The Spine-Chilling Tale of the Chase Vault

What terrifying secret is sealed within an old family tomb in Oistins, Barbados?

Nestling in the idyllic range of islands making up the Caribbean is the island of Barbados. The most easterly of them, Barbados is also the newest, having been created a mere million years ago when the oceanic plates of the Atlantic and Caribbean collided and a volcanic eruption formed new land in the clear blue sea. First discovered in 1492 by the Portuguese, who were on their way to Brazil, the island was named Isla de Los Barbados (‘island of the bearded ones’) by explorer Pedro a Campos after noting that the fig trees along the coastline gave it a beard-like appearance.

The island was first settled in 1511 by the Spanish, who enslaved the natives. But when outbreaks of smallpox and tuberculosis – the European diseases they had brought with them – led to the Caribs dying out completely, the Spaniards abandoned the island. The English then arrived, on 14 May 1625, in the shape of one Captain John Powell, who claimed the land in the name of King James I, and a few years later Captain Henry Powell (no relation) landed with a group of eighty settlers and ten slaves. The island then remained under British rule until its declaration of independence in 1966.

From the seventeenth century onwards, the nobles of England who had been awarded land on the island began importing thousands of African slaves to work the newly formed tobacco, sugar and cotton plantations. Over the next century, Barbados dominated the world’s sugar industry and the plantation owners became powerful and successful figures throughout the British Empire.

It was one of these landowners, the Honourable Thomas Waldron, who in 1724 built an elegant family burial vault in the cemetery of the parish church in the town of Oistins. It was intended for his married daughter and her family. Seven feet wide and twelve feet deep, and made out of carved coral, the vault was large enough to accommodate the entire Waldron family. The first person to be buried in it was Richard Elliot, the husband of Elizabeth Waldron. He was also the last of the family to be interred there.

Nobody has since been able to explain why Elizabeth failed to join her husband in his final resting place, and nor why the next occupant, Mrs Thomasina Goddard, was a non-family member (unless she was a descendent of the Elliots or the Waldrons by marriage), but what is known is that when the tomb was opened on 31 July 1807 to bury Mrs Goddard, it was found to be empty. The absence of Richard Elliot’s body  was not considered particularly odd at the time, being put down to the work of grave robbers and looters. Rather more unusual was that, soon after Thomasina’s death, the Elliot vault passed into the hands of yet another family after being purchased by Colonel Thomas Chase, one of the most hated men on the island

A plantation owner of unstable mind and volatile temperament, Chase wasn’t popular even with his own family. Within a year of the purchase of the vault tragedy befell the Chase family with the death of the youngest daughter, two-year-old Mary Anna Maria Chase – the result, or so rumour had it, of a fit of violent temper by her father. Nothing, however, was proven, and islanders were left to draw their own conclusions about how the baby had died. On 22 February 1808, the vault was reopened and her tiny lead coffin gently placed on the shelf below the wooden coffin of Thomasina Goddard. Once the funeral was over, Chase ordered his slaves to seal the tomb with a large marble slab set in concrete.

Four years later, on 6 July 1812, the family were back at the crypt for the burial of their teenage daughter, Dorcas Chase, who had died of starvation. While some suggested the young girl had committed suicide to be free of her unpleasant father, others claimed he had locked her in an outbuilding and starved her to death himself. Either way, the marble was cut away and Dorcas’s heavy leaden casket was placed alongside that of her sister inside the family vault.

Just over a month later, Thomas Chase himself committed suicide – although there were claims that his slaves had carried out their often repeated threat to murder him. In a land of cruel employers, Chase had been particularly notorious, and there was no shortage of offers to carry his heavy lead coffin, which would have weighed about 500 pounds, to its final resting place. Presumably people wanted to make sure he had actually gone for good.

