Limbo of the Lost. The Twilight Zone. Hoodoo Sea. The Devil's Triangle. The vast three-sided segment of the Atlantic Ocean bordered by Bermuda, Puerto Rico and Fort Lauderdale, Florida, did not receive its most famous nickname until 1964, but reports of bizarre happenings there, or nearby, have been recorded for centuries. In fact, many claim that Christopher Columbus bore witness to the Bermuda Triangle's weirdness.
As the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria sailed through the area in 1492, it is reported that Columbus's compass went haywire and that he and his crew saw weird lights in the sky, but these events have mundane explanations. From the account in Columbus's journal, it is thought that his compass's slight inaccuracy stemmed from nothing more than the discrepancy between true north and magnetic north. As for the lights, Columbus wrote of seeing "a great flame of fire" that crashed into the ocean -- probably a meteor. He saw lights in the sky again on October 11, which, of course, was the day before his famous landing. The lights, brief flashes near the horizon, were spotted in the area where dry land turned out to be.
Another historical event retroactively attributed to the Bermuda Triangle is the discovery of the Mary Celeste. The vessel was found abandoned on the high seas in 1892, about 400 miles off its intended course from New York to Genoa. There was no sign of its crew of ten or what had happened to them. Since the lifeboat was also missing, it is quite possible that they abandoned the Mary Celeste during a storm that they wrongly guessed the ship could not weather. But what makes it even harder to call this a Bermuda Triangle mystery is that it the ship was nowhere near the Triangle -- it was found off the coast of Portugal.
The Bermuda Triangle legend really began in earnest on December 5, 1945, with the famed disappearance of Flight 19. Five Navy Avenger bombers mysteriously vanished while on a routine training mission, as did a rescue plane sent to search for them -- six aircraft and 27 men, gone without a trace. Or so the story goes.
When all the facts are laid out, the tale of Flight 19 becomes far less puzzling. All of the crewmen of the five Avengers were inexperienced trainees, with the exception of their patrol leader, Lt. Charles Taylor. Taylor was perhaps not at the height of his abilities that day, as some reports indicate that he had a hangover and failed in his attempts to pass off this flight duty to someone else.
With the four rookie pilots entirely dependent on his guidance, Taylor found that his compass malfunctioned soon into the flight. Taylor chose to continue the run on dead reckoning, navigating by sighting landmarks below. Being familiar with the islands of the Florida Keys where he lived, Taylor had reason to feel confident in flying by sight. But visibility became poor due to a brewing storm, and he quickly became disoriented.
Flight 19 was still in radio contact with the Fort Lauderdale air base, although the weather and a bad receiver in one of the Avengers made communication very spotty. They may have been guided safely home if Taylor had switched to an emergency frequency with less radio traffic, but he refused for fear they would be unable to reestablish contact under these conditions.
Taylor ended up thinking they were over the Gulf of Mexico, and ordered the patrol east in search of land. But in reality, they had been heading up the Atlantic coastline, and Taylor was mistakenly leading his hapless trainees much further out to sea. Radio recordings indicate that some of them suggested to Taylor that Florida was actually to the west.
A search party was dispatched, which included the Martin Mariner that many claim disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle along with Flight 19. While it is true that it never returned, the Mariner did not vanish; it blew up 23 seconds after takeoff, in an explosion that was witnessed by several at the base. This was unfortunately not an uncommon occurrence, because Mariners were known for their faulty gas tanks.
No known wreckage from Flight 19 has ever been recovered. One reasonable explanation is that Taylor led the planes so far into the Atlantic that they were past the continental shelf. There the ocean abruptly drops from a few hundred feet deep to several thousand feet deep. Planes and ships that sink to such depths are seldom seen again. The deepest point in the Atlantic Ocean, the 30,100-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench, lies within the Bermuda Triangle.
Combining the circumstances of the failing compass, the difficulty of radio transmissions, and the absence of wreckage, tales of mysterious intervention befalling Flight 19 began to take form. Theories involving strange magnetic fields, time warps, Atlantis, and alien abduction began to appear. Even an official Navy report intimated that the Avengers had disappeared "as if they had flown to Mars."
