Geek Month in Review: April 2013

By JB Sanders

Spring!

Hagfish Slime — the New Silk?
Seriously, the hagfish (which is neither hag nor fish) is a bottom-feeding vertebrate that exudes a nasty slime when threatened. Scientists are exploring ways to duplicate the fibers that are part of this slime to create a pseudo-silk with more in common with spider silk than traditional silk. Such as being super-strong.

The Anti-Drone Hoodie
I see this thing and can only think: The Latest Fashion in Cult Robes. Every drone-avoiding cultist should have one.

How Far is it to Mars?
Handy website that graphically displays how far it is from Earth to Mars, although no information about whether they use an average distance or whether they’re savvy enough to calculate Mars’ position and update their info.

Decoding Our Dreams — Using Science!
Scientists have developed a program that helps decode images of brains taken while the subject is asleep. It isn’t exactly reading our minds via machines, but it’s interesting.

3D Camera with Range
Oh sure, 3D cameras — nothing new. Only this one uses lasers and has a range of 1km. Oh, and it’s not so good at human skin, so don’t worry that people are snapping your 3D picture from a thousand yards away.

Attack of the Magnetic Putty!
Take iron filings, silly putty and a rare-earth magnetic. Mix. Then film it using a time-lapse camera. Result: cool but kinda creepy.

The Cavern Underneath Manhattan
Ok, so really there are lots of caves under Manhattan, but here’s some photos of one under construction anyway.

Sugar Water Modeling Yellowstone
Scientists wanted to model the tectonic behavior of the vulcanism and other geologic movements of the area around Yellowstone and the Western US in general. So they got a huge tank and filled it with sugar water.

Actual Headline: “1913: When Hitler, Trotsky, Tito, Freud and Stalin all lived in the same place”
The freaky juxtaposition of history and some of the men who made it. And no, this isn’t some weird alternate history novel. This really was the case. They all lived in Vienna that year, right before WW1 kicked off. Oh, and add to that list the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Yup.

The Time Capsule Apartment
Wealthy woman leaves her Paris apartment just as the first rumblings of WWII break out. She went to the South of France, and continued to pay rent on the sealed apartment for the next 70 years, until she died at the age of 91. Her heirs discovered it, opened it and these pictures are of what they found there.

Anti-Gravity
Anti-matter, anti-gravity, CERN — this article has it all! You know it’s real science when no one says “we’ll have flying cars in 10 years!”.

Secret Tunnels of the Mafia
No, not a Weekly World News article — the Mafia in Sicily (and other parts of Italy) really do have secret tunnels, bunkers and various bolt-holes.

The Future of Roads is Special Paint
How about a road where the lines are painted in glow-in-the-dark paint? Or what if roads in the northern climes were painted with temperature-sensitive paint that glowed when covered in ice? (Black ice no more!) That’s the possible future of roads.

About John:
John’s a geek from way back. He’s been floating between various computer-related jobs for years, until he settled into doing tech support in higher ed. Now he rules the Macs on campus with an iron hand (really, it’s on his desk).

Geek Credentials:
RPG: Blue box D&D, lead minis, been to GenCon in Milwaukee.
Computer: TRS-80 Color Computer, Amiga 1000, UNIX system w/reel-to-reel backup tape
Card games: bought Magic cards at GenCon in 1993
Science: Met Phil Plait, got time on a mainframe for astronomy project in 1983
His Blog: http://glenandtyler.blogspot.com

The $1,000,000 Hunt is On!

In an effort to highlight the proud histories of both Bigfoot and Olympia Beer in the Northwest, Olympia Beer has partnered with world-renowned Bigfoot experts at The Falcon Project to sponsor what may be one of the most comprehensive searches for Bigfoot ever conducted in North America. A grand prize of $1,000,000 will be paid to any person who finds “irrefutable evidence” of Bigfoot’s existence in compliance with the contest’s official rules. The yearlong contest launched April 9, 2013.

According to the contest rules, there is no set type or amount of “irrefutable evidence” required to establish proof of Bigfoot. All evidence presented must satisfy the three member judging panel convened by Olympia Beer and The Falcon Project. Evidence must include conclusive DNA evidence and visual proof of a live physical body. Visual proof of footprints, bone fragments, inconclusive skeletal remains or any other non-definitive evidence of Bigfoot will not suffice as “irrefutable evidence.” Any photo or video taken of Bigfoot is not sufficient to qualify as evidence in and of itself, but may be considered as supporting evidence. The awarding of any prize is subject to the official contest rules.

If Bigfoot’s existence is indeed proven through the contest, the grand prize winner will be paid in 40 yearly installments of $25,000. The annuity is being underwritten by SCA Promotions.

The Falcon Project is an organization that was convened to conduct the most in-depth search for Bigfoot ever conducted in North America. According to The Falcon Project, science tells us that a great North American Ape did exist at some point in the past, so the relevant question now is: “Does it still exist?” The Falcon Project is in the process of building a quiet, remote-controlled airship that will use thermal imaging technology to search Northwestern forests for evidence of Bigfoot. In support of its research, Olympia Beer has provided a $5,000 grant to The Falcon Project.

Similar to countless migratory and endangered species research programs, Olympia Beer and The Falcon project hope to conduct scientific observations of Bigfoot and then use the information collected to protect the species and preserve its way of life. Neither Olympia Beer nor The Falcon Project encourages or condones the attempted capture or containment of Bigfoot or any other form of wildlife. Any contest participant that demonstrates intent to harm Bigfoot or any other species will be disqualified from the contest, publicly shamed and referred to law enforcement officials.

More information about the contest can be found at www.olympiabigfoot.com, including news of participants’ progress, a map of recent Bigfoot sightings, live social media feeds and official contest rules. Participants can join the conversation by using the hashtag #Olympiabigfoot on Twitter and Tumblr, by following Olympia Beer’s Facebook page and by posing search-related questions to bigfootevidence@olympiabeer.com.

This article created from press release.