Eight slaves carried the casket down the steps of the Chase family vault. As they stepped inside, the men suddenly froze with fear. By the flickering light of their candles they could see that little Mary Anna’s coffin was now upside down, standing on end at the opposite side of the chamber from where it had originally been placed. Dorcas’s had also moved to the opposite side of the vault and only Thomasina’s coffin remained in its former location. The men inspected the vault and could find no sign of forced entry or any other disturbance. The coffins of the two girls were replaced in their previous positions and their father’s casket was settled on the opposite side of the vault. Once the service was over, the men checked for secret passages or other means of entrance before cementing the heavy marble slab back into place, this time using double-strength concrete lest the colonel himself should rise from the dead.

The disturbance was blamed on slaves with a strong grudge against the Chase family. Plantation and slave owners on the islands particularly feared revenge attacks upon their dead, which is why such strong family vaults were built in the first place. In fact, the reverse would have been true: fearing that the evil spirits they called ‘duppies’ might be at work, slaves would stay a long way from cemeteries and graveyards, especially one housing the Chase tomb.

Four more years passed before the next death, a young Chase relative, Samuel Brewster Ames, who died just before his first birthday. On 25 September 1816, workman once again broke open the marble seal, but this time they were unable to push open the wooden doors at the vault entrance. A group of the strongest men on the island were called for and after much effort they managed to force the door open. Thomas Chase’s 500-pound lead coffin had been standing on one end with the top resting against the doors, blocking them. The girls had also been disturbed again while only Thomasina remained peacefully in place.

When the tomb was re-opened a month later, for the funeral of the earlier boy’s namesake, another Samuel Brewster – killed by slaves during an uprising – it was, once again, in complete disarray, with no obvious signs as to how the disruption had been caused.

The next time the tomb was opened was during in 1819 to receive the body of Thomasina Clark, Mrs Goddard’s daughter. By now the mystery of the Chase Vault had spread far and wide, and a crowd of nigh on a thousand curious onlookers were squeezed into the churchyard. The presiding clergyman, the Reverend Thomas Orderson, was accompanied by Viscount Combermere, the governor of Barbados, who was keen to solve the mystery of the disrupted vault, and by island dignitaries such as Major J. Finch, the Honourable Nathan Lucas, Mr Rowland Cotton (a trusted relative of Combermere) and Mr Robert Boucher Clarke. The viscount ordered a thorough inspection of the exterior of the tomb until all present were satisfied it had not been breached. Two masons were then ordered to remove the concrete seal of the marble slab and, accompanied by eight pallbearers, the dignitaries descended the steps.

As the door was pushed open, there was a loud grating sound from inside. This time Dorcas’s coffin was found wedged into the doorway. Little Mary Anna Maria’s casket had been thrown so violently against the wall it had gashed a chunk from the smooth surface. The other lead caskets had been so chaotically disturbed that Thomasina’s wooden coffin appeared to have been smashed in the process and bits of her skeleton lay strewn around the vault.

Chase Vault

It was a horrifying sight: some of the slaves fainted while others were violently sick. Combermere and his shocked party were determined to solve the mystery, however. Lady Combermere recorded the subsequent events in her diary:

In my husband’s presence, every part of the floor was sounded to ascertain that no subterranean passage or entrance was concealed. It was found to be perfectly firm and solid and not even a crack was apparent. The walls, when examined, proved to be perfectly secure. No fracture was visible and the sides, together with the roof and flooring, presented a structure so solid as if formed of entire slabs of stone. The displaced coffins were rearranged, the new tenant of that dreary abode was deposited and when the mourners retired with the funeral procession, the floor was sanded with fine white sand in the presence of Lord Combermere and the assembled crowd. The door was slid into its wonted position and, with the utmost care, the new mortar was laid on so as to secure it. When the masons had completed their task, the Governor made several impressions in the mixture with his own seal, and many of those others attending added various private marks in the wet mortar.

Lord Combermere reasoned that anything disturbing the coffins, even flooding, would leave telltale signs in the layer of sand on the floor. Then a few months later, a woman who had been visiting the cemetery reported a loud cracking noise coming from within the Chase Vault, accompanied by an audible moaning. Her horse became so distressed that it began foaming at the mouth, later needing sedation. Other horses tethered in the churchyard broke free and galloped away in fear, straight into the sea, where they were drowned.

