We've been covering the modern monster mythos of 'Slenderman' here on the Grail since back in 2011, when Cat Vincent contributed an article about 'Slendy' to Darklore Volume 6. From small memes, however, big things grow - and in May this year it was announced that Slenderman would get his own movie.
And now, to add to that, HBO will be airing the documentary Beware the Slenderman in January. Here's the trailer, which focuses on the (real-life) attempted murder (by stabbing) in 2014 of a 12-year-old girl by two friends who claimed to be doing it on behalf of Slenderman:
When snorkelers off the Greek island of Zakynthos came across what appeared to be the flooded ruins of an ancient city (such as the 'columns' above), archaeologists were left to ponder their origin. Which civilisation built them, and how had they ended up underwater? But, when they went to investigate further...
...archaeologists found nothing else — no shards of pottery or other flotsam and jetsam of everyday existence — that would suggest that people had once lived there (and perhaps had been forced to flee by rising sea levels).
Scientists have now discovered the reason there were no signs of human habitation at the site. The columns and other objects, they say, are not stonework at all, but a natural byproduct of the breakdown of methane gas. And they were made by an ancient civilization of microbes, not people.
The search for 'lost civilisations' is a fascinating one, and our good friend Graham Hancock wrote an intriguing book about the search for ruins of civilisations that could feasibly have been lost beneath rising seas after the end of the last Ice Age (Underworld: The Mysterious Origins of Civilization). But the recent news story above should also be a warning to us that things aren't always what they seem.
There have been numerous discoveries in recent decades of what, at first glance, appear to be man-made, ancient structures, ranging from the Japanese underwater site of Yonaguni to the so-called 'Bosnian pyramid'. But simply 'looking artificial' is not enough to draw a conclusion - for example, visitors to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland will know that nature does produce artificial-looking geometric structures (see this recent video we posted for more discussion on this topic).
Wishful thinking isn't enough - there has to be more evidence than simply 'this looks like the real deal' to label something as such. In the absence of evidence, it's still fine to speculate...just as long as you make clear that is what you are doing.
On the flipside, however, sometimes - often times - when anomalies do turn up, they are immediately discounted as being imaginary, misinterpretations of normal things, or outright hoaxes. Another story of the past week illustrates this: more than 200 years ago, the German naturalist Alexander von Humboldt reported witnessing electric eels leaping out of the water to attack possible threats.
Humboldt published his account of leaping electric eels in 1807, but for two centuries it has been regarded as a fantasy. Why?
No one had seen such behaviour in the 200 years since Humboldt’s account. In 1881, another German scientist said that the story was “poetically transfigured.” In 1947, The Atlantic called it “tommyrot.”
But now, researchers have caught this behaviour on video:
It turns out that Humboldt was telling the story exactly as he had witnessed it - and yet it took more than 200 years for any scientist to investigate it seriously.
I discuss a similar topic in my article in the upcoming release of Darklore (Volume 9): meteors. Scientists dropped the ball on meteors for many years, writing off witness reports as fantastical and untrustworthy. And even after finally seeing the light, they repeated the exact same mistake for many more decades when it came to witness reports of electrophonic sounds being emitted from bright fireballs - because those reports didn't seem to agree with the science of the time.
Each of these stories provides a lesson to us, as we try to gain fresh insights and discover new things. When we come across an anomaly, we must be skeptical, in the sense of examining it with critical thinking, and progressing cautiously. But we should also guard against being overly-skeptical, and dismissing things that don't fit within our current frame of knowledge. Feel free to speculate, make leaps of logic where needed - but always note carefully that is what you are doing.
Anomaly hunting is fun. But let's do it right.
