas Champ and its cousins often have flexible, swan-like necks. While it’s certainly possible that over millions of years plesiosaurs developed flexible necks and a warm-blooded metabolism, there is actually a more plausible candidate for the monster’s identity (assuming it is a real animal): a long-necked seal.

In his 1968 book “In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents”, cryptozoologist Bernard Heuvelmans postulated that aquatic cryptids could be grouped into nine categories, one of which was a long-necked seal. But even before Heuvelmans, C.A. Oudemans wrote in his 1892 book The Great Sea Serpent” of his theory that sea and lake monsters were actually a kind of swan-necked pinniped (the group of animals to which seals belong along with sea lions and walruses). Even earlier than this, though, comes a description of a long-necked seal in James Parsons 1751 “A dissertation upon the Class of the Phocae Marinae” in which he apparently makes a scientific description based on what appears to be an actual specimen in his possession (a specimen which has, naturally, disappeared).

There is actual fossil evidence for long-necked seals. Acrophoca longirostris is a pinniped from the Miocene and Pliocene coast of Argentina and Chile that has a remarkably elongated neck. Although its length is nowhere near the plesiosaur-level length of reported lake monsters, it does provide a tentative clue to the existence of  long-necked seals.

It’s worth noting that one of the closest living relatives of Acrophoca is believed to be the leopard seal, Hydrurga leptonyx, an Antarctic predator that has an eerie, almost reptilian appearance. If a possible Acrophoca descendant bore a similar appearance to its southern cousin, one could see how it might be mistaken for a plesiosaur.

Some sightings of Champ may actually be explained by an unusual property of the lake itself. When wind blows for long periods across the surface of a long, narrow body of water such as Champlain, the force actually pushes the water and causes it to pile up to one side. When the wind stops, this water flows back and begins to slosh back and forth across the lake, creating an oscillating wave called a seiche. You can see a similar phenomenon by sloshing around in a bathtub full of water. This long, low wave may account for the frequent sightings of a wake or broad hump moving across the lake’s surface.

Lake Champlain has a second, unseen oscillating seiche beneath the surface. As with many lakes, Champlain is stratified into an upper layer of warm water lying over a layer of deeper, colder water. The layers are separated by a distinct boundary called a thermocline. When the wind pushes on the lake’s surface, it piles up the top warm layer, subsequently causing the colder lower layer to be pushed to the opposite side. When the wind stops and the surface begins to oscillate back and forth, the cold water rushes back, setting up its own wave below the surface. Here’s where monster sightings come in. The underwater seiche can be from 30 to 300 feet high! Some researchers speculate that these huge oscillations could stir up sunken logs and other debris that pop up to the surface briefly before sinking back down again, creating the illusion of a monster bobbing to the surface.

Whatever the true nature of Champ- living plesiosaur, swan-necked seal or merely  waterlogged flotsam- the beast has become a much-beloved legend among the locals who live around the lake, and has even received several festivals held in its honor.


In the Wake of the Sea-Serpents by Bernard Heuvelmans

The Great Sea-Serpent: An Historical and Critical Treatise by C.A. Oudemans

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Stego-Squid Festival Flyer

Here's part of a cross-over between my state cryptids blog and my "found object" fiction project, The Astarapomp Dossier

This is a flyer for a fictional festival in Grenhaven, Connecticut (my answer to H. P. Lovecraft's Arkham) celebrating the mysterious (and also fictional) Stego-squids that inhabit the estuary at the mouth of the Connecticut River.

Considering how big the Connecticut River is, and how important it has been to maritime history and trade in New England, it's rather sad that the river has no famous monsters to call its own. So I made some! See if you can guess what sort of creature the Stego-squid actually is. (Hint: it's not actually a cephalopod)

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Alien Meccano-Mummy- North Dakota

Late at night on August 26th, 1975, Sandra Larson, her boyfriend and her daughter, Jackie, were driving to Bismarck, North Dakota when a collection of rumbling, orange orbs descended from the sky and approached their car. Suddenly all three reported a strange feeling of being "stuck", as if frozen in ice. Suddenly Sandra, who had been driving, was sitting in the backseat while her daughter had moved to the front. Feeling disoriented, the group pulled over at a gas station only to discover that they were missing a whole hour of time.

Later Sandra and Jackie would undergo hypnosis by psychologist R. Leo Sprinkle of the University of Wyoming. Sandra would recall being levitated towards one of the UFOs, where she was given a medical exam by a bizarre being. According to her, the creature had large, bulging eyes that stared out of a head covered in wrappings "like a mummy". It's arms were made out of jointed strips of metal like a Meccano set (a metal toy-building kit similar to an Erector set). It's body was covered in what she described as "brown vinyl".

The being performed several strange experiments on her, such as rubbing a clear liquid on her body and taking a painful scrapping of the inside of her nose with an instrument. At one point Sandra even felt as if her brain had been removed from her skull.

In later hypnosis sessions with Sprinkle, Sandra would recall being visited by this being and its fellows earlier in her life, including several instances where she was levitated through solid walls.

This bizarre case occupies a unique point in the history of UFO research. Since its inception, the field of ufology has been divided into two camps- those who try to examine the phenomenon of UFOs and alleged alien encounters from a scientific perspective, and those who approach it from a more spiritual or psychological angle. Scientific investigators tried to study these cases as either genuine visitations by extraterrestrial entities or as hallucinations caused by sleep paralysis, hypnogogia or misidentification of natural phenomena. Those looking at the phenomenon spiritually and psychologically focus on the perceptions and feelings of the abductees themselves. Some perceive the encounters as a sort of New Age communion with higher beings. Others see them as mental constructs that the abductees have created to deal with trauma and other emotionally-charged experiences.  The Sandra Larson case was one of the first to be examined by both camps and would eventually lead to a partial melding of the two groups which has continued into the modern era of UFO investigations.


