A Crappy Christmas Tradition: The Caganer

Traditional Caganer
Hey, it's Christmastime, so I'm just going to go ahead and introduce you to one bizarre, yet funny and less horrible than most things on this blog, holiday tradition. Perhaps we will make our own tradition out of posting this type of article around Christmas. Perhaps we will just get a chuckle out of it this year and then move on. Either way, I found the so-called caganers to be utterly hilarious and hope you do too.

Before we jump into the how, where and exactly what of this Christmas tradition, let's just translate the name for you know whats and giggles. Caganers stands for "the crapper" or a less decorous term, if you can imagine. "The Crapper" is a character in the traditional Catalan nativity scene," which involves the entirety of Bethlehem. For at least the past few hundred years, a crapping peasant can be found among these nativities. Yes, we are talking a figurine with its pants around its knees and poop behind him. No one is quite sure why or how this tradition came about, but there you have it.

Because the nativity scenes in Catalan tradition involve so much more than just the manger, caganers are not the only figures added that Westerners would not typically see. Nonetheless, this little guy remains the most controversial or funny, depending on your view of the thing. Remember, you may have to look for him if you come across a Catalan nativity, as some families like to hide "the crapper" for the kids to find.

The Roden Crater Observatory

We may have not delved into this area of things that are bizarre, but it is possible for something to be so extraordinary as to be bizarre and also be beautiful, amazing and brilliant. Such is the case with the subject of this blog post. One man is so dedicated to that which has inspired him that he has gone ahead and purchased an entire cinder cone crater in order to make his vision come true. That vision - an artistic naked eye observatory in the middle of the San Francisco Volcano Field at 5,400 feet. It is in the Roden Crater, to be precise.

The crater itself is something to behold. If you get the chance, find a shot of it from the sky. The red and black of the cinder cone are rather pretty in the context. Artist James Turrell stands at this location and wants people to have "a sense of standing on the planet" by integrating a structure at the location with the sky. If this sounds a lot like ancient structures like Stonehenge, that is because Turrell used ancient observatories and other monumental construction as inspiration for his project.

The Roden Crater naked eye observatory is not complete. Turrell, his investors and his team have put a lot of work into preparing the site. Nonetheless, there is still a lot to do and Turrell purchased the cinder cone in 1977! If time and effort are any indication of result, visiting this observatory is going to be a must-do. If you want to see visual representations and photos or donate to the project, go to http://rodencrater.com/about.

The Disappearances of the Corte-Real Brothers

Statue of Gaspar Corte-Real
in Newfoundland 
The story of the Corte-Real brothers is strange, not because they disappeared, but because they both did the exact same thing to end up that way. One could argue that it was the fault of an intense pioneering spirit and the love of family that urged these two men to their assumed doom, but you can also argue that it was a bit of silliness too. Then again, most disappearance stories involving the Northwest Passage do have an element of "I could have told you that would happen." to them.

In 1501, Gaspar Corte-Real went on his second mission to try to find the Northwest Passage. The first time he made it as far as possibly Greenland. This second time around, he made it to what we now think was Canada and then sent two of the three Portuguese sailing ships that went with him on this mission home. One of them carried his brother Miguel Corte-Real. The ship with Gaspar and the man himself were never seen again. The two that were sent home made it there safely.

In an attempt to find his brother, Miguel Corte-Real headed to the Northwest Passage in 1502. He too brought three caravels with him. He too sent two of the three sailing ships home. He too was never seen again. Like his brother's expedition, the two ships that went home made it there just fine. In spite of receding ice and much safer travels in the north these days, no evidence of either of their ships has been found.

Sawney Bean or "The Bizarre Cannibal Patriarch"

Hey, if you're into being freaked out, cannibalism works. Of course, if you're the one getting your bits chewed on by a family of freaky cave dwellers, the coolness factor rapidly drops to zero. Stories, which may be largely fiction, say that Sawney Bean and his family of inbred 14th or 15th century Class A freak shows killed and ate about 1,000 people. Why they didn't bother just growing some carrots or stealing a cow is anyone's guess, but it seems the story starts with dear old dad/granddad.

