The Devil’s Toy Box



What buildings come to mind when you think of places you might be driven mad by purely existing in them? Perhaps the post office, the doctor’s office, the DMV. Or, maybe something more sinister comes to mind like an abandoned building or a sanitarium. According to those in the know, none of these places can compare to the Devil’s Toy Box.

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It is not entirely clear if the The Devil’s Toy Box is all urban legend, creepypasta, hints at truth, or is completely true. For the purposes of this post, I am going to go with the middle option - that there is something about this story, this type of place, that gets at truth.

Now, where is this alleged evil place? Northern Louisiana. In fact,  its creation was inspired by the Clive Barker Hellraiser movies. Although some debate remains about its creation and location, the most accepted explanation is that it was an attraction set up in the annual halloween attraction, Farmer Grave’s haunted Orchard.

Unlike the movies, however, this toy box is not something you can fit in your hand or even a room.

The Devil’s Toy Box is described as a shack. From the outside, it is unappealing and average. But the interior of the Devil’s Toy Box is what gives this strange room its lasting reputation. According to several sources, the inside of the shack consists of floor-to-ceiling mirrors, including the walls.

No one can last more than five minutes in this room.

People who have been unlucky enough to stumble upon this room have been hospitalized, driven mad, and run out screaming.

The man alleged to last the longest was Roger Heltz, who lasted four minutes and 37 seconds. Heltz was, by all accounts, fairly normal. He was a 52-year-old family man and father of three. Sadly, his experience in the room severely damaged him and, since that day, he has been unable to speak. Heltz’s is only one of the tales of madness and terror. Dozens of teenagers have been seriously disturbed, horrified at what lay inside, or otherwise unable to last more than just a few seconds inside the attraction.

So what happens in the room? ThoughtCatalog reports  “According to the legend, if you stood inside this mirror-room alone for too long, supposedly the devil would show up and steal your soul. In most versions of this story, he did so by flaying you alive. I mention all of this because about two weeks ago, I got an email from an 18-year-old girl located in Northern Louisiana who we’ll call “Erin” (the specific town where Erin lived shall go unnamed for reasons that will soon become clear).”

The rumor mill was spinning so local law enforcement quickly stepped in and closed down the attraction. Even after it was shut down, several teens attempted to visit the property (accessible by a two-lane road near the Sawyers’ property), but it has never been discovered again.

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and was taken by Paulo Valdivieso, entitled
Dirt Road #1. It liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0). 

Severed Hands in Ancient Egypt

In the news in the last few months we’ve been seeing tons of stories popping up regarding the severed feet washing up in the PNW and Canada. But, this is not the first time in human history that a strange amount of severed body parts have all been found in one place. In fact, archaeologists working on excavating a palace in what was once Avaris in Egypt made quite an eerie discovery.

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The ancient city of Avaris (now known as Tell el-Daba) is northeast of Cairo, along the Nile. The palace owner, at that time, was Seusernre Khyan. The bones are believed to be about 3,600 years old and are from the Hyksos people.

The hands were first discovered when archaeologists unearthed four pits that were, believed to be, in front of what would have been the throne room. Two of the pits contained one hand per pit. It is believed, according to ehyptologis Manfred Bietak and his team, that each hand in the pit represent a particular ceremony. Fourteen additions hands, believed to be buried at a later date, were found in two pits located in the outer grounds of the palace.

All of the hands are right hands. And, Bietak notes, “Most of the hands are quite large and some of them are very large.”

This archaeological discovery is actually the first physical proof that is common in ancient Egyptian writing and art. Remember when Bietak pointed out the size of the hands? Well, it is likely because they are the hands of soldiers. The ritual consists of a soldier presenting the severed right hand of an enemy to a noble in exchange for gold.

According to LiveScience, “One account is written on the tomb wall of Ahmose, son of Ibana, an Egyptian fighting in a campaign against the Hyksos. Written about 80 years later than the time the 16 hands were buried, the inscription reads in part:

"Then I fought hand to hand. I brought away a hand. It was reported to the royal herald." For his efforts, the writer was given "the gold of valor" (translation by James Henry Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, Volume II, 1905).”

But, why only right hands?

Well, there are a few reasons. One of them is quite mundane - it is easier to keep track of how many victims the soldier claimed. Additionally, Bietak explains that the removal of the right hand is symbolic, "You deprive him of his power eternally.”

 

The above image is unrelated to the story and is in the public domain. This painting is by Hermann Vogel (1854 - 1921) and is entitled Einfall der Hyksos. The Hyksos invaders are depicted just after a victorious battle against the Egyptians.

Dragsholm Castle and its One Hundred Ghosts

Dragsholm Castle is a stunning castle located on the west coast of Sealand, just an hour’s drive from Copenhagen. The stunning white castle looks like something out of a fairytale and has stood for more than 800 years. It was built in 1215 by the Bishop of Roskilde. It was later modified in the middle ages to be a fortified castle. In fact, the castle was almost impenetrable and said to be the only castle on Zealand to withstand the brutal armies of Count Christoffer.  Today, the castle boasts a Michelin star restaurant, gorgeous suites, rave reviews, and over one hundred ghosts. Yes, you read that right...one hundred ghosts.

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Dragsholm is said to be home to over 100 spirits who are not quite ready to leave this world. One of the reasons Dragsholm is so haunted is because it once served as a prison space for very special prisoners. When the castle was given to King Christian III in 1536, it was modified to become a prison for noble and high-ranking ecclesiastical prisoners. Many of the ghosts are believed to be from these prisoners and the staff that tended to the castle, which remained a prison for almost 100 years. There were several notable prisoners, including the Mad Squire. In life, he was known as Ejler Brockenhuus and was a former confidant of the King. When he was imprisoned and his life coming to an end he began length and incomprehensible diatribes. It is said that you can still hear him rambling in the corridors near his cell.

Another infamous prisoner-turned-ghost was James Hepburn, an Earl. He was the third husband of Mary, Queen of Scots. However, he had previously jilted a Danish fiancee before marrying Mary and when he fled Scotland he sought solace in Denmark. Seeking solace here was...not the best idea. Why? Well not only had he jilted a member of a powerful family, he also ran off with a sizable dowry that her father had given him for his ex-fiancee, Anna Rustung. For this, he was captured and imprisoned in Dragsholm. It was said he went insane while imprisoned and died at the young age of 44. His ghost has frequently been spotted amongst the castle’s grounds and entering the grounds in a ghostly horse-drawn carriage.

Dragsholm is also home to its very own Women in White (or, in this case, Lady in White). It is believed that this ghostly woman was once Celina Bolves, daughter of the powerful and noble Bovles family. Unfortunately for Celina, she fell in love with a laborer far below her own rank. Disregarding her family’s pleas to leave him she remained with him and soon became pregnant with his child. Her father discovered what his daughter had done and imprisoned her in the castle’s dungeons. It was there she died.

