Tuesday, December 9, 2014

OddWA #32 - The Atomic Man

On August 30, 1976 a workplace accident at the Hanford Plutonium Finishing Plant exposed plantworker Harold McCluskey to what should have been a lethal dose of radioactive material. His radiation level was so high McCluskey set off Geiger counters fifty feet away, earning him the nickname "The Atomic Man." Miraculously, he was treated and survived for years, though his life had new challenges: Some of Harold’s friends and fellow church members were uneasy around him and avoided him, some going so far as to request he not visit their homes. McCluskey eventually died of heart disease in 1987.


Tuesday, November 12, 2013

OddWA #31 - Slew Foot

 (Click to enlarge)
Washington has always been a hotbed of Bigfoot sightings, even before we legalized cannabis. Records and databases list hundreds of Bigfoot sightings in the Evergreen State over the years, so it’s tricky choosing something suitably epic. In my book, the clear winner is the famed sightings in Bossburg, Washington from 1969 and 1970.

Starting on November 24th, several groups of locals ran across a multitude of tracks crisscrossing the countryside near the Columbia River. One foot appeared to be deformed, so it was dubbed Slew Foot.  The tracks caused a sensation that attracted experts and enthusiasts from near and far, including Roger Patterson – famed cameraman of the controversial Patterson Film that kicked off the modern Bigfoot phenomenon. Patterson, a pair of zoologists, a local tracker, a Himalayan explorer, a wealthy financier and others became embroiled in a story filled with action, intrigue and hanging slabs of meat meant to entice the shy mystery hominid. It didn’t work. The fruit basket didn’t work either.

The visitors bid against each other – literally – to learn the location of a Bigfoot who was trapped, a dead Bigfoot carcass in a cave and a frozen Bigfoot… foot someone claimed they had at home in their freezer. Lines were drawn and various camps spied, tracked and even watched each other from the air. Trucks and snowmobiles were rented so the hunters could mostly keep tabs on each other, with every team suspecting the others knew something they didn’t.

It ends, predictably, with no Bigfoot found, several bank accounts greatly reduced and some very unconvincing, grainy footage. Ironically, this last was presented to a skeptical TV audience in 1972 on the show You Asked For It. I’m sure the trappers and guides who made a fortune back in Bossburg couldn’t agree more.


Thursday, October 31, 2013

CryptoWA #30 - The Singing Barber

Sometimes a couple stories merge and the result just sticks. One classic chestnut from Seattle's Pike Place Market involves a woman who would sing customers to sleep in her barber shop, then lighten their wallets. She met her demise after falling through the floor of her shop, though Market patrons sometimes claim to hear her singing to this day. A little digging turns up a "true" story of a woman who did fall through the floor at Pike Place, though she wasn't a barber and she didn't rob her customers. That seems to stem from a different story. But the tale of the Singing Barber has taken on a life of its own -- and the tale is a firm fixture with "ghost tours" of Seattle.


Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CryptoWA #29 – The Soap Lake Sighting

Two cars making their way from Grand Coulee to Soap Lake both stalled and stopped in their tracks on December 7th, 1957. Eight witnesses described watching a large, fiery UFO fly over the vicinity. Strangely, the dome lights reportedly came on in both cars as the craft flew overhead. 
Sounds like some hot-rodding alien teenagers could use a good talking to, by golly.

Monday, October 28, 2013

CryptoWA #28 - Grave Robber Rescue

When times got tough during the Great Depression a lot of people improvised extra income by working outside the normal boundaries of the law and societal norms. Bootlegging was common, but other crimes also saw an increase in those desperate times. A strange example of one crime meeting another happened in December of 1932 when two Seattle grave robbers digging into a fresh grave unearthed a woman who had been buried alive by her underworld compatriots. She was apparently fine, if somewhat disoriented. It seems neither party was eager to take the matter to the police.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

CryptoWA #27 - Everett's Phantom Trolley

A compilation of local spooky stories from the early 1950’s tells of a motorist who dodged an oncoming car with one headlight during a snow storm late one night in downtown Everett. As it passed, the driver realized it was actually a trolley. The thing is, no trolleys had operated in the city for decades. It’s nice to know there might be decent mass transit in the afterlife.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