Intermediatism and the Study of Religion
by Jack Hunter
Over the course of four groundbreaking books published between 1919-1932,1 Charles Hoy Fort (1874-1932) meticulously presented thousands of accounts of anomalous events that he found documented in scientific journals, newspapers and books at the New York Public Library and the British Museum. In conducting his wide-ranging textual excavations, Fort uncovered impossible numbers of extraordinary reports of fish and frogs falling from the sky, poltergeists wreaking havoc on unexpecting families, spontaneous human combustion, unidentified flying objects, levitations of people and things, mysterious disappearances, apparitions, and so on.2
All of these strange events, according to Fort, had been brushed under the carpet by mainstream science,3 indeed his books were deliberately intended as an out-and-out affront to the scientific establishment, and in particular to the idea that science has essentially ‘sorted it all out’ already. Fort was not at all convinced by this, and his collections of ‘Damned Facts,’ as he called them, served as evidence in support of his suspicions and speculations. Fort obsessively catalogued these ‘Damned Facts’ on small pieces of card, which he stored in hundreds of shoe boxes in his New York apartment, ready to be unleashed in the wild processions of his books.4
Fort’s books would go on to become classics of ‘paranormal’ literature, and inspired others to employ a similarly ‘Fortean’ approach in their own work, notably including writers such as John A. Keel (1930-2009), Colin Wilson (1931-2013), Robert Anton Wilson (1932-2007), and Jacques Vallée, amongst others (some of whose work is discussed in later chapters ofDamned Facts). Fort’s books and approach were also the inspiration behind the founding of the famous magazine Fortean Times, which, since it was first published in 1973, has helped to keep Fort’s eclectic legacy alive.5
The original goal of Damned Facts was to explore what a Fortean approach to the study of religion might look like, with all of its associated anomalous events and enigmatic experiences. The book, however, became something much more diverse. The contributors to Damned Facts each offer their own unique perspectives and insights, and take us to places that we might not immediately associate with ‘religion.’ With this eclecticism in mind, then, what I would like to do in this introduction is to give a basic overview of some of Fort’s philosophical speculations on the nature of science, religion and reality more generally, and then to outline some of my own ideas concerning what a Fortean approach to religion might entail.
Throughout all of his published works on the anomalous, Fort employed a philosophy that he called ‘Intermediatism,’ the basic tenet of which suggests ‘that nothing is real, but that nothing is unreal,’ and ‘that all phenomena are approximations in one way between realness and unrealness,’6 a kind of ontological indeterminacy. He writes:
...in general metaphysical terms, our expression is that, like a purgatory, all that is commonly called ‘existence,’ which we call Intermediateness, is quasi-existence, neither real nor unreal, but the expression of attempt to become real...7
Through the lens of this ontologically agnostic perspective, in which all phenomena take place somewhere along a spectrum between the real and the unreal, Fort was able to explore some exceedingly strange territory, unearthing phenomena that mainstream science had either refused to comment on or had rejected outright. In the process, Fort (often half-jokingly) postulated some intriguing hypotheses to account for his damned data, including, for example, the frightening idea that human beings are, in some undefined way, ‘property,’ and the equally bizarre notion of a ‘Super-Sargasso Sea,’ a mysterious place to which objects are teleported.8 Fort, however, often immediately contradicted and discredited his own theories, and is famous for announcing that: ‘I believe nothing of my own that I have ever written. I cannot accept that the products of minds are subject-matter for beliefs.’9 His agnosticism extended even to his own theories and ideas.
By approaching all phenomena as equally real/unreal, from the common-place and everyday to the most exceptional and far-out, Fort was essentially proposing a Monistic metaphysics, according to which all events, in all their varied manifestations, are, in some sense, fundamentally connected to one another. All are part of the same process of ‘becoming real,’ of moving toward ‘positiveness,’ and all give equal insight into the ‘underlying oneness.’10 Fort suggests that this oneness might best be thought of as a living system, perhaps as a cosmic ‘organism,’ maybe even possessing some form of purposive intelligence and agency.11 This idea was later taken up by John Keel, who suggests the possibility that ‘the earth is really a living ... Read More »
Forteans, take note: a new book, edited by our good friend Jack Hunter (Paranthropology, Talking With the Spirits), provides a fascinating anthology of essays that are sure to be of interest to you. Damned Facts: Fortean Essays on Religion, Folklore and the Paranormal (Amazon US/Amazon UK) features contributions from the likes of Jeff Kripal, David Clarke, David V. Barrett and others, covering topics ranging from William James to John Keel's Mothman.
Here's Gary Lachman's summary of the book:
Jack Hunter's Damned Facts, a collection of well-researched and closely argued essays into all things anomalous, presents some delightful, fascinating, and eye-brow raising evidence that there are more things in heaven and earth-and anywhere in between-than are dreamed of in practically anyone's philosophy. Taking their cue from the original anomalist, Charles Fort, who argued that mystery begins everywhere, Hunter and his contributors plunge headfirst into some deep waters and drag up to the surface enough oddities to satisfy even the most discerning taste in the unusual. It's my bet that Fort himself would have been damned proud.
