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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Pittsfield Ghost Train

[late posting this here...]

Thursday, November 23
My interest was aroused last week by debate over the cause of a mysterious noise heard by a number of Berkshire county residents.

The Berkshire Eagle reported that numerous locals had complained of a horrible sound emanating from the vicinity of the railroad tracks running through area. The noise was first reported by Christine McAllister of Pittsfield, who lives about a mile from the nearest tracks.

"It sounds like a UFO landing," McAllister said.

How could that not pique my interest?

Following the first complaint, other reports came in from every town in the central part of the county. Theories included a jet engine, construction equipment and a malfunctioning siren. From my secret bunker far away in Arizona, I, of course, pondered more esoteric possibilities.

In the end, the awful racket was found to be the result of a broken bearing on an engine belonging to the CSX Railroad. The engine was pulled and the necessary repairs made. So came to an end the mystery of the pernicious cacophony that had plagued the senses of citizens in almost half the county.

Meanwhile, the drama surrounding these complaints reminded me of an older, more curious phenomenon which has plagued local rail lines in the past - that of the Pittsfield Ghost Train. The story of the Ghost Train and its brief, but vivid, appearances has made its way into several magazine articles and a number of books on ghosts and hauntings, but for all the repetition and discussion in such circles, very little is known about it.

The story begins, as nearly as I can tell, in February 1958, at the Bridge Lunch, the diner which formerly occupied the corner of North Street and Eagle. John Quirk, then proprietor of the diner, along with his lunch customers, watched a steam locomotive come barreling down the tracks at a shocking speed, headed east. From his vantage point, Quirk could see the train in vivid detail, despite its extreme speed. He said the engine was pulling a baggage car and five or six coaches, and he could even see the coal in the tender.

When the strange train was reported to railroad officials, however, the residents were informed curtly that no train had passed by at that time. Furthermore, officials pointed out, no steam engine had operated on that line in many years.

About a month later, in early March, the mystery locomotive came rocketing under the North Street Bridge again, this time around 6:30 in the morning. It was witnessed this time by diner employees Steve Strauss and Timothy Koutsonecolis, along with a smattering of early-morning customers. The description matched the first sighting precisely: a steam locomotive hauling east at high speed, with a baggage car and half a dozen coaches trailing.

That was the last time anyone has formally come forward to report the mysterious train, as far as I've ever been able to ascertain. I've heard vague rumors of other sightings of a phantom steam engine along that line over the last few years, hazy allegations by friends of friends of friends, nothing worthy of investigation. I've also walked alongside that very same stretch of train track probably more than a thousand times in my youth, and I've yet to see anything that resembled the description given by the folks at the Bridge Lunch in '58, although I and others have observed that there often tends to be a far higher proportion of dead animals under the North Street bridge than under any of the parallel bridges in town.

Stories of phantom trains in general have been relatively common since the 19th century. As a class, they are sandwiched into an awkward and difficult to comprehend category of paranormal conveyances, including phantom ships (several of which have been alleged to roam the Bermuda Triangle), phantom planes, cars and even phantom covered wagons in the Old West. Some toss into this mixed bag the black Cadillacs driven by the Men in Black who plague UFO witnesses, and the mysterious vanishing vans mentioned in connection with worldwide sightings of "phantom clowns" as well as many cattle mutilations.

The phantom train phenomenon has often been said to be confined to the United States and Britain, suggesting it may have some specific cultural significance as folklore. However, international cases, though rarer, do exist. In the same year that the Pittsfield ghost train was reported, stories of a phantom locomotive over the fallen bridge on the River Kwai circulated in the international press. Another spectral engine is said to run in St. Louis, Saskatchewan, and in recent years the Stockholm metro system has been plagued with reports of the Silverpilen ghost car. In Eurasia, researcher Paul Stonehill has documented a number of phantom train legends throughout Russia and other eastern European countries.

Still, America retains the lion's share of these legendary paraphysical vehicles - perhaps appropriate, considering no other country ever so effectively built an empire on the backs of railroad travel. Of the phantom train accounts in my files, nearly 40 come from the United States alone, and from every region of the country.

The most famous such railroad haunting is "Lincoln's Death Train," the astral recollection of the train which carried the body of America's assassinated president. Stories of this train have circulated since just after Abe's death. It is said to be sighted at various times throughout the month of April rolling along the New York Central Railroad, with a particular affinity for April 27. On that day, so the stories go, clocks and watches all along the route are found inexplicably behind several minutes, evidence of the mysterious passage of Lincoln's Death Train. Curiously, this is also the date that a phantom train wreck is said to appear each year on the tracks near Ashville, N.C., reenacting the worst railroad disaster in the history of the state.

As for Pittsfield's ghost train, it could be a spectral reincarnation of the Boston & Albany passenger train that met with disaster in Chester in 1893, killing 14 people. That's the worst nearby train disaster I'm aware of, but if that's the case, why has it only been seen in Pittsfield, heading toward its inevitable sudden stopping point? Are people in Dalton, Hinsdale, Washington, and especially Chester, simply not paying close enough attention?

Perhaps, as I had briefly hoped last week, it will one day make another glaringly public trip through Pittsfield or the surrounding area, so someone can get a better look at it.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Ghost-Hunters of the Berkshires, Past and Present

After writing on the subject for The Advocate for just about two years now, it occurs to me that there are a lot of ghosts in the Berkshires. At least, there are a lot of stories about ghosts. I can't actually confirm the precise number of actual ghosts in the area, even if I could give you an exact definition of a ghost, or say honestly that I even have any kind of integrated belief system on the whole matter.

But there are all those stories - a long tradition of them, reaching back to the earliest years of local history. Accordingly, there is also a long tradition of investigation and research into this rich lore by interested local residents. This seemed like a good time to take a look at some of the individuals, past and present, who have made it their business to chronicle the area's haunted atmosphere.

The first really notable attempt to record information about the mysteries in these hills was undertaken by Willard Douglas Coxey, a circus man turned writer, who penned two tomes on the history and folklore of the area. His 1931 "Ghosts of Old Berkshire" is a classic collection of some of the most early and pervasive stories, mostly limited to tales from the colonial era and "Indian legends" - ostensibly stories of the Mahican people who once inhabited the southern and central parts of Berkshire County, filtered through generations of retelling and restructuring by early white Americans. He was working on another book on early Dutch settlers when he died in 1943.

Perhaps the most nationally famous local ghost-purveyor, Arthur Myers, passed away just this past April at the age of 88. Born in Buffalo, Myers was the author of 21 published books; he also wrote for dozens of newspapers and magazines, winning three Associated Press awards for investigative reporting. Myers worked as a reporter and feature writer for the Berkshire Eagle from 1957 to 1964 and as editor of the Berkshire Sampler from '71-77.

Myers wrote five books on ghosts and the occult, including "The Ghostly Register" (1986), "Ghostly American Places" (1990) and "A Ghost-Hunter's Guide" (1993), all of which are still in print and popular sellers. He conducted detailed investigations of The Mount in Lenox, the Ashley House in West Springfield, the cursed ghost town of Dudleytown, Conn., and dozens of other sites throughout New England and the rest of the country.

In some of his final interviews and conversations, Myers expressed a sense of optimism and curiosity about death. "I'm just anxious to see what the next dimension will be," he told one family member.

While Myers was writing about local hauntings, in North Adams Ali Allmaker was studying the problem from an academic vantage point. Born in Germany in 1921, Allmaker had a background in electrical engineering and worked at Sprague Electric Company before joining the faculty of North Adams State College in 1961. He worked in the physics department until 1968, when he transferred to the philosophy department. While there, he taught courses and workshops covering ESP, hauntings and other "supra-normal" topics, and was invited to give frequent talks on the subject throughout the region.

He also did some fairly extensive ghost-hunting of his own. Thirty years before there were TV shows about it on every network, this mild-mannered philosophy professor was investigating reports of hauntings throughout the area, and with methods more advanced than those use in many cases today.

He investigated places like the Park McCullough mansion in Bennington, Vt., and the famous Porter-Phelps house in Hadley, as well as more obscure locations in Savoy, Hancock and elsewhere. His research at different sites included a broad range of tools, such as thermometers, compasses, Geiger counters and devices to measure fluctuations in electromagnetic fields. At times, even more unorthodox equipment like security alarms, Ouija boards and joy buzzers, came into play. In one house, something appeared to communicate with him through a series of knocks, and in another, he thought he once may have seen the apparition of a woman, but admitted that it might have been his sense of heightened expectation.

"I take a very dim view of people who just go out and see ghosts time after time," Allmaker once cautioned in an interview, but concluded that ultimately too many cases he had examined could not simply be explained away: "There's just no satisfying hypothesis or theory about what these things are."

This tradition of high-tech local ghost-hunting is being carried on into the 21st century by the Berkshire Paranormal Group. Based out of the North Adams Masonic Temple, the BPG has conducted investigations throughout the area using state of the art technology: infrared thermometers, EMF detectors, wireless motion detectors, digital voice recorders and extensive video and photographic equipment. Attempting to cover all the bases, the group also approaches their research with more esoteric methods like seances and psychic communication.

The group was started by three members of the Lafayette Graylock Masonic lodge, Josh Mantello and his father Nick Mantello, along with Greg Onorato, when they became intrigued by the history of the building they were currently occupying. The former Houghton Mansion has long been believed to be haunted by several ghosts, including that of North Adams' first mayor, Albert C. Houghton. After observing an investigation of the mansion by the New England Ghost Project, based out of Dracut, Mass., they became actively interested in the subject. There are now eight members affiliated with the group.

