"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

"The only joy in the world is to begin...." Cesare Pavese

Saturday, June 9, 2018

The time was 5:04 P.M.

The Mothman Prophecies by John Keel

I first heard about Keel's book twenty-five years ago. On an autistically facilitated holiday from Marxism and the communist movement, I was hiding from hunger, joblessness, and recent marital cataclysm in a duplex near the OSU campus in Columbus, Ohio. Each day I escaped by reading library paperbacks of "true" unexplained events and phenomena: Loch Ness, Bigfoot, flying saucers.

Five years later, employed and on my own, I found an old library copy of Keel's book at a used bookstore. The effect was powerful. John Keel was an emotionally honest reporter who put his own incredulity and astonishment at the heart of his book. At every turn he was greeted by the unbelievable, and always there was something more unbelievable around the next corner.

This was a far cry from Whitley Strieber, Donald Keyhoe, and Colin Wilson, all of whom I judged to be, in the end, so open-minded their brains fell out.

Keel never kidded himself: he knew something uncanny was trying to make a fool out of him and a lot of other people: opening and closing veils of revelation that amounted, at the level of cosmic importance, to the same useless banalities repeated for millenia by Earth's own religions.

When Keel gets down to the local level, his gravitas and sense of solidarity in unsurpassed.


….Thirteen months to the day (November 15, 1966–December 15, 1967) the year of the Garuda came to an end. Like some evil specter of death, Mothman and the UFOs had focused national attention on quiet little Point Pleasant and lured scores of reporters and investigators like myself to the Ohio River valley. When the Silver Bridge died of old age many of these same reporters returned once again to the village to revisit old friends and to share the pain of that tragic Christmas. Wherever you were, you watched the agonized aftermath on national television and read about Point Pleasant on the front pages of your local newspapers.

The Silver Bridge was constructed in 1928 and was an engineering marvel in its day. It became a main artery from West Virginia to Ohio, but had not been designed for the heavy traffic of the 1960s. Huge trucks lumbered across it continuously. People on both sides of the river crossed it daily to shop, go to work, visit friends. The next nearest bridge was almost fifty miles upriver.

On the Ohio side of the river, at the little cluster of shops and dwellings called Kanauga, the stoplight at the mouth of the bridge was malfunctioning that afternoon. It was stuck on green and the rush-hour traffic along Route 7 was creeping past in confusion. Traffic was backing up in both directions and at 5 P.M. the bridge was laden with slow-moving lines of cars and trucks in both directions. The light on the Point Pleasant side had always been recalcitrant, remaining red for so long that many regular bridge users had learned to ignore it. Running the light was a common practice.

Frank Wamsley, a twenty-eight-year-old truck driver, was on his way home to Point Pleasant, riding in a gravel truck with a friend. They found the traffic backed up on the Ohio side. It was to be a black day for the Wamsley family.

On the West Virginia side, Frank's cousin Barbara and her husband, Paul Hayman, were starting across the bridge in their 1955 Pontiac. And his uncle, Marvin Wamsley, was also on the bridge with two friends in a 1956 Ford convertible.

Bill Needham, twenty-seven, of Ashboro, North Carolina, was muttering under his breath because he had been caught in the 5 o'clock rush hour. He inched his loaded tractor-trailer forward in a low gear. His partner, R. E. Towe, sat beside him in patient silence.

"The old bridge is sure bouncing around today," Howard Boggs, twenty-four, commented to his wife, Marjorie, nineteen. She was holding their eighteen-month-old daughter, Christie. There were several small children on the bridge, riding with their Christmas-shopping mothers.

"The bridge was shaking, but then it always shook," William Edmondson, thirty-eight, of King, North Carolina, said later. His partner, Harold Cundiff, was sound asleep in their tractor-trailer.

The traffic jam worsened. The streams of cars and trucks ground to a halt. The old bridge shuddered and squirmed under the weight.

Frank Wamsley spotted his cousin Barbara and her husband and waved to them. Just ahead, he saw Marvin and his two friends. Suddenly the whole bridge convulsed.

