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Saturday, March 30, 2024

Attack of the Mummies! Assorted Mummy Weirdness and a New-ish Short Story

 Friends and assorted weirdos, I'm happy to share that my short story Otherworldly Rewards is now available for your reading pleasure at a pay-what-you-wanna price. Originally published in HighStrange Magazine last year, I've made it available for your eyeballs in a downloadable format- a story about greed, dirty dealing, and the results of such actions involving murder, mystery, and of course, mummies!

Mummies have been a long running theme between at least myself and my Holy Donut Revival Hour co-host and bestie SJ. It probably began with pestering John E. L. Tenney about fighting mummies, which culminated in a short story we collaborated on for his birthday one year. Over time, I've found plenty of extra weird mummy-related things, some of them falling under the umbrella of the paranormal and others just plain strange. Otherworldly Rewards, for instance, was inspired by the use of mummified remains in the production of paint- a practice with a relatively brief and murky history. For the record, and as should be evident in the story itself, I have a great respect for the sanctity of human remains and a belief in honoring the lives of the very real people who inhabited those bodies- but such obviously wasn't always the prevailing belief, and in some cases, still isn't.

As evidenced by the exploits of Mexican UFOlogist Jaime Maussan in recent years, mummified remains of nebulous origin are still being showcased publicly as evidence of alien lifeforms. While the carnival barker-esque hucksterism of such exploitation is perhaps rightfully mocked and derided online, it's easy to lose sight of what very may well constitute abuses of sacred or significant cultural artifacts. Ethical scrutiny should be applied whenever one delves into the "ancient astronaut" type of speculation, and the history of UFOlogy is rife with examples of a disregard for such thought.

A particularly wacky, and likely less problematic example of the old "Alien Mummy" trope is that of Ralph Lael's, which he exhibited in his Outer Space Rock Shop Museum near Brown Mountain, in North Carolina. According to Lael, he was directed to take the mummified creature as proof of alien life by sentient "ghost lights" in a Brown Mountain cave... after a quick trip to Venus and a sexy encounter with a Venusian lady named Noma. Even the Venusians didn't really know precisely what kind of extraterrestrial remains had been mummified in the cave, but Lael showcased it in his shop until his death when the place was demolished. The current whereabouts of the mummy are unknown.

While unidentifiable "ET" mummy remains vary from the wacky to the offensive, they are only part of the equation in UFO / mummy related weirdness. After all, horror movies have led us to believe that mummies can be reanimated, a theme which, as I alluded to in my post about the Universal Movie Monsters last Halloween, has no real basis in Egyptian mythology. Be that as it may, there have been humanoid sightings related to UFOs which feature mummy-like entities, interactive and mobile.

One such case was recorded by APRO (Aerial Phenomena Research Organization) investigator Richard Greenwell. The witness, only identified as "C.A.V.", reported being abducted in Peru by flying saucer occupants in 1949, which he described as nude and mummy-like. One supposes he meant that the beings had the appearance of unwrapped mummies, as his description more closely matches that of the gray alien which would become more prevalent decades later. He also noted that the beings had claw-like hands, with the top four fingers stuck together and a protruding thumb, and that they seemed to either only have one leg or that both legs were bound together. These particulars draw a comparison to the entities reported in the Pascagoula abduction case, although I never considered them to sound very mummy-like. A similarly "unwrapped" mummy alien encounter is recorded reportedly happened as recently as 1988 in Denmark, with much smaller humanoids invoking the description alongside a public road.

For the fully wrapped and animated UFOnaut Mummy experience, I take you now to November of 1973 in Goffstown, New Hampshire- the home of one Mrs. Florence Dow. At around 8:30 that night, her attention was directed to the front of her house where the sound of a loud thump had emanated. When she looked outside in an attempt to discover the sources of the thud, she came face to face with a weird entity that was peering inside. This alien mummy must have had the same tailor as the Men in Black, because he wore a black suit and wide brimmed black hat- and, notably, its face was wrapped in white fabric as a mummy's would be!

The being motioned for her to come outside, which she wisely did not; but when she chained the door and opened it enough to look out where the Mummy in Black had been, it was gone. This was the initial event that kicked off a flap of sightings in the Goffstown area, investigated by Raymond E. Fowler- but the only one to involve such an entity. The others were more elf-like, silver-suited and more interested in soil samples than pestering the locals...

