Let's begin with the obvious: the camera lies. And because we know it lies, we tend to doubt the things it tells us. A million gallons of ink have been spilled on analyses of classic photographic images, very often with devastating results for those who have chosen to place faith in them as "proof" of any sort. Adamski's UFO: a chicken brooder.* The Surgeon's Photograph: a model mounted on a clockwork submarine. The ghosts snapped from the SS Watertown: nothing but a cut-and-paste job. The Brown Lady of Raynham Hall: a simple case of double exposure.
The consequences of this home truth are profound, if obvious. Photos can't be trusted. The stuff that does exist tends to fall broadly into two categories. On the one hand are the hazy, badly-focussed shots of "something" – which might possibly be genuine, but are rarely proof of anything. On the other are unambiguous, clear images, which look exciting at first glance but are almost always fakes. And the whole field is the Fortean equivalent of a money pit, sucking up endless resources without producing anything concrete in return.
For reasons that ought to become in clear in about a month, I've acquired a bit of an interest recently in Pierre Van Paassen, a Dutch-born Canadian journalist who enjoyed a distinguished career as a foreign correspondent during the 1920s and the 1930s. Van Paassen (1895-1968) [below], who wrote for the New York Evening World and the Toronto Star, led a pretty action-packed life, getting himself thrown into Dachau concentration camp – and later out of Germany – for criticising Adolf Hitler back in 1933, and going on to cover the Italian invasion of Abyssinia and the Spanish Civil War before giving it all up to become a Unitarian minister. That need not concern us here, however. What does is that, long before any of this happened, in the spring of 1929, Van Paassen was living in France when he experienced – or said he experienced – a particularly peculiar series of encounters with a ghostly black dog. These events, so Van Paassen tells us in his autobiography, Days of Our Years (1939) pp.248-51, were corroborated by at least three other witnesses – one of them a priest – and also resulted in the death of a "police dog." And, just to top things off, the priest eventually identified the source of all the trouble as a teenage girl living in the same property, thus suggesting the black dog case had some sort of links to the poltergeist phenomenon.
In the Illuminatus Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea I first encountered the rudiments of the 23 enigma. As the history of the origin of the 23 enigma has it, Robert Anton Wilson first heard of this puzzling bit of Forteana from William Burroughs. Writes Wilson in the May, 2007 issue of Fortean Times:
"According to Burroughs, he had known a certain Captain Clark, around 1960 in Tangier, who once bragged that he had been sailing 23 years without an accident. That very day, Clark's ship had an accident that killed him and everybody else aboard. Furthermore, while Burroughs was thinking about this crude example of the irony of the gods that evening, a bulletin on the radio announced the crash of an airliner in Florida, USA. The pilot was another captain Clark and the flight was Flight 23."
It's hard to think of another event in the troubled twentieth century that had quite the shattering impact of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand [below] at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914. The Archduke was heir to the throne of the tottering Austro-Hungarian empire; his killers – a motley band of amateurish students – were Serbian nationalists (or possibly Yugoslav nationalists; historians remain divided on the topic) who wanted to turn Austrian Bosnia into a part of a new Slav state. The guns and bombs they used to kill the Archduke, meanwhile, were supplied by the infamous Colonel Apis, head of Serbian military intelligence. All this was quite enough to provoke Austria-Hungary into declaring war on Serbia, after which, with the awful inevitability that AJP Taylor famously described as 'war by timetable', Europe slid inexorably into the horrors of the First World War as the rival Great Powers began to mobilise and counter-mobilise against each other.
At a time when MPs are in the news, and not often for the right reasons, I want to take a moment to dwell on the more worthwhile, and (from a Fortean perspective, anyway) peculiarly illuminating career of a long-forgotten predecessor of the current bunch of petty crooks. His name was Walter Powell (1842-1881) [below left], he was Tory MP for Malmesbury in Wiltshire, and his strange and lonely death offers a good deal of unexpected insight into the perennially fascinating topics of expectant attention and witness perception.