Blimpin’ for Bigfoot

Readers interested in cryptozoology, specifically Bigfoot, are probably familiar with Dr. Jeff Meldrum. However, for those of you who are not, let me give you a bit of a Wikipedia run down, “Jeffery Meldrum is an Associate Professor of Anatomy and Anthropology and Adjunct Associate Professor of the Department of Anthropology at Idaho State University. Meldrum is also Adjunct Professor of Occupational and Physical Therapy and Affiliate Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology at the Idaho Museum of Natural History.” He also happens to investigate evidence and claims of Bigfoot sightings, much to the derision of many of his peers. Meldrum is the author of “Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science”, which I’ve never read but now that I know exists I totally want to read.

Next spring Meldrum is hoping to kick it up a notch by using a remote controlled blimp with thermal imaging to scour the Pacific Northwest, as well as the Northern tiers of California and Utah. The small hitch in this plan is the need to raise $300,000 or more from private funding. The news stories I read mentioned donations and/or crowdsourcing, but I haven’t been able to find a place where the average person can go to donate to the Bigfoot search cause. I did find a Facebook page for Dr. Jeff Meldrum – Project Sasquatch. It says, “We are developing an on-line show with CyberStationUSA called ‘Project Sasquatch’ where I will be sharing some of my research and investigations into this most intriguing natural history mystery.” Perhaps this online show is footing the bill?

No matter what, Project Falcon (which is what this is being called) would be a big, bold step in the Bigfoot search. The pressure is on because it seems to me if this $300,000 search yields nothing, it’s unlikely anyone would invest that kind of money in the search for Bigfoot again. Unless it makes for good television of course.

A few news stories, MSNBC and Huffington Post.

Ghosts & Spirits Tarot

Since I just got done reviewing “The Secret History of Poltergeists and Haunted Houses: From Pagan Folklore to Modern Manifestations” by Claude Lecouteux I thought now would be the perfect time to take a look at “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” by Lisa Hunt. I know I seem to be near pants wetting excited over every tarot deck I review, but seriously you guys, “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” is incredibly impressive. How impressive? Incredibly.

I have to say, I think the masterful Mr. Claude Lecouteux himself would be impressed with the amount of work Lisa Hunt put into “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” because what you have here is a tarot deck where each card depicts a different spirit, ghost, or liaison between the earthly and spiritual realms from folklore and legend. So yes Lecouteux fans, all the subjects of his books that have been reviewed here on The Buffet are represented in this deck: The Wild Hunt (The Chariot), Vampire (The Hanged Man), Revenants (Six of Cups), and yes party people, even the Poltergeists from the last review (Ace of Swords).

Ace of Swords - Poltergeist

I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I tell you that I would gasp with surprise and glee with each page turn of the booklet as a treasure trove of creatures and characters were revealed. La Llorona! The Flying Dutchman! Headless Horseman! White Ladies! Each entry has a brief description and bit of context along with a divinatory meaning.

The artwork is perfectly suited to the subject matter and despite the obvious darkness implied, Hunt brings beauty to most of the cards despite the specter of death the hangs around ghosts and spirits. I’m a fan of the Day of the Dead and I became quite smitten with Hunt’s rendering of it for the Ten of Cups.

Ten of Cups - Day of the Dead

And I was swept up by The High Priestess, who in the “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” is an Enchantress/Sibyl. Hunt’s text brings perfect understanding to what we see in the card.

The most famous oracle of Greek/Roman legend, the Sibyl of Cumae (Italy) guided Aeneus through the land of the dead and enabled him to return to the living. The Sibyl interweaves the energies of past lives and future events. She illuminates the scene where dream-like specters mingle with relics of the past. A pathway provides a passage to clarity and higher understanding. The sparkles indicate a divine presence.

The High Priestess - Enchantress/Sibyl

What else can I say to convince you that “Ghosts & Spirits Tarot” by Lisa Hunt is 100% amazing? How about even though I received a free copy to review I went ahead and bought a second copy so I could get it signed by the artist? Did I mention I found this deck incredibly impressive?

10 Questions with Varla Ventura

1. So Weiser Books just launched two lines of ebooks, Paranormal Parlor and Magical Creatures. Can you tell my readers a little bit about those two lines?
Magical Creatures is a collection of stories from out-of-print and public domain books and includes such delightful beings as mermaids; goblins, pookas, and other members of the fairy kingdom; vampires; werewolves; and even mummies! Most of these are “fiction” or folkloric. Paranormal Parlor covers the wonderful world of psychic and supernatural—from old Victorian séances to classic ghost stories.

2. You’re the official curator of these two lines of books. What does that job entail?
I comb through volumes of stories, folktales, and true accounts to find hidden gems with secrets of their own. Sometimes the story is more in the author or the creation of the story. Once I have picked out the pieces I write a little about each book and author into an introduction, trying to put it in modern context. Not all the books are outstanding literary works—sometimes they are just quirky enough to be collectible, which is really what this project is all about. Being a lover of the strange and the forgotten, it is truly a labor of love.

3. What are a couple of your favorite books from the two collections?
From the Magical Creatures collection one of my absolute favorites is Polidori’s “Vampyre, A Tale”. One could argue it isn’t the finest vampire story ever written, but it has tons of cultural and pop-cultural significance. Polidori was Lord Byron’s personal physician and was there the fated night that Byron, Percy Bysshe Shelley, and Mary (Wollstonecraft) Shelley were gathered round the fire, conspiring to write their own ghost stories. This story was born that night. In addition, this was the first vampire novel written and published in English, which pre-dates Bram Stoker’s “Dracula” by seventy years.

From the Paranormal Parlor collection I think the stand-out is this novel, “Jap-Herron”, which was written entirely via the Ouija board. Sounds interesting enough on its own, but it turns out the author and her medium were channeling the ghost of Mark Twain and they claimed this was a novel he had been waiting to write since he died seven years before. The author, Emily Grant Hutchings, claimed that Twain identified her as “the one” to be his scribe. It went to press but was pulled immediately from the stands because Twain’s publisher and daughter sued Hutchings and her publisher.

