Great Mysteries of Our World ألغاز عظيمة في عالمنا

Part one

The Ghost Ship Mary Celeste

A Mysterious Disappearance

On 4 December 1872 the British ship Dei Gratia was crossing the Atlantic Ocean to Europe. As the ship came close to the Azores, the captain of the ship, Captain Morehouse, suddenly saw a mysterious dark spot on the horizon. ‘What could it be?’ he thought, and he ordered some of his crew to go and investigate. When the crew of the Dei Gratia came close to the spot, they saw that it was a ship – the Mary Celeste. But something was very, very wrong. There were no signs of life on the Mary Celeste. Apparently it had sailed on its course for 370 nautical miles as a ghost ship. It had navigated without a navigator. To understand this mystery we must go to back to the year 1861.

In 1861 a ship called the Amazon was built. But the Amazon had bad luck from the start. It was badly damaged during its first voyage in 1862 and shortly after there was a fire on board. During the years that followed there were many other accidents on the ship.

The Amazon was finally sold and its name was changed to the Mary Celeste. But the new owners did not know the superstition that it is bad luck to change a ship’s name.

Many sailors did not want to sail on the ship because they thought it was unlucky, and so it was very difficult to find a crew. Finally enough sailors were found to make a crew of seven men. The new captain of the Mary Celeste was 37-year-old Benjamin Briggs, a sailor with great experience.

On the morning of 5 November 1872 the Mary Celeste left New York harbour with a cargo of 1700 barrels of unrefined alcohol.

The weather that day was perfect for sailing. On board the ship were Captain Briggs, his wife Sarah, their two-year-old daughter Sophia and a crew of seven men.

The ship’s destination was Genoa, Italy. Captain Briggs log book shows that the first fifteen days of the voyage were calm, and the wind and weather were good.

But once the ship came near to the Azores, the weather suddenly changed. Captain Briggs wrote in his log book that there was a storm with a lot of wind. At first this did not worry him, because he was an expert navigator.

As the hours passed, the wind became stronger and the weather got much worse. The night of 24 November was very stormy. At 5 a.m. on 25 November Captain Briggs wrote in his log book that he could see the island of Santa Maria, but he did not stop there.

He sailed north of the island of Santa Maria. This was very strange because the most direct route to the Strait of Gibraltar, entrance to the Mediterranean Sea, is south of the island. Why did he go north instead of south?

Perhaps he wanted to leave the stormy route and look for better weather. In any case, in the early morning of 25 November the Mary Celeste sailed along the northern coast of the island. Then something terrible happened on the Mary Celeste – something so unexpected and shocking that we must suppose Captain Briggs abandoned the ship and got into the lifeboat with his wife, daughter and crew. No one ever heard from them or saw them again.

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On Board the Mary Celeste

When Captain Morehouse’s men got on the Mary Celeste on 4 December, they found no signs of violence. The ship’s lifeboat had gone, but all parts of the ship were in order.

There was plenty of food and fresh water on the ship. It is even said that the captain’s breakfast was still on the table in his cabin! However, the ship’s compass was broken and the other navigation instruments were not there.

The sailors hurried back to the Dei Gratia and told their captain about the frightening discovery.

‘The people on the Mary Celeste probably abandoned the ship during a violent storm,’ said Captain Morehouse.

‘But there was no evidence of a violent storm on the ship. Everything is in perfect condition,’ said one of the crew members.

‘Perhaps there was a mutiny at sea,’ said the captain, trying to explain the mystery.

‘If that’s true, what happened to the people on the ship?’ asked another sailor.

‘I don’t know,’ said Captain Morehouse. ‘I can’t find a logical explanation, but now we must do something with the deserted ship.

He ordered one of his officers, Oliver Deveau, and two other men to sail the Mary Celeste to the port of Gibraltar. The Dei Gratia went ahead and the Mary Celeste followed.

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The Investigation

When the Mary Celeste arrived in Gibraltar, the British authorities examined it carefully and wanted answers to these questions:

1. Why were nine of the barrels of unrefined alcohol empty? This is a dangerous liquid. Did the crew drink it and go mad?

2. Did pirates take over the ship? If so, where did they go?

3. How did the ship remain on its course for ten days without anyone to sail it? Perhaps someone remained on board after 25 November. But who? And where was that person?

Both the British and the American authorities investigated the mystery, but after two years of investigations, no one was able to find a logical explanation.

Newspapers all over the world began writing about the ghost ship. People everywhere were fascinated by the Mary Celeste and more than thirty books were published on the subject. Even the famous British writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle became interested in the ship and wrote a story about it.

During the next eleven years the ship was sold seventeen times. Then it was destroyed on some rocks in the Caribbean Sea, and that was the end of its unlucky life.

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A Mystery Explained?