Those who have experience the White Lady say that she appears to be looking for someone (perhaps her lover) and often moans or sighs in sorrow because she is never able to find him. Though beautiful, she is often described as a tragic figure who brings a sense of sadness to those who see her.

The most surprising thing about the Lady in White of Dragsholm castle? In the 1930s when workmen were busy repairing the basement plumbing at the castle they discovered a skeleton wearing a white dress imprisoned in a wall.

There is also a happy ghost that haunts the merry halls of Dragsholm. She was a maid that worked at Dragsholm but did not live on the property. One day, after her commute to work, she began complaining of a painful toothache. The generous master of the castle at that time gave her a poultice to help soothe her toothache. Soon enough, she began feeling better and was very grateful. Sadly, shortly after this good deed her life was cut short and she died. It seems her spirit returned to the castle to eternally show her gratitude. She is often seen at night and appears to be a protective and helpful spirit that happily guards Dragsholm.

These are just a few of the ghosts that haunt what is potentially the most haunted castle in Denmark. Do you know of any other hauntings at Dragsholm?

 

The above image is of Dragsholm Castle taken by Bococo it is licensed under CC-SA 3.0.

Moll Dyer

In 17th century Leonardtown, Maryland there was an infamous woman named Moll Dyer. Although no direct historical record has been found of her existence, a road, a stream, and a large rock all bear her name. But who do we think she was?

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Similarly to the Bell Witch, we aren’t quite sure what exactly her origins were before her title of ‘witch.’ Most sources seem to agree that she was a woman that lived in semi-isolation on the edge of town. Her origin was unknown to many of the townspeople and this created a hotbed of speculation - some believed she was an Irish noblewoman on the run, others believed she was running a way (or even killed a husband), and some believed she had been run out of her hometown. As noted before there was no record of a ‘Moll’ Dyer, but there were several Dyers in the area at the time and ‘Moll’ could have been a nickname of one of them, or that her birth certificate was never created or otherwise improperly filed and lost to the archives of time. Her story wasn’t recorded until the 19th century when a local writer, Joseph F. Morgan decided to write the story down.

In addition to her isolation, it is believed she practiced as a healer. Like many healers during the 17th century as soon as a series of misfortunes took hold of the town Moll was blamed and labeled a witch. During a particularly cold winter, the townspeople arrived at her small house and ran her out. Some stories says the townsfolk came to her door dramatically - torches and pitchforks in hand. Others say that their intent was just to scare her enough to get her to move. Moll, unbelievably, escaped this small but angry mob. She ran from the fire of her home and it was believed she ran in the dead of a cold, cold night until she fell upon a large boulder. It was at this boulder that she died. Several days later, a young boy came upon her corpse. Her body was frozen and one of her arms was allegedly stretched towards the heavens, perhaps in a last ditch effort for her or as a way to curse her tormentors.

How do we know this? Well, it is rumored that the imprints of her hand remained burned into the rock for hundreds of years. This boulder is so important that the local historical society had it moved and placed in front of their building. It is also said that at the original site of the rock the fields were strangely barren for years after her passing.

However, her curse had more effects than leaving behind handprints and making a few fields barren. It was said that the men responsible for leading the mob to Moll’s door all had bouts of horrible luck. Their lands became barren, their livestock died, they got sick, and their families suffered.

It should also be noted that some people believed Leonardtown and the story of Moll Dyer partly inspired the being and energy in The Blair Witch Project.


The above image is unrelated to the story it is by Aleks G and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0.
 

The Kikimora

If you’ve been keeping up with the blog, you’ll know I (Tess) have a soft spot for household spirits. I’m not what draws me so much to the lore of these creatures, but I find them hopelessly endearing (especially the curmudgeonly ones). One I recently learned about was the Kikimora. Kikimora is a female house spirit in Slavic folklore. Unlike some household beings, though, Kikimora does not often make life either.

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Kikimora strongly resemble humanoid chickens, with a beaked mouth and nose, clawed fingers, and chicken feet. She is typically dressed in a housedress with a headscarf tied around her scraggly hair. She is often depicted spinning flax with evil intent. Looking in her the eyes should be avoided at all costs - in fact, children were even advised to stare at their pillows or out their windows if they felt she was in the room.   

How does a Kikimora get into your house? Well, through the keyhole of course. It is for this reason that many Slavic women kept their keys in the keyholes or stuffed keyholes with small pieces of cloth or papers to stifle the entrance of a Kikimora. Kikimoras usually appear along with life-changing bad news like death or the loss of a child. If these events have not occurred, she is also believed to be a messenger of bad fortune. It is said that if you lay your eyes upon a Kikimora, your death will be swift.

These creatures, like many household beings, prefer to live in nooks and crannies. The Kikimora are said to prefer staying behind the hearth, near stoves, under the floorboards, in cupboards, and in attics. If she is displeased or wants to make her presence known it is said that she makes noises similar to a mouse. If she is offered food, some believe she will leave the house and stop disturbing the inhabitants.

Interestingly enough, Kikimoras are often linked to troubles at night, specifically sleep paralysis, terrifying nightmares, or accidents that happen in the night (livestock being killed, food spoiling, etc).

New Jersey's Devil Tree

Sacred trees can be found in ancient origin stories all the way to the popular world of fiction with J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ents. Trees, stretching all the way back to ancient times, is a universal symbol of growth, fertility, and transformation. There are trees where people travel for pilgrimage, perform rituals, worship, and celebrate around. But are there haunted trees?

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According to many locals of Bernards Township in New Jersey, there is at least one haunted tree: The Devil’s Tree. The Devil’s Tree does appear fairly ominous, but at its surface there seems to be nothing unique about this solemn oak tree. The Devil’s Tree presides over a field in Somerset County and is, according to local lore, surrounded by loss, evil, and blood.

Like any local legend, the origin story of The Devil’s Tree isn’t readily apparent. One of the most pervasive origins of the evil surrounding this tree has to do with New Jersey’s branch of the KKK. Bernards Township with the focal point of KKK meetings in New Jersey. Because of this, many demonstrations, meetings, and even lynchings happened near the field and in the surrounding area. Many believe the malignant feeling the tree emits is due to the spirits of innocent African Americans who were so brutally murdered in its branches.

Although the KKK brutality and hate seems to be the most popular theory, it is not the only one. The tree is in a secluded and private field, far from the view of curious eyes. For this reason, it is also the alleged site of several suicides. One of the most curious cases is a nearby farmer who murdered his entire family. Unable to live with what he had done, he went to the tree and hung himself. It is believed that his deeds, hate, and malice have permeated the wood of the tree, tainting. Of course, no name or even year can be provided for sleuths looking to find out the identity of this man. Local lore alleged that those who pluck up the courage to touch their hand to the tree have oily, black stains appearing on their hands...and they are not easy to remove.

It seems that the pervasiveness of tree lore also enters into the paranormal realm as well. Stories of devil trees, which seem popular all over the USA, seem to pervert the hallowed symbol of the tree into something to be feared - surrounded in local lore, rumors, and an impretable sinister feeling.