In addition to doing investigations, the group conducts tours and sleepovers in the mansion, and an annual "Contact" convention, bringing together speakers from around the country for three days of haunted happenings. As Josh Mantello told me, "This helps educate the public about the paranormal and help them maybe understand what has puzzled them from their past or the house they live in. It also helps educate future investigators because the more people that investigate, the more chances there will be to find proof."

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Haunted History Plays out at the Equinox

The Advocate Weekly
Thursday, September 14

The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vt., has to be near the very top of the list of finest accommodations in the region. This resort inn is steeped in history and saturated with historic atmosphere, but tradition may not be the only thing living on at the Equinox.

Indeed, if even half the stories of encounters with the mysterious put forth by employees and lodgers are true, then it seems the Equinox may have several guests who do not appear in any of the reservations books.

The history of the Equinox is that of a host of different business enterprises, numerous individual buildings and 17 major architectural changes, all coalescing over time into one disjointed narrative. The first structure to occupy this site was the Marsh Tavern, established in 1769. Unfortunately, the Tory leanings of its proprietor, William Marsh, made it among the first pieces of property seized by revolutionaries in the war against Britain, who used it to plot insurgent schemes. By the end of the century, the Marsh Tavern had fallen into disuse, and in 1801 Thaddeus Munson had an inn erected next to it. Munson's Tavern eventually became known as Vanderlip's Hotel, then later The Taconic.

Meanwhile, Franklin Whitin Orvis, son of successful Manchester merchant Levi Orvis, consolidated the family mansion with his father's store to create a 65-room structure that opened in 1853 as the Equinox House. He offered 60 additional rooms in the Equinox Junior (then called "the Annex") across the street. In 1880, Franklin purchased the Taconic and eventually came to add the Charles Orvis Inn, the home built in 1861 by his brother, founder of the Orvis Company.

The Equinox's tenure as a premiere getaway resort for the wealthy and powerful began in the mid 1860s, when Mary Todd Lincoln summered there with sons Robert and Tad. Abraham was to join them in the summer of 1865, and special renovations were done in preparation for his visit, but John Wilkes Booth had a different travel package in mind for him. Robert returned to Manchester often in the following years, building his Hildene estate in Manchester and attracting ever larger groups of his wealthy friends from New York and Chicago. The Equinox continued to shine as a bucolic retreat for society's upper crust, providing lodging for four presidents until the time of the Depression, after which it limped along for many years, changing owners numerous times.

The point at which the Equinox began to acquire its reputation for being haunted is less easy to place, though the real deluge of unusual reports seems to have begun with the hotel's resurrection. From 1973 until 1985, the hotel remained closed for business, but underwent massive renovation by its then owner Francesco Galesi. Since then, employees and guests have reported a consistent stream of mysterious happenings.

My friend Joe Citro collected an impressive catalog of witness accounts in his book "Green Mountain, Dark Tales" (2001). Indeed, he found that unlike many haunted hotels, bizarre phenomena are not confined to one or two rooms; virtually every part of the sprawling 183 room resort has generated stories of inexplicable experiences. Guests and staff alike report hearing voices and footsteps in empty rooms, sudden temperature changes, and objects vanishing or moving unaccountably. Security guards will find doors to vacant rooms open, and inside find shades disturbed, rocking chairs rocking and other signs of recent activity.

Objects will often vanish and reappear elsewhere in the Equinox. In one second floor room, missing furniture and other items were discovered piled up like a pyramid. One hotel guest complained to the concierge that he'd stepped out of his room for a moment, returning only to find that the keys he'd left on the table had been separated from the ring and thrown around the room.

The most absorbing account came from Robert Cullinan, a security guard at the Equinox since its opening. One night in the '90s, he was called up to investigate a "disturbance" in room 329; when he arrived, he found a family of four in near-hysterics, and had little difficulty discerning why. The rocking chairs were rocking rhythmically, while the shades on the lamps spun slowly around of their own accord. Most upsettingly, the bed appeared to be lurching, one leg at a time, across the floor. Just then, Cullinan felt something invisible push him - so hard that he nearly went down, all 220 pounds of him.

The family was graciously provided with another room, but six other employees attested to witnessing the unusual events in room 329 that night.

For their part, Rock Resorts, the current owners of The Equinox, doesn't seem particularly anxious to play down the hotel's legendary reputation, and has even incorporated it into a special package with their other reputedly haunted hotel, La Posada de Santa Fe in Santa Fe, N.M. Stay at one between Oct. 29 and Nov. 16, and you get a discount on the other. Cute, eh?

Meanwhile, if the place is haunted, who by? The most prevalent theory, and the one most favored by the hotel's PR staff, I'd imagine, is that the spectral remnants of Mary and Tad Lincoln have made themselves a permanent part of the landscape they enjoyed so much. At least one person has claimed to have heard the sounds of a mother comforting a whining child, and Tad was a brat, from what I've read. Then again, that's pretty universal, and it seems a little too convenient that the particular mother and child that elected to haunt the place happen to be such a great tie-in with the very history that made the Equinox famous in the first place.

Another possibility arises from the fact that part of the Equinox Junior also functioned as a jailhouse for some time. It's been rumored that in the process of renovation, some bones were discovered. Fearing another delay in an already obstacle-ridden process, it was disposed of and went unreported.

Some wonder if this may be the root cause of some of the misfortunes which befell the place, including a propane explosion in 1985 which badly burned a large portion of the hotel.

Maybe it's a lot simpler than all that, though, when you really stop and think about the setting. It's seems likely it's really just out of state ghosts with expensive tastes.

Joe Durwin is a local mystery buff who would like the Equinox management to know that he would gladly arrange a full scale state-of-the-art investigation of their bizarre phenomena in exchange for a complimentary two-night stay. Send reports of local weirdness to

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Can New Owners Silence the Screams at Adams' Haunted Hospital?

Advocate Weekly- These Mysterious Hills


The former W.B. Plunkett Memorial Hospital in Adams has not been a hospital since before I was born, and until recently, hadn't been anything else, either - which put it in an interesting position, for an empty, abandoned hospital is a magical thing indeed.

A building like Plunkett, left dark and boarded up and bereft of human activity, is practically begging to become overgrown in shadowy tangles of rumor and lore.

By the time I first heard about it in the early '90s, the "old asylum in Adams" was a source of mystery to many Pittsfield teenagers, and a frequent site of the youthful practice known to academic contemporary folklorists as legend-tripping, and to everyone else in straight society as trespassing. A spate of publicized arrests in 2003, followed closely by the development of the property into condominiums by Scarafoni Associates, ultimately ended this practice, and lead to even more frequent disclaimers and warnings about private property on popular ghost-hunting Web sites.

But for many years before that, the intrepid told tales of ghastly sights and sounds, of echoing screams and apparitions of patients who had died horribly there. The first person who ever showed me the foreboding hilltop building on Edmund Street told me quite matter-of-factly that one part of the place was haunted by a legless ghost that could be heard groaning and crawling along the floor.

In more recent years, someone claimed on an Internet message board to have a photo of a spectral woman taken inside the hospital. When I tracked him down, he declined to let me have a copy, citing the potential legal implications of his having it.

W.B. Plunkett died before the hospital he had built first opened in 1918, and it was subsequently completed by his brother C.T. Plunkett. It was a thriving institution for several decades, though perhaps disappointingly for some, never an asylum for the insane - at least, no more so than your average hospital. The hospital fell into decline in the late '60s and early '70s. Amidst and among other problems, in 1970 its administrator and his wife, the head of nursing, became embroiled in scandal when he was convicted of possessing thousands of pornographic photos and "letters pertaining to wife-swapping practices" and was asked to resign. The hospital limped along for a couple of years before its license was suspended in June of 1973.

For most of the time since, its been informally labeled haunted. But then, that doesn't come as much of a surprise; you can't swing a dead psychic black cat without hitting an abandoned/haunted hospital or asylum in New England. Most of them even basically look alike. Meanwhile, a quick Google search for haunted hospital yielded a couple million results.

And why not? Sure, people live in their houses, but they do an awful lot of their dying in hospitals. Some of them quite horribly - a cursory search of local papers turned up dozens of obituaries of people of all ages dying painfully after fires, accidents, etc., including, interestingly enough, one North Adams man who perished of shock at Plunkett after a train crushed his legs. Perhaps some of all that has to seep into a place, linger in its pores a while.

Now that it's no longer a boarded-up bastion of shadows and busted piping, but an elaborate development with 13 occupied units, is it still haunted? As Dave Carter of Scarafoni Associates informed me with admirable simplicity, "We have not had any reports of ghosts at Plunkett Hill Condominiums."

Time will tell.


Joe Durwin is a mystery mongerer who would like to see things done with a lot more of the great old creepy buildings sitting empty in the area. Send weird stories, ghost photos, cursed artifacts, or pernicious rumors to, or write him care of The Advocate.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The Missing 'Monument to Sacrifice'

A tiny graveyard on the western slope of Lebanon Mountain, tucked away just off Route 20 in Bates Memorial State Park, remains as a very obscure local reminder of the legacy of the Bates family for whom the park is named, and a physical window into the curious story of the mammoth obelisk that very nearly got built there. It contains only a few simple headstones, clustered around a six foot tall granite cross marking the grave of Lindon W. Bates Jr. The cross bears the inscription Le vrai caractere perce toujours dans le grandes circonstances, true character always shows through in great circumstances.

