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196. Underneath the Lake

Witley Park lies in the county of Surrey, England. In 1889 it was founded by Whitaker Wright, a man who had made a fortune in the oil business. For himself he constructed a grand house with a theatre, ballroom and artificial lakes. In 1904 he took his own life and the estate changed hands.

In its current state some parts have been modernised and other left to disintegrate but certain fantastical parts of the park have stood the test of time.

There were two additional rooms on the estate, but they were less noticeable than one might expect. In one tree on the estate there is a door. Go through the door and navigate the sinking subterranean stairs. Next you commandeer a small boat and take a rowing trip. Then a large pair of doors appear, open them and see the majesty of a whole room, underground.

The glass a vivid yellow fills in the dome above. Covering it is a layer of algae obscuring the magnificent view of the artificial lake. It is ballroom and exists to this day. In fact the second room does as well. If one continues on through the ballroom you will reach a second room enshrined in glass, a conservatory. A place where guests could relax and watch fish swim by. Now that, too, is garnished in a fine layer of green grime.

Those lonely, lost, lake-laden rooms languish once more in obscurity. Witley Park used to be a place for courses and conferences, astounding many visitors but now it is now private property. This iconic and ethereal sight shall remain one man’s pleasure for a while longer. At least we have the photographs.

 
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Posted by on December 9, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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182. The Mojave Desert Phone Booth

At the intersection of two dirt roads in the Mojave Desert and 15 miles from the road in the middle of nowhere existed the Mojave telephone booth. From the 1960’s it existed to service remote miners working nearby in all of its hand-cranked glory. In the 1970’s it was upgraded to a touch-tone and then it was left. The miners then left and many mines abandoned. The telephone booth held its position but became ever more infrequently used, on the edge of nowhere. At some point it was shot. After being shot it became rather more interesting.

So it sat there with its broken light by the crossing of two trails of dirt, until it was discovered again. In 1997 when it received a little visit. Anonymous Los Angeles man ‘Mr. N’ was just looking at a map of the nearby area when he discovered a peculiarity — a dot. Beside said dot sat the word, ‘telephone.’ Mr N heard the call and set off, in his Jeep, in pursuit and in a pair of fine pair of Wingtip shoes. After many hours he did find it, and a surprise. He returned home satisfied and wrote a letter to a small, underground magazine which described his findings. Contained were the words ‘it works’ and the number so that anyone curious could call the desert. (760) 733-9969. Despite the chances, the phone company had been remarkably charitable and had let the phone stay connected for an extremely small number of people. Soon the number was to increase.

On the 26th of May Godfrey Daniels read the letter and became mildly obsessed. Calling it every day, leaving notes around the house, ‘Did you remember to call the Mojave Desert today?’ says the one affixed to his mirror. Each call was taped, while it rang he would automatically dictate the time, date and purpose of the call. Every visitor to his house was coerced into also calling the number. He was by his own admission ‘prepared to call for years’. Fortunately for his phone bill and confused house guests he succeeded in contact within a month.

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Posted by on September 2, 2011 in Articles

 

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145. Death Valley’s Sailing Stones

In Death Valley, California, the stones move: nobody has figured out how. These are sailing stones. You can find them all in one area, just around the aptly name Racetrack Playa.

Here the valley is scored with flat tracks between 8 and 30cm wide, some curvaceous whilst others straight or jagged. Their marks score rarely more than 2 cm into the earth whilst their length range  from over 100 metres to and pitiful few centimetres. At the ends of each and every one, an unremarkable stone from one of the nearby towering cliffs. Without human or animal intervention the rocks have partially navigated the smooth valley floor. Bizarre.

These tracks are the cumulation of around 4 years work for each stone and its respective propulsion, whatsoever that may be. The mysterious force has been much researched but remains illusive, it makes the rough stones travel in jagged paths but lets the smooth ones wander aimlessly across the fragmented clay surface. No direction seems truly set, occasionally two adjacent rocks set out in parallel then one veers off wildly or even goes back the way it came.

The rocks are nothing special, or so it seems for the moment, the majority of the moving rocks are of the 260m high cliff nearby and made of Dolomite, a tough mineral mixture. Enthusiastically joined by some igneous rocks from the neighbouring cliffs in their wanderings of the Racetrack Playa.They weigh up to 40 kg at a time and even turn over, changing the width and structure of their paths.

This geological phenomenon is a true enigma, all suggested propulsions have been either totally wrong when tested or near negligible. The truth remains illusive.

 
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Posted by on June 14, 2011 in Articles, Trivia

 

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135. Operation Mincemeat

During World War II there was a man, with important documents. Major William Martin he was; also he was dead. April 30, 1943 his body was found well decomposed in the waters off of Huelva in southwest Spain. He was clothed in a black trench coat, uniform and boots. Then there was a most important item indeed, a black attaché case chained to his waist, its contents unknown.