At the end of the nineteenth century, Eberhart Rudolph, Professor of Geophysics at the University of Strasburg in Germany, published a long study on seaquakes (underwater earthquakes). He wrote about more than 550 seaquakes and their devastating effect on ships. Is this what happened to the Mary Celeste? Was the unlucky ship a victim of a violent seaquake? Did the seaquake make a frightening noise, shake the ship and throw it into the air? Were the ten people on the ship so terrified by this natural catastrophe that they abandoned it?

Today scientists know that seaquakes create extremely high waves, accompanied by very loud noises, and are very destructive.

According to the Acoustics Division of the US Naval Research Laboratory, there have been major seaquakes near Santa Maria Island in the Azores every year for hundreds of years. There have also been strong earthquakes in the Azores Islands during the centuries. But in 1872 there were no instruments to record a seaquake. So no one will ever know for certain what happened to the Mary Celeste, and the mystery remains.

What do you think? Was the Mary Celeste a victim of a seaquake or I was it a victim of its own bad luck?

 

Part two

Nostradamus

Predicting the Future

Have you ever predicted the future? Many people say they can predict the future by reading the stars or by interpreting tarot cards, but do they really have this power?

No one in the history of prophecy has attracted as much attention as Nostradamus. He was an exceptional astrologer and astronomer, and he used both astrology and astronomy to predict the future. Nostradamus is sometimes called the ‘prophet of catastrophe’ because his predictions often involve war and death. Yet people continue referring to him and his prophecies almost five hundred years after he died.

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Who was Nostradamus?

‘Nostradamus’ real name was Michel de Nostradame and he was born on 14 December 1503 in St Remy de Provence, southern France. As a child he was very intelligent, with a special talent for mathematics and astrology. He studied medicine at the University of Montpellier, and began to help victims of the plague using his new medical ideas. Unfortunately, his first wife and two small children later died of the plague.

Nostradamus travelled around France and Italy, and he continued to learn and practise medicine. He started to question common beliefs, and this caused problems for him on many occasions. Legends began to grow about his strange ability to predict the future. One of them said that, while he was in Italy, Nostradamus met a monk. He immediately went down on his knees, and called the monk ‘Your Holiness’. About 45 years later the monk became Pope Sixtus V.

Nostradamus realised that he had extraordinary powers of prophecy, and he started writing down his predictions in the form of four-line poems. He quickly became famous throughout France and Europe, and even Queen Catherine de Medici of France wanted to meet him. Nostradamus predicted the death of her husband, King Henry II, during a tournament. In 1559 his prediction came true!

Nostradamus died in Salon de Provence, southern France, in 1566. It is said that he even predicted his own death. After a long illness, on 1 July Nostradamus called the local priest to his house.

He said, ‘Dear Chavigny, you won’t see me alive again!’ The next morning he was dead.

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The ‘Centuries’

A collection of his strange predictions was first published in 1555 under the name Centuries. The word ‘centuries’ refers to the fact that there are a hundred four-line poems, or ‘quatrains’, in each book. The quatrains predict events from the mid-1500s until the end of the world. People have studied and interpreted his predictions since the sixteenth century.

Nostradamus made his poems difficult to understand by using words from Latin, French, Provencal, Greek and Italian. This was because he did not want the Church to accuse him of being a magician or a heretic. He also deliberately confused the time sequence of his prophecies so that they were more cryptic.

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The Prophecies

But just how did Nostradamus predict the future? He worked with books of the occult, and studied the stars using his knowledge of astrology. He also used an ancient method of predicting the future called scrying, where people look into a bowl of water until they have an inspiration or see an image.

People who believe him say that he predicted the Great Fire of London, the destiny of Napoleon and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. They also say that he predicted the assassination of some presidents of the United States and some of the disasters of modern times.

Let’s take a look at some of his famous prophecies.

 

Century 2, Quatrain 51

The blood of the just will be demanded of London

Burnt by fire in three times twenty plus six.

 

People think this prediction is about the Great Fire of London, a devastating event which destroyed much of the city. ‘Three times twenty plus six’ corresponds to 66, the last two numbers of the year 1666, when the Great Fire of London took place.

 

Century 1, Quatrain 60

An emperor will be born near Italy,

‘Who will cost the Empire a high price.

 

This is interpreted as a prophecy about the rise to power of the French Emperor, Napoleon. His parents were Italian, and he was born on the island of Corsica, which is near Italy. He certainly built up a huge French Empire, but at the end of his rule France lost most of the territory that he had conquered.

Let’s take a look at some of the predictions for the twentieth century.

 

Century 2, Quatrain 24

Beasts ferocious with hunger will cross the rivers.

The greater part of the battlefield will be against Hister.

Into a cage of iron the great one will be pulled,

When the child of Germany observes no law.

 

This quatrain is said to predict World War II and the rise to power of Adolf Hitler. The first line could refer to the battles of World War II. ‘Hister’ is the Latin name for the River Danube which runs through Linz, where Adolf Hitler lived as a child. The fourth line could refer to the terrible lessons that Hitler gave to the young people of Germany.