Most of the standard local histories that I own or have perused have little of significance to say about the Bates family history. One of my staple reference tomes, Clay Perrys New Englands Buried Treasure (1946), spares a tiny passage describing the Bates family ghost house, near which the family began constructing a monument to their perished son, and from which, it is said, they rose suddenly from the dinner table one night and fled the place forever, leaving their belongings and never offering an explanation. To someone of my peculiar bent, such an off-hand morsel seems designed to tantalize the reader into a state of absolutely insufferable curiosity. Was there any relationship between this story and the old legend of a devil exorcised years earlier by the nearby Shakers, I wondered? What I found upon closer examination was better than another local haunted house yarn- in the true roots of that tiny plot is a storybook saga that stands as emblematic of an entire chapter in American history.

The Bates family first purchased 800 acres of land from the Shakers, building a summer villa named Lebanon Lodge between the Hancock and New Lebanon Shaker communities. Times had been good for Lindon Bates Sr.; Bates Engineering and Construction Company was a profit-generating giant even before they were contracted for the Panama Canal. He, along with his wife Josephine and his sons, Lindon Jr. and Lindell, were deep in the heart of New York high society, and like many of their peers at the time, decided on the Berkshires for the location of a part time estate. Unlike many of the monumentally wealthy families who took up residence in the area in the Gilded Age, though, they seem to have actually been happy, morally decent people, with no apparent skeletons in their closet.

Lindon Jr. in particular seems to have lead an almost storybook life of exemplary kindness, courage and generosity, the kind of tale that would be too cheesy to believe in fiction, or perhaps at all, if it werent so well documented. He had been instilled at an early age with a real concept of noblesse oblige, the sense of ones wealth being a matter of providence, and the belief that the individual lucky enough to acquire wealth has a grave duty to those less fortunate, and must act honorably and generously at all times. Until recently, I had thought the rumored existence of such an inclination among members of the extremely wealthy class could safely be relegated to the domain of fairy tale and propaganda. Perhaps this conclusion was premature.

Lindons future seemed bright from a young age. After graduating Harrow School in England, he took up studies at Yale at the age of 12, graduating top of his class in 1902 with a degree in Civil Engineering, accolades in sports, sciences, and fluency in a plethora of languages. He explored and traveled extensively, covering the Nile, the Amazon, Siberia and Mongolia among other exotic locales, meanwhile writing four books and numerous articles. Nonetheless, more than once he stated that some of his happiest times took place at Lebanon Lodge, hiking and admiring the extraordinary views of the Housatonic valley from atop Richmond Peak.

He became involved in politics early, rising up in Republican party while campaigning for Teddy Roosevelt. He served two terms in the New York legislature, where he pushed and steadily forged support for a rigorous progressive platform, getting legislation passed for Workmans Compensation, civil service merit systems, and various kinds of aid for widows and the unemployed.

One of his political associates wrote of him, One of his most striking characteristics was his indifference to opinion. He wanted the right thing done and did not care whether he or someone else did it. By twenty-five, some were already looking to him as a possible future President.

When War erupted in Europe in 1914, Lindon dedicated himself to organizing a massive relief effort, marshalling millions of dollars in food and financial aid to Belgium. The King of Belgium eventually awarded him with the Belgian cross for his philanthropic labors on behalf of their nation. In the spring of 1915, Lindon was also desperately needed to supervise the raising of the Galveston flood plain, a massive undertaking. Hence, when the Belgian government asked him to come manage food distribution throughout their country, Lindon Bates Sr. pleaded with him to put off the trip. The Belgian Embassy also continued to plead, and with hardly any time spent pondering, he left New York on the S.S. Lusitania on May 2.

Six days later, the world was stunned by the headlines: the Lusitania had been torpedoed by a German U-Boat in the North Sea. An unexpected second explosion (said by some to have been caused by munitions that were secretly carried onboard) occurred immediately, and the ship sank within twenty minutes time. Twelve hundred civilians were killed.

Lindons body was not immediately accounted for, but his last moments had already been pieced together by the testimony of survivors. When the torpedo struck, he was on deck conversing with another passenger, Amy Pearl. He left her with her husband and set out into the melee to locate her children. Another witness reported seeing him take off his life preserver and put it on a hysterical elderly woman, getting her on one of the last boats launched. He was last seen heading back below deck. His body washed up 230 miles from the wreck two and a half months later.

An enormous funeral took place in New York, with condolences from Roosevelt, and eulogies by Ogden Mills, future first lady Lou Henry Hoover, and many others. One such eulogy reads: Thus it stands forever. The bravest are the tenderest; the loving are the daring. Lindon Wallace Bates. Son of America. Friend of the helpless and destitute. The life that he lived and the death that he died endure in the judgment of an unforgetting God. Later, privately, his younger brother Lindell brought his remains home, interring them in a temporary crypt carved out of the bedrock near his beloved Lebanon Lodge.

His parents commissioned architect Donne Barber to design an enormous monument, to Lindon Jr. and to all the Lusitania victims, to be built on their property. The structure he designed, drawings of which still exist, was to be a 130 foot tall granite obelisk replicating Pompeiis Pillar in Alexandria. It was to be spot lit on three sides, and the lights would remain on forever.

The loss of their eldest son had hit the Bates family hard, though. Josephine remained depressed the rest of her life. Lindon Sr. dumped abnormally high amounts of the family fortune into research on ship camouflage. Then the United States entered the Great War, and the noble ideals of an entire generation were slaughtered, their bright hopes for a better world dying off in the gunfire and mustard gas. The Bates family never really recovered, and plans for the massive Monument did not survive the times- nor, some would say, did any real sense of noblesse oblige in this country.

Lindell fenced off the tiny plot where Lindons humble cross now stands. Lindon Sr. was buried there in 1924, Josephine in 1934, Lindell in 1937. In 1954, Lindon Sr.s sister Mary Wallace Bates, whose life story is an interesting tale in its own right, became the last person interred there. Lindell bequeathed the remaining acres to Pittsfield upon his death, about half of which remain as public park land today. Aside from these few small graves, no trace of Lebanon Lodge, its supposed ghost house, or the envisioned Monument to Sacrifice remains only a half-remembered fairy tale about a distant time, when a very few individuals believed that they had both the means and the will to transform the world into a better place.


Joe Durwin is a Pittsfield native currently on sabbatical in the desert. Send oddball rumors, crackpot theories, bizarre gossip, and accounts of the strange to or write to him care of the Advocate.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Phone Calls From Korendor

Joe Durwin
June 8, 2006
Advocate Weekly

“In the wee hours of the morning, when the first golden rays of the sun were probing the black veil of a cold December night for an opening through which to illuminate the world, I held my ninth radio communication with people from another planet.”

Be alerted, reader: this is not the opening line from a science fiction novel, though it would probably play well in that context. Instead, these were the words with which a Berkshires man named Bob began his account of his years of personal contact with the Korendians. It all began in July, 1961, when the then eighteen year old radio buff was browsing around the short-wave bands with his equipment, “searching for something interesting to listen t,” finally selecting a BBC station. It was not long before an irritating noise disturbed his listening, and as he attempted to identify its cause, a clear, feminine voice spoke out from his headphones “Bob, we’d like you to stay on this frequency for a while.”

The voice proceeded to introduce herself as Lin-Erri, a native of the Planet Korendor, currently speaking to him from a spacecraft several miles from Earth.

By his own account, Bob was understandably dumbfounded. He notes that he had read a couple of books and some newspaper articles on the subject of flying saucers (as had quite a substantial part of the American population by 1961), but described himself as “still somewhat skeptical of such things.” Prior to that, in a 1958 letter to the editor that appeared in the Berkshire Evening Eagle, this same young man had stated that based on his reading (which included notorious extraterrestrial contactee claimant George Adamski’s book Flying Saucers Have Landed) he was “inclined to inclined to accept for fact the existence of the extraterrestrial beings and their spacecraft.” Still, there believes in aliens, and then there’s having aliens chat you up one evening.

Lin-Erri told Bob that they had become interested in the mountains of the Berkshires, specifically in a certain unnamed material to be found there that was useful to some of their electronic devices. Lin-Erri and her companions became interested in speaking to Bob because of his interest in UFOs, as well as in “world peace and the future of mankind.” She gave him instructions on how to upgrade his equipment in order to have two-way communication with him, and from that time on Bob spoke with Lin-Erri and other Korendians frequently. Their home planet, they said, was very similar to earth, but with a higher percentage of oxygen in the atmosphere. Korendor was the third planet in the 12 planet system orbiting the star Korena, which lay about three degrees from Arcturus in the constellation Bootes, not visible from Earth with our current telescopic technology. In appearance, the Korendians were not unlike us; though typically shorter in stature, they appear similar enough to travel and work among us without notice.

Bob described his continued contacts with the Korendians in articles that were published in UFO International between 1963 and 1969. These accounts, along with some supplemental information, were later gathered into a privately printed book entitled UFO Contact From Korendor, e-book versions of which are currently still available on the internet. He describes finally meeting with representatives of the Korendian race, including Lin-Erri and others, traveling in their spacecraft and visiting their underground base in the Berkshires. His accounts included detailed descriptions of their technology, diagrams of their vehicles, and even photographs of alleged flying saucers, of which I was only able to obtain some murky Xerox’s. The majority of the material he presented consisted of transcriptions of conversations, primarily messages and social diatribes from his Korendian contacts. At times his story reads like a “100 ways Korendor is better than Earth” list. The Korendians seem to have had a very progressive platform, even for the sixties: besides denunciation of war, atomic weapons, and racial inequality, they preached a possible salvation for humanity intertwining both greater technology and greater morality, a more conscious existence free of “dangerous emotionalism.” They predicted that Communism in its current tyrannous incarnation would collapse under its own weight and that the west should try to coexist peaceably with it in the meantime. Korendians were even said to have been behind the Great Northeast Blackout of 1965, in order to prompt the U.S. to modify and upgrade its grid system.

