THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 32

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 32

…Four armed guards charge out of the left-hinged gate, the one in the lead asking, “Are you Aldona Afridi?”…

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All in all, Afridi has time to loosen the noose around his neck, having left the hardest roads behind. That he lives to tell the tale is testimony to his firm resolve and evidence of his good fortune.

The homemade taxi pulls up to the gates of the Ahmet Mosque, tall and unwelcoming. Four armed guards are-you-001charge out of the left-hinged gate, the one in the lead asking, “Are you Aldona Afridi?”

“I didn’t know what he was up to, I swear,” pleads the spineless driver, once an ally.

“Not you Cabbie! We are from the American Consulate, called here by your wife, she told us you would be coming.” Those are Marine uniformed men. “Pull that hunk of junk into that garage and leave the keys with the Sergeant.”

Naturally they comply, while being led inside, then left alone. The young Turk comments, “Whoever you are or whatever you know, I am impressed Saied.”

“Fatima, my dear Fatima,” Afridi prays aloud.

“Your fat mother?”

He needs to fill in the gaping blanks, “My name is Aldona Afridi and my wife Fatima and my two daughters are probably inside somewhere.”

“And mine is Mehmet Ali Erim,” they embrace like old friends. “I own a taxi, what do you do?”

“I am a scientist not a criminal, and there evil men chasing me!”

“I am intrigued, but not surprised Saied Al. You act like a man with a scorpion in your pants.”

“Do not tell Mr. Erim anything else,” the embassy guards warn.

“They know my name!”Image result for spy

“They may have been listening when you introduced yourself,” Afridi remarks, being the “seasoned spy” that he has become.

They are escorted into the catacombs of the 3rd Century structure and shown separate rooms. The two shake hands, not knowing what the future holds.

Mehmet Ali Erim is briefly debriefed as a precaution and released to the streets and his next fare.

Aldona Afridi is grilled on a number of subjects, none of which mention his defection, so it is he who asks, “May I see my family and when can I speak to someone about the Space Colony?”space-colony-banner-001

The team of inquisitors is headed by Elliot Deming, Consulate General of the Turkish delegation based in Ankara. The very tall middle-aged American political appointee paces in front of Aldona, knowing that he has not heard the whole story. “The Ambassador to Turkey is scheduled to arrive in another hour. We cannot move on your wife’s suspicious information until the Ambassador personally speaks with the United States Secretary of State.

“What I have to say cannot wait… I would not have risked my family’s lives for anything less!”

“We have to fully vet your story, I hope you understand?”

“No I do not.” This is no time for governmental red tape. He hangs his weary and exasperated head.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 32


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 28

“…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Expressmy lonely friend.”…

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In 2030, (again) after a famed and fabled past, the New Orient Express, that had halted the contiguous run in 2009, from Paris all the way through to Istanbul, a train-traveler can still take a (faster version) train from one end to the other; 2000 luxurious European kilometres.

Writers have forever taken advantage of its romantic whistle-stops and melting pot passenger list. Taken at face value, the spin of those yarns will have the seats of this long-train runnin’ occupied, in large part, by spies, opiate dealers, murderers, and the like.

In the second to last car is the restaurant coach and seated in the rear, trying his hardest to look inconspicuous {innocent}, is Aldona Afridi. Now you can add a Talibanistani defector to the list of unusually unusual passengers; fitting right in with the stereotypical fictional ne’er-do-wells. Just don’t stare at them.

In an attempt to make a goose-chase out of his flight to freedom thereby covering his tracks, Afridi had flown to Paris, instead of the logical land-way across the Persian Plain and Euphrates Valley, where Nutkani and his tribesmen were previously nipping at his heels.

The most gregarious of the conductor corps strolls down the aisle, stopping to chat with folks of all derivations, some of which would rather not, acting as if they were all long-lost friends. Afridi chooses Conductor“mute” as his origin, but is compelled to mouth, “What time Istanbul?”

“Last stop Bucharest…” he shares his answer, then pointedly asking, “…this must be your 1st trip on the New Orient Express, my lonely friend.” After 20 hours on the rapid rail, passengers should be more aware of the schedule.

“Will we get there before dusk?” he rephrases, hoping to elicit a more precise response from the mustachioed kibitzer.

“Romanian officials are asking questions, searching the whole train…for a defector my instinct tells me.”

Just what Afridi wanted to hear; like a priest preaching a sermon on hell in front of pews packed with hardcore sinners? Had he known that the rascally conductor was pulling his strange-unusualleg, using his uncanny ability to guess why passengers have chosen to ride this disreputable rail, Aldona would have been spared the mounting anxiety that threaten to make a wreck of him.

Chuckling on his way, the conductor whispers cryptically, “You will arrive at railhead before dark, my itchy friend. People who choose the New Orient Express are immune from border inspections…just be aware of the  people around you!”

