Sunday, April 23, 2017

Jack The Ripper Finally Identified!

After all these years of speculation about his true identity, it seems that Jack The Ripper finally has a name.

It's been almost 129 years since the world's most famous, perhaps infamous is a more appropriate word, serial killer murdered and mutilated his fifth and final victim.  Mary Kelly was only 25 years old when her body was discovered on November 9, 1888, in London's East End Whitechapel neighborhood.

For over a century theories about his identity ran rampant, including such candidates as a member of the royal family, a prominent surgeon, a famous artist, an American doctor, a Polish immigrant living in the neighborhood, and one case was even made for Jack The Ripper being a woman.  After seeing a documentary about the search for Jack The Ripper's true identity, I was leaning toward the American doctor as the culprit—Francis Tumblety was an Irish-born American medical quack who earned a small fortune posing as an Indian Herb doctor throughout the United States and Canada. He was in England at the time of the murders and when he returned to the U.S., the London murders stopped.

I find it interesting that most images of Jack The Ripper, whether drawings from that time or modern depictions, show him dressed in formal gentleman's attire including a cape and top hat.  A man dressed like that on the streets of Whitechapel at night in 1888 would definitely have been very noticeable to anyone living in the area.

Thanks to modern forensic science, a DNA match shows that Jack The Ripper is Aaron Kozminski, a Polish Jew who fled to London in the 1880s.  He died in Leavesden Asylum from gangrene at the age of 53.  Kozminski was one of the names on the list of strong suspects from the time of the murders but the police never had enough evidence to arrest him.

Russell Edwards, author of Naming Jack The Ripper (released in 2014), bought a shawl in 2007 at an auction.  Even though the shawl came without provenance, he was told that it belonged to Catherine Eddowes, the Ripper's fourth victim, and had been found near her body.  After the auction he obtained a letter from the previous owner claiming his ancestor had been a police officer who was present at the murder scene and had taken the shawl.

Edwards handed the shawl over to Dr. Jari Louhelainen, a world-renowned expert in analyzing genetic evidence from historical crime scenes.  He tracked down a descendant of Catherine Eddowes and a British descendant of Kozminski's sister, both of whom agreed to provide DNA.  With a DNA match from the samples, the doctor stated that Aaron Kozminski was Jack The Ripper.

The evidence has not yet been independently verified.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

10 STRANGE CITIES HIDDEN UNDER OTHER CITIES

Cities being built on top of ruins of ancient cities. Subterranean caverns running beneath today's cities. Underground fortresses and secret facilities being built. Many cities world wide have entire cities located beneath them, some centuries old and others relatively new.

Here are just a few of those places.

1) Edinburgh Vaults
Located in the nineteen arches of Edinburgh's iconic South Bridge, the Edinburgh Vaults [pictured above] were used to house tradesmen as well as the city's less desirable residents. When it was constructed in 1785, the bridge was intended to expand the city, and also serve as a custom-built shopping district. Along those ends, buildings located on the bridge's arches were given underground storage areas. Unfortunately, the storage vaults began to flood and were evacuated by their rightful owners. Shortly afterward, Edinburgh's downtrodden moved into them. The damp, dark rooms were a hotbed for crime, with serial killers Burk and Hare frequenting them for victims. [They were notorious body snatchers who became serial killers when there weren't enough 'legally' executed criminals to supply their need for bodies to sell to medical schools] Tons of rubble was dumped into the Vaults in the mid-1800s to close them down for good, but an access tunnel was discovered in the 1980s, leading to some fascinating discoveries. The underground city now has conducted tours.

2) Napoli Sotteranea
If you were to pick a European city that would be least likely to host an underground secret, Naples might be on your list. The flooded canals of Campania's capitol actually lay atop a bed of volcanic rock known as tuff, which is easy to mine and work. Over the centuries, a massive system of tunnels and caverns have been carved out of this material. The ancient Greeks used them as reservoirs, but there are also many fascinating ruins down below, including theaters and early Christian worship sites. During World War II, the tunnels were used for air raid shelters.

3) La Ville Souterraine
Most of the subterranean cities here have fallen into disuse and disrepair, but the massive complex beneath the streets of Montreal is one of the city's main commercial hubs. La Ville Souterraine was constructed after the Metro subway system opened in 1966, and covers over 20 miles of space under the city. Entry points are constructed around residential or commercial businesses at the surface, and the network contains underground stores, restaurants, nightclubs, and a library. During the bitterly cold winter, the majority of the city's commerce happens below the streets.

