Saturday, January 27, 2007

A Cabinet of Curiosities

I honestly believe that there’s no excuse for boredom. The world is a bizarre and wonderful place, filled with lost cities, mysterious creatures, and strangely-shaped food. However, you’re unlikely to discover any of them sitting on your couch. (Although sometimes you can find them while sitting at your computer.) But if you conjure some curiosity and take the time to investigate a few of life’s mysteries, your dull moments will begin to feel few and far between.

Which brings me to the subject of this post. I recently learned about the Athanasius Kircher Society, a group named for a 17th century German scholar, whose many areas of interest and expertise included Egyptian hieroglyphics, Chinese dragons, automatons, the plague, and volcanoes.
(Apparently, he once had himself lowered into Mount Vesuvius just as it was about to erupt.)

The Society is dedicated to exploring “the wondrous, the curious, the singular, the esoteric, and the sometimes hazy frontier between the plausible and the implausible.” Its fantastic blog features short posts (with links) devoted to a host of amazing (and often creepy) subjects. Among my favorites are . . .

The Hanging Temple of Hengshan
The Disappearing Octopus
A Field Guide to Albino Animals
The Body Baker (Warning: This looks pretty gruesome—but everything you see is made out of bread!)

I recommend taking a look through the Athanasius Kircher Society’s online archives. But as anyone who clicked on the last link knows, some subjects may require a strong stomach.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

How to Be a Cryptozoologist

Cryptozoologists are scientists devoted to the discovery and study of creatures that are only rumored to exist--the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot, Yeti, Skunk Apes, and the Mokele Mbembe to name just a few. Personally, I can't imagine a better job.

If you think cryptozoology is a hopeless cause, think again. The list of animals that were once thought to be hoaxes is surprisingly long and includes the platypus, giant squid, and Komodo dragon. In fact, until the 19th century, Western scientists refused to believe in the existence of a man-sized ape that was said to live in the mountains of Africa. That creature is now known as a gorilla.

Most cryptozoologists don't get paid for their efforts. Their work is a labor of love. But if you're interested in this unsual science, you can learn how to get your start in thisarticle written by well-known cryptozoologist Loren Coleman.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

This Week in Sea Monsters

Late last week, Japanese fishermen discovered a rare frilled shark swimming in the waters south of Tokyo. Although these creatures aren't often seen on the surface, I wouldn't be surprised if the species were responsible for a few sea monster sightings.

For more pictures and video, check out the story on CNN.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Truly Twisted Cartoon

Making Fiends is a sinister (yet hilarious) cartoon created by Amy Winfrey. Allow me to introduce you to its two main characters . . .

The new girl in school. So sweet, gentle, and kind that you don't know whether you want to hug her or punch her.

The school's resident evil genius who creates hideous monsters that terrorize her classmates. Oh--and she has an evil giant hamster for a sidekick. What could be better?

Learn more about Making Fiends (and watch tons of episodes) online.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Street Art

The work of the mysterious Banksy.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

For Sale: Dracula's Castle

More proof that New York is the greatest city on earth: The owner of Bran Castle, better known as Dracula's Castle is a New Yorker, and he's willing to sell the building to anyone with 78 million dollars!

Built at the beginning of the 13th century and located near Brasov, Romania, Bran Castle is rumored to have been the home of the infamous Vlad the Impaler--the evil 15th century warlord who served as a model for the world's most famous vampire, Dracula. (The castle is also said to have a secret passage or two--one of which was only recently discovered.)

The castle is now owned by Dominic von Habsburg, the son of Princess Ileana of Romania who inherited the castle from her mother, Queen Marie. Von Habsburg lived in the castle until 1948 when, at the age of ten, he was forced to flee Romania as communists seized control of the country. He has lived in exile for the last sixty years, and now works as a furniture designer in New York.

Last year, decades after it was seized by the communist government, the castle was returned to von Habsburg's family. Now the tourist attraction is for sale.

