We humans love to think we know everything, but the truth is that some things just can’t be explained, and maybe it should stay that way — we’re looking at you, skeptics, and your party-pooping logical explanations. Now why don’t you all go find some mathematical theories to ponder while the rest of us enjoy these stories of unexplainable things that, by the way, have hundreds of witnesses.
Pretty much everyone has some sound-related pet-peeve, whether it’s the way your brother chews his food, the sound of a squeaky chair, or the noise a balloon makes when you rub it. Now imagine if you heard that annoying sound every day, for hours at a time, and you could neither make it stop nor find the source.
For people all over the world, that’s what “the Hum” is. According to New Republic, it’s an unrelenting, low-frequency sound that is usually heard in rural places, at night and indoors. People who hear it have been known to go kind of nuts — according to Mic, one guy even deliberately deafened himself in one ear just so he could get a good night’s sleep. And the trick is that not everyone experiences the Hum, even when they’re in the same room with other people who can hear it.
Like every unexplained phenomena in the history of ever, some people think it’s a conspiracy — innocent dental hygienists and building contractors targeted by insidious government technology. Because dental hygienists know Things. Deep, dark, government-upending Things.
The prevailing theory about the Hum is that it’s not a sound at all but a low-frequency vibration that comes from factories or military communication systems. Some people experience the vibration as sound, while others don’t notice it. But the real takeaway here is that you should be grateful you aren’t a dental hygienist or a building contractor. Unless you are, you poor thing.
Right to the point: In 1963, a group of scientists on an airplane were stunned to see a fiery orb float down the aisle and exit the rear of the plane. People have been seeing ball lightning for centuries, but experts dismissed most of those (thousands of) accounts as misinterpretation of some more easily explainable phenomena (though no one could say exactly what) or just outright fabrications. But now actual scientists were witnesses, so you know, it must be true.
Ball lightning does sound a bit X-Filey. It floats just above the ground, occasionally bounces, sometimes burns through objects, and kills people. Witnesses say it almost seems intelligent, floating deliberately through doorways and down hallways. The only thing ball lightning doesn’t have is a melancholy FBI agent trailing it with an EMF detector.
Ball lightning is generally believed to be a bona-fide natural phenomena, but scientists really have no idea how it works. It happens infrequently and unpredictably, so doing any meaningful scientific analysis is difficult. There are plenty of theories — some scientists think it’s a plasma cloud, and some think that a charge of regular lightning might produce ball-shaped vapor that then burns away. In fact every few years some scientist or another claims to have solved ball lightning, and then another, totally different theory comes along. We may never know for sure: Seeker claims you’d need 100 million volts of electricity to actually replicate ball lightning in a lab.
The Battle of Los Angeles
Pearl Harbor wasn’t the only World War II battle on American shores — there was also the much lesser-known Battle of Los Angeles, which was not a Japanese air raid, but (depending on who you ask) either a really expensive case of “jittery nerves” or a battle with extraterrestrial forces.
According to History, here’s how it went down. In the early hours of the morning, military officials thought they saw enemy aircraft on radar. They responded by ordering a city-wide blackout and turning on the air raid sirens. Search lights came on and at 3 a.m. the military fired the first of 1,400 anti-aircraft rounds.
People all over the city said they saw Japanese aircraft, and there were even reports of falling bombs and a Japanese plane crashing in downtown Hollywood. But as the dust settled, it became clear that the only real damage was from falling shrapnel. There were no downed aircraft, no evidence of bombing, nothing to indicate that there had ever been an enemy presence in the sky.
So what happened? In 1983, the Office of Air Force History said meteorological balloons had been released just before the battle, which could explain the objects picked up on radar. As for the battle itself — it’s not hard to imagine that the guys manning the guns might have thought they were seeing enemy aircraft through the searchlights and mid-air explosions. So jittery nerves does seem to be the most logical explanation, but let’s keep “UFO battle” a close second.
The Hessdalen lights
Residents living in a small valley in central Norway have been experiencing a bizarre phenomena since 1981 — colored lights that appear above the valley and then just sort of hover creepily in the air before disappearing.
Like ball lightning, the phenomena is well-documented, but unlike ball lightning, the Hessdalen lights hang around awhile before vanishing, which means they’ve been taped and photographed and can therefore not easily be debunked. Scientists pretty universally agree that the lights are caused by something natural, but that’s where the agreement ends. Astrophysicist Massimo Teodorani says the lights are balls of plasma that are somehow ignited by the electrical current that comes out of a piece of quartz. Obviously. And he’s an astrophysicist, which means he’s right. Another theory says the large amount of minerals in the Hessdalen valley are causing cosmic radiation to “superimpose into the visible spectrum.” You had us at “cosmic radiation.”
The one thing about the Hessdalen lights that’s known for certain is that they appear to be decreasing in frequency — at their peak there were some 20 sightings each week, today there are only that many in a year. So if researchers are ever going to find out what the heck, they’d better pack up their parkas and some hot cocoa and get on the bus to Norway before the Hessdalen lights vanish altogether.
