April 28, 2012

The Mysterious Broadcasts of Number Stations

Number Stations
On certain shortwave radio frequencies, anyone with the appropriate equipment can hear strange, artificial voices reciting endless strings of numbers, words, letters, or even Morse code that seemingly make no sense.

These broadcasts usually adhere to strict schedules and are spoken in a variety of languages. The toneless voices reading these messages are often female, though sometimes men’s or children’s voices are heard as well. Occasionally the transmissions contain even weirder elements, such as strange music or intonation.

Radio enthusiasts have dubbed the unexplainable broadcasts ”Number Stations”, and they have been observed at least since World War II. However, according to the Conet Project, a group that distributes recordings of these stations, the Number Stations’ transmissions have been going on since World War I. That would make them some of the oldest radio broadcasts in the world.

Despite efforts to track these broadcasts down, nobody has been able to definitively pinpoint their sources. In the few cases that a suspected site has been found, no one has been there to meet the explorers. No radio station or government has claimed responsibility for the stations, and their purpose remains uncertain. Naturally, many theories have popped up, ranging from the highly viable to the absurdly fantastical.

The most popular and likely theory is that the Number Stations are used by various Secret Services to relay orders to operatives inserted into hostile territories. With powerful enough transmitters, the coded message could be received anywhere in the world with simple equipment, and only the agent in possession of the key would be able to decrypt it. Even in today’s age of computer communications, this would be one of the most foolproof ways of communicating without leaving traces.

Some others speculate that the Number Stations are used by drug smugglers. After all, drug trafficking operations may well be organized enough to use such means.

Many of the Number Stations are likely explained by spy activity. However, some are just too weird to be unravelled quite so easily. Among them are the stations known as UVB-76 and the Backward Music Station.

UVB-76 transmits short, monotonous buzzing sounds around 25 times a minute, and it has been heard constantly, without interruption since at least 1982 – apart from certain occasions, that is. On Christmas Eve in 1997, the tone was interrupted for the first time by a Russian voice reciting names and numbers. A few similar interruptions happened on extremely rare occasions since then, until the activity suddenly picked up in 2010.

As if that wasn’t mysterious enough, it seems the buzzes are coming from something placed near a live microphone – distant conversations and other background noises can often be heard behind the tone. Despite much speculation, the purpose of UVB-76 is unknown.

The Backward Music Station broadcasts unearthly high-pitched schreeching and grinding noises, with occasional distorted voices. These signals appear to have multiple sources, with one possibly being in the US and the other in Europe. Theories include that it may be a highly encrypted message for spies, or possibly just feedback due to faulty equipment. Nevertheless, its purpose remains a mystery.

The Number Station broadcasts recorded by the Conet Project are available freely.

Image by Oroi at the German language Wikipedia

April 24, 2012

Devil's Stomping Ground

Devil's Stomping Ground
According to stories dating back to the 1800s, a spot in the woods near Bennett, North Carolina is where the Devil can rise from the depths of hell and come to earth. There he paces in circles on certain nights, plotting new horrors to unleash upon mankind and bringing evil into our world.

This place, called the Devil’s Stomping Ground, is a barren, circular patch of land about 15 feet across. Supposedly, the spot is hostile to life, as nothing can grow in the circle and animals shy away from it – one visitor’s dog choked itself on its leash trying to get away from the center. Others claim to have witnessed small animals dying on its edge. Furthermore, the state’s Department of Agriculture once analyzed a sample of the soil and determined it to be completely sterile due to a high salt content.

It is said that no one can spend the night inside the Devil’s Stomping Ground. According to the legend, anyone that tries will find themselves and their belongings moved outside the circle come morning. The same applies to items – many locals swear that anything left in the circle overnight is moved by morning.

In 1998, a sceptical journalist named Ethan Feinsilven decided to disprove the stories by pitching his tent in the spot and spending the night there. Indeed, he was able to stay in the circle until morning, but the night was constantly disturbed by ”ghostly”, ”kind of muffled” footsteps, as he described them. He came out of the experience conviced that there was indeed something sinister in the area.

One alternative theory states that the spot’s phenomena are caused vengeful spirits. Native Americans were supposedly massacred and buried there hundreds of years ago, and their spirits now haunt the place, killing everything that lingers on their graves for too long.

Whether the Devil’s Stomping Ground is a mere myth brought to life by people’s imaginations or a genuinely otherworldly place is quite uncertain. If you want to find out for yourself, directions are here.

Image by opus2008

April 16, 2012

The Cursed Devil's Tree

The Devil's Tree in Bernard's Township, New Jersey
Standing in Oak Hammock Park in Bernards Township, New Jersey is an unusual and sinister oak tree, commonly referred to as the Devil’s Tree. According to local legends, unexplainable things happen near it, and many deaths and suicides are said to have occurred under its branches.