Today, there are pranksters and thrill-seekers alike who venture to the tree. Another rumor that has cropped up is a car that ‘chases’ the would be tree vandals. There are reports of a big pick up truck that will barrel towards you and will chase you down away from the tree, its headlights blazing. But, when you turn around or go to confront the car, the headlights are gone and the car has inexplicably vanished. The Devil’s Tree is such a popular destination that locals have constructed a wire fence around the base of the tree, in an effort to ward off vandals.

A the Weird NJ article (linked above) quotes a local citizen who did not wish to be identified as saying, “The inherent unholiness of the Devil’s Tree is the result of the evil that men do, and should not be blamed on the Devil.”

Do you have a local devil tree’s lore?

 

 

The above image was provided in creative commons from wikimedia commons. Photographed by Daniel Case 2006-07-27

Vrykolakas

The undead dead have always been an interesting aspect of global folklore. Many cultures seem to have at least a few folkloric creatures or mythic beings that are near to a Vampire. However, each culture seems to have its own “twist” on the common creature. One of my favorites is the Greek Vrykolakas - whose journey from human to vampire, and their life afterwards, is totally unique.

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One doesn’t become a Vrykolakas by being bitten, in fact one can become a Vrykolakas fairly simply. It is said that if you live a sacrilegious life, were excommunicated, or were buried in unconsecrated ground that you run the risk of joining the undead. Of course, there is one more strange way to become a Vrykolakas...by eating mutton that was previously eaten by a werewolf.

The word “Vrykolakas” isn’t strictly vampiric in and of itself, and is actually linked to wolves! It is Slavic in origin and comes from the root words meaning “wolf.” According to ByLightUnseen.net, “he etymological leap from werewolf to vampire is obscure.” The earliest uses of the word seem to be around the mid-1600s. In 1645, Leo Allatius. According to Allatius, “The vrykolakas is an evil and wicked person who may have been excommunicated by a bishop. Its body swells up so that all its limbs are distended, it is hard, and when tapped it thrums like a drum.” It has also been reported, along with the rise of the Greek Orthodox Church, that the Vrykolakas had to do with evil (or the devil) inhabiting a body of the already-dead, causing it to move.

As I mentioned previously, the Vrykolakas does not turn those with a bite. Instead, it would spread death through disease. If you saw a Vrykolakas walking around town, you would immediately know your town was in mortal peril. In order to draw people out, it would knock on doors. Once a person opened the door, they would soon die. To this day in Greece, it is common in some places to not open the door until the second knock. However, it also seems that not all Vrykolakas wanted to kill everyone they came into contact with. Sometimes, Vrykolakas were people who had died unfortunate or violent deaths and had to attend to some unfinished business.

You can get rid of a Vrykolakas much the same way you’d get rid of an Eastern European vampire - a stake through the heart, some kind of impaling, cremating the corpse, etc. However, there Vrykolakas also has some times to poltergeist-like activity and the devil, so an exorcism is also said to work.

One infamous Vrykolakas was called Patino. Patino, before his turning, was a merchant from Patmos, who died while on a trip to Natolia. While being shipped home for proper burial, he was revived. Although his wife buried him with a funeral, he soon began appearing around town assaulting people, damaging property, and generally creating mayhem. In an effort to stop him, an exorcism was attempted and prayer was increases...unfortunately, this had no effect on Patino. Eventually, not sure what to do next, the village had his body exhumed and sent back to Natolia. During his travel back in the coffin, he terrified sailors and they decided to burn his corpse which finally ended the phenomena.

Another story is told by Phlegon, who lived during Emperor Hardrian’s rule.  Demostratus and Chrito’s daughter, Philinnon, died very young. About six months after her death, a strange woman was seen entering the living quarters of Machates, a young guest. Charito, confused, questioned Machates about his visitor. Machates, unaware of his hosts’ recent loss, said the girl’s name was Philinnon. He then went to his room to show the couple the things she had left behind, her breast band and her ring. To their horror, Philinnon’s parents recognized these belongings as their dead daughter’s. The next night, she returned to his room. Desperate to see their daughter, the couple rushed in only for her to regard them coldly and tell them that she had been given three days reprieve of death to visit with him but, because they had interrupted, she had to die again. In front of their eyes, their daughter’s body returned to its corpse-form. Despite trying to keep her return quiet, it was soon discovered and her burial vault was investigated. Philinnon’s grave held several favors from Machates, but no body.

 

 

The above image is unrelated to the story. It is by Henry Hemming, entitled Tomb  and was taken at the Kensal Green Cemetery in northwest London. It is liscensed under Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

North Berwick Witch Trials

North Berwick hugs the coast of East Lothian, not too far from Edinburgh, in Scotland. Today, if you walked along the streets there, you’d see a small and sleepy fishing town with lovely houses and kind people. This picturesque piece of land is also one of the sights of the most brutal and unforgiving Witch Trials in all of Scotland. In November 1590, David Seton accused his servant, Geillis Duncan, of being a witch. This one accusation was the very start of the now infamous North Berwick Witch Trials. Geillis Duncan was likely accused because she was a well-known healer in the area. Seton tortured Duncan and forced her to name other accomplices and witches.
 

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Geillis, the first to be accused, was a well-known healer in the area. She was suspected (and later accused) of being a witch because some of her healings worked too well, according to local townsfolk. She was officially accused and subsequently tortured by her employer, David Seton. Although at first she claimed innocence and no have no dalliance with the devil, after so much torture the young woman finally broke. She confessed that she was a witch, had sold her soul to the devil, and all of his masterful healings were work of the devil. However, there wasn’t enough for her accusers to be sated. They continued the torture until she would name her coven. Breaking, once again, she named several others...many of them healers in town. The people accused now fit the stereotypes we in the contemporary age are familiar with when it comes to witch-based accusations. For example, Barbara Napier who was the powerful widow of an Earl, Eupherria Maclean the daughter of a local lord, Agnes Sampson a midwife and healer, and Dr. John Fian, a local school master. All of Geillis’ confessions could not save her, though. Gellis Duncan was burned at the stake.

The exact number of the accused and murdered is unknown, however somewhere between 70-200 witches were accused during this time in North Berwick and from several surrounding areas. Young women, like Geillis, who were known healers soon found themselves swept up in the madness.  North Berwick became the epicenter of a rash of witch accusations and trials, with local gossip saying that the Devil met with many in the North Berwick churchyard at the witching hour. According to Witchcraft and Witches.com, “on Halloween of 1590, the Devil had the witches dig up corpses and cut off different joints or organs which were then attached to a dead cat and thrown into the sea in order to call up the storm which had nearly shipwrecked the King’s ship.” It is the implication that the witches of North Berwick had conspired against the king that would continue to raise the madness.