Canadian culture is defined along the terms of our modern society, but there’s much more to our identity than our oft-mocked accent, our maple syrup, and our penchant for plaid flannel shirts. Much of our history is rooted in the traditions of our native, or First Nations population. A large part of that population is Inuit; a people whose culture has strong oral traditions and a kinship with the land.
Nunavut, Canada’s largest, northernmost and newest territory (distinct from a province only in the way it derives legal authority), is currently home to some 30,000 Inuit. In the 1930’s however, and thanks to the Angikuni Mystery, that number was at least 30 people off.
The story, first published in The Danville Bee, a newspaper of the north, and written by reporter Emmett E. Kelleher, broke on November 27, 1930. Is seems, the day before, Kelleher was regaled by the story of northern trapper named Joe Labelle, who told of an entire village of Inuit that had gone missing.
As Labelle tells it, he attended the village on the shores of Lake Angikuni, a village he frequented in his travels, expecting a warm welcome, but as he approached the group of elk skin tents he had an odd feeling. The air of the place just gave him “the creeps”. Upon entering the small shanty town, Labelle was greeted by two starving and emaciated Husky’s, and venturing further, he found a full team of seven dogs that had apparently starved to death.
His calls into the village went unanswered as he began to search for inhabitants. Entering one hut, he noticed cooking utensils and pots, apparently with food still in them. Under a large fur he found a rusty rifle, giving him pause because, according to Kelleher, the Inuit of the time valued their rifles over nearly everything, and leaving such a tool behind would be unheard of.
Examining another tent that had been virtually destroyed by wind, he found the skins of several foxes, ruined by rain and mud, accompanied by another rifle. Rust on the rifles gave him the impression that the village had been deserted some 12 months prior, and judging by the size of the camp, it appeared there had been at least 25 people living there.
His mind reeled trying to understand the mystery; where had they gone? Had they simply moved on? Unlikely, with all of the items left behind. Did they all drown in the nearby lake? Also unlikely, as there would undoubtedly be bodies to be found. His next discovery sent chills down his spine.
His thoughts turned to foul play as he stumbled across an Eskimo grave with a cairn built of stones. One side of the grave had been removed, stone-by-stone and the body was missing. Labelle couldn’t imagine a reason for desecrating the grave of a loved one, and he was reminded of an old Inuit superstition.
Eskimo of the time, and some still today, believe there is an evil spirit that haunts their villages. Tornrark, who has an “ugly man face with two long tusks sticking up from each side of the nose”, is feared by many Inuit, who wear special charms in the hopes of warding him off.
Labelle stayed in the camp for that afternoon, trying to figure out the mystery.
“There were no signs of any struggle. Everything looked peaceful. But the air seemed deadly.”
Following Kelleher’s story in the Bee, the authorities were notified and the RCMP initiated an investigation and search. No one was ever found, nor were any clues as to the reason for their disappearance.
This story caused quite a stir in the area, but soon succumbed to fleeting attentions and was lost to further curiosity. Until it was published in Frank Edward’s 1966 book, Stranger Than Science. Edwards telling of the story, taken directly from the original article in the Bee, rejuvenated the mystery and sparked some amateur investigation into the details.
Modern inquiries with the RCMP failed to come up with any evidence of the initial search, and the RCMP officially deny that there was one, and even that there ever was a village of that size in the remote area of Angikuni. Very few records exist regarding Inuit populations in the territories from that period, so it’s nearly impossible to empirically prove that the camp existed, let alone that its inhabitants disappeared.
Suspicions of a supernatural influence at work were put forward not only be Labelle, but also by Whitely Strieber in his 1989 novel Majestic, and by Dean Koontz’s 1983 horror novel Phantoms. More recently Nigel Blundell and Roger Boar wrote a detailed accounting of the Angikuni Mystery in their 2010 book The World’s Greatest UFO Mysteries, where they add to the growing lore associated to the event.
Many modern tellings of the story have embellished the facts, claiming reports of strange lights in the sky, mass grave robbing and over 1000 people having vanished. But the original mystery holds a hauntingly simple narrative, and though Labelle and Kelleher refrained from speculating on the fate of the Eskimos at Angikuni, one’s mind does tend to conjure ideas of alien abduction or supernatural mayhem.