The Big Book of UFOS by Chris A. Rutkowksi.

An article from Week in Weird on Abductions and Hypnosis

A chronology of UFO incidents

HowStuffWorks article on the encounter

The Curse of the Space Mummies

Sunday, December 11, 2016

New Cryptid Culture article

The newest issue of Cryptid Culture came out, well, about a month ago. But I haven't had time to post about it until now...

Anyway, I wrote another article for this issue. This time I discuss the enigmatic deep-sea organism called Paleodictyon. This critter builds hexagonal structures on the sea bed made of numerous interconnected burrows. Although these burrows are well-documented- and are even known from fossils going all the way back to the Precambrian!- the actual creature itself has never been observed.

Some researchers believe it is a kind of giant amoeba called a xenophyophore. Others think it may be a burrowing sponge. Whatever it is, you can read all about it in the latest issue, which you can order here.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Gray Aliens- New Hampshire

On the night of September 19, 1961 Betty and Barney Hill were driving to their home in New Hampshire after a trip to Quebec when they noticed a strange light following them in the sky. They stopped to watch the object for a bit then continued to drive. When they rounded a corner, they found the strange glowing object hovering over the highway in front of them. Barney got out to have a closer look and described the craft as being disk-shaped with a row of windows around its edge through which he could see several silhouetted figures. As he watched, a pair of fins or wings unfolded from the sides of the craft.

Terrified, the Hills  quickly got back into their car and sped home with the ship following close behind. For days afterwards Betty and Barney experienced anxiety and strange fragmented dreams about being led through the woods by odd, gray-skinned men.  Eventually they phoned the local air force base to relate their story, and Betty shared her experience with a couple close friends. Soon their tale began to circulate among UFO enthusiasts who eventually invited them to speak at a conference in 1963.  Enthusiastic members of the audience encouraged the Hills to see a clinical hypnotist to recall more of their story. They met with Dr. Benjamin Simon, a psychiatrist specializing in trauma-induced amnesia.

Betty and Barney Hill.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

Simon’s hypnosis sessions slowly drew out a complete abduction narrative. Betty described the two of them being led aboard the craft by the aliens. Inside, the they were given medical examinations which involved the beings taking samples of their hair, skin and fingernails and examining their mouths, ears and genitals. Betty further described having a conversation with the apparent leader of the beings. When she asked him where he came from, he pulled down a star-chart to show her his home planet. Betty would later reproduce this map from memory and publish it in a number of UFO-related magazines. Amateur astronomer Marjorie Fish would eventually identify the stars in the map as Zeta 1 and Zeta 2 Reticuli, a binary system in the southern constellation of Reticulum (thus leading to another name for this type of alien, Zeta Reticulans).

The Hill’s descriptions of the beings that abducted them varied somewhat. Both described them as being short with gray skin and large heads that tapered to narrow chins. Outfit-wise, they were dressed in trousers and jackets without buttons or zippers.  Betty initially claimed the aliens had black hair and bulbous noses like Jimmy Durante, though she would later describe them as looking a bit like Tibetans or Amerindians from Patagonia. Barney recalled them having no noses, with only slits for nostrils, and another slit for a mouth.  Their leader, he claimed, wore a black scarf and a billed cap or hat. Under hypnosis, Barney would often become terrified by their eyes, which he claimed were so large and long that they wrapped partway around their heads.

Prior to the Hill’s abduction, the majority of reported alien encounters involved beings that looked like tall, blond beautiful humans. These benevolent “Nordics” often claimed to be from Venus, and said they had initiated contact with humans to bring offers of peace or warnings about the dangers mankind posed to the Earth. Barney and Betty’s tale marked a shift towards more nightmarish abductions where hypnotized humans were subjected to strange, painful and frightening medical procedures by large-eyed, gray-skinned beings.  While reports of encounters with such creatures had occurred before the Hill case, this was the incident that brought the imagery into popular culture.

The Hill case was dramatized in the 1975 TV movie The UFO Incident with James Earl Jones as Barney and Estelle Parsons as Betty.

Skeptics have come up with various theories to explain what happened to the Hills. Some have suggested that a combination of fatigue and stress caused Betty and Barney to experience hypnogogic hallucinations (hallucinations experienced when one is halfway between being asleep and awake) that were later elaborated on by their unconscious minds through nightmare and false memories.

As to the appearance of the beings, it is worth mentioning that extraterrestrials with bulbous heads and large eyes are not unprecedented. They have been a staple of science fiction tales going all the way back to the 19th century. If one takes a skeptical view of the Hill case, it’s not too difficult to imagine that Betty and Barney had encountered these depictions before and ended up weaving this image of an “alien” into their recollections of their abduction.

On an additional note, while the Hill case first brought the image of the Gray Alien into popular culture, the aliens’ current, much more stylized appearance- black, oval eyes, triangular faces, thin, wispy bodies- did not fully coalesce until the publication of the book Communion by Whitley Strieber in 1987. Like the Hills, Strieber described multiple frightening encounters with large-headed and large-eyed beings. His experiences, though, eventually developed a more spiritual undertone harkening back to the older encounters with peaceful Nordics bringing enlightenment to mankind.


The Big Book of UFOs by Chris A. Rutkowski

The Field Guide to Extraterrestrials by Patrick Huyghe

Communion: A True Story by Whitley Strieber