 

Century 1, Quatrain 81

Nine will be set apart from the human flocks,

Separated from judgement and counsel:

Their fate to be determined on departure.

Kappa, Theta, Lambda, dead, banished and scattered.

 

In 1986 the United States Space Shuttle ‘Challenger’ exploded just over a minute after it left the earth, killing the entire crew. The third line of the quatrain (‘their fate to be determined on departure’) seems to predict this event, although there were seven, and not nine, astronauts on board the Shuttle. The last line has the Greek letters kappa, lambda and theta, which in English are ‘k’, ‘I’ and ‘th’. If you change the order of these letters and add some vowel sounds (‘io’ and ‘o’) you get the second name of the man who designed ‘Challenger’. His name was Moreton Thiokol.

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A Mystery Explained?

Some of the events Nostradamus predicted never happened, but a great many of his predictions could seem true. Sceptics, however, think that his predictions can be interpreted to fit almost any event.

What do you think? Does the future already exist? And if so, who can read it?

 

Part three

King Tutankhamun’s Tomb

The Valley of the Kings

Perhaps the most famous of all the pharaohs of Egypt is Tutankhamun. The mystery surrounding the discovery of his tomb is one of the most fascinating and bizarre of our times. Was King Tutankhamun’s tomb protected by a terrible curse that has continued through the centuries?

Around four thousand years ago, the ancient Egyptians buried their pharaohs in pyramids along the Nile in northern Egypt. The pharaohs tombs were filled with precious jewels and rich treasures for their journey to another world after their death.

But tomb robbers entered most of the pyramids and stole these treasures. It was almost impossible to stop them.

In around 1,500 BC the ancient Egyptians began to build secret tombs in the Valley of the Kings, in the hills near the town of Thebes. However, over the centuries, robbers still found the tombs and stole most – but not all – of their precious treasures. A few tombs, including King Tutankhamun’s, remained almost untouched.

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The Search for King Tut’s Tomb

European archaeologists became interested in ancient Egypt in the nineteenth century. They knew that there were treasures of immense scientific and artistic value inside the pharaohs tombs. But they also knew that many of them had been robbed centuries before.

In 1891 a young Englishman called Howard Carter arrived in Egypt and started working with the European archaeologists. After many years of work, he began to look for an undiscovered tomb: the tomb of the almost unknown King Tutankhamun, or King Tut, in the Valley of the Kings.

King Tut became Pharaoh at the age of nine and ruled until his death in 1323 BC, when he was only eighteen. His death is surrounded by mystery and no one really knows how he died. An X-ray of his mummy shows an injury at the back of his head. Did someone kill King Tut? And if so, why? Did he die of natural causes? This remains an unsolved mystery.

Howard Carter needed someone to sponsor his search for King Tut’s tomb. Fortunately, he was able to convince Lord Carnarvon, a wealthy British aristocrat, to help him. For five years, Carter and his workers searched for King Tut’s tomb in the Valley of the Kings, but they found nothing. Carter returned to England to convince Lord Carnarvon to give him more money. In 1922 Lord Carnarvon agreed to sponsor him for one last try.

Carter brought a pet canary back with him to Egypt. When Reis Ahmed, one of Carter’s workers, saw the yellow canary for the first time, he exclaimed, ‘A golden bird! It will lead us to a tomb full of gold!’

Perhaps the bird was a good omen, because after a short time Carter’s workers discovered a step in a rock that had been hidden for centuries. They dug further and found fifteen more steps: they led to an ancient door that had never been opened.

‘Could this be the tomb of Tutankhamun, at last?’ Carter said. He could not believe his eyes. ‘I must contact Lord Carnarvon immediately. We can’t open the tomb until he’s here!’

Carter was sure that he had finally discovered King Tut’s tomb. When he went home that night his servant met him at the door with a few yellow feathers in his hand. He was terribly frightened and said, ‘Your pet canary was killed by a cobra! The cobra is the ancient symbol of the pharaoh. It ate your canary because it led you to the hidden tomb. You must not disturb the tomb of the pharaoh!’

Carter was not superstitious and did not believe what his servant told him. But it is interesting to note that cobras are rare in Egypt and are rarely seen in the late autumn, when the tomb was discovered.

***

The Curse of Tutankhamun

Carter sent a telegram to Lord Carnarvon, who immediately left for Egypt. On 26 November 1922 Lord Carnarvon watched Carter and his workers make a hole in the door of King Tut’s tomb. Carter entered the tomb holding a candle. Behind him Lord Carnarvon asked, ‘Can you see anything?’ Carter answered, ‘Yes, wonderful things!’ The tomb had not been opened for over 3,200 years.

