In the late 1930s, a frightening and phantomlike creature plagued Provincetown, Massachusetts. One October evening in 1938, so tradition speaks, a bizarre entity emerged from the dunes, "dressed in black – all in black..." The visitations of the phantom were to last seven years. Then, in 1945, its activity stopped abruptly and the entity disappeared without a trace, never to be seen again. It was named ‘The Black Flash’ because of its supernatural agility. Today, the legend of ‘The Black Flash’ that terrorized Provincetown in the 1930’s is remembered as a haunting tale of the bizarre. Several websites mention it, and they are more or less consistent in their summaries. Perhaps not surprising, as there are so few sources and with anecdotes sensational enough, that there is no room nor need for distortion or embellishment.
Robert Ellis Cahill, New England's Mad and Mysterious Men, 1984.
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."
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.
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.
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 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.
Scanning old newspapers, one comes across some very odd things. One of these is accounts of the discoveries of uncanny amounts of human parts. Suitcases overflowing with human hair. Collections of skulls found in trunks. But the gruesome one below I had not encountered before.
The clipping stems from a German online archive and was originally published in the Illustrierter Sonntag, from the city of Augsburg, Germany, dated 7 June 1930. Searching for all kinds of Fortean weirdness in the German digitised newspapers and magazines is a very difficult task. Where in place, the search engine capabilities of these digitised archives are very rudimentary. So you need a lot of patience to find anything.
But then there's this item that I found after many hours of ploughing away on my antiquated computer. "26 Cut-Off Human Ears", is the brief headline. My translation of this strange and horrible item follows:
"The police of Lodz stand before a mysterious event, previously unrecorded in the police chronicles. From a train travelling from Starzhsto to Warschau, in the vicinity of Tomaszow, a parcel was thrown, wrapped in newspapers. A railroad employee opened the parcel and to his dismay saw in it 13 pairs of human ears still bleeding. The blood was still remarkably fresh. Extensive investigations notwithstanding, it could not be established whether a horrible act of murder was involved or an alltogether equally weird act of theft from an anatomical institute. As of yet requests sent to various anatomical institutes have not been answered. Sofar the search for the perpetrator has also been without success."
During the course of the publications of his Book of the Damned, Lo!, Wild Talents and New Lands, Fort wrote and received many letters. These letters became scattered after his death in 1932. Fortean researcher Mr. X managed to locate several collections of Fort's letters, and today we can find a number of these transcribed on his website.
Fort made efforts to probe deeper into some reported odd events by writing letters to newspapers or principle witnesses. As the result of this, Fort concluded that often these witnesses did not exist: "I have had an extensive, though one-sided, correspondence, with people who may not be, about things that probably aren't."
Who did exist, but would vanish completely off the earth, was Dorothy Arnold. Fort wrote in his Lo!: "Upon Dec. 12th, 1910, a handsome, healthy girl disappeared somewhere in New York City. The only known man in her affairs lived in Italy. It looks as if she had no intention of disappearing: she was arranging for a party, a tea, whatever those things are, for about sixty of her former schoolmates, to be held upon the 17th of the month. When last seen, in Fifth Avenue, she said that she intended to walk through Central Park, on her way to her home, near the 79th Street entrance of the park. It may be that somewhere in the eastern part of the park, between 59th Street and the 79th Street entrances, she disappeared. No more is known of Dorothy Arnold."
" Very largely we shall concern ourselves with enormous fiery objects that have either plunged into the ocean or risen from the ocean", writes Fort in his The Book of the Damned. Among the many examples that he cites of luminous wheels, luminous bodies rising from the sea or hurthling through the skies, Fort tells of "...an object, described as "a large ball of fire", seen to rise from the sea, near Cape Race. We are told that it rose to a height of fifty feet, and then advanced close to the ship, then moving away, remaining visible about five minutes..."(1)
Interestingly, when scanning several 19th century Dutch newspapers for Fortean items of interest, I found that the incident that had occurred in 1887, was published beginning of the next year in the Netherlands. Sofar I located the item in two Dutch newspapers, the Texelse Courant, of March 11, 1888 and Nieuwe Amersfoortsche Courant of March 24, 1888. These clippings and my translations follow.
Texelse Courant, March 11, 1888