First, a snippet of biography. Walter Powell was the youngest son of a tough and ruthless Welsh mine owner (a tautology, I know) who ran his pits for profit first and safety very much last, emerging during the 1840s as the largest coal exporter in the world. Having driven through a 20% cut in wages and broken the resultant strike, Thomas Powell's mines were plagued by accidents, culminating in two major explosions at Dyffryn, in Aberdare, and the deaths of more than 80 men. According to Walter Powell's biographer, the Dyffryn disasters belatedly shamed Thomas senior into repentence for his past behaviour, and inculcated in Walter Powell a determination to use his own inherited wealth more for the public good.
Orbs. Love them or hate them there's no getting away from them. Particularly if you're using a compact digital camera and firing the flash during your photography.
For those who have been out of the loop orbs are light coloured (generally) circular patches on photographs. Many claim that these are spirits or the first manifestation of a ghost lacking sufficient energy to fully manifest. When these images have been blown up it is claimed that faces can be seen inside. Further claims relate to size, distance from camera and orbs allegedly interacting with individuals. And there are others who claim that orbs are dust particles, water vapour, insects etc. close to the camera and illuminated by the on camera flash, this gives an out of focus highly reflective image. And the arguments have continued with each side firmly entrenched. With 35 years of experience of photography and a similar length of interest in Fortean matters I tend to the latter, mechanistic explanation, although as a good Fortean I admit the possibility that orbs may be spirit based but as yet I have seen no evidence to support this latter supposition.
And along comes Steve Parsons of Parascience.
Steve is a ghosthunter and a great fan of the scientific method, as part of this he is currently studying for a PhD in the effects of infrasound and its possible importance in haunted locations.
The thing about lake monsters, I think it's generally agreed, is that they really ought to be seen a lot more often than they are. Take even a reasonably substantial body of water, one the size of Loch Ness, for instance, add a self-sustaining monster population (25 animals? 40? Nobody really knows, but it'd have to be a decent number), and the brain begins to boggle slightly at the sheer implausibility of all those creatures paddling about the centre of the Highlands, within a few yards of a major road, and yet being spotted and reported perhaps three times a year.
The real problem, of course, is that virtually all of the usual suspects – the plesiosaurs and long-necked seals and, god help us, giant prehistoric whales (if there's one LM candidate that combines the worst aspects of every conceivable theory in one utterly unlikely package, the zeuglodon is it) – are air-breathers. And you don't have to spend too long at Loch Ness, just 22 miles long and only one mile wide, to realise how preposterous the idea of air-breathing lake monsters is. Seals, which do get into the loch occasionally, are quite regularly spotted and identified, so there's simply no reason to suppose larger animals would go unnoticed. That's why I long ago converted to the idea that the solution to this mystery more likely lay in the realms of witness perception, human psychology and cultural expectation than it did in cryptozoology. But, even so, I still suspect that one type of animal does play a central role in some lake monster sightings: fish.
Ok it's Easter. I have a Cabinet of Curiosities and one of my prized items in it is a Veil of Veronica.
Those two things together seem like a good enough reason to talk about the Veil.
For those who don't know the Veil of Veronica is supposedly a piece of cloth that was used to wipe the
face of Jesus on his way to his crucifixion. The piece of cloth was then imprinted with the likeness of Jesus. This would make it a first class relic (in the absence of a body of Jesus anything relating to the Passion is a first class relic). The Veronica (as it is commonly known) is an example of acheiropoieta – an image not made by human hand. The Veronica is also know as the Sudarim and the word Veronica can be translated as "true image".
The tale of the imprinting is not in the Biblical Gospel stories but it is represented on the 6th of the
Stations of the Cross. The Veronica is said to be able to cure thirst, blindness and death.
Mike Dash has, in these blogs, extolled the joys of historical research. I concur and share with you a little adventure I had recently while processing images of some 18th century woodcuts for inclusion in my picture library. 