About 200 prior and subsequent incidents have been attributed to the inherent strangeness of the area, which was forever christened the Bermuda Triangle by writer V. Gaddis in a 1964 issue of Argosy, a fiction magazine. Public interest in the "phenomenon" was whipped into a frenzy by Charles Berlitz's 1974 bestseller The Bermuda Triangle, a sensationalized and thoroughly inaccurate account that shunned the facts in favor of mysterious excitement.
There are two major obstacles to taking the Bermuda Triangle legend seriously. The first is that most of the associated mishaps can be explained by rational means. The second is that most of the associated mishaps did not occur within the Bermuda Triangle. If you plot all of the alleged instances of the area's malevolent influence on a map, you find that only a handful have actually happened within the Triangle's borders. Sea disasters as distant as Portugal, Ireland and the Pacific and Indian Oceans have been blamed on the Bermuda Triangle. We might then just as well rename it as "The Worldwide Curse of All Seas." Some have turned this fact on its head by proposing this as evidence that the Devil's Triangle is expanding in scope.
Others may respond that it is evidence that accidents will happen -- no matter where exactly on the land, on the sea or in the air they take place.
A Brief History of the Lost Continent
A continent the size of Europe, boasting beautiful cities, advanced technology and utopian government... subjected to a great cataclysm and reduced to rubble that sank beneath the sea, lost forever. The legend of Atlantis has been around for thousands of years, and whatever its factual validity may be, it can truthfully claim a noble heritage: its earliest proponent was Plato.
The Greek philosopher wrote of Atlantis in two of his dialogues, "Timaeus" and "Critias," around 370 B.C. Plato explained that this story, which he claimed to be true, came from then-200-year-old records of the Greek ruler Solon, who heard of Atlantis from an Egyptian priest. Plato said that the continent lay in the Atlantic Ocean near the Straits of Gibraltar until its destruction 10,000 years previous.
In "Timaeus," Plato described Atlantis as a prosperous nation out to expand its domain: "Now in this island of Atlantis there was a great and wonderful empire which had rule over the whole island and several others, and over parts of the continent," he wrote, "and, furthermore, the men of Atlantis had subjected the parts of Libya within the columns of Heracles as far as Egypt, and of Europe as far as Tyrrhenia."
Plato goes on to tell how the Atlanteans made a grave mistake by seeking to conquer Greece. They could not withstand the Greeks' military might, and following their defeat, a natural disaster sealed their fate. "Timaeus" continues: "But afterwards there occurred violent earthquakes and floods; and in a single day and night of misfortune all your warlike men in a body sank into the earth, and the island of Atlantis in like manner disappeared in the depths of the sea."
Interestingly, Plato tells a more metaphysical version of the Atlantis story in "Critias." There he describes the lost continent as the kingdom of Poseidon, the god of the sea. This Atlantis was a noble, sophisticated society that reigned in peace for centuries, until its people became complacent and greedy. Angered by their fall from grace, Zeus chose to punish them by destroying Atlantis.
Although Plato was the first to use the term "Atlantis," there are antecedents to the legend. There is an Egyptian legend which Solon probably heard while traveling in Egypt, and was passed down to Plato years later. The island nation of Keftiu, home of one of the four pillars that held up the sky, was said to be a glorious advanced civilization which was destroyed and sank beneath the ocean.
More significantly, there is another Atlantis-like story that was closer to Plato's world, in terms of time and geography... and it is based in fact. The Minoan Civilization was a great and peaceful culture based on the island of Crete, which reigned as long ago as 2200 B.C. The Minoan island of Santorini, later known as Thera, was home to a huge volcano. In 1470 B.C., it erupted with a force estimated to be greater than Krakatoa, obliterating everything on Santorini's surface. The resulting earthquakes and tsunamis devastated the rest of the Minoan Civilization, whose remnants were easily conquered by Greek forces.
Perhaps Santorini was the "real" Atlantis. Some have argued against this idea, noting Plato specified that Atlantis sank 10,000 years ago, but the Minoan disaster had taken place only 1,000 years earlier. Still, it could be that translation errors over the centuries altered what Plato really wrote, or maybe he was intentionally blurring the historical facts to suit his purposes. And there exists yet another strong possibility: that Plato entirely made Atlantis up himself.
