Sunday, October 23, 2022

A Halloween Treat - Destiny of the Wolf

 


As a Halloween treat this year, I decided to write a story! 


Being a big Bela Lugosi fan, it always kind of bummed me out that his character in The Wolf Man (1941) got so little screen time. After all, he was the original werewolf- and a fortune-telling werewolf at that!

So one night while cooking dinner I dreamed up an origin story for his character, Bela the Fortune Teller. I made a short little booklet and generated illustrations using Dall-E2 AI, and incorporated some werewolf lore culled from Montague Summers' The Werewolf. I had some weirdness and synchronicity happen along the way, which I talked about on my recent appearance on Creative Weirdos with Todd Purse.


Without further delay, you can read the story HERE


Writing the story has been a spooky and fun process for me, and I hope you enjoy reading it! Happy Halloween to all my fellow weirdos out there, and remember to trust in the Donut!

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Bad Movies For Bad People Vol. I

Bad Movies For Bad People

This past April, I lost my best friend Jeff Siegrist. Jeff was many things to many people, as I elucidated in my tribute to him that the local paper, Worcester Magazine, was kind enough to publish. This will serve as a further tribute to him; Jeff and I were both collectors of strange things, but possibly his biggest passion was for movies. A cinephile of the highest order, he specialized in the extremely weird outsider films, the B-movies, pornography, art films, and the like, but was also grounded in the classics of the medium. He saw beauty in all of it. Sometimes for fun he would publish a list of 100 movies he happened to be thinking of that day. It occurred to me that a fitting tribute to his memory would be to share just some of the films he loved, because he took great joy in introducing people to these cultural oddities.

Included as well will be some commentary from our mutual friend Andy Dupont, with whom Jeff used to review movies on YouTube along with Erin 'Riles' Reilly. 

Without further ado...

Plan 9 From Outer Space (1957, Ed Wood)


The quintessential oddball movie, it is often described as the worst movie of all time. Jeff was more charitable though, and would say "people who say that haven't seen the other bad movies that are out there. Plan 9 is funny, and fun to watch. You can't say that about a lot of legitimately bad movies." Andy says of the movie "we watched this every few years and it always had something new and hilarious for us to find." I would add that it's notable as Bela Lugosi's final film, and that Vampira and Tor Johnson are probably my favorite movie zombies of all time. 
Jeff's fascination with Ed Wood, Plan 9's writer and director, extended through his entire filmography. I would be remiss in not mentioning Glen or Glenda? and Bride of the Monster but further, Wood's whole life story and trajectory as an artist were inspirational to Jeff. He once had me watch Orgy of the Dead, a film "based on a novel by Edward D. Wood" that featured the Amazing Criswell, bloated and flushed, watching a parade of women perform suggestive dances partially nude. We laughed through the whole thing; the very idea that this had ever been a novel was absurd, and poor Criswell looking as though he needed to get drunk before filming any of his scenes.   

Blood Feast (1963, Herschell Gordon Lewis)


"Have you ever had... An Egyptian Feast?" This line from the movie, delivered by the devilish caterer Fuad Ramses, became a running joke between Jeff and his friends. "We said this one line from the movie a billion times" said Andy, and it was funny every time. Another great line from the film is the detective who says "looks like it's going to be another one of those long, hard ones..."
The premise for this movie is simply that a caterer, the aforementioned Fuad Ramses, tricks a customer into ordering an Egyptian Feast - a ritual human sacrifice to the goddess Ishtar. In order to get the human parts needed, he must go on a psychopathic killing spree. This movie was a pioneer of the subgenre of horror known as "splatter", and its gore and vulgarity drew the ire of critics at the time. Herschell Gordon Lewis became known as "The Godfather of Gore", and much like Ed Wood Jeff endeavored to watch all of his films, which ranged from blood-soaked schlock to nudie-cutie films. 

The World's Greatest Sinner (1962, Timothy Carey)


Timothy Carey was an incredibly odd and larger than life character, and naturally Jeff admired the heck out of him. As a character actor he appeared in films like Kubrick's Paths of Glory and The Killing, and later in the Monkees' psychedelic romp Head. Jeff loved telling me stories about the wild and unpredictable Carey; how he turned down a role in The Godfather, about his propensity for pulling guns on people he worked with, or how he let loose his attack dogs on John Cassavetes. 
The World's Greatest Sinner is Carey's twisted idea of a masterpiece. He wrote, directed, and starred in a tale about an insurance salesman who one day decides that he is, in fact, God. He is tempted into such ideas by a serpent Devil character, who only appears briefly but is voiced by Paul Frees of Rocky and Bullwinkle fame. Carey's character, now calling himself God Hilliard, starts spreading the word by way of some of the most awkward rock and roll you've ever witnessed. He goes into politics, seduces old ladies, alienates his family, and in the end has a showdown with God. That's right, it ends with a fight of God vs God... and God wins. 
Notable also is the theme song written by a young Frank Zappa, well before the Mothers of Invention had recorded anything. Knowing that I was a huge Zappa fan, Jeff introduced me to this movie early on. That's the way he was; he would always try to cater his weird selections to those he'd be viewing with. 
Jeff would often reference the movies he loved in his own work, and The World's Greatest Sinner was no exception. Pictured above is one of his many self-published poetry chapbooks, with a scene from the movie and credited in the title to Allen Smithee. For readers who don't know, that's the false name directors use when they are refusing credit for a film, usually due to its quality... or lack thereof.