I was particularly puzzled about this one (pictured right). According to John Ashton's Chapbooks of the Eighteenth Century (1882), the full title it illustrates is quite a mouthful: A Strange and Wonderful Relation of the Old Woman who was drowned at Ratcliffe Highway a Fortnight Ago, to which is added The Old Woman's Dream, a Little after her Death. Contemporary illustrations of ‘witch ducking' or ‘swimming' are rare and I wanted to know more about this event, where and when it took place and the identity of the Old Woman (if the victim was indeed she).
The Parker Road Phantom makes a brief appearance in Steve Vernon's Maritime Monsters. Illustration by Jeff Solway.
Beginning of April, 1969, the little town of Berwick, Nova Scotia, was plagued by a series of sightings of a weird entity. It was variously described as 18 feet tall and a 'tall, very dark form', that ran around the area with an estimated speed of 'about twenty miles per hour'.
Ever since having read about the sightings of a mysterious giant creature said to have roamed the environs of Berwick in John Keel's 'Strange Creatures From Time And Space', this became one of those puzzling accounts that I periodically returned to, trying to get some answers. Even today, the Phantom of Parker Road is remembered locally, now in the form of "a man about 7 feet tall. He wore a trenchcoat with a wide brimmed hat. No one ever saw his face long enough to describe him. They only saw him at night and the hat was always pulled down to hide his face. Sometimes he would ring the doorbells, knock on doors to get their attention. As soon as they saw him, he seemed to dissappear into thin air. People were scared because they couldn't catch him, but he never hurt anyone."
Pocketbook edition of John keel's Strange Creatures From Time And Space. Cover art by Frank Frazetta.
I love history and I love research: always have done, to a degree other people find – well, let's just say 'unusual'. To give you an idea of what I mean, let me take you back to the summer of 1982, and the last term of my first year at university. Now, first years at most Cambridge colleges sit their Prelims in that term – that's preliminary exams, the sort that don't count towards your degree but do count when it comes to ruining one's summer. By sheer dumb luck, however, I had gone up to Peterhouse, the oldest and most eccentric of colleges, and Peterhouse scorned Prelims. This meant that I spent the eight weeks of that term bombarding my bemused supervisor with 5,000 word essays and still had a lot of spare time on my hands; most of my friends, the ones at other colleges, were feverishly revising, and there wasn't a great deal going on. My fellow Petreans took advantage of this freedom to do a lot of drinking, punting, and garden partying, but even aged 19, I have to admit, my idea of a good time was more to head to the University Library and read.
I wasn't quite swot enough, in truth, to spend the time reading stuff that might have helped me academically. What I actually did was to retreat to the dusty pastures of North Front 6, where it was always cool and dark and the smell of ancient books was overpowering. Nobody ever seemed to go North Front 6, which had tiny windows and no natural light, and was, and probably still is, a sort of elephants' graveyard where old, moribund and essentially useless periodicals went to die. It was paradise for me, though, and it was up there, that term, that I first chanced upon a run of one of the magazines that I want to talk about today.
A few months ago, I created a spin-off from this blog, featuring only the better-researched posts, for various arcane reasons that I won't trouble you with here. [Clue: they're not unconnected with amazon.com's determination to rope in authors in its relentless trudge towards world domination.]
One unexpected spin-off of this decision is that I suddenly find myself with access to the wide variety of search terms visitors are using to stumble across my stuff. This is actually a little disconcerting, in part because it can be a bit of a stretch to work out how some of the wackier ones actually drive people to my work, but mainly because it's something of an eye-opener to see the sort of off-the-wall searches that are going on out there.
I can only hope the people searching hopefully for the following nuggets of information weren't too disapointed with what they actually found. I would imagine, however, that they were. Especially the guy (and you just know it's a guy) with a thing for giant prehistoric crocodiles.
