Spring Heeled Jack

April 14th, 2014 No comments

Spring is in the air and for some of the world’s cryptids, it’s also in their step.  Take Spring Heeled Jack, for instance.  This is a guy who witnesses claim could jump over walls, all while cackling maniacally at others’ fear and misfortune.  What a schadenfreude.

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The tale of Spring Heeled Jack is not for the faint of heart.  It’s also not a story for those easily offended.  In fact, it has all of the makings of a bodice ripper—literally.  Spring Heeled Jack was like the original Victorian pervert, thus quite the nonconformist seeing how stuffy Europe and America became during that era.

The trouble began in 1837 London when a young woman named Polly Adams was walking home from her shift as a barmaid.  A man with red eyes like the devil and knives for fingers jumped out of the shadows and sliced open the front of her dress. She escaped but shortly thereafter, another English lady named Mary Stevens claimed a similar attack.  The specifics of the reports varied but frequently included descriptions of a red-eyed, fire-breathing menace that had strong proclivities for women’s bosoms.  He was also described as dressing in black, possibly an oilskin, and wearing a helmet.  But honestly, the oilskin and headgear pretty much pale in comparison to the other details.  He could have worn a well-pressed tuxedo or a clown suit for all it matters.  The Rosemary’s Baby peepers and dragon breath paired with his love of female flesh is enough to build a serious bad reputation.

In another oft-cited account, Jack jumped in front of a carriage and caused it to overturn.  After observing the wreckage, he laughed a mad scientist’s cackle and jumped over the nearest wall, which happened to be almost ten feet tall.  At this point, someone thought to look at his tracks, and a detective—who was apparently not the Baker Street variety since no one took casts of the footprints—claimed that the assailant had compressed springs on his shoes.  Rather specific deduction considering the lack of evidence, but the concept stuck, and the name Spring Heeled Jack was born.

Being the TMZ of its day, the Penny Dreadfuls got in on the exploitive fun.

For one of Jack’s meaner gambits, young Jane Alsop came to the door of her father’s home upon hearing a voice on the other side announce he had just caught the notorious Spring Heeled Jack. With the help of a single candle (because this story has to be as pitiful and terrifying as possible), Alsop peered outside to find that Jack himself was the so-called captor.  I suppose he wasn’t entirely lying though.  As with his usual M. O., he scratched her blouse open with Freddy Kruger fingers and then blew fire in her face.  Jane’s sister helped her escape, but just over a week later, Jack temporarily blinded a girl with his blue flames when she was traversing the too aptly-named Green Dragon Alley.

At this point, pretty much everyone in all of England knew of Jack, and predictably, reports began to spread.  Some even say Jack killed a teenage prostitute named Maria Davis who purportedly drowned after he tossed her over a bridge.  However, due to the near ubiquitous nature of the sightings, copycat Jacks may have been responsible for a portion of the hijinks and atrocities.  Plus, bloodthirsty cryptids don’t exactly fit my lighthearted narratives.

Pity that Spring Heeled Jack costumes never caught on for Halloween.

Barring him as a murderer, the boldest of Spring Heeled Jack’s alleged exploits came years later in the 1870s in what some describe as his final known appearance.  But what a magnum opus it was.  Jack paraded right into the middle of an assembled army squad and slapped one of the soldiers square in the face. The accosted man did not appear to be targeted in particular, though imagining that he was a former rival of Jack’s would make the story more interesting.  And logical.

Understandably miffed about this disrespect, the soldiers took aim and shot at Jack who bounded off completely unharmed.  The army even claimed many of the fired bullets hit the roustabout but bounced off, making a metallic sound.  Over the course of the subsequent few days, Jack continued to harass the army men, but he eventually became bored with all the artillery fire and hopped over a few buildings to make his escape.

So what’s the likeliest explanation for Jack?  Some argue that only an alien species could act (and jump) in the ways that he did.  Others say nope, not an alien but not human either; instead they assert that Jack was a robot. The most rational answer might lie with a nobleman named the Marquess of Waterford who allegedly accepted a bet that he could terrify the female population all over London.