4) Burlington Bunker
The English country town of Cortsham, Wilshire, doesn't seem like it would be hiding any dark secrets, but guess again. Buried 100 feet below the quaint cobblestone streets lies a massive, sprawling subterranean city built in case a nuclear attack targeted London. The Burlington Bunker consists of 35 acres of construction and over 60 miles of roads. It was designed to support a maximum population of 4,000 people and boasted a number of amenities, including a television studio, cafeterias, and even a pub. Many of the walls are decorated with colorful murals. The existence of Burlington Bunker was classified until 2004, when it was decommissioned. It was never used, not even for test exercises.

5) Old Sacramento
In 1862, massive flooding swept through California's capitol, submerging both homes and businesses. The Legislature was relocated to San Francisco and the people who were left behind tried to figure out how to prevent a disaster like that from happening again. The solution was to raise all of the city's streets by ten feet, building new construction vaulted above the remains of the old. The abandoned spaces were used for storage and other purposes, and there is still a good amount of old Sacramento architecture left untouched beneath the surface, illuminated by squares of rose quartz set into the sidewalk as makeshift skylights.

6) Beijing Underground
The Cold War saw the threat of global nuclear annihilation loom heavy over our heads, so it's not surprising that many world leaders saw fit to head underground for safety. Perhaps the most ambitious project was Mao Zedong's underground city, which covers a staggering 33 miles of catacombs beneath the capital. China began construction in the 1970s when tensions with the Soviet Union were high, and the sprawling complex eventually came to contain medical clinics, schools, theaters, and even a roller rink. Food would come from a subterranean mushroom farm. It was opened to tourists in 2000, but closed in 2008. Some parts of the complex are now being used as illegal apartments.

7) Subtropolis
Having an office with a window is a nice perk, but for the workers of Subtropolis, that is not an option. This massive cave system carved out of the bluffs above the Mississippi River hosts 50 companies and thousands of employees working in a giant limestone mine. Subtropolis makes up a complex larger than downtown St. Louis's business district, and hosts the U.S. Postal Service's collectible stamp stockpile, a number of data centers, and an artisanal cheese aging facility. Even 5K and 10K races are held in this underground complex.

8) Paris Catacombs
Over 200 miles of tunnels, caves and catacombs stretch beneath the streets of Paris, France, and are used for a variety of fascinating purposes. Originally hollowed out for limestone when the city was being built, the Paris catacombs have been used for corpse disposal, mushroom farming, and hideouts for the French resistance during World War II. They were closed to the public in 1955, but a whole subculture has arisen around the underground city. Explorers have renovated tunnels, built living areas and even hosted art exhibitions in the Paris catacombs. The structural integrity of the remaining quarry walls are monitored by a team of French officials as they have been known to cave in and take whole neighborhoods on the surface with them.

9) Las Vegas Tunnels
The glittering streets of Las Vegas are a playground for people from all over the world with its tempting gambling, nightlife, and food. But beneath the streets, a subterranean city houses the unlucky people chewed up and spit out by Sin City. In the 1990s, with the tourism boom putting lots of tax money into the city, Vegas built a system of drainage tunnels to protect the city from flash floods. The 200 miles of tunnels have now become home to about a thousand people, who create living spaces in the cramped, scorpion-filled spaces and hope that the rain doesn't wash away everything they own.

10) Underground Seattle
One of the most famous underground cities in America was created as a result of a major disaster. In 1889, a cabinetmaker working in Seattle's Pioneer Square area tipped over a glue pot, which caught fire and started a massive blaze that destroyed 31 blocks of the city. Instead of just rebuilding, the City Council decided to raise all of the streets one to two stories higher than the old height. This created a cavernous area of walled-in sidewalks, with glass skylights in the street's above, that people used to get from business to business, as well as the remnants of buildings damaged by the fire. Seattle condemned the Underground in 1907 following a bubonic plague scare, but it was opened for tours in 1965. I've taken this tour [actually, took it on two different occasions]. Fascinating place.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

5 Lost Cities—Found

Last week it was 6 lands that were believed to be real at the time, but later proven to be myths.  This week, it's 5 cities that were believed to be myths, but later proven to be real.

1. Lagunita
An archeologist from Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts rediscovered the lost Mayan city of Lagunita. He identified a Mayan doorway, the remains of massive buildings, plazas, ball courts, a pyramid and three altars that date back to 711 AD.

The above picture was taken on Oct. 28, 2013 and released by Mexico's National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH).  The ruins belonging to the ancient Maya city called Lagunita stand out in the jungle on a remote location in the southern state of Campeche, Mexico. Archaeologists in Mexico first stumbled upon this site in the 1970s and it was rediscovered in 2013.

2. Helike
In the year 373 BC, a giant earthquake hit off the coast of Greece, which created a giant tsunami that swallowed the ancient city of Helike. Then, in 2001 a team finally rediscovered Helike, digging up coins, pottery and ruins. The reason it took them so long to find it? They were looking under water, but it was actually under dirt. The water had long ago dried up.