CryptoWA #26 - The Wild Man of The Wynoochie

The recent sentencing of Colton Harris Moore, a.k.a. The Barefoot Bandit reminded me of something. Whether he knows it or not, the Barefoot Bandit is part of a tradition in Washington State. Our history is full of outlaws who go a bit feral living outside the boundaries of civilization. The forests of Washington seem to attract all manner of troubled souls. Some who grew up on or near the Olympic Peninsula might remember stories of “trip-wire vets” after the Vietnam War. Even hiking the backwoods of Kitsap County, I would sometimes stumble across a crude lean-to, tent or shelter on occasion. If one left the occupants alone everything would be fine.

That was the case with the most infamous “Wild Man,” John Turnow, a.k.a. the Wild Man of The Wynoochie. At some point, the huge man stopped participating in civilized life and started to haunt the woods of Grays Harbor County. He sometimes watched logging operations from the edge of the woods but seemed harmless enough.

Then, everything went seriously wrong. A confrontation with twin nephews in 1911 ended with both young men dead and Turnow a hunted man. For two years Turnow proved his reputation as a woodsman and sharpshooter. Every attempt to find him turned up nothing. His habit of breaking into cabins and businesses yielded $15,000 in loot when he happened upon a general store that also served as the town bank. The resulting reward increased the number of men searching for Turnow. Some who searched for him never returned. Most just came back empty-handed. Some overzealous hunters shot a cow. Another posse killed a 17 year-old boy by mistake.

By this point, John Turnow was regarded as an almost supernatural bogeyman, earning nicknames like “the Mad Daniel Boone” and “the Cougar Man.” “The Wild Man of The Wynoochie” is the name that stuck.

Turnow was finally cornered at the camp near his makeshift shelter in 1913. He shot two of the three men who confronted him. The third, Deputy Giles Quimby, convinced Turnow to reveal where he had hidden his loot in exchange for his freedom. Once Turnow told him, Quimby opened fire in the direction of Turnow’s hiding place and crawled away to get reinforcements. Quimby returned the next day but found that Turnow had died after the gunfight the previous day. His body was brought to Montesano, where hundreds of citizens lined up to gawk at the Wild Man, sometimes taking souvenirs off his corpse.

One thing nobody ever found was the $15,000 in gold and silver coins.


ps: Some more background on John Turnow.

Monday, August 29, 2011

CryptoWA #25 - An Electric Fish Story

If you think journalistic standards have suffered lately, check out this story from the Tacoma Daily Ledger from 1893. It's a sparkling example of the sort of penetrating, detailed accounts you just don't see these days.

On July 3rd, the newspaper featured a story about a group of local residents and two "eastern gentlemen" who had a hair raising encounter on a ...fishing and hunting trip on Puget Sound. The group was fishing near Point Defiance on the evening of July 2nd when a shift in the wind prompted them to set a course for "Black Fish Bay, Henderson Island," for a "fine trout stream running into the bay and also an excellent camping place near the fishing ground." Their sloop reached that destination in and hour and a half. The group set up camp near some surveyors from Olympia who were working in the vicinity.

Around midnight both groups were awakened by a "horrible noise" and a feeling that the air was filled with "a strong current of electricity that caused every nerve in the body to sting with pain." The source of this disturbance was a terrifying, large creature in the bay described as 150 feet long with six eyes, a walrus-shaped head and glowing copper colored bands along its length. And a propeller.

When one of the surveyors moved closer to the shore, the monster directed a stream of water resembling "blue fire" at the man, who fell to the ground "as though dead." When one of the Tacoma gentlemen tried to help the fallen surveyor, he too was knocked to the ground by this substance that originated from "two large horn-like substances." Their compatriots retreated into the woods for safety as the electrical beast continued to make horrifying sounds and bright flashes of light. After the creature departed, the men found their fallen friends on the beach, "alive but unconscious." The group called off the rest of their expedition and returned to Tacoma that morning to tell their story. One of the nameless eastern gentlemen said, "I am going to send a full account of our encounter to the Smithsonian Institute, and I doubt not but what they will send out some scientific chaps to investigate."