Sawney Bean, whose name was actually Alexander Bean, was born into a family of simple laborers. If you want to know the meaning behind the Sawney moniker, you will have to look farther than me. Maybe it's Old Scottish for "Eats People." Good old Sawney "Eats People" Bean felt that the life of a 14th or 15th century laborer was not for him and it is hard to blame him. The problem is, what was him was running off with a psycho of the female variety and starting a family in a deep cave.

The Sawney legend says that Bean and his wife had kids, who also had kids together, all in a cave where they went unnoticed due to its depth. It is unclear just who had babies with who, but the story definitely indicates inbreeding, as there some 40 Beans by the time their appetites caught up with them. They lived by robbing, killing and eating travelers on the roads nearby at night. They never left the cave during the day so no one even knew they were there. Apparently, they killed so often that they even had leftovers that went to waste in icky piles outside of their cave. No one noticed that, either, I guess. (Remember, historians think this story is, at the very least, hyperbole.)

Finally, someone fought off a group of the Beans and that led to the whole batch being discovered in their cave. All of them were taken and bled, burned, quartered or hanged to death. None of these deaths has been discovered in records and the same goes for the 1,000 victims of the Beans, but it sure does make the skin crawl. People's ideas of story telling have not changed much in 600 years.

Bizarre Sponge or Bizarre People: The Eltanin Antenna

Eltanin Antenna (1964)
Courtesy of the U.S. Government (Public Domain)
Sometimes, it is not so much a thing that is bizarre, but rather how people react to it, as we have seen often on this blog. Such is the case with the so-called Eltanin Antenna. This object photographed at a depth of 3,904 meters gets its name from the USS Eltanin, which photographed it in 1964. This relatively famous photograph shows a distinctly antenna-like object coming up out of the floor of the ocean. The seemingly unnatural angles of the thing led some to believe it did not belong there.

It is here that we get to the bizarre thing about the Eltanin Antenna. In spite of scientific views doing anything but leaning this way, numerous individuals took the object as alien in origin. Thing with sharp angles at the bottom of the ocean? Aliens. To this day, UFOlogists and other hokey-pokey hobbyists think this device is either extraterrestrial or part of some conspiracy. Too bad reality is nowhere near as interesting.

As few as 7 years before the picture of the Eltanin Antenna was taken (possibly fewer), it was identified as a type of carnivorous sponge by the name of Cladorhiza concrescens. Sure, it is carnivorous, oddly shaped and living in a pretty unforgiving environment, but it is certainly terrestrial as much as anything else that exists on Earth is. Of course, the identification is called into question by die hards, but if you look at the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology, Volume 15, you will see that Fig. 541 looks very much like the Eltanin Antenna and this figure was published in 1888.

The Hinterkaifeck Murders: Killer Feeds the Livestock

Hinterkaifeck Murders Memorial
Murder, even a group murder, is not bizarre. It is sad, really, but too common to be considered out of the ordinary. However, there are some cases that have strange features, as with the Hinterkaifeck murders. These are six murders that occurred on March 31, 1922 and are unsolved.

Hinterkaifeck is actually the name of a farmstead in Germany. Sixty-three-year-old Andreas Gruber lived at a farmhouse there with his 72-year-old wife Cazilia, their daughter Viktoria and Viktoria's two children, 7-year-old Cazilia and 2-year-old Josef. A few hours before the murders took place, the family had taken on a new maid by the name of Maria Baumgartner. Maria's predecessor allegedly claimed the house was haunted and that is why she left.

Within days before the murders took place, Andreas Gruber noticed footprints in the snow around his house and remarked on it to his neighbors. The keys to the farmhouse were also recently missing. Whether either had anything to do with what happened on March 31 is anyone's guess. The murder being unsolved makes it hard to say if the family was being stalked or if the crimes were premeditated.

Judging by where the bodies were found, it is assumed that the killer or killers coaxed Andreas, his wife, his daughter and his granddaughter into the barn, where they were all slaughtered with a mattock, which is essentially a digging tool with an ax blade. Sadly, young Cazilia lay alive tearing at herself in distress, until she perished hours later. Josef and Maria were murdered inside of the house, he in his bed and she in her room.