4. Not only are you the curator for these lines of ebooks, you’re also an author. You wrote “Beyond Bizarre: Frightening Facts and Blood-Curdling True Tales” and “Book of the Bizarre: Freaky Facts & Strange Stories”. What are these books like?
These are collections themselves, probably why Weiser’s publisher thought of me for the first of these e-book collections. They are books of supernatural stories, hauntings, ghost encounters, UFO sightings, strange laws still on the books, bizarre news stories, weird medical conditions, and all manner of sea shanties, rock and roll horror stories and basically truth-is-stranger-than fiction kind of stuff. The kind of thing you read or hear about and then think it isn’t true, and then you investigate further and discover not only is it true, but it is way weirder than you first thought.

5. How did you get interested in, for lack of a better phrase, “the bizarre”?
I was kind of raised in a freaky household. We played a lot with Ouija boards and Tarot cards, celebrated Halloween like most families celebrate Christmas. Seriously, one year my mom kept us out of school until after Halloween so we could fully participate in the costume making and pumpkin sculpting. So I kind of always had an unusual outlook on things. I love freaking people out and I was at a party spouting some weird story and my friend said, “Hey, why don’t you put all your crazy stories together into a book?”

6. Care to entertain my readers with a favorite “freaky fact”?
In 1971 a man in Pennsylvania sued Satan—sighting The Devil himself as cause for all of the man’s ill luck. It was thrown out of court on the grounds that it could not be proved that Satan lived in Pennsylvania at the time.

7. Will these two lines of books from Weiser only ever be released as ebooks? Where can my readers go to buy and download them?
As far as I know there are no immediate plans to make them print books, though I would guess that if one in particular were enormously popular it might be considered. The idea is for someone to be able to collect these inexpensively and amass a collection at their fingertips. They are currently available on Amazon for Kindle, B&N’s Nook and in the Apple store for the any of their reading devices. You can search by the names of the collections, individual title, or by my name.

8. Are there going to be more books added to these collections? Any that you can tell us about now?
Oh yes! Many, many more. We haven’t even scratched the surface of what there is to come. Most of these first ones are personal favorites, but I have begun now to start exploring for new books through a variety of channels—references from the backs of my favorite old volumes of books, recommendations from friends and readers, and online searches. Among the next round, which will be released in early December, we have a ghost story by Charles Dickens, a holiday kidnapping story by L. Frank Baum, a collection of Pooka tales, and a fabulous publication circa 1900 all about a series of séances that took place in San Francisco.

9. And what about you? Will there be more books from you for my readers to look forward to?
I am pretty immersed in unearthing and resurrecting these volumes of forgotten lore, but when I surface I am sure to be half-way through my next manuscript. I have a ton of ideas, and am constantly gathering stories.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.
Have you ever seen a ghost?

Nope, but it isn’t for a lack of trying.

About Varla Ventura:
Varla Ventura is the author of “The Book of the Bizarre” and “Beyond Bizarre” and is a lover of all things odd and unusual and truly freaky. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, which she celebrates almost every day. She lives in the attic of an old Victorian in San Francisco. She can be found online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/varla-ventura, http://varlaventura.wordpress.com/, and http://facebook.com/varla.ventura.

10 Questions with Paul Bartholomew

1. With over 35 years of paranormal research, how did your focus end up being on Bigfoot?

I’ve always had an intense interest in various paranormal phenomena. Two childhood standout incidents would be the 1973 national UFO flap (in which there were many UFO sightings in the Northeast) and the August 1976 Abair Road Sasquatch outbreak. To study Sasquatch in the Pacific Northwest was fascinating, however to have “Bigfoot” in your own backyard (symbolically) was intoxicating. Most people back then ignored the New York and New England sightings. Later, I would attend Vermont’s Castleton State College and study under the late Dr. Warren L. Cook. I had contacted Cook in the 1970’s and we had exchanged information on UFO’s and cryptozoology for years. A loose network of researchers formed and interest in the topic often drew overflow crowds at lectures. Bruce Hallenbeck, a great researcher and writer from Kinderhook, N.Y., documented what became known as “The Kinderhook Creature.” Interviews with New York residents turned up many creature encounters that had been socially hidden or ignored.

So in short, our research showed that Northeastern Sasquatch reports were often overlooked and under-reported. In reality there was a long history of such sightings from Native American traditional accounts. The Iroquois, Algonquin and Abanaki referred to the “Windigo” and “Stone Giants,” or giant men of the mountains. Champlain wrote of a creature called the “Gou gou.” Sightings continued into the 1800’s of what were often called “wild men” or strange bears. And we have similar accounts right up to present day.

2. People generally focus on Washington state, and the Pacific Northwest in general, when they think of Bigfoot. How do they react when you start discussing the Bigfoot history of New York state?

Most people are simply unaware of Sasquatch sightings in the Northeast. That concept is getting better however. One of my major goals is to show that there is a rich history of Sasquatch sightings right here in the Northeast. Credible sightings by respectable witnesses are hard to ignore. Most people aren’t aware of such a history. You have to remember that the witnesses have everything to lose and nothing to gain by coming forward with their accounts. Many view their sightings as negative experiences– they open themselves up to ridicule. Perhaps with a better understanding of the entire Sasquatch phenomenon on a whole, one day witnesses may be able to report their encounters without fearing retribution.

3. Most of my readers don’t realize, but Whitehall, NY has an official protective habitat for Bigfoot (or Sasquatch). What was the process like to create the measure and have it passed?

Back in 2003 and 2004 I wrote a legislation and presented it to the Village and Town of Whitehall to create a “protective ordinance” for Sasquatch. It worked on various levels. It recognized and drew attention to the fact that there is a rich history of reports here and that these accounts should be embraced by the region. In that respect, it would help to create a better understanding of the Northeast Sasquatch, while promoting eco-tourism. Also, the measure was passed in honor of the late Dr. Warren L. Cook, who had done pioneering research into this.