  An even more bizarre and unnerving alien mummy story returns to the abduction scenario. The details of the encounter were retrieved through hypnosis by Leo Sprinkle, and it has the hallmarks of such abduction accounts- missing time, memory wiping, and apparent medical examination. The twist with this one, however, is the entity itself, which seemed to be some kind of mummy space robot. In late August of 1975, Sandra Larson, her daughter, and a friend were driving on I-94 in North Dakota when the car they were traveling in stopped dead by itself as 8-10 UFOs hovered overhead and nearby. In her later recounting of events, the "attending doctor" of the craft they were brought aboard was wrapped in bandages, never blinked, had metallic, mechanical arms and seemed to give off an eerie light. While all of this is terrifying, Sandy was apparently cured of a sinus condition by the Robo-Mummy- so one supposes it could have gone much worse.

Alien mummies are more plentiful than one might think, whether they are upwardly mobile or otherwise. In either case, though, they deftly avoid proof of their existence as extraterrestrial beings. So we gently come back down to earth for some more grounded, mundane mummy weirdness, albeit with a little bit more UFOlogical lore to soften our landing:

Hobo Mummy and Airship Pilot

Article from May 24, 1973 The Record (Hackensack, New Jersey)

 One wonders- in what state of preservation the Airship Pilot would have been found, had he been exhumed? Perhaps we will never know. It seems, though, that it must have been fairly common to "mummify" a corpse and set it up in a shop window, or parade it around in carnivals, leaving it for future generations to discover as was the case with Elmer McCurdy, McCurdy was only discovered to be a legitimate corpse, and not a funhouse prop, during the filming of an episode of The Six-Million Dollar Man in 1977. Sometimes mummies, when kept in the home, provide some semblance of home security; a collector of curiosities named William Small, of New Jersey, found this out in 1951 when a break-in was halted by the grinning visage of the mummy in Smalls' closet. It seemed the burglars abandoned their scurrilous enterprise and stole nothing in their haste to get out of the house of horror- but a few years later, when a fire broke out there, the firefighters on the scene received a similar scare.

I would be remiss in not mentioning the crème de la crème of oddball mummies, that of Achile Chatouilleu, Shriner, "French Tickler", and... Clown Mummy.

Achile is a rare example of an exhibited corpse for whom it was a dying wish. Well known in his time and locale, he participated in the first Shriners parade- and apparently hoped that even in death, he could inspire smiles. He was preserved with toxic materials like mercury and arsenic, and was kept behind glass for public viewing at the California Institute of Abnormalarts in North Hollywood. The venue closed its doors permanently in 2022, and the clown prince of mummies was sold to an anonymous buyer- as so often is the case, the mysteries surround the mummified.

In closing, I'll share a few of the mummies I've met in person.

The first such mummy item from my travels is the mysterious mummy hand that can be found in the Caldwell Library at Lake George, in New York. Cattycorner from The House of Frankenstein Wax Museum, which features a recreation of the Karloff Mummy, is the unassuming and quiet local library. In stark contrast to the shops and tourist traps, restaurants and boat tour docks along the strip the small library is very much what one would expect in a town library; that is, unless one knows about the mysterious mummy hand. I anticipated an awkward exchange with the young librarian on duty when I dropped in, but she was overjoyed at the chance to 'lend me a hand'. The story goes that the hand was donated from the personal collection of the former head librarian, and was at some point stolen. No one knows how Hubbell, the librarian, acquired it; nor is the identity of the thief known, but the hand was discovered at an estate sale and mailed back to its current home on Lake George. It's a very small hand, and a significantly weird item to casually view while on vacation...

Synchronicity led me to another mummy, this time in Belfast, Maine. At the time I was reading Jadoo by John Keel, his first book about traveling around the Middle East and India in search of magic and mysticism. My ratty old paperback edition of the book came with me on the trip to Maine, and I was worried it would fall apart from being in my away bag. I had dreamed of trying to catch a snake one night, and when I began the book, it was about catching snakes; later that summer I did have to catch a snake which had hitched a ride inside of our camper. At one of the only used book shops I managed to find up there, I was surprised to find a hardcover first edition of Jadoo for a very reasonable price- reducing my concern over the fate of my old mass market copy. Then, as I sat to read the chapter of the book about mummy dealers, I got a tip from Twitter mutual Brad Knight that there was a mummy to be found in Belfast.