3. Troy
The famous city of Troy was once believed to be a mythical place, a location, one that never existed in real life. The place that gave us Helen of Troy (the face that launched a thousand ships) and the Trojan Horse. But in 1870, Heinrich Schliemann followed clues laid out in Homer's ILIAD and found the ruins of the fabled city in Turkey, thus moving Troy from myth to reality.

I read a book about Schliemann's discovery of Troy and then by coincidence a few months later the university's art museum hosted an exhibition of photographs taken at his archeological dig.

4. Pavlopetri
Many believe this city, underwater off the coast of southern Laconia in Peloponnese, Greece, is the real life Atlantis. This 5,000-year-old lost city was found in 1967 and is thought to have been submerged about 3,000 years, giving it an impressive lifetime of 2,000 years. Archeologists found roads, buildings, courtyards and pottery.

5. Machu Picchu
Maybe the greatest of the lost cities sits on top of a mountain in Peru. It wasn't rediscovered until 1911, mostly because of its location. People are always digging for lost cities, looking under the oceans, or trekking through the jungle. No one thinks to look up to the high mountain tops.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

6 Important Lands that Never Existed

Island of Thule (Tile)

Even though I'm posting this blog on April 2nd, I'm considering it to be in honor of April 1st…April Fool's Day. And why would it relate to April Fool's Day? This week's blog is about 6 lands believed to be real at the time but since have proven to be no more than myths.

Ancient travelers (and by ancient I mean many centuries ago) told stories of mysterious places located in the unexplored reaches of the world—fabled cities, phantom islands and exotic civilizations.  Even though these lands were usually dismissed as myths and legends, a few of them found their way onto world maps and helped inspire some of history’s most important journeys of discovery.  From a fabled Christian empire in Asia to a supposed lost kingdom in Canada, find out more about six of the most influential lands that never were.

1) Thule
A subject of fascination for ancient explorers, romantic poets and Nazi occultists.  Thule was an elusive territory believed to be located in the frozen north Atlantic near Scandinavia. Its legend dates back to the 4th century B.C., when the Greek journeyman Pytheas claimed to have travelled to an icy island beyond Scotland where the sun rarely set and land, sea and air combined into a bewildering, jelly-like mass.

Many of Pytheas’ contemporaries doubted his claims, but that didn't stop distant Thule from lingering in the European imagination.  It eventually became synonymous with the northernmost place in the known world.  Explorers and researchers variously identified it as Norway, Iceland and the Shetland Islands, and it served a recurring theme in poetry and myth.  The island is perhaps most famous for its connection to the Thule Society, a post-World War I occult organization in Germany that considered Thule the ancestral home of the Aryan race. The Munich-based group counted many future Nazis among its members, including Rudolf Hess, who later served as Deputy Führer of Germany under Adolf Hitler.

2) The Kingdom of Prester John
For more than 500 years, Europeans believed a Christian king ruled over a vast empire somewhere in the wilds of either Africa, India or the Far East.  Talk of this mythical land first surfaced in 1165 after the Byzantine and Holy Roman emperors received a letter—most likely a European forgery—from a monarch calling himself Prester John.  The mysterious king claimed to serve as supreme ruler of the three Indies and all its 72 kingdoms.  He described his realm as a utopia rich in gold, populated by exotic races of giants and horned men.  Perhaps most important of all, Prester John and his subjects were Christians—even the name Prester meant Priest.

Despite the fact that a Papal mission to find Prester John’s court disappeared without a trace, the myth of his kingdom took hold among Europeans.  Crusading Christians rejoiced in the idea that a devout ruler might come to their aid in the struggle against Islam during the Crusades, and when Genghis Khan’s Mongol hordes conquered parts of Persia in the early 1200s, many mistakenly credited Prester John’s forces with the attack.  The kingdom later became a subject of fascination for travelers and explorers.  Marco Polo provided a questionable account of encountering its remnants in Northern China.  Vasco da Gama and other Portuguese mariners searched for it in Africa and India.  While explorers eventually discovered a Christian civilization in Ethiopia, it lacked the grandeur and the gold Europeans had come to associate with Prester John’s realm. By the 17th century, the legend had faded, and the famed empire was dropped from most maps.