As it stands, though, we have only Labelle’s first hand accounting of the mystery. Having been a trapper for over 40 years, Labelle was of a type of man that isn’t known for telling yarns. Many trappers of the time lived solitary lives, seldom coming into contact with other people outside of these small Inuit villages, and beyond an actual member of the village, Labelle was uniquely qualified to understand the nuances of Inuit life and traditions.
The lack of official records on the search and the village does little to sway the belief of those who identify with the mystery. Considering the time frame, it’s unlikely we’ll ever know the truth of it, but the notion that an entire village of people could disappear, almost overnight, is a disturbing one to be sure. But the few confirmed facts we do have say nothing of aliens, or monsters, or any other nefarious end those poor souls may have met. We know only that something happened at Angikuni Lake.
 Kelleher, Emmett E. (1930-11-30). "Vanished Eskimo Tribe Gives North Mystery Stranger Than Fiction". The Bee.
 Newspaperarchive.com, The Danville Bee – November 27, 1930: http://newspaperarchive.com/danville-bee/1930-11-27/page-7
 Colombo, John Robert. Ghost Stories of Canada. Dundum (2000)
 Edwards, Frank. Stranger Than Science (5th printing ed.). Bantam Books Paperback (1968). pp. 18–19
Spotted this documentary on supernatural encounters in Iceland over at Ultraculture, and thought that many Grail readers would enjoy it. "Investigation Into the Invisible World" is...
... an incredibly eerie exploration into a place where people have a deep understanding of realities that exist just outside of our own, populated by hidden beings that exist at a “different frequency” than our own—dwarves, fairies, gnomes, light beings and many more. These “daimonic realities,” as they have been termed by Fortean researchers, bear much in common with modern-day reports of UFO abduction.
The documentary is eerie and compelling, like a David Lynch film, and shows how real magic is for so many people in our world, just outside of the well-lit roads of modern capitalist society.
The stories recounted are sometimes truly interesting, sometimes "oh dear, you've tipped over the edge", and perhaps even sometimes "oh, this is a tourist dollar thing, right?" But across the entire documentary, the liminal landscape of Iceland dominates, and you can't help but feel that there is something strange in the air (and ground, and rocks, and water) there.
It happened in 1871 in a small village named Turville, located in Buckinghamshire, UK. At a mere 11 years old, Ellen Sadler passed into a deep sleep and didn’t wake for nine years. But, alas, there was no prince charming to bring this sleeping beauty out of it.
Ellen was a typical little girl, born to a large family of 12 children. The Sadler’s were impoverished farmers, and at age eleven, Ellen was sent to work as a nursemaid, but soon after, she started experiencing bouts of drowsiness and eventually took to seizures. She was hospitalised for a brief time, but sent home when she was declared incurable.
Two days after her release from hospital, on March 17, 1871, she suffered a series of gran-mal seizures and fell into a deep sleep from which she could not be roused. Her mother, Anne Frewen – widowed by the death of her husband, Ellen’s father, when Ellen was a toddler – called for local doctor Henry Hayman, who was at a loss to explain the little girl’s condition.
As the days and weeks went by, with Ellen asleep in a seizure-induced fetal position, word of her plight reached the press and the Sadler home (now known as “Sleepy Cottage”) became a veritable tourist attraction for medical practitioners, reporters, and curiosity seekers alike. Many descriptions of the girl’s condition exist, due in part to the 19th century media circus; such as this from Bucks Free Press:
“Her breathing was regular and natural, the skin soft and the body warm, as in a healthy subject; the pulse rather fast. The hands were small and thin, but the fingers quite flexible; the body somewhat emaciated; the feet and legs like those of a dead child, almost ice cold ... the aspect of her features was pleasant, more so than might be expected under the circumstances ... her eyes and cheeks were sunken, and the appearance was that of death ... but although there was no colour on her cheeks, the paleness was not that heavy hue which betokens death.”
No official diagnosis was ever achieved, doctors at the time were stymied, and talk of a hoax was floated about the small community. This was supported, apparently, by the fact that Anne – who remarried to Thomas Frewen – was accepting monetary donations from those who wished to view the little girl in her deep slumber. Anne was also criticised for limiting medical professional’s access to Ellen for fear that their poking and prodding was detrimental to her daughter’s health, such as it was.