The reason James VI was in a ship in the first place was because he was journeying to Denmark for his new wife, Anne of Denmark in 1589. However, storms during the crossing proved too severe and the ship and the king were forced to retreat. James, unable to find a suitable solution, was convinced that his misfortune was caused by the menacing witches of North Berwick, which he had her rumors about.

James’ interest in witches, magic, and the occult is a very storied one and difficult to go into (and, honestly, deserves its own post) so, to make things simple here I will say that James wrote a book called “Daemonologie” which explored these strange subjects and some time later began a distinctive crusade against the wonders which he once wrote about.

Agnes Sampson, who I mentioned above, was personally inspected and interviewed by King James at his palace, Holyrood House. According to records, she was fastened to the wall of her cell with an iron instrument consisting of four sharp prongs forced into the mouth, two on the tongue and two on the cheeks. This instrument has many names, including the “Witch’s Bridle” and the “Scold’s Bridle.” If you think it would be hard to make a confession or defend yourself with this kind of contraption, you would be correct. After wearing this, being denied sleep, and other misfortunes she eventually confessed and was strangled and burned as a witch.

The trials in North Berwick would produce a pamphlet entitled “Newes from Scotland” which detailed the King’s role in the recent trials and began a rash of witch accusations, trials, and burnings.

 

This work is in the public domain in its country of origin and other countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 100 years or less. You can view it here.

Historically Horrible Houseguests

If you’re going to be a houseguest there are some easy rules to follow - don’t make a mess, don’t insult the host, and, perhaps most easy to follow, don’t kill anyone. Sadly, for a group of folks in Glencoe, Scotland in 1692 their houseguests decided to not follow these rules. In fact, they massacred their hosts, members of the MacDonald clan.

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Derek Alexander, the head of Archaeology at the National Trust for Scotland is leading a research team to find out why, in the late 17th century, the Glencoe branch of the well-known and respected MacDonald clan were brutally murdered.

In a new archaeological undertaking Alexander and his team will be “trying to find remains that tie the landscape to the story of the massacre.” The story, it seems, we do know.

In Glencoe, Scotland roughly 70-80 people, most linked to the MacDonald clan, lived in several farm settlements. These people lived a modest life by farming, raising cattle, and engaging in some light, but typical for the time, tribal stealing from other clans (usually cattle).

Their standard life took a major turn in early February, 1692 when two companies of soldiers (a total of roughly 120 men) came to Glencoe with orders to lodge there and throughout the valley. It was a duty of the people to house and feed soldiers, so this act in and of itself was not incredibly surprising.

However, after two relatively uneventful weeks the commanding officer of all the soldiers, Robert Campbell of Glenlyon, “carried out secret orders to "put all to the sword" in Glencoe.” The people of Glencoe and even the soldiers, seemed to have no idea of these gruesome orders.

On the night of February 13th, a brutal blizzard blew through Glencoe, causing whiteout conditions. It was during this time that, according to BBC, “systematically killing everyone they could. 38 lay dead the next morning, including the chief, MacIain. Many more escaped into the hills, some finding shelter before the elements could kill them, some, including MacIain’s elderly wife, dying on the mountainside.”

However, the low number (38 would be less than half the village) is attributed to soldiers being disgusted with their orders and horrified at an order towards people who had been taking care of them for two weeks and warning families ahead of time. Sadly, roughly 40 people froze to death before they could reach the safety of the next village, although some remained alive to tell the tale.

But what was the reason behind this horrific mass-murder? The village chief not swearing his oath of allegiance to the King. It was a punishment and warning to other Highlanders the price of not swearing fealty and acknowledging the king. Although, the villagers claimed that the reason for missing the deadline was not recklessness or a feeling of superiority, but heavy snow which cased travel delays. Others claimed it was a punishment for the rebellious Highlanders who were also Catholic.

The archaeological team from NTS is currently working through three sites, specifically three farm settlements where the remains of building foundations are. Although the researchers are still in the early stages at the sites, they hope to find the archaeological evidence that aligns with this mythic story.

The archaeological study and research is still in its early stages, and we will be sure to keep you updated!

 

This above image is entitled "Some sun breaks through onto the Buachaille Etive Mòr on an otherwise cloudy day" and is part of the Highlands, although not tied to the current archaeological search. It is by Graham Grinner Lewis and is liscensed under CC BY 2.0. 

Sachs Covered Bridge

Located in a bucolic stretch of Pennsylvania, one of its most historic covered bridges is also one of the country’s most haunted. Looking at the preserved bridge one would hesitate to call it haunted, as it looks like something out of a Thomas Kinkade painting. Sachs Covered Bridge in Gettysburg, designated Pennsylvania’s “most historic bridge" in 1938 and also on the National Register of Historic Places, has quite a storied, and potentially haunted history.

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Before it was haunted, it was a bridge built in 1852. Sach’s bridge is a “Town Truss” bridge, which is a lattice-like bridge. Almost ten years later, it became an important bridge during the Civil War. On July 1st, 1863 the bridge was crossed by I Corps of the Union Army marching towards Gettysburg. Just four days later, much of Robert E. Lee’s Army would retreat back over the bridge after the Union victory in the Battle of Gettysburg.

But not every Confederate soldier made it safely across the bridge. Rumor has it that three Confederate soldiers who had attempted to desert during Gettysburg were found and cut here. Perhaps even more interesting is that there is another rumor that these alleged Confederate soldiers were not deserters at all, but spies. Although neither story has been totally verified, many people who have had experiences at the bridge report hearing battle fire, screams of people that sound as if they’re being wounded and killed, and others have even reported seeing full-bodied and uniformed apparitions of these soldiers! Even more mention feeling cold spots and even seeing a strange, dark, and unexplainable mist.

This bridge is like many bridges in America, especially many covered bridges: haunted. What makes bridges so haunted? Why does every town - big and small alike, seem to have some sort of haunted bridge lurking just on the periphery?

In folklore, bridges often serve s important points in stories - where devils make deals, where trolls live, and especially where ghosts lurk. Is it because we come so close to being washed away should a wood plank give out or our cars fail on top? Is it because the “Imp of the Impure” calls us to the edge and asks what would happen if we jumped?

In my mind, I think it is because it is a liminal space. In between nature and man-made, danger and safety, and the known and the unknown, because we know where the road will take us but not the river.

This image was taken by Kevin A. Trostle and is liscensed under CC BY-SA 3.0. 

Am Fear Liath Mòr

You’ve heard of Yeti and Bigfoot...but what about Scotland’s take on a strange, hairy, large creature that craves solitude? Surprisingly there is one and he inhabits Scotland’s Ben Macdui mountain. His name, Am Fear Liath Mòr is his name, but he is also called the Fear Liath or the Big Grey Man.

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He is typically described as being very large (roughly 8-10 feet tall), his body is covered in short, coarse hair, and he has very broad shoulders. It is also reported that the creature is known to gesticulate wildly with long, ungainly arms. He is usually seen at the summit of Ben Macdui in the Cairngorm mountain, but there have been several sightings off the very top as well.