The Marquess of Waterford. A face you can trust… if you don’t like your wife.

But as I’ve lamented before with the Dobhar Chu, many of these tales stink of didactics.  In Victorian times, women were viewed as being more susceptible than men to wanton ways and therefore couldn’t be trusted.  However, if members of the fairer sex feared for their safety and perhaps more importantly, their chastity, they’d be less likely to gallivant about after dark.  Even if Jack was real—and the available evidence does suggest that something was, ahem, afoot—the culprit could have been trying to teach women a lesson or just scare the wits out of them like a certain Marquess.

Either way, stories of men capable of clearing amazing heights or breathing fireballs prove common motifs across folklore.  America has its own share of such tales, including a turn-of-the-century flame spitter in Brooklyn and a similar yarn in the thirties and forties in Massachusetts.  Must be an England and New England thing.  What a shame it hasn’t made the tourist brochures.  There’s a niche market there.

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Man Sets Own House On Fire Because of Ghosts

April 11th, 2014 No comments

It getting increasingly difficult to tell the difference between criminals who try to get creative when caught and use the paranormal as an excuse for their crimes and people are just batshit crazy. But I think it’s safe to say that this guy falls into the latter category.

Anderson man sets home on fire because of ghosts, arrested for arson

“I hope those ghosts are dead!”

ANDERSON, Calif. - An Anderson man was arrested for arson Friday morning after firefighters said he admitted to setting fire to the house where he was living. The suspect reportedly told firefighters he started the fire because there were ghosts in the home.

CALFIRE and Cottonwood Fire District responded just before 8 a.m. Friday to a home in the 21000 thousand block of Lone Tree Road near Balls Ferry Road.

Firefighters said the resident of the home Lom Lotakoon admitted he set the fire due to ghosts in the residence. Lotakoon had been living in the home which is owned by his sister.

Lotakoon was arrested for arson.

See, if this guy were sane, he’d know that burning his house down wouldn’t get rid of the ghosts. Because the ghosts are already, you know, dead.

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NASA Photo Shows Strange Light on Mars

April 9th, 2014 No comments

Here we go (yet) again. It seems like every few weeks, the NASA Curiosity rover on Mars sends back some picture with some weird shape or image in it, and the UFO buffs and conspiracy nuts come out of the woodwork proclaiming that life has finally been found on the Red Planet. No lizard, rat or sheep-man this time, though. This time it’s just a light.

The NASA Curiosity rover on Mars takes a picture of a light and people think it's a UFO or aliens

Aliens!!

(CNN) — A Martian playing flashlight tag with the Curiosity rover? The faraway glare from an extraterrestrial’s TV? Or maybe someone warming up over a fire on the Red Planet’s surface?

Probably none of the above.

Still, the latest snapshot from the Curiosity is pretty cool.

It shows the stark Martian landscape with a shining light standing out some distance away in front of a mountain chain. While reveling in the shot, the Curiosity Rover’s official Twitter feed admits it’s more illusion than evidence of life: “Ooh. Shiny. Bright spot in this pic is likely a glinting rock or cosmic-ray hit.”

A few pictures — taken April 2 and 3 — show the bright spots. These were taken with the rover’s “right-eye camera,” yet others that were shot within a second from the “left-eye” camera don’t show the same, explains Guy Webster, a spokesman with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

Hence, it’s unlikely any being — from whatever world — caused them.

Each time, “the sun was in the same direction as the bright spot — west-northwest from the rover — and relatively low in the sky,” said Webster. That could lead one to believe that sun was reflecting off the rock the same way each time.

Or the spots could be a function of light affecting the camera itself, noted Webster.

Either way, it adds to the vast photo album that Curiosity has created since setting off from Earth in November 2011 and landing — some eight and a half months later, not to mention 99 million miles away — on Mars.

The 1-ton, roughly SUV-size vehicle is traveling with assorted scientific instruments and 17 cameras, making it far from your average shutterbug.

Look, I’m as hopeful as the next UFO nut guy that we’ll find signs of intelligent life out there in space. But as we’ve said before, the most logical explanation is usually the correct one. If alien life existed on Mars, I’m pretty sure we’d know by now. I don’t know why people can’t simply appreciate the beautiful images of Mars without mistaking every rock or stray pixel for something extraterrestrial.