There’s more to Bob’s story, hundreds of pages of testimony recounting his encounters with the Korendians. Later, at least two other individuals, John W. Dean and Cameron Colin Boyd, also reported contacts with the kindly folk from Korendor; Dean’s are described in his book Flying Saucers Close-up, along with what he maintains are examples of Korendian writing and vocabulary. Bob maintains to this day that he is the only Korendian contact, and that others who have made such claims are either frauds or victims of deception by forces aligned against the Korendian cause.

As to the veracity and potential significance of Bob’s own reports, different people have come to different conclusions. Gabriel Green, editor of UFO International, embraced and published his accounts, couching them with enthusiastic editorial notes. They were also championed by retired Air Force pilot turned UFO investigator Wendelle Stevens, who had them published in book form. Whitley Strieber notes that the name Lin-Erri phonetically translates into the Gaelic “body of light,” drawing parallels between the Korendians and ancient lore of the Sidhe or Faerie beings, right down to their underground realms. UFO theorist John Keel suggests that they, along other UFO beings, fairies, and so forth down through the ages are all “ultraterrestrials”, beings of sort of semi-material, daemonic dimensional reality bordering ours.

Generally speaking, though, even among the admittedly fringe pursuit of ufology, this type of “contactee” narrative, most famously associated with George Adamski, is treated with little credibility, and rarely seriously discussed in UFO circles today. One skeptic, though, ufologist Allan Grise, came to the Berkshires to visit Bob at his home, and was intrigued by what he found. A professional engineer and ham-radio buff, Grise looked at Bob’s equipment and found that “everything seemed to make sense. The circuits were all appropriate to extend the receiving range.” He also listened to some tapes purported to be of conversations with Lin-Erri, whose voice he describes as having “a singsong, melodious quality,” and whose halting speech patterns suggested someone foreign managing well in English.

Bob stayed out of the contactee scene of conventions and lecture circuits, confining his public face to his written accounts. Grise found him to be uninterested in self-promotion, volunteering little but amenable to questions. Over email exchange I found it to be similar; he was resistant to the idea of any press coverage, but was kind enough to clarify some points for me. He’s not loopy- schizophrenic, megalomaniacal, anything like that - and I’ve dealt with “UFO nuts,” believe me. As for the UFO base in the Berkshires (vague rumor of which initially lead me to Bob’s story) various internet sites identify Mt. Everett as being the site of an underground alien base, but Bob tells me he knows nothing about that. As to where exactly the base he described in his claims is located, and whether or not he still has involvement with the Korendians, Bob only jokes “I could tell you, but then I’d have to kill you.”

If his story IS a fabrication, he deserves to take his rightful place alongside Orson Welles, L. Ron Hubbard, Lovecraft and other great science fiction crossover artists. I, like most people, might have a hard time endorsing the idea of such a vast extraterrestrial presence going so secretly among us. It’s not such a bad scenario, though, should it someday turn out that Bob was right all along; these Korendians seem like nice enough blokes, provided they don’t end up being rodent-eating reptiles underneath, with books on How to Serve Man.

UPDATE- 2012: A couple of years after this was published, Renaud launched a new website which contains all of his original articles, plus new accounts of encounters with the Korendians in the years since, along with extensive graphics and maps.  Check it out, and then leave a comment back here if you like, with your own thoughts on the material.

Monday, June 05, 2006

Ubiquitous Ghosts of Southern Vermont College

Thursday, May 25
BENNINGTON, Vt. - Southern Vermont College is perhaps the most populously haunted spot in southern Vermont.

If even half the accounts that have trickled out of that place are true, at times it almost seems that spectral wanderers on the Bennington campus must be just about tripping over one another, playing out their ancient, eerie pursuits in the aetherial background behind the bustling campus of the living.

The college is housed on what was originally the estate of Edward Hamlin Everett, who purchased 500 acres from the John Holden estate in 1910. Everett lived in Bennington for most of his youth, leaving in 1869 to pursue wealth farther west. He was not disappointed. He gradually purchased up all of the American Bottle Co. - and in the process of trying to cut costs on the glass fires, prospected and became the first person to strike oil in Ohio. In '86 he married Amy King, the daughter of a Newark aristocrat whose glassworks factory Everett had just acquired.

Along with homes in Newark and Washington (not to forget the chateau in Vevy, Switzerland - times were good for Edward), he built himself a marvelous summer mansion in Bennington.

Legend has it that, not long after, Amy drowned there while swimming, quite unexpectedly - some say freak accident, some suicide, some murder. According to her obituary, however, Amy King Everett died at their Washington home, in March of 1917. She had suffered from a prolonged, unnamed illness and died following a "severe operation."

In 1920, Edward remarried, this time to Grace Burnap, originally from Hopkinton, Mass. Tradition has it that the three daughters he had with Amy never cared for their father's second wife. Two of them had already married and moved before their mother's death, the third not long after - and it's believed they resented the way Everett went on to sire two more children with this new, much younger wife. When Edward died in 1929, the stage was set for a venomous and quite public legal battle.

When the will was unveiled, it bequeathed the bulk of his fortune to Grace, leaving only about one tenth of the family's enormous wealth to his three daughters from his first marriage. The daughters sued, arguing that their father had not been in his right mind when the will was signed and that his second wife, who after all was not much older than the oldest of them, had exercised undue influence on him.

What became dubbed "The Battle of Bennington Millions," or "The Second Battle of Bennington," began. It was the largest and most talked about court case in the state, launching to fame the lawyer Warren Austin, who went on to become the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (and they didn't give that job to just any old nut with a moustache, back then). Witnesses included Sen. Arthur Capper of Kansas and Laura Harlan, daughter of former Chief Justice John Harlan. Grace Everett herself was subjected to three continuous days of relentless grilling on the witness stand. As Joseph Citro, Vermont's most esteemed gothic author, put it, the proceedings "left the magnificent Glass and Bottle Baron of the American Industrial Revolution looking like a pitiable weakling, utterly dominated by his Lady Macbeth of a wife." The court sided with Everett's first daughters, awarding them each about a third of the fortune, with the remaining amount going to Grace and her two daughters.

Some say that great dramas and great sorrows of this sort leave a mark behind in certain places - perhaps a kind of shadow radiating in the poorly understood fabric of the physical universe, a wisp of smoke: In short, they are haunted.

Since the college first took up residence on the Everett estate in the mid 1970s, a steady stream of unexplained disturbances and mysterious figures have been sighted. Security guards whisper about doorknobs turning in empty rooms and doors that close by themselves. According to a college administrator, on one occasion in 1982, a security guard called him when he could not identify the source of some strange noises. When they finally tracked the sounds to an office on the third floor, they found that the door, which was locked from the outside and had no other entrance, had somehow been blocked from the inside by a heavy desk. In what was once the old carriage house, there've been numerous reports of doors and windows locking and unlocking by themselves and computers that snap on and off suddenly.

One of the most frequently reported phenomena is the appearance of a woman in white, roaming the main house and grounds, thought by some to be the ghost of Edward's first wife.

There might be other candidates for ghostly representation wandering the environs. In 1956, Bennington witnessed the mysterious double suicide of the Lundoffs, a reclusive older couple living right beside the former Everett estate. Clemons W. Lundoff, and his wife, Hilda, were found sitting in their parked car in the garage, having died of carbon monoxide poisoning only shortly before. Although they'd lived there for a number of years, the Lundoffs had kept to themselves and had no known friends in the area, nor relatives. The city sold their property at auction, and the motive for their suicide pact remained a mystery. However, in 1922, I discovered, he was indicted, along with six others, for war fraud, including some 500 Army contracts. This mark may go some way toward explaining the couple's reclusively - and perhaps their violent end.

There are also rumors of shadowy figures in dark hooded robes lurking around the edges of the campus at night, and students sometimes speak matter-of-factly about the Black Hooded Monk. This has become associated with the fact that before SVC, the estate was the site of St. Joseph's School, a Catholic seminary. But it reminds me of various rumors I've heard of people in hooded black robes in other locations around Bennington County.

Writer Hal Crowther gave an account of a bizarre incident he witnessed 1962, while he was attending Williams College. While in Bennington one night, he and his roommate were approached by some girls who invited them to a spot where they were blindfolded and led into a wooded area. When the blindfolds were taken off, they found themselves near a pond abutting a stone wall, surrounded by dark robed women.

As Crowther described it, "There was some chanting, not in any language I knew - and I had studied Latin. Then one woman got up on the wall, took off her robe and dived into the pond. As if it was very deep. And here's the strangest part: She didn't come up." Crowther later saw the girl alive in Bennington and was never sure what to make of the experience. Some Bennington College girls having a prank at the expense of some buttoned-down Williams boys, perhaps? Such a thing wouldn't exactly have been an historical anomaly. Nonetheless, there are a couple of local informants who've insisted to me that some sort of CULT did or does exist in the Green Mountains, conducting strange rituals in the night. My Wiccan friends don't seem to know anything about it, but who knows?