The most infamous account and sighting of this strange creature was, surprisingly, by a very well-respected scientist and Professor named Norman Collie. His colleagues remarked that he was an “unshakable man certainly not given to flights of fancy.”

At a meeting of the Cairngorm Club in 1925, he told the strange tale of his experience at Ben Macdui over 20 years ago, in 1891.

"I was returning from the cairn on the summit in a mist when I began to think I heard something else than merely the noise of my own footsteps. Every few steps I took I heard a crunch, then another crunch as if someone was walking after me but taking steps three or four times the length of my own. I said to myself 'this is all nonsense'. I listened and heard it again but could see nothing in the mist . As I walked on and the eerie crunch, crunch sounded behind me I was seized with terror and took to my heels, staggering blindly among the boulders for four or five miles nearly down to Rothiemurchus Forest. Whatever you make of it I do not know, but there is something very queer about the top of Ben MacDhui and will not go back there again by myself I know." - Norman Collie, Cairngorm Club, Aberdeen, Scotland, 1925

This is one of the earliest known sightings of Fear Liath, but, as Scotclans.com reports: “Having broken his silence Collie discovered that he was not the only person who had experienced something terrifying on these slopes. He received letters from other climbers who had also had this feeling of terror or in some cases who had seen a large dark shape coming towards them on the mountain. This sinister creature has become known as the “Fear Liath” or “Am Fear Liath Mòr”

One of these letters from Dr. A.M. Kellas, who shared his experience on Ben Macdui with his brother. According to ellas, his brother and him had just reached the summit when, shortly after, they saw a large figure making its way towards them. Frightened, even with the distance, the brothers fled when it went into a dip in the summit and made their way down, not wanting to bump into the strange, large creature again.

In a way, this creature seems more similar to the Yeti than Bigfoot in its intents. Like the Yeti, it inhabits a specific location and does not seem to completely hide themselves from humans. In fact, they may even take an interest in keeping humans alive (perhaps, in the mist, the Fear Liath was making sure the Professor was alright).

However, one thing that seems to be unique about Fear Liath, and, perhaps most sad, is the common report of “overwhelmingly negative energy, feelings of despair and fear to the point of those experiencing these feelings wanting to commit suicide.” Some even report a fleeting desire to jump off a cliff close by to many of the sightings called Lairg Ghru Pass. Although the creature, in reports, does not seem to do anything harmful or aggressive towards humans it creates an unshakable sense of dread that is enough to make climbers flee for their lives back down the mountainside.

Some scientists tackled this strange myth and came to an interesting conclusion, according to Historic Mysteries, “There is a phenomenon researchers call a Brocken Spectre, Brocken Bow or Mountain Spectre. It is a trick of light that plays on the eye which makes a person believe an enormous shadow creature is facing the observer. This optical illusion results when a projection of the observer’s own shadow reflects onto a misty mountainside or cloud bank opposite the sun.” Although, it does appear as if this has been tested or recreated on Ben Macdui. So, perhaps the Big Grey Man is up there waiting for you to come across him.

The above is an image of the "Roof of Scotland. Twinned with Mars. The barren lands around the head of the Allt a' Choire Mor just north of the summit of Ben MacDui. The usual route up passes through here, a tricky navigational challenge on a tourist hill. There is a higher place, but it's the area of very high ground that impresses here." taken by Richard Webb and is liscensed under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic.

Forget Mars, What About Venus?

While the search for life and a place where humans could go next, many minds drift towards Mars. But, what about the other planets? In a paper published on March 30th, 2018 in Astrobiology an international team of researcher laid out a case for “the atmosphere of venus as a possible niche for extraterrestrial life.” So, perhaps it could support us as well.

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How could a planet known so well as being a hothouse...according to Space.com “one-dry and hot enough to melt lead, with an atmospheric pressure 90 times greater than that of Earth at sea level.” ever support life? Well, as you may know there is a belief that Venus was once quite like Earth...roughly 2 billion years ago.

In the paper mentioned in introduction, the team presents a solid starting ground for why we should look at Venus, "Venus has had plenty of time to evolve life on its own," explains Limaye [the head of research for the paper], noting that some models suggest Venus once had a habitable climate with liquid water on its surface for as long as 2 billion years. "That's much longer than is believed to have occurred on Mars."

Even though Venus is subject to some extreme weather, it is not entirely impossible that there could not still be life lingering even on the surface. Take for example, an AL favorite: the water bear (tardigrades). Tardigrades’ ability to enter a state called cryptobiosis allows them to withstand extreme famine, heat, cold, and other inhospitable conditions. Shockingly, Tardigrades 30 years old were revived in a Japanese lab and not only did they live, they thrived an reproduced! Perhaps the tardigrades have a cousin up on Venus who can do the very same.

Even if life on the surface is non-existence, that doesn’t snuff out the light of the hope for life around Venus. Recently, there has been some research into the fact that there may not have been a climate-based extinction because its atmosphere and skies above are quite cozy, in fact, they are similar to Earth’s. Space.com posits, “ so it's possible that Venusian life — if it ever existed — didn't die out with the dramatic climate shift long ago but rather retreated into the clouds.”

However, there are some things we don’t quite know that still put Venus in question. For example, we’re not sure what the water situation is. In fact, there is a chance that the water on venus has been destroyed by “extensive lava flows in the last billion years…[which] likely have either destroyed or covered up the planet's earlier terrestrial history.

Cynthia Phillips, a planetary geologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California recently said, "I think we should really take another look at Venus,"




The above image is entitled "Artist's conception of a balloon probe" and is in the public domain.
 

Messages from the Grave

Cemeteries allow a host of meaning and activities to be grafted upon them. For some, they are a beautiful, bucolic place to memorialize loved ones, for others it is a place to go ghost hunting and catch a scare, others treat it as a place to learn more about the past, and for even mit is a final resting plce. Living human beings place many more activities, meanings, and symbolism onto graveyard and cemeteries...but what about the meaning that gravestones are showing us?

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Why shouldn’t we analyze headstones, cemeteries, and graveyards from the last 300 or so years with a similar care and interest that we show to burial mounds and graveyards of thousands of years past? How we mark our dead is a cultural phenomena that is easy to overlook and even easier not to think about...for who among us wants to plan the design of our tombstone? So springs the study, analysis, and interpretation of cemetery art. These symbols - from crosses to flowers - can tell us even more about the deceased than the written inscription on their stone. This is especially important when so much of the writing has become unreadable or never existed in the first place.

One of my favorite that I had come across was something I had seen several times before, but never quite understood it: a torch turned upside down. Why put such a puzzling image to mark someone’s final resting place? Well, because it symbolizes eternal life. How? Because despite it’s inverted position, the flame continues to burn on in defiance of natural laws. Perhaps people buried under these symbols were visionaries.

Plants and animals also play into the symbolism. For example, roosters and dolphins signify a resurrection. Lambs usually indicate the death of a child whereas owls symbolize wisdom and old age. Oaks highlight supernatural power, violets highlight faithfulness, and wreaths mean victory in death.