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky (1993, Lam Nai-Choi)
An early 90s Hong Kong action movie loosely based on a Japanese manga, this one is ridiculous in its improbable death scenes executed by the title character, a super-human fighting machine. Full of "mindless slaughter and mayhem", Andy says "We loved a good action movie that would be a complete affront to our senses. Crazy gore and fight scenes." Riki is an inmate at a prison for having killed a gangster, and the movie centers around multiple attempts on his life inside the prison. He never fails, however, to destroy his opponents with such methods as strangling them using their own intestinal tract. 
The English dubbing is poor, the action is insane, and the camp factor is high. It's easy to see why Jeff, along with other cult movie aficionados, appreciated it. If you think you can stomach it, look it up!

The Godmonster of Indian Flats (1973, Fredric Hobbs)


                                   

I'm throwing this one into the mix because I don't think Jeff and I ever laughed harder at a movie monster. The inexplicably named Godmonster is easily the least threatening creature I've seen in a film. The monster is essentially a very large, bipedal sheep with deformities on its arms causing one to be too short, and the other to hang limply at its side. The monster mainly causes havoc by lumbering around and being weird looking. There is a tangled up trainwreck of several plots going on, but to be honest I only remember laughing at the weird beastie. This film was shown to me during a time of intersecting interests between myself and Jeff, when he began watching classic cryptozoological documentaries such as The Legend of Bigfoot. It was always nice when he'd venture over to my side of the weird a bit, and we could talk Bigfoot, UFOs, or the Occult. We also had a shared interest in the films made by the The Unarius Academy, the UFO cult run by Ruth 'Uriel' Norman. The aesthetic of the flying saucers in those movies was just the perfect bridge between Jeff's love of ham-fisted outsider cinema with heart, and my fanciful love of the wyrd and wonderful flights of fancy that these saucers can take us on.


If Footmen Tire You, What Will Horses Do? (1971, Ron Ormond)
Christian propaganda at its most extreme, and inept, this collaboration between born-again filmmaker Ron Ormond and Baptist minister Estus Pirkle was based on a sermon given by the latter. It illustrates in grisly detail the threat of Communism and where America is headed if we all don't get right with God. Pirkle and Ormond seemed to think that excessive scenes of kids and families getting mowed down by godless commies would be the best way of converting agnostic and atheist Americans who may have been flirting with Communist ideology. Being a member of the Satanic Temple himself, Jeff was endlessly amused by Pirkle's sermonizing and Ormond's cinematic depictions. Ormond was previously notable for having worked with contactee Reinhold O. Schmidt, making a movie based on his experiences with German-speaking aliens called Edge of Tomorrow. The Saucer Life Podcast has a great episode about this and Schmidt's other exploits. From what I understand, Ormond was nearly killed later and became a devout Christian, considering his survival to be miraculous. This led to the several films he made with Pirkle, of which If Footmen Tire You... is the best known.
Jeff so loved this cultural oddity that he would return to it periodically, laughing at it each time. He also used the evil commie from the movie as his avatar frequently over the years. That scene is particularly hilarious- the nefarious communist gives the children candy, then has them ask Jesus for candy. You see? You put your faith in Christ and he gives you no candy!


There are so many more movies to talk about, and I will be following this post up in the future periodically with further selections from Jeff's curated collection. I covered some of the big ones here, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the films of Kenneth Anger, Alejandro Jodorowski, and David Lynch - Those were among Jeff's favorites, and I don't know that I could do them justice here. Suffice to say, the first time I saw Eraserhead it was because Jeff let me borrow his copy... shortly after I found out that I was going to be a father. So, thanks for that, Jeff, where ever you are...

In Heaven, everything is fine...


Sunday, September 11, 2022

Who - Or What--- Is "Outreach"?

 A brief post, while I'm thinking about it...


You see, an informant that I'm not at liberty to disclose the name of alerted me to the existence of an "Ultrascout" group ostensibly employed by the Illuminati called Outreach. Of course this peaked my interest, and I made sure my aluminum foil hat was snugly fitted to my head as I intently listened to his story. I ingested multiple grains of salt as he went on. 


I'm not too big on conspiracy theories these days, and my interest in the Illuminati is mostly based on my devout Discordianism. So, thinking I was learning about an offshoot of Operation Mindfuck of which I was previously unaware, I was all ears... but for this particular story, there seemed to be no connection to the principal Discordians I was aware of. Moreover, my informant made me sit up a bit as his recounting of what he knew seemed to genuinely disturb him. If this was a put on, he was doing a fine job as an actor.


Even more disquieting was the fact that every time I'd think "perhaps I'll look into this Outreach organization some more, or put something on my blog about it" my mind would suddenly go blank and I'd get hungry. Only later would I realize that I had intended to research the mysterious group but now found myself in a position where it was really inconvenient. All that I knew, all that I had questions about, would suddenly come back into focus the moment I was leaving for work, or about to go to bed. It was as though someone- or something- was making me forget!

As such I'm hesitant to even publish a blog about it now, but I'm eager to find out if anyone else has heard of these so-called Ultrascouts of the Illuminati. From what I understand, they're responsible for all the menial task the shadowy initiates of Secret Societies don't have time for, and possibly may have gone rogue due to in-fighting within the ranks. I'm even told this group has its origins with Yarmouth druidry in the 1660s, or even earlier in England. Around that time I also became aware of a book which purports to show for the first time pictorial evidence of a cult at Stonehenge who, it seems, were able to conjure UFOs! I'm not sure these things are connected, but it's enough to make one paranoid. In my years on this planet, my paranoia has served me well.

Most astonishing of all, my anonymous informant was able to produce merit badges from the mystery scouts that he had smuggled out somehow. Among these were badges for Hypnotism, Crop Circle Making, Tulpamancy, Flocculation (a term I'm not familiar with and am afraid to look up), and Staring Out the Window. These have the humorous hallmarks of a Discordian prank, but also, if they are serious, the implications are more than a bit unnerving. And further, they seemed to be aged and tattered- they certainly weren't just printed or produced for the sake of a gag. Who would go to those lengths just to mess with me?