So off we went to the charming roadside candy and curiosity shop known as Perry's Nut House. They specialize in gag gifts, fudge, mixed nuts, and campy home decor, and among the taxidermy apes and large sections of snakeskin adorning the walls you can find Jay, the mummy. Jay had a history with libraries as well; brought to the U. S. by an adventurer named Jack Williamson, who ended up writing a book about Egyptian mummification processes. Jay the Mummy was stored along with other artifacts long after Williamson passed away in 1945, and forgotten about. When they were discovered, the artifacts were returned to Williamson's descendants- but no one wanted to take poor Jay. No one, that is, except the proprietor of Perry's Nut House at the time. 

To refer back to my introductory thoughts, I have mixed feelings about the mummies I've met. I'm not sure what the right thing to do is. I'm certainly glad to have met them- and I use the word "met" because these are not "things", they are human remains. Just as Osiris was made complete by Isis, and the wrappings of the mummy culminated in his apotheosis as the ruler of the underworld, the spirits of these long deceased Egyptians have a life outside of the one they lived thousands of years ago. They are remembered and in a strange way, cared for. While the unwilling recent examples such as McCurdy have been committed to burial, and others like Achile the Clown chose to be showcased, the true history of the Hand of the Caldwell-Lake George Library and of Jay can't be known. I can only hope their souls found peace in a bygone age, and that they are treated with dignity in their respective residences.

Oh, and I hope Lael's alien mummy pops up somewhere, someday...


Saturday, March 16, 2024

Horsefeathers or: How to Dig a Pony

 "I-I-I-I dig a pony

Well you can celebrate anything you want

Yes, you can celebrate anything you want!"

-The Beatles, "Dig a Pony"

It's important to celebrate the little things. It's easy to forget those small bits of magic that bring us smiles to soften the edge on what can be a trying and exhausting day-to-day existence. A kind word from a stranger or hearing a favorite song by chance can mean all the difference, and if we proceed through life with this in mind we can generate a ripple effect of positivity and radiate everything we are throughout the Cosmos. 

I truly believe this and yet I still forget it, particularly at times when things get hectic and stressful. Such was the case this week, when after several long and irritating days at work I found myself without cell reception to guide my route out of Lincoln, Massachusetts. I idly wondered whether I was near a strange spot in that town, known as Ponyhenge, which holds a special place in my heart. Lo and behold, as I scanned the road ahead for any signs that might direct me to the highway I saw a familiar field beyond an electric fence. Rounding a curve I arrived at that most magical of places.

 There's really not much to know about Ponyhenge. Having been there a handful of times I can definitively say that it exists, and beyond that all there seems to be are vague stories about its origin. It seems agreed upon that one day, a rocking horse was left in a farmer's field. Later, there was another- then another, until eventually dozens of rocking horses of varying kinds occupied the field. The arrangement of the ponies changes frequently, and no one knows who moves them- except, presumably, the person responsible for doing that. I would caution anyone, however, from presuming too much about the ponies. The ponies are there for us to dig, not to understand.

There's not much to know, but there's plenty to feel and say about Ponyhenge. My first visit to this mystical, whimsical place was at the very beginning of 2020. A few inches of snow had fallen the night before, and though a bit of it had piled up on the fence rails none was observed on any of the ponies. No footprints marked the snow on the ground around them, and it felt almost a shame to disrupt the pure icy placidity by trudging into the circle.

Having heard about about the mysterious movement of the toy equines, I found it worth noting that no tracks of any kind marked the snow. Of course, this being my first visit, there was no way for me to tell whether they had been rearranged overnight. It is difficult to ascertain whether a mystery even exists here, which is paradoxically a mystery in itself. One gets the sense the ponies have secrets, and they are most certainly not talking. A horse is a horse, of course, of course, and no one can talk to a horse of course...