Regardless, his story of the sunken continent went on to captivate the generations that followed. Other Greek thinkers, such as Aristotle and Pliny, disputed the existence of Atlantis, while Plutarch and Herodotus wrote of it as historical fact. Atlantis became entrenched in folklore all around the world, charted on ocean maps and sought by explorers.
In 1882, Ignatius Donnelly, a U.S. congressman from Minnesota, brought the legend into the American consciousness with his book, Atlantis: The Antediluvian World. In more recent years, the psychic Edgar Cayce (1877-1945) became the U.S.'s most prominent advocate of a factual Atlantis. Widely known as "The Sleeping Prophet," Cayce claimed the ability to see the future and to communicate with long-dead spirits from the past. He identified hundreds of people -- including himself -- as reincarnated Atlanteans.
Cayce said that Atlantis had been situated near the Bermuda island of Bimini. He believed that Atlanteans possessed remarkable technologies, including supremely powerful "fire-crystals" which they harnessed for energy. A disaster in which the fire-crystals went out of control was responsible for Atlantis's sinking, he said, in what sounds very much like a cautionary fable on the dangers of nuclear power. Remaining active beneath the ocean waves, damaged fire-crystals send out energy fields that interfere with passing ships and aircraft -- which is how Cayce accounted for the Bermuda Triangle.
Cayce prophesied that part of Atlantis would rise again to the surface in "1968 or 1969." It didn't, and no one has yet found hard evidence that it was ever there. With sonar tracing and modern knowledge of plate tectonics, it appears impossible that a mid-Atlantic continent could have once existed. Still, many argue that there must have been an Atlantis, because of the many cultural similarities on either side of the ocean which could not have developed independently, making Atlantis quite literally a "missing link" -- the topographical equivalent of Bigfoot.In more ways than one.
A Brief History of the Mysterious Monuments
Impossibly huge and geometrically precise stone constructs, withstanding the ravages of time as if by the will of the gods. Unlike the Bermuda Triangle and Atlantis, of course, pyramids are decidedly real. What is in question is their origins, their possible mystical properties, and whether any may have been found on the ocean floor as Atlantean relics.
It has long been argued that the ancient Egyptians and Aztecs could not possibly have built the pyramids on their own; therefore, they are evidence of some greater intelligence, possibly extraterrestrial. But the earthly tools used in their construction have been found, and, while the pyramids represent an astonishing feat of engineering that required untold years of labor, it appears that early humans were capable of the task.
Some have focused on the amazing structural and geometrical properties of the pyramids. First there is their incredible longevity: the pyramids have remained intact while other structures of a comparable age have crumbled away. This is largely attributable to the inherent durability of their characteristic shape. "It is, in fact, the form that a structure takes when it falls down!" James Randi has observed. "In other words, having tumbled to a pyramid-shaped mass, it cannot collapse much further." So their well-preserved state owes more to their architects' wisdom than to any mystical force.
Pyramid enthusiasts have divined remarkable mathematical formulas from the monuments' heights, lengths and angles. This is especially true of the Great Pyramid of Cheops. Writers such as Erich von Daniken and Charles Piazzi Smyth have wrung all manner of figures out of this pyramid's measurements, including the Earth's polar radius and its distance in miles from the sun -- but their calculations take liberties that keep them from holding up under close scrutiny. Furthermore, one can play with any set of figures and eventually produce falsely meaningful results that were never intended to be there. Martin Gardner demonstrated this by calculating the speed of light from the height and capstone weight of the Washington Monument.
Then again, maybe some geometrical phenomena were built into the pyramids -- if inadvertently. For instance, if you double the length of one base side of the Great Pyramid and divide it by the height, the result is very close to the value of pi. There is no evidence that the ancient Egyptians ever measured pi. One explanation is that the builders used a wheel tool to measure lengths, and using a circle's diameter as a unit of measure could lead to pi being "hidden" throughout the structure.
Pyramids have historically been viewed as repositories or conduits of otherworldly power. Egyptians used them to honor the dead and Aztecs performed ceremonial sacrifices atop them, suggesting that the structures held a great deal of spiritual significance in both cultures. These supposed properties were brought to the attention of the modern world by Karl Drbal, a Czechoslovakian who in 1959 founded the notion of "pyramid power." It became fashionable to use miniature pyramids for the supposed purposes of magical healing, augmented psychic powers, and communion with alien beings. People believed that a wish written on a slip of paper and worn inside a pyramid pendant would come true, and that old razor blades placed within a pyramid would spontaneously sharpen overnight.