The jovial ticket taker’s laugh echoes loudly, yet the cause of his amusement seems of little consequence to the other diners. Anonymity is the unspoken creed of this illustrious train.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 28


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 23

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 23

…Two key Mission personnel are dead, in one day at that…

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Mars City Mock-up

Mars City Mockup

“Planetary conditions are stable, touchdown grid confirmed.” Roy Crippen has settled in at Galveston Launch Facility to oversee the crowning moment of 20 years of work. Once Tycho comes back home to roost, after its 18 hour maiden excursion, his stay on the Texas coast will shift gears; to sending off the 21st Century version  of the floating boat filled with Brits, the New Mayflower, the first of three trips; winged people-movers that will add a decidedly human touch to a previously hominid-less planet. Mars City will be filled to the brim with 21st Century groundbreakers.

But that is tomorrow and today is today and other portentous profoundness. The Lovell Space Center’s attention is equally split between Mars and Galveston, with Roy Crippen as the connecting driving force for both. He contemplates those that he supervises, a sea of techs and specialists, tops in their field worldwide, 100 people comprising man’s future as good space citizens.

Spatial DebrisThere is one console, Spatial Debris Traffic for the Colony and Satellite tracking, which has an unfamiliar body seated there. For as long as Roy can remember, Phil Jansky has filled that seat.

“Where is Philip Jansky?” Something has slipped past him. He asks roving security, “Is he taking a break… now!?!”

“Jansky is dead, sir; we found him in his quarters when he didn’t confirm his 04:00 wakeup call.”

Roy’s mind starts somersaulting through any number of questions he could ask. He settles on, “Why am I the last to know?”

The security chief is embarrassed, if for no other reason than not knowing who dropped the ball. “The Coroner said he’d get back in touch with both autopsies.”

Two key Mission personnel are dead, in one day at that.

“I should hire a full-time mortician, set him up with an office,  he spends so much time here lately.” The mission head is losing control of personnel matters and his patience is flagging. “Who is Phil’spickle-b replacement?”

The guard checks his roster, “Gurkhas Shah-Dhangotma, from Kathmandu.”

“Never heard of him.  Who hired him with Fred Cabell gone? My God we have a Nepalese debris tracker. Aren’t they still Sherpa guides? This is space for crying out loud, not the Himalayas!

“Mr. Gherkin better be qualified. I do not like this, not at all!” he punctuates his rant sharply, while walking off a disquieting combination of anger and grief… even though “Gurkhas” in not a pickle.


THE RETURN TRIP

Episode 23


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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 10

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THE RETURN TRIP – Episode 10

…Fredrick C. Cabell was Human Resources to the civilian employees for the entire Colony project. “He is as mild-mannered as they come and you are treating this like a crime scene?”…

“You two are not the bearer of good news I gather?” Roy speaks to the coroner and the lawman.

“I was called here by the Sheriff, who was called by someone here at the Lovell Space Center, who found an unconscious employee, who called the doctor,” Coroner Franco points to his left.

“Me,” admits the MedLab’s Mission Physician, Miles Scheffeldink, the third man in. “No one knew where you were.”

“Don’t beat around the bush, Miles… who is it?”

The Coroner unzips the body bag to show the dead man’s face.

“Fred Cabell? Damn!” Fredrick C. Cabell was Human Resources to the civilian employees for the entire Colony project. “He is as mild-mannered as they come and you are treating this like a crime scene?”

“That is why deputy Judge called me over, to determine whether he died of natural causes… or not.” It must be the nature of the beast, because this doctor of the dead is about business and business only, hardened by the general morbidity of his profession.

“I don’t have anything to add here, except that this man is irreplaceable to us. He was like a father to everyone at Lovell, knew our children, and was there when we first stepped on these grounds. If I couldn’t remember something, I’d go to Fred.”

“Even if we could have resuscitated him, and we could not, his brain would have been of no use to him or Image result for cerebral hemorrhageanyone; he died of massive cerebral hemorrhages, several, rapid,” Dr. Sheffeldink of LSC laments.

“Fred had his yearly physical the same day I did—two weeks ago. He did tell me you did a Digital Image of his head and now this?”

“He was 85 years old Mr. Crippen, a brain scan is standard for a man his age,” LSC’s {Lovell Space Center} mission physician explained. “We checking for signs of concussion or Alzheimer’s, you know how nosy doctors are.”

lie_about_age“85, as in four score and five? That rascal has been scamming us all along, said that he wouldn’t reach mandatory retirement of 80 for another 5 years. 75 years old my ass! But of course, he controlled all the records!”

“85 or not, he was fit as an electronic fiddle; blood pressure, serum cholesterol, brain wave, stress factor aptitude, not so much as an irregular heartbeat . I wish I were as healthy,” the attending doctor admits. “What was he doing when he died, you may ask? He was having a cup of coffee in his living quarters here, getting ready to start his day at 4 o’clock AM. That is when I determined T.O.D.”

“TOD?” Crip wonders aloud.

“Time of death,” stated as a matter of fact. “He was entering some notes into his database handheld when the seizure stopped him cold.”

“Can I see that thing? Maybe there are some signs of him starting to fail.” asks the Mission Director.

“Do not have it. The security man, who found him, said he had taken care of it.”

