Tuesday, 28 September 2010

The Mary Celeste

"Ship found adrift on December 4, 1872 (some accounts say December 5), by the Dei Gratia, a bark sailing from New York to Gibraltar, and considered by many one of the most intriguing and enduring mysteries in the annals of maritime history.

When it was found, the Mary Celeste was sailing itself alone across the wide Atlantic. The ship was in first-class condition. Hull, masts, and sails were all sound. The cargo-barrels of alcohol were still lashed in place in the hold. There was plenty of food and water. When he examined the ship's log, the captain of the Dei Gratia found that the last entry was on November 24. That would have been 10 days earlier, when the Mary Celeste had been passing north of St. Mary's Island in the Azores — more than 400 miles west of where it was found. If it had been abandoned soon after that entry, the ship must have drifted unmanned and unsteered for a week and a half. Yet this could not have been. The Mary Celeste was found with its sails set to catch the wind coming over the starboard quarter: in other words, it was sailing on the starboard tack. The Dei Gratia had been following a similar course just behind. But throughout the 400 miles from the Azores, the Dei Gratia had been obligated to sail on the port tack. It seems impossible that the Mary Celeste could have reached the spot it did with its yards and sails set to starboard. Someone must have been working the ship for at least several days after the final log entry.
No one, from the 10 people that supposedly sailed aboard the Mary Celeste, including 7 crewmen and captain Benjamin Briggs' wife and daughter, was ever found.
The explanation that seemed most reasonable at the time was the official one put out by the British and American authorities. This suggested that the crew had got at the alcohol, murdered the captain and his family, and then somehow escaped to another vessel. But the story does not really stand up. There were no visible signs of a struggle on board, and if the crew had escaped, some of them would surely have turned up later.

The yawl boat — a small four-oared boat carried over the main hatch — was missing, suggesting that at least some of the missing people could have left the Mary Celeste in it.

Dozens of theories have been put forward since then, ranging from attacking monsters from the deep and aliens kidnapping to nature's wrath, piracy and mutiny. But no one has ever found any evidence or proof to confirm any of them. The only other evidence to what really happened may be the so called Fosdyk papers.

According to an article written by a schoolmaster named Howard Linford and published in 1913 (41 years after the Mary Celeste was found) in the Strand magazine of London, a well-educated and much-traveled employee of his named Abel Fosdyk, had left some papers and notes after his death explaining not only the fate of the crew but also the curious cut marks that were found in the bows of the Mary Celeste.
Fosdyk claimed that he had been a secret passenger on the ship's last voyage and the only survivor of the tragedy that overtook it. Being a close friend of the captain, Fosdyk convinced Briggs to give him secret passage because, for some undisclosed reason, he had to leave America in a hurry. During the voyage Briggs had the ship's carpenter build a special deck in the bow for his small daughter. It was the supporting struts for this deck that were slotted into the cuts in the bow planks.

One day, after a lengthy argument with the mate about how well a man could swim with his clothes on, Briggs leaped into the water and started swimming around the ship, as to prove his point. Couple of men followed while the rest of the crew watched from the deck. Suddenly, one of the sailors swimming around the bow gave a yell of agony. Everyone, including the captain's wife and child, crowded onto the newly built deck which promptly collapsed under their combined weight. They all fell into the sea, where all were devoured by the sharks that had attacked the first seaman.

Being the only survivor of the shark attacks because of his luck of falling on top of the shattered decking, Fosdyk clung to it as the Mary Celeste drifted away. He floated for days until he was washed up half dead on the northwest coast of Africa.

The Fosdyk papers tell a neat tale. But they offer no solution to the mystery of how the ship got to where it was found. And they are wrong on details that should not have escaped an educated man. Fosdyk says the Mary Celeste weighed 600 tons. In fact, the ship weighed a third of that. Fosdyk also says that the crewmen were English, when, in fact, they were mostly Dutch. And most of all, it seems highly improbable that anyone would go swimming around a ship that, according to the Dei Gratia evidence, must have been making several knots at the time. Bizarre as it is, no better explanation than Fosdyk's has so far emerged. And after more than 120 years, it is unlikely to do so. The enigma of the ship that sailed itself seems destined to puzzle us forever (Parts of this text are excerpts from Reader's Digest's "Strange Stories, Amazing Facts")."

Sunday, 26 September 2010

The Winchester Mystery House

The Winchester Mystery House is a well-known California mansion that was under construction continuously for 38 years, and is reported to be haunted. It once was the personal residence of Sarah Winchester, the widow of gun magnate William Wirt Winchester, but is now a tourist attraction. Under Winchester's day-to-day guidance, its "from-the-ground-up" construction proceeded around-the-clock, without interruption, from 1884 until her death on September 5, 1922, at which time work immediately ceased. The cost for such constant building has been estimated at about US $5.5 million (if paid in 1922, this would be equivalent to over $71 million in 2010).
File:Winchester House 910px.jpg 
The Queen Anne Style Victorian mansion is renowned for its size and utter lack of any master building plan. According to popular belief, Winchester thought the house was haunted by the ghosts of individuals killed by Winchester rifles, and that only continuous construction would appease them. It is located at 525 South Winchester Blvd. in San Jose, California.