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The Beast of Bladenboro

March 31st, 2014 No comments

For this week’s dose of folklore, let’s venture to the forests of North Carolina and explore a particularly bizarre tale of gore and mayhem.   Now you might be thinking that all tales of cryptozoology or the paranormal at large can prove rather strange.  True, but some stories are so peculiar that just trying to cobble together the disparate elements into a cohesive yarn makes you feel like you’re performing cryptid acrobatics.  So goes the Beast of Bladenboro, a lore that involves a charlatan mayor, a P.T.Barnum, disabled carnie, scores of gung-ho hunters, and one dead bobcat up a flagpole.  Oh, and an ocelot.  You can’t forget the ocelot.

Things started getting weird in Bladenboro, North Carolina toward the end of 1953.  Eyewitnesses reported a hideous creature that preyed on the likes of the friendly family canine.  Unlike a usual coyote or bobcat attack, the creature crushed its prey, practically turning the bones to dust.  Since the animal cadavers also appeared drained of blood, people jumped to the logical conclusion that the creature descended from Dracula’s ancestry, thus dubbing it the Vampire Beast.

In no time, virtually everyone in the greater North Carolina area—and beyond—knew all about the Vampire Beast’s gory hijinks.  When you consider the staid climate of mid-twentieth century America, most news tended to spread via newspaper, radio, and busybody gossips.  It’s not like today when the Beast of Bladenboro would have the option to tweet or update his Facebook status or take snarling selfies.  Back then, even television wasn’t all that ubiquitous, especially in areas as rural as Mayberry, USA.  To get this kind of promotion, the cryptid must have secretly hired the execs from Mad Men to market him.  Or you know, maybe he just networked with the local mayor.

Back in the mid-fifties, Bladenboro was run by the poor man’s P.T. Barnum known to his constituents as Mayor W. G. Fussell.  Fussell loved promoting his town.   He’d do anything to get the word out about the flea speck on the map in southern North Carolina.  And exploiting the deaths of small animals seemed like an opportunity rife with selling potential.  The local tourism bureau had to be brimming with pride over this scheme.  Fussell made sure every newspaper outlet in the region knew about the bloodshed and terror happening right in his very own town, and his promotion worked like a macabre charm.  Clearly, though, this attempt was altruistic in nature.  He simply wanted to draw people into Bladenboro to help downtown businesses like the local cinema he himself owned.  And guess what was playing at the time?  A movie about a monster that stalks people in the woods.

Bladenboro Bobcat: Public Enemy Number One

Nowadays, anyone can buy into tales about corrupt elected officials, even if a cryptid angle rarely gets thrown into the official apologies over extramarital affairs (though government would be a lot more interesting provided every scandal ended with the words, “And the Loch Ness Monster is sorry that he broke up the family”).   So you might be thinking, just declare the mayor another shady politician and wrap this story up, right?  Not so fast.  Others talk about a carnie named Dick Hilburn.  Like any good elusive figure, little is known about him, but you can read some of his story here.  The gist goes that Hilburn was born without most of his limbs but made the most of his disability by starting a sideshow, the only outlet society provided so-called freaks in 1950s America.  As soon as the creature sightings started, Hilburn had merchandise ready to peddle that promoted the Vampire Beast.  Clever businessman or opportunistic charlatan?  Nobody knows for sure.

However the story originated, when members of the general public heard about the beast, they followed the old tried and true American tradition: they loaded their guns and went out on a hunt.  But this wasn’t just a local thing.  Somewhere in the neighborhood of one-thousand citizens from all over the country ventured from their homes to take a crack at the creature.  Hitchhikers probably fashioned “Bladenboro or Bust” signs as they waited for a charitable pickup truck to carry them from farflung southern and Midwestern locales to the heart of the beast-plagued North Carolina county.  Keep in mind that the entire town’s population clocked in around a thousand, which means that during this flap of sightings, the area practically doubled in size.  That’s what the prospect of being the first to mount a new species on the wall does to you.