For the New York Sun article on Dominic von Habsurg, click HERE.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

The Second Coolest Map of New York

As you may know, I’m a big fan of maps. Today, I came across one of the most useful I’ve ever encountered. The Gothamist, a website devoted to all things New York, has created an ever-changing, always up-to-date map that shows police activity, fires, main breaks, and more in all five boroughs.

Want to know what the police are doing in your neighbor’s apartment? Worried about the people wearing Minnie Mouse masks who just entered the bank across the street? Take a look at the map! Incidents are labeled with tiny icons that reveal information when you scroll over them with your mouse. You can even zoom in to get a closer look at the building or street corner where all the excitement is taking place. (Unfortunately, the satellite images are not up-to-date, so you’ll be able to see the scene, but not the action.)

However, anyone planning a move to the city would do well to avoid this handy site. Although New York is now one of the safest cities in America, the Gothamist map makes it perfectly clear that we still have our share of bad guys.

See the map HERE.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Rockefeller's Underground Escape Route Discovered?

740 Park Avenue has long been considered the most prestigious address on the island of Manhattan. Built 75 years ago, it has been home to Vanderbilts, Bouviers, Rockefellers, and royalty. To purchase an apartment in the building, you must be more than just wealthy—you must be among the world’s super-rich.

For decades, 740 Park Avenue has also been at the center of one of Manhattan’s most beloved “urban myths.” According to rumor, shortly after the building opened, John D. Rockefeller Jr. built an underground “escape route” beneath it. The tunnel is said to have led from the basement to nearby subterranean train tracks where the Rockefeller private train could carry John Jr. away from the city.

Most, including the Rockefeller family, claim that the story is pure fantasy. Now, however, it seems that there may be more truth to the tale than previously thought.

Last summer, members of the NYC Water Works were working 15 feet beneath the street outside 740 Park Avenue when they happened upon an old vault. Inside, the plumbers discovered a series of hidden chambers connected to the building’s basement. Each had an arched ceiling roughly 10 feet in height and walls composed of old bricks. No one seems to know what purpose the forgotten chambers may have served, but some have suggested that they are part of a lost tunnel built not by the Rockefellers, but by their neighbors, the Vanderbilts.

Of course this underground discovery is not the first for the NYC Water Works, who’ve found everything from abandoned pools to forgotten barber shops deep beneath Manhattan.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Finalist #6: Continued

"Oh, hello Mrs. Verere." Savannah turned around to see my mom peering at us.

"What's going on here?" She asked, an eyebrow raised. She was looking us over, noting our boots and goggles. "Swimming, Hiking, or a new hybrid of the two?"

"Neither Mrs. Verere." Savannah, always acting the good child, was smiling and suddenly giggled like a schoolgirl. She was good.

"Then what?" She looked suspicious. "And why did you take O.F.F?" She pointed a small finger at the can of bug spray we had brought.

I perked up. "Walking around the levy. It's for a project, we are making a movie!" I brought out a video camera. It wasn't that big of a lie. We were using the camera, just not at the levy.

"Levy huh? That'd mean you would be using the back door." Mom pointed us to the back. "Not the front."

I beamed at her and began to walk back. "Come on crew! Let's make a project!" I acted as if I were a director. I even went as far as to pretend I was snapping one of those snapping boards. I was glad to see that the twins had actually caught on that I was fooling mom. They were all in it, but subtly. We were all excited, and honestly excited. We were about to have an adventure, one without any adults. One inspired by a random idea that popped into Dylan's head: "Why don't we find out what's there?" Savannah and I had just gone with it, and Sam was just along for the ride.

We hurried out the door, anxious to start our adventures. I led the little 'Film Crew' taping minor things that each of us saw. Like how the ever-approaching trees looked, how one branch was bent to accommodate a person, how there was an unusual species of ants crawling around. But I never filmed the 'crew' or myself. Incriminating Evidence may come, but I was sure that it wouldn't come by my own hands.

