Friday, May 27, 2005

Traveling to Transylvania?

Many people who read Bram Stoker’s Dracula assume Transylvania, home country of the vampire, is fictitious. In fact, it’s a region of some 24,000 square miles in the Carpathian Mountains of what is now Romania. In Roman times, it was part of the Dacia province. Later, it was part of Hungary, then for a time became independent. It fell under the dominion of Austria in 1765, became part of Austria-Hungary when the joint kingdom was created in 1867, and was encompassed by Romania after World War I.

While the name conjures visages of fantastic, forbidding mountains, Transylvania is actually a beautiful, fertile land noted for its production of wine, fruits and other edibles. Most Romanians of ethnic Hungarian descent live there.

Historically, the real Count Dracula, Vlad the Impaler, inhabited that general vicinity in southestern Europe during the 15th Century. His grotesque exploits are summarized in Volume One of my “strange history” compendium, Blithering Antiquity.

Friday, May 20, 2005

UFOs . . . Why?

Like many of you, I suppose, I’ve always wanted to believe there’s something to the UFO fascination. But my interest is waning. Skeptics say approximately 90 percent of UFO reports easily can be explained with rational, earthly analysis. Personally, I wonder if the modern-day statistic doesn’t approach 100 percent.

Biblical accounts of fantastic heavenly phenomena will hold my interest until I die and reach Gloryland, and I’ll never challenge scriptural reports that truly strange spectres were observed. Certain medieval accounts are rather compelling, too. So, even, are a few of the 20th-Century sightings that have been investigated since the stage-setting, as it were, 1947 assertion by business pilot Kenneth Arnold that he saw nine saucer-like disks flying over Washington State. Suggestions of weather balloons, spy planes, light reflections and hoaxes come up a little short in attempts to shrug off UFOs as a romantic fad altogether.

However, I suspect we ultimately will learn those unexplained appearances were rather less than fantastic, when the whole of history is revealed to us. To those absorbed in UFO lore, convinced that UFOs fly daily over one area of earth or another, I have to ask: Why? Why would they be playing some game around our particular orb in space (or any other orb, for that matter), what do they want, why shouldn’t they simply reveal themselves to all of us forthright, and why hasn’t any para-scientific team of UFO trackers with state-of-the-art technology yet captured a UFO for our most worthy news media to scrutinize? Hundreds of answers have been proposed . . . with no semblance of consensus. Again, why no consensus of explanations?

Weird things certainly occur, and I for one relish the mysteries they present to us (a prime raison d’etre for this blog). But there’s a great difference between Grade B flicks and Academy Award-winning films. What we’ve been fed by UFO clubs and authors for the past half century is an endless procession of Grade B garbage. Anymore, I believe I’d rather watch a movie (a good one).

Friday, May 13, 2005

Mystery Clouds Over Pennsylvania

Weather is often violent but usually predictable. Of course, we repeatedly mock forecasters for missing daily prognostications, but they point -- with solid evidence -- to records showing increased accuracy in their work.

From time to time, however, a weather event occurs which is not only unpredictable but unexplainable. One such was reported 28 July 1874 in the vicinity of a valley town called Mill Run, western Pennsylvania. Countless people watched as a weird black storm cloud, tinged with a reddish hue, slowly gathered from the southwest. Even more strange was the appearance from the opposite direction of a second, similar mass. Lightning intensified as the two frightful forces of nature came together. It was said as they collided and merged, the ground shook and the atmosphere was a tumult of fireworks for half a minute without diminishing. Then the electricity played itself out -- and the rains came. It was the heaviest downpour anyone could remember. Within minutes, the valley was awash in a torrential flood. Some 150 people drowned, as did untold head of cattle. Bridges and other structures were carried away.

A severe thunderstorm is intimidating to anyone. When storms meet head-on, even veteran meteorologists take notice.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Eyeless Vision

An entry for the Faddish Enigmas Department:

They called it “dermal vision” or “paroptic vision” -- “seeing” with the skin. Blind people and claimants with faces bandaged tight to shut out the light and seal in the sight reportedly could “see” by touching. For example, they could describe details of a photograph you placed before them, or tell you the color of paper.

The phenomena came into vogue in the 1930s when a Pakistani national named Kuda Bux made arresting public presentations -- driving and riding bicycles and reading newspapers while blindfolded. Professional magicians were less than impressed, pointing out that they and their predecessors had performed like feats for years. Bux ultimately was written off as just another showman who was able to catch the public’s fancy . . . and gullibility.

Scientific studies conducted in the 1960s indicated some blind people could, in fact, glean astonishing information by feel which ordinary folk could not. For example, black objects could be identified by touch because their heat-reflective qualities can make them perceptibly warmer than objects of other colors. The notion that this constituted exceptional “vision,” however, was rejected. Eyesight and touch are two obviously different human senses. Attempting to confuse the senses in the public mind is a tactic known as . . . deception.