4. After so many years of research what prompted you and your brother Robert to finally write “Bigfoot Encounters in New York and New England”?

BIGFOOT ENCOUNTERS IN NEW YORK AND NEW ENGLAND helped to establish that Sasquatch accounts are plentiful in the Northeast. With an intense public interest in this topic, our goal is to push this mystery out of the darkness of ignorance and into the light of scientific respect and scrutiny. Hopefully, witnesses will find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in their experiences. If anyone has an experience, I would love to hear from them at: bfcreature@yahoo.com

5. For my readers who may be interested in researching Bigfoot, where would you suggest they begin (besides by reading your book, obviously)?

For anyone beginning to study the Sasquatch phenomenon, I would suggest they get a copy of John Green’s “SASQUATCH: THE APES AMONG US.” This is the best book ever written on the topic. Green even included the 1976 Abair Road Whitehall, N.Y. encounter. Also, the History and Discovery Channels continually run specials and show episodes on cryptozoology.

6. What’s your favorite piece of Bigfoot evidence?

What is impressive about the Bigfoot or Sasquatch mystery is the collective case for it’s existence. The late Professor Grover Krantz (Washington State) felt that there was compelling evidence just based on footprint evidence alone. You add to this scores of respectable eyewitness encounters, hair samples that defy classification, the rich traditional history, strange recorded vocalizations– and you build a compelling scientific case. Unfortunately, a body may be the only thing that settles the issue.

7. Harry and the Hendersons, Six Million Dollar Man “The Secret of Bigfoot” episode, or Sasquatch Mountain?

I grew up on “The Six Million Dollar Man” and can remember professional wrestler “Andre The Giant” playing Sasquatch. There was also a UFO-connection in those episodes. Another from that era that should be noted as well was The Creature From Black Lake (1976). I guess I am a fan of the early 1970’s low-budget films– they are a lot of fun. Also, I can recall an episode of “Fantasy island” in which Peter Graves playing a Sasquatch hunter. This was a neat episode because it portrayed these creatures in a positive and compassionate nature. But I have to say that my all-time favorite show was “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.”

8. Obviously I’ve been focusing on your Bigfoot work, but what areas of paranormal research, as opposed to cryptozoological research, are you particularly interested in?

UFO research is what I first became fascinated in. Pioneering researchers like John Keel and Brad Steiger drew connections between the paranormal on a whole. Keel felt that these enigmas were differing manifestations from the same same source. So i am interested in the entire scope of the paranormal thanks to Ufology.

9. With all the research you’re doing, what can my readers expect to see from you next?

More research on cryptozoology, Ufology and hauntings. I have a UFO manuscript I am developing right now and hope to have it published soon. There are some documentaries pending. I hope to be able to do more lectures and am collecting new information all the time

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Will the Magical Buffet be publishing manuscripts of struggling authors in the future?

It’s funny you ask. I’m continually amazed that many people think that I not only have The Magical Buffet website, but that I’m also an actual book publisher. From my experiences working with publishing companies ranging from relatively large to almost unheard of there is one common thread: publishing is HARD! It takes a lot of time and money, two things which I never seem to have.

Perhaps one day, but it seems highly unlikely unless my financial situation and time constraints change.

Of course I’m always happy to publish essays and articles on the site! I’m quite proud of the diverse collection of authors and topics that have ended up on The Magical Buffet over the years.

About Paul Bartholomew
Paul B. Bartholomew has been researching UFO’s, cryptozoology, and Paranormal Phenomena for over 35 years. In 2003 he appeared on and was the unit field coordinator for an Outdoor Life Network episode of “Mysterious Encounters: The Creature of Whitehall.” In 2005 Bartholomew served as a researcher for the History Channel’s “Giganto: The Real King Kong.” In 2008 Bartholomew appeared in an episode of the History Channel’s “Monster Quest.”

Earning a B.S. in Communications at Castleton State College (Vermont), Bartholomew studied under Dr. Warren L. Cook, Professor of History & Anthropology. Together they investigated many sightings of large unknown bi-pedal creatures in the New York and Vermont area.

In 2004 Bartholomew wrote and lobbied for legislation in Whitehall, New York, to create a protective habitat for Bigfoot or Sasquatch. The measure passed both the village and the town of Whitehall and was dedicated to the research and memory of the late Professor Warren L. Cook.

Bartholomew has given hundreds of lectures across the Northeast to libraries, museums, and schools. He has appeared on scores of radio shows and is a regular on local news programs. He has worked with researchers across the globe including Canada, Australia, France, England, and China.

In 2008 Bartholomew and his brother authored BIGFOOT ENCOUNTERS IN NY AND NEW ENGLAND (www.hancockhouse.com). In it hundreds of Bigfoot and Sasquatch encounters are documented across the Northeastern United States, from the traditional histories of the Algonquin and the Iroquois to the Abanaki. The legend of the Sasquatch is tracked from the “Wildman” encounters of the 1800’s to the Bigfoot experiences of today. The book fully documents how the phenomenon has been a consistent part of the human experience from as long as we have recorded history.

Bartholomew still, writes, researches, and investigates unexplained phenomena and has several future projects and books pending.

Quest for the Giant Squid

It’s no secret that I love me the giant squid. Back in 2009 when I wrote “Loving the Lusca” I outlined my love quite thoroughly, “For some reason I love the idea of giant sea creatures. All those in search of the giant squid shows on the Discovery Channel – watched them. Ditto when they bust out the giant octopus stuff – I’m there. I don’t know what about them that I like so much. Perhaps, oddly, it’s the romanticism of the giant sea creature. I know it sounds funny, but for some reason a giant sea squid makes me think of multi-masted ships getting taken into the briny deep for venturing off the map. The ocean is still so vast that we continually discover new things living there. And that although doubtful, I can still entertain the idea that one day I’ll be watching BBC America news in the morning (because it’s back!) and hear a neutral voice with a British accent explain that a ship has been destroyed off the coast of some country by some giant tentacled thing from the deep.”