Another favorite was the butterfly. Perhaps it is my own bias peeking through but I always think butterflies seem quite cheesy. However, the Greek word for butterfly is “psyche.” If you’ve ever dabbled in Greek philosophy, you might know that psych is also the greek word for soul. To take it even a step further butterflies begin life as caterpillars, cocoon themselves (almost as if in a coffin), and remerge as butterflies. In a strange way, is the grave acting as some sort of cocoon for a grander experience?

Even more interesting, according to 99% Invisible, “Others symbols are tied to orders, institutions and professions, like stumps associated with the Woodmen of the World; squares and compasses with Masonic orders; a mortar and pestle with pharmacists; a palette and brush with artists; anvils with blacksmiths; anchors with sailors; and linked chains with the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.” Continuing on tha idea, Eagles often symbolize a military career.

Another element I find interesting are all the different symbols that hands in different positions can mean. Clasped hands are usually linked to faith and prayer. A hand with a pointed finger (either upwards or downwards) indicates mortality, a downward hand can also specifically represent a sudden or unexpected death. A hand holding a heart usually represents charity, whereas a hand holding a book highlights the “embodiment of faith.”  

What other symbols have you noticed are prevalent in cemeteries and graveyards? What do you think they could mean?

 

 

This image of the German cemetery in Sighișoara, Romania, taken by Myrabella. It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 4.0. 

Too Much of a Good Thing? The Planets of TRAPPIST-1

In our consistent search for life outside of our planet, we have found some surprisingly good candidates. One thing scientists look for is water. As far as we know, water is essential to life. On NASA’s website they write, “Water is essential at the molecular level to moving life beyond its basic building blocks; thus, searches for extraterrestrial life usually involve a search for liquid water.” But too much water might also be a problem.

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Cue TRAPPIST-1, a planetary system 39 light years away from the solar system. The planets were discovered thanks to the transit method (in which a telescope watches a star for small dips in brightness. These dips can let scientists know if an exoplanet is passing in front of it). The star is roughly the same size as Jupiter and there are believed to be at least 7 planets in orbit. All the planets “transit their star, meaning that they pass in front of it.” Most of the planets appear to be about as big as Earth and Venus, and, thanks some clever scientists, we can also deduce that these planets receive an amount of light similar to many of our solar system. Most importantly, these planets are in the “habitable zone”, meaning that liquid water could exist on the surface.

The planets are rocky and, as a new study suggests, have a lot of water...maybe even too much water, according to researchers from School of Earth and Space Exploration at Arizona State University.

The planets are called B, C, D ,E, F, G, H and some of them contain surprising amount of water. For example, B and c are believed to have around 10% water by mass. However, the further out planets F and G are roughly 50% water. Now, I know what you’re going to say…”But Earth is 70% water!” and, well, you’re right in a way. Earth’s surface area is 70% water...but it only accounts for .2% of its mass.

Basically, these planets could be insanely wet. Extreme Tech puts it in plain terms, “The outer planets would have more than 1,000 times the volume of water we have on Earth.” And while water seems to be a necessity of life...too much water “could impede the development of life because there are certain chemical processes that occur on dry land. In addition, the pressure of all that water pressing down on the mantle could prevent most volcanic activity. Without the carbon dioxide from volcanic activity, even planets in the habitable zone could have fallen victim to a runaway snowball effect.”

Although originally seen as a great place to further explore the possibility of life, the TRAPPIST-1 seems to be a less successful investigation. In a study published by the researchers in the journal Nature Astronomy they note, “With no exposed land, key geochemical cycles including the drawdown of carbon and phosphorus into oceanic reservoirs from continental weathering will be muted, thus limiting the size of the biosphere," the researchers wrote in the new study, which was published online today (March 19) in the journal Nature Astronomy. "As such, although these planets may be habitable in the classical definition of the presence of surface water, any biosignature observed from this system may not be fully distinguishable from abiotic, purely geochemical sources.”

Ultimately, the excess of water has the power to potentially shut down some of the needed geological processes that allow life to get its bearing on the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The above image is liscensed under Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Flickr User Driver Photographer.

The Green Lady of Caerphilly Castle

Sprawling across an impressive 30 acres, Caerphilly Castle is Wale’s largest castle. It began its life as a medieval fortress built between 1268-1271, by Gilbert de Clare. The castle’s design is based on a “concentric ring of walls, something not seen in Britain before. It also has an extensive ring of water defenses and huge gatehouses. This mammoth stronghold remains a striking testament to the Anglo-Norman domination of the area.” Its impressive age, size, and strength is legendary enough...but there is a ghost that haunts these halls. She is known as  the Green Lady of Caerphilly Castle.

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This story begins with Alice de la Marche of France, the niece of Henry II and wife of Earl Gilbert de Clare. Alice was a woman with refined tastes, a passionate nature, and had a bit of a wild side. This wild side caused some friction between her and her husband, as she “came to resent her husband’s warring disposition.”

On a seemingly normal day, Gruffudd the Fair (who was also Prince of Brithdir) visited the castle. He immediately caught Alice’s eye and she quickly became enamored with this handsome, well-spoken prince. Before long, the two were lovers. Unfortunately for the secret couple, Gruffudd, unable to handle his guilt, confessed his secret relationship to a monk. This monk was loyal to de Clare, who he quickly informed.

Seeing red due to his anger, he immediately sent his wife back to Franche and ordered his men to hunt down Gruffudd.

Gruffudd, who was forewarned of de Clare’s search, also succumbed to anger and revenge. He hunted down the monk that shared his secret with de Clare and hung him from a tree. Not long after this excursion, de Clare’s man caught up to him. Just a short time later, Gruffudd would also be hanging.

Soon after, a page was sent to inform Alice of her lover’s demise at her husband’s hands. Unable to handle the fact that she helped cause her lover’s death, she dropped dead. Although she died in France, it is said her ghost returned to Caerphily Castle to haunt its great ramparts.

After a few weeks of investigating the Lady in White stories, I was surprised to come and find an interesting sub-genre of Lady in Green stories. Although the above story does share some similar stories to Lady in White stories, Lady in Green stories seem to 1) take place in castles and 2) involve some royal or noble lineage.

Back to Alice, though. She is dressed in green, representative of her husband’s envy, and she wanders the halls in silent solitude. Some say she is stuck in purgatory for her sins, others say she is waiting to meet once again with Gruffudd, and still more say she is still in shock...even all these days later.

Other accounts also give her a unique ability -ability to turn herself into ivy. If you spy her through her guise and she likes you, she will reach out to shake your hand and vanish shortly after.

The cover image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. You can view it here.






