6 Paranormal Phenomena With Amazingly Bizarre Explanations
Gone are the days when humanity believed our fate was dictated by a gaggle of gods living atop a holy mountain, or that women who wanted to vote were definitely witches, or that hard work can make all our hopes and dreams come true. We now know better. But while we're fairly certain that the perfectly timed thunderstorm outside our window is not in fact the mocking laughter of Thor, that doesn't mean the scientific explanation behind it is any less weird. For example ...
Cyclopes Are Caused By Toxic Flowers
You've most likely seen this video of Cyclops Goat making its rounds:
Having been born in India, where virtually everything is in some way divine, people naturally flocked to the creature to receive blessings of good luck -- or, barring that, to at least take a selfie with a demigod. Sadly, the so-called miracle goat died after a couple of weeks, because unlike governments, Mother Nature is pretty efficient at mopping up her horrific mistakes.
It Gets Weirder:
Shortly after World War II, Idaho sheep ranchers experienced a decade-long scourge of lambs which, like the miracle goat, looked like they'd been squeezed out of Ray Harryhausen. It took 11 years and a string of U.S. Department of Agriculture researchers before one scientist, Lynn James, finally figured out that the mutations in question were not caused by nearby nuclear testing, but were in fact all thanks to some flowers.
Corn lilies, to be precise. See, during the dry summer season, momma sheep would migrate to higher ground and eat these tasty (albeit toxic) flowers. The poisonous blooms didn't harm the adult sheep, but they did attack the genes of their unborn babies, causing a typically fatal birth defect known as cyclopia. Fetuses suffering from this mutation ended up with half the brain hemispheres of a normally developed mammal, as well as half the eyes. This (rarely) happens to humans too, by the by. Wouldn't recommend looking it up.
Today, the sneaky toxin present in corn lilies is known as cyclopamine, while the misfiring gene responsible for cyclopia, identified by Harvard researcher Cliff Tabin in the early '90s, has been dubbed sonic hedgehog. Because Cliff is one of us.
Remember it was the '90s, so Sonic could still be associated with something that looks colorful and interesting.
The "Angel's Glow" Was Caused By Bioluminescent Bacterium
The Civil War's Battle of Shiloh left more than 23,000 casualties on the banks of the Tennessee River. As legend has it, some of the soldiers' wounds began to glow an eerie blue, and somehow, after waiting two full days in the cold wet April weather for medics to arrive, the soldiers with glowing wounds seemed more likely to survive. Obviously, a higher power was at work here. That's probably why the mysterious blue light came to be known as "Angel's Glow."
It Gets Weirder:
In 2001, 17-year-old high school student Bill Martin was visiting the Shiloh battlefield when he heard the farfetched tale of glow-in-the-dark wounds. Martin asked his mom about the story, because in addition to being his mom and therefore privy to all knowledge both great and small, Phyllis Martin was a microbiologist. Furthermore, she was a microbiologist who had been studying Photorhabdus luminescens -- a bioluminescent bacteria that glows an eerie blue.
Not exactly what most of us think of when we hear "angels."
Martin's mom tasked him with testing his hypothesis his damn self, so he and a friend did exactly that and discovered that P. luminescens was most likely present at the Battle of Shiloh. There was just one problem: The bacteria don't normally survive at human body temperature. But lower said human's body temperature -- by, say, floundering for two entire days in the cold April rain -- and suddenly you have the perfect conditions for the critter to flourish in a sea of gaping wounds. And since this particular bacteria gives off chemicals that murder other, nastier microorganisms, soldiers who experienced the so-called Angel's Glow would indeed have had a better chance at staving off infection.
So yes, we'd describe P. luminescens as very angel-like ... if angels were puked out by roundworms.
Some UFO Sightings Are ... Airborne Spiders?!
In Florence, Italy on October 27, 1954, everyone at Stadio Artemi Franchi -- the players, the 10,000 adoring fans gathered to watch a rousing game of Wrong Football, everyone -- fell silent and looked up to the sky. Ardico Magnini, a 1954 World Cup player, describes what they saw:
"I remember everything from A to Z. It was something that looked like an egg that was moving slowly, slowly, slowly. Everyone was looking up and also there was some glitter coming down from the sky, silver glitter."
Like the movies, the skies above Tuscany had been infested with otherworldly invaders, this time from the planet Fabulouso Prime.
It Gets Weirder:
It was flying spiders. Fucking flying spiders.
The wispy, silvery substance that fell in the wake of the UFOs didn't just land on the soccer stadium -- it fell on rooftops and lawns throughout Tuscany. Commonly referred to as "angel hair" by UFO conspiracy types, this fragile, sticky substance has been described as similar to cotton wool or ... wait for it ... cobwebs. And as it so happens, the timeframe of the 1954 UFO sightings falls right at the tail end of a magnificent spider migration that takes place in the Northern Hemisphere each year. Retired USAF pilot and current astronomer James McGaha describes these migrations as follows:
"The spiders use these webs as sails and they link together and you get a big glob of this stuff in the sky and the spiders ride on this to move between locations. They just fly on the wind and these things have been recorded at 14,000 feet above the ground. So, when the sunlight glistens off this, you get all kinds of visual effects. As some of this stuff breaks off and falls to the ground, this all seems magical of course. But I'm fairly confident that's what happened that day."
We ... would prefer the anal-probing aliens, honestly.
