Mysterious Rosslyn Chapel Gets Facelift

Rosslyn Chapel
Sean McLachlan

Rosslyn Chapel in Scotland has been the center of conspiracy theories for at least a century before Dan Brown wrote it up in The Da Vinci Code. This private chapel less than an hour’s drive from Edinburgh has an interior filled with carvings that many believe have symbolism linked to the Masons and the Templars.

In recent years the 15th century chapel has suffered from damp that has been corroding the sculptures and undermining the integrity of some of the windows. The BBC reports that the owners of the chapel — the very same family that built it — have now finished a 16-year conservation project.

In 1997 a steel roof was put over the entire chapel in order to shelter it from rain and let it dry out. It stayed in place until 2010. Workmen also repaired the stonework and windows and made the roof watertight. Now all scaffolding has been removed and visitors can see the chapel unobstructed for the first time in 16 years.

I visited Rosslyn Chapel earlier this week and was impressed by the quality of the restoration. The chapel itself, however, left me underwhelmed. While attractive and filled with detail, it doesn’t contain any more symbolism than any other heavily ornamented medieval church. Go to Notre Dame in Segovia or the Romanesque churches of Segovia and you’ll see what I mean. The 9 pound ($14) entry fee and the rule against taking photos inside also rubbed me the wrong way.

I left with the impression that conspiracy theorists had decided this place was special and have spent generations overanalyzing it. More enjoyable for me and my family was a country walk to the nearby ruins of Rosslyn Castle set above a glittering Scottish stream. Much more picturesque and with far fewer people.

US Government Denies Existence Of Mermaids


The U.S. National Ocean Service has released a statement confirming there is no scientific evidence for mermaids.

Interesting – I didn’t realize this was a subject of debate.

Apparently it wasn’t until Discovery Channel’s Animal Planet network ran a spoof documentary titled “Mermaids: The Body Found.” The channel’s own press release labels the show “science fiction.” This wasn’t enough for some viewers and according to the BBC, the National Ocean Service received a couple of inquiries about the fishy folk. To keep the public from reviving the superstitions of illiterate 19th century sailors, they made a public denial of something they never thought they’d have to deny.

When I read this I went through the predictable range of reactions. First I laughed, then I felt smugly superior, then I said, “Hey, I need to write this up for Gadling!” Then I did something I didn’t expect.

I got very, very afraid.

The public dialogue is awash with ridiculous assertions: Obama is a Muslim, the Moon landings were faked, all foreigners hate America, aliens regularly visit Earth to anally probe drunk farmers, etc., etc. Last week we even learned that some radical ultra-Orthodox Jews believe Hitler and top Zionists plotted to create the Holocaust so the Jews could create Israel. I’m still shaking my head over that one.

This level of ignorance is the result of many factors, but one cause rules over them all: a complete lack of context. Our schools teach us so little about the world that it’s easy to believe anything. Even the most basic knowledge of history, biology, evolution, oceanography, or folklore would guarantee that someone wouldn’t believe in mermaids, yet some people who went through the educational system of the most powerful country in the world lack this knowledge.It’s easy to laugh this off when it’s about mermaids. It’s not so funny when educated people seriously ask me if I had to pack a two-month supply of food to live in Ethiopia, or if Spain still has roving gangs of bandidos.

And if you think nobody is encouraging and profiting off this rampant ignorance, think again. The Republican Party of Texas included as part of its 2012 platform that it opposes the teaching of critical thinking in schools. And no, I’m not picking on the GOP. All politicians manipulate public ignorance to further their own ends. With elections coming up, it’s time to get educated.

This is why I love travel. It gets rid of my ignorance and teaches me that I’m ignorant about things I didn’t even know I was clueless about. To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, it changes unknown unknowns into known knowns. Example: five years ago I thought all of Somalia was in chaos – then I learned about Somaliland. OK, I thought, it’s safe for Somalis. I still assumed that it was too dangerous for foreigners. Then I actually went there and checked. Guess what? I’m still alive!