UFO battle over Nuremberg
In 1561, the residents of Nuremberg, Germany, witnessed a bizarre celestial event. This wasn’t just an oral legend; it was an event significant enough to compel a printer named Hanns Glaser to publish an account of it in the local broadsheet.
According to the translation, witnesses saw strange shapes in the sky — some were cylinders, some were crosses, and some were spheres. Glaser starts with a pretty meticulously detailed description of what the objects looked like, then goes on to say that the shapes “flew back and forth among themselves and fought vehemently with each other for over an hour” before falling from the sky and vanishing. After that, Glaser includes all the obligatory stuff about divine judgment, repentance, blah, blah, blah.
UFO enthusiasts think the people of Nuremberg witnessed an epic aerial battle between a bunch of alien spacecraft, while skeptics think it might have been a sun dog. Now, while it is true that the simplest explanation is often the correct one, let’s just give that sun dog theory a resounding “puh-lease.” According to Sky and Telescope, a sun dog is a “concentrated patch of sunlight” that appears to the left or right of the sun. As primitive as Renaissance people might have been, it’s really hard to imagine they could look at something that benign and imagine that it was a bunch of celestial objects fighting each other. It might not have been space ships, but let’s look elsewhere for a “rational explanation.”
The dancing plague
The next time you have the uncontrollable urge to tap your foot, maybe don’t. You could be suffering from the curse of St. Vitus, which compels people to dance until they die, much like “Gangnam Style” at office Christmas parties.
St. Vitus’ best-known work was in Strausbourg in the Holy Roman Empire in July 1518. According to History, the dancing plague began when Frau Troffea started spontaneously dancing in the street, seemingly oblivious to the fact that dancing in the street without music is super weird. What’s more, she kept it up for a week, but instead of thinking to themselves, “Hmm, there might be something wrong with Frau Troffea,” a bunch of other people thought it would be cool to join her. Pretty soon there were 400 people dancing in the street and the local physicians had been called in. At this point you might think that doctors at least would have recognized that all that dancing probably wasn’t very healthy, but they were all, “Let them dance!” So someone erected a stage, hired a band, and turned it into a party.
The dancing went on until some people collapsed from exhaustion or had heart attacks and died. It wasn’t until September that someone finally decided to drag everyone off to a shrine on the top of a mountain for a little fresh air and some absolution. And somewhere nearby, St. Vitus was seen dusting off his hands and starting work on the lyrics to “Gangnam Style.”
The Miracle of the Sun
In 1917, three kids in Fatima, Portugal, said they saw the Virgin Mary. Now, kids have also claimed to see three-eyed monsters and the Easter Bunny, so it’s not clear if they really saw the Virgin Mary or if they were just trying to explain why they were late getting home from their after school sheep-herding job, but this was 1917, so people weren’t naturally skeptical.
Like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Mary told the kids she’d be back. Word got out. Seventy thousand pilgrims showed up in Fatima.
Did Mary come back? Yes, but shockingly, she was invisible to everyone but the original three kids. She wasn’t modest, though. Witnesses reported a spectacular celestial event accompanying her visit — some said the Sun was dancing, and others saw colorful pinwheels of light. Still others were all, “Um, I don’t know what the rest of you are on about, but I’m going to bed.”
Like the Nuremberg battle, skeptics have sought to explain the event by saying it was … wait for it … a sun dog. Are you kidding? Why must every unexplained celestial event be a sun dog? We do know it wasn’t an actual dancing sun, which would have likely destroyed the Earth. Mass hysteria is one explanation, and another is that everyone in attendance kind of effed up their eyes while staring at the sun without their solar eclipse glasses. Was it a miracle? Maybe, but either way, belief is a powerful thing.
The English sweating sickness
Anne Boleyn was the mother of Queen Elizabeth I, but she’s probably better known for her sucky marriage to smelly King Henry VIII, and her even suckier death at the hands of an executioner. What’s less-known about Anne Boleyn is that she nearly died from a mysterious illness that came to be known as the English sweating sickness.
According to History Today, the sweating sickness descended upon England for the first time in 1485. It struck five times, only during the summer, and then never returned.
The sweating sickness was terrifying for its speed — a person could be healthy in the morning and dead by the late evening. And since no one really knows what caused the sweating sickness, we also don’t really know if there’s a possibility it could come back.
Modern scientists have lots of guesses — the prevailing theory is that it was a form of hantavirus, that messed-up illness that took down a bunch of people at Yosemite in 2012. Hantavirus is carried in the excrement of rodents, and since England was a fairly rodent-infested place during the Renaissance, that does offer a fairly reasonable explanation. One thing is certain: Anne Boleyn could have saved herself a lot of trouble if she’d just died from the sweating sickness rather than enduring everything that came afterward. Sweating to death isn’t the most glamorous way to meet your end, but it’s at least marginally better than dying at the whim of a psychopathic megalomaniac.