On 18 April 1820, Viscount Combermere and his witnesses all returned to inspect the vault. The ground had not been disturbed in any way. The seals they had made in the cement remained intact and there was no sign of any foul play. But when the marble slab was removed and the heavy vault door slowly pushed open, a scene of complete devastation was revealed.

This time even the lead casket of Dorcas Chase had been smashed and her bony arm hung out through a gash in the side. Once again there was no sign of forced entry, or of someone having gained access via a secret passage, nor had the sand scattered on the floor not been disturbed in any way. There were no footprints.

Combermere wisely decided to give up trying to solve the mystery, such was the hysteria building up across the island and throughout the empire This time he ordered that all the bodies be removed and reburied in separate sites in different churchyards. At the same time, a thorough search was made for the coffin of James Elliot, the first inhabitant of the Chase Vault nearly a century earlier, but it was never found. The tomb has remained empty ever since.

Later on that evening of 18 June, one of the members of the funeral party, Nathan Lucas, was – like Lady Combermere before him – moved to record the events of the afternoon:

… and so I examined the walls, the arch and every part of the Vault, to find every part old and similar. A mason in my presence struck every part of the bottom with his hammer and all was solid. I confess myself at a loss to account for the movements of these leaden coffins. Thieves certainly had no hand in it; and as for any practical wit or hoax, too many were requisite to be trusted with the secret for it to remain unknown; and as for negroes having anything to do with it, their superstitious fear of the dead and everything belonging to them precludes any idea of the kind. All I know is that it happened and that I was an eye-witness …

Over the following two centuries, much has been made of the events at the Chase Vault: every possible reason has been considered. At first it was thought to have been straight vandalism, such was the dislike among the community of Thomas Chase, but as the heavy coffins would take at least six men to move them around, let alone throw them about, and the vault simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate that many people, this was ruled out. The absence of footprints or any signs of entry, forced or otherwise, also appears to rule out human interference.

Earthquakes have been considered, especially as Barbados sits on a seismic fault line, but no quakes had been reported during the period in which the vault was disturbed and there was no evidence of any other damage caused, either in nearby vaults or elsewhere on the island. Some prefer the idea that unseen magnetic forces were at work, especially as the coffins were usually found to be facing in the opposite direction to the one in which they were placed, suggesting they had rotated on their own axis. This may also explain why the wooden casket of Thomasina Goddard remained unaffected until it was smashed to pieces by the others. But lead is not a magnetic material. Furthermore, if such forces had been at work, locals would have noticed its effect on other metals in the graveyard such as iron headstones or steel plaques. The church bell would surely have kept ringing too.

The wildest theory about what had caused the disturbances in the Chase Vault actually came from the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who, maybe unsurprisingly appears to crop up in a number of mystery stories (including two in this book – ‘Fairies at the Bottom of the Garden’, page 000, and ‘Whatever Happened to the Crew of the Mary Celeste?’, page 000). Conan Doyle believed supernatural forces had been at work but was unable to offer any further explanation except to suggest that the coffins had been moved by the spirits of the two family members who had apparently committed suicide and were therefore ‘cursed and restless’ and in conflict with each other. Indeed, since Dorcas and her father have been separated, there have been no other signs of disturbance at any of the new grave locations.

Gas emitted from the decomposing bodies was considered but soon ruled out as incapable of disturbing a heavy lead coffin. The only other suggestion that comes close to fitting the facts would be a flood. Natural flooding of an underground vault would disrupt the coffins, causing them to float around and come to rest in a different place as the water subsided. But that wouldn’t explain why the coffins were standing on end; nor was there any evidence of water damage each time the vault was re-opened. It seems that the mysteries of the Chase Vault have never been adequately explained, and probably never will be. I think we’re going to have to mark this one ‘unsolved’.

