Tag Archives: archaeology

Wednesday Weirdness Roundup

skullofhangoverdoom

So that’s what those things are for…

  • In 2004, a creepy ghost video surfaced online. It had been taken with a VHS camcorder in the Smith Building, a former office located at Schatzell and Mesquite streets in downtown Corpus Christi, Texas, by a 20-year-old painter who was part of a renovation crew (the building is now called Retama Vista Apartments). Shot in 2002,  the video shows cameraman Mike De La Garza walking through a vacant office suite on the building’s second floor. From his comments, you can gather that someone else has been reporting strange noises, and that De La Garza thinks a female ghost is responsible. “She’s here…it’s cold,” he says as he walks from room to room, searching for her. He comments that doors are closing, apparently of their own volition, and in one of the rooms a light seems to switch off by itself. One of his co-workers, a man named Tom, sits in a hallway hugging a gigantic crucifix to his chest, looking nervous.
    Every room on the floor is empty, except for one darkened space; what appears to be the figure of a young girl is fleetingly glimpsed, standing in the corner. De La Garza dashes away from the apparition in terror, so we don’t see much detail. There’s just the impression of a dark-haired girl in a long white skirt, facing the corner. But it’s such a classic horror movie set-up – the warren of empty rooms, the grainy footage – that gooseflesh ripples down your arms when you realize there’s someone standing there. Let’s face it: It’s scarier than the last Paranormal Activity.
    After the video became public, De La Garza explained that he had seen the little ghost-girl he called “Christie Smith” before, and told Tom about her. Tom, in turn, told some locals about her. His story attracted so much attention in Corpus Christi that De La Garza and a friend conducted ghost tours of the second floor for a while, telling visitors that they, too, might catch a glimpse of Christie. Then Mike decided to try and capture the ghost on video.
    The video was posted on countless websites devoted to ghosts and the paranormal, and the Smith Building was added to lists of haunted places in Corpus Christie. The building’s current owner, Tracy Long, once discovered a group of people conducting a seance on the second floor.
    This October, De La Garza finally decided to come clean. He now says the “ghost girl” was a prank he pulled on  Thomas after finding some old clothes in the building. He rigged up a mop and a yardstick to simulate the appearance of a young girl, had a friend turn breakers off to make the lights flicker, and instructed another friend to slam doors when no one was looking. By the time he took the video, however, Thomas was in on the hoax.
    An “outtake” from the ghost video shows De La Garza and two friends sitting beside the obviously fake “ghost” in a well-lit room.
  • Speaking of creepy videos, what’s weirder than ranting about the New World Order for four or five hours a day? Putting a terrorist mask on your kid and coaching him to do the same thing.
  • In 1924, 14-year-old Anna Mitchell-Hedges discovered a skull sculpted from quartz crystal in the ruins of the Mayan city of Lubaantun while exploring with her adoptive father, the English adventurer Frederick Mitchell-Hedges. They handed it over to locals, but when the family was preparing to return to England three years later, it was returned to them as a farewell gift. At least, this is one of the stories Anna told. It seems her father never mentioned the skull in any of his writings, and no one can recall Anna being in Lubaantun with him. There is evidence that the skull didn’t come into her possession until 1944.
    For years, Anna kept the “skull of doom” on her dining room sideboard. It passed to her friend Bill Homann (mistakenly identified as her widower in several news stories) upon her death. Though Anna always insisted it was used by Mayan priests to place death curses upon their enemies, the skull bore more than a passing resemblance to another crystal skull held by the British Museum, and experts who examined that one found evidence of modern tool marks and machine grinding on the quartz, leading them to conclude it’s a clever fake. Just who created the skulls, and when, remains a mystery.
    The skulls became a popular symbol of the unexplained, appearing in Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods? (aliens made it, of course) and on an episode of Arthur C. Clarke’s Mysterious World.
    Now, there are reports that an archaeologist in Belize is suing the makers of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, Homann, and the Mitchell-Hedges estate. News stories claim that not only does Dr. Jaime Awe of Belize’s Institute of Archaeology want the skull returned to Belize, but he’s upset that the filmmakers didn’t ask permission to use the skull as the model for the prop in the movie (which doesn’t even look very much like the Mitchell-Hedges one). However, according to this report from Belize, Dr. Awe was not even aware a lawsuit had been filed, does not believe the skull is a genuine artifact, and wants nothing to do with the group that launched the suit.
  • It’s been three years since Wife Swap participant, stormchaser, and all-around jackass Richard Heene reported that his 6-year-old son, Falcon, may have stowed away in his homemade flying-saucer balloon, which had escaped its moorings and was floating over Laramer County, Colorado. The whole thing turned out to be a publicity stunt, as little Falcon accidentally revealed in the family’s first televised interview. So what’s up with Balloon Boy these days? Would you believe…preteen heavy metal boy band?
  • Henry Makow has appeared on the Wednesday Weirdness Roundup many times, but he has finally jumped the shark with his December 11 article “Aliens Have Abducted Our Women“. No, he’s not talking about alien-aliens, he’s talking about the “Illuminati Jewish bankers and their Masonic lackeys” who have used the Communist conspiracy known as feminism to transform Western women into frigid lesbians. He goes on to cite – big shock – a book published in the ’50s.

