Tuesday, April 25, 2017

At Last, the Final Secret of the Thylacines!

"For about four months, in the year 1874, beginning upon January 8th, a killer was abroad, in Ireland.  In Land and Water, March 7, 1874, a correspondent writes that he had heard of depredations by a wolf, in Ireland, where the last native wolf had been killed in the year 1712.  According to him, a killer was running wild, in Cavan, slaying as many as 30 sheep in one night.  There is another account, in Land and Water, March 28.  Here, a correspondent writes that, in Cavan, sheep had been killed in a way that led to the belief that the marauder was not a dog.  This correspondent knew of 42 instances, in three townlands, in which sheep had been similarly killed — throats cut and blood sucked, but no flesh eaten.  The footprints were like a dog's, but were long and narrow, and showed traces of strong claws."

-- Charles Fort, LO!, Chapter 13

When I first developed the idea of a Fantasy World in which I would set epic stories and novels, I knew it would have to be inhabited by many strange and magical creatures.  Oh, there were the obvious fantasy tropes of Elves, Dwarves, Unicorns, Dragons -- but it was more fun to make up critters of my own.  One I had in mind -- that I never really fleshed out -- I dubbed the Cheshire Beast, a quadrupedal predator that appeared, struck at deer, or sheep, or even people, and vanished again, never seen coming or going, impossible to catch.  It was named, of course, for the Cheshire Cat.  The idea was that these creatures could teleport from their world to ours, attacking, eating, and fleeing with little fear of reprisal, leaving behind only dead animals and frightened farmers.  Perhaps a pack, mobbing someone, could carry him or her bodily back to the Otherworld.

Some readers will probably say, "Hey, these Cheshire Beasts sound a lot like Blink Dogs from Dungeons & Dragons!"  Maybe a bit, but my main inspiration was Charles Fort's LO!, especially Chapters 13 and 14, which are concerned with strange attacks on animals and people by creatures that seem to come from nowhere and then disappear without a trace.  The major theme of LO! was phenomena that might indicate teleportation, so Fort seemed to imply such marauders were, indeed, popping in and out from Elsewhere.

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A few weeks ago the subject of thylacines showed up on my new FaceBook account.  Thylacines, aka Tasmanian wolves or Tasmanian tigers, "Tassies" for short, were meat-eating marsupials, the Down Under equivalent of big cats, wolves and jackals.  Doglike in form, they bore tigerish stripes on their hindquarters and had amazingly long jaws and tapering, kangaroo-like tails.  Though they could lope like canines, supposedly they could jump like a 'roo if need be.

Also, they officially went extinct in 1936, although people have reported seeing specimens sporadically ever since.  I put in a link to a film clip of the last known living thylacine, which died in the Hobart [Tasmania] Zoo.  All well and good.

I started digging through my mass of old magazines, hoping to find a few to delete.  Totally at random I pulled out the Fortean Times no. 76 (Aug-Sept 1994).  On page 38 there was an article, "Just What is a Bunyip, Anyway?", an interview with cryptid hunters Tony Healy and Paul Cropper, concerning mysterious creatures of Australia.  "There have been more than 400 reported thylacine sightings in Tasmania since the beast's 'extinction' in the 1930s."

Then I pulled out a FATE Magazine at random, Vol. 58 no. 9 (Sept 2005).  "Devil Pigs and Dinosaurs" by Dr. Karl Shuker described mythical animals of New Guinea, including the "dobsegna", which sounded suspiciously like a thylacine.  "Its head and shoulders are dog-like, but its mouth is huge and strong, and its tail is very long and thin.  Villagers claim that from its ribs to its hips it has no intestines (but this merely suggests that it is very thin in this particular body region), and that in this region it is striped." [p. 62]

In an aside, Shuker mentions that "the chronicles of cryptozoology are fairly bulging with unconfirmed post-1936 sightings [of Tassies] both on Tasmania and in mainland Australia," which in itself would be odd, as the marsupial carnivores became extinct on the Australian mainland about 2,000 years ago.

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"In the month of May, 1810, something appeared at Ennerdale, near the border of England and Scotland, and killed sheep, not devouring them, sometimes seven or eight of them in a night, but biting into the jugular vein and sucking the blood.  That's the story.  The only mammal that I know of that does something like this is the vampire bat.  It has to be accepted that stories of the vampire bat are not myths.  Something was ravaging near Ennerdale, and the losses by sheep farmers were so serious that the whole region was aroused." -- LO!