Albert Jack’s Mysterious World

Albert Jack books available for download here

 

 

The Record Executive Who Might Have Kicked Himself to Death

If it was all about fairy tales then there can be none bigger than the story of the four unpolished teenagers from post-war Liverpool who went from having a handful of chords and a few third-hand guitars to becoming the biggest and most influential pop band the world will ever see.

In July of 1957, at the ages of fifteen and sixteen respectively, Paul McCartney and John Lennon met for the first time at a summer fete in a suburb of Liverpool. The budding guitar enthusiasts were soon playing together and formed their own band which, in January 1958, McCartney invited his school friend George Harrison to join. Together with guitarist Stu Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best, the band were soon performing in pubs and clubs around the city and by 1961 had even completed a couple of three-month residencies at a club in Hamburg.

Despite their own confidence and self-belief, the young band had no idea how to even approach anybody within the London music industry, let alone secure a recording contract. That was until a Liverpool record-shop owner, Brian Epstein, who was himself only in his mid-twenties, started noticing the band’s name on posters around the city and read a feature article about them in a local music fanzine. Finally, after the Beatles had recorded their first demo, a song called ‘My Bonnie’, and a customer walked into Epstein’s store asking for a copy, his curiosity led him to the now famous Cavern Club in Liverpool where the Beatles were playing a lunchtime show on 9 November 1961.

Conscious of their growing reputation, Brian Epstein was eager to be involved with the band and felt he could use his London record-distributor contacts in their favour. He was also suitably flattered that the Beatles, all being regulars at his record shop, actually recognized him. They too were aware that his contacts could be to their advantage and an agreement was quickly reached for Brian Epstein to become the manager of the Beatles. Although a formal contract wasn’t signed until 24 January 1962, Epstein went to work immediately and arranged for demos to be recorded that were hurried down to London and the offices of EMI, Decca Records, Columbia, Pye and Philips.

They Laughed at Galileo F

Luck was on their side as at Decca Records a young assistant called Mike Smith had seen the band perform at the Cavern only few weeks earlier and had been impressed by the reaction of the audience more than he had been by their music. As a result Epstein was invited to take the band to an audition at Decca Studios in London for Smith’s boss, senior A & R man Dick Rowe, on 1 January 1962. On New Year’s Eve the Beatles squeezed into the back of a small van for what turned out to be a ten-hour journey through the snow, to arrive in London at 10pm, just as the New Year celebrations were gathering pace in the capital city.

Unsurprisingly the four youngsters were only too happy to join the party and by the time of the audition, at 11am the following morning, none of them were feeling particularly lively. Mike Smith himself arrived both late and hungover and immediately informed the group that their own equipment was sub-standard and they would have to use amplifiers provided by the studio instead. That meant they could have travelled by train instead of in the back of a van. For the one-hour audition Epstein had chosen fifteen songs from their live set list, which included only three original Lennon and McCartney tunes. All were nervous in the unfamiliar surroundings and drummer Pete Best apparently played the same beat on every song. John Lennon, who was supposed to be the main singer, left most of the vocal duties to Paul McCartney and even guitarist George sang on three of them whilst Lennon confined himself to the background.

Even so, everybody was happy enough with the audition and left believing the deal was as good as done. After celebrating in a north London restaurant the group squeezed back into the van for the journey north and the long wait for a decision. Three weeks later Brian Epstein telephoned Decca Records and spoke to Dick Rowe, confident of a positive response. Instead Rowe bluntly told him, ‘Groups with guitars are on the way out.’ Epstein was shocked as Rowe continued, ‘The Beatles have no future in show business. You have a decent record business going up there, why don’t you go back to that?’ Epstein recovered his composure and replied, ‘You must be out of your mind; one day these boys are going to be bigger than Elvis.’

Within two months Brian Epstein and the Beatles had their recording contract with EMI subsidiary Parlophone and by the end of 1963 were the biggest selling act in British recording history. By the end of their short career the Beatles had sold hundreds of millions of records around the world and were indeed ‘bigger than Elvis’. Dick Rowe, on the other hand, has gone down in show business history as ‘The man who turned down the Beatles’. However, for the rest of his life Rowe denied this version of events. He claimed that during the same New Year’s Day auditions another unsigned band, Brian Poole and the Tremeloes, had also performed and Rowe had said to Smith, ‘I like them both, you will have to choose.’ He then went on to claim that Smith selected Brian Poole and the Tremeloes as they were ‘from London and would be easier to work with.’