We were almost there, nearly all of us smiling, and all of us silent. "Sly up folks." I reminded them that we were nearly there. Not that they needed to be told. The place was obvious, it was a huge area. Probably a mile long. We each had a small map of the place made by one of my Hippie friends who came up every year. It was a huge forest of sorts, with plenty of trees and most probably safe. We were here to help the Hippies by checking up the map and making sure nothing 'else' was there. Rumors of a haunting had been a possible cause for the cancellation of the yearly Earth Day Fest in my suburb. When my Hippie friend, Ella, asked if I could try to solve the haunting, I could only accept. Not only was she one of my best friends, but she was also offering something girls in suburbs can't get- Real Life Adventure. So I began to recruit my best friends, Dylan and Savannah. Dylan wasn't that good at spy work, but he had a decent nose and loved the paranormal. Savannah was our cargo carrier and camera toter. And I was the expert who knew the place, having gone to the Earth Day Festivities since I was Six years old, I was now fourteen. I was also our main weaponieer, the person who had the pepper spray and the five-inch heel boots. Sam was, obviously, our logical expert. I realized that now. He was our Brains. I was our Leader. Dylan was our Nose and Savannah was our Toter.

Now all we needed was to find the Ghost. The Ghost, according to those who had seen her, was a young woman. Probably around twenty to twenty-five. She was pretty, rumor said, with a nice face. She was supposedly wearing a long white nightgown. I had called her 'Sophie' because it seemed proper, she was a woman and she was probably from when German settlers were, well, settling. And I also liked the name 'Sophie' and Sophie she became.

Apparently Sophie wasn't shy, she had shown herself to over ten people at once, and again to a group of twelve. We figured it would be easy for her to show herself, we were just hoping she'd smile for the Camera.

"Dyla-" Savannah began, the rest of us quickly shushed her. The huge trees were spectacular and amazing. Not the sort of thing you'd see in a H.O.A Run Suburb like mine. Unique, that was the word. Or was it Basic? I swallowed the thought as I signaled for Sav to start the camera again, with my other hand I snapped and signaled to go forward.

I turned, looking at the other three. Savannah, Dylan, Sam. We were set. We went through the huge trees and into the main clearing. "Savannah, set up the Camera for Night Vision mode." I instructed, having taught her how to use the special camera I expected her to remember. I heard a familiar swoosh of the lens and I knew she was successful without even having to look.
"Dylan, the kit?" I asked, Dylan spoke "Yes." He pointed to Sav's back.

"Hey! What am I supposed to do?" My brother, Sam was looking annoyed. "I'm not going to stand out here and just stand! I want to do something too." He pulled something from his bag and said "I could sn-"

I cut him off. "Stay here." I tossed him the pepper spray and a flashlight. The sun was going down now, even more so. It was Twilight already and the moon was already rising up. So we left Sam and began filming the Hippie's Forest, staying clear of nasty looking leaves and thorns. We could all hear Sam behind us, but we didn't mind much.

"Savannah, are you getting this?" I said as we rounded a corner to where the Sophie Sightings had taken place. The air was chilly, even though it was April and we were in Texas.

"K." Dylan's voice was wary and had his 'I'm about to say something informational about this' tone.

"I know, Dyl. " My voice did not waver, and I was proud of myself for that fact alone.

"But K." Dylan was beginning to say something about thermal temperatures and ghosts, I just knew it.

"I don't want to hear it, Dylan. Are you getting the area Savannah?" I asked again, just to shut Dylan up.

"Yeah, but K. you've gotta see this." I looked into the Camera and out into the area to see a dull white light showing. A girl, looking around seventeen instead of twenty, was twirling in a nightgown. Lights got brighter and brighter.

"What's going on?" Savannah asked, not able to look away from the camera.

"I don't know." I turned to find out. Seven lights were in the distance, getting brighter every second.

