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Posted in Adventure, Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery, Myth, Superstition on Saturday, 8 March 2014
This edited article about Yeti first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 586 published on 7 April 1973.
The Abominable Snowman
Only desperate men would have been wandering among the high passes of the Himalayas in winter, but Slavomir Rawicz and his handful of gaunt companions comforted themselves with the thought that the Indian frontier and freedom could not be far away. The year was 1942, and the little group of Polish officers was nearing the end of one of the epic marches of World War II. One-time prisoners of the Russians, the Poles had broken out of their prison camp and had made their way across the pitiless wastes of Mongolia until they had reached the “Roof of the World” that lay between them and their goal. Suddenly Rawicz gave a warning signal. It was unbelievable in those desolate wastes, but there were two men ahead.
Men? The escapers started wide eyed. What kind of men stood more than seven feet tall? Or tramped naked through the snow and biting wind, their huge bodies covered with coarse hair? The watchers kept silent until the weird figures moved away. Later, when they reached their destination, they recounted what they had seen.
“Those were not men,” they were told. “Those were Yeti.”
“Yeti?” Strangers to the East, the Poles had never heard the name before. Nor could they know that they may well have seen the fabled creature that some of the finest mountaineers in the world would soon be tracking in vain.
Some called the creature the Yeti. Others, the Abominable Snowman. Or Kangmi, or Bhanjakris or Rakshi. The monster had many names. But, legend apart, did it really exist?
The long quest for the Yeti has much in common with the search for Flying Saucers. A terrifying, hairy giant, whose favourite haunts are the slopes of Mount Everest, the Yeti is reputed to have been seen by scores of men, ranging from the inhabitants of remote Buddhist monasteries to British army officers. But just like the elusive Flying Saucer, it manages to avoid direct scientific observation. Yet most descriptions of the Yeti follow roughly the same pattern, even in legends that go back hundreds of years.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Ships on Thursday, 27 February 2014
This edited article about Cocos Island first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 572 published on 30 December 1972.
In 1823, the Mary Dear was filled with gold from Peru and Spanish nobles – only to be murdered by William Thompson, the captain of the ship, and his crew, by Barrie Linklater
An island bristling with hidden pirate treasure has been the target of adventurers for over a hundred years. It’s Cocos island in the Pacific which was the bolt hole of countless pirate ships whose spoils were buried on this haven of wealth off the west coast of South America.
Sailors, convicts, admirals, a racing driver, aristocrats and even a president of the United States have tried to find the treasure.
Lives have been ruined, possessions lost and maps and charts re-drawn in the eternal quest for the island’s riches.
But, still the lonely and uninhabited reef keeps the bulk of its treasure. This is not surprising, for it is a nightmare island with torrid heat, incessant rain and plagues of ants.
For most of the coastline, sheer rock faces make access impossible. There are only two small bays, where the jungle comes right down to the shoreline. Cocoa trees, climbing plants and tall wiry pampas grass make journeys into the interior painfully slow.
Yet, despite the constant failure of the treasure hunters, people are still drawn to this island, only eight miles in circumference. They are lured by the prospect of riches somewhere within the jungle, and encouraged by the fact that it is only 350 miles from the American mainland. This made it a convenient refuge for people wishing to escape the bloodthirsty fighting in the rich South American colonies as they strove for independence from Spain.
The first treasure cache is said to have been made in 1684 by the remarkable pirate Edward Davis. He was the supreme commander of more than 1,000 pirates and, apart from plundering many Spanish ships, he led a series of daring raids on rich South American cities, capturing and looting several. Seven boat loads of bullion, jewels and pieces-of-eight were hidden on the island by Davis, but when, 18 years later, he returned to Cocos to recover it he disappeared, and was not heard of again.
An equally enterprising Portuguese rogue, called Don Pedro, next appears on the scene, and the year 1820 saw his greatest triumph.
He and his men sailed from Cocos to Central America in good time for the annual gold shipment from Mexico to the port of Acapulco. Disguised as muleteers, they gradually joined the teams already helping the convoy over the difficult, mountainous roads until their comrades were ready to waylay them. The surprise was complete and, with enemies apparently on all sides the escorting soldiers were soon overcome. Even then, the convoy was worth the staggering sum of eleven million dollars.
Don Pedro and his crew made good their escape and returned to Cocos Island. There the treasure was divided into three parts – for officers, crew, and Don Pedro himself. The latter hid his in a cave, but within weeks he was captured by the Spanish and he hanged himself rather than be taken alive.