So what was this beastly species anyhow?  Theories abounded.  Some argued it was a large bobcat.  Mayor Fussell supposedly stoked the fires of public panic by claiming that the menace was not just a run-of-the-mill bobcat but a rabid bobcat.  Because you know what’s scarier than a giant, bloodthirsty cat?  A giant, bloodthirsty cat with rabies, that’s what.

A Vampire Beast in training (pictured left)

One unusual possibility presented at the time was the beast might be an ocelot, that inimitable creature that Salvador Dali kept as a pet and Cheryl on the spy cartoon, Archer, inveterately neglects.  But why an ocelot?  Seems kind of random.  The story goes that the exotic spotted cat escaped from—wait for it—a circus fire.  That’s right, 1950s reporters tried to use the oldest cryptid-origin trick in the book, right up there with flushing baby alligators down the toilet in the Big Apple.  Now granted, the escaped circus animal-turned-public menace wasn’t a major trope back then, so they probably thought they were being original.  Even so, the Beast of Bladenboro managed to work in practically every aspect that defines cryptozoology during only a month or so of sightings.  Pretty impressive, maybe-ocelot-maybe-not.

But of course, there’s more.  On one of Bladenboro’s major highways, a motorist did indeed report that an ocelot was struck and killed.  Thus, whether the cat did flee a cruel circus life or escaped the collection of an exotic animal lover, the end result is a sad little wannabe Babou as road kill.  The Archers and Salvador Dalis of the world mourn in retrospect.

So with a deceased ocelot in the county morgue, everything’s all wrapped then, right?  Nope.  The ravaging continued.  No small animal was safe from the menace in Bladen County.

 And no big cat species was safe from the rumors

If that’s not enough, locals speculated that a cougar or a Carolina panther could also have been masquerading by night as the Vampire Beast.  That brings the suspect list up to at least six candidates: four varieties of giant cats and two (possibly) unscrupulous humans.  And no matter what explanation seems most plausible, these were not simply rumors or misattribution.  Dogs and other small animals in Bladenboro continued to die in horrendous ways.  Something—or someone—was killing them.

Eventually, the mayor decided that he’d exploited all the fun out of the whole Vampire Beast shenanigans and decided to call it quits.  But not before one last—and especially brutal—publicity stunt. Fussell selected a random bobcat body off the heap of dead animals people had shot and killed under the guise of it being the beast.  The honorable mayor then raised the carcass up a downtown flagpole and declared the mystery solved.  He even mugged for newspaper cameras as though posing with the carnage somehow confirmed his account.  Remember this story anytime you think the 1950s were the good old days.  Chances are none of your area politicians have recently removed the stars and stripes and replaced them with a mound of rotting meat.  Again, chances are.

Not the best quality, but no one wants to see a dead bobcat in high def anyhow

However, even though the bobcat-cum-American flag was in no way the culprit, the sightings and death toll slowed shortly thereafter and eventually ceased sometime before spring 1954.  Disappointed hunters returned home, and the population of dogs and innocent bobcats that had been hunted with gusto breathed a collective sigh of relief.

With most of these stories, a specific theory presents itself as the best possible candidate.  But this one just leaves far more questions than answers.  If the Beast was one of the large cats that was shot and killed by the hordes of hunters, then why didn’t the killings stop until the mayor strung up a random one?  If the culprit was instead a person—of a political or vaudevillian persuasion—then why did he seem to grow tired of the ruse when he could have still milked the idea for cash? And let’s just assume if it was a hoax, then the animals that died were killed by a normal bobcat or coyote rather than at the hands of a person.

And what’s the story with that ocelot?  Even today, when an exotic animal is hit on the side of a bucolic highway, that’s the kind of stuff that makes national news.  How did it happen to coincide in an area already plagued with bucketfuls of the weird?

These days, the Vampire Beast lives a quiet small town life 

The cryptozoologists among us may never know.  But for those intrepid souls who want to explore Bladenboro and try to reopen this cold case, consider visiting in November.  That’s when the town celebrates its bloodthirsty past with the annual Beast Fest.