Knowledge is the great weapon of national freedom and personal liberation. If more people got out of their comfort zones and investigated their assumptions, maybe the American public would never have been convinced that one group of people were ignorant savages and needed to be pushed off their land, or another group of people were too stupid to take care of themselves and needed to be enslaved, or that another group of people had more loyalty to the old country than America and needed to be forced into internment camps for the duration of World War II.

This ignorance of “the other” is still rampant today and can turn ugly at any time. It’s in our own best interest to get out of our comfort zones. We don’t have to leave the country to travel. Our comfort zone ends at the other side of the tracks.

Always question, always be suspicious of an authority’s motives, and keep exploring.

Photo of the Sip ‘n Dip Lounge in Great Falls, Montana, courtesy Flickr user vsmoothe. That woman is a human actress in a mermaid suit, in case you’re wondering. And yes, I totally want to go swimming with her.

Suspects Held In Holocaust Memorial Desecration

Holocaust
Two weeks ago we reported that the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem was vandalized. Now Israeli police have detained three men in connection with the crime.

All three are ultra-Orthodox Jews and have confessed, police said.

The front of Yad Vashem was covered in Hebrew graffiti, including slogans such as, “Thanks Hitler for the wonderful Holocaust you organized for us. Only thanks to you we got a state from the UN.”

Some members of the ultra-Orthodox community don’t recognize the state of Israel, saying it shouldn’t exist until the coming of the Messiah. The BBC reports that some radicals even believe that Hitler and top Zionists plotted to create the Holocaust so that the Jews could create Israel, which has got to be the dumbest conspiracy theory we’ve ever come across, and that’s saying something.

The defacement was signed, “world ultra-Orthodox Jewry.”

The men are due to appear in court today.

Photo courtesy USHMM/Belarusian State Archive of Documentary Film and Photography. Click link to read the names of these children.

Meramec Caverns: The Coolest Attraction On Route 66


If you want to beat the heat this summer, there’s no better way to do that than to explore a cool and beautiful cave.

Missouri is one of the best states to see them. A combination of lots of limestone and plenty of water has honeycombed the state with some 6,000 caves, from tiny little crawl spaces to grand and glorious show caves. One of the most popular is Meramec Caverns in Stanton, Missouri, on Route 66.

Like many caves, it was first used by Native Americans. In the 18th century, French explorers mined the cave for saltpeter, an ingredient used in making gunpowder. Saltpeter Cave, as it was then known, became tactically important in the Civil War. Union troops were stationed there mining the saltpeter until 1864, when Confederate guerrillas attacked them, drove them off, and destroyed the works.

The cave didn’t become a public attraction until the 1890s, when dances were held in the main gallery, appropriately called “The Ballroom.” Showman Lester Dill bought it in 1933, renamed it Meramec Caverns after the nearby river, and opened it to the public. He systematically explored the cave and discovered several impressive chambers. Soon people were flocking to see the stalactites and stalagmites, and beautiful stone drapery that looks like giant curtains. The action of the water depositing minerals on the walls had created amazing shapes and contours on every spot.

%Gallery-158676%Dill decided to create some clever advertising by linking the cave to Jesse James. He claimed it was one of his gang’s hideouts, although James scholars dispute this. The Jesse James/Meramec Caverns legend got a shot in the arm when the public became aware of a man claiming to be the real Jesse James, still alive and spinning a tale about how he faked his own death. Actually this old coot was named J. Frank Dalton and had one time passed himself off as Billy the Kid.

Local booster Rudy Turilli brought “Jesse” to Meramec Caverns to celebrate his 103rd birthday on September 5, 1950. This brought in a huge amount of publicity and Turilli offered $10,000 to anyone who could prove he didn’t have the real Jesse James. The James family took him to court and won. Turilli never paid the $10,000.

The tour and the nearby Jesse James Wax Museum explain this conspiracy theory in detail. The whole experience is fun and a bit cheesy, having the roadside appeal of The Thing? and South of the Border. There’s no denying the natural beauty of the cave itself, and beyond the showbusiness aspect of the place that’s its real appeal.