Carter discovered one of the most magnificent treasures in history. The tomb contained an amazing collection of treasures-over three thousand precious objects, gold, jewels, a wonderful funeral mask and a stone sarcophagus with three gold coffins, one inside the other. The third gold coffin was made of more than 1,000 kilograms of gold. Inside it was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamun.

Rumours say that Carter also found a tablet of stone with this message: ‘Death comes on wings to anyone who enters the tomb of the pharaoh.’ This was the pharaoh’s curse, but he did not tell his workers because he did not want to frighten them.

About five months after the tomb was opened, Lord Carnarvon was bitten on his left cheek by a mosquito. This caused a serious infection and a fever. He was taken to hospital in Cairo, where he became very ill and died. When Lord Carnarvon died, the lights went out for several hours in Cairo. At the exact time of his death, Susie, his favourite dog back home in England, howled and died.

Something very strange happened when the mummy of King Tut was examined in 1925. It was discovered that the young pharaoh had a cut on his left cheek in the same place as the mosquito bite on Lord Carnarvon’s left cheek. Was this a coincidence, or was it the result of the curse?

Many mysterious and unexplained deaths followed the opening of the tomb. The French Egyptologist George Benedite, the American Egyptologist Arthur Mace and others died soon after visiting it. Were they all under the influence of the curse?

Strange things have happened more recently, too. Mohammed Ibrahim was the Director of Egyptian Antiquities at the Museum of Cairo. After signing an agreement to send part of King Tut’s treasures to an exhibition in Paris, he was killed by a car. The same thing happened to the new Director, Gamal Meherz, after he signed another agreement in 1972.

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A Mystery Explained?

Today some experts say that the cause of these strange deaths was a mysterious virus or bacteria that was present in the tomb. Others disagree.

Could the deaths be a simple set of coincidences? When the tomb was opened in 1922, newspapers invented many mysterious stories about the curse, and people began to believe them. Howard Carter, who never believed in the curse, died of natural causes at the age of sixty-five.

What do you think? Would you enter King Tut’s tomb?

 

Part four

The Bermuda Triangle

The Triangle

Bizarre and sinister things have happened in the Bermuda Triangle for hundreds of years. Planes have mysteriously disappeared without any reason. Ships have been found without their crew, and no one has been able to explain why.

The term ‘Bermuda Triangle’ was used for the first time by the American writer Vincent Gaddis in 1964. It describes the area that forms an almost perfect triangle between Bermuda, the south coast of Florida and Puerto Rico. Before 1964 the area was called the Devil’s Triangle, the Triangle of Death and the Graveyard of the Atlantic because of all the mysterious disappearances there.

Christopher Columbus was the first navigator to report strange happenings in the area of the Bermuda Triangle. In 1492, during his voyage to the New World, Columbus wrote in his journal that his compass stopped working in the area that we now call the Bermuda Triangle. He also wrote that he and his crew saw strange red lights in the sky, which they thought were the lights of a meteor.

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Disappearing Ships

In the centuries that followed Columbus’s voyage, British and Spanish sailing ships, pirate ships and other vessels have disappeared in this area of the Atlantic Ocean. But why?

In March 1918, the Cyclop, a US Navy ship, disappeared while sailing from Barbados to Norfolk, Virginia, with 309 people on board. Neither the ship nor the crew were ever found.

The sailing ship Deering was found in perfect condition but without its crew near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, on 30 January 1921. The Deering had passed through the Bermuda Triangle and its crew probably disappeared there.

In 1940 the yacht Gloria Colite was found abandoned in the Bermuda Triangle. The yacht was in perfect condition, but the crew had disappeared. The Rubicon, a Cuban ship carrying a large cargo, became another ghost ship in 1944. A small dog was the only living thing on the ship when it was found on Florida’s east coast! In 1963 the Marine Sulphur Queen, a large ship carrying sulphur from Beaumont, Texas, to Norfolk, Virginia, simply vanished.

Many other bizarre and unexplained disappearances like these have occurred over the years.

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Lost Planes

On 5 December 1945 something happened that caused great interest all over the world. A group of five US Navy planes, called Flight 19, took off from Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The weather was perfect, and for the first two hours everything went well. Then the Naval Air Station at Fort Lauderdale began receiving strange radio messages from the pilots.

‘Everything is wrong… and strange. Both of the compasses have stopped working! We can’t be sure of our direction!’ said Lieutenant Charles C. Taylor, the leader of the flight.

The instruments on the planes were not working and the planes were lost. The pilots were not able to communicate. At 4 p.m. Lieutenant Taylor gave his last command to another pilot, and then all communication with Flight 19 ended. What had happened to the five planes and their pilots? The Naval Air Station sent out search planes to look for them.

The search planes flew over the area for days without finding anything. Then one of the search planes disappeared too. No one has ever found the five planes or the search plane, and there has never been an explanation for this tragedy.