Prior to the 1906 earthquake, the house had been built up to seven stories tall, but today it is only four stories. The house is predominantly made of redwood frame  construction, with a floating foundation that is believed to have saved the estate from total collapse in both the 1906 earthquake and the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake. There are about 160 rooms, including 40 bedrooms and two ballrooms, one completed and one under construction. The house also has 47 fireplaces, 10,000 window panes, 17 chimneys (with evidence of two others), two basements and three elevators. Winchester's property was about 162 acres (650,000 m²) at one time, but now the estate is just 4.5 acres (24,000 m²) — the minimum necessary to contain the house and nearby outbuildings. It has gold and silver chandeliers and hand inlaid parquet floors and trim. There are doors and stairways that lead nowhere and a vast array of colors and materials. Before the availability of elevators, special "easy riser" stairways were installed to allow Winchester access to every part of the mansion, to accommodate her severe arthritis. Roughly 20,500 gallons (76,000 liters) of paint were required to paint the house.

The house also has many conveniences that were rarely found at the time of its construction, including steam and forced-air heating, modern indoor toilets and plumbing, push-button gas lights, a hot shower from indoor plumbing and even three elevators, including one with the only horizontal hydraulic elevator piston in the United States.

Thursday, 23 September 2010

The Curse of the Crying Boy

‘The Curse of the Crying Boy’ appeared out of the blue one morning in 1985. The Sun, at that time the most popular tabloid newspaper in the English-speaking world, published on page 13 of its 4 September edition a story headlined: “Blazing Curse of the Crying Boy”. It told how Ron and May Hall blamed a cheap painting of a toddler with tears rolling down his face for a fire which gutted their terraced council home in Rotherham, a mining town in South Yorkshire. The blaze broke out in a chip-pan in the kitchen of their home of 27 years and spread rapidly. But although the downstairs rooms of the house were badly damaged, the framed print of the Crying Boy escaped unscathed. It continued to hang there, surrounded by a scene of devastation.

Normally a chip-pan blaze would merit nothing more than a couple of paragraphs in a local newspaper. What transformed this story into a page lead in Britain’s leading tabloid was the intervention of Ron Hall’s brother Peter, a firefighter based in Rotherham. A colleague of Peter’s, station officer Alan Wilkinson, said he knew of numerous other cases where prints of the ‘Crying Boy’ had turned up, undamaged, in the ruins of homes destroyed by fires.

Accompanying the article was a photograph of a ‘Crying Boy’, with the caption: “Tears for fears… the portrait that firemen claim is cursed.” The firemen concerned had not actually used the word ‘cursed’, but nevertheless the newspaper report had helped to give the story a certain level of credibility. The paper added that an estimated 50,000 ‘Crying Boy’ prints, signed ‘G Bragolin’, had been sold in branches of British department stores, particularly in the working class areas of northern England. Examples could be seen hanging in the front rooms of family homes across the nation, and one story even suggested a quarter of a million had been sold.

On 5 September 1985, The Sun ran its follow-up, reporting that scores of “horrified readers claiming to be victims of the ‘Curse of the Crying Boy’ had flooded [the paper] with calls… they all feared they were jinxed by having the print of a tot with tears pouring down his face in their homes.” Readers were left with an overwhelming impression of a supernatural link, reinforced by the use of words like ‘curse’, ‘jinx’, ‘feared’ and ‘horrified’.

Typical of these additional stories was that told by Dora Mann, from Mitcham, Surrey, who claimed her house was gutted just six months after she bought a print of the painting. “All my paintings were destroyed – except the one of the Crying Boy,” she claimed. Sandra Kaske, of Kilburn, North Yorkshire, said that she, her sister-in-law, and a friend had all suffered disastrous fires since they acquired copies. Another family, from Nottingham, blamed the print for a blaze which had left them homeless. Brian Parks, whose wife and three children needed treatment for smoke inhalation, said he had destroyed his copy after returning from hospital to find it hanging – undamaged, of course – on the blackened wall of his living room.
As the stories accumulated, new details emerged that encouraged the idea that possession of a print put owners at risk of fire or serious injury. One woman from London claimed she had seen her print “swing from side to side” on the wall, while another from Paignton said her 11-year-old son had “caught his private parts on a hook” after she bought the pict­ure. Mrs Rose Farrington of Preston, in a letter published by The Sun, wrote: “Since I bought it in 1959, my three sons and my husband have all died. I’ve often wondered if it had a curse.”