Despite the Beatles’s initial disappointment there did not appear to be any animosity between them and Rowe as soon after they had become superstars the Decca man bumped into George Harrison in a television studio and, instead of sarcasm, received a tip off about an upcoming young band called the Rolling Stones, whom he duly signed. John Lennon, on the other hand, when asked if he thought ‘the man from Decca would be kicking himself’, replied, ‘Yeah, hopefully to death.’ Even so, Lennon and McCartney wrote the Rolling Stones’s first hit for Decca Records, ‘I Wanna Be Your Man’, which charted at number 12 in November 1963.

However, there is also strong evidence that Dick Rowe’s judgement was usually reliable as he also had a hand in signing the Moody Blues, Tom Jones, the Small Faces, the Animals, the Zombies and Van Morrison to Decca Records. It is worth noting that the Tremeloes achieved moderate success with the label themselves, peaking at number 2 in the UK charts with a cover of Roy Orbison’s ‘Candy Man’ in 1964. Some years later the Beatles producer George Martin defended Rowe and stated that he too would not have signed the group on the evidence of the Decca auditions tapes he had (by then) heard.

Albert Jack

Bangkok – March 2015


Albert Jack books available for download here

 They Laughed at Galileo is released on May 7th, 2015  US Here  &  UK Here

They Laughed at Galileo – Introduction

‘If the world should blow itself up, the last audible voice would be that of an expert saying, ‘It can’t be done.’ – Peter Ustinov

Introduction

Curiosity will eventually lead to innovation. Fortunately we are an imaginative species who does a lot of wondering. Way back to when man first learned to walk upright and began communicating with each other, by pointing and shouting, we can find the earliest examples. Somebody once thought, ‘I know, we can move that heavy rock, or dead buffalo, by rolling it along on tree trunks because it is easier than dragging it over the ground.’ This, of course, led to the wheel. It must have been around that time that some other clever soul worked out that if he held some meat over that hot firey thing then it tasted better. It seems basic but it was innovation. Somebody somewhere decided to take the risk of burning their food down into ashes, as they knew the burning logs did, just to see if it tasted any better. But I bet there was someone else laughing at him and saying ‘don’t do that, it’s a terrible idea,’ (or whatever is was they would have said back then.) And that’s innovation too. That’s discovery and invention. We have been doing it ever since in one form or another and we have come a long way as a species thanks to people who take risks and ignore the advice of wiser ones. And that, in a nutshell, is what this book is all about. You see, that for all of our innovations and invention over the last six thousand years it is incredible to understand that the one thing that has not developed at all is the human brain.

Believe it or not the pre-historic human brain was perfectly capable of understanding how to use Windows 8.1 and could easily have landed a rocket on the moon if only the information it was given was better evolved at the time. The brain itself was already fine and all it needed was programming. That, of course, is what has happened to it over the many years since. Man has programmed its brain to learn new and better ways of doing things. And curiosity has led it to evolve from pointing and shouting, fire and tree trunks into where we are now. It is curiosity that has led to invention and migration. ‘I wonder what is over that hill over there? There maybe be water, possibly better vegetation. Maybe there are more of those rabbit things we like to eat? Let’s go and have a look.’ This would have taken them from caves and into man-made huts and so on and so on. And all the time, at every step of the way, somebody would also have been saying to them. ‘No, no. That’s a terrible idea. It will never work.’ Or a mother shouted, ‘don’t climb onto the back of that thing Jonny, it’s not safe. You will hurt yourself,’ which was followed by Wham, and ‘I told you so.’ But, as we all know, ‘Jonny must have got right back on that horse.’