• how to get superhuman strength naturally
• erotic executions by electric chair
• extremely crucified female slaves
• making miniature coffins
• giant penis of prehistoric crocodile
• birth defects of the earls of strathmore
• fortean trench warfare decapitations
• mystery heavenly body discovered washing
• 1900s casket shaped devices
• the devil is the father of deviation
• a medieval coffin like device one is put in
• ottersleben wind speed
Today is St David's Day, the national day of Wales, and it seems an appropriate moment to post what remains my very favourite story among all the thousands of strange tales that have featured in Fortean Times over the years. That is a large claim – the complete set of FT must run to several million words by now – but even after all these years I still find what follows so surreal and so magical, in its combination of the gentle, the mundane and the extraordinary, that for me each reading is like immersing myself in a warm bath. All right, it's pretty hard to credit that it's literally 'true'; it helps that it's a Welsh story, and that I'm a proud Welshman – and that the tale remains all but unknown; the account first appeared in print in 1928, and so far as I can tell has never made it onto the Internet. The Fortean Times version of the story is by Paul Sieveking, and it was published in FT48:32 (Spring 1987). The names of the characters involved are so common that it would be extremely difficult to check if they were actually real or not; Radnor Forest, though, is real – and is, according to local legend, the place where the last Welsh dragon still lies sleeping (Daniel Parry-Jones, A Country Parson. London: Batsford, 1975). The strange stamps you're about to read of apparently did exist. No other comment is possible – but then perhaps none is necessary. The best thing to do is simply to sit back and enjoy.
Natives of the Red Dragon
Few creatures have struck more terror into more hearts for longer than the basilisk: a crested snake, hatched from a cock's egg, that was widely believed to wither landscapes with its breath and kill with a glare. The example at right comes from a German bestiary, but the earliest description that we have was given by Pliny the Elder, who described the basilisk in his pioneering Natural History (79AD) – the 37 volumes of which he completed shortly before being suffocated by the sulphurous fumes of Vesuvius while investigating the eruption that consumed Pompeii. According to the Roman savant, it was a small animal, "not more than 12 fingers in length," but astoundingly deadly nonetheless. "He does not impel his body, like other serpents, by a multiplied flexion," Pliny wrote, "but advances loftily and upright" – a description that accords with the popular notion that the basilisk is the king of serpents – and "kills the shrubs, not only by contact, but by breathing on them, and splits rocks, such power of evil is there in him." The basilisk was native to Libya, it was said, and the Romans believed that the Sahara had been fertile land until an infestation of basilisks turned it into a desert.
On the 15th of Feb UK Tabloid newspaper The Sun published the following story
A quick precis is that Company boss Kevin Horkin took the photo at Gwrych Castle in Abergele, North
Wales, but only saw the ghostly figure when he downloaded his pictures later.
And today in a follow up story
they ask if the ghost is in fact Winifred, Countess of Dundonald.
Spring-heeled Jack cut such a fearsome figure in his prime that it is no surprise that he has been blamed, over the years, for causing a number of fatalities. On at least one occasion he is supposed to have actually murdered his victim, but in most cases he is said to have polished them off using that old bogeyman's stand-by, the ability to frighten an unfortunate witness to death.
The most notorious of Jack's killings, of course, is his alleged murder of a 13-year-old London prostitute named Maria Davis. She is said, by a good number of secondary sources, to have been flung into the foetid waters of Folly Ditch, in Jacob's Island, in November 1845 and left there to drown. The Davis killing is, however, a fake; it was first mentioned by the notoriously unreliable Peter Haining in his The Legend and Bizarre Crimes of Spring-heeled Jack, pp.84-5, and an examination of the surviving London coroner's records and death certificates shows that no such incident ever occurred.