"Come on!" I grabbed Dylan and tried to grab Savannah. "Come on!" I pushed her a bit more. I turned again and hit my head on a lowered tree branch. I pushed it up and continued to help Savannah, or try to.

"No. I've got to get this, Kaitlyn. I've got to." She sounded vicious for a moment.

"To #$@# if you will." I grabbed her and knocked down the camera. I quickly pushed Savannah next to her brother behind a bush and found myself in the clearing with nowhere to hide, nothing to hide behind.

That's when I looked up to see a tree branch hanging low, the same one that had hit me. I had to jump to grab it, but I did. I pulled myself up until I reached the bigger branches. I had to hang on for my life. The lights got brighter and brighter . . .
I saw Sophie better from this height. She was still playing and twirling, but she soon stopped as the lights got too close for comfort. The teenage girl disappeared as the seven lights finally revealed themselves. It was a group of dirt bikers. They swerved to avoid my tree and almost ran over my fallen camera. I nearly sighed when they didn't.

I could hear Savannah swearing not-so-nice words at the men for interrupting her first ever ghost sighting. I had to gasp as one of the back passengers took off his helmet. It was my younger brother, Sam, holding a camera. He held it up to Dylan and Savannah's tree and snapped a few photos and said "Come out, Twits."

He began snapping more photos as they stepped out. "Leaving me alone, what were you thinking? Kaitlyn?" My brother was calling me, he began to shine his flashlight over the trees and I shrunk back, avoiding the beam by a millimeter. After about five minutes of searching, he stepped off the dirt bike and told his friends to go on ahead and go without him. Dylan and Savannah were about three yards away from Sam and he looked sort of menacing in the moonlight. "Did you find your ghost, Kaitlyn?" He asked, rolling his eyes. He looked up, right at me and I gulped.

He looked away. He couldn't see me.

I suddenly heard the wind rushing and it got colder in the night. I looked down and saw my Sophie, twirling right in front of Sam. He widened his eyes and began to stutter. I jumped down right on top of her and she disappeared.

"Got my Ghost, thanks for asking." I said, smiling slyly as I saw that the camera had been facing Sophie and the rest of us. I whomped my brother on the head with a stick and began to drag him home.
I stopped. "Dylan, you take him home. I'll stay with Savannah and the Camera." Dylan opened his mouth to protest, but his sister peeped up

"Yeah Dyl. Go on and have a manly chat with him." I loved Sav sometimes. So we stayed with the camera as my best guy friend dragged away my best kid brother.

"What will we do about her?" Sav finally said.

"About who?"

"The ghost." She said, pointed at the camera.

"You mean Sophie?"

"You named her?" She looked astonished.

"Of course."

"Well, what will we do now? We have proof she's there. But not proof that she won't harm anyone during the Fest." She had a point.

"I have no idea." I shrugged and waited for another glimpse of Sophie.

"Well, we could sell the video? You know, at the festival. She'd like that, Sophia." Savannah said, her voice light and in anticipation. As if she too was watching for another glimpse of the ghoul.

"She'd love being seen. And it's Sophie. Not Sophia."

"That's her name though, she's just not serious enough for Sophia." Savannah seemed to know the girl.

"How the Heck do you know?" I was angry that anyone could know Sophie more than me. She was my ghost after all.

"Because, she twirls. She loves attention. We should sell tapes. I'm sure she'd leave, K."

I wanted to argue more, but she sounded so secure in her decision. "Fine. But she better not show up during the festival." I finally grabbed the camera stand from the ground and began to put everything else. "Come on." I told Savannah. But she didn't seem to be watching me. She was watching the nothingness in Sophie's place. Sophia's place.

Two days later, we mysteriously shipped a box full of DVD disks to my Hippie Friend Ella. She sold them at her booth and it seemed to please Sophie (Sophia?) enough to only come back when no one else was around. We didn't have that many more adventures, sorry to disappoint you. But hey, two girls and their brothers living in the suburbs can't have that many in one year.

Can they?