Of course, when one falls into prolonged unconsciousness, several logistical issues begin to crop up. Such as feeding; Anne undertook to sustain Ellen by feeding her port, milk, and tea, and when Ellen’s jaw eventually locked shut, Anne was forced into using small toy teapots, the spouts of which were inserted between two broken teeth, to feed her gruel and other liquid foods. (It isn’t known whether her teeth were already broken, which is possible and even likely, given the era, or if they were damaged in this effort.)
Onlookers soon began to cry foul though, and drew parallels between Ellen’s case and the case of Sarah Jacobs; a girl from Wales who allegedly was able to survive without nourishment due to divine intervention. Jacobs died of starvation in 1869 and her parents were charged and convicted of manslaughter. Some insisted that authorities step in and move Ellen to a hospital, most thinking that her condition could be confirmed and successfully treated, but it was decided that there were no legal grounds for removing the girl from her home.
Anne Frewen died in May 1880, leaving her sleeping daughter to be cared for by her two married sisters. But five months later Ellen mysteriously awoke and was fully recovered by November of the same year. This miracle recovery further fuelled the skeptics, who claimed that Anne had either been hoaxing the entire illness or that she was suffering from Münchausen Syndrome and had deliberately exaggerated and exacerbated Ellen’s condition – possibly with poison – which obviously ended when Anne passed away, leaving Ellen the opportunity to recover.
Ellen went on to marry the son of a nearby neighbour and had five children of her own. She never experienced the symptoms of her earlier illness again, and suffered only slightly stunted growth and a weak eye from her extended slumber. As mentioned, no diagnosis had ever been made, and considering the state of medical knowledge at the time, it’s no wonder. A modern diagnosis might be extreme narcolepsy, or possibly coma induced by epilepsy, but the lack of a thorough examination of her condition by qualified medical practitioners, means the true cause will never be known. And of course, the possibility that the whole thing was hoaxed will never go away.
Many of us view sleep as a sanctuary, a place of comfort and something to look forward to every evening, but what if you went into a deep sleep and for whatever reason, slept away the better part of a decade? In Ellen’s case, the missing time would be much less of a shock, culturally and technologically, but imagine if you will, that this case had taken place in the modern era. The pace at which technology and culture changed between, say, 1970 and 1980 would have served to transport a girl like Ellen Sadler forward through time, and into a world scarcely recognisable to her eyes. Still yet, imagine the extreme culture shock that those who recover from long-term coma would go through upon realising the drastic changes that have taken place in the world around them, while they slept-away the years.
This world would be an alien and confusing place for someone who’s been asleep for nine-plus years, for as Arthur C. Clark said, “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
Being a die-hard fan of Star Trek, I basically grew up accepting the idea that people could be beamed from one location to the next. They made it look so easy; you just stepped onto the lighted pad while some guy in a red (or yellow) shirt hit a few icons on his control board and after a few wibbly lines and sparkles, away you went. They were never really clear on exactly how it worked or how far they could send you, but it must have been anywhere from a few hundred thousand miles to a million. What a way to travel!
Of course, that’s a TV show. A particularly good TV show in my opinion, but a fictional construct nonetheless. Mr. Roddenberry was faced with a conundrum when he created a show based on interstellar travel, including visits to all manner of alien worlds. How do we get our characters from the ship to the surface without endless voyages in shuttlecraft or what have you? Easy, we invent a machine that magically transports them in an instant! But did Roddenberry really invent the idea?
Well, no, he didn’t.
The idea that a person or thing can be magically transported from one location to another is actually quite an old one. It has shamanistic origins, and there are accounts, arguably, in the Bible, but it likely predates the Biblical period. Those Biblical accounts, Ezekiel 11:1, and in the story of Daniel and the Lion’s Den from the Hebrew Bible, tell of the mystical phenomenon of bilocation, where a person is observed in two places at once, often impossibly far apart. This idea is also found in Vedic traditions, Buddhism and many other spiritual customs. The story from the Holy Quran, of the Prophet Muhammad’s Night Journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, is sometimes thought of as another example.