Some people have reported feeling an oppressive, evil presence near the tree, hearing screams and seeing dark, hooded figures skulking about. Others claim to have been pursued by a black phantom car that disappears without a trace as you approach a major road.

Damaging or disrespecting the tree in any way is said to have severe consequences. Those who so much as make mocking remarks within hearing range will soon come to harm, possibly by getting into a car accident or by experiencing a major breakdown.

Strangely enough, when the city ordered the tree cut down to make way for a public park, the workers’ chainsaws refused to function near it – but were perfectly fine later. Not about to give up so easily, they brought in an old-fashioned pull saw made of tempered steel. The attempt failed again; the teeth broke right off the saw, and the city had no choice but to leave the tree where it was.

Why is this innocuous oak such a hub for strange happenings? Some people believe the tree is the property of the Devil himself and serves as a gateway to hell. It supposedly remains warm to the touch no matter how cold it is outside, and no snow will fall near it even in the middle of winter.

Others still say that the malevolence around the tree is caused by the lingering pain and despair of all those who have met their untimely ends in its vicinity. During colonial times, rebellious slaves may have been hanged from its branches, and in the Ku Klux Klan’s height of power, the organization supposedly held meetings and lynchings under it. Yet another legend states that a man killed his entire family, then walked to the tree and hanged himself.

Despite the warnings, the Devil’s Tree is scarred by apparently unsuccessful attempts to cut it down with saws and axes, and it has at some point been stained by graffiti. What became of those who vandalized this cursed tree is not known.

Image by chrysostom

April 13, 2012

Yuki Onna - Woman of the Snow

Yuki Onna using her icy breath
Yuki Onna (literally Snow Woman) is a feminine spirit of snow and ice in Japanese folklore. Seen in remote areas at night during snowstorms, she is described as a tall, beautiful woman with long black hair and inhumanly pale, even translucent skin. Some tales depict her as wearing a white kimono, while in others she appears nude.

Yuki Onna floats across the snowy landscape, leaving no footprints. In fact, in some accounts, she doesn’t have feet at all, a common characteristic for Japanese ghosts. She might be the ghost of a woman who froze to death in a snowstorm, or maybe a spirit of the snow itself.

Despite her beauty, Yuki Onna is a deadly entity, ruthlessly killing unsuspecting humans who cross her path. She often appears to travelers lost in snowstorms, breathing a gust of frosty air to turn them into frozen corpses. At other times, she leads them astray to die from exposure. She may even appear holding a child, and when a well-intentioned individual takes it from her, they will instantly be frozen solid. Sometimes she tempts men with sex, only to drain them of life or freeze them to death through a kiss.

Yuki Onna does have a softer side. For example, in one popular legend she lets a young boy, Minokichi, go because of his beauty and age, threatening to kill him if he ever tells anyone about her. A year later, Minokichi marries a beautiful girl named Oyuki and has many children with her over several years. Strangely, she does not seem to age at all.

One night, after the children have gone to bed, Minokichi tells Oyuki of the time he saw the Snow Woman:  "Asleep or awake, that was the only time that I saw a being as beautiful as you. Of course, she was not a human being; and I was afraid of her, very much afraid; but she was so white! . . . Indeed, I have never been sure whether it was a dream that I saw, or the Woman of the Snow."

Oyuki suddenly stands up and bows over him, screaming "It was I - I - I! Oyuki it was! And I told you then that I would kill you if you ever said one word about it! . . . But for those children asleep there, I would kill you this moment! And now you had better take very, very good care of them; for if ever they have reason to complain of you, I will treat you as you deserve!"

Then she dissolves into white mist and disappears, never to be seen again.

Image by yazukiwolf

April 8, 2012

The Vanishment of Orion Williamson

The Vanishment of Orion Williamson
Orion Williamson was a farmer who lived with his wife and son in his farmhouse in Selma, Alabama. One sunny July afternoon in 1854, he was sitting on his front porch with his family. As neighbors, Armour Wren and his son James, were passing by, Orion stood up to move his grazing horses to the shade. He briefly stopped to pick up a small stick, which he absently swished back and forth as he walked in the ankle-deep grass.

Orion waved to his neighbors, took one step, and vanished into thin air.

Hardly able to believe their eyes, the Williamsons and the Wrens ran to the spot Orion disappeared in and searched for any sign of him. They found none. Most of the grass in the spot was gone too.

After hours of futile searching, Orion’s shocked family and neighbors went for help. A search party of three hundred men was formed, and they carefully and repeatedly combed every inch of the field. Later, bloodhounds joined the search. No sign of Orion materialized, even though the effort continued well into the night.

As news of the inexplicable vanishment spread, more volunteers and a team of geologists arrived. They dug up the field to see if the ground was in any way unstable or unusual. There was only solid rock a few feet below the surface. No holes, crevices or cave-ins, nothing that could explain the event.