“Why was security in Fred’s quarters? How did he know there was something wrong with Fred?” Things aren’t adding up. “As far as I know, no one has ever been inside his room; he was that reclusive in his off-time.”

“Yes indeed, reclusive and disorganized, judging by the mess.” Dr. Sheffeldink was embarrassed about walking into the privacy of a man’s personal space. “The question is, what was he imputing and what caused the hemorrhages.”

“I am going to need some answers Mr. Coroner. Mr. Sheriff, I would like to keep this in house, no public pronouncement,” orders given by a visibly shaken administrator. “Good day gentlemen.”

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The mortician is off to do the autopsy, the sheriff to keep this part of the Panhandle safe and the security guard is nowhere to be found.

To Dr. Sheffeldink he orders, “We’ll be treating Fred’s death as ‘natural causes’. And to be honest Doctor, I am knee-deep in getting 50 more people to Mars; no time to deal with an official investigation.

“Please notify his relatives, if he has some, his wife-ex-wife whomever. It will be on a need-to-know basis only.” Fredrick Cabell knew everything about everybody. But nobody knew anything about him.

Roy was hoping for tranquility around Colony Control, as the most important moments of manned spaceflight are taking place. But that is being replaced by early onset damaged control.


THE RETURN TRIP

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Episode 10


page 10

Now You See Them, Then You Don’t – WIF Mystery

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Unsolved Mass

Disappearing Acts

Missing persons cases can be difficult to crack. However, most people go missing one at at time. In the 10 cases below, multiple people disappeared at the same time. While there are some clues about how these people went missing, none of these cases have ever been fully unraveled.

Now you see them, then you don’t.

10. The Village at Lake Anjikuni

This one comes in at the bottom of our list because there is some doubt about whether there ever was a village at Lake Anjikuni, in Canada’s northern Nunavut region. As the story, which was first published in the Danville Bee in 1930, goes, fur trapper Joe Labelle returned to a remote Inuit village of about 25 people he had visited previously, only to discover that everyone was missing. The tents and villagers’ belongings were still there, but there was no sign of the inhabitants. According to this news account, Labelle reported, “The whole thing looked as if it had been left that way by people who expected to come back. But they hadn’t come back.” He also noticed signs that ancestral graves had been disturbed. While there were dog skeletons in the village, he could find no sign of human corpses.

However, there are some reasons to doubt this story, which entered the popular imagination when it appeared in Frank Edward’s 1959 book, Stranger than Science. When the Royal Canadian Mounted Police investigated the case in 1931, they determined “there is no evidence … to support such a story,” noting that a village of that size wouldn’t have feasibly existed in such a remote location and that local officers, trappers, and missionaries had reported nothing out of the ordinary.

9. The Sodder Children

When George and Jennie Sodder went to bed on Christmas Eve 1945, 9 of their 10 children were at home (the 10th was serving in the military). By the following morning, the Sodder house was burned to the ground. George, Jennie, and four of the children made it out. However, the other five children, who ranged in age from 5 to 14, were never seen again. Initially, everyone, including the surviving members of the Sodder family, assumed the children must have perished in the fire, despite their father’s desperate attempts to rescue them. Because it was Christmas Day, the fire marshal postponed a thorough inspection of the site, which was basically a basement full of ashes at that point. A few days later, George Sodder bulldozed several feet of dirt over the remains of his home, planting flowers there in memory of the family’s lost children.

As time went on, more details emerged that cast doubt on whether the five missing Sodder children had actually died in the fire. The family remembered some odd events around that time, meaningless in isolation, but suspicious in concert. Jennie had been awakened earlier in the night by a noise that sounded like something hitting the roof and the family had received what they thought was an odd prank phone call just after midnight the night of the fire. Additionally, a ladder had been moved from its storage area near the house to more than 75 feet away, hindering George’s attempts to reach his children’s upstairs bedrooms to rescue them. In another strange twist, the bones of the missing children were never recovered, despite the fact that the fire did not appear to have burned long enough or hot enough to destroy human bone.

The Sodders never stopped looking for their missing children, offering a reward for information, erecting a billboard near their house and hiring private detectives to follow up on reports of sightings, including a photo—of a young man bearing a striking resemblance to one of the missing children– which was mailed to the Sodders. Some suggested that the children could have been kidnapped in retaliation for negative remarks George Sodder, an Italian immigrant, had made about Mussolini or that the mafia could have been involved. Despite the many theories that emerged, no conclusive evidence of what ultimately happened to the five Sodder children has ever been found.

8. The Yemenite Children Affair

Following Israel’s founding in 1948, the state struggled to quickly absorb a rush of new immigrants. More than 50,000 Yemenite and other “Mazrahi” Jewish immigrants from the Middle East and Africa moved to the new state in its early years, and were often settled in chaotic transit camps, temporary tent cities were new immigrants were housed due a housing shortage.