3) Hy-Brasil
Long before Europeans ever stepped foot in the New World, explorers searched for the island of Hy-Brasil, an ethereal land said to exist off the west coast of Ireland.  The story of Hy-Brasil most likely comes from Celtic legend—its name means Isle of the Blest in Gaelic—but its precise origins are unclear.  Hy-Brasil first appeared on maps in the 14th century, usually in the form of a small, circular island with a narrow strait splitting it in two.  Many mariners accepted it as a real place until as recently as the 1800s, and it became popular as the basis for myths and folktales.  Some legends described the island as a lost paradise.  Others claimed that it was perpetually obscured by a dense curtain of mist and fog, only becoming visible to the naked eye every seven years.  [which sounds as if it might have been the genesis of the Lerner & Lowe musical BRIGADOON about a village in Scotland that appeared out of the mist every one hundred years]

Despite its somewhat whimsical reputation, Hy-Brasil was widely sought after by Britain-based explorers in the 15th century. The navigator John Cabot launched several expeditions in an attempt to find it.  It's suggested that he had hoped to locate it during his famous journey to the coast of Newfoundland in 1497.  Documents from Cabot’s time claim that previous explorers had already reached Hy-Brasil, leading some researchers to argue that these unnamed mariners may have inadvertently traveled all the way to the Americas prior to Christopher Columbus.

4) El Dorado
Beginning in the 16th century, European explorers and conquistadors were intrigued by tales of a mythical city of gold located in the unexplored reaches of South America.  The city had its origin in accounts of El Dorado (The Gilded One), a native king who powdered his body with gold dust and tossed jewels and gold into a sacred lake as part of a coronation rite.  Stories of the gilded king eventually led to rumors of a golden city of untold wealth and splendor.  Adventurers spent many years—and countless lives—in a futile search for its riches.

One of the most famous El Dorado expeditions came in 1617, when the English explorer Sir Walter Raleigh traveled up the Orinoco River on a quest to find it in what is now Venezuela.  They didn't find any trace of the gilded city, and King James I later executed Raleigh after he disobeyed an order to avoid fighting with the Spanish.  El Dorado continued to drive exploration and colonial violence until the early 1800s, when scientists Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland branded the city a myth after undertaking a research expedition to Latin America.

El Dorado wasn’t the only gilded city supposedly tucked away in the New World.  European explorers also hunted for the Seven Cities of Cibola, a mythical group of gold-rich settlements said to be located somewhere in what are now Mexico and the American Southwest.  The most famous search for the Seven Cities came in the 16th century, when the Spanish conquistador Francisco Vasquez de Coronado scoured the Great Plains of the U.S. in search of a city of riches called Quivira.

5) St. Brendan’s Island
St. Brendan’s Island was a mysterious manifestation of Paradise once thought to be hidden somewhere in the eastern Atlantic Ocean.  The myth of the phantom island dates back to the Navigatio Brendani, or Voyage of Brendan, a 1,200-year-old Irish legend about the seafaring monk St. Brendan the Navigator.  As the story goes, Brendan led a crew of pious sailors on a 6th century voyage in search of the famed Promised Land of the Saints.  The journey on the open sea describes attacks by fireball-wielding giants and run-ins with talking birds.  According to the tale, Brendan and his men landed on a mist-covered island filled with delicious fruit and sparkling gems. The grateful crew are said to have spent 40 days exploring the island before returning to Ireland.

Although there is no historical proof of St. Brendan’s voyage, the legend became so popular during medieval times that St. Brendan’s Island found its way onto many maps of the Atlantic. Early cartographers placed it near Ireland, but in later years it migrated to the coasts of North Africa, the Canary Islands and finally the Azores. Sailors often claimed to have caught fleeting glimpses of the mystical isle during the Age of Discovery, and it’s likely that even Christopher Columbus believed in its existence.  Its legend eventually faded after multiple search expeditions failed to track it down. By the 18th century, the famed Promised Land of the Saints had been removed from most navigational charts.

6) The Kingdom of Saguenay
The story of the mirage-like Kingdom of Saguenay dates to the 1530s, when French explorer Jacques Cartier made his second journey to Canada in search of gold and a northwest passage to Asia.  While traveling along the St. Lawrence River at what is modern day Quebec, Cartier’s Iroquois guides began to whisper tales of Saguenay, a vast kingdom that lay to the north. According to a chief named Donnacona, the mysterious realm was rich in spices, furs and precious metals and populated by blond, bearded men with pale skin.  The stories eventually transitioned into the realm of the absurd when the natives claimed the region was also home to races of one-legged people and whole tribes possessing no anus.  Cartier became intrigued by the prospect of plundering the riches of Saguenay.  He brought Donnacona back to France, where the Iroquois chief continued to spread tales of a lost kingdom.

Legends about Saguenay haunted French explorers in North America for years, but treasure hunters never found any trace of the mythical land.  Most historians now dismiss it as a myth, but some argue the natives may have been referring to copper deposits in the Canadian northwest.  Others have suggested that the Indian tales could have been inspired by a centuries old Norse outpost left over from Viking voyages to North America.

Fortunately, today we have Google Earth to confirm or deny such rumors of mythical places.  :)