Reportedly, Mrs. Williamson and her son could hear Orion’s voice calling for help for weeks afterwards, growing fainter and fainter. Each time they would rush out onto the field, only to find nothing. Gradually, Orion’s voice faded into a mere whisper, then disappeared forever.

After no amount of searching turned up anything, the judge declared Orion dead.

The following spring, it is said, a circle of dead grass appeared to mark the spot of the unlucky farmer’s disappearance.

The German scientist, Maximilian Hern, author of the book Disappearance and Theory Thereof, speculated that Orion walked into a spot of “universal ether”. He believed these places lasted a few seconds and could completely destroy all matter within them. Another scientist theorized a magnetic field had disintegrated Orion’s atomic structure and sent him into another dimension. To me, that sounds even less likely than “goblins did it”.

Years later, a traveling salesman named McHatten rewrote the Williamson disappearance. In his story, Orion’s name became David Lang, the place changed to Gallatin and the date was moved to 1880.

Even though the Lang story is fictional apart from the basic facts, it has been presented as true in newspaper aticles and books by authors who didn’t do their homework. Consequently, it is better known than the real vanishment behind it.

Image by Sam T

April 6, 2012

Dyatlov Incident

Igor Dyatlov, Lyudmila Dublinina and Yuri Yudin.
The Dyatlov Incident is one of the greatest unsolved mysteries of modern times. Numerous theories have been proposed by forensics experts and armchair investigators alike, but nobody has been able to put forward a satisfying explanation for what happened in the northern Urals 50 years ago.

On 23 January 1959, a group of ten people, most of them students or graduates of the Ural Polytechic Institute, set out on a skiing expedition to the northern Ural mountains. The eight men and two women arrived by train at the town of Ivdel on January 25 and continued by truck to the far northern settlement of Vizhai. From there the group began a trek through the snowy wilderness between them and their destination, the Otorten mountain.

The route was classed as Category III at that time of the year, which meant the highest level of difficulty. However, all members of the party were experienced in cross-country skiing and mountaineering, especially their leader, Igor Dyatlov. There was nothing unusual in their group undertaking such an expedition. The plan was for the skiers to return to Vizhai by 12 February and send a telegram to the Instutute, confirming their safe arrival.

Everything went as planned until 28 January, when Yuri Yudin suddenly became ill and had to turn back, leaving the other nine to go on without him. That was the last time he saw his friends alive.

The skiers setting up their last camp.
The remaining group continued on through the uninhabited lands of the native Mansi people for the following four days. On 1 February, they began climbing the pass to Otorten after setting up a base in a woody valley near the river Auspia. Most likely they intended to make camp for the night on the other side of the pass. However, worsening weather conditions and decreasing visibility caused them to deviate west, and they eventually pitched their tent on the slopes of the mountain Kholat Syakhl.

It is not clear why they chose this spot when they could have found shelter from the harsh elements in a forest just 1.5 kilometers down the mountain. “Dyatlov probably did not want to lose the distance they had covered, or he decided to practice camping on the mountain slope,” speculated Yudin later.

The last diary entries show that the group was in high spirits. They had even produced their own newspaper, a common Soviet way of bonding.

When the telegram failed to arrive on 12 February, no one was overly worried. After all, a few days’ delay was not unusual on such an expedition. But when there was still no word from the students several days later, concerned relatives raised the alarm. On 20 February, the Institute sent out a search party consisting of teachers and students, followed by the planes and helicopters of the police and the army.

The hikers' damaged tent at Dyatlov's Pass.
Rescuers found the abandoned tent on 26 February. It had been cut open from the inside with slashes large enough for a person to fit through, and the group’s belongings were found inside. A set of footprints belonging to nine or eight people was discovered in the meter-deep snow, leading away from the tent. The prints had been left by people who had been wearing only socks, a single shoe, or who were barefoot. No evidence of struggle or the presence of outsiders was found.

The footprints led 500 meters down the slope toward a nearby forest, where they disappeared. At the edge of the woods, under a large pine tree, searchers found two bodies - Yuri Krivonischenko and Yuri Doroshenko, shoeless and dressed only in their underwear - along with the remains of a fire. The branches of the tree were broken up to the height of five meters, suggesting someone had climbed it.

300 meters toward the tent, Dyatlov’s body was found lying on his back, looking in the direction of the camp and clutching a branch. 180 meters further was the body of Rustem Slobodin, and 150 meters from him lay Zina Kolmogorova. All three seemed to have been trying to return to the camp.

A criminal investigation was opened, but authorities failed to find any evidence of foul play. All five were determined to have died of hypothermia, and while Slobodin had a small fracture in his skull, it was not considered fatal.