More recently, in 1916 somebody said of the radio, ‘the wireless music box is of no imaginable commercial value. Who would pay for a message sent to nobody in particular?’ Well, that would have been a fair question back then but imagine a world without the radio. And the same was said of the television when it was dismissed as a novelty. ‘American families will not sit around staring at a plywood box for hours at a time.’ How wrong can you be? King Gillette thought that men would use a razor blade once or twice and then throw it away to buy a new one. His friends, who were all using cut-throat razors handed down from generation to generation, told him he was mad. And nobody took George Devol seriously when he invented the robotic arm and the entire industrial industry simply could not understand how to replace a man, or woman, standing at a bench with a spanner. Well, millions of men and women actually.

US Jacket
The telephone was dismissed as a meaningless toy and the Chief Engineer of the British Post Office actually said, ‘we have perfectly good messenger boys thank you.’ The Chairman of IBM thought there would be a world market for only five computers. Luckily for them (and us) his son, and successor, had other ideas and the jet engine, which has changed the lives of everybody, almost cost Frank Whittle his, but he didn’t give up. The Beatles were told that guitar bands were on their way out and Elvis was dismissed as a truck driver. Firemen were advised to grow whiskers, make sure they were wet and then stuff them in their mouths before running into smoke filled buildings. That was until 1916 when somebody finally agreed that Garrett Morgan’s Safety Hood was a good idea after all. It had only taken him four years to convince the authorities.

And that is what this book is all about. It tells the stories of countless inventive and curious minds and how somebody somewhere thought, ‘now, there must be a better way of doing things than this.’ And then they went off and spent years, in some cases, working out how. And there were some accidents along the way too. A melted chocolate bar was responsible for the microwave oven and a lab accident led to safety glass. JK Rowling and Nabokov were both told nobody would read their books and Marilyn Monroe was advised to improve her typing skills. Some sacrificed their lives for their invention. In fact, in the case of parachutes thousands of them did. Marie Curie famously spent a lifetime experimenting with cures for cancer, and died of cancer as a result and Wan Hu was incinerated when he tried, for the first time, to reach for the stars. The man who invented the modern newspaper press died when he became trapped in one and the list of personal sacrifices, so that we can live in the modern way we do, is a long one. And it has been going on for a very long time. It’s the only way humans would have discovered which berries were poisonous and which they could safely eat. What killed you when it was raw but kept you alive after you cooked it and, of course, who discovered how cows produced milk that was safe to drink. And, for that matter, what did they actually think they were doing when they found that out? (And who was brave enough to taste it?)

To some intriguing questions there can be no answer but for countless others we know exactly who discovered what and how. So sit back and join me on a journey through the history of invention and innovation and discover for yourself just what was going through the minds of these people and who knew a good idea when they saw one. And also discover who told them it would never work. After all, when he first suggested that the earth was round and the sun was in the centre of the universe, they laughed at Galileo. (And threatened to kill him)

Albert Jack

Bangkok – March 2015


Albert Jack books available for download here

 They Laughed at Galileo is released on May 7th, 2015  US Here  &  UK Here


 

Beware of USOs (Is God a Spaceman?)

If there are intelligent beings on planets so far away that we haven’t discovered them yet and they are watching us, then their technology must be far more advanced than ours. So forget those saucer-shaped tin cans people kept photographing during the 1950s and 60s, as they clearly couldn’t have travelled that kind of distance. Even so, it does lead you to wonder where minds immeasurably greater than our own would hide an observation post to keep a closer eye on us human beings. It occurred to me that, following the first lunar landing (assuming you believe Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969), we have a pretty good understanding of everything within 240,000 miles of our planet, and obviously, thanks to the Hubble Telescope, way beyond, but we still know very little about things that are right under our noses.