There were rumours that aliens kidnapped the pilots. Some experts said that the irregular magnetic field in the Bermuda Triangle stopped the planes instruments from working. Others said that bad weather conditions caused the planes to crash into the ocean. The Atlantic is very deep in this area, and perhaps this is why the planes were never found. But not everyone agrees.

After the tragedy of Flight 19, the world started asking questions. People were suddenly interested in finding out more about this mysterious area. Newspapers and magazine articles started appearing. Vincent Gaddis wrote a book, Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea, in which he dedicated a long chapter to the mysterious triangle. Many more books have been written on the subject, but there is no logical explanation to the mystery.

On 11 June 1986, Martin Caidin, an experienced pilot, was flying above the Bermuda Triangle in good weather. Suddenly, the sky around his plane became very cloudy. Then the colour of the sky changed to such a bright yellow that he could not see. The equipment on his plane stopped working and above him there was a hole, through which he could see blue sky. Below his plane he could see another hole and then the ocean. Caidin flew his plane for four hours in these strange conditions. Finally, the sky turned blue again and Caidin’s equipment started working. He turned around and looked – but all he could see was clear blue sky.

In the twentieth century more than 140 ships and planes with more than 1,000 people on board vanished. No one has ever seen or heard from them again.

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A Mystery Explained?

The mystery of the Bermuda Triangle remains. Some say that it is where aliens enter the earth’s atmosphere and kidnap humans. Other believe that the legendary lost city of Atlantis pulls ships and planes down into the Atlantic Ocean. Still others say that the weather in the triangle is very unusual. Another theory says that the area is influenced by a strong magnetic field which affects navigation instruments.

Scientists have tried to explain some of the mysteries of the Bermuda Triangle. They say that big gas bubbles can come out of the ocean and cause serious problems for ships and planes. However, this does not explain why ships and yachts have been found in perfect condition, but without their crews. What happened to the sailors? Did they abandon their ships? Were they taken away, and, if so, by whom?

Lawrence Kusche, a research librarian at Arizona State University, spent many years examining the reported cases. He concluded that there was a logical explanation for most of the disappearances: bad weather conditions, poor equipment or human error. But not everyone agrees with Kusche.

Why haven’t bodies, or pieces of the planes and ships ever been found? Why does the sky change colour? Why do navigation instruments stop working? Who has the right answer? No one knows.

 

Part five

Cursed Objects

The Hope Diamond

Can a beautiful, precious object like a diamond have a terrible curse? The Hope Diamond has fascinated people for centuries. Its exceptional size, perfect quality and rare colour make it magnificent and unique: a diamond collector’s dream. And yet, this priceless jewel has brought its owners bad luck and death. But why?

Legend says that a priest stole the diamond from a Hindu statue in India many centuries ago. The priest was later tortured to death. In 1642 the exquisite diamond was bought by a French jeweller named Jean Baptiste Tavernier, and he took it to Europe. The jewel Tavernier took to Europe was much bigger than the present-day diamond, which has been cut several times. It originally weighed almost 112.5 carats and was one of the biggest diamonds in the world.

In 1668 Tavernier sold it to King Louis XIV of France, who was very impressed with it. The French king decided to cut the diamond to 67 carats. He officially named it ‘The Blue Diamond of the Crown, and wore it proudly on a ribbon around his neck on very special occasions.

Tavernier, who had to return to India to look for another fortune to pay his son’s debts, was brutally killed by wild dogs during the trip.

For more than a century the Blue Diamond was worn by France’s kings and queens. But when King Louis XIV died in 1715 he was a very unhappy man and his empire was in a bad state.

His successors had worse luck. The Princess de Lamballe was beaten to death by an angry street crowd. King Louis XVI and his wife Queen Marie Antoinette, who enjoyed wearing the Blue Diamond, were executed on the guillotine. The Blue Diamond and other royal jewels disappeared in September 1792 during the French Revolution.

Rumours say that the British King George IV bought the Blue Diamond from a jeweller named Daniel Eliason in the early 1800. When King George died in 1830, he left a lot of debts and the diamond was sold to pay some of them.

By 1839 the precious stone was owned by a wealthy London banker, Henry Philip Hope, who gave the diamond its name. The unlucky jewel remained in the Hope family and eventually became the property of Lord Francis Hope. The curse of the diamond continued and Lord Hope went bankrupt. He had to sell the diamond in 1902, shortly after losing his leg in an accident.

The American jeweller Simon Frankel brought the Hope diamond to the United States in the early 1900s. The cursed diamond changed owners several times and was finally bought by Pierre Cartier, the famous French jeweller.

Cartier showed the splendid jewel to one of his wealthy American clients, Mrs Evalyn Walsh McLean, who was visiting Paris. Mrs McLean had previously told Cartier that objects that were considered bad luck always brought her good luck.

Mrs McLean bought the extraordinary diamond in January 1911 for $154,000. She proudly wore the jewel all the time and her friends were very impressed.