The idea has a few names too: bilocation (also given as bi-location), apportation (or to apport), teletransportation, or more commonly, teleportation. These terms all have slightly different meanings, but all refer to the same phenomenon. The term teleportation was first coined by the inimitable father of paranormal research, Mr. Charles Fort in 1931, in his second non-fiction book titled Lo!. In it he described various events and happenings revolving around the idea and presented his thesis that, by way of a “cosmic joker”, certain objects and people could be transported over great distances by unknown means. Fort connected many disparate phenomenon with teleportation, from telekinetic apportation, which is associated with spiritualistic séances and mediums, to missing persons cases and even weird rain (strange items and/or animals falling like rain, often from clear skies).
"Mostly in this book I shall specialize upon indications that there exists a transportory force that I shall call Teleportation."
But as mentioned, the idea long predates Fort and the spiritualism movement of the late 19th century. The problem, as with any Fortean subject, is that the older the account, the less credible the source. There are many stories from almost every culture that feature an event resembling Fort’s idea of teleportation, but it’s exceedingly difficult to pin down details, and thus we are forced to look at them as apocryphal myths. Of course, the more modern accounts don’t really offer that much reliable information either.
Apportation gets a bad rap, resulting from the questionable methods of mid to late 19th century and early 20th century mediums and spiritualists, who used sleight of hand and outright trickery to dupe sitters into believing objects, such as flowers, stones, perfumes, and small animals, were either spontaneously disappearing or appearing (or both) during a séance. Almost every account from this period has either been debunked or is considered to have been hoaxed, but there are a few worth mentioning.
The amazing story of the Pansini Brothers is one such account.
The Pansini Brothers, the sons of Signor Mauro Pansini, an Italian building contractor, were considered to be “mediumistic children”. Following what was said to have been poltergeist activity in the family’s older home in 1904 and ongoing accounts of the older son speaking in tongues, the boys, Alfredo (10) and Paulo (8), we mysteriously transported a distance of ten to fifteen miles from the home in mere minutes. Apparently there were multiple teleport events involving both boys, and on one occasion, in the presence of a bishop Bitonto, the boys vanished from the room as their mother and the bishop discussed means for ending this “obsession”.
Despite fairly close scrutiny by Italian scientists at the time, no explanation was ever found for the events.
Another notable account of teleportation is that of Damodar Ketkar of Poona, India. Ketkar, described as a young child in the grips of a “poltergeist persecution”, suffered a teleportation event on April 23, 1928. According to a letter written by the boy’s British Governess, Miss H. Kohn, Damodar materialised in front of her and said to her “I have just come from Karjat!” (Which is approximately 63 miles from Poona)
Kohn noted, with some enthusiasm, that the boy’s posture upon materialising was “…of a person who has been gripped round the waist and carried, and therefore makes no effort but is gently dropped at his destination.” He apparently suffered no ill effects from the experience.
This case is unique and particularly interesting, as it’s the only known case of a person’s teleportation arrival being witnessed independently. As with the others though, this tale stands, and will remain, uncorroborated.
Of course, anyone who stays abreast of modern technological advancements, is aware that scientists are working on making the Star Trek transporter a reality. This research is in the realm of quantum physics, and it involves what Einstein called “spooky action at a distance”, otherwise known as quantum entanglement. A certain level of success has been achieved in the field of quantum teleportation, but we’re still far from zipping through space, from planet to planet, for various complicated reasons.
It is reasonable to think, though, that in time our greatest scientific minds will master the science and bring us something like a sci-fi transporter, but as Eric W. Davis concluded in his 2004 special report to the US Air Force Research Laboratory on teleportation physics:
“At present, none of the theoretical concepts explored…have been brought to a level of technical maturity, where it becomes meaningful…”
 Lapponi, Joseph. Hypnotism and Spiritualism. New York: Long-Mans, Green and Co. 1907
 Price, Harry. An Indian Poltergeist with Miss H. Kohn. Psychic Research (New York) March 1930
A long time ago – circa 1930 – in the area of Mineral County, WV, there was a little town called Shaw. You won’t find it on any modern map though, because it no longer exists. Where Shaw once stood is now a small lake. Jennings Randolph Lake to be precise, but it wasn’t a natural disaster that condemned Shaw, it was the American Army Corps of Engineers (USACE). Residents of Shaw were asked to pack up their lives and leave, as the government had decided to install a dam on the Potomac River, which flowed through the small town.