The above is horrific, but, again, in no way bizarre. It is what happened after the murders that is strange. Reports say the lights were on in the home for days. The chimney puffed smoke on at least one occasion. Moreover, police found evidence that someone had been eating at the farmhouse after all of its residents died. Even stranger is that the cattle were fed at some point or points between the murders and the discovery of the body roughly four days later.

Were the Grubers victims of a wanderer who wanted a warm place to stay? Could someone they knew have killed them and stayed around to care for the cattle out of some perverted wish to stay in their home? One theory is that Viktoria's husband, who was presumed dead in the war but never found, came home and killed his wife, her family and their children. There is no way of knowing. All we do know is that someone murdered them all, ate their food and tended their animals.

Bizarre Products: Darkie Toothpaste

Darkie, darky or darkey are all spelling variations of a term used to disparage people with dark skin color. The term was originally used in the United States, but apparently picked up international usage, as evidenced by a brand of toothpaste that came out in Shanghai, China in 1933. This toothpaste was originally sold as Darkie toothpaste. Just in case anyone thought the meaning was ambiguous, the manufacturers put a big picture of a literally black (think the Crayola color, not the skin tone) man on the packaging with a huge smile, a bow tie and a top hat.

What this caricature of a dark-skinned male and the name of the toothpaste were meant to signify is a mystery. It's obvious the company had no problem making use of racist terms, but what does skin tone have to do with toothpaste? Moreover, why is this man dressed like a backwards butler? Do all black butlers have nice teeth? If so, why use this as a marketing gimmick, but pile a disparaging phrase on top of it? I suppose it is just a lesson in the absurdity of racism.

The company that made Darkie toothpaste was eventually purchased by a large, reputable company that did not market the name. However, it took until 1990 to change the name to Darlie. It is the most shocking thing of all that such a product still existed up until about two decades ago. The box still features a black man, but at least he does not look like a racist caricature from the Civil War.

Bizarre Bodies: Coffin Birth

Sometimes the bizarre overlaps with the morbid, so you will have to forgive me if you were expecting a less disgusting and tragic post. If it is shocking, surprising or unexpected, it will eventually find its way on this blog, which is why we are going to talk about coffin birth today. This phenomenon is also known as postmortem fetal extrusion. Yes, it is precisely what it sounds like. Let's continue.

When a pregnant woman dies, if the fetus is not developed enough for extraction and subsequently extracted, it inevitably dies with its mother. It will often remain encased in her womb and is buried with her. Given the right circumstances, the bloating and pressure that comes as a body decomposes will push the baby out of the womb. Mind you, the fetus is dead like its mother. This is quite different from a baby that is born from a dying or just dead mother.

Interestingly, a dead female's uterus will be pushed out in these scenarios, whether there is a fetus in it or not. Gruesome, yes, but both are very rare and made even rarer by modern embalming techniques. It is not that embalming makes it so the fetus could not be pushed out, but rather it prevents the gas from building up in the first place by killing the bacteria that leads to it.

Enjoy your dinner.

The Bizarre Experiments of Carl Vaernet

Among some of the most outrageous human rights abuses of World War II are the acts of Nazi doctors in concentration camps. Many of them used the prisoner populations immediately available in these camps to conduct nightmarish human experiments. All of these incidences are bizarre in their disregard for the humanity of their subjects, though some are little known. Among the less infamous cases is the work of Carl Vaernet. This doctor was interested in finding a hormonal cure for homosexuality.

While Carl Vaernet was not nearly as prolific as well-known monsters like Josef Mengele, he was no less monstrous. His experiments included injections into the testicles of male prisoners at Buchenwald and surgical implantation of artificial testosterone glands into the groins of 17 prisoners. Interestingly, not all of these men were homosexual. Perhaps he simply wanted to test the viability of the gland. Whatever the case may be, two of his subjects died from subsequent infections after surgery. That is one way to cure homosexuality and likely the only "success" the doctor ever had.