I am feeling my eyelids droop as I type now, and will conclude the post before something happens. In addition to my memory issues, I've been suffering odd power outages and weird charges to my cable / internet bill. I suspect some "scout" has been mucking about with my utilities...


If anyone has info on any of this, or suggestions on how to prevent the "memory wipe" effects I've been dealing with, please let me know! 


Yours in the Weird and Hail Eris!

-AP Strange

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Elvis by the Numbers or: The King and the Tower of Death

 It's been 45 years since Elvis left the building one final time. August 16, 1977, Elvis Aaron Presley was found dead in the bathroom of his home, Graceland. For millions of fans around the world, this was a dark and life-changing event indeed. One writer named Gail Brewer-Giorgio, who wasn't necessarily a big fan of the King of Rock and Roll, was so moved by the effect that the death of the idol had that she wrote a fictional story that coincidentally mirrored many of the events in Elvis's life. This set in motion the events that led her to write her book Is Elvis Alive? which, along with several other books and groups of dedicated fans led to the belief that the King had merely faked his death. But we're not here to talk about that so much; I would refer you to my appearance on Conspirinormal for that. Today we're talking about the numbers.


"50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong" is a phrase that has stuck in my mind since I heard it as a kid in TV commercials that advertised Elvis box sets while I watched reruns of 60s sitcoms. One can get philosophical about such a statement- does majority opinion really determine actual quality? Or, one can nitpick the numbers to determine how they were generated in the first place. I'm doing neither here, but rather using it to illustrate the importance of numbers on our common perception of people and things. If the box office sales for the 2022 Elvis movie are any indication, the numbers suggest an enduring interest in the King. According to Brewer-Giorgio, Elvis was very concerned with the numbers indeed.

She claims in her book that Elvis had been turned on to the occult science of Numerology by his hair dresser, Larry Geller. He had given the King a copy of Cheiro's Book of Numbers, which, she says, he was so enamored with that he always kept it with him and based his big decisions around dates that the numbers showed to be auspicious for whatever it was that he planned. Naturally, when I learned about this I had to get my own copy of Cheiro's book. 

The above mentioned books in front of my Velvet Elvis. Unfortunately, my copy of Is Elvis Alive? does not have the cassette tape.

Reading Cheiro's Book of Numbers it becomes apparent why it would have struck a particular chord with Elvis, as the author makes specific mention of his birth number. Born January 8, 1935, not only was he saddled with the "peculiar influence" of the number 8 as his birth number, Cheiro also indicates that those born between the 21st of December and the 26th of January are 8s born under the House of Saturn (Positive) which intensifies these peculiar vibrations. These influences make for a particularly fatalistic role of those bearing the birth number to play; they often feel isolated and misunderstood throughout their lives, have intense natures and great passion, and usually will either succeed in the most dramatic ways or fail spectacularly in life. In most cases, Cheiro recommends decisions be made on days that align with your birth number, but in the case of 8s born in January, particularly when they have other 8s and 4s in their chart, it's best to avoid them. He returns to this very specific date range several times throughout the book, and to Elvis it must have seemed that Cheiro was talking directly to him. It's worth mentioning here as well that David Bowie shared Elvis's birthday... make of that what you will. 

Since you can't change what day you were born, Cheiro recommends changing your name if you'd like to change your lucky numbers. Letters can be converted to numbers and added up, and it's possible to affect your fate by calculating a name with the number you wish to have. Much was made of Elvis's birth name being different than the one on his grave marker in Brewer-Giorgio's book, and true-believers have sometimes pointed to the difference in the spelling of his middle name (Aron to Aaron) as a clue that he had not died after all. It seems possible that he changed the spelling of his middle name, which by some accounts occurred around the time Geller introduced him to Numerology, in order to change his lucky numbers. If this indeed is the case, it would have been right before Elvis's big comeback at the end of the 60s. This is a bit odd though, because to Cheiro the name you're most known by is the one that's really important; having your middle name change from a 6 to a 7 shouldn't mean much if nobody calls you by that name. Instead, ELVIS = 18, which reduces to 9 (1+8), as does PRESLEY (27, 2+7=9), and if you add the first and last names you get 45 and then 9 again. 

This brings us back to the date of August 16th. Much speculation about the significance of that date in Is Elvis Alive? is aimed at proving that had Elvis wanted to fake his death, then that would have been the date he would choose to help him succeed. Brewer-Giorgio says that Elvis often expressed that he thought he would die at the same age his mother did (42) and on the same day, August 14th. Through a bunch of playing around with numbers, she determines that although he would have preferred to use August 14th as a date to fake his death, the cosmic influence of that day would not have worked, and that he invariably would have chosen the 16th instead. Having no mastery over Numerology myself, but having read Cheiro's book, I'm not sure her accounting adds up. But let's take a look at what Cheiro wrote about the number 16:

16. This number has a most peculiar occult symbolism. It is pictured by "a Tower Struck by Lightning from which a man is falling with a Crown on his head." It is also called "the Shattered Citadel". 

It gives warning of some strange fatality awaiting one, also danger of accidents and defeat of one's plans. If it appears as a "compound" number relating to the future, it si a warning sign that should be carefully noted and plans made in advance in the endeavour to avert its fatalistic tendency.

So, probably not a great day to plan a cunning deceit like faking one's own death then...

