5 Creepy Unsolved Mysteries (That Have Totally Been Solved)
When it comes to a mystery, there is a spectrum of possible reactions. On one end is the type of person who is happy to let it be and wander off to do whatever it is such people do. On the other end is the type of person who immediately starts howling to the uncaring wind that they'll solve the enigma if they have to sell their grandmother's kidneys to do so. Me, I'm firmly in the latter camp, and since you're reading this I'm guessing you're the same. We, friend, are the fools who idly click some goofy link and four hours later find ourselves 42 browser tabs into the mystery. There may even be a notepad.
Once again, I've done my best to dig out the most likely truth behind some of my favorite mystery tales. Let's speculate!
The Flannan Isles Lighthouse
It's Dec. 21, 1900. Delayed by bad weather, a supply ship for the Eilean Mor lighthouse on the Scottish Flannan Isles has just arrived to stock the place with food and porn (I think I made up the latter, but lighthouses are lonely places). They expected to find three professional, yet pissed-off people who had been stuck on the remote, craggy rock island by themselves since Dec. 7. Instead, they found the place completely empty. It had been clearly lived in and carefully maintained ... but the three keepers were nowhere to be found.
The mystery immediately burrowed into the public consciousness thanks to the many weird details surrounding it. In addition to the actual disappearance, there was an uneaten meal still on the kitchen table, suggesting whatever had happened to them was extremely swift and unexpected. This was further supported by the fact that, although the weather during the men's disappearance had been horrible, one of them had left his oilskins -- weatherproof outerwear -- inside the lighthouse.
Even today, many consider the Flannan Isle case one of the most enticing disappearance mysteries. It has inspired books, songs, poems, and even a Doctor Who episode. Over the years, people have attempted to explain the events with theories ranging from murder schemes, ghost ship abductions, and sea monsters to saner but equally unlikely ones about the whole scenario being an elaborate escape from the job by the three men (because, uh, a regular "I quit" is just too conventional for some people?). I'm not even going to visit the more far-fetched ones about wormholes and people being turned to sea birds by evil spirits, but rest assured they are out there.
Much like Cthulhu.
The Likely Solution:
The very first investigation of the incident Occam's razored the shit out of the "mystery": There was a storm, the trio was out securing their lighthouse-keeping gear, and a large wave or a freak gust of wind swept them out into the raging sea.
"In a nice, sheltered place like this? Impossible! Now, about those aliens ..."
-a conspiracy theorist somewhere
"But what about the uneaten meal and all the signs that clearly point in the direction of ?" you ask. And it would be a good question, if it wasn't for the fact that none of those mysterious clues ever existed. The original reports and documents of the case specifically mention that all the kitchen utensils were clean and there was nothing amiss in the lighthouse apart from two things: a single overturned chair by the kitchen table and the aforementioned set of oilskins. Luckily for us (but unfortunately for the "Aaaargh it was kelpies!" folk), one theory can explain even those: The island was littered with deep but narrow gullies called geos, which could catch water from particularly massive waves and hose it back with extreme force, catching people who were readying themselves for whatever came from the ocean right in the back and expelling them out into the sea.
According to this version, the most experienced lighthouse keeper was attending to his duties in the lighthouse while the two junior ones were securing shit out on the landing stage (which, it turns out, was located right in one of the geos). When he noticed giant waves approaching, he ran out to warn his comrades, leaving his rainwear behind and knocking a chair in his haste. Two guesses as to whether he ventured too close to the waves in his panic.
The Gas Mask Creature Of Switzerland
As you may have noticed from the 7,000 or so large-scale online freakouts that take place in an average week, the Internet's ability to immediately get on a case is not always a blessing. In 2013, we noted in one of our media reviews that news sites were covering the tale of a mysterious entity known locally as the ghost of De Maules or, more popularly, Le Loyon. According to various news sites (and Daily Mail), this strange figure had been roaming a particular road in the Swiss countryside on a daily basis for the last decade, always clad in a gas mask and a strange, military-style rain cloak, frightening people with its appearance and ... minding its own business, deliberately avoiding people, and occasionally picking flowers?