Another reader reported an attempt to destroy two of the prints by fire – only to find, to her horror, that they would not burn. Her claim was tested by security guard Paul Collier, who tossed one of his two prints onto a bonfire. Despite being left in the flames for an hour, it was not even scorched. “It was frightening – the fire wouldn’t even touch it,” he told The Sun. “I really believe it is jinxed. We feel doubly at risk with two of these in the house [and] we are determined to get rid of them.”

Louis Wain

Louis Wain (5 August 1860 – July 4, 1939) was an English artist best known for his drawings, which consistently featured anthropomorphised large-eyed cats and kittens. In his later years he suffered from schizophrenia, which, according to some psychologists, can be seen in his works.

Louis William Wain was born on August 5, 1860 in Clerkenwell in London. His father was a textile trader and embroiderer, his mother was French.  He was the first of six children, and the only male child. None of his five sisters ever married. At the age of thirty, his youngest sister was certified as insane, and admitted to an asylum. The remaining sisters lived with their mother for the duration of their lifetimes, as did Louis for the majority of his life.

In 1886, Wain's first drawing of anthropomorphised cats was published in the Christmas issue of the Illustrated London News, titled A Kittens' Christmas Party. The illustration depicted 150 cats, many of which resemble Peter, sending invitations, holding a ball, playing games, and making speeches over eleven panels. Still, the cats remain on all fours, unclothed, and without the variety of human-like expression that would characterize Wain's work. Under the pseudonym George Henri Thompson, he illustrated numerous books for children by Clifton Bingham published by Ernest Nister.

 File:Wain Cat (realistic).jpg

In subsequent years, Wain's cats began to walk upright, smile broadly and use other exaggerated facial expressions, and wear sophisticated contemporary clothing. Wain's illustrations showed cats playing musical instruments, serving tea, playing cards, fishing, smoking, and enjoying a night at the opera. Such anthropomorphic portrayals of animals were very popular in Victorian England, and were often found in prints, on greeting cards and in satirical illustrations such as those of John Tenniel.


From this point, Wain's popularity began to decline. He returned from New York broke, and his mother had died of Spanish influenza  while he was abroad. His mental instability also began around this time, and increased gradually over the years. He had always been considered quite charming but odd, and often had difficulty in distinguishing between fact and fantasy. Others frequently found him incomprehensible, due to his way of speaking tangentially. His behavior and personality changed, and he began to suffer from delusions, with the onset of schizophrenia. Whereas he had been a mild-mannered and trusting man, he became hostile and suspicious, particularly towards his sisters. He claimed that the flickering of the cinema screen had robbed the electricity from their brains. He began wandering the streets at night, rearranging furniture within the house, and spent long periods locked in his room writing incoherently.

Some speculate that the onset of Wain's schizophrenia was precipitated by toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection that can be contracted from cats. The theory that toxoplasmosis can trigger schizophrenia is the subject of ongoing research, though the origins of the theory can be traced back as early as 1953.

When his sisters could no longer cope with his erratic and occasionally violent behavior, he was finally committed in 1924 to a pauper ward of Springfield Mental Hospital in Tooting. A year later, he was discovered there and his circumstances were widely publicized, leading to appeals from such figures as H. G. Wells and the personal intervention of the Prime Minister. Wain was transferred to the Bethlem Royal Hospital in Southwark, and again in 1930 to Napsbury Hospital near St Albans in Hertfordshire, north of London. This hospital was relatively pleasant, with a garden and colony of cats, and he spent his final 15 years there in peace. While he became increasingly deluded, his erratic mood swings subsided, and he continued drawing for pleasure. His work from this period is marked by bright colors, flowers, and intricate and abstract patterns, though his primary subject remained the same.

Dr. Michael Fitzgerald disputes the claim of schizophrenia, indicating Wain more than likely had Asperger syndrome (AS). Of particular note, Fitzgerald indicates that while Wain's art takes on a more abstract nature as he grew older, his technique and skill as a painter did not diminish as one would expect from a schizophrenic. Moreover, elements of visual agnosia are demonstrated in his painting, a key element in some cases of AS. If Wain had visual agnosia, it may have manifested itself merely as an extreme attention to detail.

A series of five of his paintings is commonly used as an example in psychology textbooks to putatively show the change in his style as his psychological condition deteriorated. However, it is not known if these works were created in the order usually presented, as Wain did not date them. Rodney Dale, author of Louis Wain: The Man Who Drew Cats, has criticised the belief that the five paintings can be used as an example of Wain's deteriorating mental health, writing: "Wain experimented with patterns and cats, and even quite late in life was still producing conventional cat pictures, perhaps 10 years after his 'later' productions which are patterns rather than cats."
 File:Wain Cats -- The Fire of the Mind Agitates the Atmosphere.jpg
H. G. Wells said of him, "He has made the cat his own. He invented a cat style, a cat society, a whole cat world. English cats that do not look and live like Louis Wain cats are ashamed of themselves."