Even though Mrs McLean considered the diamond lucky, she did not escape the curse. Her nine-year-old son, Vinson, was killed by a car, and her daughter killed herself at the age of 25. Her husband became mentally ill and lost control of his huge newspaper business. He ended his days in a mental hospital. The immense family fortune quickly disappeared.

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A Mystery Explained?

Mrs McLean died in 1947. Although she wanted the jewel to remain in the family, it was sold to Harry Winston, an American jeweller. In 1958 Winston gave the $100 million diamond to the famous Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C., and it is now part of the Smithsonian National Gem and Mineral Collection. But does the jewel still have its evil power?

Over the years, many people thought that the Hope Diamond was responsible every time something bad happened in the United States. But the Director of the Smithsonian Institution believes that the Diamond has been lucky. ‘The gift of the Hope Diamond has brought us good luck. In fact, since the Diamond was given to the Smithsonian, our gem collection has grown and grown!’

What do you think? Can a diamond really cause such bad luck?

***

James Dean’s Car

The American actor James Dean was a legendary film idol. Although he died at the age of just twenty-four in 1955, he remains one of the world’s most popular actors.

James Dean’s legend has become even greater because he died so tragically at such a young age. But exactly how did he die?

James Dean loved fast cars and taking part in car races. On the evening of Friday 23 September 1955 he invited his friend Alec Guinness, the British actor, to see his new racing car. It was a silver-coloured Porsche 550 Spyder and James Dean called it the Little Bastard. When the British actor saw the car, he immediately felt strange and said, ‘It is now ten o’clock, Friday 23 September 1955. Listen! If you drive this car, I’m sure you’re going to die in it by this time next week.’ James Dean just laughed, and Alec Guinness apologised for what he had said.

On the evening of 30 September 1955, James Dean was driving his Porsche Spyder to a car race in Salinas, California. Suddenly, another car pulled out in front of him and Dean crashed into it. He died instantly. The entire world was shocked to hear of the death of the famous young actor… the curse of the Little Bastard had just begun.

The Hollywood car designer George Barris bought the wreck of the Little Bastard for $2,500, and planned to sell the good parts of the car. But when the wreck arrived at Barris’s garage, it accidentally hit one of the mechanics and broke his legs. After this Barris had bad feelings about the car, but he continued selling its parts.

A young doctor, Troy McHenry, bought the Little Bastard’s engine and put it in his racing car. On 22 October 1956 he took part in a car race at the Pomona Fair Grounds in California. During the race he lost control of his car and hit a tree: he was killed instantly.

Dr William Eschrid was another doctor who liked fast cars. He bought another part of the Little Bastard and put it in his racing car. One day he lost control of his car and was seriously injured.

Barris also sold two of the Little Bastard’s tyres to a young man. While he was driving both tyres burst at the same time and he was almost killed.

At this point George Barris did not want to sell the car’s parts any more. He realised something was very wrong. ‘Can evil take the form of a car?’ he asked himself.

He gave the wrecked car to the California Highway Patrol for an exhibition on road safety. After a few days the garage where the Porsche was parked caught fire and every car in the garage was destroyed, except for the Little Bastard.

Finally, the car was put on display at an exhibition in Sacramento, California, and groups of teenage students visited it. One day it fell from its display and seriously injured one of the visitors.

After this unlucky exhibition, the Little Bastard was put on a lorry and transported to another part of California. During the trip the driver, George Barkuis, was thrown from his lorry. The cursed car fell on him and he was killed instantly.

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A Mystery Explained?

Other bizarre and mysterious accidents happened until 1960, when the Little Bastard finally disappeared. It was probably stolen by someone who did not believe in the curse. No one has ever been able to find the cursed car again. And we do not know if parts of the Little Bastard are still in circulation.

What do you think? Where all these strange accidents just a series of coincidences, or was there really a curse on James Dean’s car?

 

Part six

The Abominable Snowman

What is the Abominable Snowman?

The Abominable Snowman is the famous wild man of the Himalayas. But is it simply a legend or is it real? Scientists have done extensive research on the Abominable Snowman, but they still cannot prove that it really exists. Could it be the descendant of a prehistoric creature, or is it just a myth?

Similar creatures have been seen hundreds of times in the United States, Canada and Australia as well as Asia. The Abominable Snowman has different names around the world.

Here is a description of the Abominable Snowman:

It is about 2.5 metres tall.

It looks like a big, primitive man with a lot of reddish-brown hair.

It walks on two feet.

It’s facial features are half human and half ape.

It has a strong smell.

It usually lives in high mountains or in big forests.

 

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The Yeti

Zoologists first heard about the Yeti, or Abominable Snowman, in 1832, when the English explorer B. H. Hodgson wrote about his experiences in Nepal. He said that one day in the mountains his Sherpas had seen a strange creature with long, dark hair all over its body. They thought it was a demon and ran away in terror. The Sherpas believe that the Yeti exists and that it carries humans away.