The Spanish fisherman who found his body reported it to the authorities, and so began a most complex series of events. The black attaché case you see, contained secrets which would greatly affect the outcome of that global conflict. Firstly the authorities scanned his wallet, finding that he was indeed the deceased Briton, Major William Martin. In his pockets they found odds and ends such as a picture of his fiancé and the bill for the diamond ring. Also he had what was reported to be high quality woolen underwear as was afforded to those of high rank – high quality underwear being in short supply during times of rationing.

A pathologist investigated the body and confirmed that he had died of a combination of hypothermia and drowning. Then the British got involved. The British vice-consul was a Francis Haselden. In his presence the case was opened revealing the contents to be military envelopes of great importance with the necessary seals. Read the rest of this entry »

 
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Posted by on June 4, 2011 in Articles

 

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132. The Dyatlov Pass Incident

The tent was found to have been cut open from the inside

The abandoned camp and damaged tent

2 February 1959, a group of nine ski hikers in the Russian Ural mountains died in a most bizarre fashion. Killed by what, no one is sure. There were no eyewitnesses, all of those present died in an unnamed pass on the eastern side of the mountain Kholat Syakhl, a Mansi name meaning mountain of the dead. After the incident the pass collected a name for itself, Dyatlov Pass after the group leader Igor Dyatlov.

The whole thing began with ten people, 8 men and 2 women took the journey. In the depths of winter the group planned to traverse the northern Ural mountains and arrive at Otorten, a mountain only 10km from Dyatlov Pass. The majority were students and graduates from the Ural Poly-technical Institute, all experienced in mountains expeditions and the suchlike, with good reason, for in those harsh conditions the route was considered category III, the hardest type of passable route. On 27 January they left from Vizhai, the most northern inhabited settlement in the region. All was well until the next day when the Yuri Yudin fell ill and went back to Vizhai. The other nine carried on to their deaths.

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Posted by on June 1, 2011 in Articles

 

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123. Skeletons At Roopkund

1942, India; A group of British Forest guards patrolled 16,000 feet above sea level in the area around Roopkund, all was orderly and calm until they made a most disturbing find. They were passing a small valley, at the bottom of it was a frozen lake. In the relative summer heat it was melting. Releasing its contents slowly. The small lake was filled with bodies, the further the ice melted the more bodies which appeared. 200 bodies were found in all, something horrible had happened there and many people tried to find out exactly what it was.

1942 was of course during World War II so the first logical leap was to assume the bodies to be those of Japanese soldiers. This was not the case. The bodies were preserved down to a few stray pieces of hair, flesh and of course a plethora of bones. They were too decomposed, and the bones not fresh enough. With them also were rings, spears, bamboo staves and leather sandals. These were much older than the war. How old though?

That question took a great deal of time to answer. In the intervening time theories emerged as to what could possibly cause 200 people to die at the same time. These theories ranged from an Epidemic to ritual suicide. The answer was not to be revealed until after an expedition 62 years later, in 2004.

DNA samples from some of the 200 bodies showed them all to date to approximately 850 AD, whilst the DNA evidence showed two groups of people, one was a family or group of closely related people, whilst the other groups DNA much more closely resembled the DNA of locals, suggesting that the second group had been hired as guides and porters. The most likely story suggests that the closely related group were on a pilgrimage and were traveling with the help of locals, they were passing by the frozen Roopkund Lake when the incident occurred.

Figuring out exactly what the incident was the next part. Closer examination of the bodies showed that they all died in the same way. All 200 from damage to their skulls, but not from any weapon, the short cracks in their skulls suggested something much rounder. In fact none of the injuries occurred beneath shoulder level, as if some terrific blows had been rained down from up high.

Researchers struggled with the problem until they heard a single folk song. An ancient and traditional Himalayan song which spoke of a goddess and intruders who trespassed upon her lands. So enraged was the goddess that she rained death upon them by flinging hailstones as hard as iron. The evidence was considered and the song carefully studied. Then consensus was reached, the song was correct.

About the hailstones, not the angry goddess. The 200 died a bizarre and sudden death. Whilst at the bottom of the valley a freak hailstorm emerged above, raining down hailstones that must have been the size of cricket-balls. Stuck in the bottom of the valley there was no shelter to which they could all flee. So they died, 200 in quick succession, each struck a swift blow on the head by the cruel hand of nature. Their remains surrounded the lake and eventually were swallowed by it until they were rediscovered 1,200 years later. A bizarre blizzard massacre.

Sandal and Skeleton on the shore

Of course there may have been a survivor, a sole survivor or many. Someone to crawl out of that valley and tell the story of the angry goddess and the hailstones of iron which did so dangerously fall.

Someone to give rise to the songs. Someone who unwittingly would help solve one of the oldest murder mysteries of all time, the mystery of the frozen skeleton lake. Without them we would only have skeletons, speculation and 1,200 year old leather sandals.

 
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Posted by on May 23, 2011 in Articles

 

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