In these camps, babies and toddlers were often taken from their parents to be cared for in hospitals or nurseries, which ostensibly offered better living conditions. Unfortunately, some of these babies—estimates range from 650 to more than 4,000—were never returned to their parents. Some parents were told that their babies had died, though most were not shown a body or a grave and many grieving parents weren’t given death certificates. Recent advances in DNA testing have proved that at least some of these supposedly deceased Yemenite babies never died at all, but rather, were placed for adoption with childless Ashkenazi (Jews of European descent) families. In 2016, one Israeli cabinet official who was part of a panel investigating the disappearances gave credence to activists’ claims that the children were systematically stolen and placed for adoption when he admitted that hundreds of children were taken from their families, saying, “They took the children, and gave them away. I don’t know where.”

7. Flight 19

Flight 19 didn’t consist of a single plane, but rather a group of five planes–US Navy TPM Avenger bombers—which took off from Fort Lauderdale Naval Air Station for a training mission between the Bahamas and Florida on the afternoon of December 5, 1945. The planes, and the 14 experienced airmen on them, never returned to shore.

The pilots of the group of planes, which would become known as the “Lost Patrol,” could be heard conversing with one another, and sounded disoriented by the fact that at least some of the pilots believed their compasses were malfunctioning and the worsening weather, which made assessing their position difficult. The lead pilot made the decision to fly east, believing they were in the Gulf of Mexico, a course the planes apparently stuck to until one pilot’s last transmission: “All planes close up tight … will have to ditch unless landfall. When the first plane drops to 10 gallons we all go down together.”

Two flying boats were dispatched to look for the missing patrol. One of those boats also disappeared from radar and, along with its 13-man crew, never returned. A passing merchant spotted a fireball in the sky, and saw evidence of an oil slick in the water, suggesting it likely fell victim to an explosion. Despite an extensive search by the Navy, bodies and debris from the missing patrol and the missing rescue mission were never located. A team of Navy investigators ultimately attributed the loss of Flight 19 to “causes or reasons unknown.”

6. The Mary Celeste

On November 7, 1872, the Mary Celeste, a 282-ton brigantine, set sail from New York City, bound for Genoa, Italy. It carried cargo of 1,700 barrels of industrial alcohol, seven crewmen, Captain Benjamin Briggs, his wife, and his 2-year-old daughter. When the ship was next spotted, almost a month later, 400 miles east of the Azores, the ship’s cargo and provisions were largely intact (though the lifeboat was missing), but there was no one aboard. The Mary Celeste was in reasonably good shape, other than some water in the bottom of the ship, and the crew of the ship that discovered it, the Dei Gratia, were able to sail it on to Gibraltar.

So what happened to the 10 people on board? There is no definitive answer to that question. Some suspected foul play, laying the blame on the crew of the Dei Gratia, who had applied to receive the salvage value of the ship. However, after a salvage inquiry was conducted, there was no evidence that this had occurred (there also wasn’t a whole lot of evidence that this had not occurred). Other theories, including mutiny, an explosion caused by the Mary Celeste’s boozy cargo, or an irrational decision by the captain also appeared unlikely. Anne MacGregor, who created a documentary film dedicated to unraveling the mystery, believes the evidence suggests that a faulty chronometer, along with a failing water pump aboard the ship, prompted Captain Briggs to believe the ship was in danger of sinking, and to give the order to abandon ship when the islands of the Azores were in sight. Since the lifeboat never arrived at the Azores, nor was it ever recovered, the definitive fate of the 10 souls aboard the Mary Celeste remains a mystery.

5. The Dyatlov Pass Incident

In late January 1959, a group of nine students of the Ural Polytechnic Institute and a ski instructor, set off for a skiing expedition to Mount Otorten in the northern Urals. Only one of them, Yuri Yudin, who had to turn back early due to health problems, ever returned from the trip.

When the other nine didn’t make contact as planned, a search party set out to locate them, and uncovered a grisly mystery. The first thing the rescuers located was the students’ tent, which had been sliced open from the inside. Most of the group’s belongings were still inside the tent, which appeared to have been abandoned in a hurry. Investigators found footprints showing that the group had fled the tent barefoot, in socks, or wearing a single shoe. The bodies of two of the students, dressed only in their underclothes were found near the remains of a campfire. Three more bodies were found between the fire and the tent. All five were determined to have died from hypothermia. A couple months later, the four remaining bodies were found at the bottom of a ravine, and showed signs of crush injuries and the tongue of one had been ripped out. Tests on their bodies showed trace amounts of radiation.

The Soviet military looked into the incident, somewhat vaguely determining that the group had died from a “natural force they were unable to overcome,” and classifying the materials related to the investigation.  In early 2019, Russian prosecutors announced they were reexamining the case, though they were only considering theories associated with natural phenomena. Said the spokesman for Russia’s Prosecutor General, “Crime is out of the question. There is not a single proof, even an indirect one, to favor this (criminal) version. It was either an avalanche, a snow slab or a hurricane.”

4. Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

On March 8, 2014, a Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 227 passengers and 12 crew members took off from Kuala Lampur, Malaysia bound for Beijing. It never arrived. A months-long international search yielded only a few pieces of the plane, found thousands of miles from where the flight veered off course, but the bulk to the plane’s fuselage, along with the (presumed) remains of those aboard has yet to be located. The disappearance, and the lack of clarity about why or how the plane went missing shocked the world. As Miguel Marin, chief of operational safety at the International Civil Aviation Organization’s Air Navigation Bureau put it, “It was inconceivable that in this day and age we would lose an airplane that big without a trace.”

There are a few clues about the plane’s disappearance. The plane turned sharply off its planned flight path, a maneuver experts suggest would have had to be carried out manually (versus via autopilot) and the aircraft’s responder stopped transmitting (possibly due to a malfunction, but more likely because it was turned off). While the pilot’s home simulator did show some flight paths similar to that undertaken by the flight shortly before it disappeared from radar, an investigation of the captain’s private life failed to turn up any signs of the sort of disturbance that would provide a motive for suicide (and the more than 200 innocent deaths that would accompany it) and the Malaysian government has dismissed this theory, and suggested a “mass hypoxia event” rendered all aboard unconscious, while the plane flew on autopilot until it ran out of fuel and crashed. More definitive evidence about what happened on Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 may yet turn up, as the plane’s Flight Data Recorder and Cockpit Voice Recorder have, as of mid-2019, not been located.

3. The Flannan Isles Lighthouse Keepers

On December 26, 1900, a small ship made its way to a remote Scottish island. It carried a replacement lighthouse keeper, who would rotate in for a stint among the island’s three lighthouse keepers, and its only human inhabitants. However, when the ship arrived, no one emerged to greet it, even after the horn was sounded and a flare was fired. When the replacement lighthouse keeper rowed ashore and climbed to the lighthouse, he quickly discovered something was wrong. The lighthouse fireplace looked like it hadn’t been lit for a week and, while everything was in place, the three lighthouse keepers were nowhere to be found (although, oddly, one of them had left his protective oilskin coat in the lighthouse).

The official explanation suggests that the men were swept out to sea by a large wave as they attempted to secure some gear on a cliff during a storm. While it was against protocol for all three men to leave the lighthouse at once, one theory suggests that the third lighthouse keeper ventured out to help or warn his colleagues about an impending large wave (perhaps leaving his coat behind in haste) and was also swept away.

2. The Students of Iguala

One night in September 2014, a group of about 100 university students from a rural teachers college in Mexico headed out in the city of Iguala to commandeer several buses to carry their group to a march in Mexico City a few days later. According to reports, stealing buses was something of a local tradition, and neither the bus companies nor the authorities were particularly alarmed when this happened.

After an altercation at a local bus depot, the students headed out on five buses, trailed by police, some of whom started firing on the buses. Forty-three students on two of the buses were eventually taken into police custody; they were never seen again. Only one of the students’ bodies has been identified. The official account (disputed by international investigators and friends and families of the missing students) is that the students were kidnapped by local police officers, who turned them over to a drug gang, which then killed them and burned their bodies. International investigators were brought in 2015, but when they failed to support the government’s version of events, the hostility and stonewalling they encountered led them to abandon the inquiry, though a federal court ordered another investigation conducted in late 2018. As of mid-2019, there was no conclusive evidence on the fate of the missing students.

1. The Lost Colony

In 1587, a group of 115 English settlers founded the Roanoke Colony on an island off the coast of North Carolina. Later that year, John White, the colony’s governor, sailed back to England to secure additional supplies for the fledgling settlement. However, just as White arrived in England, a naval war broke out between England and Spain, and every ship was ordered to participate in the war effort. By the time White made it back to Roanoke, it was three years later, and there was no sign of the settlers.

The only clues were the word “Croatoan” carved into a fencepost, and the letters CRO carved into a tree. “Croatoan” was the name used for what is now called Hatteras Island, as well as the name of the Native American tribe that populated the area. Reportedly, White had agreed with the colonists prior to heading back to England that if the group needed to leave Roanoke under duress, they would carve a Maltese cross symbol into a tree; no such sign was found at the site. Despite several contemporaneous and modern investigations, the fate of the colonists remains a mystery. The most likely theory is that the colonists moved locations (perhaps splitting into multiple groups), possibly assimilating with local Native American tribes. Other theories suggest the colonists were killed by Native Americans, killed by Spanish settlers, or tried to sail back to England and were lost at sea. While research is still ongoing, and some hope that DNA analysis will at last unlock the mystery of the colonists’ fate, the “Lost Colony” has managed to remain lost to the world for more than 400 years.


Now You See Them, Then You Don’t

WIF Mystery

Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #306

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Alpha Omega M.D. – Episode #306

…Sara’s every acquaintance seems new to her, with a lack of historical provenance, which happens to be the key ingredient in friendships and family…

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“Do not attempt to adjust your television set. You have entered the world of the unexplained, where people disappear and reappear, a place we like to call,The Unknown Zone.” Lyn Hanes likens Sara’s predicament with the inconsistent reception and test patterns associated with the burgeoning field of televised imagery.