His work is now highly collectible but care is needed as forgeries are common.

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Ararat anomaly

The Ararat anomaly is an object appearing on photographs of the snowfields near the summit of Mount Ararat, Turkey, and advanced by some believers in Biblical literalism as the remains of Noah's Ark.

The anomaly is located on the northwest corner of the Western Plateau of Mount Ararat at about 15,500 ft (4,724 m), some 2.2 km (1.4 mi) west of the 16,854 ft (5,137 m) summit, on the edge of what appears from the photographs to be a steep downward slope. It was first filmed during a U.S. Air Force aerial reconnaissance mission in 1949 — the Ararat massif sits on the former Turkish/Soviet border, and was thus an area of military interest — and was accordingly given a classification of "secret" as were subsequent photographs taken in 1956, 1973, 1976, 1990 and 1992, by aircraft and satellites. Six frames from the 1949 footage were released under the Freedom of Information Act to Porcher Taylor, a professor at the University of Richmond in Virginia, and a scholar at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies specializing in satellite intelligence and diplomacy, in 1995.

The Defense Intelligence Agency, while not ruling out a man-made structure, believes the anomaly shows "linear facades in the glacial ice underlying more recently accumulated ice and snow".


Polybius is a supposed arcade game featured in an Internet urban legend. According to the story, the Tempest-style game was released to the public in 1981, and caused its players to go insane, causing them to suffer from intense stress, horrific nightmares, and even suicidal tendencies. A short time after its release, it supposedly disappeared without a trace. No evidence for the existence of such a game has ever been discovered.

According to the story, an unheard-of new arcade game appeared in several suburbs of Portland, Oregon in 1981, something of a rarity at the time. The game, Polybius, proved to be incredibly popular, to the point of addiction, and lines formed around the machines, quickly followed by clusters of visits from men in black. Rather than the usual marketing data collected by company visitors to arcade machines, they collected some unknown data, allegedly testing responses to the psychoactive machines. The players themselves suffered from a series of unpleasant side-effects, including amnesia, insomnia, nightmares, night terrors, and even suicide.

The Somerton Man

The Taman Shud Case, also known as the "Mystery of the Somerton Man", is an unsolved case revolving around an unidentified man found dead at 6:30a.m., December 1, 1948 on Somerton beach in Adelaide, Australia.

Considered "one of Australia's most profound mysteries", the case has been the subject of intense speculation over the years regarding the identity of the victim, the events leading up to his death and the cause of death.

While scrutiny of the case has been mainly centred in Australia, there has also been coverage of the case internationally

When police arrived, they noted no disturbance to the body and that the man's left arm was in a straight position and the right arm was bent double. An unlit cigarette was behind his ear and a half-smoked cigarette was on the right collar of his coat held in position by his cheek. A search of his pockets revealed a used bus ticket from the city to St. Leonards in Glenelg, an unused second-class rail ticket from the city to Henley Beach, a narrow aluminium American comb, a half full packet of Juicy Fruit chewing gum, an Army Club cigarette packet containing Kensitas cigarettes (a different brand) and a quarter full box of Bryant & May matches. The bus stop for which the ticket was used was around 250 metres south of the body's location.

Witnesses came forward to declare that on the evening of 30 November, they had seen an individual resembling the dead man in the same spot near the Crippled Children's Home where the corpse was later found. A couple who saw him around 7pm noted that they saw him extend his right arm to its fullest extent and then drop it limply. Another couple who saw him from 7:30pm to 8pm, during which time the street lights had come on, recounted that they did not see him move during the half hour he was in view of them although they did have the impression that his position had changed. Although it was commented between themselves that he must be dead because he was not reacting to the mosquitoes, they had thought he was drunk or asleep, and thus did not investigate further.

When the body was discovered at 6:30am the next day it was lying in the position witnesses had observed the previous day.

Around the same time as the Inquest, a piece of paper with the words "Tamam Shud" printed on it was found in a secret pocket concealed within a trouser pocket.  Public library officials were called in to translate the note, who identified it as a phrase, meaning "ended" or "finished", found on the last page of a collection of poems called “The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam”.
In the back of the book were faint pencil markings of five lines of capital letters with the second struck out. The strike out is now considered significant with its similarity to the fourth line possibly indicating a mistake and thus, possible proof the letters are code:


When the code was analysed by the Australian Department of Defence in 1978, they made the following statements about the code:
  • There are insufficient symbols to provide a pattern.
  • The symbols could be a complex substitute code or the meaningless response to a disturbed mind.
  • It is not possible to provide a satisfactory answer.