The new issue of Fortean Times contains an interesting essay on haunted inns by Alan Murdie which discusses, among several gory stories, the supposedly spook-infested Ostrich Inn in Colnbrook, Buckinghamshire – where ‘a past landlord named Jarman is supposed to have murdered up to 60 guests on the premises, in either the 16th or 18th century’ [FT259:17]. The pub's unusual name rang a bell, and after a short hunt I turned up a story about the same place that I clipped from the Daily Telegraph, 31 October 1989:
In the shadow of one of London’s ghastliest locations, one of England’s oldest pubs is on the market – together with a ghastly history.
The Ostrich Inn, a Grade II listed freehouse near Heathrow Airport, is said to date back to 1106 and was the scene of 60 grisly murders committed by 12th century landlord John Jarman and his wife.
After inviting wealthy travellers to sleep on a specially-made hinged bed, Jarman would say to his wife, "There is now a fat pig to be had if you want one." She would answer: "I pray you put him in the hogsty till tomorrow." The victim would then fall through a trapdoor into a vat of boiling water.
Whitby Museum have one, Walsall Museum do and so do I and that’s about it as far as I know. Does anyone else have one? And is there any conclusive proof that they were actually used as described?
For those who don’t know a hand of glory is the hand of an executed criminal which has been turned into a candle. When the candle is placed in a house all the occupants will remain asleep whilst the candle burns. Cue the burglars who come in and make away with everything. At least that’s one version of the story – variants include it petrifies whoever it is handed to and it has the power to open all locked doors.
Supposedly the use of the Hand of Glory dates from 1440 although the name does not crop up until the 18th century where it appears to have been borrowed from an old description of Mandragora root. If you’ve not been to Whitby, Walsall or my house you may not have seen one – possibly the easiest one to see is in the good version of the film The Wicker Man – that’s the one with Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee just in case there is any doubt.
Lets have a look at these three Hands of Glory. The Walsall one is unusual in that it is actually an entire arm.
My recent post on the folklore of 'bottomless lakes' such as the Bodensee (Lake Constance – above) brought an extremely interesting email from an old friend, the Dutch historian Dr Henk Looijesteijn. The Dutch being a people whose history is inextricably bound up with water – both as a trading nation and a country literally built on land reclaimed from the sea – Henk's own research has often put him in contact with local folklore, and his comments are pretty revealing. They strike me as well worth posting here.
'Your blog on bottomless lakes brought something to memory,' Henk writes,
Loch nam Breac Dearga really isn't much to look at: a puddle on the western slopes of Meal Fuar-mhonaidh (2,284 ft/696m) in the Highlands of Scotland. Yet once upon a time the little mountain lochan (above) possessed a fearsome reputation. Sir John Murray, the great oceanographer who devoted more than a decade of his life to a comprehensive survey of Scottish lakes, was told that "this loch was locally reputed to be of great depth, or even supposed to be bottomless."
Many of us are aware of the subject and theories of Sacred Geometry, ley lines etc and hot on the heels of a new book on the subject (Prehistoric Geometry in Britain: The Discoveries of Tom Brooks) comes startling research from Matt Parker.
Parker, of my alma mater Queen Mary College, University of London, decided to apply the techniques used by Brooks. As the title of this piece suggests he applied them to the ancient and mystical locations of Woolworths.
“We know so little about the ancient Woolworth stores, but we do still know their locations” explains Parker, “so I thought that if we analysed the sites we could learn more about what life was like in 2008 and how these people went about buying cheap kitchen accessories and discount CDs.”
And aligning to an accuaracy of 0.05% (between 30 and 40 feet off) Parker was able to discern several stores lining up to produce equilateral traingleswith other stores present on lines continued from the triangles. For 173.8 miles. Further work yielded more triangles and points of intersection.
Parker concluded that “these incredibly precise geometric patterns mean that the people who founded the Woolworths Empire must have used these store locations as a form of ‘landmark satnav’ to help hunters find their nearest source of cheap sweets that can be purchased in whatever mix they chose to pick".