Edgar Cayce, the prophet and Atlantis supporter, determined with his psychic powers that the Great Pyramid had been built by a team of Egyptians and Atlanteans. He said the Atlanteans helped by levitating the stones during construction, and that they recorded the whole of human history -- past and future -- within the pyramid. This comprehensive documentation ran up through 1998, Cayce's projected Second Coming of Christ.
If the folks from Atlantis were this interested in pyramids, it stands to reason that they would have built some of their own. There have been sightings of undersea objects that looked like pyramids from above the surface, which turned out to be natural formations with no pyramid shape at all. An elaborate Atlantis pyramid hoax was perpetrated in Charles Berlitz's 1978 book Without a Trace, the follow-up to his notorious The Bermuda Triangle.
Berlitz presented sonar tracings of the Atlantic ocean floor near the island of Bimini as evidence of a giant sunken pyramid. Bimini lies within the Bermuda Triangle, and is in the exact area where Edgar Cayce placed Atlantis. Berlitz indicated that the pyramid reached 470 feet above the ocean floor and was 520 feet long at each of its four bases -- comparable in size to the 450-foot-high Great Pyramid.
The sonar chart obtained by Captain Don Henry, purportedly showing a gigantic underwater "pyramid."
The sonar chart, obtained by Captain Don Henry and "authenticated" by Dr. J. Manson Valentine of the Miami Museum of Science, does indeed appear to constitute impressive proof... at least, until you know how to read it properly. The tracing shows a cross-section of a distinct, symmetrical pyramid shape rising above an otherwise flat surface. But sonar tracing of the type Henry used produces a readout with a greatly exaggerated vertical axis, to make it easier to detect horizontal surface changes. Thus, what appears to be pyramid sides sharply rising at 45° angles is in reality a gentle slope of no more than two or three degrees. The furthest thing from 470 feet, the apex of this "pyramid" is really only a few feet tall.
To add to the deception, Berlitz pointed out the bottom line of the chart as representing the ocean floor. It was actually just an arbitrary line where the chart cut off; on such sonar charts, the line showing the true ocean floor runs off the bottom of the chart and reappears at the top. The contrast of the sharp slope against this false ocean floor made the map's subject much more pyramid-like.
It is also possible that Henry made this sonar tracing by running his scanning boat in one direction, then abruptly reversing his direction. Doing so would produce a symmetrical pyramid-shaped sonar chart from practically any part of the ocean floor (although sometimes the pyramid would appear upside-down, depending on the slope and the boat's direction).
Berlitz also reported another alleged Atlantis ruin, the "Bimini Road." An undersea ribbon of parallel rock formations running for 1,000 miles off the Bimini coast, it was the remnants of a highway paved by Atlanteans, Berlitz claimed. While the Bimini Road's patterns do make it look man-made, it is actually just an aggregation of beach rock, which naturally forms this way in many parts of the world.
One can't say whether Berlitz genuinely believed the pyramid was there and the Bimini Road was real, or if he was intentionally twisting the facts for the sake of another exciting bestseller -- although one wonders what kinds of experts in their fields Captain Henry and Dr. Valentine were if they failed to point out Berlitz's wild misconceptions.
The three legends of the Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis and the pyramids are remarkably complimentary. Pyramids were built in both Africa and the Americas, and Atlantis serves as a possible bridge to bring that concept -- as well as the needed architectural skills -- to both sides of the ocean. Atlantis's technological wreckage gives cause to strange occurrences in the Bermuda Triangle. All three stories deal with mysterious energies, ancient secrets, spirituality and death -- and possibly aliens, who might well be responsible for the whole shebang.
In science, when the findings of disparate fields of study dovetail into a harmonious whole, the result can be a mutual affirmation of validity. It may be tempting to follow the same line of thinking in the case of these three phenomena: "It all fits together so well, there must be something to it!" But when the pieces include myths, half-truths and deception, the completed picture will be just a bunch of lies... or, at best, some really cool mythology.