What's striking here though is that Cheiro uses the Tarot's Major Arcana to illustrate the meanings behind the numbers. He is of course referring here to The Tower, numbered 16 in the deck. The image of lightning, which calls to mind Elvis's custom "TCB" symbol, striking a Tower and causing the fall of a crowned figure really is evocative. The simplest meaning of this card in the Tarot is Chaos, but the more nuanced read of it is the clearing away of the old to encourage new growth. As my friend, author and Tarot reader Kiki Dombrowski commented when I shared this on Twitter - "I wonder if we could say that a fairly decent interpretation of the Tower card is 'taking care of business!'"


     Oddly enough, had the date been aligned with Gladys Presley's death date of August 14th, the card that would have been Temperance. As Cheiro explains, it's a number of "movement, combination of people and things... This number is fortunate for dealings with money, speculation, and changes in business..." He adds that there is an element of risk and that caution should be employed when planning for this day.

Now we can get into how odd August 16th is as a death date. The image of a fallen monarch isn't exclusive to the King of Rock and Roll, because just a few years after he was born another King had died on that same day. 

Robert Johnson, sometimes referred to as the King of the Delta Blues Singers, died by poisoning on August 16, 1938, at the age of 27. It can here be noted that 27 reduces to 9, and we again see 9 as significant. Further, Johnson was also in the 8 club, his birth date being May 8, 1911. His early demise makes him perhaps the founding member of the so-called "27 Club" - the odd grouping of musicians who left us at that age. This list includes Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim "The Lizard King" Morrison, and in more recent decades Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse. 

Much of Johnson's life story is mixed up in legends told about him, including the idea that he met the Devil at the Crossroads in order to sell his soul for his guitar playing ability. This story is likely apocryphal, and it's likely that Robert had been confused with another bluesman called Tommie Johnson, for whom that claim had often been made. Still, Robert had songs like "Me and the Devil Blues" which probably didn't help discourage the idea. It's worth noting that the card immediately preceding the Tower in the Major Arcana is The Devil, and Cheiro says of 15 that people born under 4 or 8 can be unscrupulous in employing it. It has an association with "good talkers", musical and artistic gifts, and charisma. So it seems that a bargain with the Devil isn't off the table, in this sense.

Another musical monarch, the Queen of Soul, also died on August 16th. Aretha Franklin was born March 25, 1942, making her birth number a 7 ultimately. 25 is, according to Cheiro, indicative not so much of luck but of strength and benefits through hard work and trials early on. Passing on at age 76, she is the longest-lived of the crowned heads who fell on the 16th. It is odd that this pattern holds up so well, and what it ultimately means is really just a matter of perspective, just as the opinion of 50,000,000 Elvis fans is. 

A few non-musical entries can also be added to this list - Babe Ruth, sometimes called "The King of Swing", the "Sultan of Swat", etc, died August 16th 1948. One could say that numbers were significant with the Great Bambino, as his was the first player number to be retired in his honor. The number 3 was his when he played for the New York Yankees, and it originally signified his place at bat in the line-up. Prior to that, when he played for the Red Sox, players didn't have numbers. His leaving the Sox led to what was called The Curse of the Bambino, an 86 year period during which time Boston never won a world series.

Finally, Bela Lugosi also died on August 16, in 1953. Though not labelled a king of anything, he was pigeon-holed into horror roles after his depiction of Count Dracula. Toward the end of his life, he costarred with the Amazing Criswell in several Ed Wood movies. Criswell's actual name was Jeron Criswell King, and his birthday was August 18th. Close, but no cigar, to the dates already mentioned, but too fun not to include especially since he had the surname 'King'. The 18th of August, 1999 was also when he predicted that the end of the world would occur, after the planet became enveloped inside a "black rainbow". Cheery, that.

On a final and more personal note, August 16th was the birthday of my best friend Jeff Siegrist, who passed away earlier this year. Worcester Magazine was kind enough to publish my tribute to him, and it occurs to me writing this now that I referenced Elvis in that tribute. I also made reference to Jeff's gold jacket, and in finding images for this post the album cover that came up features the King in a gold suit. It's bittersweet, these synchronicities, and although I sometimes worry that I get too granular and go on too long about these things, over all it seems sometimes like reality rhymes with itself quite often. There are systems at work and underlying structures which can only be peripherally perceived; like numbers, they can be played with, made to support the messages we want to hear. My hope is to inspire the reader to consider these odd coincidences and decide for themselves what they mean. I truly hope you take away something useful from this.

That's all for now... and Thank you, thank you very much for reading!









Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Local Flying Saucer Report, 1947

     It's been 75 years since a man named Kenneth Arnold witnessed anomalous flying objects from the cockpit of his plane, and the ensuing media frenzy is often referred to as the beginning of the modern UFO era. Based on his report, newspapers soon coined a term that would become ubiquitous all over the world: Flying Saucer. And even though Arnold's report was of a craft that looked more like the Bat-arang than a spinning plate, people across the country started to come forward with their own stories of seeing these disks, saucers, and other "whatzits" in the air above their locales. 

    A lot of speculation and interpretation can be drawn from the above facts, and in the decades since hundreds of books, articles, podcasts, and other forms of media have followed these myriad lines of discussion. On this anniversary however, I thought it appropriate to touch on a story much closer to home, and encourage you to do the same.

    I came across a reference to this story in the introduction to Isabel Davis and Ted Bloecher's Close Encounters at Kelly and Others of 1955, and the cited source was none other than the local paper here in Worcester, Massachusetts - The Worcester Telegram (currently the Telegram and Gazzette). There are a lot of great resources online for finding old magazine and newspaper articles, but often the smaller local papers only exist on microfilm. So one day, I went to the Worcester Public Library and tracked it down, and found other interesting things along the way!

The story referred to above involves a 70-year-old woman from Webster, Massachusetts, who saw a disk shaped object zip past her window before Arnold saw his 'saucers'...

