On the boundary of the real and the fantastic
February 15, 2014 5:09 PM   Subscribe

I love reading about real-world artifacts, phenomena, structures, events, and so forth that have an air of the fantastical, the mysterious, the uncanny, or "the unexplained". Not pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, or the paranormal—rather, things which are accepted as real by mainstream experts, but whose origins or particulars remain elusive and mysterious (or which simply tickle that this is too weird to be real reflex). I'm looking for media (online, written, video, whatever) about this sort of thing.

Examples of what I mean: abandoned places and urban exploration; the local legends and folklore covered by Weird NJ; the architectural relics of fallen regimes (not mysterious, but fantastical); the Georgia Guidestones; spectacular hoaxes; unexplained natural phenomena like the Bloop sound, the "Wow!" signal, and the Tunguska event; undeciphered texts (like the Voynich manuscript) and uncracked codes (like the Beale ciphers); globsters; the Antikythera mechanism; apparent paradoxes; legends about (and possible explanations for) ghost lights in various cultures; ball lightning; the weird shit that Nikola Tesla got up to; structures and monuments built by eccentrics; the statues on Easter Island; etc. Basically, things which seem like they're plucked from weird fiction, but which are real (or at least plausible).

I hope I'm making sense. Fire away!
posted by escape from the potato planet to Grab Bag (36 answers total) 180 users marked this as a favorite
The Nazca Lines
posted by scody at 5:12 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, and lest I sound too demanding: if you know of something that fits these criteria, but you don't necessarily have a good link handy, I'd still love to hear about it. I can do my own Googling :)
posted by escape from the potato planet at 5:12 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: The Toynbee Tiles?
posted by WidgetAlley at 5:13 PM on February 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

Oh, and the show itself is total, infuriating junk science and brain-cell-killing pseudohistory, but the Ancient Aliens episode list might be a useful resource for identifying mysterious phenomena, structures, etc.
posted by scody at 5:22 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Codex Seraphinianus
posted by Rhaomi at 5:24 PM on February 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

Dyatlov Pass incident
posted by thelonius at 5:25 PM on February 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

The Sailing Stones of Death Valley (solved, though).
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 5:25 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: Atlas Obscura
posted by nixt at 5:36 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sometimes Interesting takes an in-depth view of events/places around the world. They take interesting examples from Wikipedia that typically don't have have enough photos and merge them with accompanying real photos they find from obscure places on the web.
posted by homesickness at 5:36 PM on February 15, 2014

The Lead Masks Incident (Mefi post). The Mary Celeste (the ship was found abandoned in good condition in calm waters, with supplies and valuables still on board but the entire crew gone and never heard from again.) UVB-76.
posted by kagredon at 5:51 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Taman Shud Case.

Even the most prosaic explanation sounds like a spy thriller.
posted by justkevin at 5:59 PM on February 15, 2014 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: Great answers! Keep 'em coming!

While digging through these links, I came across a fascinating story I'd heard before but forgotten: the flap of airship sightings in the United States in the late 19th century. The real explanation is probably more prosaic than aliens, of course—but it's interesting as a weird moment of US history.
posted by escape from the potato planet at 6:19 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

They cover paranormal and conspiracy stuff in addition to what you're looking for (though with lots of mirth), but you should definitely check out the Mysterious Universe podcast. It is definitely my favorite piece of media currently being produced.
posted by gone2croatan at 6:24 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: There is a recent development in the mysterious nature of Ball Lightning.

On the topic of the Airship Scare of 1897, the band Pinataland has a song about it. I figured I should add that as long as I'm already posting-- it's the song that got me into this wonderful band.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:46 PM on February 15, 2014

This Esquire article about Teller, the shorter, quieter half of the stage magician duo Penn & Teller, describes the apparent arrival of Enoch Soames, a time-travelling character from a 1916 novel who appears to have materialized in fact at the time and location described in the book, a particular place in the British Museum on 2:10 P.M. on June 3, 1997, following his mephistophelian bargain.