“The picture is a little fuzzy Miss Hanes, but one thing for sure, even though we’re without the whys and wherefores, your friend is going to require 24 hour observation. I recommend she remain in Washington with us.” Ben Wright confirms what Lyn and Bob had feared, being left with strangers, but in her current state, everyone is a relative stranger to Sara. Her every acquaintance seems new to her, with a lack of historical provenance, which happens to be the key ingredient in friendships and family.

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Psychedelic Art by Jen Stark

“Will she be able to continue her dancing? It is everything to her.”

“Oh, my, yes. Sara will be nourished and encouraged. She needs to be kept busy, so if you think we were going to lock her away and turn her into homebody, you can rest easy. And we encourage you to call and visit her frequently. You are the only people she really knows. It appears that she will not forget anyone she knows now, even if she continues her reversion.”

“When do you think this reversion will stop Dr. Wright, or will it?”

“The way it looks, because the human body will not shrink in size, she cannot regress to pre-pubescence. If we are able to stimulate her mind, we should keep her reality in the present.”

“Just think of it,” ponders Jane Friez, “looking in the mirror everyday, and instead of watching the wrinkles and laugh lines form, or have your bottom sag and put on weight, you have this woman, whose clock is running backward and is probably wondering why everyone else is aging so fast.”

“We cannot allow this to become a circus sideshow folks. We don’t need Walter Cronkite beating a path to our door. As far as anyone outside this hospital is concerned, Sara Fenwick is just another patient, is that understood?”

All heads nod.


Alpha Omega M.D.

Trippy Circle by Mike Hoekwater

Trippy Circle by mhoekwat.deviantart.com

Episode #306


page 289

Stuff in “America’s Attic” -WIF Museums

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Mysteries Locked

in the

Smithsonian Institute

The Smithsonian Institution is often called America’s attic, and within its vast collections can be found items ranging from mundane to utterly unique. Over 150 million items are contained within the Institution’s collections, scattered throughout its many museums, affiliated museums, temporarily displayed at other locations on loan, or carefully stored. It should be no surprise that, considering the size of the collections, an accurate inventory has been elusive at times. In 2010 an independent study revealed discrepancies in the Smithsonian’s inventories that indicated approximately 10% of items claimed by the Smithsonian were unaccounted for; that is, they were missing. Across the 19 museums operated directly by the Smithsonian, the number could be much higher.

The Smithsonian fields queries from collectors, salvagers, and archaeologist both professional and amateur, evaluating items and documents for their authenticity and historical significance. In doing so it runs into the occasional, shall we say, quack. These queries and of course the spread of unconfirmed reports across the internet have led to the belief of items in the institution’s care which are wholly unfounded. Others seem to be true. Since only a tiny percentage of the Smithsonian’s collections are actually on display, there is an opportunity to assign to them the holding of objects which cannot be confirmed visually by a visit to one of their facilities. Denials of possession from the Institution’s docents are treated with a conspiratorial wink. Here are 10 items believed to be in the possession of the Smithsonian, and whether or not such possession is true.

10. John Dillinger’s sex organ

Where and when the story of John Dillinger’s improbably large penis being housed in the Smithsonian Institution began is elusive. It has been debunked by writers and fact checkers, denied by the Institution itself, and still the story won’t go away. The Smithsonian has for years maintained a form letter denying its possession of Dillinger’s member, which it sends in response to queries regarding its existence and asking for confirmation of its size. During the 1960s the story was spread further to explain that the organ was actually on display at the Institution, with hundreds claiming to have personally examined it as it lay pickled in a jar of formaldehyde. Embellishments to the story had the organ displayed, in its jar, in the office of J. Edgar Hoover before it found its way into the nation’s attic.

The story of Dillinger’s penis being, shall we say, larger than life began shortly after photos of the dead criminal awaiting his autopsy were seen by the public. A large bulge in the sheet covering his lifeless body was the culprit. Dillinger had more than his share of admirers in the Depression years, including those who admired his many known trysts with attractive women. How the item in question moved from his autopsy room to a place in the Smithsonian, and why it did, are both questions with an array of answers, none of which can be confirmed. But nobody has been able to prove that the item doesn’t exist in the Smithsonian’s collections either, though the museum has long maintained that it has no record of possessing the curious article.

9. George Washington’s missing bed

Within the inventory of the collection held by the National Museum of American History is George Washington’s bed, which he slept in while at home on his Mount Vernon Plantation. During an inventory review in the early 21st century the inspectors reported that parts of the bed in question, surely significant as it was likely the bed in which the Father of His Country breathed his last, were missing, and had been for many years. The Smithsonian responded that the bed had in fact never been delivered to the Institution, and although it was not in their material position, they knew where it was. It was on display in Washington’s bedroom, at Mount Vernon, where visitors could view it when touring the estate.

Technically the bed is in the possession of the Smithsonian, though there is dispute over whether the Institution ever had physical custody of the bed. The bed and another item in the Smithsonian’s collections – George Washington’s uniform – can be used to answer another often debated feature regarding the Virginian. Washington’s height has been reported as being as tall as 6-foot-6 by some historians, with others stating he was just over 6-feet tall. Washington indicated the latter when ordering suits from London tailors. Measurements of the uniform, and the longer than average length of the mattress of the Mount Vernon bed, indicate his height was 6-foot-2; not a giant, but considerably taller than the average height for his day.