While you’re in Stanton also check out the Riverside Reptile Ranch to meet all sorts of creepy creatures, and take a ride on the Caveman Zipline.

The International UFO Museum And Research Center At Roswell, New Mexico

UFO
Something strange happened in Roswell, New Mexico, in 1947.

Rancher William Brazel found a bunch of debris in the desert that he couldn’t identify. He described it in the July 9, 1947, issue of the Roswell Daily Record as a “large area of bright wreckage made up of rubber strips, tinfoil, a rather tough paper and sticks.”

The paper reported that Brazel estimated that all together the debris “weighed maybe five pounds. There was no sign of any metal in the area, which might have been used for an engine, and no sign of any propellers of any kind, although at least one paper fin had been glued onto some of the tinfoil. There were no words to be found anywhere on the instrument, although there were letters on some of the parts. Considerable scotch tape and some tape with flowers printed upon it had been used in the construction.”

Not sure what he had, he contacted the Roswell Army Air Field, which sent two men out to gather the material. The local base commander then released a statement that a “flying disk” had been found. This gained national publicity. America was in the midst of its first wave of flying saucer sightings and this fit the bill. The next day, General Ramey of the Eighth Air Force made an official statement that it was a downed weather balloon.

%Gallery-155021%The incident was soon forgotten, even by most Ufologists, until in 1978 a UFO researcher started interviewing locals who claimed to have seen the debris and said it was part of an extraterrestrial craft. Accounts of alien bodies and a massive cover up also came to light. The stories snowballed and Roswell became the world’s most famous UFO crash.

The International UFO Museum and Research Center is dedicated to studying the UFO phenomenon in general and the Roswell crash in particular. It was founded by Walter Haut, who was the press officer at the air field when the crash occurred, and Glenn Dennis, who claims to have seen alien bodies taken from the crash. The museum displays a huge collection of photos, documents, and eyewitness accounts related to the Roswell incident and other sightings.

The result is a detailed history of the UFO craze from its beginnings up to the present day, told in newspaper stories, photos and eyewitness accounts. You can spend a lot of time here studying the various sightings, and you’ll come away with the realization that an awful lot of people think they’ve seen something strange in the sky.

I’m an agnostic in all things. Although I’ve investigated all sorts of paranormal occurrences ranging from ghosts to visitations from Purgatory, I generally come down on the side of interested skepticism. While this museum didn’t decrease my skepticism, it was highly entertaining and certainly an excellent resource for anyone interested in the UFO mystery. They get extra points for pointing out some parts of their photographs that aren’t UFOs, and showing how observers can often mistake man-made objects or natural phenomena for extraterrestrial craft.

Besides the museum, several local shops get in on the action selling alien memorabilia and there are numerous UFO tours. Roswell also hosts an annual UFO conference, held this year from June 28-July 1.

The enduring publicity over the Roswell incident, both in New Mexico and around the world, has led to numerous statements by the government that nothing happened. In 1994, the Air Force stated that the debris actually came from a secret project called Project Mogul, which attempted to use strings of high-altitude balloons, or a single giant balloon, to spy on Soviet nuclear activities.

While this prompted some UFO researchers to change their minds and state that no UFO crashed at Roswell, it only encouraged others. If the government didn’t tell the whole truth at first, they reasoned, they could be lying now. Personally, I have a hard time believing that an alien spacecraft (made of tinfoil and sticks, no less) crashed in the New Mexico desert. Sure, considering the vastness of the universe it’s unlikely that we’re alone, but that doesn’t mean aliens are coming here.

I see something more insidious going on with all of this. If the government was lying to divert attention from secret projects, it could be still doing this. Perhaps the Ufologists should stop watching the skies and use their research skills and tenacity to uncover secret activities going on right here on Earth, such as government corruption, secret military operations, support of nasty dictators (Saddam Hussein, for example) and the undermining of civil liberties. By chasing phantoms, the Ufologists are playing into the hands of those have the real power in this world, and who have a lot more sinister things to hide than evidence of extraterrestrials.

[Photo courtesy Kimble Young]