Present was an unarranged gathering of fans of the book including Teller, and the article suggests he was behind the hoax (and he's definitely an obvious suspect), but the truth of the situation is unknown. Obviously someone, probably Teller, knows a ripe situation when they see one.
posted by Sunburnt at 6:55 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

the soviet union put the first man and the first woman into earth orbit, that were acknowledged by their country of origin, but there are stories about un-acknowledged cosmonauts who didn't make it safely back to earth (and who may have transmitted disturbing radio death-broadcasts).

love this question, it's a magnet for the craziest shit any of us have ever heard.
posted by bruce at 8:48 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

nobody knows what's at the bottom of nova scotia's oak island treasure pit, but it's a wickedly clever hiding place for something.
posted by bruce at 9:01 PM on February 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Newport RI has an old tower attributed to the Vikings. (Or maybe the Chinese(!) )
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 9:22 PM on February 15, 2014

from the presidential death file: was zachary taylor poisoned? (available evidence does not substantiate this claim). was warren g. harding poisoned? (i suspect that he was). did william henry harrison really die from a bad cold after delivering his inaugural address in shirtsleeves? (i don't know).

was jesus entombed in japan?
posted by bruce at 9:46 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: The Oak Island Money Pit is one of my favorite of these. (Maybe it's just weird geography! Maybe it's cursed pirate treasure!)

If I can self-link, the New England Vampire Panics were pretty fun.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 9:49 PM on February 15, 2014

Best answer: Oh, and also the case of Gloria Ramirez, in which several emergency room personnel became severely ill while trying to stabilize a patient with advanced cervical cancer and kidney failure. The prevailing theories for what happened are either mass panic and psychosomatic illness (the health department's original conclusion), or an unusual set of biochemical conditions that allowed for a buildup of DMSO that was converted into a volatile toxic gas for reasons that no one can completely pin down. (And those are the two relatively plausible explanations; there've been a few entertainingly left-field theories like SECRET HOSPITAL METH LAB.)
posted by kagredon at 10:07 PM on February 15, 2014 [2 favorites]

Oh, and the Taman Shud case is entertainingly bizarre.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 10:29 PM on February 15, 2014

The Valentich Disappearance
posted by FrauMaschine at 11:40 PM on February 15, 2014

The Carnac Stones of Brittany, France--thousands of large, ancient standing stones placed in lines, but no one really knows who put them there or why.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:48 PM on February 15, 2014

The Bobby Dunbar case
posted by SisterHavana at 12:25 AM on February 16, 2014

The Mathematical Bridge. The mystery is a myth, but still fun to read.
posted by theora55 at 12:42 AM on February 16, 2014

Mystery Hill, North Salem, NH, billed as "America's Stonehenge."
posted by Elsie at 4:03 AM on February 16, 2014

Some of the above suggestions are included on Wikipedia's "Unusual articles" page.

See also this previous AskMe question, which is also of somewhat broader scope but still potentially relevant and useful.
posted by yz at 6:44 AM on February 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you haven't already seen it, Weird New England is a nice companion to Weird NJ. It mentions a series of numbered stone posts along a road in Hardwick, Massachusetts - the strange thing being that they are not spaced at any consistent interval, and there is apparently no record of who put them there or why.

The entire Quabbin Reservoir is interesting on the 'abandoned places' end of the spectrum. In the 1920s, four central Massachusetts towns were taken by eminent domain. The residents were bought out and displaced, structures were razed, and the entire valley was flooded to create a reservoir for the city of Boston. Not everything wound up underwater of course, and because the watershed around the reservoir is protected you can explore and find many remnants of the former towns; cellar holes, the occasional bedframe with a tree growing through it, old town roads that now plunge straight into the water, et cetera. You can visit North Dana center, which is above the waterline.
posted by usonian at 7:06 AM on February 16, 2014

There's Coral Castle in Florida. Also, cat parasites that might cause mental illness and even suicide (in humans, not in cats).
posted by alex1965 at 11:20 AM on February 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Subscribe to Fortean Times for monthly bulletins about weird and wonderful happenings and investigations around the world. You can also follow specific stories or themes in the Fortean Times forums.
posted by vickyverky at 3:17 PM on February 16, 2014

Here are some suggested and claimed locations of the Ark of the Covenant. Good thing the Nazis didn't have wikipedia!

The original Amber Room is also still missing, and probably decayed beyond recognition.

Above, I mentioned Pinataland's song about the Airship Scare. They also have one about Coral Castle called "Latvian Bride", which includes audio of Ed Leedskalnin, its creator and apparently the man who magically moved the huge mass of the structures by himself overnight. (His Latvian accent is very similar to that of a familiar actor of Austrian origin.)
posted by Sunburnt at 9:56 PM on February 16, 2014

Another previously.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:45 AM on February 17, 2014

Nobody previously seems to have mentioned:


I stumbled upon him originally through his book Mysterious Universe: A Handbook of Astronomical Anomalies. I haven't taken the time yet to check out any of the rest of his work, but the scope of it appears to be encyclopaedic.
posted by renovatio1 at 4:04 PM on April 19, 2014

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