It was two months later that the remaining four skiers were found.

The bodies of Nicolas Thibeaux-Brignollel, Ludmila Dubinina, Alexander Zolotaryov and Alexander Kolevatov were found in a ravine 75 meters from the pine tree in the opposite direction from the camp, covered in four meters of snow. Three of them had suffered traumatic deaths - Thibeaux-Brignollel’s skull was crushed and Dubunina and Zolotarev had several broken ribs. Dubunina was also missing her tongue.

Despite the severe injuries, there were no external wounds, and the doctor who examined the bodies said they couldn’t have been caused by another human. Besides, there was no evidence of hand-to-hand struggle. Some of the corpses were wrapped in strips of ripped clothes, apparently taken from the bodies of the first to die.

Initially, the investigators explored the possibility that the Mansi people had killed the skiers in retaliation for trespassing on their lands. Such a thing was not unheard of; in the 1930s, Mansi shamans drowned a female geologist who had climbed a mountain considered forbidden by the tribe. However, the theory fell flat due to a complete lack of evidence. The suggestions that the group might have run into a gang of criminals were also rejected for the same reason.

No explanation for the deaths was ever found. Soviet officials determined that the skiers had died due to an “unknown compelling force”, the investigation was closed and the files were sent to a secret archive. Access to the area was restricted for three years.

The area where the group of nine set up their last camp was officially named Dyatlov’s Pass and the incident became known as the Dyatlov Incident (or the Dyatlov Pass Incident).

For over 30 years, there were no new insights into the incident. The case files were finally declassified in the 1990s. What was found only deepened the mystery.

Tests done on the bodies and the clothes had revealed a high level of radioactivity, as if the group had been in contact with radioactive materials or been in a radioactive area.

Even more strangely, the files contained reports of “bright flying spheres” in the area from multiple eyewitnesses, including the weather service and the military. “I suspected at the time and am almost sure now that these bright flying spheres had a direct connection to the group’s death,” said the chief investigator, Lev Ivanov.

Yury Kuntsevich, who was 12 years old at the time and would later become the head of the Dyatlov Foundation, an organization based in Yekaterinburg attempting to solve the mystery, attended five of the skiers’ funerals. Later he recalled: “I attended the funerals of the first five victims and remember that their faces looked like they had a deep brown tan.”

One of the metal fragments Kuntsevich discovered.
Yuri Yudin believed that his friends had stumbled across a secret military testing site and had either been killed by an experiment gone awry, or been silenced in a cover-up. Kuntsevich agreed. He led an expedition to the area in 2007 and discovered a number of metal fragments, which led him to believe the Soviet military had conducted experiments there at some point. “We can’t say what kind of military technology was tested, but the catastrophe of 1959 was man-made,” he said.

What could have driven nine experienced mountaineers half-dressed to the Siberian winter and the cold death they must have known would await them? It is likely there will never be a definitive answer for what really happened to the group in that remote mountain pass 50 years ago.

There is a Dyatlov Pass movie in the works in which American students return to investigate the incident decades later.

April 3, 2012

Island of the Dolls

Island of the Dolls, called La Isla de la Munecas by localsAmid the winding canals of Mexico City’s Xochimilco district, there is an island with strange inhabitants. So strange, in fact, that they are quickly becoming infamous worldwide. Hanging from the branches and trunks of almost every tree on the small island are countless mutilated dolls in various states of decay, their sightless glass eyes giving visitors the unnerving feeling of constantly being watched. The place has come to be called La Isla de la Munecas, the Island of the Dolls.

As you can probably guess, there is a story behind how these creepy occupants came to the island.

In the late 1950s, a man named Don Julian Santana became weary of his fellow man and began seeking a peaceful refuge away from other people. At some point, he found a small island south of Mexico City and made up his mind to settle there.

But his solitude was short-lived. The voice of a little girl who had drowned on the island began whispering to him, he claimed, bearing a message whose exact contents are up for debate. Soon enough, Julian began scouring the surroundings for discarded dolls and fishing them from the canals. People at first thought he was an insane old man, rescuing the dolls in the belief they were children he could nurse back to health. In truth, he was placing them all over the island and around his home to appease the spirit he believed was haunting him. He even traded home grown fruits and vegetables for old dolls.

In 2001, Julian’s nephew, Anastasio Velazquez, found him floating face down in a canal, almost at the exact same spot where the girl who had been haunting him had died. Julian’s cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, but some believe he had finally followed the instructions of the whispering voices and entered the murky waters, never to emerge again.

It is said that the dolls on the island come to life at night, moving under their own power and tempting travelers to visit their home in the dark, deadly waters. True or not, the Island of the Dolls is a peculiar and inreasingly popular tourist attraction, bringing in daily visitors and the occasional television program makers.

Image by Esparta Palma