Of course, rumors about Le Loyon's true nature were running rampant. Some said it was really a mentally unstable woman stalking the woods in search of solace or a malformed man making a desperate attempt to hide his frightening appearance by wearing even more frightening clothes for some reason. There were cryptozoology and ghost rumors. The story was gaining traction and about two-and-a-half steps away from turning into a bona fide monster hunt, pitchforks and all, when it was abruptly stopped -- by Le Loyon itself.
The Likely Solution:
Just a few months after the story started making rounds, Le Loyon's clothing was found by the road it had been stalking, complete with an extremely passive-aggressive "suicide" note (it's in French, but here's a reasonably accurate translation). The note expressed Le Loyon's concerns that the recent exposure would lead to further attention, which forced the person under the clothes to abandon the walks, which the letter referred to as "happiness therapy." Then, it snarks at the reader for not understanding the works of one Sacher-Masoch.
Yep, we're talking about Leopold von Sacher-Masoch, as in "the granddaddy of masochism." So, yeah, while in theory it's still possible that Switzerland just barely dodged a Friday The 13th situation here, it sure looks a lot like Internet attention just managed to freak out a harmless S&M enthusiast who merely wanted to mind their own business and suffer nature in peace.
The Eltanin Antenna
The year is 1964. You're idly photographing the Cape Horn seafloor aboard the research ship USNS Eltanin -- like one does -- when suddenly your camera manages to capture something out of this world. Meet the Eltanin antenna:
My god. The aliens have coat rack technology!
Sweet mother of balls, what the shit is that thing? Not only does it seem far too regular in shape to be anything but artificial, its upright positioning means it was clearly put there to serve a purpose. What's more, the object is located at a depth of 13,500 feet, which ruled submarines of the time right out of the equation -- there was no way we could have gotten that thing in there. So, the question isn't what it is but who put it there? Was it an ancient civilization? Aliens? Time travelers? Alien time travelers? Even the people who are into extraterrestrial theories can't quite make up their minds, but the general consensus is this: It's certainly no plant, because photosynthesis isn't possible so far down there, and it can't be human-made, because there's no way we'd have been able to put it there. So, let's just file this one in the cabinet marked "X" and move on to ...
The Likely Solution:
... ah, just kidding. That shit was totally solved years ago. It's a fucking deepwater sponge called Cladorhiza concrescens, people. The whole antenna debacle was started by a 1964 New Zealand Herald article that nonchalantly referred to the photo as "something like a complex radio aerial jutting out of the mud bottom." Although that very same sentence clearly stated this phrasing was only because the reporter was a layman, sometimes a figure of speech like that is all it takes to get the insanity ball rolling. Still, I'm not going to present this as a 100 percent accurate solution to this dilemma, as the fact that few people of scientific authority have ever deemed the antenna thing worth debunking further complicates things (you'll notice the links I use, though seemingly accurate, have names like WaterUFO.net, and even the better articles out there gleefully quote Wikipedia). Even so, here's a Cladorhiza concrescens:
Here's the Eltanin antenna:
Here's that stupid sponge again:
Aaaaand this is where everyone gets to draw their own conclusions.
Related: Before Lil Nas X Sparked A Widespread Moral Panic, There Was Purple 'Teletubbie,' 'Tinky Winky'
The Ourang Medan
Like the Mary Celeste, the SS Ourang Medan is one of the most famous ghost ships out there. You've probably heard the story even if you don't recognize the name: In 1948 (or 1947, depending on the source), the Ourang Medan, a Dutch freighter traveling near the coast of Indonesia, sent out a series of increasingly panicked distress calls, containing the message: "All officers including captain dead, lying in chartroom and on bridge, probably whole crew dead." After that, the Morse messages exploded into a barrage of SOS calls, finally melting into incoherence before returning with a final, clear, chilling line: "I die."
