by Mike Dash
(the Overlook Press, 518 pages, $27.95)
I have never seen Bigfoot.
I have never seen anything even remotely resembling any kind of extraterrestrial
contraption in the sky. No little grays, no hail of toads or minnows, no crop
circles, no phone calls from the dead. On New Year’s Eve in Charnita, MD,
1971, a number of people claimed to have seen me change into a large, colorful
monster. I believe the word they used was "werewolf."
For a few weeks in 1975
some really weird poltergeist-type occurrences dogged me and my sado-lesbian
roommates in an apartment in West Philadelphia, but it could have been some
bizarre geological phenomenon or CIA- or crazy sex-induced mass hallucination.
We’ll never know; it’s like the JFK assassination: the landlord burned
the place down before we could figure it out.
All of the weirdest stuff
I ever saw was of purely human origin. People are damn strange. There is no
end to human perversity. We don’t need Bigfoot. On the other hand, it would
be comforting to know that we are not the pinnacle of peculiarity.
Every bonehead serial killer
wannabe knows about the zodiac. Not the little retarded beaner copycat here
in New York, but the real one, the scary one, the California version that took
serial murder as far as it could be taken as an art form, taunting the idiot
cops with codes and movie reviews, quoting Gilbert & Sullivan and Lewis
Carroll. The one that got away. Fuck the Loch Ness Monster, this is a
scary case. Colin Wilson came up with an unusual twist on the serial killer
fad in his Order of Assassins: The Psychology of Murder (Rupert Hart-Davis
Ltd., 1972). He goes against the cretinous limbic-obsessed biodeterminists,
positing a motivational syndrome based on thwarted creativity. That’s an
interesting idea, because it doesn’t stop at serial murder. It lends itself
to pranks, to the Coyote/Trickster archetype. As H.P. Lovecraft was wont to
point out, there are things worse than death.
Take the infamous "SBR"
case, Maryland 1989: An elderly couple awoke one morning in their rather ordinary
home in the suburbs of Baltimore to find their precious wooden bunny-rabbit
lawn ornament missing. They’d had this tasteless thing on their lawn for
nigh unto 20 years, and took great umbrage at its sudden disappearance. They
reported the theft to the local police, who took the report with all the gravity
One year later, to the very
day, the couple stepped outside and found the ornament on the hood of their
car, along with a large manila envelope filled with photographs. Each photograph
was inscribed on its backside with the handwritten letters "SBR" (thought
by police to stand for "Stolen Bunny Rabbit"), and the pictures themselves
documented a world tour of Phileas Fogg proportions, with the precious lawn
ornament photographed at the pyramids of Giza, Mt. Fuji, Niagara Falls, Vegas,
the Grand Canyon, Disneyland, Disney World, the Berlin Wall, in the arms of
Baltimore’s Mayor Kurt Schmoke, at the UN, dozens and dozens of pictures
of this stupid wood-shop project lawn ornament carefully posed at world-famous
sites and landmarks or in the presence of celebrity entertainers and politicians.
The case was never solved.
Mike Dash, a chief researcher
at Fortean Times since 1983, has collected a wide range of unexplained
anomalies and known hoaxes and posited a disciplined way of addressing these
phenomena in his fabulously researched Borderlands. In these times of
crumbling belief systems and cultish nonsense, there has arisen a cottage industry
of counterfeit skepticism, exemplified by the likes of Elaine Showalter, Phil
Klass, the Amazing Randi and other pseudoscientific posers in the business of
defending consensus reality. Consensus reality is itself a hoax, and a pernicious
one at that. Fortean Times is the real thing, a journal of strange phenomena
with no agenda to promote, addressing hoaxes, mass delusions, urban legends
and authentically unexplainable anomalies with equal objectivity.
Dash has collected a stunning
range of cases of crashed UFOs, cryptozoological sightings, unlikely things
raining from the sky, spontaneous human combustions and other collisions with
generally accepted notions of how reality should proceed and attempted to get
to the causes of these occurrences in an unprejudiced and genuinely scientific
way. The results are often hilarious and occasionally very unsettling.
The Aurora Case is a classic
example. On April 19, 1897, the Dallas Morning News reported that a mysterious
airship had crashed in Aurora, TX, replete with a little dead alien pilot. This
event became a part of the UFO canon when it was rediscovered by the saucer
crowd in the 60s and inspired the comedy group Firesign Theatre to create what
is perhaps their greatest work, Everything You Know Is Wrong. Dash dispatches
"The ailing craft had
apparently flown low over the town before smashing into a windmill owned by
one Judge Proctor and exploding into tiny fragments. The body of its pilot–a
strange little creature who the locals assumed was probably a Martian–was
reportedly recovered and interred in the local cemetery.
"The rediscovery of
this story in the 1960s brought several ufologists to Aurora armed with spades
and a determination to prise an exhumation order from the local authorities,
but it too was eventually discovered to be a hoax. The perpetrator on this occasion
appeared to be a local telegraph operator named S.E. Haydon, who span the yarn
to while away the hours on a boring shift and in the hope of attracting visitors
to a town dying after being by-passed by the railway."
Dash also manages to include
my very favorite UFO incident of all time, Joe Simonton’s pancakes:
"In one of the most
bizarre cases on record, a plumber named Joe Simonton, who lived at Eagle River,
Wisconsin, looked out of his window on 18 April 1961 and saw a silvery UFO land
in his back yard. A hatch opened and three small ‘men’ wearing black
uniforms stepped out. One wordlessly indicated that he wanted Joe to fill a
bucket full of water for him. When Simonton complied, the entity went back into
the UFO and emerged with four warm and greasy pancakes. When he cautiously tasted
the extraterrestrials’ breakfast, Simonton discovered that it tasted like
cardboard, but a chemical analysis later showed that the objects were indeed
ordinary oatmeal pancakes. Ufologist John Rimmer seems to explore all the possibilities
when he observes: ‘Now this might prove that Joe Simonton was a fraud.
On the other hand it might prove that pancakes are pretty much the same wherever
they come from…’"
Dash’s subject matter
is by no means limited to or dominated by the UFO subject. In the course of
this wonderful compendium of pranks and oddities he touches on the work of Michael
Persinger, a Laurentian University neuroscientist researching the possibility
that certain unusual experiences along the lines of UFO abductions and apparitions
could be due to "microseizures" in the temporal lobes, perhaps triggered
by frequencies generated by tectonic shifts. However wild that notion may be,
Persinger has come up with a nifty psychotronic gadget, the Persinger Helmet,
which induces damn weird experiences in those who try it on. I must get my head
in this thing; I am bored with drugs and addicted to altered states.
Mike Dash has done us all
a great service with this well-rendered, brilliantly researched and thoroughly
entertaining account of challenges to consensus reality. The most wonderful
thing about life is its mystery, and Dash serves that mystery up very well in