A third magazine (arbitrarily yanked from the pile) was Fortean Times no. 298 (Apr 2013).  Inside there was an article, "The Wild Dog of Ennerdale," that brings us back to Fort's LO!

The Ennerdale story in particular has always stuck in my mind.  I'd looked up hundreds of Fort's sources during my college years, but Chamber's Journal (the main source of the Ennerdale story) was not available at the OSU or TU libraries.  So the one incident I really wanted to flesh out the "Cheshire Beasts" was the one I never could find.

So naturally I read "The Wild Dog of Ennerdale."

According to author Crispin Andrews, the descriptions of the Ennerdale beast sound amazingly like a thylacine.  Even the "vampire" aspect fitted:  According to conservationist Nick Mooney "Any carnivore will start at the best parts, blood being the best food.  If it's a big prey animal (like a sheep) that's all it can physically eat."  Apparently grown sheep are too large to be torn apart by a thylacine, so it can only eat a few soft organ and lap the blood.

Andrews uncovered a witness description that said the beast had stripes on the back half of its body.  Voila!  It was a Tasmanian tiger!

How did a Tassie end up near a small village in the Lake Country, near the Scottish border?  Well, the Romans, William the Conqueror, King John and others had colisiums, parks, and menageries.  As the centuries passed, there were also circuses, zoos, and private collections of exotic animals.  They had elephants, giraffes, lions, tigers, and hyenas.  Tassies are not mentioned, but "a thylacine could easily have found itself in a British menagerie."  I suppose.

At the end of his overview of the Ennerdale affair, Andrews lists some other cases of mysterious, ravening beasts that might have been thylacines:  1888, Winslow Arizona -- weird striped animal shot; neither the mountain man who shot it nor the local Navajos had ever seen anything like it.  1874, Cavan Ireland (mentioned above).  Nov. 1905, Badminton Gloucestershire -- blood-sucking beast.  1934, Tennessee -- animal kills dogs and leaps like a kangaroo.

Well, says Andrews, zoos lose animals.  I wonder how many zoos or circuses were near those areas, at those time periods.  How many such institutions even had thylacines back then?  How many zoos/menageries/circuses were near those places, in those eras, and had thylacines, and the thylacines escaped?  Sounds a bit off.

Finally, though, it hit me:  Here were my Cheshire Beasts!  The Tassies obviously saw what happened to the indigenous people of Tasmania and decided to leave, in a fashion unavailable to more mundane creatures.  They teleported to the mainland of Australia, then to New Guinea, England, Arizona, Tennessee, and I suppose they've been popping around the world ever since.

And maybe now, in a time when everyone regrets the downfall of the marsupial predators, they are venturing back to their island home, loping and hopping through the Tasmanian wilds with a big Cheshire grin on their muzzles.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017


I was looking over an old, ratty issue of FATE Magazine (No. 212, Nov. 1967) to see if it was worth keeping.  For the most part I told myself "no", but I looked over an article called "UFO's:  Animal or Mineral?" by John Philip Bessor, written for the 20th anniversary of the Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting (which gave us the term "flying saucer").

Bessor claimed to have "noted that 'saucer belts' extend along both east and west coasts and from Oregon to Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and into West Virginia and Virginia." [p. 36]  Then he makes an eye-opening statement:  "Except for the southwestern portion of the state and the eastern area bordering New Jersey, Pennsylvania has been bypassed by the UFOs."

Now, this statement is incorrect, certainly in respect to recent decades, if you know anything about the work of Stan Gordon, author of Silent Invasion:  The Pennsylvania UFO-Bigfoot Casebook (2010).  Still, it was an amazing claim to read after going through the Missing 411 books of David Paulides.

Paulides has arrayed missing people in "clusters" across North America, but he threw up his hands when he came to Pennsylvania:  "the entire state is a cluster," he says at the beginning of Missing 411:  Eastern United States.  And on p. 169:  "Pennsylvania had more children disappear from 1934-1957 than any other state."  And:  "In 1968 the profile of people who went missing in Pennsylvania changed -- they got older.  It's also noteworthy that the last seven cases in this state were all men."  So Pennsylvania is a strange state, according to Paulides.

Even if Mr. Bessor was wrong, I at least find a bizarre coincidence here.  If Paulides had simply divided up Pennsylvania into clusters like he does every other state and Canadian province, I wouldn't have given the FATE article a second glance.  If Bessor had picked any other state in the Union to be devoid of UFOs, I wouldn't have blinked an eye.  And if Bessor was on to something, at least way back when, then this item should definitely go into my "Negative Correlations" area of Missing 411 Annotations, where I list phenomena that seem to avoid -- or maybe trade off occasionally with -- the 411 phenomenon.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Welcome to my new blog, "Fiction and Reality II."  I didn't use F&R One often enough, apparently, so Blogger shut it down.  This time around I'll try to come up more frequently with interesting things to say.