As far as I know, the scientific chaps never followed up on this one.

It's a funny reflection on our complex local waterways that nobody has ever pointed out that there is no such thing as "Henderson Island" on Puget Sound, much less a Black Fish Bay. There are so many islands and bays that even life-long residents would probably go along with the geography of this story. But let's be charitable. Assuming the eastern visitors mixed things up a bit, let's go with Henderson Bay near Gig Harbor -- about the only plausible place they might have reached by sail within 1.5 hours. "Black Fish" is an old term for killer whales which have been known to visit Henderson Bay from time to time, so if we're feeling extra generous maybe that could be seen as another informational mix-up. The trout fishing isn't half bad there too.

What kills this one for me is that the Tacoma Daily Ledger was a morning paper. It would be tough for the campers to reach the city, tell their story and get it published all in one morning. Maybe they managed to hitch a ride with their electrical friend. It wouldn't be the tallest tale told by returning fishermen.


Thursday, July 14, 2011

CryptoWA #24 - The Lighthouse Lady

Washington Waterways are strewn with many shipwrecks. Few are as large or as dramatic as that of the S.S. Governor, a passenger ship that sank off Point Wilson near Port Townsend in 1921.

The Governor was on its way to Seattle after a stop in Victoria B.C. Shortly after midnight it failed to yield the right of way to the freighter West Hartland, outbound from Port Townsend. The Governor's starboard side was rammed by the freighter. The quick thinking captain of the West Hartland set his speed to full, allowing passengers from the Governor to climb to the prow of his ship.

The Washburn family wasn't so fortunate. The collision with the West Hartland sliced their cabin in half, injuring the father and trapping his two daughters. Once his wife Lucy saw her husband safely aboard the West Hartland, she broke away from crew members who were restraining her and dashed back to the Governor for her daughters. The 400 foot vessel sank in 20 minutes.

Since the wreck, an apparition of a figure wearing a white nightgown has been reported at times near the Point Wilson lighthouse. Some say it's Lucy Washburn, still searching for her daughters.


Sunday, May 1, 2011

CryptoWA #23 - Men In Black

The first CryptoWA covered this, but the era of modern UFO-olgy (along with the term "flying saucer") kicked off here with Kenneth Arnold's sighting at Mt. Rainier in 1947. On the heels of this, another piece of modern folklore began: The Men In Black.

There was an explosion of UFO stories in 1947. It seemed like everyone was seeing saucers around the world. More than a few besides Arnold's cropped up in Washington State. One became known as the Maury Island Incident. The story is convoluted, featuring UFO debris, government investigators perishing in a plane crash, a dead dog and even Kenneth Arnold himself as a peripheral character.

Among the many facets of this wild roller coaster of a tale is the first description of a vaguely threatening, official looking man in dark clothes. Harold Dahl, the source of the Maury Island story, described a visit to his Tacoma home by an individual who seemed strangely well informed about his UFO experience, even though Dahl had yet to describe it publicly.

This kicked off a concept that would appear in countless UFO stories. Later accounts of Men In Black were similar to Dahl's. They usually appear soon after a UFO sighting, seeming like government agents with their their anonymous dark clothes. MIB are often described as being slightly "off" in their mannerisms, as if not quite human or ineffably alien.

The strange, convoluted twists and turns of the Maury Island Incident have made it a lightning rod for skeptics and disbelievers. It's easy to see why. There are just too many odd elements for a rational mind to believe.

Of course, that's just what the Men in Black would want you to think.


Sunday, February 6, 2011

CryptoWA #22 - Kennewick Man

When Kennewick Man was unearthed in 1996 nobody could have guessed at the controversy that would soon surround the 9,000 year old skeleton. Everything from ownership of the remains to his genetic origins stoked a bitter debate between Native Americans and scientists. As the debate raged, nobody chose to point their finger at the most obvious culprit: Kennewick Man himself.