You can imagine how excited I was when I stumbled across Matt Walker’s blog on the BBC website that asked, “Is the giant squid the new giant panda?” Hecks yeah! “Can a 13-metre long beastie, all tentacles and suckers, be a conservation icon for our time? Scientists are proposing that the giant squid Architeuthis be emblemised and celebrated to help promote the conservation of marine diversity. The giant squid would become the giant panda of the seas; a single species that captures the imagination, and stands for the world in which it lives.”

Walker’s article goes on to outline the possible importance of a marine conservation emblem, the reasons why the giant squid makes a reasonable candidate, and a little bit about the history of the World Wildlife Foundation’s iconic panda. It packs a lot of information in a nice bite sized article, you should check it out.

In scrolling through reader comments to the article, I was pleased to find many people getting behind the giant squid proposal. However, there is a strong whale lobby going on as well. To that I say, the giant squid is associated with the pirates of old; rum swilling, scurvy dogs. Whales; well they get hippies. I love me some hippy stuff, but put up against the likes of Captain Jack Sparrow, this lady will be choosing pirate every time. When a pirate map said, “Here There Be Monsters”, it was creatures like the giant squid they were talking about. Check and mate.

Or as Walker says, “But this outsized, almost monstrous sea creature of lore is perhaps the more enigmatic, secretive, bizarre and fascinating animal. It may also better represent the ecosystem in which it lives, and the threats to it.” I bet he picks pirates too.

10 Questions with Joseph Zarzynski

1. I’ve been given to understand that back in the day you researched “Champy”. For my readers who may be unfamiliar, can you tell them a little bit about “Champy”?

I always preferred the term “Champ.” In fact, the word “Champ” was the preferred designation used in Vermont and “Champy” was used on the New York side, generally the lands north of Westport.

Anyhow, “Champ, the mystery creature or monster of Lake Champlain,” is “America’s Loch Ness monster.” For decades, some people at Lake Champlain have reported seeing an unidentified animal in the lake, a USO (unidentified swimming object), you might say. It has been described as serpentine or horse-like head, long neck, large body, a tail and possibly four flippers or appendages. Length, 15-20 ft. long. There are probably several in the breeding colony. They are probably closer to 15 ft. long, maybe even a bit less in length. Unfortunately, no definitive evidence has been uncovered like that unique video footage or a carcass washed up on shore. Still, we can only hope…one day.

2. Was it the search for “Champy” that led to your study of underwater archeology?

I conducted archival research and fieldwork for “Nessie” and “Champ” from 1974 into the early 1990s, about seventeen years. Several things gradually led me to move from cryptozoology to underwater archaeology. First, in 1985, several things happened, hallmark events in underwater archaeology. The TITANIC was found, the Spanish treasure shipwreck the ATOCHA was found, a rare WW2 Wellington bomber was raised from Loch Ness, and Vermont opened an underwater park for divers on their side of Lake Champlain. From those seeds I decided to get into underwater archaeology. Finally, in 1990, I led the team that found the 1758 LAND TORTOISE radeau shipwreck in Lake George, New York. That 1990 discovery was the knife that cut my tie to cryptozoology. In 2001, I got my second Masters degree (University of Leicester in UK), that in archaeology and heritage, so I could become a practicing underwater archaeologist.

3. Although many of my readers may know you from your cryptozoological past, the truly exciting discovery you were a part of wasn’t a creature, it was a vessel, the LAND TORTOISE. What is the LAND TORTOISE?

The 1758 LAND TORTOISE radeau was a British floating gun battery of the French & Indian War (1755-1763). The radeau, French for “raft,” was a strange seven-sided vessel, 52 ft. long x 18 ft. wide. We found it at Lake George on June 26, 1990 during a Klein side scan sonar survey by our team that became known as Bateaux Below. The LAND TORTOISE is today known as “North America’s Oldest Intact Warship.” That term was coined by my colleague, Dr. Russell P. Bellico.

4. How on earth did this giant, essentially a sunken fort of a ship manage to go unnoticed for 232 years?

Well, it rested on the lake bottom, 107 ft. down, in deep water. It was in the middle of the lake in deep water. Advanced technology, a Klein 595 side scan sonar, helped us find the shipwreck. That same technology and other kinds of remote sensing could be applied to “monster hunting.” One day, a well-financed operation at Loch Ness, Scotland may answer the question, is there a Loch Ness “monster.” It will take money, time, and a good team.

5. Once you discovered the LAND TORTOISE the work was done right? You just contacted some state office and went, “We found this awesome, historically important thing. You’ll take it from here, right?”

We contacted the State of New York shortly after our find. Then began the process of acquiring a state permit to study the shipwreck. However, we had no funds whatsoever. So, we found a wonderful underwater archaeologist, Dr. Kathy Abbass from Newport, Rhode Island, that volunteered her services. We then supplemented our six-person team, Bateaux Below, with several skilled divers. From 1991-1993 we studied the one-of-a-kind, deepwater shipwreck. We estimate we put $1 million of volunteer services into that study. In 1995, we got the shipwreck listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, we got the shipwreck designated a National Historic Landmark, only the 6th shipwreck in American waters that are NHLs. And in August 1994, we opened the radeau as a shipwreck preserve or underwater state park for sport divers. The underwater park is called “Submerged Heritage Preserves,” and the radeau site preserve is known as “LAND TORTOISE: A 1758 Floating Gun Battery.”

6. There is actually a documentary, “The Lost Radeau: North America’s Oldest Intact Warship” that chronicles all of this. At what point did you, and the others who work with you, decide that this process needed to be filmed and shared?