The "Toxic Woman" Was Caused By A Home Remedy Interacting With Medical Treatment
On February 19, 1994, Gloria Ramirez suffered kidney failure and was rushed to a California emergency room. When the ER staff drew Ramirez's blood, they reported odd crystalline structures forming in it, and then a strong, ammonia-like odor. Suddenly they began dropping like flies. In all, two dozen emergency medical personnel were knocked out cold by this bloodborne nerve gas, with the worst affected, Dr. Julie Gorchynski, spending weeks in recovery after her bones literally began to die. It's almost as if someone had declared chemical warfare on an unsuspecting California ER, but who in their right mind would do such a horrible thing?
As it turns out, the culprit was one Gloria Ramirez. Unintentionally, of course.
It Gets Weirder:
An initial state report claimed that the emergency room workers had simply succumbed to mass hysteria brought on by stress, but it doesn't take an intimate knowledge of the scientific method to call bullshit on that hypothesis. These were ER doctors; one dying woman isn't going to cause them all to swoon like shocked Southern belles.
A later analysis of the case performed by a team of nuclear weapons chemists at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory arrived at a much more feasible conclusion. Ramirez, suffering from advanced cervical cancer, had turned to a never-prescribed topical solution known as DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide) to treat her pain. If you were to bombard DMSO with oxygen atoms after it had been absorbed into your bloodstream -- as might happen if, say, an ambulance crew applied an oxygen mask -- you'd end up with dimethyl sulfate, a bona fide chemical warfare agent. And that's how, starting the moment those unsuspecting ER workers tapped into her tainted veins, Gloria Ramirez became a war crime.
Cryptic Mystery Blocks On UK Beaches Were ... Not All That Mysterious, It Turns Out
While out walking her dog on a Cornwall beach in 2012, Tracey Williams spotted a big black tablet lying in the sand. Possibly expecting commandments from God, or at least a free iPad, she turned the tablet over to find a single, seemingly nonsense word: "TJIPETIR." She didn't think much of it until, weeks later, she found a matching slab on yet another beach.
"If this is a plea for rescue, you could be a bit more clear."
Williams set up a Facebook page in an attempt to solve the mystery, and reports soon flooded in of perplexing rubber blocks discovered on beaches from France to Sweden. It didn't take long to connect the name "Tjipetir" to an Indonesian plantation that, around the turn of the 20th century, was a major producer of gutta-percha, the old-timey vegan equivalent of present-day plastic. So that answered the question of where the blocks originated ... but how exactly did these mysterious antediluvian objects end up strewn all across the beaches of Northern Europe?
It's obviously time travel. Right?
It Gets Weirder:
The answer is not time travel. Goddammit, the answer is never going to be time travel.
A French newspaper speculated that the blocks were washing up from the wreckage of the Titanic, which listed gutta-percha on its manifest. But then a much stronger candidate came to light in 2013: the Japanese cargo liner Miyazaki Maru, which was sunk west of the Scilly Isles in 1915 by German U-boat ace Walther Schwieger (aka "the guy who goaded America into World War I"). Not only was the ship carrying blocks of gutta-percha, but it was also being ripped to bits by salvagers even as untold rubber blocks were finding their way into the ocean currents.
The Miyazaki Maru was carrying such a massive lot of gutta-percha, in fact, that the discovery of TJIPETIR blocks isn't likely to stop anytime soon. Oceanographer Curtis Ebbesmeyer estimates that the blocks are "one of the great pieces of flotsam that people may be finding 100 years from now."
Said people will almost assuredly forget about this story in due time, and the mystery will begin anew.
The Blue People Of Kentucky Screwed Each Other Blue
The Blue Fugates of Troublesome Creek were, as their nickname implies, blue. Not sad or profane -- actually blue.
"The name was originally Funke; they made us change it at Ellis Island."
When Martin Fugate immigrated to Kentucky from France in 1820, the most likely explanation for his blue skin was probably "pissed off a witch." Today we know a simpler explanation: Fugate (and in turn, his progeny) suffered from a rare blood disorder known as methemoglobinemia. Passed down through a recessive gene, this disorder renders the blood unable to carry an adequate amount of oxygen, thereby tinting the subject's skin a lovely shade of Drowning Victim Blue.
Now, the thing about recessive genes is that it takes two of them to tango. You see where we're headed with this, right?
It Gets Weirder:
Benjy Stacy was born "as Blue as Lake Louise," and could trace his ancestry directly back to Martin Fugate -- using a single finger, no less. "I'm kin to myself," he politely understated.
Having lived in a remote area of Kentucky which was largely disconnected from the outside world, the Fugates really kept it in the family, so to speak. Cousins married cousins -- Martin's son Zachariah bucked the trend by marrying his own aunt -- and popped out some new blue self-cousins to keep the grand tradition going. The Fugates danced the Targaryen Shuffle for seven generations before coal mining found its way to the region and forcibly expanded their world. The family then dispersed and the recessive trait became less common.
That's not to say it disappeared entirely, however. Enter Kerry Green:
"Hey, Green, feeling a little blue?"
"Oh my god, fuck you. You think you're the first person to think of that? FUCK. YOU."
Green, a 53-year-old Tulsa native and methemoglobinemia sufferer, strongly suspects that his absentee father -- an also-blue long-haul truck driver -- was descended from a Tennessee branch of the Fugate family tree. Though he's suffered a long chain of health problems, starting with a series of heart surgeries shortly after birth, his condition isn't all downside. Green claims his father was once shot five times yet didn't bleed out, because the disorder makes your blood the consistency of melted chocolate.
Hey Marvel, give us a call when you want to talk about our brand-new surefire superhero concept: Inbred Blue Guy.
Saikat Bhowmik loves solving mysteries while remaining mysterious himself. To get some of that mysterious touch, follow him on Twitter and visit his channels Amuzic and Amuzic II. Laura H. would like to thank everyone who said she'd never make any money from writing. Follow her on Twitter.
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