The time was 5:04 P.M.

Steel screamed. The seven hundred-foot suspension bridge twisted and the main span split from its moorings at either end. Electric cables strung across the bridge snapped in a blaze of sparks. Fifty vehicles crashed into the black waters of the Ohio, tons of steel smashing down on top of them.

"It sounded like someone moving furniture upstairs, and then the lights went out," State Trooper R. E. O'Dell said. He was in an insurance office a block from the bridge. "When the lights went out, I guess they really just flickered for a minute, I knew something was wrong. I thought maybe it was a wreck, so I ran outside."

Mrs. Mary Hyre was in a drugstore on the Main Street, waiting for the traffic to ease so she could cross the bridge and pick up the daily notes from the Gallipolis Hospital.

"There was a sound like a jet plane or a plane going through the sound barrier," she said afterward. "A rumbling roar that hurt your eardrums. Then the lights flickered. My first thought was that something had blown up. I thought, 'My God, John was right! Something is exploding!' I ran outside and someone yelled, 'The bridge went down!'"

A Christmas tree salesman in Kanauga, H. L. Whobrey, dropped the tree he was holding. "The bridge just keeled over, starting slowly on the Ohio side, then following like a deck of cards to the West Virginia side. It was fantastic. There was a big flash and a puff of smoke when the last of the bridge caved in, I guess the power line snapped.

"I saw three or four people swimming around in the water screaming. I couldn't do anything. I just stood there and watched. Then I saw a City Ice and Fuel boat come and pick them up."

Frank Wamsley saw the bridge in front of him tilt sharply and suddenly there was water all around him. "I went all the way to the bottom with the truck. For a minute I didn't think I was going to get out. Finally I got out and came to the surface and I caught hold of something and held on and was soon picked up." When a boat pulled alongside he found he could not move his legs and had to be helped aboard. His back was fractured.

Howard Boggs found himself on the bottom of the river, outside his car. "I don't know how I got out of the car, or how I got to the surface. But all at once I was on top and caught hold of something, like a big cotton ball."

His wife and child didn't make it.

Bill Needham's truck also sank to the bottom but he somehow managed to force a window and reach the surface.

"You could see and hear people screaming for help," Mary Hyre described the scene. "I saw a tractor-trailer that floated a little before it sank, and a car and merchandise floating on the water. People on the West Virginia side of the river were so upset they could hardly realize what was going on.

"You could hear people saying, This can't be true … you read about things like this in the papers, but it can't be happening here…'"

Like Howard Boggs, William Edmundson suddenly found himself on the surface of the water, clinging to a truck seat. He had no idea how he'd escaped from his vehicle. His partner didn't surface.

"When I got there I could see this truck floating in the water," Trooper O'Dell explained "There was a fellow hanging on the side of it. Then they sank. I don't know if he got out."

People came running from all directions, silent, ashened-faced, knowing their friends and relatives could be out there in the icy water now covered with debris and soggy, gaily wrapped Christmas packages. Boats of all kinds crisscrossed the river picking up survivors.

On both sides of the river people who had been waiting in the lines to drive over the bridge were crying. Some had to be treated for shock.

Night was closing in quickly. Boats with searchlights turned their beams onto the bridge and the surrounding water. A horrible silence fell over Point Pleasant. Sheriff Johnson's tall, spare figure stood on the water's edge.

"Put out a general call for rescue units," he told a deputy softly. "And get everyone here. Block all the roads. Don't let anyone but rescue units into town."

Mary Hyre pulled her coat around her pudgy frame and walked slowly to her office, tears running down her face, her years of experience overriding her emotions. She pushed open the door and walked to her phones. They were dead. She switched on the Teletype machine and started to peck away with two fingers.

"At 5:04 P.M. this afternoon…"



9 June 2018

Rich and Strange: John Keel and Machenean Perichoresis?

From the article Some Thoughts on 'N'  By Thomas Kent Miller (Copyright © 2012-2018 All Rights Reserved):

….in 1936 Machen declared (albeit through a character's conviction at the end of one of his last stories, 'N'): 

I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. — which is a state of being, not a state of mind. 

