Vanished! Mysterious Disappearances Haunt the Imagination–By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Vanished! Mysterious Disappearances Haunt the Imagination

By Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Is there anything scarier than meeting a ghost in a graveyard or finding a demon in the pantry? How about a mysterious disappearance? Nothing gets our ticker going like a good mystery and the best mysteries involve a disappearing act that baffles – and sometimes chills – the reader.

Consider the Flanna Isles mystery: three lighthouse keepers vanished from their post in 1900. The rational explanation is that a powerful storm swept them away. But immediately our mind can begin to conjure more elaborate answers. Perhaps Cthulhu wanted a midnight snack?

There is also the case of the Mary Celeste, the abandoned ship discovered in 1872. The crew was never heard of again, leading people to hypothesize that everything from a tsunami to a supernatural event might have been the cause for the disappearance. Whichever explanation you prefer, the name Mary Celeste has become synonymous with ghost shop.

It’s one thing to lose the crew of a ship, but what about a whole village vanishing into thin air? That is exactly what happened in 1590, when John White arrived in Roanoke expecting to find more than one hundred British colonists which he had left behind in what is now North Carolina. Instead, he stumbled into a deserted settlement. The only clue the settlers left behind was the word “Croatoan” carved into a post. Several theories have been advanced, with the more logical one being that the settlers, facing a famine and other troubles, went to live with a nearby Native American tribe. That, however, hasn’t stopped imaginative people from picturing far grimmer fates, some of them connected with the supernatural.

Joe Citro, who has written several books about hauntings and supernatural occurrences, mentions the “Bennington Triangle,” an area in Vermont which, he says, seems to have swallowed a large number of unwary travellers. According to Citro, the area was shunned by Native Americans and the disappearances stretch back since the 19th century. Web forums are filled with speculations about this part of Vermont, with some pointing to UFOs, while others imagine a doorway to another dimension or even a monster.

Of course, if we are going to talk about triangles, we have to mention the Bermuda one. Probably the most famous incident associated with it is Flight 19, a squad of bomber planes which disappeared in 1945 during a training flight. Not content with the idea of dangerous weather conditions, paranormal writers have found this a juicy source for speculation, with some saying the area is a time travel vortex.

Mysterious disappearances also pop up in fiction, such as in the novel and movie Picnic at Hanging Rock (schoolgirls go missing) or Dean Koontz’s Phantoms (a creature eats a whole town, and was responsible for the Roanoke disappearance). Sometimes a fictional story is so enticing, that people begin to repeat it as though it were fact. Such was the case of Ambrose Bierce’s short story in which a farmer disappears in plain sight, which has now popped up as “fact” in many websites and books. Ambrose Bierce, by the way, vanished while covering the Mexican Revolution. Though he was probably killed in Chihuahua, Charles Fort joked that perhaps some supernatural force was collecting Ambroses (Ambrose Small, a Canadian magnate, went missing in 1919).

There is also the tale of Lake Angikuni, Canada. The story goes that in 1930 a fur trapper who traded often with the Inuit people living by the lake was shocked to discover that the village was empty, with food left hanging over fire pits. The Royal Canadian Mountain Police has explained that the story is nothing but an urban legend, but that hasn’t stopped people from believing it.

The Stonehenge Mystery, another urban legend, pops up in several forums dedicated to paranormal phenomena. The story goes that in 1971, a group of people who were camping in the famous stone circle disappeared after a freak storm, leaving behind little more than a smoldering fire. Despite its slim patina of veracity, people seem to believe this tale.

Whether rooted in fact, a writer’s imagination or the product of modern folklore, tales of disappearances are very enticing, and creepy. The lack of answers haunts us more than any poltergeist could. Because, in the end, isn’t fear of the unknown what keeps us up at night?

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