Clearly, the ideas proposed by Vaernet were medically unfounded. Today, we would even consider them absurd. Then, they caught the attention of Heinrich Himmler, who made it possible for Vaernet to conduct his experiments, but even the insane doctors employed by the Nazi party realized there was no merit to Vaernet's research, but the war ended very quickly after his experiments in 1944. He was captured and managed to escape (allegedly with the help of Great Britain). He died in Argentina in 1965.

Two Men Who Will Not Speak to Each Other are the Only on Earth Who Speak a Dying Language

As strange as it may seem, languages are still being lost to history in the present. Such is the case with Ayapaneco, an indigenous language from the Tabasco region in Mexico that the only two remaining speakers call Nuumle Oote or "True Voice." With two people left speaking it, you would think the language could be rescued, but that is dependent on the efforts of linguists attempting to salvage the dialect. Why? Because the two men left who speak it do not talk to each other.

Manuel Segoria, who is 75 and Isidro Velazquez, who is 69, have not said why they do not speak to each other and express no open animosity. However, people who know the two Ayapa village residents say they never liked each other. Now, linguists are trying to piece together the nearly dead language both speak and even their usage of the language does not match up. Since they cannot bring the two men together to figure out the discrepancies, the team putting together a dictionary of the language has to use its best judgment.

Unfortunately, while at least one of the men was interested in having Ayapaneco classes, that has proven impossible thanks to budget problems and lack of interest locally. The hope is that the language will be taught before there is no one left who understands fully how to speak it.

Bizarre Experiments: The Milgram Experiment

When it comes to horrifying, strange or surprising experiments, medical ones usually take the cake. World War II itself is enough evidence of that. However, psychology has its fair share of surprising experiments with questionable ethics. One of these is Stanley Milgram's experiments regarding authority, which he conducted at Yale in 1961. While not as frightening as the Stanford Prison Experiment on the surface, I think you will find that it only takes a little thought to see how the results of the research was equally appalling.

The experiment began with Milgram seeking out 500 men between the ages of 20 and 50 in the New Haven, Connecticut area. When the subjects arrived for their sessions, they would see one other "subject" that was actually what we would call a confederate. This means there really was only one subject per session. The other participant was working with Milgram, who was also present as the authority figure in these experiments.

The subject was given the role of "teacher" and led to believe this was an arbitrary assignment, but really all subjects were teachers and all confederates played the role of "student." The student was kept in a room separate from the teacher, who could hear the student, but not see him. The teacher was told that the student was attached to a device that would zap him when the teacher told it to. Milgram even demonstrated this with a small electric shock to the subject. However, there really was no current going to the student during the session.

The entire experiment took the guise of a test. The teacher would ask the student a question. If the student got it wrong, the teacher would zap him. The kicker is that he would also have to turn up the machine every time, so every subsequent wrong answer was more painful, or so he thought. As the test progressed, the student would begin to complain saying things like, "I don't want to do this anymore." and expressing pain. What is interesting is that 65% of the subjects continued the experiment until the machine was at maximum power with just a little gentle coaxing from Milgram. In other words, their hands did not need to be forced. Milgram merely had to state that it was part of the experiment and to continue and the majority of the subjects did as they were told.

Milgram's experiment is easily duplicated and has been a number of times. Different variables have been thrown in to see just how pervasive this behavior is. Apparently, certain things, such as conducting the experiment outside of the school, showing another subject dissenting and being able to see the student, made the subjects less likely to follow through. The moral of the story, kids, is that saying no to an authority figure that wants you to do something immoral is not only okay, but it will also make it more likely for others to dissent. Furthermore, just because you cannot see a person does not mean you are not hurting him. Imagine what the world would be like if more of us learned this lesson, as the subjects of Milgram's experiment did.

The Most Brutal Female Pirate in History: Jeanne de Clisson

Jeanne de Clisson was a French pirate whose career spent pillaging the English Channel was largely an act of revenge. Turning against her own country, she sought French ships for the pleasure of killing the men on board. While this was helpful for the British, that was not her goal. She was just bent on making the king and his aristocrats pay.

Jeanne de Clisson was born sometime around 1300 and married just 12 years later to a man 7 years her senior. The marriage lasted more than a decade and produced two children, but her husband died when she was in her twenties. A few years later, she married Olivier II de Clisson, which was the first step to her infamy. The two appear to have been in love and had five children together. They lived a comfortable life, thanks to de Clisson's wealth, until the man was tried for treason, found guilty and hanged.