8. A steam engine lost in the Titanic disaster may be owned by the Smithsonian

Hiram Maxim was a British inventor (though he was born in America) who held a multitude of patents, including one for the invention of a better mousetrap. He is most famous for the advances he made in automatic weapons. Among his interests was the invention of a heavier than air flying machine, powered by a steam engine. When the aircraft experiments ended in failure, Maxim donated the engine, which was of his own design, to the Smithsonian Institution. The engine was shipped to the United States in the hold of the new White Star Lines steamer, RMS Titanic. Although the ship’s manifest did not specifically list a shipment made by Maxim, unidentified crates and cartons arriving at the docks just prior to departure could have included the engine.

Officially the Smithsonian has not confirmed ownership of the engine. Nor has it denied it. Numerous items from the wreck of Titanic have been displayed by the Smithsonian; however, the Institution insists that the items were recovered from the surface following the sinking, or were washed ashore. The Smithsonian has steadfastly refused to accept or display items retrieved from the actual site of the wreckage of Titanic, citing the principle of sanctuary. The Smithsonian does hold a patent model of a steam pump donated by Maxim in 1874. The possession of the Maxim pump and the letters covering the donation lost on the Titanic have been confused into the belief that a steam engine retrieved from Titanic’s wreck is in the Smithsonian’s collections.

7. John F. Kennedy’s brain has been rumored to be held in the Smithsonian’s collections

During the autopsy on the body of President John F. Kennedy in 1963, his brain, or rather what was left of it, was placed in a steel box and put in the custody of the Secret Service. It was taken to the White House, where it remained until 1965, when it was transferred to the National Archives for safekeeping. During an inventory of medical evidence from the Kennedy assassination, conducted in 1966, the National Archives could not locate the late President’s brain. Besides giving fuel to the conspiracy theorists who speculated on the reasons for the brain’s disappearance, it revealed a mystery which has yet to be solved more than 50 years later (what happened to the portion of skull and brain matter retrieved by Jackie Kennedy from the trunk of the limousine remains unknown as well).

Rumors regarding the reason Kennedy’s brain vanished into seemingly thin air abound, with some speculating that it was ordered by Robert Kennedy to prevent the press from learning the truth regarding the number of physical ailments suffered by his brother, from the drugs used to treat them. Others believe the brain was hidden from public sight, as it were, to prevent the revelation that JFK had been hit from the front during the fatal shooting. Was the President’s brain transferred to the Smithsonian for safekeeping? If so the fact has never been confirmed by either the Kennedy family, the National Archives, or the Smithsonian Institution. It’s possible that the box was simply lost, though how likely such an event could be is subject to debate as well.

6. Ghosts might be found in the Smithsonian in several of its buildings

For those who believe in the supernatural and the haunting of ghosts, the Smithsonian Institution is a natural place to expect the visitations of the dead. In the past, reports by employees and visitors of spectral visitors have been common. As early as 1900, the Washington Post reported on ghostly visitors, former officials of the institution returned in the night to keep watch over the work they had supervised in lives long since ended. The Post reported that several Smithsonian watchmen had encountered the spirits of former – and deceased – secretaries who vanished when approached and spoken to. They were described as being attired as they had been when they were at their jobs in life.

It wasn’t only human ghosts reported by the Post. Numerous residents in the vicinity of the Castle, as well as those going about their business in the city’s evening hours, told of hearing the disembodied screams of birds and other animals emanating from the building. The newspaper recounted their claims of the sounds coming from exotic birds and animals which had been sacrificed to fill the Institution’s taxidermy collections. The residents were reported as being near desperation in their attempts to silence the unearthly wail of one bird in particular. Over the decades, ghosts have been reported in other buildings housing the Smithsonian collections, including in the Museum of Natural History. Ghost sightings became so common that in the 1940s Secretary Alexander Wetmore dictated that all employees had to vacate the premises by midnight.

5. The Smithsonian has a storage facility to protect meteorites from contamination

When the early Apollo missions went to the moon, the astronauts were quarantined upon their return to earth, to prevent possible contamination exposure from the lunar mission spreading to the general population. After Apollo 14 the quarantine period was eliminated. In the 21st century, the Smithsonian Institution operates a quarantine system which protects meteorites recovered from Antarctica from earthly microbes. The storage center consists of a clean room, with an atmosphere of nitrogen (an inert gas) which ensures that the specimens recovered from the Antarctic are not exposed to the risks present in the air which we all breathe to sustain life.

The clean room and other complex support facilities for the Smithsonian’s collections are located in the Museum Support Center (MSC) operated by the Institution at Suitland, Maryland. Inbound donations to collections are examined and prepared at the facility, which includes a facility to ensure that all biodegradable material is examined for and treated for pest contamination, in order to protect both new and existing collections. For example, a piece of wood from Noah’s Ark, long rumored to be in the Smithsonian’s possession, would be required to undergo examination and possible treatment to prevent it from infesting other items held by the museum (the Smithsonian officially denies holding a piece of Noah’s Ark). The MSC is not open to the public, and visitors and staff are subject to extensive security.