Yet, the biggest and most valuable hoard was yet to come. Only a year or so after Don Pedro’s visit to the island, the great city of Lima, in Peru, was besieged by rebels, and the Spanish viceroy had to consider what to do with the city’s wealth.
Lima was the richest city in the whole of South America. Inca gold, sackfuls of jewels, the produce of the silver mines, church treasures; all these and more, said to be worth twenty million pounds, needed to be safeguarded. So great was the wealth of the area, that the local nobility had carriages with silver-rimmed wheels and mules shod with silver shoes.
Who could be trusted with such an immense hoard? Providentially, as the guns thundered nearer, an answer to this question seemed to be at hand. The English two-masted brig from Bristol, the “Mary Dear”, anchored in the bay and her Captain, William Thompson was known to be an upright and reliable man.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Sea, Ships on Wednesday, 26 February 2014
This edited article about Captain William Kidd first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 570 published on 16 December 1972.
Captain Kidd's treasure was said to have been buried on a rocky island in the Salvage Group, off the west coast of Africa, by Roger Payne
One of the world’s most mysterious and baffling treasure hunts started on a dull May evening in the grim surroundings of the condemned cell at Newgate prison.
William Kidd had been pacing up and down furiously all afternoon, his brain scheming away until finally he came to a decision. He had been condemned to death for piracy and had only two days to live. It was time to play his trump card – he would offer his hoard of buried treasure in exchange for his life.
Calling for pen, ink and paper, he sat down to compose the letter on which his life depended. “In the Indies, I have lodged goods and treasure to the value of one hundred thousand pounds,” he wrote, and went on to plead for a ship to be sent to rescue the treasure, whose location was known only to himself. “If I fail,” he added, “I desire no favour but to be forthwith executed according to my sentence.”
Kidd’s last, desperate attempt failed and he was hanged at Execution Dock, Wapping, on May 23, 1701. But his letter, which can still be seen at the British Museum, started a mammoth treasure hunt which has seen false clues misleading seekers all over the world. Some of his treasure had been hidden at Gardiner’s Island, off the coast of North America, and this was swiftly recovered; 200 bars of gold and silver, hundreds of diamonds, 1,000 ounces of gold dust and other valuable items were, in fact, returned to the Government. But did Captain Kidd have an even greater hoard, which is still waiting to be found? Many people believe that he did, and the answers can perhaps be found in his exciting and adventurous career as the Captain of a Privateer.
William Kidd is believed to have been born in 1645 at Greenock in Scotland. He was the son of a parson but his longing for adventure soon took him to sea and over the years he gained a fine reputation as a brave man and an adventurous seaman. He had married a widow in New York and apparently settled down to the life of a prosperous seaman and merchant when suddenly he decided on the venture which was to end in disaster.
Kidd accepted the offer of leading a voyage to the pirate-infested waters of the Indian Ocean, but he was to go there with the authority of the British Government to try to rid the area of some of its pirates. To do so, he obtained a special warrant from William III and set off from Plymouth as Captain of the privateer “Adventure.”
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Mystery, Sea, Ships on Tuesday, 18 February 2014
This edited article about maritime mysteries first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 556 published on 9 September 1972.
Joshua Slocum claimed to have seen a spectre on board the sloop, Spray, in 1895 by Graham Coton
He was not a man given to fantasies. Not the sort of man, for an instance, likely to imagine that he had seen a ghost. Rather the reverse. Master mariners who spend most of their lives on the sea are generally practical sort of men, whose only acquaintance with spirits is usually with those found in a bottle in some tavern ashore: Joshua Slocum certainly belonged to this breed, which makes it all the more strange that he saw what he did while sailing single handed around the world.
As a sailor, Slocum had done it all, from being a lowly deck hand to becoming the master of his own barque. But the barque had been shipwrecked, leaving him penniless. After that he had toiled quietly away in a Boston shipyard until a friend, the captain of a whaler, had made him a present of a sloop called the Spray. The gift was not as generous as it might seem, for the Spray had been beached for seven years and was now practically falling apart.
It didn’t matter. Slocum now had a sloop of his own, or at least, enough of one to make it a seaworthy vessel. And he didn’t even need money for that. All that he needed were his two strong arms and time. First he personally felled a great oak tree to make a new keel and ribs for the rotting hulk that was in the shipyard.
Thirteen months later the Spray was as good as new. But that perhaps is an exaggeration. What Slocum now had was a perfectly seaworthy vessel with years of good service ahead of it, but for all that it was not really the sort of boat that any sensible man would have thought of setting off in to sail around the world.