After her husband was beheaded, Jeanne de Clisson went what we might call a little bit crazy. She sold her husband's land and even prostituted herself to wealthy men, allegedly. When she had enough money, she bought three ships, which were painted black and outfitted with red sails. She was a truly frightening figure in her rage.

Jeanne, also known as the "Lioness of Brittany," sought only French ships, killing all but a few on board, so they could tell her tale in France. When she captured the ship of an aristocrat, she beheaded the man with an ax and tossed the body overboard. Then, in 1356, she was done with her revenge. She moved to England, married Sir Walter Bentley and then died three years later.

Human Stampedes and Crushing Deaths at the Hajj

Crowd around the Kaaba
Courtesy of Bluemangoa2z from Wikimedia Commons

The Hajj is a very famous and widespread pilgrimage that is required by Islam. If you are Muslim, able-bodied and can afford to make your way to Mecca, you must go. It is your duty to your religion and your god. With more than one billion Islamic people on the Earth today, it is not surprising that things get a bit crowded at the holy place during the four days of Hajj every year. Unfortunately, in the fervor to throw stones, kiss/touch a stone and do other obligatory rituals, people are crushed and thousands have reportedly died over the years.

A field in Kansas
Courtesy of FEMA
Several million adherents are expected each year at the Hajj. Thanks to the inherent issues in controlling such a crowd and the inability thus far to create structures that would support such a crowd and corral it in useful ways, collapses and stampede-like incidents are common. In fact, if you do not want to be trampled to death or die in a ramp or overland bridge collapse, this is about the worst place you can go. Sure, millions get away unscathed, but you are far less likely to be trampled by people in say a field in Kansas.

To be fair, attempts have been made to make the journey a much safer one. They are just only as effective as a massive crowd of religiously moved people allow them to be. You can only do so much to stem human crushing behavior when the people involved are motivated by an obligation they feel they owe a god.

Bizarre Human Experimentation: Unit 731

Unit 731 Complex
Photo Copyright Expired

When it comes to bizarre human behavior, Unit 731 is one of the most revolting and horrific examples. Of course, all human experiments beyond the most benign have something strange about them, but this was extreme. Unit 731 operated from the 1930's until the mid-1940's. It was a branch of the Japanese Imperial Army that was charged with developing chemical and biological weapons. This unit carried out some of the most heinous war crimes in history and this was around the same time Nazi doctor Josef Mengele was conducting his infamous experiments on twins, so that is saying something.

In order to give you a better idea of what kind of scumbags we are talking about here, let's take a look at what happened in a single camp. Thousands of Chinese and Russian prisoners were sent to Pingfang Camp. There, some 3,000 to 12,000 of them died at the hands of Japanese military researchers, many of them doctors. Most of the victims were Chinese. In one establishment, nearly 200 American POWs were killed in a medical experiment. It would be nice to say it was, "a medical experiment gone awry," but these people were not in the business of saving lives.

Among the examples of what Unit 731 did in its quest for knowledge are vivisections. In case you are unaware of what a vivisection is, think of it as an autopsy on the living. The procedure is not quite the same, but the point is to cut into the living person just to see what is going on inside of them. These procedures were not done humanely, if such a thing were even possible. Pregnant mothers were sliced into. Some of the victims were infants. Other atrocities include intentional freezing of limbs on live subjects, intentional spread of disease, unnecessary amputations, partial and total organ removal, attempts to infect prisoners using parasitic insects and germ warfare. Germ bombs dropped on China around this time killed up to 400,000 people. They even used humans to test the results of explosives on people.

Once World War II ended, so did Unit 731. Some of the doctors who were involved were taken to the Soviet Union to stand trial. Those caught by the United States were given immunity, of all things, because they coughed up what they learned in their experiments. Make of that what you will.