4. The Hope Diamond and its curse may be encountered at the Smithsonian

The presence of the legendary Hope Diamond within the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History is well known, and it is one of the most popular exhibits of the entire collection. The curse of the Hope Diamond might be encountered there as well. According to the curse, anyone possessing the diamond, no matter for how short a time, suffers from misfortunes great and small. The curse was in truth a fable embellished by Pierre Cartier as a sales pitch, adding to the stone’s notoriety. In 1911 Evalyn Walsh McLean bought the stone, and her own succession of unfortunate events added to the luster of the curse (her husband abandoned her, her son was killed in an auto accident and her daughter died of an overdose).

The Hope Diamond was donated to the Smithsonian by Harry Winston in 1958. It was delivered, believe it or not, by registered mail, and the mailman who made the delivery also suffered a run of bad luck, though he refused to accept that it was caused by the curse. Visitors to the Smithsonian are not afforded the opportunity to handle the diamond, merely to view it, and are thus evidently immune to the curse which according to some resides in the Institution within the stone. In the sixty-some years the stone has been in the museum’s possession it has certainly not brought ill fortune. Millions of visitors have gone to the museum to view the diamond, despite the protests of many when the museum accepted it, who feared that the curse would be extended to the nation.

3. You can learn a lot from a dummy

During the late 1980s a series of Public Service Announcements were produced by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The PSAs appeared in print in magazines as well as in commercials for airing on television. Two talking crash test dummies were created as partners for the campaign, Vince and Larry. Vince was voiced by character actor and comedian Jack Burns, who had earlier appeared as Deputy Barney Fife’s replacement on The Andy Griffith Show. Larry, who was often a foil for Vince’s mistakes, was voiced by Lorenzo Music, later the original voice of Garfield. The two demonstrated the proper use of seat belts and the consequences of failing to wear them properly.

“You Could Learn a Lot from a Dummy” was their catchphrase, and became a part of the lexicon in the late 1980s. Eventually they were replaced by other dummies, and they were so popular that a line of action figures featuring crash test dummies was marketed by toymaker Tyco in the early 1990s. They even became the basis for a one hour television special. Crash test dummies are still used to demonstrate the proper use of seat belts and children’s car seats, but Vince and Larry were retired long ago. Larry’s head, the only part of him known to still exist, is within the collection of the Smithsonian Institution, though as of early 2019 not on public display. Photos of the head, somewhat battered, are visible on the Smithsonian’s website, where one may still learn a lot from a dummy.

2. The model of Lincoln’s patented device is a replica

Visitors to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History are able to see one exhibit which is truly unique. On display is a model depicting the invention of a system to raise riverboats over sandbars on the inland rivers, which were not yet improved with dams to allow continuous navigation. It was an invention of Abraham Lincoln’s, the only president in US history to be awarded a patent. Never put into production, the device nonetheless proved workable in theory, and on the Smithsonian website there are comments which describe the ease with which the design could be modernized, using materials unheard of in Lincoln’s day.

The model was commissioned by Lincoln — he did not make it with his own hands — and at any rate the model on display is not the original he submitted. That model resided at the Patent Office during Lincoln’s tenure in the White House, a place to which he frequently resorted as president, escaping the cares of his office. By 1978 it was deemed too fragile for display, and the currently displayed model was built to replace it, though the original remains in the possession of the Smithsonian. Lincoln is not often linked with American infrastructure, though he was a railroad lawyer, a supporter of the Transcontinental Railroad, and of the improvement of rivers and streams. A visit to the display may serve to remind that the 16th President was a multi-faceted man, far from the country lawyer as he is all too often portrayed.

1. Missiles guided by pigeons along for the ride might have worked

During the Second World War missiles were, for the most part, a point and shoot weapon, which were unguided once in flight. It took Yankee ingenuity, in the form of psychologist B.F. Skinner, to come up with the idea of using pigeons riding inside the missiles to guide them to their target. Relying on their pecking instinct and rewarding them with food, Skinner trained pigeons to peck at the images of enemy ships, planes, tanks, and other equipment. Pecks on the center of the screen maintained the weapon on course, pecks off-center led to signals which caused the missile’s fins to change alignment and alter the course of the weapon in flight. The pigeons rode in a capsule which was attached to the nose of the missile. Obviously, it was a one-way trip.

The pecking pigeons project was pursued for months before it became clear that the guidance technology of the weapons available at the time – the speed with which course could be altered – was too slow to keep up with the little peckers, and the project was abandoned. As evidence that such a project actually existed, the Smithsonian in its collection has a capsule in which a pigeon would have flown, attached to a missile as he guided it to its target by pecking away at the image he had been trained to recognize. The capsule can also be viewed on the Smithsonian’s website, along with a description of the project. Skinner later claimed that the project would have been successful, and was only abandoned because, “no one would take us seriously.”


Stuff in “America’s Attic”

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