However, in the same story, he has another character reflect: 

Has it ever been your fortune . . . to rise in the earliest dawning of a summer day, ere yet the radiant beams of the sun have done more than touch with light the domes and spires of the great city? . . . If this has been your lot, have you not observed that magic powers have apparently been at work? The accustomed scene has lost its familiar appearance. The houses which you have passed daily . . . now seem as if you beheld them for the first time. They have suffered a mysterious change, into something rich and strange [and] now 'stand in glory, shine like stars, apparelled in a light serene.' 

They have become magical habitations, supernal dwellings, more desirable to the eye than the fabled pleasure dome of the Eastern potentate, or the bejewelled hall built by the Genie for Aladdin in the Arabian tale. 

This latter passage, in my view, is an example of that subtle and transitory enhancement in perception that many of us have experienced, and which can be precipitated by anything from various kinds of intoxicants and hallucinogens to being vouchsafed exceedingly good news. 

In other words, over the decades Machen's mystical pronouncements seemed to vacillate between cheerful metaphors on the one hand and virtual acceptance of rips in the universe on the other—though the language and vocabulary were sufficiently similar to obviate the differences without especial scrutiny. Was this conscious obfuscation or was he himself unsure? How does the reader decide which had more validity for Machen—the 'belief in a world' or the 'pattern in the carpet'? 

I am of the opinion that Arthur Machen gravitated more to the belief in the reality of connected . . . well . . . dimensions, insofar as it seemed to be, over a 50-year literary period, his predominant theme ('the intermingling of this world and another of far vaster significance', per Machen biographer Mark Valentine.) From first to last he succeeded in imbuing nearly all his fiction (and much nonfiction) with successive variations of that one theme—a belief that he in all likelihood absorbed by virtue of his youth and upbringing in the folklore and myth-immersed border region of Gwent. Howard says (paraphrasing critic Joseph Wood Krutch) that 'Machen had only one main plot in his fiction, that of "rending the veil"'.

From John Keel's The Mothman Prophecies:

….On May 20, 1967, Steve Michalak was out prospecting near Falcon Lake, Manitoba, Canada, when he saw a large circular object land. It seemed to be made of glittering metal "like stainless steel." He approached it and thought he could hear voices mumbling inside. He called out but received no answer. Instead, the object spewed out some kind of gas or flame which caught him full in the chest and sent him reeling backward as it took off. Both his shirt and the skin underneath were burned with an odd checkerboard pattern.

Mr. Michalak became extremely ill, suffering a week of blackouts, nausea, headaches, and a weight loss of twenty-two pounds. It took him many weeks to return to normal. Then, on September 21, 1967, 124 days after the initial incident, the burns on his chest returned and his body began to swell. He was hospitalized and again returned to normal. But the malady returned every 109 to 124 days. In August 1968, after a year of recurring illnesses, he visited the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at his own expense. Doctors there told him they had treated another UFO victim from California who suffered from the same thing. His problems stemmed from "a foreign substance" in his blood, he was told.

When scientists from the air force-financed UFO study conducted by Colorado University visited Michalak, they asked to see the place where the saucer had landed. He admitted that he had been searching for the spot himself, without success. He was puzzled by his inability to locate it. Despite his inexplicable injury, the scientists viewed this inability as proof that his story was a hoax. In their final report they implied he was not telling the truth.

Actually there are a great many cases in which the witnesses found they could not relocate the site of their experience. Buildings and landmarks clearly seen at the time seem to vanish. Roads and highways disappear. This bewildering phenomenon is well-known in psychic lore also, probably because many psychic experiences are hallucinatory, too. There are innumerable stories about restaurants that seemed to dissolve after the witnesses stopped there. Tales of disappearing houses are common. A weary traveler stops at an old abandoned house for the night, just like in the movies, and later learns the house he stayed in does not exist … or had burned down years ago.