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Wow, this must be more embarrassing than Piranha II


James Cameron – and a lot of other people – have been duped by a wannabe scientist and pseudo-historian.

One of the weekend guests on Coast to Coast AM was Dr. Charles Pellegrino.

If the name is familiar, you may have seen him in the Discovery Channel documentary The Lost Tomb of Jesus, or read the 2007 book about the tomb that he co-authored with “naked archeologistSimcha Jacobovici (who is neither naked nor an archeologist), The Jesus Family Tomb. Pellegrino, Jacobovici, and James Cameron are the three most enthusiastic supporters of the “Jesus tomb” discovered in Talpiot three decades ago. Cameron and Pellegrino have been buds for quite some time, because according to the Lost Tomb website, Pellegrino’s work was the inspiration for Titanic. Pellegrino introduced Jacobovici to Cameron, which led to their collaboration on the Discovery doc and a few other documentary projects.

Pellegrino might also be familiar from his solo nonfiction books: Unearthing Atlantis; The Ghosts of Titanic; and Return to Sodom and Gomhorra (to name a few). It should be fairly clear by now that he likes to explore somewhat spooky, fringy topics that most historians, Bible scholars, archeologists, and paleo-biologists won’t touch with a dead rat. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Unless, of course, you let the spookiness and fringiness hijack your common sense.

Pellegrino has also authored several sci-fi/ecological thrillers of the “Holy shit, we’re doomed!” variety.

You may also know Pellegrino for the subject of the C2C broadcast: His recently published book The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back (Henry Holt & Co., 2010). It combines graphic descriptions of the atomic bomb’s aftermath with the stories of several Hiroshima survivors who fled to Nagasaki, only to suffer and survive the second bombing. It also features testimony from USAF officers involved in the bombing of Japan, including the late Joseph Fuoco’s harrowing account of a hushed-up atom bomb accident that killed one American and irradiated others, reducing the weapon’s destructive power by at least half.
The book came out earlier this year, but James Cameron has already acquired the film rights. And it has already been yanked from publication. Here’s the statement from Henry Holt posted on Amazon.com: “It is with deep regret that Henry Holt and Company announces that we will no longer print, correct or ship copies of Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima due to the discovery of a dishonest sources of information for the book.
It is easy to understand how even the most diligent author could be duped by a source, but we also understand that opens that book to very detailed scrutiny. The author of any work of non-fiction must stand behind its content. We must rely on our authors to answer questions that may arise as to the accuracy of their work and reliability of their sources. Unfortunately, Mr. Pellegrino was not able to answer the additional questions that have arisen about his book to our satisfaction.
Mr. Pellegrino has a long history in the publishing world, and we were very proud and honored to publish his history of such an important historical event. But without the confidence that we can stand behind the work in its entirety, we cannot continue to sell this product to our customers.”

So, um, what happened?