Right after our 1990 discovery, we thought a documentary was possible. Like fine wine, however, we had to wait until John Whitesel and Peter Pepe (Pepe Productions) approached us to collaborate on the project. In late 2005, the award-winning documentary was released. This year, we released a follow up to that documentary called “Wooden Bones: The Sunken Fleet of 1758” (Pepe Productions & Bateaux Below, Inc., 2010, 58 minutes). See www.woodenbones.com.

7. What’s next? You’ve searched for giant lake monsters, discovered North America’s oldest intact warship, where do you go from here?

Like most researchers it is time to write all this up, to publish more reports and new books, and work on more documentary projects. Get the results of the research out. That is what scientists do.

8. Many of my readers are interested in lake monsters, any advice for any of my readers who want to go out looking for “Champy” or “Nessie”?

Yes. Be enthusiastic. Conduct background research first. Enjoy yourself. The search is fun. It will probably be that “Jane” or “John Doe” with a camera in hand that will finally solve the mystery. Thus, getting the word out by organizations like your blog, are important. I can’t wait and I applaud folks who dare to get involved in the search.

9. At this point you must be very familiar with Lake George, New York. Where would you recommend I go for dinner next time I’m in the area?

Ah, there is a great bakery in Lake George, the Lake George Baking Company. It is not dinner, but they sure have wonderful pastries to fortify you as you check out the area’s history and the lake’s beauty. I am a jogging fanatic so I can visit it only once a month or so. It has great coffee, too.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Not a question, but a thank you. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk lake monsters and shipwrecks. Great stuff. Good luck and best wishes.

You can learn more about Joseph Zarzynski, Bateaux Below, Inc., and the LAND TORTOISE here and here.

Here is the trailer for “The Lost Radeau: North America’s Oldest Intact Warship”.

You can view more and higher quality trailers here.

Here is the trailer for “Wooden Bones: The Sunken Fleet of 1758”.

10 Questions with Dr. Bob Curran

1. I love your latest book “Man-Made Monsters: A Field Guide to Golems, Patchwork Soldiers, Homunculi, and Other Created Creatures”. I was amazed to find so many different types of “created creatures”! Were you surprised to learn what a vast topic this was?

I suppose the answer to this question is both yes and no. I was well aware that the notion of “created creatures” was prevalent in both folklore and history but I suppose I hadn’t realized just how prevalent. When I was asked to write the book by the publisher, I initially had of course in the back of my mind, the idea of Frankenstein and so forth but as I thought more about it, other ideas began to pop up – the Golem, homunculi etc. Maybe we’ve become so used to the idea of Frankenstein, mainly through popular culture, that a lot of these other ideas get pushed to the side – but they’re still there. The idea of being able to create life for them selves, independent of any Supreme Bring, seems to have intrigued our ancestors down the years and this has manifested itself through the folklore and traditions of groups and civilizations in the past. So it’s not really surprising that the topic is an extremely vast.

2. Your book is a reasonable, respectable 185 pages. With such an interesting and diverse topic to discuss, was it hard to not end up writing a gigantic tomb? Did a lot need to be cut throughout the editing process?

This of course leads on from my first point. Because the idea of life-creation is so fundamental to us, it has generated a great deal of speculation – scientific, literary and folkloric – all as you rightly say very diverse in both scope and nature. Therefore, when I was researching the topic I came up with a massive amount of information and I think, if I had not been limited, I could have written a book which was twice as long. Before I finally submitted it to the publisher I had to go through a fairly rigorous editing process which cut out some rather interesting material which unfortunately had to be sacrificed. And of course I should pay tribute to my publishing editor, Gina, who did a first class job as ever. There’s always the possibility of another book in order to use the edited material you know!

3. In discussing probably the most iconic of man-made monsters, Dr. Frankenstein’s monster, you tell the tale of Giovanni Aldini, Mr. Pass, and George Foster, and how their story may have influenced and informed Mary Shelley when writing “Frankenstein”. It’s such a fascinating tale, have you considered turning your section about the trio into a screen play?

I’m glad you found the story of Giovani Aldini, the tragic George Foster and the mysterious Mr. Pass – possibly one of the influences for Mary Shelley’s “Frankenstein” – so fascinating. I found it so myself, possibly because of the colorful characters and the development of the story itself. In fact I would agree with you that there is the basis there for a novel or a film – all the elements are in place. I think there have been a couple of drama-documentaries made for television but they were very short and perhaps didn’t do full justice to the subject. But yes, turning the section into a screenplay is certainly an idea worth thinking about. Judging by the response I’ve received from some of the readers it would certainly be a hit.

4. When doing research for “Man-Made Monsters”, were you surprised to find so many stories of created creatures linked to religions?

Not really. One of the most fundamental questions which man has faced down the centuries is “Who or what created me?” or much broader terms “How did life – both human and animal – come about?” For many people the answer was linked to some sort of supernatural belief. This has often been linked into the idea of a Creator Being which usually forms the basis of religious ideology. Thus in, say, Judaism and Christianity, the idea that man was created by God “from the dust of the earth” is taken as a fundamental principle and is still accepted by many people today. The question then arises – “Can man also create beings – with or without the help of a Supreme Being?” . The answer in some circles seems to have been “yes” but not as perfectly as those which the Supreme Being had created. This of course led to the fear that the beings so created would be monsters. But the root of that belief and fear lay in a religious perception and I don’t really think that the idea of life-creation can be easily disentangled from religion.

5. Do you think there is something to learn about humanity by studying our history and fascination with creating life outside of the natural order?

I certainly think that there’s something to be learned by studying these legends and beliefs which is why I think I write about them. All these old legends – not just those about the creation of life outside the natural order but also those about vampires, werewolves and other terrors – address very fundamental questions and provide an interpretation of the world which out ancestors used with the information that they had available to them. In this respect, these old stories and legends are in many respects as important as the actual historical documentation that has come down to us because they provide an insight into the thought processes of former times. This is what I try to explore in my books and I think the question is not “Do these things exist or have they happened?” but “Why do we want to believe in them or that they happened?” Many of these so-called “horrors” have continued to fascinate us both in books and film for many, many years. I think if we explore further into any of these subjects, it tells us a bit more about ourselves.