All in all, the estate is ensconced in history and mystery, a great combination for a full-flavored college experience or a gripping horror novel. Appropriately, some that believes that the Everett Mansion, along with a few other locations around the area, served to inspire Shirley Jackson's nightmarish Hill House, but that is a whole other story, for another week.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Washington Stone Formations

All photos courtesy of Norman Muller & Peter Waksman

In a lightly wooded area in Washington, Massachusetts, there lies a curious pile of stones. New England, of course, is full of piled stones- the results of centuries of efforts to clear fields from a seemingly endless quantity of unwanted rock. Rocks piled for walls, boundary markers, burial markers, or just to get them out of the way.

New England is also rife with other kinds of rock formations as well, tucked away in remote forested areas, and requiring considerable effort to construct for no apparent practical reason. The cairn in question, along with several related structures nearby, fall into this latter category, and form part of an enigma that has attracted much speculation over the years. In a reasonably open spot on a piece of property on an old country road stands a 7 foot tall cairn of carefully piled stones that has been referred to by some as the Washington Mystery Monument (not to be confused with Monument Mountain ‘mystery’ cairn so thoroughly covered by Lion G. Miles in a recent Advocate article). This formation, along with several other similar stone structures in secluded spots in Washington, constitutes an interesting bit of unsolved local history. It has become customary to withhold from print the exact locations of these sites, both out of respect and to prevent vandalism, and I shall continue this trend here.

Despite the lack of disclosure and general obscurity of these Washington structures beyond local circles, a few determined investigators have examined them, and pondered their origins and meanings. The primary stone formation is comprised of a conical pile seven feet in height, and about seven feet wide at the base. The stones, some weighing hundreds of pounds, are stacked neatly and carefully, with no trace of mortar or clay packing. The tower tapers off at the top to a width of about three feet, and on top, single quartz stone has been placed in the center. At the base of the structure, a small chamber opens facing north. The chamber is about two feet high and a foot deep; in 1969, a reporter for the Springfield Republican pointed out its resemblance to a hearth, but lacking chimney.

A short distance from this obelisk there are two concentric stone circles, deeply implanted in the ground and largely grown over with moss. The outer circle is about 4 feet in diameter, the inner circle 3, inside of which is a large quartz rock. These structures are clearly related to each other, and, I would venture, to other structures not far away. Along a nearby ridge can be found several platform cairns, several of which are built atop boulders. One of these also boasts a small chamber like opening at its base.

Not far from the road, on another secluded piece of property, there is yet another chamber, wider and deeper than the others, this one built directly into a hillside. Centered just above the opening is a rock that stands out from the others, a single piece of hematite.

For many years now, interested parties have been trying to establish the origins of Washington’s crystal-topped, hearth-like cairn and its cousin sites. It is not mentioned in the earliest Berkshire sources, and it is nowhere near where any property lines have run in historically recorded times. A woman born around 1900 on the property where the main cairn stands is reported to have said that the structure had already been there for some time when her father first settled the land, in the 1880s or 90s. The “Stockbridge” Indians are known to have had a summer encampment in that area until the late 1750s, but nothing about any such structures was recounted to those colonial settlers who interfaced with these Berkshire natives.

Even without a clear historical picture of their construction, many interesting observations can be made between this apparently interrelated network of structures, as well as their similarities to other megalithic constructions around New England. The chamber space built into the cairn is a fairly unusual feature, but not unheard of. In Ashfield, Massachusetts, there are several conical stone piles with cavities similarly built into the base. Like the one in Washington, the Ashfield chambers also face due north. At a major site in New York, three out of several hundred cairns were found to have such openings as well. Test digging dug at the base of the opening revealed a six inch layer of charcoal a foot and half below ground. This suggests something burning for extended periods, hinting at the possibility that these spaces may have served for making ritual offerings. The presence of hematite at the hillside chamber is also quite interesting. Hematite was frequently used in making the red ochre so often associated with burial and ritual traditions.

Some have seen in these structures a similarity to altars used for burning offerings by ancient Israelites, stone cairns with fires lit on top. Many American stone piles do seem to bear a resemblance to ones found in Arabia, some in close proximity to stone circles. Others have pointed to them as evidence for early American exploration by Irish, Norse, and other European groups, drawing connections to analogous formations in many ancient cultural groups. It may be an indication that vastly divorced peoples in similar stages of development come to similar conclusions about spirituality. But why these particular patterns of construction? What fundamental concepts do they embody?

I will say that judging from their condition, most of these megaliths seem to be less ancient than the stone tunnels in nearby Goshen, probably built by a more recent culture. They are, however, no less mysterious. They are indelible fountains of possibilities, Rorschach tests etched permanently into the landscapes for future generations.


The Search for Lost America: Mysteries of the Stone Ruins in the United States
By Salvatore Michael Trento

“Monument poses mystery in the Berkshires.” Wadsworth R. Pierce, The Springfield Union, July 17 1969

“New information on an interesting Berkshires site.” NEARA Newsletter v.5 , March 1970

Rock Piles:

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Mount's Literary Phantasmagoria

Advocate Weekly
Thursday, April 20

"Sources," Edith Wharton once wrote, ".are not one what one needs in judging a ghost story. The good ones bring their own internal proof of their own ghostliness; and no other evidence is needed."

A troublesome remark for me, certainly, as a significant amount of my time is spent seeking out the sources of ghost stories, and judging them thereby. In her own case, however, her observation proves apt enough: the stories of paranormal events coming out of her Lenox home the last few decades do have a sort of inarguable internal logic.

The Mount was built between 1900 and 1902, on a 130 acre tract of Lenox land Wharton purchased for just over $40,000. She based the mansion in large part on Belton House, in Lincolnshire, England, designed by Sir Christopher Wren. The architecture was handled by the firm Hoppin & Koen (not, as is frequently stated, her friend and literary collaborator Ogden Codman, whom she replaced after initial planning for being too expensive), but the lion's share of the credit goes to Wharton herself, whose instructions the architects merely followed to the letter. The house she outlined reflected the sensibilities she had put forth in her own book on the subject, "The Decoration of Houses." She could be said to be an advocate of minimalism - at least by the "never-say-when" standards of the Gilded Age - nonetheless, the expense of the project was extreme. Despite Wharton's substantial wealth, the final touches had to wait until 1905 brought a much needed injection of cash, in the form of "House of Mirth" royalties.

Wharton called The Mount her "first real home," and considered it an ideal environment for writing, which she worked on each morning sitting up in bed, saying that she preferred to keep the practice of her craft from interfering with her other obligations. In the decade that she kept residence at her sprawling estate along Laurel Lake, Wharton completed some of her finest work. In particular, a fair majority of the events and characters in "Ethan Frome," including Frome himself, were directly drawn from local inspiration. While living there with her husband, Edward (Teddy) Wharton - a wealthy socialite born into the same circles as Edith (maiden name Jones, the family referred to in the once popular catch-phrase "keeping up with the Joneses") - she frequently entertained as guests many luminaries of the literary and intellectual world, including Richard Watson Gilder, Howard Sturgis, Clyde Fitch and Henry James.

Wharton sold the property in 1912, as her marriage to Teddy (described by some contemporaries as "charming but dim"), was dissolving. She never returned. It was remarked that in the end Wharton found Paris to be her true "spiritual home." While this may be true, it was The Mount, above and beyond any other location, which in later years would come to be thought of as her spectral home. The property has changed hands half a dozen times since then, but Wharton's presence, both historical and otherwise, has left a palpable and seemingly unshakable mark on the estate.

The Mount came for a time under the ownership of Carr van Anda, managing editor of the New York Times, who in 1943 sold it to Foxhollow School, which had purchased the former Vanderbilt estate adjacent to it a few years earlier. For about 30 years, The Mount served as a dormitory for the girls' preparatory school, and it is during this period that the first rumors of a ghostly presence began circulating. "There were lots of stories," said one former student. " Of course, girls' boarding schools will be girls boarding schools."

Dorothy Carpenter, another alumna of Foxhollow, reported the following: "People use to talk about it all the time.... Every time we'd hear a creak, we'd say it was Edith Wharton's ghost, but nobody really thought it was." Carpenter's perspective on the stories changed, however, when she returned to the house in the early '70s. The house had fallen into disuse by then, and Carpenter spent two months living there alone while she worked on restoration of the ballroom ceiling. One day, she was staring off absently out the window, when she saw a woman in period clothing walking across the terrace. She recognized her instantly from pictures she'd seen, but the version she was looking at now seemed far more vivid, more "alive" than any representation. "At the time, I thought maybe I'd been inhaling too much plaster dust."

As most locals know, in the late '70s The Mount was acquired by the legendary theatre troupe Shakespeare & Company, who occupied the site for more than 20 years. During this period, apparitions and spectral tableaus were reportedly witnessed by some of the brightest luminaries of the regional theater world. Dennis Krausnick, a former Jesuit priest turned actor and director, was one of the first people to enter the building. He reported that while he was working alone in the house, he heard footsteps constantly, but could find no one in the house upon searching. Josephine Abady, former head of the Hampshire College theater department and artistic director for Berkshire Theater Festival, described to one writer how she saw an apparition of Wharton several times while on the premises, and was haunted constantly by a rustling sound not unlike the swishing of a someone in a long dress walking by. On at least one occasion, she saw the Wharton figure in the company of a man who looked very much like Henry James, not knowing at the time that James had been a favorite house guest there.