Well, first off, this is not the first time Pellegrino has gotten himself into a spot of trouble with the facts. In 2008, a Who’s Who of archeology signed a statement of protest against claims made by Pellegrino, Cameron, and Jacobovici. The three amigos had been crowing that an archaeological symposium on the “Jesus tomb”, held at Princeton in January of that year, was proof that their theory of the tomb was finally being taken seriously in scientific circles. The scientific community begged to differ. They also resented the fact that the media had bypassed their serious scholarship on the issue to quote a Hollywood director and a TV producer known for his sensationalistic statements.
When The Lost Tomb of Jesus and its companion book appeared, archaeologists reiterated their conclusion that the names inscribed on six of the ten ossuaries in the tomb weren’t proof of anything, except that six people bearing those remarkably common names had died in Palestine sometime in the first century. Some of the archaeologists interviewed for the doc and book retracted or qualified their statements. (Pellegrino’s and Jacobovici’s contention that the ridiculously bogus “James ossuary” might have been the missing eleventh ossuary wasn’t even worth debating.)

This could all be quite understandable and forgivable if Pellegrino was a noob in the murky realm of “Biblical archeology.” But he wasn’t. In fact, he credits himself as the co-discoverer of the city of Sodom.
He’s referring to a site in Iraq called Madhkan-shapir, which he only partially excavated before the first Gulf War. Because it’s buried among oil fields, he surmises that earthquakes in the region allowed gas to escape where cooking fires could have ignited it. He points out that Moses saw the fires of Sodom/Gomhorra still smoldering three centuries later, and only an oil field could burn for so long.
In the bio on his website, Pellegrino explains that even though he calls himself the co-discoverer of Sodom, Madhkan-shapir is probably just one of several destroyed cities that inspired the Biblical account.

So you might be noticing a pattern here. Pellegrino selects an historical artifact, connects it to a famous event that may or may not have even happened (or attaches himself to someone who has already made that connection), then promotes the hell out of it by writing a book and/or appearing in documentaries on the subject. This is an acceptable M.O. if you actually have persuasive evidence to back up your theory, but Pellegrino rarely (if ever) has the goods. Most of his books are minor masterpieces of speculation and conjecture.

Then there’s the problem of Pellegrino’s doctorate. Namely, he doesn’t have one. He isn’t a paleo-biologist with a degree from New Zealand’s Victoria University, as he has been claiming for almost 30 years. That doesn’t stop him from highlighting the “Dr.” on his website.
Pellegrino was a PhD candidate at Victoria U. in the ’70s, but his thesis was rejected and his ’86 appeal denied. When confronted with the fact that the university has no record of him being awarded a PhD, Pellegrino declared that it was revoked in the early ’80s because of a dispute over evolutionary theory. This “academic witch hunt” forced him to flee New Zealand after his lab was destroyed by vandals.
His thesis supervisor disputes this. Retired Victoria University professor Bob Wear stated, “I guess Pellegrino is very good at bullshit and he has managed to convince people of his authenticity throughout his life.” He describes Pellegrino as an intelligent but sloppy researcher prone to “weird tangents”.
Where does this leave his claims of being a multidisciplinary research scientist and engineer, designing everything from NASA life-detection systems to “the world’s first antimatter rocket”?

Then there’s the fact that The Last Train to Hiroshima isn’t the first of Pellegrino’s books to be withdrawn by its publisher. In 1990 Random House yanked Pellegrino’s Unearthing Atlantis from the presses after a Greek archaeologist challenged its content.

Now, back to that Hiroshima book. As mentioned, Pellegrino included the reminiscences of the late WWII vet Joseph Fuoco, who was assigned to the crew of one of the two surveillance planes that accompanied the Enola Gay on its date with destruction. He replaced flight engineer James Corliss at the last minute, because Corliss had fallen ill.
While the bomb was being loaded at an airbase on the Pacific island of Tinian, there was an accident in which an American scientist died. Fuoco pieced together what happened: Damage to the nuclear fuel assembly resulted in a deadly burst of radiation and reduced the bomb’s destructive power by more than half. Pellegrino repeatedly refers to Little Boy as “a dud.”

Almost as soon as The Last Train to Hiroshima appeared in print, the family of the late James Corliss stepped forward to refute Fuoco’s version of events. They say Corliss was in the surveillance plane, and all the evidence is on their side: Not only do the surviving crew members recall his presence, President Truman presented him with an air medal for his part in the operation.
Fuoco does not appear on the roster of the 509th Bomb Group. Ever.