Usually I refrain myself from posting preliminary and still unformed thoughts on various fortean subjects. Most of the times, I make a mental note and promise myself that one day, given enough time and resources, here's a fascinating research subject to try and dive to the bottom of. One of those cases that for years remained buried deep but that has never quite gone away, was Rosa Lotti's CEIIIK.
More than a quarter of a century has passed since a couple of psychologists named Theodore X. Barber and Sheryl Wilson first published their important study into the central role that a percipient's fantasy life plays in the nature, frequency and detail of the paranormal claims they make. According to this theory, 'fantasy-proneness' (the term Barber and Wilson coined to describe such imagination-driven experiences) directly correlates with – and to a large extent explains – a wide variety of unusual and psychical experiences, including the propensity to see ghosts, hear voices, and undergo close encounters with UFOs and entities of various exotic varieties.
The critical point, according to Barber and Wilson, is that the 'fantasy-prone personalities' they identified were liable to blur the divide between imagination and reality, allowing the former to intrude into the latter in ways that made their imaginary experiences seem quite real. The pair went on to list a total of 14 indicators of fantasy-proneness, and suggested that individuals who experience six or more of these could be labelled "fantasy-prone". These 14 indicators are:
It may have been Charles Fort, in one of his more memorable passages, who described the strange discovery best:
London Times, July 20, 1836:
That, early in July, 1836, some boys were searching for rabbits' burrows in the rocky formation, near Edinburgh, known as Arthur's Seat. In the side of a cliff, they came upon some thin sheets of slate, which they pulled out.
Seventeen tiny coffins.
Three or four inches long.
In the coffins were miniature wooden figures. They were dressed differently in both style and material. There were two tiers of eight coffins each, and a third one begun, with one coffin.
The extraordinary datum, which has especially made mystery here:
That the coffins had been deposited singly, in the little cave, and at intervals of many years. In the first tier, the coffins were quite decayed, and the wrappings had moldered away. In the second tier, the effects of age had not advanced to far. And the top coffin was quite recent looking.
[Fort, Complete Books p.169]
Lethbridge Herald, Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, 18 December 1936.
One of the most unsettling tales in the dark corners of Fortean cryptozoology is that of Gef, the talking mongoose. Before such cryptozoological icons as Mothman and Bigfoot, the Dover Demon and the Lizardman, the Beast of Bray Road and even the venerable Monster Of Loch Ness, this little (we may assume that it was not that big) critter held sway and fascinated our ancestors. News about the mysterious creature also reached Canada as the image above demonstrates, and the United States, where several newspapers observed with a curiosity mixed with just that slight dose of jealousy that strange spell that the talking mongoose cast on the British Isles. After all, hadn’t they been publishing the most far fetched and weird tales in abundance for decades? We can, though, now reconstruct part of the spectrum of reporting in the American newspapers. So what did they write? The Indiana Evening Gazette, a newspaper published in Indiana, Pennsylvania, took its hat off in its 3 December 1936 edition and noted with a certain admiration for the outlandishness of the tale:
A Bow To Britain.
I've only been firebombed the once, and to be honest it wasn't as dramatic as it sounds. Mostly because the firebomber was astoundingly incompetent, but also because I was three miles away at the time.
An intro of this sort requires some explanation. Here it is: for years during the 1980s, while I was at university, I spent several weeks each summer working as a watch leader with the Loch Ness and Morar Project. Although set up to search for the lake monsters said to dwell in Scotland's two deepest lochs, the LNMP gradually transformed itself into a biological survey, more interested in studying the limnology of Loch Ness than it was in actively hunting for its supposed monsters. The Project's leader, Adrian Shine – a self-taught naturalist and FRGS – often popped up in the media, where he talked a lot of sense. As such, he swiftly earned the enmity of the other major monster-hunter in the field at the time: Frank Searle, a former greengrocer and one-time soldier who had been at the loch since 1969 and was notorious, then as now, for producing large numbers of dubious photographs.