 


As you can see, terms like "Flying Disks" or "Discs" were being used interchangeably with "Saucers" at this point. The Webster UFO even features a slim man in what looked like a Navy uniform sitting on it! Other reports in the same article from locations familiar to me, like Tatnuck Square and Shrewsbury, are thrilling to read as they only seem distant in time- much less so in proximity.

Within a few days, even more reports came across the news desk:

These reports are mostly within the city of Worcester, and I have personal memories attached to many of the places referenced. It seems at this point that some of the reports were perhaps reaching a bit; I'm particularly amused by the bit about a man walking into a tree, because, being accident prone it sounds precisely like something I would do. Also interesting is the report of 6 'cups' flying over Commercial Street. If we're going to have Flying Saucers, why not Flying Cups?

So on this anniversary of Kenneth Arnold's sighting, I encourage you to go to your local library and inquire about the Local Flying Saucer Report from 1947. Any excuse to visit your library should be taken advantage of, and plus you'll get the bonus perk of a librarian thinking you're a big weirdo for looking for old flying saucer stories. Of course, you don't have to tell them, just start around late June of '47 and roll through the microfilm. I'm sure you'll find fun and interesting things, and the local setting will add a whole other dimension to zeitgeist of the era. 

Happy Flying Saucer Hunting!

Friday, February 4, 2022

Forteana for a Froggy Evening

    Frogs hold a special place in the annals of Forteana - Charles Fort documented cases of frogs falling from the sky in his book that started it all, The Book of the Damned. Among the many instances of "damned facts and evidence" he collected, the frogs were only one example of things falling from the sky that seemed impossible. These odd events provided him a great platform from which to lampoon the attempts of scientists to explain them away. The rational explanation usually involved a waterspout pulling aquatic or amphibious creatures from the water and depositing them with rainfall elsewhere; the animosity between the rational approach of scholars at the time and Fort's sarcastic material agnosticism is a hallmark of all manner of Fortean subjects to this day.

    Other notable frogs within the weird fringe literature that can loosely be called Forteana are of course the Loveland Frogmen, who may not have even looked all that froggy at all. Various descriptions had been given for these odd creatures, which were reported in Ohio in the 50s, the 70s, and more recently - none of which matched the official explanation that someone's pet iguana had gotten loose, lost its tail, and was mistaken for a flying saucer occupant. Further, though not immediately evident of frogginess, there's the Hook Island Sea Monster photo. Evidence overwhelmingly suggests that this photo of an injured sea serpent is a hoax, but to this writer's eyes it looks like an enormous tadpole. Of course, such a tadpole would imply the existence of a Gargantuan Sea Frog. Imagine how large such a frog would be, how it would live, and what it would eat! We've now cast off from familiar shores out into the waters of pure imagination and conjecture, a place that might be requisite for appreciation of this blog.


          Yet another example of frogs posing unique questions to the Fortean mind is the phenomena of entombed animals. Claims dating back to the mid-19th century have documented instances of live frogs (and sometimes lizards) being freed from inside a lump of coal or a rock. This sounds absurd in the extreme; while frogs are known to hibernate encased in mud for several months, the amount of time it would take for mud to turn into rock would be far too long for any animal to survive, especially without food or water. In most reports, the frog dies shortly after being liberated from the stone. This phenomena is mostly discredited these days, but since we're still adrift in the numinous tides of speculation we won't let that concern us too much. Whether this is a 'True' phenomena or not, it provides a perfect segue for the main subject of our Froggy Night Feature: High Strangeness!


        The 1955 Warner Brothers cartoon "One Froggy Evening" may seem at first glance to have nothing to do with Forteana or High Strangeness. It's a weird premise for a cartoon, but it's a classic and a very funny one. The plot shows a construction worker at a demolition site who discovers a time capsule in the cornerstone, in which there is a living (and very lively) frog. The frog then proceeds to dawn a top hat and perform a song and dance with a cane. Michigan J. Frog can be interpreted as an "entombed animal". There is evidence to suggest this cartoon was inspired in part by the tale of Old Rip the Horny Toad, a horned lizard that allegedly survived being kept in a time capsule for 31 years in Eastland, Texas. Chuck Jones, the legendary cartoon director who managed this particular piece, gives the credit for the character and plot to his friend, writer, and gag man Michael Maltese in his autobiography Chuck Amuck. "The quirky brilliance of his ready wit was never neutral.", he said of Maltese; "He disdained facts as useless-- only the odd, the unusual, the hilariously peculiar interested him." Regardless of Michigan J. Frog's provenance within the varying fields of the weird, we can use him as a totem for how the phenomena of high strangeness acts - and how we interact with it. 

    After all, many of the strange events that those of us who have an interest in such things research really are "hilariously peculiar", which has in recent years led to fertile grounds for jokes on paranormal podcasts. A great many UFOlogists over the decades have dismissed the cases that seem too "out there", or omitted the laughably strange details from reports in an effort to present the case seriously. This applies also in ghost hunting and cryptozoology; often the desire for the case to be presented as worthy of honest investigation means it must be trimmed of anything that makes it sound too bonkers. Worse still, witnesses will fail to report the exorbitantly strange details of an event, even if they will generally share that it happened. 