And if you’re still looking to meet the creature itself, fear not.  Sightings have occurred as recently as 2007.  There’s something out there.  And it’s probably still hungry.

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San Antonio Spurs Players Encounter Claremont Resort Ghosts

March 26th, 2014 No comments

It’s basketball season, and what would basketball season be without NBA players thinking that their hotels were haunted? These stories make the rounds every year it seems (see also : The New York Knicks, the Phoenix Suns, Bill Simmons from ESPN, etc.). And now Tim Duncan and Jeff Ayres from the San Antonio Spurs are chiming in with their ghost stories from an allegedly haunted hotel.

Players for the San Antonio Spurs claim to encounter ghosts in haunted hotel

“Zoinks! G-g-g-ghosts!”

NBA teams spend a lot of time in hotels, which can sometimes be an uncomfortable experience for people who thrive on routine. There’s no telling when a bed might not be up to snuff, room service delivers an incorrect order (I said no tomatoes!), or an opposing fan starts heckling. Pros have learned to handle such distractions, but that doesn’t mean they’re not annoying.

Yet nothing can compare to supernatural activity. It just happens to be the case that several hotels frequented by NBA teams — most notably the Skirvin in Oklahoma City — are thought to be haunted. That includes the Claremont Resort in Berkeley, which some teams use when in town to face the Golden State Warriors in nearby Oakland. This weekend, the San Antonio Spurs were at the venue in advance of a road game. It appears that big men Tim Duncan and Jeff Ayres encountered some of the Claremont’s ghosts. From Dan McCarney for the San Antonio Express-News:

Ayres: “You get in at whatever time. I took my room key. I could hear stuff in the hallway, like people in their rooms. So I’m thinking people are watching TV or whatever. So I get to my door, and my key doesn’t work, but it sounds like there’s somebody in my room. Like I hear a little baby, not crying but making noise. I’m like, ‘What the heck?’ I keep trying my key and it doesn’t work. So I go downstairs to get a new key, and I tell them (somebody’s in the room).

“So they call the room, and nobody answers. They’re like, ‘We can get you a new key and send you up with security and make sure nobody’s there, because there shouldn’t be anybody in there.’ Then they’re like, ‘We’ll just get you a new room.’ It was the creepiest thing. I heard a couple of other guys heard babies in the hallway, kids running down the hallway. Creepy. I really heard voices and a baby in the room, and there wasn’t anybody in there. It was crazy.”

Duncan: “I heard a baby in his room. There was somebody or something in his room, yeah. I definitely heard something. It wasn’t creepy, because I assumed it was really somebody in the room, and they gave him the wrong room. But when they told me the story the next day about calling up there and no one in the room, it’s at that point you get chills. I totally agreed with him. There was a baby there, absolutely. I heard about the history of the place, and I’d rather not (stay there again).”

Duncan’s reticence to return to the Claremont might explain why many NBA teams stay at the Four Seasons in San Francisco. In fact, the stories of the Claremont are fairly well known around the Bay Area and have affected other basketball teams, as well. I’ve heard of at least one NCAA team that stayed there for a road game against Cal (whose Haas Pavilion is very close) and made several older players check the rooms to make sure everything was safe. Duncan and Ayres might sound a little ridiculous for fearing ghost activity, but they’re certainly not alone.

Then again, perhaps this was just a self-fulfilling prophecy. Once the Spurs heard of the Claremont’s reputation, perhaps they were inclined to take any creaking or bizarre noise as a mark of the supernatural. A horn can be taken for a ghost band, a wheezing can become an asthmatic murderer, etc. Those who decide they’re in a haunted hotel will look for signs that the building is haunted.

Whatever the case, the Spurs didn’t appear too concerned with ghosts when they beat the Warriors 99-90. Or perhaps they made friends with the ghosts and got them to play tricks on Golden State. Surely “The 6th Man” is not entirely fiction.

Hotels can be tricky places to try to discern paranormal activity from ambient “guest noise.” Hotel walls are notoriously thin, and the acoustics of an unfamiliar building can easily play tricks on road-weary players. And I’m guessing that’s exactly what happened here.

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