 

Brownies Make Finicky (but useful) Roomates

On the blog we cover a lot of strange things from strange animal evolution to haunting entities that have allegedly scared people to death. Something we don’t cover enough? The sweeter side of folklore. So, today we dive into one of my favorite house buddies - the Brownies

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Much of the Brownie folklore is centered in Scotland, specifically the Highlands and several Islands. Much of this is because there is quite a bit of farmland in these places. You know what kind of residences need a lot of help? You guessed it, farmers! The Brownies main job is helping out these fine folk who have tough days and could use an extra helping hand around the house and barn.

Brownies are usually classed as a kind of Fairy. More specifically, they’re a “Hob”, also known as a house spirit. According to Witchcraft Today: An Encyclopedia of Wiccan and Neopagan Traditions Brownies were said, “to be short (about three feet tall) and ragged, with pointed ears, brown complexions, and brown clothes.” Furthermore, “Brownies are traditionally portrayed as intelligent beings who seek out deserving people to serve.”

They tend towards the most “deserving” families, hard-workers who could use a helping hand. To the households they worked for, they didn’t just help with household chores...they also brought luck to the farm. The happier they were (usually aided by cakes and saucers of milk) the luckier the family would be. However, if they go on the bad side of Brownies...it could get a little hairy. And, Brownies are particular. While they do love sweet treats, honey, and milk they do not like to see this as payment for their actions. In fact, if you try to pay them they might get so upset they leave! It is best to do it naturally and as a thoughtful action instead of a cold transaction.

Brownies are nocturnal and do much of their helpful chores and tasks at night. In fact, some folklore claims “that the cock crows not in order to awaken humans but to tell Brownies that it is time to retire.”

 

If you are interested in attracting a Brownie, there are a few things you can do:

  • Live in a rural area (especially on a farm or near a mill)

  • Live in a place with lots of hiding places for the creatures to sleep durng the day and remain unseen.

  • Make sure your house is cozy

But, before you want to attract a Brownie be wary that they are fickle creatures and that upsetting or offending them can end badly for you. Brownies are loyal creatures and stay at a residence for quite some time. There is one specific Brownie that lived in Leithenhall in southern Scotland. It was rumored that the Brownie had lived at the residence for nearly 300 years and each time someone new took over, the Brownie would present himself and make himself known.

However, once when the residence was changing hands it stood empty for several years. The Brownie, not ready to leave, grew hungry and cold. He was quite sad over the death of the previous owner and longed for busy work and a new family to take care of.

When the new owner finally arrived, the Brownie excitedly presented himself to him. The new owner was quite shocked at the appearance of the unusually lonely and haggard Brownie. He ordered his fleet of servants to get the Brownie new clothes, food, and comfort. Although this was done in kindness, the Brownie immediately took offense and deserted the hall. Shortly after, Leithenhall fell into ruin.

So while Brownies may seem the like the perfect extra roommate you might have to walk on eggshells (and always have a little extra milk) to keep them happy and your luck and life in good standing.

 

This is an image from  title, "Queen's Treasure Series, The Brownie" -- which you can read here! No known copyright restrictions. 

Thismia neptunis Re-Emerges from the Underworld

Thismia neptunis, after 150 years of invisibility has returned to view. The flower comes from a family of plants often referred to as ‘Fairy Lanterns’. Thismia neptunis is notable for many things including the fact that it is a mycoheterotroph. Mycoheterotrophs are flowering plants that have abandoned photosynthesis, making them parasitic plants.

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Mycoheterotrophs have to derive their nutrients from another plant, which is why many call them ‘parasitic’. Because the Thismia neptunis does not need to rely on photosynthesis it is able to live underground and away from sunlight. Thismia neptunis, “obtain [its] nutrition indirectly from the plant via a mycorrhizal fungus.” This fungus attaches itself to the photosynthetic plant and acts as a bridge between the plant and Thismia neptunis so that nutrients can flow from plan root to the fungus bridge and finally to the Thismia neptunis.

Thismia neptunis was first recorded 151 years ago by an Italian botanist named Odoardo Beccari. While on a trip to the jungles of Malaysia he stumbled across the supremely alien looking Thismia neptunis. The Thismia neptunis la on the rich, wet dirt of the rainforest in an area called Matang massif, alongside a river. Although he was sure it was a plant...it was unlike any plant he had ever come across. It had no leaves, no chlorophyll, and didn’t appear to perform photosynthesis. Furthermore, it also appeared to flourish underground. To Beccari, it seemed more like a fungus...or even an insect.

The plant itself was odd looking, to say the least. It has a creamy, white stem that poked up from the ground ever-so-slightly. The bulb on top almost looks like a dirty q-tip (seriously). It is pale with orange coloring at the top, and, at the very top of the bulb...an opening “like the mouth of a sea-worm.” One of the most interesting aspects of the flower are the three “red, hairy appendages sticking straight up like a shrimp’s long antennae from flat protrusions around the bulb -- part of its pollen-producing organ.” Underneath the stem is a simple root system whose aim is to collect nutrients from underground fungi.

On his 1866 trip, Beccari did not have a camera to document his findings. So, he illustrated the strange plant and made several notes on this new, bizarre species. After this, the strange plant was never seen or documented again.

Recently, however, the Thismia neptunis has come back to greet us. In a new paper published in the academic journal, Phyotaxa on Feburary 21st, 2018 a group of Czech researchers believe it is “only the second finding of the species in total."

Thismia neptunis lives most of its life underground and only appears above-ground when it flowers...and flowering is rare. Although we don’t know for sure it is possible that blooms only appear a few weeks at a time or, potentially, not even every year.

The researchers who recently re-discovered the plant still aren’t quite sure how the plant pollinates. But, interestingly enough, two different species of dead flies were found inside the flower. It is surmised that these may act as pollinators.

Finding Thismia neptunis is part of an on-going research effort to discover “long-lost” plants and flowers. Researchers on this project hope that they may continue discovering more long-lost lants from Beccari’s time in Malaysia. There is hope that this goal could be accomplished, thanks to the fact that where Beccari once researched and where the scientists are now “has remained largely undisturbed.”

 

 

the image above: Thismia neptunis Becc. Beccari, O., Malesia, vol. 1: t. 11, fig. 6 (1877-1883) [O. Beccari]. It is in the public domain. 

Tardigrade Update: A New Type of Tardigrade Revealed!

At Astonishing Legends, we love waterbears, also known as tardigrades. Seriously! You can read another AL blog post that goes over them here. Naturally, we like to stay abreast with all tardigrade updates and there was a particularly notable one at the end of February 2018. A new type of tardigrade has been discovered!

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Scientists recently discovered an entirely new species of tardigrades living amongst the moss on the surface of a Japanese parking lot. How did these creatures hiding in plain sight go undiscovered for so long? Well...why would you look for a tardigrade in a parking lot?

Luckily, a bioscientist named Kzuharu Arakawa, moved into an apartment complex that used this parking lot. Curiosity likely got the best of this bioscientist and one day he decided to take a sample of moss from the building’s parking lot for analysis.