This same male ghost was reported by none other than Shakespeare & Company founder Tina Packer, perhaps tellingly in the "Henry James Bedroom." Another actress, Andrea Haring, described a supernatural scene of both the Whartons, as well as James, all apparently engaged in conversation. The sheer appropriateness of the idea of The Mount being haunted by both Wharton and James cannot be overstated. Among her other literary accomplishments, Wharton is generally held in high regard as one of the finest American purveyors of the ghost story, who cared passionately about the subject and brought many novel touches to the genre. As for Henry James, well, I won't gush, but "Turn of the Screw" is quite simply, in my opinion, among only two or three other pieces of writing committed to paper contending for the title of greatest horror story ever.

With such a foundation - combined with the building's reincarnations as first a prep school, then theatrical mecca, both highly charged, creative environments - perhaps ghostly sightings were inevitable. Maybe Wharton really was right about ghost stories, after all.


Berkshire Evening Eagle, May 20, 1943

Fitchburg Sentinel & Enterprise May 30, 2002

Myers, Arthur. The Ghostly Register (Contemporary, 1986)

Ogden, Tom. The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Ghosts & Hauntings (Alpha Books, 2004)

Owens, Carole. The Berkshire Cottages: A Vanishing Era (Cottage Press, 1994)

Joe Durwin is a freelance writer and one possible answer to the question "Who ya gonna call?" Send comments or reports of the strange to

Saturday, April 15, 2006

MCLA course project has students researching unexplained phenomena

By Jennifer Huberdeau, North Adams Transcript
April 14, 2006

MCLA junior George Inman delved into the subculture phenomenon of vampirism — both the psychic- and blood-feeding kind. Photo by Paul Guillotte/North Adams Transcript

NORTH ADAMS — Floating lanterns, wandering lights, strange winds and eerie voices calling from within the Hoosac Tunnel are staple legends surrounding the infamous portal. The validity of claims about the haunting of the tunnel was one of many subjects explored in a "Skeptic Fair" at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts.
"I'm still 50/50 on my findings. It think part of it is fabricated because of the history of the tunnel. There are things I can't explain, but I believe a large part of it is psychological. You get an eerie feeling at the tunnel, but it is dark, damp and cold inside the tunnel," said Julia Kowalski, a senior from South Bridge.

Students in psychology professor Thomas Byrne's class, the "Psychology of Superstition and the Unexplained," presented their findings on topics ranging from alien abductions and crop circles to the practices of Reiki and chiropracty.

"The basic idea was for my students to examine why or why not people believe these things and to examine their own belief systems. They were given a lot of leeway to choose their topic, I only asked they go into the project with an open mind — without preconceived opinions," Byrnes said. "They were asked to investigate their topic, find evidence and decide if the claims were true or false."

Kowalski said her initial idea was to investigate the infamous crop circles, but on a suggestion of a friend, decided to look at the Hoosac Tunnel because of her ability to gain "hands-on" evidence.

"I actually brought a tape recorder into the tunnel. I went into the tunnel about 2,500 feet," she said. Kowalski was trying to recreate a similar experiment done by college students during the early 1980s. That experiment captured what some people would call electronic voice phenomena or "muffled voices."

"I didn't have any muffled voices, just those of my friends and myself. I think one explanation for the muffled voices could be contributed to echoes in the tunnel," Kowalski said. She said other things like wandering lights could possibly be train lights.

"Your head plays tricks on you especially when you're in a place that's underground and is dark, damp and cold. The temperature is about 15 degrees colder in the tunnel, so any burst of air from the tunnel is cold and could contribute for the strange winds people encounter," she said.

One tale she found was about a hunter, Frank Webster, who disappeared near the tunnel in 1874. Webster was found days later, beaten and without his rifle. He claimed strange voices called him into the tunnel, where a ghost took his gun and then beat him.


"There's nothing to prove some person didn't do it. I think a lot of stories are fabricated. I think this is where a lot of stories come into play," she said.

She said the tunnel's history has taken on its own life, with varying versions of the circumstances of the tunnel workers deaths and even discrepancies of what the term 'hoosac' actually means.

"In my research I found many people wrote the American Indian word 'hoosac' was supposed to mean forbidden. It actually means "stone place" in Mohican," Kowalski said.

George Inman, a junior, studied the underground subculture of vampyrism and the characteristics of the movements followers.

"There are two kinds of vampires, those who believe they are psychic vampires and that they feed off of other people's minds and those who are more traditional and feed off of blood. They cut themselves and feed off of each other," he said.

Inman said a lot of the subculture is influenced by the original inspiration for Dracula, Vlad the Impaler. He said the followers dress in black and claim they are sensitive to light, such as Vlad did.

"They also all seem to play Vampire: The Masquerade. It's huge around the world and they claim that it allows them social acceptance. The popularity is unbelievable," Inman said.

He said the followers of vampyrism seem to have similar characteristics: emotional irritability and instability, depression, belief in psychic powers, a strong sex drive and a "thirst" best described as comparable to a migraine headache.

"They seem to have a seclusionary lifestyle, but coming together gives them a sense of community and a release of romanticism," Inman said.

Senior Jodi Browning of Plaistow, N.H., focused on the phenomenon of alien abduction claims. In her research, she found over 6,000 Americans have claimed to be abducted since 1960.

"There is no documentation of abductions before the 1960s," she said. "Another odd thing is that a very large percentage of abductees claim to have telepathically communicated with the aliens, but the conversations take place in English."

While Browning did not discredit the possibility of aliens existing, she did say she leaned toward believing the empirical studies done by psychologists which seem to link many abduction stories with traumatic events, including sexual abuse.

"The empirical studies are more objective. I tend to believe that for some people it is easier for them to believe they were abused by aliens. I also think there is a large connection between media influence and hallucinations with the claims," she said.

Another student's study showed that there is no solid link between healing and the practice of Reiki, while an investigation into chiropractic services found that autistic children receiving the therapy had positive results including increased speech and vocalization, better bladder control and an evening of leg lengths.


Jennifer Huberdeau can be reached at

Monday, April 10, 2006

The mystery of the Monument Mountain stone heap

guest story borrowed from The Advocate Weekly, April 06, 2006

The mystery of the Monument Mountain stone heap

Thursday, April 06

In 1882, Charles J. Taylor published his "History of Great Barrington," a generally well-researched account that still is the standard chronicle of the early days of that town.

As accurate as Taylor tried to be, some serious historical errors inevitably found their way into his book. On pages 60-62, he inserted the text of a letter that appears authentic but is actually a put-up job, if not an outright forgery. It contains information that has been accepted over the years, things like the word "Mahaiwe" and the size of the famous Indian stone heap that gives Monument Mountain its name, but recent research in primary manuscript sources tells a different story.

Taylor found the letter in a rather dubious source, The Berkshire Courier of November 15, 1866. It immediately becomes suspicious because neither the writer nor the recipient are identified. The dateline of "Indian Town" in November 1735 is anachronistic because there was no Indian town at that time, the Mohicans not receiving their grant at Stockbridge until the next year. In the letter's description of the Rev. John Sergeant's baptism of Chief Konkapot, it borrows word for word the profession of faith delivered by another Indian (Ebenezer) in 1734, the text of which is found in Rev. Sergeant's journal. In fact, there is little information in the letter that could not have been found in Sergeant's journal or other printed sources. The main exception is the name "Mahaiwe," which is not found elsewhere to my knowledge. Taylor said it is the Mohican word for "place down stream" but admitted it should be spelled "Neh-hai-we." While that may be true (the related Delaware tribe used the word "Nahiwi" for "down the river"), the confusion added to the suspicious nature of the letter.

Another anomaly in the letter is the statement that the "Great Wigwam" of Chief Umpachene was "at the ford a mile or two south [of Monument Mountain]." Presumably this is the spot now commemorated by a marker at the "Old Indian Fordway" on Bridge Street. The marker claims that there was a battle with the Indians there in 1676, but it is documented that the fight occurred further to the south, probably in Sheffield. The other error is in the location of the "Great Wigwam," which was on the Green River two miles to the south. Sergeant's journal clearly shows that the two groups of Indians lived 8 to 10 miles apart, Konkapot in the meadow at Wnahktukook (Stockbridge) and Lieutenant Umpachene at Scatekook (Green River). When Sergeant first arrived at Great Barrington in 1734, he wrote that "I board at Mr. Ingersol's; and teach the Children at the Lieutnts. Wigwam." For the first six months of his mission Sergeant, lived with David Ingersoll at his house near the present site of the Mason Library and taught the Indians two miles south at Scatekook.

The greatest fallacy in Taylor's letter relates to the stone heap at Monument Mountain. It is described as "a pile of stones some six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base and raised in the form of an obtuse cone. It is raised over the grave of the first Sachem who died after they came into this region. Each Indian, as he goes by, adds a stone to the pile." This wording is so close to that in the 1829 "History of Berkshire County" that it suggests copying, but the text is different enough to indicate some alteration: "The pile was six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base and raised in the form of an obtuse cone ... over the grave of one of the Aborigines. ... Every Indian who passed the place, threw a stone upon the tomb of his countryman." No source is given for the 1829 version, but it is possible that it was the creation of the Rev. David Dudley Field, who had collected the materials for the history. Curiously, it was his son, Jonathan Edwards Field, who had provided the Taylor letter to the Berkshire Courier in 1866.