About fifty years later, a British doctor who worked with the Indian Army Medical Corps found giant footprints at an altitude of 5,000 metres in the Himalayas. ‘They must be the footprints of a Yeti!’ his guide told him.

In 1921 a British expedition led by Colonel C. K. Howard-Bury was attempting to climb Mt Everest. When the members of the expedition reached 5,200 metres, they saw a group of dark creatures in the mountains above them. They continued climbing and discovered huge footprints. The Sherpas immediately said that they were the footprints of the Yeti or Metokangmi. The Tibetan word Metokangmi means ‘disgusting snowman’, but a journalist used the term ‘Abominable Snowman’ in a newspaper article, and the term remained. After this the legend was born, and people everywhere wanted to know more.

Eric Shipton, a well-known mountain climber, photographed some Yeti footprints while on an expedition in Nepal in 1951. The photographs showed a strange footprint that was 33 centimetres long.

In 1953 Sir Edmund Hillary, the first man to climb Mt Everest, found giant footprints on his way to the top. ‘We discovered many tracks on the Ripimu Glacier at 18,000 and 19,000 feet and our Sherpas were quite convinced that they belonged to the Yeti,’ he reported. Hillary returned to Everest on several occasions to look for the Yeti, but without success. In 1960 he brought back two skins and a scalp from Nepal, which he said was from the top half of the skull of a Yeti. But scientists said that the skins and the scalp belonged to a mountain goat which lives in the area.

Scientists and explorers began to show a serious interest in the mystery of the Abominable Snowman. In 1958 the Soviet Academy of Sciences sent a group of scientists to different parts of Asia where Yetis had been seen. After some time they concluded that some kind of primitive creature lives in the high mountains of Asia.

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The Wildman

The Chinese call the Abominable Snowman the Wildman. In 1977 China’s Committee for Research on Strange and Rare Creatures sent a group of scientists on a year-long expedition to discover the mystery of the Wildman. The scientists found some reddish hairs that they said belonged to it. The hairs were studied under an electronic microscope. According to one report, half of the samples of hair were found to be different from human hair, and they did not correspond to any animal living in China.

The Chinese scientists concluded that the Wildman exists, but not all scientists agree. Some believe that the Wildman is a descendant of a great ape known as Gigantopithecus, which lived in southern China 500,000 years ago.

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Bigfoot

In North America the legend of Bigfoot or Sasquatch continues to interest many people. People say they have seen these creatures on hundreds of different occasions.

Centuries ago, Native Americans painted images of the Sasquatch on their totem poles and masks. It seems they knew of the existence of this creature.

In 1893 the famous American President Theodore Roosevelt wrote about Bigfoot in his book The Wilderness Hunter. He reported that two hunters had seen the creature and described it as having ‘a great body with a strong wild beast odour.’

In 1958 a builder was working on a new home near Bluff Creek in northern California. Suddenly he saw a strange hairy creature standing in front of him. The creature did not want to hurt him. It was only very curious and followed him around. After some time the builder gave the creature a big piece of chocolate and it finally left.

At Bluff Creek in 1967 Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin, two mountain rangers, were riding in the forest. Suddenly they saw a large creature that looked like a Bigfoot. Roger Patterson was able to film the hairy creature, and his film became famous all over the world. He also took photographs of the creature’s huge footprints, which measured about 30 centimetres.

Scientists and other experts have studied Patterson’s film and some say it is a fake. But others disagree. Professor Grover Krantz, an anthropologist from Washington State University, believes the Bigfoot exists and thinks the film is authentic.

In 1982 Forest Ranger Paul Freeman, who worked in Washington state’s Umatilla National Forest, saw a 2.6 metre creature and was able to photograph its footprints. Scientists who studied the footprints said that they did not belong to a bear or to another animal. Therefore, it is possible that they belonged to an unknown creature – a Bigfoot.

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The Yowie

In Australia the Bigfoot is called the Yowie. It is very similar to the Bigfoot, with a height of around 2.5 metres and thick black or brown hair all over its body. According to legends told by the early Aboriginal people, the Yowie can be found in South-eastern, Central and Northern Australia.

The first written reports of the Yowie go back to the 1800s, when a story about the creature appeared in an Australian newspaper. It described how several people had seen a large, ape-like animal taller than a man.

In 1971 a Royal Australian Air Force helicopter landed on top of the remote Sentinel Mountain with a team of explorers. Much to their surprise, they discovered fresh footprints in the earth. They were much larger than human footprints, in a place where no human could possibly be present.

In May 1981 three young people saw two Yowies in the hills of New South Wales. They were about 1.5 metres tall, walked on two feet, and their body was covered with long brown hair.

Australian scientists confirmed that about 10,000 years ago primitive humans lived in the Kow Swamp area north of Melbourne, and perhaps some survived. Could the Yowie be one of them?