Furthermore, and even luckier, Arakawa actually studies the molecular biology of tardigrades! Arkaware told LiveScience, "Most of [the] tardigrade species were described from mosses and lichens—thus any cushion of moss seems to be interesting for people working on tardigrades," Arakawa told LiveScience in an email. But, he said, "it was quite surprising to find a new species around my apartment!”

This newfound tardigrade has been named ‘Macrobiotus shonaicus” and is the 168th species that has been discovered in Japan. There are roughly 1,200 species of tardigrades overall.

Arakawa notes that he rounteily samples moss he finds around town, but simply got lucky with the discovery in his parking lot. Another special thing, he noted, was that the tardigrades he discovered were not only able to survive in a laboratory environment, but they could also reproduce in them which is rare.

The eggs of  this tardigrade (Macrobiotus shonaicus) are also of note. Its eggs “have a solid surface and flexible filaments protruding outwards, similar to those of two other recently described species, M. paulinae from Africa and M. polypiformis from South America.” Furthermore, Scientific American reports that these eggs are studded with “miniscule, chalice-shaped protrusions, each of which is topped with a ring of delicate, noodle-like filaments. ” It is guessed that these filaments may aid in the egg attaching to the surface where its laid.

Another strange thing about its reproduction, “M. shonaicus has two sexes, where other tardigrades that are culturable in labs have been mostly parthenogenetic (females reproduce by themselves without male population)."

We can’t wait to see what we learn next about these fascinating creatures!

 

Image: A new species of tardigrade, Macrobiotus shonaicus, has been discovered in Japan. Image: D. Stec et al., 2018

Ravens Are Evolving

Ravens have been harbingers of doom, witches’ familiars, and dastardly throughout folkloric history.  And, like ravens themselves, their evolutionary path has been anything but cut and dry.

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Speciation is fairly commonplace and well known theory in evolution. Speciation is when one species diverges into two. Creatures produced through speciation are common and well known in our daily life - finches, croatian lizards, and squirrels that live in the rims of the Grand Canyon are all examples. A new species is not able to reproduce with members of the original population.

But, ravens are changing that. Scientists have recently discovered that distinctly separate lineages of ravens, which have evolved separately for about 1-2 million years, now appear to be consolidating. In other words, it appears as if raven’s are involved in speciation reversal.

The study that discovered this utilized DNA samples from ravens over a period of about 20 years. The evidence they present shows that common ravens on the western coast of North America have split into 3 genetically distinct groups. However, two of these lineages “appear to be in the process of melding back into one, scientists report Thursday in the journal Nature Communications.”

According to National Geographic,  “two lineages—or groups that were on their way to becoming separate species—become one. Scientists call this “reticulate evolution,” says Kearns, and it’s been seen in only a handful of other species, including finches and two kinds of fish.” These species, specifically, are the Holartic and California lineages.

The study involved a genetic analysis of 400 birds spanning the geographical range of he two two populations. It now appears that the two populations have combined to create a hybrid of two original linages. According to the Guardian, “the pure California type no longer exists)”

Despite these revelations the birds seem to exhibit the same behavior, they sound the same, and do no seem to continue interbreeding with the other two groups, despite the possibility since their geographical ranges overlap.

Scientists are currently investigating what prompted the merger between the two populations. Overall, this finding reveals just how complicated biology really is...as it seems to suggest that we might need to rethink some things we thought were set in stone.

This is an image of "A Northwestern Crow at Stanley Park, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada." It is liscensed under CC BY-SA 2.0. It was taken by Snowmanradio


 

The West Virginia Penitentiary

Located in Moundsville, West Virginia The West Virginia Penitentiary has been listed “on the top ten list of the Department of Justice’s as one of the “most violent.” Originally established in 1866, Moundsville’s walls housed over 100 years worth of inmates. Although the last of the inmates were relocated in 1995, some say ghosts of time past still wander the building. Also, like many buildings of this time, although it was originally only built for 480 prisoners by the 1930s there were usually a total of 2,400. In fact, sometimes three prisoners would be assigned to one 5x7 cells.

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Due to the overcrowding riots, escapes, murders, and uninhabitable conditions were common place. Roughly 36 murders took place within the walls and 94 men were executed. Not to mention, the instruments of torture that lay behind the prison’s captivating acade. Specifically, the kicking jenny which was “an instrument invented and built in the prison. It is made somewhat in the shape of a quarter-circle, with the highest end about three or four feet above the platform upon which it is set. The prisoner is stripped naked and bend over upon the machine.” After this,  “His feet are fastened to the floor with ropes, while his hands, which are stretched over the upper end, are tied with roped attached to small blocks, by which a tension so strong that the frame of the prisoner can almost be torn in two can be made with a slight pull.” Finally, “after the prisoner is placed in position the Superintendent, or whoever does the whipping, takes a heavy whip, made of sole leather, two pieces of which, about three feet long, are sewed together, and the ends scraped slightly rounding, the lash being three inches broad at the handle, tapering to a point. With the whip, the prisoner is beaten until he is almost dead, or the strength of the man who is doing the whipping gives out."

Hauntings are nothing new in Moundsville. In fact, they were reported as early as the 1930s. The first report came from guards on duty and not necessarily the prisoners. Guards would often report that they saw inmates “walking freely on the grounds so alarms were sounded.” Once the alarms were tripped, the area was investigated. However, no one ever found the inmates wandering around that were reported by guards or had seemingly tripped the alarm. The repeated false sightings became increasingly common and the reputation of the haunted prison increased.

Like many haunted buildings throughout America, it is rumored that the prison was constructed upon land that once was a burial ground for Native Americans. So many believed that this was the cause for the negative energy and hauntings that the ground of the prison has been blessed many times. However, it is rumored that an unknown curse remains as punishment for disturbing the rest of the dead.

One of the most frightening haunts of the old prison is a being referred to as ‘Shadow Man’. The name comes from this spirit’s practice of lurking amongst the dark corners of the prison, casting his shadow and darkness among the halls and cells of the building. According to witness reports, the Shadow Man has no visible features. Witnesses also report feeling very intimidated when seeing this being. Although his identity is unknown, many speculate he may be a guard that used to check on the cells and walk the halls and life. Others believe he may be an inmate trying to find a way out of the darkness.

Red Snider is another spirit who can’t seem to leave. He was murdered while in prison and some say he can still be seen wandering the halls. “A man that worked on a haunted house in the prison claimed that while he was walking around with his tools, someone, not living, grabbed him by his arm. The man maintained when questioned that nobody else was near him during this event.”

There are several areas known as particular hot spots among ghost hunters and tour guides of the prison. Some of these places are to be expected, such as the North Wagon Gate which is where death row inmates were taken to be hung, Death row itself, and the chapel. One interesting area that is also reportedly haunted is the ‘Sugar Shack’. The Sugar Shack was a recreation room in the basement to be used when prisoners could not go outside due to adverse conditions. In this room there are often reports of chatter and cold spots.

The building is one of the most haunted places in West Virginia, and potentially all of America.


This image is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. It was taken by Rhonda Humphreys. More information can be found here.