And that is precisely what Slocum did. On July 1st, 1895, he put forth from Newport, Rhode Island, U.S.A., to make a journey that no man had done before alone, although a Spanish crew had sailed around the world in the 16th century.
It was a lonely as well as a dangerous venture, even for a stolid man like Slocum, who was used to his own company. Not that he was completely cut off from social intercourse all the time. Calling at the island of Fayal in the Azores, he was greeted like visiting royalty. Plums as well as other fruit and an enormous white cheese were ceremoniously presented to him, and a young woman offered to accompany him as his cook and general help for the rest of the voyage. Politely declining the offer, Slocum took on board his gifts and sailed away – next stop Gibraltar.
It was then that Slocum did something foolish. Instead of carefully conserving his fruit for as long as he could, he settled down to gorge himself on plums and cheese. Inevitably he was soon bent double with the most agonising stomach cramps.
To make matters worse a strong breeze blew up and it was clear to an experienced sailor like Slocum that a major storm was in the offing. Falling about the deck, bent double with pain, Slocum adjusted his sails and then lashed the helm. Feeling more dead than alive he then staggered down to his cabin, where he collapsed on the floor in a dead faint.
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Posted in America, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery, Sea on Monday, 17 February 2014
This edited article about sea monsters first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 555 published on 2 September 1972.
Visitors to Scotland often make their way to Loch Ness, not only to gaze upon the beauty of the scenery but tempted there by the thought that they might be fortunate enough to see the now-famous monster that is thought by some to inhabit the dark waters of the best known of the Scottish lochs. By all accounts many visitors do see the monster. Some claim to have photographed it and the pictures they have produced as evidence have caused considerable controversy. Not only visitors to the Loch claim sightings of “Nessy,” but the locals, too, can claim this honour. Some even are said to have observed it many times.
It would seem by the many sightings reported in the past that the Loch Ness monster has or has had cousins the world over. But judging by descriptions perhaps the creature that most deserves the honour of being Nessy’s closest relative would be the Gloucester sea serpent of America. According to historical records a monster serpent was seen in the harbour of Gloucester in Massachusetts about 30 miles to the north of Boston as well as in the nearby Nahant Bay, from as early as the middle of the 17th century and at various intervals for about the next two hundred years.
The first recorded account of this creature’s appearance occurs in the writings of a Mr. John Josselyn, a visitor to Nahant Bay in 1638. Mr. Josselyn tells of a creature that was seen coiled up on a rock and of an adventurous Englishman who, being on a passing boat at the time, prepared to shoot the beast but was prevented from doing so by an accompanying Indian, who informed the gentleman that to do so would bring them both bad luck.
It was not until 1817 that the Gloucester serpent really drew attention to itself. It would seem that in the summer of that year the monster stayed in the vicinity of Gloucester and Nahant Bay long enough for many people to see it, and even to instill considerable fear into the hearts of the inhabitants of the local towns and villages.
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Posted in Historical articles, History, Law, Mystery on Saturday, 15 February 2014
This edited article about New Zealand first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 553 published on 19 August 1972.
A typical pastoral scene in New Zealand
Some say it was that old lumber jacket valued at no more than £2 which made Dick Humphrys the man he was. This may or may not be true. A man’s character, after all, is formed by many things in his life. But certainly it was that lumber jacket which made him a hunted man who was given no peace until the day he disappeared. It was the lumber jacket, too, which made him a sailor, capable of taking single-handed, a 27 foot auxiliary launch on a voyage of 1,500 miles across one of the most treacherous seas in the world.
On the other hand one must bear in mind that Humphrys had always been a restless man with wild ways that were always landing him in trouble. Not that there was any harm in him. His actions had always been governed by nothing more than a desire to be free of the shackles imposed upon him by a society for which he had little time. He was, in short, the type of man who is known today as a “loner,” a man who prefers his own company to that of others.
So perhaps we can’t blame that old lumber jacket too much for his misfortunes.
The story of Dick Humphrys really starts in the late 1920′s when his family went to make a new life for themselves farming in New Zealand. It was here that he began showing his dislike for authority by playing truant. Some might say that this merely showed that he was lazy. But Humphrys’ truancy was not of the sort which makes a boy stay away from school so that he may fish or play or just laze the hours away. When Humphrys played truant he simply disappeared from home for several days.