In lieu of information, and hard evidence from which to draw conclusions I've found it best to approach situations like this with intuition and a light heart. I was unprepared for the mystical "vibe", for lack of a better term, the location had or the effect it would have on me. What I felt was a kind of elation, a whimsical and wondrous restorative wave of childlike joy that hit as hard as a brisk New England winter breeze. I joked afterwards that I had gone to draw upon the ancient power of the ponies, but I'd be lying if I said there wasn't some truth to that. I felt the same way this week upon entering the rearranged circle of rocking horses. You can indicate everything you see, but what you feel is really important too. 

So much of the paranormal relies heavily on creepiness, and the scare factor. People like their ghost stories in the way they like campfire tales, funhouses and horror movies. This is absolutely fine, and normal, but there is so much more to the weirdosphere to be experienced. Those who only want the scares may be missing out, and doing themselves a disservice by neglecting the wholesome and silly weirdness. Whenever I post things about Ponyhenge, there is invariably comments about how eerie it is, and I can't emphasize enough how opposite that is to my experience of it. In a return visit back in 2021, I even brought my intrepid hound (then just a puppy) Bernie and he loved it. Meanwhile other families with children were there to enjoy a relatively safe pandemic outing amongst the inanimate equine sentinels of Old Sudbury Road. 

To what do I attribute this mystical elation, this balm for a weary soul? Searching my mind for horse-related ideas to write about, and experiences in my life that I could have associated with these rocking horses to inspire such wonder I considered writing one of my more characteristic posts, where I connect a bunch of disparate ideas and attempt to synthesize them in some form of coherent thought. I thought about Lady Wonder, the allegedly psychic horse investigated by J. B. and Louisa Rhine, which has long been a favorite paranormal case. It is also a great example of wholesome and inspiring paranormalia that is conspicuously free of scares. Lady Wonder would be an accomplished psychic by human standards, so as a horse she was unparalleled. She predicted outcomes of boxing matches and Presidential elections, and even aided criminal investigations. Rhine thought that she and her handler, Mrs. Fonda, had a telepathic link. Magician Milbourne Christopher claimed that Fonda was using subtle cues to direct the horse, as she "typed" her predictions using a specially customized contraption for letter selection. Ricky Jay, in his book Learned Pigs and Fireproof Women, gives examples of how this trick was done going all the way back to the colonial period in American history. Animals such as Toby the Learned Pig showcased similar abilities, albeit without the acute prognostication that Lady Wonder exhibited. If Mrs. Fonda was "cheating" through subtle cues, and her predictions were still accurate, then a case can still be made for the presence of psi ability. Where the ponies of Lincoln are tight-lipped, Lady Wonder was a fount of information- but a psychic horse is almost as absurd as a mystical toy one.

I thought also about horses used in reincarnation gags, which I had written about before in my esoteric Three Stooges post. In a kind of coincidence that happens all too commonly for me, the horse that appeared with the Besser-era Stooges in Hoofs and Goofs was called Tony the Wonder Horse, who had appeared with Tom Mix in a number of old westerns. It's not clear if he and Lady were related, but one does wonder. Tony was notable for his use in these westerns as a character who seemed to understand English and the context of what was going on, in spite of the fact that he was just a horse in every other respect. The Stooges weren't the only ones to use a human reincarnation into a horse in a film either- Laurel and Hardy, who often played alongside equine co-stars, used it as a punchline in their feature film The Flying Deuces.  Ollie expresses his wish to come back as horse, should he find himself reincarnated; and of course, he gets his wish. "Here's another nice mess you've gotten me into!", he says to Stan. Everything has got to be just like you want it to, because...

I also thought about my own, minimal interactions with horses. I've done a little bit of horseback riding and used to help a friend with her horses, years ago. One of the horses was so fond of me, she would grab me by my coat with her teeth and pull me back to her when I tried to leave the stable. The other one nearly killed me by bolting suddenly while I was saddled up on him. They called him Turbo for a reason, and after being spooked by the sound of loon he almost threw me completely off of him, and it was all I could do to climb back into the right position, and to pull the reigns before the dumb panicked animal ran itself over the edge of a small cliff. 