True to the reflective factor, as I was writing this I received a letter from F. W. Holiday, the British investigator, in which he tells the following:

A family in the south of England still spend their weekends driving around woods looking for a mysterious lake they encountered some fifteen years ago. Out in the middle they saw a huge rock with a sword driven into it. Later they went back to do some research but there was no trace of such a lake. No one had heard of it and it isn't on the maps.

One could fill a book with such incidents, and, indeed, some authors have. Long ago I classified such episodes as distortions of reality. Throughout history people have been straying through Alice's looking glass, seeing things that don't exist, visiting places that spill off the maps into some hallucinatory other dimension. Fifteen years ago there was a lake in England with a sword jutting out of a stone, waiting for some king to come along and pull it out, shouting, "Excalibur!"

9 June 2018

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Rereading: "N" by Arthur Machen

"N" by Arthur Machen

Three men in London spend several evenings debating strange recollections about a part of town they knew - or thought they knew - when young. What weird landscape did one see out a lodging house window?

A great late tale.

Read it here:



"....After that night at the King of Jamaica," he began, "I went home and thought it all over. There seemed no more to be done. Still, I felt as if I would like to have another look at this singular park, and I went up there one dark afternoon. And then and there I came upon the young man who had lost his way, and had lost — as he said — the one who lived in the white house on the hill. And I am not going to tell you about her, or her house, or her enchanted gardens. But I am sure that the young man was lost also — and for ever."

And after a pause, he added: "I believe that there is a perichoresis, an interpenetration. It is possible, indeed, that we three are now sitting among desolate rocks, by bitter streams...And with what companions?"



2 June 2018

Rereading: The Great Return by Arthur Machen

....So, to be brief, it appeared that there had been a long feud at Llantrisant between a local solicitor, Lewis Prothero (we will say), and a farmer named James. There had been a quarrel about some trifle, which had grown more and more bitter as the two parties forgot the merits of the original dispute, and by some means or other, which I could not well understand, the lawyer had got the small freeholder "under his thumb." James, I think, had given a bill of sale in a bad season, and Prothero had bought it up; and the end was that the farmer was turned out of the old house, and was lodging in a cottage. People said he would have to take a place on his own farm as a labourer; he went about in dreadful misery, piteous to see. It was thought by some that he might very well murder the lawyer, if he met him.

They did meet, in the middle of the market-place at Llantrisant one Saturday in June. The farmer was a little black man, and he gave a shout of rage, and the people were rushing at him to keep him off Prothero.

"And then," said my informant, "I will tell you what happened. This lawyer, as they tell me, he is a great big brawny fellow, with a big jaw and a wide mouth, and a red face and red whiskers. And there he was in his black coat and his high hard hat, and all his money at his back, as you may say. And, indeed, he did fall down on his knees in the dust there in the street in front of Philip James, and every one could see that terror was upon him. And he did beg Philip James's pardon, and beg of him to have mercy, and he did implore him by God and man and the saints of paradise. And my cousin, John Jenkins, Penmawr, he do tell me that the tears were falling from Lewis Prothero's eyes like the rain. And he put his hand into his pocket and drew out the deed of Pantyreos, Philip James's old farm that was, and did give him the farm back and a hundred pounds for the stock that was on it, and two hundred pounds, all in notes of the bank, for amendment and consolation.

"And then, from what they do tell me, all the people did go mad, crying and weeping and calling out all manner of things at the top of their voices. And at last nothing would do but they must all go up to the churchyard, and there Philip James and Lewis Prothero they swear friendship to one another for a long age before the old cross, and everyone sings praises. And my cousin he do declare to me that there were men standing in that crowd that he did never see before in Llantrisant in all his life, and his heart was shaken within him as if it had been in a whirl-wind."

I had listened to all this in silence. I said then:

"What does your cousin mean by that? Men that he had never seen in Llantrisant? What men?"

"The people," he said very slowly, "call them the Fishermen."

And suddenly there came into my mind the "Rich Fisherman" who in the old legend guards the holy mystery of the Graal.