An entire town told to pack up and leave in the name of progress. The people of Shaw were largely unhappy about this proposition, as could be expected, but several of those residents were less worried about their own wellbeing than they were about a strange rock known locally as ‘The Indian Rock’, that was to be buried under meters of water with the completion of the damn project.
It might seem strange that people would be so concerned about a rock, but this was no ordinary rock. One-time resident of Shaw, Ms. Betty Webster Bishop, recounts her memories of the rock via both the Army Corps of Engineers website, as well as a commemorative website honouring the history of Shaw.
“Our Sundays were for worship and rest. The one allowed activity was a walk in the woods. It was on one of these walks that my Mother discovered ‘her’ rock, as we often referred to it. She loved God and all aspects of nature, with a special fondness for rocks, large and small. This big rock, the subject of this story, was her ‘pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow. She never tired of taking visitors to see it, whether local or out of town. She called it ‘The Indian Rock’, but we later referred to it as ‘Mom’s Rock.’ It was located a short distance up the hill. All who came were granted the privilege of visiting Mom’s ‘Indian Rock’. We felt it belonged to us and we reveled in the sharing of it. Many spoke of it and the awe it inspired, even after many years, and the many miles that separated us.”
Betty’s story is heartwarming and engenders nostalgic longings for a simpler time. The full version, which I encourage you to read, tells of her Mother’s discovery of the rock and how it came to be known, at least to them, as “Mom’s Rock”, and of how Betty brought its story to the world via a letter to the Saturday Evening Post (December 1984). That letter was precipitous, and led to the best answer at the time for what, exactly, this rock might actually be. But this is getting ahead of the story.
Waffle Rock, as it’s now called, is a large block of sandstone lodged into the ground just outside the visitor center at the lake in question. On one side of the rock appears a regular waffle-like geometric pattern of raised, darker stone that creates pockets or deep pits on the rock’s surface. This odd formation has caused many to speculate on what might have caused such a strange pattern. As is apparently a common failing of the editorial standards in the world of paranormal blogging these days, if you search for ‘Waffle Rock’, you’ll find numerous websites offering pretty much the exact same story, which generally goes as follows:
“This is a boulder on display at Jennings Randolph Lake in Mineral County, West Virginia. There have been numerous theories and speculations as to its origin, ranging from a pictograph made by prehistoric man, an Indian carving, the impression of the skin pattern of a giant lizard, or evidence of a visit to earth by an early travelers [sic] from outer space.
After examination of the phenomenon, Corps of Engineers geologists and those of other agencies have concluded that it is a natural geological formation. Although such formations are not common, similar patterned boulders were found on the east side of Tea Creek Mountain in Pocahontas County, West Virginia. Dr. Jack B. Epstein of the Geological Survey, U.S. Department of the interior, explained that the waffle rock is part of the Conemaugh geologic series that was deposited about 300 million years ago during the Pennsylvanian period. It is surmised that the waffle rock is a large loose boulder that fell from a parent outcrop somewhere higher up the slope, many decades ago, before the present trees grew.”
That being the extent of the readily available information on the rock, one can almost forgive the Internet’s rather quick descent into wild speculation, but the somewhat obscure accounting by Ms. Webster Bishop does provide more material to sink one’s teeth into. In response to her December 1984 letter to the Saturday Evening Post, a letter-to-the-editor was published in the April 1985 edition, from a Col. Martin W. Walsh Jr. Corps of Engineers Commander (Baltimore MD).
Col. Walsh offered some interesting commentary about the rock:
“Speculations range from the impressions of the skin pattern of a giant reptile, to evidence of space travelers on earth. Upon examination by geologists from the U. S. Corps of Engineers and other agencies, it was concluded that the rock is a natural geologic formation.”
Apparently Col. Walsh went on in his letter to describe the process by which such patterning could form naturally, suggesting that sand deposited by ancient streams consolidated into sandstone layers with rock above and below being compressed into the large folds that make up the pattern. It’s believed that this occurred between 250 and 300 million years ago, during the formation of the Appalachian Mountains.
Of course, there are those who are less than enthusiastic about these conventional, natural explanations. Many claim – namely the Rense.com correspondent identified as “Jeff” and the author of s8nt.com’s piece on the matter – the scientific explanations don’t account for all of the features present in the rock. Aside from the usual ancient alien talk, many believe that the pattern is actually an early form of hieroglyphic or primitive writing, and that the rock is the result of Neolithic art by pre-Columbian peoples.
