“In My Commonplace Book” is a regular series in which I share the recent scribblings from my commonplace book. Opposed to my well-researched posts, these are simply interesting things I have been reading about. To learn more about commonplace books, you can read a general introduction here. Each of these posts will include a writing prompt to get you writing in your own notebook/commonplace book.
I was driving through Elizaville, Indiana recently and remembered the 7-foot tall man beast that is allegedly tied to a list of disappearances in the community. I was inspired to see what other monsters roam the Midwest, so I began to fill the pages of my commonplace book. After googling what states are considered the Midwest (ha ha), I documented each beast with name, location, and description. Here are five of my favorites.†
The Phantom Kangaroo (Nebraska):People have reported a hopping kangaroo that will suddenly disappear. Interestingly enough, phantom kangaroos have been spotted all over the United States. The kangaroo likes to chase and eat dogs.
Loveland Frogs (Ohio):These 4-foot tall frog humanoids were first spotted in the 1950s by a businessman late at night (there are various versions of this story). The frog dudes were conversing and one eventually held a wand over his head that shot sparks. The scared businessman ran quickly away from the scene. They were spotted again in the 1970s by two police officers on two different nights. During the second sighting, the creature was shot. It turned out that it was not a Loveland Frog, but a large iguana without a tail.
The Mill Race Monster (Indiana): In the 1970s, Columbus, Indiana was tormented by a large, green, and bipedal monster (described by some as amphibious). The monster was tied to Mill Race Park, a park with lush forests, winding rivers, and two lakes. On November 1, 1974, two different groups of teenagers spotted the large beast. The second sighting was by far the scariest. Two young women spotted the monster while sitting in their car at night. The monster ran over and started banging on their windshield, leaving a thick mucus on the glass. They were able to turn on the car and drive away. There were other sightings reported and many enthusiastic monster hunters headed to the park with baseball bats and guns. The city eventually closed the park to the public at night.
Space Penguins of Tuscumbia (Missouri): During an early winter morning in 1967, a farmer spotted a UFO sitting in one of his fields. Accompanying the mushroom-shaped space craft was a group of tiny green creatures with hand-less arms and large black eyes (or were they goggles). Located where their nose or mouth would have been were dark protuberances (part of their actual face or maybe a mask for breathing in earth’s atmosphere). The farmer described them as “green space penguins.” After several failed attempts to hit the craft with rocks, due to the force field, the farmer watched the UFO and the penguins fly away.
This year an alleged ghost photo taken at the Stanley Hotel by tourist Henry Yau went viral and, with programs such as Photoshop, people questioned its authenticity. Kevin Sampron of the SPIRIT Paranormal investigation team of Denver argues the photo is indeed the real deal and there is in fact another figure in the image. Kenny Biddle, researcher and podcaster at Geeks and Ghosts, believes the figure (and the second figure) is simply a glitch made from the panoramic feature of the iPhone used to capture the ghost:
Panoramic images are not taken in the same fraction of a second as a normal images are. They take several seconds, which would allow Yau to start taking his panoramic image at one end of the room, and another guest or two to hit the halfway point down the stairs, turn the corner, and begin the second set of stairs to the floor as Yau ends his panoramic image on the other side of the room.
With new technologies comes new ways of capturing paranormal phenomenon, but also new ways of faking it or mistakenly believing you did. In the following post, I share six interesting examples from history. Do you think they are real or fake?
The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall
In September of 1936, a photographer from Country Life magazine captured the famous Brown Lady of Ryanham Hall in Norfolk, England. The Brown Lady is allegedly the ghost of Lady Dorothy Walpole (1686–1726). She was the second wife of Charles Townshend, a very angry man who, after finding out about his wife’s affair with Lord Wharton, locked her away in a room. She eventually died of small pox (or under mysterious circumstances). The story has multiple versions.
