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.