Consider the oceans, for example. The furthest-reaching submarine was the remote-controlled Japanese Kaiko surveillance sub, an unmanned craft designed for deep-sea observation. The Kaiko could reach depths of nearly 38,000 feet, which sounds impressive initially until you work out that comes to a grand total of just under six miles. So we can see, thanks to the Hubble Telescope, a distance of between thirteen and fourteen billion light years upwards, but only six miles downwards. Now, we already know that unless you are Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster there is nowhere on earth to escape the long reach of satellites or modern radar systems so, if I were an alien capable of travelling thirteen billion light years to come and spy on us, I would also be clever enough to set up home underwater, happy in the knowledge that nobody would find me. Better still, directly underneath one of the polar ice caps.

So that led me to research unidentified submersible objects, the deep-sea version of UFOs. My attention was quickly drawn to a small port on the southern coastline of Nova Scotia in eastern Canada. But I’d like to point out that this had absolutely nothing to do with its name. Shag Harbor is normally a very quiet place but on 4 October 1967 it suddenly became a hive of activity. At 11.20 p.m. a group of eleven people watched as a low-flying object suddenly veered downwards at an angle of forty-five degrees and plunged into the water. Some reported a bright flash of light as it hit the surface, while others claimed they saw four or five glowing orange lights. Laurie Wickens, a Shag Harbor native, jumped on to the harbour wall to get a better view and said he saw the UFO floating on the surface with a strange orange light glowing on top of it.

Beware of USO's

Believing it was an aeroplane crash, residents immediately called in the Canadian Mounted Police who were then joined by the US military, suspiciously quickly. Within half an hour, local fishermen had put together a civilian rescue team and were already at the scene of the accident. But they were puzzled to see no signs of any debris, wreckage, oil or bodies – only a large patch of foaming yellow bubbles. When one of the men attempted to take a sample by dipping his net into the water, the bubbles failed to attach themselves and the net always came up clean.

By the following afternoon, the authorities were satisfied that no aircraft had been reported missing and the area was sealed off while divers combed the area for clues. The official report of the incident revealed nothing, although it was later leaked that a second, identical craft had soon joined the first under the water and that, after a short delay, they both rose to the surface and zoomed away. Thirty years later, one of the navy divers, interviewed for a television documentary, claimed the US military had monitored the two USOs for several days before losing contact with them. To this day nobody knows what happened at Shag Harbor, although the sheer number of witness statements – all consistent in timing and in their descriptions of the size, colour and speed of the craft, coupled with the evidence of the yellow foam observed by most of the initial rescue team – would appear to provide credible evidence of a kind of underwater USO activity that had never been seriously considered before.

And the events at Shag Harbor are by no means the only sightings. During the prolonged Cold War (which followed the very hot Second World War), many submarine commanders reported tracking mystery underwater vessels, often in Norway and other Scandinavian countries, that, when cornered in one of the fjords, would mysteriously vanish. On 4 September 1957, the Daily Telegraph reported that three uniformed police officers had witnessed a red, circular USO emerging from the depths of the Bristol Channel and taking a westerly route towards Wales. In the Lake District many sightings of USOs have been reported since the 1980s and on one occasion during 1994 twenty-two people reported observing two underwater craft at Derwent Water for five minutes before these disappeared without trace. The Lakes now receive as many as one sighting every year, the latest being in December 2004, leading to suggestions that beings from outer space have set up an observation post beneath their tranquil waters.

One sighting in 1977 was independently confirmed by no fewer than ten policemen. Soon after midnight, on 28 August, officers claim to have witnessed a large diamond- or triangular-shaped object close to Lake Windermere, the largest natural lake in England. PC David Wild was the first to spot the strange craft and he watched it hover above the A592 at 1,500 feet for twenty-five minutes before it vanished before his very eyes. Two other officers also witnessed the same phenomenon some distance away and John Platt described seeing what looked like a ‘massive sea-going catamaran with two hulls’, adding that the ‘surface was a dull, charcoal colour and giant lights were mounted on the front’. Which sounds exactly like a catamaran with headlights to me. But despite Windermere being such a vast body of water, it is only 220 feet deep – hardly the best place in the world to hide a colony of aliens.