Further evidence for the falsity of the Taylor letter is found in Timothy Dwight's "Travels in New England and New York" (published in 1821 but written in the 1790s), which states that the name of Monument Mountain "is derived from a pile of stones about six or eight feet in diameter, circular at its base, and raised in the form of an obtuse cone over the grave of one of the Aborigines," etc. Certainly this is the source of the quote in Taylor's book, a secondary account first written in 1798 and not an eyewitness report of 1735. Dwight did not see the stone pile himself and was relying on hearsay.

Until now, we have had only three published eyewitness accounts of the monument, none of which give specific details of its size or location. Sergeant wrote in his journal on November 3, 1734: "There is a LARGE Heap of Stones, I suppose TEN CART LOADS, in the Way to Wnahktukook, which the Indians have thrown together, as they pass'd by the Place; for it us'd to be their Custom, every Time any one pass'd by, to throw a Stone to it; But what was the End of it they cannot tell" (Emphasis is mine). The Rev. Gideon Hawley wrote an account of a journey he made in 1753. Upon observing an Indian stone heap in New York State, he wrote: "The LARGEST heap I ever observed, is that LARGE collection of small stones on the mountain between Stockbridge and Great-Barrington." In 1761 David Ingersoll stated that "he saw a LARGE heap of stones on the east side of Westenhook or Housatonnock River so called on the southerly end of the Mountain called Monument Mountain."

I emphasize the use of the adjective LARGE to describe the monument. It seems unlikely that a stone pile of only six or eight feet in diameter would be sufficient to fill the ten cart loads mentioned by Sergeant. The truth is that the stone heap was quite large and obvious. In the fall of 1761, Colonel John Van Rensselaer of Claverack, N.Y., employed a surveying party to establish the boundary line between the Van Rensselaer and Livingston Manors of Columbia County. He claimed ownership to the Housatonic River and charged his surveyors to run the line 24 miles east of the Hudson River, bringing it into the present bounds of Great Barrington. On November 25, 1761, Jacob Philip, one of his chain men, deposed in Albany County court and declared: "they Run about half a Mile west of a Heap of Stones Standing on the Southerly End of a Mountain near the Road from Sheffield to Stockbridge - that he and the Rest of the Chainbearers by the Surveyors Directions Measured the said Heap and found it Eighty two Links about the Bottom and seventeen Links high along the Slant of the Said Heap." A link of the chain equaled 7.92 inches so the monument in Great Barrington measured slightly more than 54 feet at the base and stood over 11 feet high, the size of a small house.

Other residents of Berkshire and Albany Counties testified to having seen the large pile and that the bottom stones were sunk deep into the ground, suggesting great antiquity. There was no evidence of a burial beneath the monument although the results of the survey did show two heaps of stones along the line in Columbia County "Erected by the Indians in Memory of two of their Sachems buried in that place." The English settlers at this time were dismantling the numerous stone heaps to obtain building materials, especially for chimneys, and the Great Barrington heap suffered the same fate. It was "all removed" by August 1762 and there has been no trace of it since, despite the many later efforts to find it.

Most contemporary accounts state that the monument was "near" the road (not "on" it) at the southern end of Monument Mountain, and none indicates that it was visible from the road. The earliest map of Stockbridge is a surveyor's plat dated October 15, 1736. On it at the northwest corner of Sheffield (now Great Barrington) is written the bearing of east nine degrees south, 932 perch (rods), "to the monument of stones," and another notation that the monument was north of Moses King's property, 60 perch. This stone heap was located on top of the mountain at the midpoint of the boundary between Great Barrington and Stockbridge and served as a marker between the two towns. It was not the large monument erected by the Indians.

The best evidence for the location of the Indian stone heap comes from the court depositions of those settlers who actually saw it before it was removed. Captain Johannis Hogeboom of Claverack testified in 1762 that it stood "some rod[s] over the Westenhook [Housatonic] River under a Mountain." The half-blood Indian, Joseph Van Gelder, testified in 1768 that it was "on the East side of Westenhook River has been close to it often it is about a Mile from the River." Timothy Woodbridge of Stockbridge deposed that it was "in the Monument Mountain Made of Wood and Stones ... It lies in Great [Barrington] 3 Miles south of Stockbridge." John Philip, the chain man, ran his survey line along the Housatonic "about half a Mile west" of the heap. These distances give us an approximate location for the monument somewhere east of the river at the foot of the mountain and south of Risingdale, far from the traditionally-accepted spot but close to the site of the Indian hunting camp excavated in 1991.

By all accounts, the stone heap bore the Mohican name "Wawanaquasick," a lovely word that might have graced the new schools at Monument Mountain instead of the unimaginative names selected last year. It meant "offering place" and was applied to other Indian stone heaps in our area. Jehoiakim Van Valkenburgh, a Dutch settler who spoke the Mohican language, declared in 1768 that the Indians "added Stones to it and when they did so they said Grand father I recover you." The monument had a practical function as well. Chief Yocum explained in 1754 that there were two such heaps in Great Barrington, the one we are discussing here and the other where the Green River meets the Housatonic. They served as boundary markers between Stockbridge Indian chieftaincies and the Weatogue Indians of Salisbury, Conn.

Taylor wrote an essential history of Great Barrington, but the inclusion of a doctored letter has contributed to a number of misconceptions. The name "Mahaiwe" is possibly a made-up word, the location of the "Great Wigwam" is off by at least two miles and the great Indian stone heap at Monument Mountain was not only quite large but located "under the mountain" near Risingdale instead of on the mountain itself. Though it has been gone for 244 years, it remains in our imaginations as an enduring symbol of Berkshire County's first inhabitants.

Historian Lion G. Miles of Stockbridge specializes in 18th century Berkshire County history.

Monday, March 27, 2006

Armageddon Wraps up Early at the Hancock Shaker Village

This region is full of biblically epic sounding sites, many of which don't appear on any standard map. Spots like Devil's Pulpit, North Adam's Witch's Cave, New Marlboro's Gomorrah and its companion Sodom just over in Connecticut (as well as a separate 'Sodom' in Tyringham).

Most of these places have their own little bit of lore attached to them, but perhaps none are the focus of a yarn as epically Biblical as that surrounding Mount Sinai, on the grounds of the Hancock Shaker Village. Named for the mountain where Moses laid down the law(s) for the Israelites, later the site of a monastery built where the remains of St. Catherine of Alexandria were said to have been miraculously transported, this Berkshire hill was alleged to be the site of a grand, apocalyptic confrontation between religious fervor and preternatural evil.

As the story goes, it was a time of distress and difficulty for the Shakers; sin and the temptations of a lustful world had severely tested the devout people of the community. Some local boys had recently been caught playing with the "Devil's cards" [likely regular playing cards]. From other sister communities came news of affairs and elopements between formerly devout Sisters and the most degenerate unbelievers. In the Hancock village meetinghouse, Elder Gabriel Patton harangued the community, bellowing fire and brimstone, with constant, thunderous warnings to be vigil against the influence of the Devil, who seemed to be encroaching on all sides.

Now, there was among them one Sister Martha Tomlinson, a young woman who had come to the community from the eastern part of the state, who had previously lost both her husband and young child to disease. When she had first accepted the Shaker life, she had seemed contented enough, but now a dark state of depression overtook her frequently, often keeping her weeping throughout the night. In the daylight hours, Sister Martha had become increasingly aloof, and apparently ambivalent to the Shaker beliefs. This had come to the attention of some of the other Sisters, and to a lesser extent the Elders as well. Meanwhile, however, Elder Patton had become convinced of the presence of Satan concentrating atop the hill they called Mount Sinai - and, more importantly, convinced of his vulnerability. Sinai, Patton told the others, would be the site where the faithful of the community would defeat the Evil One once and for all; he implored them to steel themselves for the Final Battle.

When the day that had been set for the campaign arrived, Sister Tomlinson became violently ill, and remained in her bed, weak and feverish. All the others gathered, though, every able-bodied man and woman in the community. They rallied in the meetinghouse, where the Elders fitted each of them with a suit of invisible armor, describing its virtues and its powers to shield the faithful from Satan's power. Thus befitted with breastplates of righteousness and the helmets of salvation, they prepared to make war, Ephesians 6:10-17 style. They set out in the early morning darkness, each carrying a Bible in their hands. They advanced on the enemy on the hill in a wide ring, singing hymns and holding out their invisible swords of the Spirit. They advanced nearly shoulder to shoulder; there was not single weak point in their line, and they swiftly began narrowing the circle around the Unspeakable One. He remained invisible, but as they drew the noose tighter and tighter, a malodorous stench filled the air. The Believers recognized the stink: it was the smell of sulfur, of brimstone. Finally the ring of the fellowship became so taut that they were looking into each other's eyes across its center, a massive racket was ensuing in between, sounds of choking growls, rasping curses and a hissing like that of a thousand writhing snakes. Patton roared out to them to advance still further, to leave no escape for suffocated demon. Then, with "one long cry of hatred and baffled anger," the Lord of Darkness expired.

There are a variety of epilogues appended to various versions of this legend. In several tellings, the successful Shakers return to find that Martha Tomlinson has ended her own life, apparently as a last victim of the Devil's wily and desperate tempting. In one version, the flock repairs to the meetinghouse for an ecstatic bout of dancing worship, in which the apparition of John the Baptist comes among them as a blessing. Of course, I prefer the versions that end with a warning: for even though, allegedly, the Prince of Lies himself was vanquished, many of his demonic imps lurk the world still. Furthermore, on some dark and foreboding nights, they may appear at Mount Sinai to pay their respects, and perhaps wreak some bit of vengeful mischief.