Missing Moon Rocks

Apollo 11 Moon Rocks
Public Domain NASA photograph

One of the biggest achievements of humankind was the moon landings. That humans were able to walk on a celestial object was and still is an astounding feat of genius and bravery. The most famous result of said feat was roughly 850 pounds of moon rock or 270 rocks. Of these 270 rocks, 180 are missing as of early 2013.

Token moon rock pieces were given to countries all over the world and each of the United States. These rocks love to go missing or get stolen. As of now, quite a few are still missing, but more than that have been lost and recovered. One of the biggest problems with recovering lost moon rocks is that people try to pass of Earth rocks as moon rocks. That, and people are careless. For example, one moon rock is known to be somewhere in a landfill in Ireland.

One group of stolen material was taken right out of the Johnson Space Center by a few ambitious students. Several more have been stolen from educators charged with bringing the rocks to schools and the like. Oddly, they are usually taken right out of the safes in the vans that are carrying them, but they keep getting stored in safes in vans. Go figure.

The Human Stampede at Khodynka Field

Khodynka Stampede victims
Public domain -- copyright expired

This story is really about a bizarre aspect of human nature. In large groups, we can become like cattle, trampling without thought or regard to the people around us. This is particularly true when there is desperation in the group, though herd behavior has happened for something as ludicrous as pop music. In the case of the Khodynka Stampede in Moscow, it was about food and beer.

On May 30, 1896, a group that has been estimated to number upwards of 500,000 gathered at the Khodynka Field where pubs and giveaway stations had been set up to celebrate the coronation of Tsar Nicholas II. You may know him as the father of the famous Anastasia and the last emperor of Russia. He was only four days into his reign when his people gathered to collect their gifts from the tsar. They amounted to some scraps of food and a cup. That people were so eager to collect these things is indicative of the state of Russia at the time.

Some time into the celebration, a rumor got out that there would not be enough pretzels and beer for the entire crowd. Astoundingly, this led to a massive human stampede. Nearly 1,400 people died and almost as many as that were injured. It was an appalling tragedy that now seems portentous of what was coming for Russia and its last royal ruler.

Nicholas tried to handle the issue with respect, but it appears that some factions were determined to hate him and others as determined to control him. In the end, the royal family paid out to the families of victims and tried to help the survivors, several employees involved in the celebration were fired and life went on until a revolution changed everything.

Bizarre Coincidence: Edgar Allen Poe, Richard Parker and Cannibalism

Title page of "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon
Pym of Nantucket" by Edgar Allen Poe

In 1838, Edgar Allen Poe published his first and only novel titled, "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket." In it, Pym, a stowaway aboard a whaler, sees all manner of events, including one horrific one connected to a bizarre coincidence. It is a somewhat gruesome tale that features the killing and eating of the cabin boy by the rest of the crew aboard the "Grampus." The cabin boy's name was Richard Parker, a name that would become as involved with cannibalism in reality as it is in fiction.

Roughly six years after "The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym" was published, a yacht called "Mignonette" sank roughly 1,600 miles from the Cape of Good Hope. The four-man crew abandoned ship and took off in the lifeboat with no fresh water and only a few cans of turnips to sustain them. The 17-year-old cabin boy Richard Parker appears to have gone into a coma from drinking seawater, according to the testimony of his shipmates. They killed him by stabbing him the neck while he slept so they could eat him and drink his blood. They spotted rescue roughly four days later.

Bizarre Disappearances: The Peking Man Fossils

Casts of the Peking Man Skulls
Photo: Public Domain
During the 1920s, a group of famous fossils was found near Beijing. These fossils were mainly of the skulls, jawbones and teeth of a step in the human evolutionary chain dubbed Homo erectus pekinensis. They were one of the biggest scientific finds of the early 20th century. A man named Davidson Black is known as being the man who researched these fossils the most and it is a good thing too. He, and others, left copious notes regarding the fossils, which date back to roughly 750,000 to 780,000 years ago. These notes and some casts of the fossils are all that is left. The fossils themselves disappeared in 1941.

The Peking Man fossils were in a safe at the Peking Union Medical College when the decision was made to move them to the United States. The Japanese were advancing on the area and World War II was reaching its height. They were to be sent to the United States only for safekeeping until the end of the war, but they never made it there. As far as anyone knows, they never left China.

