As a devotee of YouTube — mostly for movies and TV shows I haven’t seen — I have discovered an entertaining category of videos dealing with the weird, the strange and the incredible. No, not replays of recent Senate hearings and presidential news conferences, but videos of odd lengths telling us about the 10 most haunted places either in the U.S. or overseas, or locations that once thrived and have since become ghost towns due to various and sundry dire reasons.
Okay, you’re probably saying to yourself that this kid (if I may so flatter myself) needs a life or psychiatric help. Or that he watches too much television and needs to get out more. I’ll admit I squander a lot of time in front of the tube, but since I’m not engaged in writing the Great (or the Worst) American Novel or some such task, it helps keep me occupied.
Thing is, these little shows are not only well put together but kind of addictive if you’re in the right frame of mind. Like any good supermarket tabloid with headlines and pictures that scream “Pick me up and read!”, the creators of such videos use portentous music, sinister phrasing and dark imagery to entice you into the unusual tale they are spinning. Once hooked, you watch with intensity until the end, in which you are either quaking in your slippers or cursing yourself as an idiot for wasting the 15 minutes or so it took to become disappointed.
These videos, however, tap into our natural curiosity about what seems to be the unnatural. Like most accounts of unidentified flying objects that exploded onto the national consciousness in the years following World War II, there are reasonable and sometimes quite ordinary explanations for such phenomena. But then there are just as many that defy our understanding.
According to one video that displayed a still photo of some apparently shaggy-looking creature walking upright at the edge of a wooded area someplace in West Virginia, it seems the Mountain State has become quite the spot for Bigfoot sightings, if you choose to believe that contention. The photo, like so many of its kind, was taken from a hillside looking down and at quite a distance. Just mysterious enough to spur some armchair speculation about what it really showed.
To students of UFOs and the weird in general, West Virginia has been a location of interest due to Point Pleasant’s Mothman in the mid-1960s and the Flatwoods Monster of the early ’50s, which have both been attributed to otherworldly causes. But Ohio has its share of ghostly or downright strange sites of its own, and the web is rife with coverage of Helltown, formerly the village of Boston near Akron, which was reportedly evacuated and declared off limits by the federal government in the ’70s for reasons that remain unclear and shrouded in rumor today.
Helltown’s deserted and decayed look preserved in film and video by the curious feeds nicely into the “places people don’t go” kind of video that pop up during a casual view of what’s on YouTube. It’s one thing to see an abandoned house or building standing alone off the highway, but an entirely empty town with road closed signs forbidding access is unsettling, to say the least. I might add that postings to stay out of the area seem to be routinely ignored.
Yet, the people who make these videos are carrying on a grand tradition of meeting the public need to be entertained, frightened or left scratching their heads that came as a result of the UFO craze. No doubt these tales found other kinds of expression before radio, TV and mass-market paperbacks became media leaders, but the number of books devoted to the strange back in the day is testimony to their popularity as they took their place on revolving racks next to gothic romances, secret agent thrillers, and studies on the prophecies of Nostradamus and Edgar Cayce. Not to mention a plethora of magazines devoted to the topic.
My own library boasts a well-thumbed tome from a second-hand store in Chillicothe entitled “Strange World” by Frank Edwards, who evidently built a franchise of similar works in the ’60s bearing such titles as “Strangest of All,” “Stranger Than Science” and “Strange Fate,” in addition to hosting a syndicated radio show about unusual matters. The book I have covers in quick detail such topics as “The Search for the Hairy Giants” and “Ramu, the ‘Wolf Boy,’” to give you an idea of the content, somewhere between Robert L. Ripley’s “Believe It or Not” and the TV show “Fact or Fiction?”
Books such as these with mini-chapters on the bizarre aspects of our world were the forerunners of the videos dominating the more offbeat corners of the information age. “…(I)n all probability as our understanding of the forces about us improves, we shall find that the things we regard as phenomena conform to natural laws of which we presently have little or no knowledge,” Edwards wrote in 1964.
No doubt he would be amused today that the “strange world” he enjoyed investigating is alive and well on the web under titles like “Spookiest Places on the Earth” or “Top 10 Disappearances That Have Never Been Explained.”
When I’d written here in the past about Mothman, my wife’s aunt, Pamela Bradbury Shaw, asked her if I truly believed in all of that stuff. Let me say I like to have an open mind on such matters, and like so many folks, I enjoy being spooked a little and given to wonder about weird things that are purported to be true.
And given this time of year when tales of mystery and imagination are celebrated, I can’t think of anything better to do with my spare time.
Kevin Kelly is an Aim Media Midwest guest columnist.