That's right. He's trouble.

A simple Internet news search for "Kennewick Man" turns up countless stories of his misdeeds. The headlines listed here are all real, and they don't even begin to cover the scope of this one-skeleton crime spree. How much longer must our state suffer the depredations of this prehistoric malcontent?

I'm with the Native Americans. Let's get him back in the ground. The sooner, the better.


Sunday, October 31, 2010

CryptoWA #21 - Batsquatch!

Happy Halloween!

I had to do this one simply because everyone should hear the greatest word ever invented: Batsquatch. Yes, as if a gigantic woodland hominid wasn't enough, there are also tales of a version that flies.

In 1994 the Tacoma News Tribune published an account of a young motorist who described a disturbing encounter with a gigantic, blue, bat-winged figure with red glowing eyes on a remote country road near Mount Rainier.

Since then, several other stories of equal... um, credibility have added to the legend that is Batsquatch. Batsquatch sightings often include grisly animal mutilation, so this could be a vacationing Chupacabra, or his not-so-original northern cousin. But let's not judge. If there isn't a Batsquatch I think everybody can agree that there certainly should be one. The name is just too good.

Again, with feeling: BATSQUATCH!


Wednesday, October 27, 2010

CryptoWA #20 - Starvation Heights Sanitarium

In 1908 Dr. Linda Burfield Hazzard published a book called Fasting For The Cure Of Disease. Her theory on undergoing systematic starvation to overcome illness was considered revolutionary by some, and total quackery by others. Hazzard had enough of a following that she opened a sanitarium in Olalla, Washington, giving it the idyllic name Wilderness Heights. Clients flocked from around the world to try her starvation cure.

But something wasn't quite right about Dr.Hazzard's little institution. Some 40 patients died in her care. True, these were often people who were already desperately ill, but was she really supposed to perform autopsies in her bathtub? It also came to the attention of authorities that jewelry and clothing from Hazzard's recently departed patients often ended up in her own wardrobe.

The first chapter of Wilderness Heights came to an end when a British heiress died at the sanitarium, but not before Hazzard forged her signature in an attempt to gain her estate. A surviving sister testified at the ensuing trial and Hazzard was sent to prison for manslaughter in 1912.

She was paroled just two years later and eventually reopened her sanitarium in 1920 (minus her doctoral credentials). This burned to the ground in 1935, never to rise again.

It's a fitting twist that Linda Burfield Hazzard died in 1938 while undergoing her own starvation therapy.


Monday, October 25, 2010

CryptoWA #19 - Ghost Ship of The Columbia

The waters near the mouth of the Columbia are sometimes called the Graveyard of The Pacific, and with good reason. There are around 2000 recorded shipwrecks in the vicinity.

Part of this total was a large fleet of fishing boats, most of which capsized in a sudden squall that appeared suddenly on May 4th, 1880. Contemporary newspaper accounts listed anywhere from 60 to 350 crewmen lost in the storm.

Another story emerged from this already epic tale. Several survivors told of a mysterious ship that sailed smoothly through the wreckage, completely untouched by the storm. After the unknown vessel glided calmly through the chaos, it was never seen again.

Was this story the result of delirious survivors? An unparalleled feat of navigation? Naw... A ghost ship is way more fun.


Monday, August 23, 2010

CryptoWA #18 - It's A Bird(man)!

Kenneth Arnold really started something when he reported those saucers in 1947. Soon, the rest of America had UFO fever. Newspapers were crammed with the latest sightings of saucers and "men from Mars." And it didn't stop with boring old disc-shaped stuff. Several newspapers in Southwest Washington carried stories of "flying men" in 1948, the most famous being in Chehalis and Longview.

In Longview, laundry workers described a trio of flying figures in drab uniform-like flying suits cruising casually over the city on April 10th. Some have theorized that what the workers saw was actually an early attempt at paragliding, though that would be about 14 years before the earliest known prototypes.

So, was it men from the (not-too-distant) future? Aliens? A secret government program? Others might argue that dry-cleaning chemicals should be handled with care.