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A Mystery Explained?

Today a special branch of science studies animals that have not yet been discovered. It is called cryptozoology (from the Greek word ‘kryptos’ meaning ‘hidden’).

Cryptozoologists collect reports from people who have seen the unknown animal, create a picture of it, and then try to find it in nature.

In the past, cryptozoologists have discovered strange animals that no one believed existed, such as the pygmy hippopotamus and the giant panda. And what about the Komodo dragon, which is 3.6 metres long, or the Chacoan peccary, a pig-like creature that scientists thought had died 2 million years ago? These animals were discovered in the twentieth century.

Will the Abominable Snowman belong to this group of animals one day? Will we ever know what is hiding in the mountains?

 

Part seven

Stonehenge

A Prehistoric Monument

One of prehistory’s most amazing monuments is Stonehenge, on Salisbury Plain in Wiltshire, England. This colossal monument is made of enormous blocks of stone, and their size is impressive – the largest stones weigh about 50 tons and measure more than 9 metres in length!

Thousands of years have passed since the first blocks of stone were brought to Salisbury Plain, but the origins and the meaning of Stonehenge remain a puzzling mystery. Through the centuries no one has ever been able to reveal the mysteries hidden in these gigantic blocks of stone. What are they and, more importantly, why was Stonehenge built? What was its true purpose?

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The Construction

How old is Stonehenge? For centuries no one knew its exact age, but with the invention of radiocarbon dating, scientists were able to tell us that the oldest parts of Stonehenge were built around 5,000 years ago. This makes them older than the pyramids of Egypt.

Historians and archaeologists now think that Stonehenge was built in three main phases, between approximately 3000 BC and 1100 BC. They refer to these phases as Stonehenge I, II and III.

At the start of the first phase, in around 3000 BC, ancient people dug a large hole in the form of a circle. In the middle of the circle they made a small hill with the earth from the hole. In the seventeenth century, a historian discovered a ring of 56 smaller holes around the hill. Experts believe that wooden posts – long, straight pieces of wood – were once placed there. This means that Stonehenge was once made of wood instead of stones. But why was Stonehenge built? Some historians think that it was used as a cemetery because human bones have been found there.

The second phase of Stonehenge began in around 2100 BC – before the wheel was invented and over 2,000 years before the Romans came to Britain. Stonehenge was rebuilt using around 80 blocks of stone, each weighing about 4 tons. Archaeologists know that these stones (called ‘bluestones’) came from the mountains of South Wales, about 320 kilometres away.

One of the mysteries of Stonehenge is how people transported the bluestones to Salisbury Plain. Historians now believe that the stones were pulled down to the sea by a large group of people and moved up the River Avon on special rafts. Finally they were pulled over land to the site. In 2000 a group of people tried to recreate the journey up the river, but they found it impossible!

The third phase of Stonehenge began in around 2000 BC. For some mysterious reason, the early Bronze Age people decided to rearrange the bluestones to form the circle we see today. They added new, even larger stones to form structures called trilithons (two tall stones with a third across the top). The new stones weighed an incredible 50 tons each, and they were pulled to Stonehenge from an area over 30 kilometres away. No one knows exactly how many people were involved in this incredible journey, or how they built the trilithons.

Today about half of the original monument survives. Over the years some stones have fallen and others have been taken away and used for building.

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A Mystery Explained?

Why did these primitive people devote so much time and energy to this colossal monument? There is no real answer. But archaeologists and historians agree that Stonehenge was a very important place and that it influenced the lives of the population.

What was its real purpose? What took place at Stonehenge? Was it a primitive astronomical observatory or was it connected with the ancient Celtic religion, Druidism? There have been many theories over the centuries.

The 12th-century writer, Geoffrey of Monmouth, believed that Stonehenge was built by giants. An old local legend says that the huge stones were magically brought from Ireland by Merlin, the wizard at King Arthur’s court.

Today many experts believe that Stonehenge was built as an observatory or calendar. The British astronomer Sir Norman Lockyer first suggested this in 1901, but many scholars did not agree with him. In 1963 another astronomer, Gerald Hawkins, discovered that the important stones point to different positions of the sun or moon. He concluded that Stonehenge was an observatory and also a kind of primitive computer. He said that it predicted eclipses and the summer and winter solstices.

But there are still many uncertainties. How did the primitive people who built Stonehenge know where to put the stones? How could they calculate the movements of the sun and moon without the knowledge we have today?

Other people strongly believe that Stonehenge was a pagan temple. They think it was used by the Druids, the ancient Celtic priests, for religious worship, rituals and sacrifices. Today modern Druids have permission to meet at Stonehenge to celebrate the summer and winter solstices.

Some people even believe that aliens from another world were involved in the construction of Stonehenge.

Will anyone ever find the right answer to the mystery?

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