That’s a little short sighted though.
The rock on display at the West Virginia Outlook on Jennings Randolph Lake is but a small piece of the original rock. It was moved there to save the geologically significant piece of history from the dam project; likely in no small part because of pressure exerted by the original residents of Shaw. Photographs of the whole rock show clearly that the pattern, or the structure of the pattern does not run all the way through the rock, but rather can only be seen on one side. And Dr. Epstein (mentioned above) offers an explanation more plausible than aliens or dragons, or even ancient art.
As outlined in Epstein’s official USGS fact-sheet on the Waffle Rock; when layers of sandstone were formed during the Appalachian Orogeny (the epoch during with the Appalachian range was formed), approximately 250 million years ago, the lower layers of the bedrock experienced compression forces as the Appalachian range heaved and folded. Those different forces, which pushed that lower layer in different directions, resulted in a unique folding of the sandstone which formed joints or fractures that just happen to look like the pattern shown on the Waffle Rock.
“Four sets of joints are apparent in the waffle rock. Sets a and b are roughly perpendicular to each other; sets c and d are at an acute angle to each other. The stress that formed the joints, as well as the folds in the rocks, bisects the angle between joints c and d…”
The mechanism that causes the waffle pattern to appear to be of a different material is similar to that which formed the Klerksdorp Spheres. Following the formation upheaval of the bedrock, iron ore particles filtered through the sediment and rock, and leached out of the material below, settling into the spaces between sand particles, which ultimately acted like a cement or glue. Once settled, the compression of the sandstone by the ongoing movement of the surrounding rock turned the iron ore into Hematite (as with the Klerksdorp Spheres), which is darker, harder and of a different consistency than sandstone.
This process is sort of like a perfect storm of conditions, which resulted in the rare but not unique form we see in the Waffle Rock as it sits near Jennings Randolph Lake (also called Bloomington Lake). Another example of the Waffle Rock (which was also taken from Jennings Randolph Lake) sits at the entrance to the US Geological Survey Headquarters in Reston, Virginia. And as it turns out, there are many undocumented examples of identical stone patterning in several other places around the world. (Undocumented because, to the trained eye, they aren’t particularly remarkable)
It seems likely that there will be people who refuse to accept that the Waffle Rock is a natural formation. Hell, there are still people who think the Earth is flat. But since Dr. Epstein was good enough to provide his expert analysis and opinion on this subject, perhaps we should bow to his superior knowledge on the subject.
But whichever camp you find yourself in, if you’ve found any of this interesting, I urge you to read Betty Webster Bishop’s story on ShawWV.com, if only to keep some part of that history alive.
 Dennis, Norm. The Waffle Rock: A big attractions to the thousands of visitors at Jennings Randolph Lake each year. http://www.nab.usace.army.mil/Portals/63/docs/Recreation/JRL/Maps/WaffleRock.pdf
YouTube user pseudon name shares a video he stumbled upon at Facebook. Two bros in Utah discovered a strange ice formation upon a frozen lake, recording it for posterity. The formation appears to be at least six feet / 182cm in width, and riddled with regularly-spaced holes arranged like a mandala. From the video, the holes are about the length of an average person's index finger.
Upon closer inspection these holes contain white crystals, described by one of the dudes as being "slimy". A nearby Starbucks coffee cup led our intrepid bros to conclude the cause might've been hot coffee, possibly supported by the yellow-brown 'corona' around the center circle. Nobody seems to know the exact location of the video, and the exact Facebook page hosting the original remains elusive. Based on the Starbucks cup's design, the footage isn't from 2015 since it's not the controversial, plain red one.
What is it? Someone might've gotten pretty lucky tossing their coffee on the ice, creating this curiosity. Even if the cup was a grande, there wouldn't be enough coffee to create all those crystals. Commenters suggest this is a lion's mane jellyfish, typically found in high northern latitudes. But this is Utah, a landlocked state more than 700 miles / 1100km from the nearest ocean. Those unusual crystals might be indicative of antifreeze proteins from another cold-loving critter. The pattern might illustrate how the protein diffuses through the surface, altering the crystallization of the ice.
Then again, it might be aliens... or viral marketing for the upcoming sequel Independence Day: Resurgence.
What's your best guess?