6. Out of the diverse bunch of man-made monsters you discuss in your book, which one is your favorite and why?

I don’t think I have a particular favorite since all of these beings interest me. Of course, I was intrigued by the myth of Frankenstein, simply because it’s so culturally known and I had read Mary Shelly’s iconic book many years ago. As well as that I’d watched all the old Frankenstein black and white films , and it had always intrigued me. But then I was also interested in the Golem and in the works of the early alchemists. And as I dug more deeply, researching the book, I came across more and more interesting things – ancient mechanisms and mechanical beings for example – and as I looked at them, the more my interest grew. So I suppose asking me to choose between them is like asking me to choose between my children – all have their own differences and fascinations so it’s really impossible for me to pick. If I was actually forced to, I would perhaps say Frankenstein, mainly because of the interesting story of Giovanni Aldini, but I’m not really sure.

7. One of my favorite creatures discussed in your book is the Golem. Can you tell my readers a little bit about them?

The Golem springs from Jewish tradition and folklore. Once again it addresses the question – “Can Humanity itself create life?” – which taxed certain of the early Hebrew thinkers. The answer was that Mankind might be able to create life but that it would do so imperfectly. Even God, it was suggested, had created an imperfect prototype – Adam Kadmon – before He actually created Adam. The Golem was a large man-like figure which was created out of clay but had only a limited intelligence. It could only be created by the holiest rabbis, using a formula which had been learned directly from God Himself, through the secret Book of Creation (the Sefer Yetzirah). Part of the formula was to write the word or a number of signs (aleph) emet (meaning “truth”) on its forehead or on a clay tablet which was placed under the figure’s tongue and this would bring it to life. In some cases the word was supposedly written in the rabbis own blood. However, it should be stressed that the word alone would not give life but the accompanying rituals and observances. In order to destroy the Golem, the first aleph was removed leaving met (meaning “dirt” or “inert matter”) whereupon the Golem would crumble and return to dust. A number of extremely holy rabbis allegedly created Golems but not one was really able to control them properly. The most famous Golem was said to have been created by Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the Maharal of Prague (c1520- 1609). The creature was created at a time of great Jewish persecutions by Christians in Prague by Rudolph II, King of Bohemia and Holy Roman Emperor and was designed to protect the Jewish community. However, the Golem became too powerful and began to develop a consciousness of its own (as some of them were said to have done) and began to attack the Christian quarter of the city, killing many Christians there. The Marharal was forced to confront the creature on the steps of what is now the Old New Synagogue in Prague. According to one version of the tale, Rabbi Loew tricked the Golem into either bowing down or opening its mouth to sing Psalm 92 (which was being sung when the Golem arrived) and removing the clay tablet. However the Golem did not return to dust but rather remained inert and was stored in the geniza (a place where religious documents are kept) of the synagogue. It is supposedly there to this day. There are many stories around it such as one that in World War II it attacked Nazi soldiers who were going to destroy the synagogue. Indeed today the Chief Rabbi of Prague, Karel Sidon, receives hundreds to requests to visit the geniza of the Old New Synagogue to see if the Golem is there – all of which are refused. However, the Golem is still a figure of Jewish folklore and one which I, like yourself, found particularly intriguing.

8. Swamp Thing: Alex Olsen, Alec Holland, or an elemental entity that mistakenly thinks it’s Alec Holland?

Like yourself, perhaps, I was a fan of DC Comics – I still maintain a great interest in them – and picked up on the Swamp Thing in the early days. I haven’t been following it recently though, although I think it’s still going in various forms. It’s an intriguing entity because it looks at a number of issues. As you quite rightly point out, there were all sorts of entities which were believed in many cultures to lives in the various swamps and marshes of several countries. So it could be places in one of those categories. There were, however, too creatures which lived particularly in parts of America during the 1800s which were said to be the spawn of swamp creatures and runaway slaves. Some were said to be genetic mutations caused by inbreeding amongst settlers in the deep swamplands. Such beings were supposedly prevalent in the Louisiana and Florida swamps and were supposed to attack travelers who came through their area. Later, as cultural referents changed, these became the supposed results of scientific/genetic experimentation which are said to be still there. Even in places such as Michigan and in the Kirtland area of Cleveland, Ohio we find legends of the “Melon Heads” which are said to be the result of experimentation . So these elements also feature in the idea of the Swamp Thing. When we first talked about Man Made Monsters, I talked with the publisher about including such things, even Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde but it was agreed that we would keep it to easily identifiable creatures for this book. But you never know, there may be another book on the subject further along the line and then I may get round to tackling the iconic image of Dr. Alec Holland.

9. What’s your next project my readers can look forward to?

We’re looking at a number of options at the moment. This year I’ve produced about four or five books – some in America, some elsewhere and in a number of languages – and I’m taking a little bit of a breather in the run-down to Christmas and take a bit of time with my family. I’m also doing some comic work – I used to work scripting comics – and book design, so I’m not really idle. But I’m still talking about a new book, particularly with New Page, but I don’t want to say too much as the ideas are still being considered. But one thing I will say – here will be a new book out next year and I think I will be part of an anthology which is coming out from New Page. I’ve been asked to contribute and the contribution is already written. So watch this space!

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

O.K. Is there really a Santa Claus?

Absolutely, because I believe in justice, mercy, and duty.