    So what are we to do when we encounter the Singing Frog of High Strangeness? The events of the cartoon show us a few possibilities, each of which is echoed by examples through the history of investigations into the very weird. The Worker, who is never named, initially thinks only of the money to be made off of such a discovery - only to find that the frog will not dance on command for others. Hucksterism, grifting, and opportunist entrepreneuraliasm are rife within the history of all manner of weird subjects, as is the unrepeatability of odd effects. Places famous for their monsters see a lot of tourism purely for that reason, which is all the more reason to promote the mystery. It's not surprising that some who possess a Singing Frog would seek to profit from it, and although they sometimes do, they never really can prove that it's genuine. A good deal of experiencers and researchers have had their hopes of cashing in or even just getting recognition dashed to pieces by an uncooperative phenomenon.
    Witnesses to genuine events are met with doubt because of the fleeting nature of weird phenomena. Like a frog that only dances when no one else is around, witnesses can only describe the experience, not reproduce it. They generally have to be taken at their word without evidence to bolster it. The average person is not generous enough to do that, and although a lot of these ideas are becoming more mainstream they are likely to be shown the door- just like the Worker when he brought the frog to the Talent Agency.
    The mind-bending weirdness of some of these accounts is exemplified well by the "diabolical frustration", as Jones put it, that Michigan drives the Worker to. He rents a busted old theater, fixes it up and invites the public to come see. No one is interested until he puts a sign out that says "FREE BEER", and - alas! - he is unable to open the curtain in time for the crowd to see the frog sing. Where one man sees an extraordinary, phenomenal miracle others simply see a mundane, croaking frog... and they proceed to pelt him with fruits and vegetables. It all feels reminiscent of the revelatory claims in the ever-impending but never arriving government Disclosure of UFOs, or any bold pronouncement of conspiracy theorists. The average person has to be bribed into caring at all, and the reasonable among them will scoff when results fail to appear. Likewise, some phenomena seems awfully performative while at the same time very particular about its audience. The Worker in the cartoon is a lot like "repeaters" in UFOlogy, or those who have many varied stories of otherworldly encounters. For whatever reason, there are those seemingly genuine people who attract strangeness, or are perhaps more cognizant of it- but not in a way that can be confirmed by others. Diabolical frustration, indeed.
    Incidentally, there is a precedent for diabolical dancing frogs- as illustrated here from the 6th edition of J. Colin de Plancy's Dictionnaire Infernal. Frogs were often associated with witches, and thought to be demons posing as frogs. Also, frogs were thought to be potent ingredients in magical workings.

    "One Froggy Evening" in this sense becomes a cautionary tale about how best to interact with a bizarre, highly strange situation. Perhaps the funniest moment comes when the Worker, now destitute and miserable, sits on a snowy park bench while Michigan belts out "Largo al factotum" from the opera The Barber of Seville. This attracts the attention of a police officer walking the nighttime beat. The cop, investigating the loud singing, is flummoxed by the Worker blaming it on the croaking frog. He is then left with no choice but to drag the man off to the Psychopathic Hospital, where Michigan continues to serenade him.
    The funniness of this scene has a much darker correlate in the avenues of investigating, researching, or simply living with highly strange events or circumstances. It really can drive one crazy, or at least lead outsiders to assess a witness as such. People of all walks of life can become obsessed, entirely invested in proving their claims or in more tragic cases, seeking help. Many anomalies seem to exist to fulfill the function of being anomalous; many mysteries will never be solved. Trying even at the expense of one's well-being to be the one who solves these mysteries is a path that often leads to madness. A good deal of witnesses and experiencers become ostracized from their communities, lose their jobs, and have their lives turned upside-down by the act of telling the truth as they know it. Some of them are likely lying, or mistaken, or cognitively disadvantaged. The fact remains, however, that strange encounters really do change people - for better or worse.

    The cartoon ends with the Worker seeing the opportunity to ditch the box with Michigan J. Frog in it at a construction site, and it goes right back into a cornerstone. 101 years later, the Future Worker once again liberates the Singing Frog and the cycle starts again.

    The diabolical frustration and madness of what can broadly be called The Phenomena is contagious, and the old stories appear over and over again with every new generation of Forteans, UFOlogists, ghost hunters, legend trippers, and weirdos. Our reactions to it may change, and that is for the best. How different would it have been for the Worker to just take the frog home and enjoy the song for himself? It would have been a boring cartoon, but the Worker would have been better for it. There's no right or wrong way, necessarily, to engage with weird stuff when it happens to you. There is perhaps a way to interpret your experience in a way that is deeply personal- and that means it doesn't need to be widely shared, or proven. Some phenomena is meant for you and you alone; you may watch the frog sing, but don't let it break your mind! 














Friday, July 9, 2021

"You're Just Like a Little Child Chasing a Balloon into the Sunset" - Guest Post by Steve Mills

The following is a guest post by my good friend Steve Mills, aka the Most Reverend StarDog. He has some thoughts and research to share regarding the infamous Mantell Incident. Please enjoy this guest appearance, and I hope to be writing more soon!

Steve can be found at @StarDoG23 on Twitter

-AP


    The above title is my all time favourite putdown from TV or film. It comes from the mouth and wandering psyche of the inimitable Vince Noir, one of the two main characters along with Howard Moon, from the UK comedy series "The Mighty Boosh". In this case it is perfectly apt for what I am about to reveal to many people.

    The story starts about a decade ago whilst I was watching one of the plethora of UFO documentaries on the various cable/satellite channels. Two ex RAF crew with thousands of hours flight experience are talking about their sighting from the early 1950s. During the interview one turns to the other and says something like "Well, it was known in the pilot's mess that, chasing these things (UFOs) could get you killed". That casual, almost throwaway comment, stuck with me. Two vastly experienced and typical, to point of almost an Ealing comedy or Pythonesque cliche, RAF crew openly admitted that, in the early 1950s, UFOs were a subject of conversation in the mess and that, they were talked about as "dangerous". In simple terms, I wanted to try and understand why?


