Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Death Will Come on Swift Wings

I have some weird friends. Actually, most of them are nuts. I'm sort of the normal, all-together one of the bunch.

I don't say this as an insult; I love all my friends' quirks and eccentricities. It keeps things interesting, especially their obscure fears, anxieties, and hatreds.

My own fears are more grounded in reality, so it's nice to listen to them rant about their more esoteric frights. And sure, a big portion of their fears might be affectations or schtick, but I appreciate the effort. At least they're being entertaining.

One of my friends is afraid of aliens. He read that "Communion" book post-high school in one sitting and was then terrified that the aliens were gonna capture and probe him. I have another friend who is scared of Egyptian curses. I'm not sure exactly where this sprouted from, but one of his "proofs" was this '70s book on strange phenomenon that he picked up at a thrift store.

From what I recall, these archaeologists found the mummy of an ancient Egyptian princess and ignored the curses placed upon her, as archaeologists will do.

All the members of the excavation met swift death, courtesy of vengeful Egyptian gods. After decimating the scientists, Anubis went after regular people in the way - a worker transporting the coffin to the British Museum got hit by a car or something, and a cleaning lady who disrespectfully dusted the coffin's face ended up dying in agony.

Also, visitors heard screams coming from the sarcophogus as the princess...I dunno, howled out to Osiris for vengeance or something.

As the death and injury toll rose, the director of the museum finally had enough. He found some suckers in America that would take the cursed princess, so he loaded the sarcophagus up on the next ship headed across the Atlantic. A little ship ... named THE TITANIC!!

The book laid out this scenario in the familiar  "Can you prove it didn't happen" style '70s books and documentaries would use when discussing poltergeists and Bigfoot and the Bermuda Triangle. It was effective, since I remembered the story after all these years, and I wasn't even the one afraid of curses. Sometimes at night while falling asleep, I could picture this mummy case in the hold of the Titanic with an eerie green mist creeping around it, angrily summoning an iceberg to send the meddling humans to the bottom of the ocean. Sure, killing thousands of innocent people seems like overkill, but that was my friend's point: you don't know what those Egyptian curses are capable of, so it's best just to stay away.

In the spirit of investigative journalism, I decided to unearth the truth once and for all. I wouldn't rest until I had combed every bit of Titanic and Egyptology arcana in the...Oh. Huh. One 0.28 second Google search and I of course found out that it was a hoax, although a creepier story than I remembered.
I knew it was a hoax when noted Titanic historian Rudy Ray Moore didn't mention the mummy case

In a way, it's a shame that I can find an answer so quickly now. When we first heard about the curse, we had to take it on faith from the author. What were we going to do, research the Titanic's cargo records? And even though we realized the story was pretty far-fetched, it was creepy enough to resonate all these years later, enough so that every once in a while I'll think of a sarcophagus lying on the ocean floor among collections of wine bottles and plates, waiting patiently for someone to retrieve it to bring down the wrath of Egyptian gods on another generation of humans.

Just like I don't really need to know how much my friends are really terrified of Egyptian curses, babies that look like old people, or aliens, I think I was better off being pretty sure that the Titanic mummy story was made up, but not really caring that much as long as it made an interesting story.

I would close with an Andy Rooney-esque rant on how computers and the increase in available information has taken away something from our storytelling and the mystery of life, but while I was writing this nonsense I downloaded two albums I had been looking for for years, and found my grandmother's address online that I keep losing, so yeah, who really needs mystery?

And even with the mystery of life pretty much swept away, thinking about the aquatic mummy is kinda creeping me out now, even though I know it was made up and I wasn't the one with the fear in the first place.

Monday, June 17, 2013


There's something calming and grounding about a body of water, especially salt water. I grew up close to a salt water river, and about 10 minutes away from the Gulf of Mexico, so that might have something to do with it. Maybe if I grew up in Nebraska I'd be all awestruck over wheat fields.

Every morning I bike by the St. John's River for about a mile or so. It's the highlight of my commute, mostly because I know I'm not going to get hit by a car. Seriously, America. Turn signals. They're not that hard.

I get to see people walking and fishing, and the different colors of the water, and the sun shining off the waves. Every once in a while I'll see manatees or dolphins. It's so much better than sitting on Butler Boulevard, cursing the traffic in front of me as I moved another inch every couple minutes. The physicality my ride combined with the calmness of the water keeps my craziness under control better, and I feel I can be a much more productive member of society.

Morning commute. Driving can suck it.
Plus, the St. John's is home to a sea monster.

Yeah, no crap.

 Or at least it was.

These sea monsters weren't tales from olden days when sailors would mistake manatees for mermaids (as a kid growing up in a city that had manatees posted on everything, I never understood how anyone could mistake a lumbering manatee for a sexy lady mermaid, but I guess if you've been cooped up with a bunch of dudes on a boat for six months, just about anything would start looking like a woman.). No, these were modern people, people from the '70s who had TVs and glasses and a knowledge of the animals in the St. John's.

Seriously, if these look like sexy mermaids to you, you've been on the boat too long.

In the mid-seventies, several different people reported seeing strange creatures swimming in the St. Johns - usually a long snake-like animal with a large head and a spiny backbone. According to the Jacksonville Times Union Dave Green reported the creature as "...quill-feathered, fanned tail, like an eel with a ridged-hump down the middle of it" in 1975. A spoil sport later in the story said that the creature was really a school of otters, even though otters are rare on the St. Johns.

The creature was spotted again that year, described as "a 25 foot long creature with a head the size of a basketball."

Once reports came in, more people reported seeing the creature, saying "...they never reported what they saw to the authorities or to the press out of fear of being ridiculed by friends for drinking too much or being branded 'some kind of nut.'"

The creature slept for a few years, then was reported again in 1977, when it was seen again, and was described as pink and bony looking.

Nothing has been heard from the creature since then, at least according to Times Union searches. Or possibly people have been too afraid of being "branded some kind of nut."

As a kid, I devoured books or TV shows about the unexplained - ghosts, the Bermuda Triangle, Bigfoot, UFOs, everything. It helped that I grew up in the '70s when there were whole industries churning out nonsense about how aliens helped the Mayans construct pyramids to communicate with the ghosts of Yetis by using time-traveling crystal skulls.

I've since heard that men are more likely to believe in weird animals like the Loch Ness Monster or Bigfoot, while women are more likely to believe in ghosts and weird supernatural stuff. I have no idea where I heard that, let's assume it was in one of the many scientific journals I subscribe to, but it works in my case.

If you tell me you saw a ghost, I'll think it's pretty cool, but I'll run down all sorts of scientific theories in my head to explain it. If you mention that you think you saw a Bigfoot, I'll take out a loan to buy fancy cameras and traps to help you capture it.

Especially if you think you've seen a sea monster.

Logically, I know that there's little chance of these beasts actually existing today; just the massive amounts of food these things would have to eat to survive makes it pretty unlikely. Plus, with everyone in the world having cameras on their person, it seems like we'd have some proof.

But still, with scientists finding giant squid over 40 feet long or fishermen finding a previously thought extinct Coelacanth, there's always hope that something's gonna turn up.

And every morning I ride my bike to work, I swear that this is the morning that I'm gonna see it.