The fossils were meant to leave China via the U.S.S. President Harrison, but it was sunk by the Japanese before it reached the pick-up point. The fossils presumably left the college, but there is no record of them past there. They may have reached the Marines that were meant to escort them, but there is no record of that. There are rumors that they sank aboard a Japanese ship, were destroyed by the Japanese during a train raid or actually were secreted away to the United States. No one knows, but they would certainly be the find of yet another century if someone found out.

Football Team Killed by Lightning

This bizarre story is as much sad as it is strange. It comes out of the Democratic Republic of Congo in the late 1990s, like so many sad stories. However, this is not the kind of tragic tale that one would expect from a war zone, as the DRC was at the time and still is in many ways. This is about the sudden and immediate death of an entire football (soccer) team in Basanga on October 28, 1998.

The report came out of Kasasha soon after the group of 11 men in their 20s and early 30s died. There are definite missing details, but that is not surprising given the other news coming out of the area at the time. The incident took place when the now deceased team and Basanga's team got together for a game. Suddenly, lightning struck, killing the entire visiting team and burning 30 other individuals. Not a single member of the Basanga team was so much as singed.

Shrunken Heads

Authentic shrunken head MOS London
Photo in the public domain
In all of our forays into all that is bizarre, we have yet to touch on tribal, old-school oddities. In pondering this unfortunate lapse, I could think of nothing better to introduce this topic to this blog than shrunken heads. This is no legend. People can and often did shrink heads -- human heads. To be honest, I'm trying to start this off with a witty pop culture reference and am finding it tough. I'm sure I have seen them in movies, but I must have blocked it out. Beetlejuice? Indiana Jones? Ah, well. Let me know in the comments if you can think of any shrunken heads in film.

To give you an idea of what exactly a shrunken head is, apart from the obvious, I'm going to partially describe the process. You can refrain from telling me that I do not have it all quite right because I'll be darned if I'm going to write a recipe for shrinking heads. My love for the bizarre has its limits. Of course, shrinking a head involves the removal of the head. Then, the skin is taken from the head. This is what becomes the shrunken head through a process of drying and sewing a la Ed Gein. So, if you are thinking how odd it is that a skull shrinks like that, perish the thought. The skull is presumably given to the village witch doctor for use as a mortar with a femoral pestle or tossed aside like trash.

Thankfully, you do not have to worry about your head being shrunk. Well, you don't have to worry too much. It seems that the ever-frightful Amazon and the Nazi party are the only areas/groups responsible for shrinking heads in history. However, the cutting off and collecting of heads is pretty universal throughout all of the cultures in history. It's a madman thing.

If you want to see one of these macabre creations, many museums have them.

Bizarre Creatures: Haast's Eagle

In light of a new viral video that is apparently a hoax, but still very creepy, we are going to talk about a creature that is scarier than a horror movie monster. You may have seen the video of a boy nearly being carried off by a predatory bird. While it may not seem feasible, it really is. Golden eagles in particular are savage and strong, but there are few existing birds that pose a danger to very small children. However, less than a thousand years ago, New Zealand was home to a bird that would have made you poop your pants if you were unlucky enough to see it coming before it dive bombed you -- the Haast's Eagle.

The Haast's eagle was a dinosaur of a bird. It stood up to six feet and weighed about 35 pounds. You might scoff at the idea of a 35-pound predator. If you can read, you likely outweigh it. Let us not forget that this is 35 pounds of predatory bird with a sharp beach and four-inch talons. You cannot fight it. It can fly. You probably will not see it when it decides to eat you. It can dive at a speed of up to 60 miles an hour. That means you probably will not be able to fight it once it plows into you anyway. Imagine being hit by a car on the highway and then trying to fight it. Well, a car that eats people.

The Haast's Eagle had a nasty reputation as a baby snatcher. It would dive bomb Maori and make off with the smaller ones. Yes, according to their stories, which are not even as old as the Bible, people were once carried off by eagles to be eaten. Thankfully, the King Kong of birds did not know that native New Zealanders are absolutely insane. They killed off the Haast's eagle and all of its favorite flightless meals around 1400 CE.