    It has to be pointed out that many aircrew at that time were battle tested and hardened veterans of WW2 and they were often superstitious and then some. Consider a RAF bomber crew's odds of survival on any given mission over Germany was about 50-50 it's not hard to understand why any crumb of comfort was grasped and held onto for, literally at times, dear life. Be it a teddy bear or a garter from the dancer at that show, there wasn't much, in terms of personal ephemera, that didn't find its way over to Germany on some bombing mission. Given that, it's not hard to understand why stories of "Gremlins" and "UFOs" were taken, just maybe, a little more seriously by aircrew than by most folk. Maybe that explained the mess talk and that's all it was; just a way for people carrying out a pressurised role to just blow off steam?


    However, given many legends are based on some actual occurrence my mind then wandered to where these stories may have originated from. As such, there are really two cases in the public sphere that immediately spring to mind. The Kinross incident and the loss of Captain Mantell. I discounted the Kinross incident as it occurred in 1953 and the incident the two RAF aircrew were involved with a was 1952 so, that leaves Captain Mantell. I would guess that, were one to compile a list of "Top Ten UFO Cases", then the loss of Captain Mantell and his F-51 propeller-driven fighter on January 7th 1948 would figure in many people's lists. I knew the case pretty well from numerous books and online articles, truth is, as will become apparent, like 99% of people with an interest in the case I thought I knew it and the chief too-ing and fro-ing between the various camps seems to involve the "Skyhook balloon" explanation. As it turns out, the whole "Skyhook explanation" is what Stephen Fry would refer to as "Utter arsegravy" - again however, I am jumping ahead of myself.



    One thing I have learned over the decades is this. Both pro and against camps in the UFO field "make shit up" (See Note at the bottom of the article) and leave important details out that might not fit a person's particular agenda. That's human nature and confirmation bias is what drives many people on both sides of the argument. The Mantell case is a classic example of this and I eventually discovered that we are all wrong about what we think happened and way more crucially, about when it happened. 

    If there's one thing i try to do in any case it's return to the actual words of the witnesses and not rely on their words filtered by any particular agenda. In Mantell's case I thought I had found the definitive version of events, in of all places, a 1956 documentary made with the co-operation of the US military. (There's a link to said documentary at the foot of this article alongside the notes). From that documentary i collated the following timeline of the events that January day in 1948 and they are as follows.


......................January 7th 1948 14:00 approx Kentucky State police report to Fort Knox military that they have sighted an unusual aircraft or object, flying through the air, circular in appearance approximately 2-300 feet in diameter and moving Westward. Provo Marshall at Fort Knox called Godman Airbase.


13:50 object spotted south of the airfield from the Godman control tower some 35 minutes after the "object" was first reported.

 

A B29 and an A26 were both on photo missions in the area.


Object seen by the tower controller, Lieutenant Cowan and Operations Officer through binoculars. Operations Officer puts in second call to the commanding officer Colonel Hicks. Hicks arrives during the phone call at approximately 14:20.


Aprrox, 14:30 A flight of four F51s arrives over the field.


Hicks orders the F51s to be contacted to ascertain who the leader of the flight was. Captain Mantell,

Mantell ordered to change course to 210 degrees and investigate the "unknown object".


Lieutenant Hendricks requests to land and refuel and take on oxygen, permission granted.

Both wingmen refueled and took off again this time carrying oxygen


14:45 Mantell calls the Tower "I see it, above and ahead of me, I'm still climbing"...


Moments later one of the wingmen calls in.. "What the hell are we looking for?"


Seconds later Mantell.."Mantell to tower, the object is directly ahead of me and above me, now moving at half my speed"

"Mantell to tower it appears to be a metallic object of tremendous size"


The object was also in view of all the tower personnel.


"Mantell to tower, I'm trying to close in for a better look, I'll go to 20,000 feet"


Shortly after Hammond, one of Mantell's wingmen calls Mantell "Level off captain, till I regain visual contact"

Mantell is silent, no reply

Moments later Hammond makes another transmission. Mantell seems to have disappeared and climbed beyond his wingman's view

15:25; the remaining wingman breaks off and returns to base


The object visible throughout the chase from the Tower, disappears from view at approximately 15:50. F51s first lost to view object disappears behind a cloud.


At 17:50 they are advised that Mantell had crashed 5 miles south west of Franklin, Kentucky. The crash had occurred at approximately 16:45; Mantell is killed in the crash.


Notes: Franklin is roughly 90 miles from Godman airbase. If Mantell vanished at approximately 15:20 and crashed at 16:45 then he was flying dangerously close to the stalling speed of a P51, (100MPH).  Where was he for that hour? It should have taken his plane no more than 20 minutes to fly from the area of the airbase and Franklin. 


                                     ......................................................................



Tower controller's statement: "It looked silver or metallic"

Intelligence officer's statement: "It appeared to be a bright silver object"

Executive Officer's statement: "It was circular in shape"

AACS statement: " A small white object in the sky"

Operation's Officer's statement: "It appeared round and white"

The Commanding Officer's statement: "It could be seen plainly with the naked eye"

Some present had no memory of Mantell informing the tower that he was "Moving in for a better look'...

    Strap in, because this it where is becomes "sciency". My interest in UFOs and my school years left me with a side interest in military aircraft. I'm no expert and certainly no "rivet counter" however, I do have a decent grounding in what an aircraft of a given type can and cannot do. If an aircraft is involved in a major incident I will  trundle along to the rivet counter websites and glean as much information about said plane in an effort to better understand what might have happened. It was this nerd like attention to detail that first led me to suspect something was drastically wrong with the accepted version, by all parties, of that day's events. According to the "officially accepted" explanation Captain Mantell "vanished" at some time between 14:45 and 14:50 hours that afternoon and crashed at 15:45 local time near Franklin, Kentucky. However, there's an immediate discrepancy here as by contrast, virtually all reports state that Captain Mantell's watch had stopped at 15:18 and that was the moment his plane hit the ground.