As for its historical basis, well. there were Shakers at Shaker Village, but that may be about the extent of the corroboration possible. Frequently, a legend with so many named persons, consistent in version after version, offers some promise for further research but in this case proved a dead end. According to Jerry Grant, Director of Research at the Shaker Museum and Library in Chatham, N.Y., neither Tomlinson nor Patton appears in the list of known Shakers.

"The Sister it may have been possible to miss by the record keepers, but I don't think they would have missed an Elder in the records," Grant explained.
It is quite probable the story may not even have originated with the Shakers, but with neighboring tale-tellers in the area. It was fairly well-traveled by the late-19th century, and may have first appeared in a mid-century newspaper article. Its ultimate origin is murky, but it smacks of fireside fiction. Which is fine by me, I'd rather not contemplate the literal reality of wandering demons in Hancock, especially considering the fact the Imps of Hell rarely turn out to be the sort of eloquent, irreproachably fashion-savvy types seen in the "Hellraiser" movies. Still, it's an irresistible yarn, as far as I'm concerned, and there's plenty more meat to the story, too ponderous to include here. I recommend the interested reader to my favorite treatment, in Willard Douglas Coxey's 1936 "Ghosts of Old Berkshire." The true underlying sweep of the story may be that of a young woman's struggle with depression and loss and her gradual embitterment against the Shaker way of life, with its repression of all passion, all intimacy, all form of personal existence. I picture a period piece boasting Charlize Theron opposite Anthony Hopkins' Elder Patton, all on location, with more exotic dance sequences than "Moulin Rouge" - real Oscar vehicular momentum. But that's another story altogether.


Coxey, Willard Douglas. Ghosts of Old Berkshire, 1936

Skinner, Charles M. Myths and Legends of our own Land, 1898

“Our Berkshires: Calling all ghosts.” Berkshire Evening Eagle Oct 27, 1944

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Pittsfield's Hebrew scrolls spark Mormon controversy

Thursday, March 02

When Joseph Merrick, local farmer and innkeeper, purchased a tract of land in west Pittsfield in 1800, he had no expectation that it would prove such fertile ground for growing mystery. Indeed, it was not until 15 years later that a seemingly innocuous piece of refuse found there would go on to arouse the interest of the town's most prominent citizens, and to serve as a potentially crucial clue in controversy surrounding the origins of the Book of Mormon.

In June of 1815, a boy Merrick had employed to clear a piece of yard presented him with a leather strap found among the debris left by plowing. Merrick at first threw it in a box and paid little attention. Only looking at it later did he realize that there was something inside the strap. He cut it open to find several tightly scrolled pieces of parchment. Each was inscribed with Hebrew characters of some sort. Perplexed, Merrick shared the discovery with some of the most learned men at the First Congregational Church, where he served as a deacon. He didn't have to try very hard to get their attention. He had only barely mentioned the find when he found himself called on by a number of curious visitors. Rumors of the object quickly reached Elkanah Watson, father of the American Agricultural Society and probably Pittsfield's most illustrious citizen at the time. Watson wrote in a letter "immediately on hearing of the discovery, I repaired to the house of Mr. Merrick, where I found several clergymen whose curiosity was [also] greatly excited by the strange incident.."

Among those present when Watson arrived was 20-year-old Sylvester Larned, fresh from seminary but already "greatly distinguished for talents and moving eloquence." Larned, though exceedingly well educated for the times, lacked any knowledge of Hebrew. This required the help of William Allen, son of "Fighting Parson" Thomas Allen, and the minister of First Congregational Church at the time. Allen identified the object as a Jewish phylactery, containing four pieces of parchment inscribed with verses from Deuteronomy and Exodus.

Now that they knew what it was, the question of where it came from became all the more exciting to them. No Jewish family or individual had ever lived at that location, so far as anyone knew. Before Merrick it had been the site of "Fort Hill" or Fort Ashley, a blockhouse built by colonial militia during the French and Indian War. Prior to that the area was called "Indian Hill," in reference to it being the site of a former Mohican settlement, and it was this earlier occupation that most intrigued the Pittsfield scholars. In their mind, the phylactery fit quite perfectly into a debate that had begun more than a century and a half before. The theory that the American Indians were descendants of the lost tribes of Israel had first been advanced in 1650, with the publication of Thorowgood's "Jewes in America" and had been a subject of perennial interest in Puritan New England ever since. Watson had already leaped to this conclusion, stating "the artifact must have found its way into this recent wilderness by the agency of some descendants of Israel. this discovery forms another link in the evidence by which our Indians are identified with the ancient Jews." After his initial inspection, Allen was inclined to agree that the phylactery "furnished proof that our Indians were descendants of the ancient chosen people." Adding weight to this conclusion was the late testimony of Dr. West of Stockbridge that "an old Indian" had told him that his ancestors had once "been in the possession of a book which they had, not long since, carried with them, but having lost the knowledge of reading it, they buried it with an Indian Chief."

Shortly thereafter, Allen sent the artifact to Abiel Holmes, a scholar in Cambridge. There is no record of Holmes' opinion, only that he delivered the phylactery to the American Antiquarian Society, on Allen's urging. Nothing much was said or done about the phylactery for several years after that. Most of the parties who had viewed it (and many who hadn't) believed it to be evidence of the Hebrew origins of Native Americans, but by 1816 or so no one outside of select sectarian circles seemed much interested in proving that point. In the early 1820s, Ethan Smith, a congregational minister in Poultney, Vt., became interested in the Pittsfield phylactery. Though he never actually saw it personally, he described it in his 1823 book "View of the Hebrews: The Lost Tribes of Israel in America." That same year, a young man in Palmyra, N.Y., announced that he was to receive a set of plates from an angel. The man was Joseph Smith and the plates were said to contain a history of ancient America.

Later, when these plates were being translated, Oliver Cowdery, one of original "Three Witnesses" of Mormonism's Golden Plates, joined Smith and became the major scribe who assisted in Smith's translation. Cowdery hailed from Poultney, where he had been a parishioner of Ethan Smith's congregational flock and quite likely owned a copy of his book. For this reason, nearly two centuries of skeptics and opponents to Mormonism have theorized that Ethan Smith's ideas, along with certain elements of his style (e.g., his heavy quotation of the Book of Isaiah) may have been one of two major sources of influence on the Book of Mormon (the other being a fictional manuscript by Solomon Spaulding that Smith friend and follower Sidney Rigdon may have provided. It is certain that Joseph Smith did become aware of View of the Hebrews at some point, for he cites it and the artifact found in Pittsfield as supporting evidence of the "Lost Tribes" in America. Furthermore, it is entirely conceivable that Smith could have already have heard of the phylactery prior to 1823.

By then, though, no on was sure where the darned thing was. Isaiah Thomas, the first president of the antiquarian society, told Ethan Smith that he didn't know where it was, or even where to go about looking. Several historians have made attempt over the years to track its whereabouts after being delivered to the society, coming up with only fragmentary possible scenarios. It may or may not have been returned to Sylvester Larned, who in 1818 expressed disappointment that nothing had come of the find. Larned may or may not in turn have sent it to Elias Boudinot, another interested scholar. Larned died of Yellow Fever two years later in New Orleans, at the age of 25, and there is no sign of the phylactery in Boudinot's papers, housed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. I tend to think that the Hebrew inscriptions are still in the hands of the Antiquarians - in fact, one AAS librarian in 1917 said that he seemed to remember seeing the scrolls but not didn't know where. As such, it is one of hundreds of fascinating, potentially paradigm-shaking artifacts which resides in a Library Limbo, lost, uncataloged or misfiled in one of the country's major archives or museums.

What relevance does the Pittsfield discovery have today, anyway? Scientific knowledge has advanced, well, let's say slightly, since the early 1800s, at least to a point where belief in Native American groups as descendants of lost Israelite tribes can be effectively dismissed. On the other hand, scholarly opinion over the past decade has increasingly shifted toward the concept of the Americas being an occasional stopping point of many different world groups prior to Columbus. In 1924, some lead artifacts, mostly crosses and swords, with Hebrew and early Latin inscriptions were dug up in Tucson, Ariz. The inscriptions told of a group of Romanized Jews who left the Empire and whose ship (apparently) came to shore in the Gulf of Mexico, from which point they followed the Colorado River inland, establishing a briefly flourishing colony. Of course, questions were raised about the authenticity of the artifacts and, like the Pittsfield phylactery, the "Tucson Crosses" went missing for many years before finally showing up on display at the University of Arizona campus in 2003.

For those who prefer to get somewhat cleaner shave out of old Ockham's razor, an alternate explanation was offered by William Allen, some time after the object left his care, though no one paid much attention. Allen noted that the strap was found in a place where wood chips and dirt had been collecting for years, and he was unable to find out whether it had come from the old earth beneath or from among the recent debris. He did learn that Merrick had employed British and German prisoners during the War of 1812, one of whom could have dropped it there. For my contribution, I'd append that it could have been lost there even earlier. The entire county was suddenly inundated with Hessian deserters following Burgoyne's defeat at Saratoga in 1777 - some of whom never left - and any one of whom could have been the owner of the 18th-century equivalent of a scriptural fanny pack.

Of course, modern forensics could probably provide snappy answers to almost all of the questions surrounding the legendary scripts, if one could only put one's finger on the troublesome strip. "Or," as Charles Fort more eloquently put it, "there could be a real science, if there were really anything to be scientific about."