I've lived in Edinburgh for something like 15 years now and it truly is a beautiful and amazing city. My most recent book, Paranormal Edinburgh, looks at the Fortean side of Edinburgh. Here is one of my favourite stories from the book.
This much is beyond dispute: that on the afternoon of 31 July 1915, in the first year of the First World War, the British steamer Iberian was shelled, torpedoed and sunk off the coast of Ireland by the German submarine U28. This much is disputed: that when the Iberian went down, there was a large underwater disturbance – caused, it is supposed, by her boilers imploding. Quantities of wreckage were hurled into the air, and there, amid the debris, six members of the U-boat's crew beheld "a gigantic sea-animal, writhing and struggling wildly", which "shot out of the water to a height of 60 to 100 feet." [Source: Bernard Heuvelmans, In the Wake of the Sea Serpents (London: Rupert Hart Davis, 1968) p.395]
This sea-monster yarn first saw light nearly 20 years later, in the autumn of 1933, at a time when the Loch Ness Monster was much in the news. It was told by the U-boat's skipper, Georg-Günther Freiherr (Baron) von Forstner (1882-1940), an old U-boat hand who had formerly commanded SMS U1, and who wrote an article about Loch Ness for a German paper that dragged in his own sighting. According to Von Forstner, the creature had also been seen by five other members of the submarine's crew, all standing in the conning tower. It "had a long, tapering head and a long body with two pairs of legs. Its length may have been some 20 metres [roughly 65 feet]. In shape, it was more like a crocodile than anything else." [Source: Deutschen Algemeine Zeitung, 19 October 1933]
I admit that, after my last post, my thoughts involuntarily drifted back to that strange account of the parcel containing freshly cut-off human ears. What frightening serial ear collector or worse was stalking the city of Lodz and its environs? What actually do I know about such an arcane subject as pre-world war II Polish urban terrors, night stalkers, mystery prowlers and serial killers? Not much. Searching for clues on the internet yielded nothing in terms of weird crime in that country and that time period remotely resembling the account published earlier.
I briefly read up on some modern day Polish serial killers with terrible sounding names (as if they had stepped out of a Penny Dreadful) as 'the Vampire of Bytów', the 'Zaglebie Vampire' or the 'Gentleman Killer'. But on my mysterious ear collector, nothing.
Digging for other accounts of the event and possible follow-ups in an American digital newspaper archive, I located a brief follow-up published in several newspapers, that I reproduce here solve the mystery. I reproduce them all here, since there are some subtle differences in the accounts. Most astonishing of all is that the 26 human ears had become 52 human ears - possibly an error in translation.
An intersting report surfaces via the Irish Times. Recent supposed appearances of the Blessed Virgin Mary (BVM) have been following the pattern made famous at Fatima - namely word gets around, lots of people turn up and then they claim to see the sun dancing around in the sky. October the 31st saw 10 000 people attending and an earlier appearance on the 11th of October also saw large numbers. At both gatherings people claimed to see the sun shimmering, changing colour and dancing in the sky.
Joe Coleman, described as a local visionary, has predicted that the BVM will put in another appearance this Saturday - the 5th of December. Police have previously asked people to keep away and perhaps some of the locals feel the same way too - as a precaution the pubs are closed and Knock becomes dry.
So what is the problem? Well people are quite naturally looking at the sun attempting to get their own view of a miracle. Some are then presenting themselves to University Hospital Galloway with vision problems. Dr Eamonn O'Donoghue, consultant opthalmologist reports that they have witnessed five recent cases of solar retinopathy (damage to the retina from prolonged exposure to the sun - i.e. from staring at it). This might not seem like a tidal wave of vision problems but the hospital would normally be suprised if they were presented with one case per year.
From the Irish Times
“These people came in because they have had a significant reduction
in their vision and they could very well be a smaller representative
sample,” Dr O’Donoghue said, adding that two of those who had presented
to the hospital had also reported that other members of their families
had suffered visual damage.