    However, this was not what concerned me. Even if he did crash at 15:18 then it still begged the question where Mantell's plane was for between 30 minutes and an hour after it's assumed he had passed out and lost consciousness from anoxia. Why, you might very well ask? The answer is a rather simple one and one I suspect most pilots of that era would have intrinsically understood. The F-51 is indeed rather easy to fly for an experienced prop pilot, being both light of touch on the controls and fairly stable even when you throw it through some aerobatic manouevers. However, there is a caveat- a rather large one at that- the moment you take your hands off the controls the Mustang behaves like the equine it's named after. Within 3-4 seconds the plane will  begin to drift in whatever direction the torque of the propeller is pulling it towards and in short, within 5 seconds, that F-51 becomes an 8000lbs+ anvil. That is, ten seconds after Mantell's hands left the controls, or lost the ability to guide those controls, it began to fall out of the sky. I did a rough calculation and erring on the conservative side and with two wings intact, a F-51 has a terminal velocity of about 1380 feet per second. In MPH that's 940 MPH and well past the speed of sound. This possibly explains the "explosion" that the witnesses on the ground saw as Mantell's plane descended in its crash dive. What probably happened is that, as the plane's velocity grew closer to the sound barrier it began to literally shake apart, you can look this effect up- it's well reported by pilots in dives during WW2- and indeed, it lost a wing and other parts of the airframe literally were shaken off. The "explosion" might have been the plane actually making it through the sound barrier and the wing being torn off. They key point to all this however is this, from the moment Mantell passed out to the moment his plane hit the ground was a couple of minutes. If he crashed at 15:18 then, according to the accepted timeline, he had been missing for nearly 25 minutes and that makes no sense. 


    Not to put too fine a point on it, I was stuck. Either Mantell was flying that plane under the effects of anoxia for between 20 minutes to an hour (Remember the "official record" cough cough, supposedly claimed he crashed at 15:45 local time) or, the plane was flying itself. In the final analysis, neither of these options makes any sense and looking for a rational explanation I expanded my search. I looked for what was "missing" from the evidence and the fact that, I could find no record of his 2 fellow pilots version of the events; as the only people who were with him that fateful day this struck me as strange. This is one of the most famous UFO incidents and yet, seemingly, not a word from the key witnesses. It was becoming somewhat frustrating and then, through a piece of lateral thinking I found this obscure and seemingly forgotten blog piece on the incident. 


    If we accept the facts espoused in the piece and that the author was writing with honest intent then finally we have the true story of Captain Mantell and the proper timeline. It does of course beg the question as to quite why the military have obfuscated for decades about the incident and I suspect that comes down to a simple fact- That being, if you write an article "Pilot dies whilst chasing a UFO" you are 100% correct and the military simply had no desire to deal with the questions that come with that sensational headline. It also shows that "The Skyhook believers" are really no different to the most out there "UFO believers" and that, their intransigence is every bit as unscientific and irrational as that they claim to rail against. As the blogger so rightly points out, the reality is, as a UFO incident, it's really not that fascinating and it was the crash that gave it its probably undeserved extra kudos. In conclusion then, I admit to a certain smugness that my hunch about the actual mechanics of the crash must have followed the path I thought they would  because I'm human, it is what humans do. As an Erisian my heart sings because I was able to use my favourite put down as a headline and the reality is, we were all chasing the balloon into the sunset and Mantell, ironically, was actually chasing a genuine, still as-yet-unidentified flying object. 


To conclude then, always return and start from the original witnesses's words on any given incident. We all filter what we hear through our own prejudices no matter how even-handed we think we are being. By the time an incident reaches its final form in print, as a TV documentary or as a podcast, it's probably taken on a slant that never existed in the original no matter how subtle and unintended that slant might be. 


Keep your eyes on the sky, your feet on the floor, and remember: just cos you're not paranoid doesn't mean Gef the Indian Marsh Moogoose isn't spreading tittle tattle about you.


Peace.. The Most Reverend StarDoG.....


Notes:

1: In a rather expensive documentary about the seminal Kenneth Arnold sighting from 1947 the conclusion was that "Arnold probably saw reflections in his canopy screen". The truth? In Arnold's own words, he leaned out of his cockpit to make sure he wasn't simply seeing reflections on his windscreen surface. Phillip Klass paid someone $5000 to lie about being a relative of Travis Walton. There's an extremely long and incredibly detailed blog piece about the B-47 incident of July 17, 1957, from the USA and the author obviously knows their radar backwards. Their conclusion that the UFO sighted by the B-47 was a "Radar Ghost" has one problem. After you've spent 30 minutes reading the article, you then realise: They had somehow forgotten to mention that three of the crew actually saw  the object, and it was bright green. On the other side of the coin, you have the likes of Stephen "Shall I take my shirt off now?" Greer and the "Cross my palm with silver, purchase my book and the great mystery shall be revealed" crowd. My experience tells me that, two people standing side by side can have totally different experiences of the same UFO incident and yet, both of them will insist their own experience was "true"... and you know what? They are, on an individual level, both probably right and that is the true mystery we are researching here.


UFO Documentary... If you're fan of the recent TV series "Project Bluebook" this is well worth a watch.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4bGTLtdwPHM&t=855s&ab_channel=UfoBevy


P-51 Performance... (It was renamed the F for Fighter 51 post WW2, the P stood for Pursuit) http://www.wwiiaircraftperformance.org/mustang/mustangtest.html

http://www.aviation-history.com/north-american/p51.html 

Flying a P-51  https://www.flyingmag.com/aircrafts/pistons/jet-jockey-flies-p-51-mustang/