Much later in life I decided to take my son horseback riding for his birthday with a group of other paying people. Midway through the guided jaunt through a woodland trail, the instructor halted everyone and shushed us. We had interrupted a procession of deer; half were on one side of the trail and half on the other, quizzically observing our party. It seemed every direction around us, the deer were watching, cautious but peaceful, awaiting their opportunity to rejoin each other. Seated on a large beast of burden and surrounded by wild animals, seeing the wonder in my son's eyes reflecting the wonder in mine was a surreal and magical experience. There were strict rules against fumbling for one's phone during a ride there, for plenty of good reasons, so I didn't get a picture or anything like that- but it is as it should be. Pictures rarely capture the magic, the feeling, the wonder- some experiences are meant to be personal and profound in their totality. You can imitate everyone you know, but you can only ever be you. A snapshot on a smartphone will only ever be a pale approximation of the numinous, even when it manifests as more mundane and lacking in any paranormal significance.


I had nearly forgotten, as well, about the time I went to visit the reportedly haunted Looff Carousel at Crescent Park, in Providence, Rhode Island. It's a fully restored and operational carousel. Being the goofball that I am, I suppose I should have anticipated that feeling of joy and childlike excitement at the prospect of riding the horsies and playing the ring toss game. I found it hard to believe there was any kind of spooky haunting in such a place; carousels and carnivals have a long association with weirdness and ghost stories, to be certain, but my intuitive read was bereft of the sinister. Bradbury's Something Wicked This Way Comes springs to mind, and perhaps, fool that I am, I was just taken in by the glamor of Mr. Dark's circus. Maybe, like in the book, the carousel had the power to move people backwards or forwards in time. Or perhaps horses make me happy, whether they are the living, breathing kind or made of porcelain; whether they are predicting future events or nearly maiming me. They are something to celebrate, something to dig. Can you dig it?

In my exhaustion this week, and knowing that there was still much to do after arriving home and that sleep would still be a distant proposition, the auspicious and restorative effects of Ponyhenge were not only welcome, but sorely needed. Despite my frustrations, anger, and stress during the week, despite having been up and running since 4:30 a.m., there was time enough to stop and absorb some ancient power from the ponies. In preparing to write about this I learned a bit about the town of Lincoln, how it had been formed from parts of Lexington and Concord. It had been one of the places involved in the first battles of the Revolutionary War, and the place where Paul Revere's midnight horseback ride had terminated in his capture.  Revere, and his historic ride, are also something I've written about before. I read about the history of rocking horses, and the first ones seemed to appear around the time Lincoln was first settled by colonizers. Mass production of rocking horses began after the Revolutionary War ended. Lincoln was named after Lincolnshire in the U.K., which has its legends of little people called Tiddy Mun. Maybe the colonial inhabitants brought their folkloric friends with them, and the Tiddy Mun are reportedly about the right size to enjoy a rocking horse built for children. The original Nipmuc inhabitants of the area, forcibly removed from their homes by the early settlers, probably had their own nature spirits who were displaced by the Tiddy Mun. Perhaps these things all come full circle in their own ways, like rocking horses rearranged by unseen hands. Perhaps it's not important.

The mystery, and in fact the mystery of whether there's even a mystery at all associated with this roadside oddity must at all costs be preserved. As my wife Pam, my muse, said to me earlier: "Knowing why the ponies move would ruin it. It would take all the magic away." I absolutely agree. All I know for sure is how I feel when I'm there, and it's the feeling a child has when about to climb onto a carousel or pet an exotic animal. Upon leaving the sacred circle of ponies, I looked down to see a runic symbol in the grass. You might say that it's just an arrow from a sign that had fallen apart, and if you say that then I'm afraid you haven't learned how to dig a pony. That is the Elder Futhark rune known as Tiwaz, which represents the Norse god Tyr, who, incidentally, I've also written about before. Tyr represents justice, self-sacrifice, and balance. Unfortunately in modern times, the symbol has been co opted by Nazis. One has to tread lightly with mysticism out in the world, and be very clear in one's intent and communication. Inside the pony circle, I choose to interpret the rune as a good omen. 

Balance can be difficult to achieve, but like horseback riding it takes practice. I preach about positivity fairly often, and sometimes feel like a fraud when I fall into the trap of depression or let stress dictate a foul mood that perpetuates itself. The negative moods need to find expression, but all should be tempered and balanced. I would highly recommend injecting magic into your life, wherever you can- and acknowledging it when magic finds you. Don't let fear dominate, and face what's coming with the cool determination of this particular pony:

Absorb the ancient pony power and proceed. Can you dig it now???