At this point, it’s not clear who was behind the bogus story attributed to Fuoco. We only have Pellegrino’s word that Fuoco’s account came wholly from him, as the man died in 2008. His widow, Claire Fuoco, contends that he would not have invented such a story.

Nuclear scientists and historians had major problems with Fuoco’s story, too. The destructive potentials of Little Boy and Fat Man were fully realized; there is no evidence that either was damaged. Atomic historian Robert S. Norris stated that it is Pellegrino’s book, not the atomic bomb, that was defective. “This book is a Toyota,” he told the New York Times.

In February Pellegrino acknowledged his mistake in accepting Fuoco’s alleged version of events without researching it in any depth, and pledged to correct his errors for subsequent editions of the book. But the Fuoco story proved to be only part of the problem. Pellegrino was unable to satisfactorily answer questions about another of his sources, a Jesuit priest who claims one of his colleagues committed suicide. To date, there has been no confirmation that these two priests actually existed.

James Cameron, who last December accompanied Pellegrino on a visit to Tsutomu Yamaguchi, the last known survivor of both bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has referred to the criticism of Pellegrino’s work as “a misunderstanding”, insisting that Pellegrino would not fabricate anything.
It’s sad that Pellegrino’s fake credentials and poor research may scotch any Hiroshima film project Cameron had in the works, because as Greg Mitchell pointed out in a November editorial at The Huffington Post, the bombing of Japan is still something of a verbotin subject in America.

The outcry over Last Train has inspired the usual navel-gazing and excuse-spewing among editors, publisher reps, and literary agents. But given his track record, the most appalling aspect of the Hiroshima affair isn’t that Charles Pellegrino conducted shoddy research; it’s that anyone actually believed anything he had to say in the first place.

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Pimp My Tomb

I immediately recognized the Canadian filmmaker, Simcha Jacobovici, who (alongside James Cameron) is touting the 27-year-old discovery of tombs bearing the names of Jesus and members of his family, including a son. I taped Jacobovici’s 1999 documentary Quest for the Lost Tribes off CBC when it originally aired, intending to watch it in more depth at a later time. I see I’ve taped over it or dumped it.

Anyway, the Quest documentary was intriguing and more than a little suspect. Jacobvici believes that Isreal’s lost tribes are still living as Orthodox Jews in Africa, South America, Siberia, and other far-flung locales. No matter where they settled, they retained the language and customs of ancient Judaism to some extent and are enigmas to the people who surround them. Slowly, they are making their way back to the holy land, a sign of the endtimes. One group of over 10000 was airlifted out of Ehiopia in 1984-85 and dropped in Israel (“Operation Moses“) because Israel’s Law of Return permitted them to “return to their homeland.” Wild stuff. I didn’t know what to think of it then and still don’t. But I do know this – after all that fuss over the ridiculously bogus ossuary of “James, Brother of Jesus”, I’m not making any bets that these tombs are the real McCoy. Nearly every country claims to hold the tomb of Christ, even – I kid you not – Japan. And let’s not even go into the fact that about a dozen churches claim to possess the “authentic” foreskin of Christ, or the fact that if you assembled all the splinters of the True Cross you’d probably end up with something the size of the Chrysler Building…

Update: On Larry King Live, Jacobovici argued that the authenticity of the James ossuary is still being debated (in the trial of four men charged with manufacturing and selling fake antiquities) and has not been proven a fake. Hmm. Several scholars continue to defend the ossuary against allegations of fraud, pointing out the Israeli Antiquities Authority hasn’t released an official report on why it concluded the ossuary was a forgery.

Rediscovering an obscure tomb and touting it as the final resting place of the historical celebrity of your choice isn’t uncommon, particularly when it comes to TV documentaries. Marianne Luban and Joann Fletcher (an expert in ancient hairstyles) each theorized the “younger woman” (actually a man) entombed in KV35 in the Valley of the Kings could be Nefertiti, but it was the flamboyant Fletcher who appeared on the Discovery Channel’s The Tomb of Nefertiti(2003), picking through the remains of the mummies to the chagrine of Zahi Hawass. She declared that Nefertiti had been murdered and/or mutilated after burial. Egyptian scholars dismiss Fletcher’s theory.

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