If you've been to my web site, the  Fantasy World Project

you probably noticed that I've devoted space over the past couple of years to the Missing 411 books of David Paulides:

Missing 411 Annotations
 
As I've written there, that series of strange disappearances reminded me of many other phenomena, some of which I would never have thought had any connections with one another.  This despite the criteria Paulides uses to weed out the hundreds of cases that might have more mundane explanations.

For instance, going way back to Charles Fort's LO! (1931), specifically Chapter 17, we are presented with a series of strange events that occurred in the early 20th Century that I always believed to be totally unique in the annals of paranormal/fortean stories.  Basically, men were being found, naked and amnesic, across England.

An excerpt from LO! chapter 17:
"Naked in the street -- strange conduct by a strange man." See the Chatham (Kent, England) News, Jan. 10, 1914. Early in the evening of Jan. 6th -- "weather bitterly cold" -- a naked man appeared, from nowhere that could be found out, in High Street, Chatham.

The man ran up and down the street, until a policeman caught him. He could tell nothing about himself. "Insanity," said the doctors, with their customary appearance of really saying something . . . This naked man of Chatham appeared suddenly. Nobody had seen him on his way to his appearing point. His clothes were searched for, but could not be found. Nowhere near Chatham was anybody reported missing.
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And, farther along, ending Chapter 17:

Hants and Sussex News, Feb. 25, 1920 -- "one of the most sensational discoveries and most mysterious cases of tragedy that we have been called upon to record" -- a naked body of a man, found in a ploughed field, near Petersfield, Hampshire, England.

The mystery is in that there had not been a murder. A body had not been thrown from a car into this field. Here had appeared a naked man, not in possession of his senses. He had wandered, and he had died. It was not far from a road, and was about a mile from the nearest house. Prints of the man's bare feet were traced to the road, and across the road into another field. Police and many other persons searched for clothes, but nothing was found. A photograph of the man was published throughout England, but nobody had seen him, clothed or unclothed, before the finding of the body. At the inquest, the examining physician testified that the body was that of a man, between 35 and 40; well-nourished, and not a manual worker; well-cared-for, judging from such particulars as carefully trimmed finger nails. There were scratches upon the body, such as would be made by bushes and hedges, but there was no wound attributable to a weapon, and in the stomach there was no poison, nor drug. Death had been from syncope, due to exposure. "The case remains one of the most amazing tragedies that could be conceived of."

The mystery did not immediately subside. From time to time there were comments in the newspapers. London Daily News, April 16 -- "Although his photograph has been circulated north, east, south, and west, throughout the United Kingdom, the police are still without a clue, and there is no record of any missing person, bearing the slightest resemblance to this man, presumably of education and good standing."

* * * * * *
Ever since I first read LO! as a teenager, I thought nothing else in the literature resembled this series of naked men from nowhere.  Now, however, they sound like the ending of many a Missing 411 case:  People found with clothing gone, in "bitterly cold" weather, with no memory of what happened to them (if alive) and no obvious signs of death (if dead).

Heck, it seems like everything I read nowadays reminds me of the 411 books, somehow.  I bought an old issue of Argosy Magazine (Sept. 1974).  It was the "special shark issue," in honor of a blockbuster movie then in production called, of course, JAWS.  In an article called "Silent Death," author Fred Mackerodt suggests that there are many more shark attacks at America's beaches than the authorities would like us to know.  This article seems to have two strikes against it right out of the gate, since Paulides tries to filter out disappearances that 1) might be due to someone drowning/being lost at sea, and 2) might be due to an animal attack.  But Mackerodt writes (page 44B):

"Last year the National Safety Council reported that over 3000 people were 'drowned' at the beach.  In many of these cases, the bodies were never recovered . . . The swimmer simply doesn't show up back on the beach when it's time to go home, a search is made and nothing is found.  He is listed as drowned, body never recovered."

Mackerodt was suggesting that sharks ate these unfortunate people.  Forty-something years later, the above quote reminds me of how National Parks authorities will search for a missing person for a week or so, then apparently forget about him or her.  Then, eventually, they'll declare the victim "missing, presumed dead," and remove the name from any lists of vanished people.  And a different kind of amnesia sets in.