Perhaps I should explain, my answer is informed from my reading of “The Hogfather” by Terry Pratchett. In it Death and his granddaughter Susan work together to save the Hogfather or else the sun would not rise. Pratchett’s Death (who speaks all in capital letters) starts:

      WHAT WOULD HAVE HAPPENED IF YOU HADN’T SAVED HIM?
      “Yes! The sun would have risen just the same, yes?”
      NO.
      “Oh come on. You can’t expect me to believe that. It’s an astronomical fact.”
      THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
      She turned on him.
      “It’s been a long night, Grandfather! I’m tired and I need a bath! I don’t need this silliness!”
      THE SUN WOULD NOT HAVE RISEN.
      “Really? Then what would have happened, pray?”
      A MERE BALL OF FLAMING GAS WOULD HAVE ILLUMINATED THE WORLD.
      They walked in silence for a moment.
      “Ah,” said Susan dully. “Trickery with words. I would have thought you’d have been more literal-minded than that.”
      I AM NOTHING IF NOT LITERAL-MINDED. TRICKERY WITH WORDS IS WHERE HUMANS LIVE.
      “All right,” said Susan. “I’m not stupid. You’re saying humans need…fantasies to make life bearable.”
      REALLY? AS IF IT WAS SOME KIND OF PINK PILL? NO. HUMANS NEED FANTASY TO BE HUMAN. TO BE THE PLACE WHERE FALLING ANGEL MEETS THE RISING APE.
      “Tooth fairies? Hogfathers? Little – “
      YES. AS PRACTICE. YOU HAVE TO START OUT LEARNING TO BELIEVE THE LITTLE LIES.
      “So we can believe the big ones?”
      YES. JUSTICE. MERCY. DUTY. THAT SORT OF THING.
      “They’re not the same at all!”
      YOU THINK SO? THEN TAKE THE UNIVERSE AND GRIND IT DOWN TO THE FINEST POWDER AND SIEVE IT THROUGH THE FINEST SIEVE AND THEN SHOW ME ONE ATOM OF JUSTICE, ONE MOLECULE OF MERCY. AND YET – Death waved a hand. AND YET YOU ACT AS IF THERE IS SOME IDEAL ORDER IN THE UNIVERSE BY WHICH IT MAY BE JUDGED.
      “Yes, but people have got to believe that, or what’s the point – “
      MY POINT EXACTLY.

So yes Dr. Curran, there absolutely really is a Santa Claus.

About Dr. Curran:
Dr. Bob Curran was born and raised in a remote mountain area of County Down in Northern Ireland. Leaving school at 14, he worked in a number of jobs including gravedigger, lorry driver, professional musician, journalist, and even as a scripter of comics. He traveled extensively in many countries before returning home to settle down and work in the Civil Service. Later, he went to University where he obtained degrees in education, history, and educational psychology, whereupon graduating as a teacher.

Although he still teaches, much of his work is now regarding community development within Northern Ireland. In this capacity, he acts as a consultant to a number of cultural bodies within the Province. He deals with cross‐border matters with the Irish Republic, working for the Office of the First and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Sitting on a number of cultural committees, Curran has also worked directly as a governmental advisor and as a consultant to several bodies which have been set up by other governments. He also acts as a consultant to a number of tourism companies, giving lectures and conducting tours on many topics of local and national Irish history.

As a writer, Curran has been extremely prolific and has approximately 38 books to his name mainly on the subjects of history and culture. In addition, he has a number of works published in other languages including Japanese, Italian, French, Portuguese (Brazil), Spanish (Spain and Mexico), German, Urdu and Latvian. He has also served as a contributor and consultant to various radio and television programs both for private companies and national networks.

Married and with a young family, Curran continues to live in Northern Ireland on the picturesque North Derry coast, not far from the celebrated Giant’s Causeway.

To see all of his work available from New Page Books, visit their website.

The Art of Monsters

Folks like me, and by like me I mean always curious to learn a little bit about everything, are bound to have quite the collection of books about mythological creatures, magical creatures, etc. Some personal favorites of mine are “A Field Guide to Demons, Fairies, Fallen Angels, and Other Subversive Spirits” by Carol K. Mack and Dinah Mack, “The Element Encyclopedia of Magical Creatures” by John and Caitlin Matthews, and the single creature specific “The Unicorn” by Nancy Hathaway. (This was the book that converted me into a unicorn fan. Prior to this book I may have been the only little girl to have had zero interest in unicorns. Once I read stories about unicorns killing people, I warmed up to the little fellows.) Those favorites, on top of shelves full of others, means that I’m not really in the market for a new collection about mythological creatures. That changed when I received a copy of “Monsters: A Bestiary of Devils, Demons, Vampires, Werewolves, and Other Magical Creatures” by Christopher Dell from Inner Traditions.

As per usual, Inner Traditions has found an inspired route towards the subject matter. Much the way they had Claude Lecouteux, a professor of medieval literature, take on the subject matter of the paranormal, this time around they have Christopher Dell, who holds a degree in art history, turn his eye towards monsters of myth. That art history degree makes “Monsters” one of the most beautifully illustrated books on the subject matter in my possession. Thick, glossy pages showcase close to 200 full color illustrations from artists of varying time and place.

The Night Mare by Henry Fuseli 1781

Anyone with an interest in the subject matter is going to be familiar with many of the creatures discussed in “Monsters”, and the information on the individual subjects is fairly light, but the range of monsters covered is wide and varying. Usual suspects like dragons, water monsters, and sirens are discussed, but in the same book you’ll also find American classics like the Pennsylvanian squonk and the hoax hodag.

Siegfried Slaying Fafner by Konrad Dielitz 1880

I also appreciated the inclusion of Asian culture, a perspective that is a little light in some other books I own. Dell covers oriental dragons (verses western dragons), the kappa, and The Night Parade of 100 Demons (A subject I was entirely unfamiliar with and found the related “gathering of one hundred supernatural tales” even more intriguing.). The inclusion of Asia also means that Asian art features heavily in the book, which since I like it, I find to be a very good thing.

Princess Takiyasha Summons a Skeleton Spectre to Frighten Mitsukuni by Utagawa Kuniyoshi 1844

Christopher Dell’s “Monsters” doesn’t reinvent or redesign the mythical creature overview book format; however with it’s fascinating variety and inclusion of fantastically beautiful artwork “Monsters” should be a must have for anyone serious about the subject matter. It would also make a solid, and surely treasured, introduction to the subject matter for those looking for a place to start.