More recently, the Dutch submarine Bruinvis (yes, the Dutch do have submarines) reported an underwater collision with a ‘solid object’ on 19 October 2001. Most of the crew clearly heard the noise and the sub limped back into port for emergency repairs. Navy divers later confirmed damage to the underside of the vessel. But it was in August of the previous year, in the same stretch of waters off the Norwegian coastline, that one of the world’s worst submarine disasters took place, the sinking of the Russian vessel the Kursk. Could it have been involved in a collision with a USO?

The Kursk, flagship submarine of the Russian Northern Fleet, was proudly launched in 1995. But less than five years later, the world held its breath when the Russian authorities announced that an accident had caused the submarine – with 118 men on board  – to sink to the bottom of the ocean. One team of rescuers reported that major damage to the front section had rendered the escape hatch useless, but that there were also deep gashes along the side to the fin at the rear, suggesting the cause of the accident had not been an explosion, as was first though, but a collision with an unidentified object. But neither the US nor the Royal Navy, who also had submarines in the area, were able to report a collision with any of their own craft.

Furthermore, the Kursk’s periscope and external masts were fully extended, suggesting that the submarine had been operating within ten metres of the surface when it was struck as these sections of the vessel are always fully retracted, even during emergency dives, in deeper water. Who can forget the rescue team’s harrowing reports of the hammering made by the surviving sailors as they tried in vain to save them? The subsequent salvage operation revealed that at least twenty-three men had remained alive for many days in the dark and cold, hoping for a rescue that never materialized. When the craft was eventually brought to the surface, it was revealed that a neat circular hole had been punched into the side, unlike the damage made by a torpedo or collision with another submarine, and the front section was almost completely torn away.

To this day nobody knows what collided with the Kursk, although the rescue teams later described some green and white marker buoys bobbing on the surface that then mysteriously disappeared. (The buoys are used for alerting passing vessels or aircraft that an accident has occurred; Russian vessels only use red and white rescue buoys, however.) Russian sources later confirmed that when the Kursk was eventually located there was a second, large, object lying next to it on the seabed, which slowly moved away and then disappeared altogether. For weeks afterwards, Russian attack submarines and warships of the Northern Fleet closely guarded the entire area. But whatever it was that sank the Kursk, with the loss of 118 lives, remains unknown to this day.

And it’s not just in northern waters. The Japanese deep-sea submersible the Kaiko mysteriously disappeared in May 2003 in the Pacific Ocean close to Japan after the steel cable attaching it the mother ship, the Kairei, inexplicably snapped, and it has never been seen since, leading to all kinds of speculation about mysterious forces lurking deep in our seas.

But I have the same problem with USOs that I have with all UFOs. If there are life forms from other galaxies that have found planet earth and discovered it inhabited by, in some areas, intelligent life, then why don’t they just land, shake hands and introduce themselves? If we were to discover life on Venus, for example, would we buzz around their planet scaring the crap out of everybody living there? I doubt it very much; I expect we would do what the great adventurers of the past centuries have done when they discovered new lands. And that is to introduce themselves politely to the natives and then steal all their diamonds and oil.They wouldn’t lurk around for decades first, would they? They’d wade straight in.

Unless of course, as I have long suspected, there is a vastly superior race out there somewhere who expelled the underclass of their own planet, (humans) onto another (earth) to stop us from breeding with their own kind. Casting humans out to a sort of penal colony for the stupid, on a faraway planet, may have been a good idea 100 million years ago. Whilst their own race continued to advance at a rate immeasurably more superior to our own, we humans were left to interbreed and suffer the consequences. And every once in a while they send observers to make sure we remain at least 100 million more years behind them.

What? Why is that such a bad idea? It would explain evolution and it would explain why we have a planet full of stupid people. It would also explain periodic UFO sightings and perhaps even crop circles. Unless, of course, you still believe in all that God nonsense. But even then my explanation is no more ludicrous than yours – Is God a Spaceman?  Still, instead of labouring too hard over this problem, I think it may be time to pay a visit to Shag Harbor. Not to investigate any ongoing USO activities, but to find out why it is called what it is.

Mysterious World

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