The beginning of World War II found him unchanged. Before then he had spent his youth drifting from farm to farm like some restless wanderer looking for some place where he might settle for once and for all. He was never to find that place. As far as we know.
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Posted in Disasters, Historical articles, History, Legend, Mystery, Ships on Friday, 14 February 2014
This edited article about maritime mysteries first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 552 published on 12 August 1972.
The Marlborough disappeared in 1890 and was not discovered for nearly a quarter of a century, a floating hulk with the skeletons of her crew strewn across the decks by Graham Coton
Captain Hird was in a good mood as he stood on the quay of the little port of Lyttelton, in New Zealand, watching his cargo of sheep being taken aboard. He had a number of reasons to be in high spirits. It was a pleasant day in that January of 1890, and he would soon be on his way home. His cargo of sheep would give him no problems, and there would be a few passengers aboard to help him while away the hours with pleasant conversation when he was not on duty. He had, moreover, a highly competent crew, all of them hard working and happy men, with not a single trouble-maker among them. It was going to be a good trip.
When he had seen the last sheep and passenger aboard, Captain Hird boarded his ship, the Marlborough, a merchant vessel from Glasgow. The anchor was raised, the ropes released from their moorings, and the ship began to move away from the quayside. The few people who had gathered there to see her depart, waved a casual goodbye. It was, after all, not a special occasion. In time the Marlborough would be back to pick up another cargo of some sort. With a fair wind behind her she moved steadily towards the horizon.
Twenty-three years were to pass before she was ever seen again.
There was no reason why the Marlborough, should not have reached her destination on time. The ship was sound and seaworthy in every respect, and there had not even been any freak storms or massive gales over any part of the vast area she had been due to cover on her journey to England. But as the months passed with no sign of her, the relatives and friends of those aboard, were forced to face the sad, inescapable fact that the Marlborough had disappeared without a trace.
Fifteen months after she had left Lyttelton, she was officially posted as “lost with all hands.”
What no one knew was that the Marlborough was still afloat, and that all those who had sailed on her were still aboard.
Nearly a quarter of a century later, she was discovered by the British sailing ship, the Johnston, Sailing around the southernmost tip of South America, she saw a three-masted sailing ship which seemed to be drifting aimlessly. As a matter of routine, almost, the British ship signalled her, asking if she needed assistance. When she did not answer, the captain became uneasy. Only eighteen years had passed since the Marie Celeste had been discovered, without a single member of the crew aboard her, and the memory of that famous mystery of the sea still lingered in his mind. Was it possible that history was about to repeat itself? The captain gave orders that she should be approached.
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Posted in Boats, Historical articles, History, Mystery, Oddities, Superstition, World War 1 on Thursday, 13 February 2014
This edited article about U-Boat 65 first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 550 published on 29 July 1972.
The haunted U-boat
Before she had even left the dockyard U-Boat 65 had claimed five lives. Then a rating was lost overboard and a torpedo explosion killed four men and an officer. From then on the ghost of the officer haunted the German submarine, striking terror into the hearts of the crew. Superstitious tales maybe? But were they?
It began before they had even finished building her. A steel girder which was being lowered into place in her hull, suddenly slipped from its chains and crashed down on two workmen below, killing them both:
It was unfortunate and sad that two men should die, the foreman said, after the two shattered bodies had been carried away. But the work had to go on. The Fatherland needed ships. When this one was finished it would be yet another nail in the coffin of the British Imperialists who were already reeling under the hammer blows of the U-Boats, haunting the icy waters of the Atlantic. Now back to work. For the Fatherland.
With these words ringing in their ears, the workmen returned to their tasks, thinking no doubt that it was pressures like these which caused men to become careless.
The next accident could not be put down to carelessness. Just before the ship was launched, three men were sent down to the engine room to check over the equipment. Suddenly, inexplicably, they found themselves choking rapidly to death in a thick haze of poisonous fumes which seemed to come from nowhere. Gasping their lives away, the three men stumbled blindly to the door, only to find it jammed. Within minutes they were all dead. The subsequent enquiry could find no reason for the escape of the deadly fumes, nor any reason why the door should have jammed.
The U.B. 65 had already claimed five victims. She was to claim many more before her career came to an end.
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Posted in Famous news stories, Historical articles, History, Mystery, Sea on Wednesday, 12 February 2014
This edited article about maritime mysteries first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 549 published on 22 July 1972.