The Tinley Park Lights
Lights in the sky are not usually cause for alarm — airplanes, orbiting satellites, furious UFO battles — these are all perfectly rational explanations for the appearance of strange lights in the sky. But some lights are just a little bit too strange, just a little bit too not-very-much like an airplane, a satellite, or a UFO battle.
In August 2004, the Chicago Tribune reports that three red lights appeared in the sky over Tinley Park, Illinois. And it wasn’t just some old guy on his back porch after a couple of glasses of moonshine who saw them — it was hundreds of people.
What made the sighting particularly remarkable was the fact that it was widely photographed. Unlike other UFO sightings, no one’s camera mysteriously and conveniently failed to capture any images of the event — there’s a veritable buttload of photographic evidence. The lights were alternately red or white, appeared in a triangular shape, hovered for long periods of time (up to 30 minutes), and made no sound.
Like every other UFO sighting, skeptics sought to explain away the events. The lights were model airplanes, or they were a balloon hoax, or they were experimental military aircraft. While nothing can be definitively ruled out, what’s certain is that the hundreds of people who witnessed the lights were not suffering from mass hysteria, drunkenness, or conspiratorial pranking. And we’re pretty sure it wasn’t a sun dog. Pretty sure.
The Mackenzie Poltergeist
Like ball lightning, there are thousands of people who claim to have had ghostly encounters, and it seems pretty unlikely (statistically speaking) that all those stories are fabrications. And when it’s a whole bunch of people claiming to have experienced the same ghost, it becomes a lot harder to dispute.
Jan-Andrew Henderson, a ghost tour guide in Edinburgh, Scotland, regularly takes groups of idiots … er, tourists to visit the “Mackenzie Poltergeist,” a ghost that dwells inside the Covenanter’s Prison in the Greyfriars graveyard. Because it’s not stupid at all to want to hang out with a ghost that has been said to punch, scratch, choke, and bite people.
Henderson says many of his customers have been physically attacked by the poltergeist, have collapsed unconscious, and have had mysteriously malfunctioning cell phones and watches. (Horrors.) He says one priest even died a few weeks after trying to exorcise the spirit. All told, the Mackenzie Poltergeist is one of the best-documented supernatural phenomena anywhere in the world, and anyone looking to debunk supernatural experiences in general should probably start there. But maybe just don’t bring your phone into the graveyard.
The Surrency Haunting
The Surrency Haunting began suddenly and violently, with glass objects and crockery sliding off shelves and shattering on the floor. You’re thinking earthquake — sure, that’s a perfectly rational theory, if you believe there was a tiny, tiny fault line under the Surrency house that let loose daily quakes that were never felt by anyone in neighboring homes.
Like the Mackenzie haunting, the Surrency haunting wasn’t claimed to be a ghost but a poltergeist. According to ThoughtCo, “hauntings” are associated with an apparition, while poltergeists are said to be psychic activities typically associated with a living person. Among the creepy things said to have happened in the Surrency home: hot bricks that fell from the sky, bedsheets that rolled up and down on their own, boots that walked across the room by themselves, and farm animals that would randomly appear in the living room.
Now unlike the Amityville legend, which was based entirely on (untrue) details given by the home’s occupants, there are hundreds of witnesses to the Surrency haunting. People wanted to see the haunting for themselves, and nearly everyone who visited was treated to something horrifyingly spooky. So unless every one of them just didn’t want to admit they’d traveled all that way for an empty farmhouse (possible!), the Surrency haunting might have been genuine. And to round out this creepy tale, the house eventually burned down, the family moved away, and the poltergeist supposedly went with them, remaining unrelenting until the family’s patriarch died in 1877.
The Chase vault
In case you thought ghosts who can scratch you and make chickens appear in your living room are just about as terrifying as it gets, how about a ghost that can pick up a 900-pound object and turn it upside down?
The story goes like this: When Thomas Chase died in Barbados in 1812, his family vault was opened for his internment. The burial party was stunned to discover that the coffins already inside were in disarray, like cats at a dance party. Instead of running away screaming, they put the coffins back in order, added Thomas, and sealed the vault.
Eventually someone else died, the vault was opened again, and lo — more evidence of bratty behavior by restless spirits. Then it happened a third time, and officials got involved. The vault was cemented with the governor’s official seal. If broken, that would prove the culprits were vandals, not restless spirits. A year later the vault was opened again, the coffins were again in disarray, and there was zero evidence of tampering. That was enough — the vault’s occupants were finally moved out.
Some people think flood waters moved the coffins, though no one can say why the Chase vault appears to be the only one affected in the entire cemetery. Other skeptics say the whole story probably just didn’t happen, and there’s no proof there were ever any coffins in the vault at all. Shut up, skeptics. Why must you always try to wreck the best stories?
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