The photographer, Captain Hubert C. Provand, captured what seemed to be a spirit descending the main staircase. Harry Price, famous paranormal investigator (most famous case: Borley Rectory), believed the negative was never tampered with and only collusion between Provand and his assistant would make this photo a hoax. Skeptics suggest the photogenic spectral was created by applying grease to the lens, double exposure, a woman wearing a white sheet, or a Virgin Mary statue.
The Cottingley Fairies
In 1917, two young cousins named Elsie Wright (16) and Frances Griffiths (9) took photographs of frolicking fairies. The photographs were so convincing that they caught the attention of Arthur Conan Doyle, spiritualist and author. General public perception was mixed. It wasn’t until the 1980s that Elsie and Frances admitted the photos were fake. They used images from a popular children’s book and cardboard cutouts. Both women still claim to have seen fairies.
The famous “Surgeon’s Photograph” of the Loch Ness Monster (1934) was taken by a London gynecologist Robert Kenneth Wilson and published in the Daily Mail. This was the first photograph that captured the monster’s head and neck. According to Wikipedia, this photograph was part of an elaborate (revenge) hoax.
The creature was reportedly a toy submarine built by Christian Spurling, the son-in-law of Marmaduke Wetherell. Wetherell had been publicly ridiculed by his employer, the Daily Mail, after he found “Nessie footprints” which turned out to be a hoax. To get revenge on the Mail, Wetherell perpetrated his hoax with co-conspirators Spurling (sculpture specialist), Ian Wetherell (his son, who bought the material for the fake), and Maurice Chambers (an insurance agent).The toy submarine was bought from F. W. Woolworths, and its head and neck were made from wood putty. After testing it in a local pond the group went to Loch Ness, where Ian Wetherell took the photos near the Altsaigh Tea House. When they heard a water bailiff approaching, Duke Wetherell sank the model with his foot and it is “presumably still somewhere in Loch Ness.” Chambers gave the photographic plates to Wilson, a friend of his who enjoyed “a good practical joke.”
Eventually the fake photograph ended up in the Daily Mail. Many argue that this hoax does not disprove the monster’s existence. People still claim to have captured the monster through satellite images and video.
William Mumler’s Photo of Mary Todd Lincoln (and Abraham)
American William Mumler worked as an jewelry engraver, but enjoyed photography on the side. In 1861, he noticed that a transparent young girl was floating beside him in a self portrait. He believed it was a technical glitch, but friends pointed out the girl looked like his cousin. She died 12 years earlier. Spiritualists caught wind of the photograph and soon William Mumler because a photography sensation, taking pictures of those who lost their loved ones in the Civil War.
Mumler had many critics including showman P.T. Barnum, who claimed that Mumler was taking advantage of those grieving. Barnum even spoke out against Mumler when he was on trial for fraud. People argued that Mumler went as far as breaking into people’s houses to steal pictures of their loved ones. The photographs were simply a product of double exposure. Mumler was acquitted, but his career was never as successful. He still had one believer, Mary Todd Lincoln. Mumler captured her deceased husband, President Abraham Lincoln (see above). Mumler claimed he didn’t know she was a Lincoln when the photograph was taken.
That UFO Photo from that X-Files Poster
In the fourth season of X-Files, production made a slight set change. The iconic “I Want to Believe” poster was updated with a different, but similar image. The first poster was the subject of an intellectual property lawsuit, since X-Files mistakenly used a UFO photograph taken by Billy Meier without permission. Billy Meier is a Swiss man known for producing photographs of UFOS and providing evidence of extraterrestrial life. He also claims to have contact with extraterrestrials called the Plejaren, which come from the planet Erra and fly around in “beamships.”
His photographs display shiny metal discs flying across the Swiss countryside. Did he want to believe like Mulder or is he a liar? Regardless, it would have made a great X-Files episode.
The Wem Ghost Girl
During a fire at Wem Town Hall in 1995, a man named Tony O’Rahilly took photos and captured a young girl, but no one recalled a young girl being in the building. Town members believed it was Jane Churn, a young girl who died in a fire in 1677. It’s been debated whether the picture was doctored or real, but a postcard from 1922 with the same girl revealed it was most likely a hoax. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.