If that sounds like the beginning of a horror movie to you, you're goddamned right: The ship answering the call, the Silver Star, found the entire crew of the ship (plus one dog) dead. Their eyes were wide open, faces locked in a terrified expression, and arms pointed at the sky in rigor mortis. The investigation was cut short by a mysterious fire that forced the rescuers to abandon the ship, which exploded and sank. There are tons and tons of theories about the incident, from unsanctioned (and unfortunately leaky) cargos of nerve gas and acid to -- everybody together now -- sea monsters and aliens. Really, by now you can freely imagine your own details here, and I bet you can find some mystery site confirming them.
The Likely Solution:
It's all pretty funny, because there's actually very little proof that the ship existed at all.
The more you dig into the enigma that is Ourang Medan, the more it looks like it's either a completely fabricated story or an amalgamation of several real but far less poltergeisty incidents at sea. Skeptics who have researched the case extensively have noted that the 1946 Lloyd's Register (a mandatory registry for all ships) makes no mention of the Ourang Medan or the rescuing ship, the Silver Star, so unless they were both brand-new during the supposed incident, that's kind of strange. In fact, there is precious little available information of anything non-tabloid-foddery about the ship, which seems more than a little strange considering that the similar but much, much tamer case of the Mary Celeste is routinely featured in respectable publications even today.
In fact, the only available mention about the ship is from an article in a Dutch newspaper that specifically states that the story is almost certainly fiction, which didn't stop them from running it three times that year alone. From what I can tell, that's what set the ball rolling, and an urban legend was born. Hilariously, there's a clearly stoned-out-of-its-face 1959 CIA document that repeats the story near-verbatim before breaking into a rant about inexplicable balls of fire and Old English chronicles about hollow-Earth UFOs. Some may find this damning, but all it convinces me of is that the agency had the best drugs back in the day.
The Odyssey Notes
In 2007, the University Of Chicago received a rare copy of the 1504 Venetian edition of Homer's Odyssey, complete with a very strange side order. The book's margins were filled with strange, scribbled annotations that no one could read, which was quite a feat considering we have a pretty good grasp on most every European language and cipher from the era. So, with another Voynich manuscript on their hands, the researchers sighed and waddled back to their chambers to slave over their inevitable failure at translating it for years and years and years.
"It's the work of a drunk robot. Case closed."
Ha, no! What do you think this is, the 1990s? The Chicago researchers glanced upon the Internet and realized that it's full of people like you and me who enjoy putting together pieces of old, weird puzzles just to see where it takes them. So instead of doing the whole "driven experts slaving away at decoding the impossible" thing usually associated with cryptography (and mystery solving in general), they decided to make a field day out of the situation and set up a contest: They put the mystery script online with a "no one can figure this out" disclaimer, adding a $1,000 prize for the person who could figure it out and translate select portions of the notes.
If you've ever taken part in an ARG, you know precisely how that shit went for them: In the time it takes you to scratch your head, go: "Huh," and pop out to buy beer in an effort to drink yourself into the mindset of a cunning trickster demon, some clever bastard already figured out the next 17 steps. Precisely this happened with the Odyssey notes: The "bet you can't do it" nature of the contest created huge global interest and tons of submissions for solutions, and a handful of people totally managed to figure out the answer to the riddle. The winner was Italian computer engineer Daniele Metilli, who recognized the script as a borderline impossible, obscure, shape-shifting, underline-heavy shorthand invented by Jean Coulon de Thevenot in the 18th century. And the secret that was revealed after the code was broken is ...
... a slap-dash French translation of the book. Huh. Well, no one said every mystery is an exciting one.
Check out more mysteries that have been debunked in 10 Famous Unsolved Mysteries Easily Explained By Science and 6 Famous Unsolved Mysteries (With Really Obvious Solutions).
Subscribe to our YouTube channel and learn even more science stuff in If Nature Documentaries Didn't Let Science Get In the Way.
Also follow us on Facebook because we've created a Pavlovian experiment based on Facebook notifications. We think it's working!