The Chapel of St Flannan near the lighthouse was similar to a chapel at Killaloe where Saint Flannan was the first Bishop
The sea is the custodian of many unsolved mysteries, most of them concerning ships or crews which have vanished without a trace. This story is somewhat different. It also concerns men who disappeared. But in this case, they did not vanish from some vulnerable ship, but from a fortress of stone and concrete rearing out of the waters of the North Atlantic.
The background was certainly appropriately sinister – that of the frequently stormbound Flannan Islands, which have the dubious honour of being set in one of the most lonely spots in the world. The nearest place to them is the island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. To the west of them there is nothing except the North Atlantic, until one reaches the coast of North America.
There are seven of these islands which are really nothing more than massive rocks jutting out of the ocean. But they can still be beautiful at certain times of the year, when their turf covered tops are scattered with buttercups and ragged robins. On one of them there is even the ruins of a little chapel where a Saint Flannan lived in seclusion during part of the 17th century.
But although the grey, stark cliffs of the Flannan Islands have a rugged beauty about them, it is not the sort of beauty which is likely to appeal to seamen, for they are a menace to shipping. It was for this reason that it was decided to build a lighthouse on them, a task which proved to be both dangerous and laborious. Building began in 1895, and for more than four years a huge team of men battled against the buffeting winds as they slowly erected a 75 feet high tower, which was to contain a light of 140,000 candle power which would be visible from a distance of 40 miles away. It was completed finally in December, 1899.
Exactly one year later, the British press announced to the nation that the three men who had been manning the new lighthouse had disappeared in circumstances which had almost a touch of the supernatural about them.
On 26th December, 1900, the Northern Lighthouse Board’s steamer, the “Hesperus” had appeared off the Flannan Islands, carrying on board a Mr Joseph Moore, who was due to replace one of the men in the lighthouse. The ship was some days overdue because the usual stormy weather which constantly whipped up the seas in that region had been even worse than usual. But now the seas were calm and the view of the lighthouse was free from the mist and spray which so often shrouded the rock on which it stood. Those on board the “Hesperus” were therefore able to see quite clearly the egg-shaped edifice, standing close to the ruin of Saint Flannan’s chapel.
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Posted in Historical articles, Legend, Music, Mystery, Ships on Monday, 10 February 2014
This edited article about the Flying Dutchman first appeared in Look and Learn issue number 548 published on 15 July 1972.
At one time sailors were notoriously superstitious people with a folklore which abounded with mysterious sea monsters and ghost ships whose sudden appearance out of nowhere was generally an omen for disaster. The ghost ship in particular cropped up in tale after tale, which had been handed down from one generation of seafaring men to the next. There was the slave ship which roamed he oceans of the world carrying a cargo of corpses. There was a Phantom Ship seen only in the Baltic which brought death and disaster to all those who encountered her, and there was a ship manned by skeletons which had been condemned to cruise the oceans of the world until someone had the courage to board her and say a Mass for the souls of her crew.
Today, we dismiss these stories as being nothing more than the tall tales that ancient mariners used to tell to earn themselves another tankard of ale from their open-mouthed listeners. But are we entirely justified in dismissing these stories with good natured contempt? Was there, perhaps, some element of truth in them?
Let us take for an instance one of the most fanciful legends of them all – the story of the Flying Dutchman.
First, the story itself.
Once upon a time, many centuries ago, there was a Dutch sea captain named Vanderdecken who feared neither God nor the Devil. While he was on a voyage around the Cape of Good Hope, he ran into a great storm which placed his ship in great danger, so much so that everyone on board begged him to turn back before they all inevitably perished.
But the Captain merely laughed at the fears of his crew and passengers, and instead of at least sending up a prayer to Heaven, asking for their deliverance, he began to sing blasphemous songs. Then he calmly settled down to smoke his pipe and drink his beer, like a man safely seated in a tavern at home. Even when some of the ship’s masts were broken and the sails were carried away, he merely laughed.
Finally, however, the Captain’s mood began to change as the storm persisted with such force that it kept him from rounding the Cape. Again and again he turned his prow into the teeth of the gale and tried to tack against it, but without success. It was then that he swore with a mighty oath that he would sail around the Cape, even if it took him till Doomsday.
No sooner had he uttered the oath than a Form appeared on the deck which was said to have been the Almighty Himself. Pointing a stern finger at the Captain, the Form spoke out in a loud spectral voice, saying that it would keep the Captain to his word by making him sail the ocean until the end of the world. After making this pronouncement, the Form cast a spell on the whole crew, by which they could not die and their ship could not sink. Then it disappeared on the next gust of wind.
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