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There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy. - William Shakespeare, Hamlet

Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. - Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World

Frogs, fish and other small animals have been observed raining down from the sky in many countries. While fanciful stories are often used to explain the free-falling animals, one accepted scientific explanation is called a waterspout, which is basically a tornado over water. As it spins, the vortex lifts water (and small things in it) up into the clouds. Meteorologists theorize that the animals are sometimes held aloft in the clouds for a short time and could possibly even travel many miles before raining back down to earth. Some even manage to survive!

The delta winged object crafted of gold, was found in Central America and has been dated to A.D. 500 to 800. Some scientists call the tiny piece a zoomorph, saying it is designed to represent an animal, but it bears an obvious resemblance to a 20th century airplane; it even seems to include a pilot's seat. Such an aircraft would have made an ideal vehicle from which to view the famed Nazca lines formed on the high desert plains of Peru.

How did the circular flying object, which might be a refugee from a 20th century account of a "flying saucer," end up on a token minted in France in 1680? Among other past references to UFOs are a 1561 event in Nuremberg, Germany, when many residents reported seeing disks and spheres in the sky; citizens of Basel, Switzerland, saw similar flying machines over their city five years later.

Some paranormal researchers, or parapsychologists, have questioned the concept of poltergeists as ghosts. Instead they believe that poltergeist activities are a result of victims emitting intense mental energy that affects the physical environment. This concept is referred to by the unwieldy name "recurrent spontaneous psychokinesis," or simply RSPK or PK energy. (The term psychokinesis, or "mind movement," is derived from the Greek words psyche or "mind" and kinein meaning "to move.") By using PK energy, people can allegedly bend spoons, make objects fly around the room, cause odd rapping noises in walls, create foul odors, and even manifest gooey slime, called ectoplasm, on walls, ceilings, and floors.

New Orleans has long been a magnet for strange characters of all sorts. French brothers, Jean and Pierre Lafitte, headquartered in New Orleans, commanded a small navy of pirates who essentially controlled the Gulf of Mexico in the early 19th century. During the War of 1812, the brothers - who had established the "kingdom" of Barataria in the bayous surrounding the city - led their armada of 1,000 men to New Orleans against the British. The Queen of Voodoo, Marie Laveau, is a legendary figure in New Orleans history: a sorceress, healer, and psychic who led all of the voodoo ceremonies in the city for most of the 19th century. Her longevity is ascribed to the fact that her daughter, to whom she bore a striking resemblance, took over Laveau's duties. Her tomb in Saint Louis cemetery is said to be haunted.

Delphine Lalaurie, a high-society psycho, is one of the most sadistic figures in New Orleans history. When a fire broke out in the kitchen of her mansion, authorities discovered six chained slaves, many of whom had been subjected to hideous medical experiments. Most were dead. When the mansion was later renovated, 60 bodies were found. They had been buried alive. Likely inspired by Jack the Ripper, The Axeman of New Orleans was a serial killer who terrorized New Orleans in 1918 and 1919, killing six. The Axeman's method was to bash in the victim's door before ravenously hacking them to pieces. Like many serial killers, he taunted the public and the police through letters to local newspapers. His identity remains unknown.

From Paul Bunyan of American folklore to the Norse creator-god Ymir, humanlike giants populate the myths of many cultures. The long bones of elephant relatives and humans are similar enough to be confused. Geological events tend to destroy the skulls of prehistoric elephant relatives, leaving only enormous, humanlike long bones, ribs and vertebrae. Ancient authors often reported finding the remains of giants hundreds of feet tall—much bigger than an elephant or any other animal. These reports may represent attempts to reconstruct the bones of several animals found jumbled together as a single giant.

The blacksmiths to the gods and praised for their fine crafmanship was one group of cyclopes. Today, well-constructed stone walls are called "cyclopean." Cyclops were any of a race of giants who were said to have descended from the Titans. They were known for their huge proportions and for having only one eye, located in the middle of their forehead. Odysseus once made the unpleasant acquaintance of the cyclops Polyphemus. Yet by blinding it, Odysseus was able to flee. The plural of cyclops is cyclopes ("sigh-KLO-peez"). Another group of cyclopes appear in Homer's Odyssey. He describes them as grotesquely ugly, ungainly, strong, stubborn brutes who were prone to aggression and cannibalism. Cyclopes are enormous, humanlike creatures with a single eye in the middle of their foreheads.

The "Little People": Our world would be a sadder place without fairies, elves, dwarfs, leprechauns and the scores of other sprites that populate the folktales of almost every culture. Some scientists suspect that trolls and dwarfs may reflect prehistoric memories of the days when Cro magnon men and Neanderthals lived side by side. Modern Icelanders widely believe in local spirits; they refer to patterns in moss as "fairy rings" and build roads to detour around fairy habitats.

Believing the spirit would rejoin the body in the afterlife, the Egyptians removed many of the body's organs, then covered it with natron, a salt, to speed dehydration. The corpse was then shrouded in strips of linen. Animals were also mummified. Arab scholars were the first to believe that mummies possessed magical, medicinal powers. Curses were placed on the rich tombs of royal mummies in Egypt, to ward off grave robbing - a boon to Hollywood scriptwriters, if not a deterrent to crime.

The Werewolf: Shape shifters, humans who turn into animals, are present in many folk cultures. The werewolf was known to the Greeks and Romans, but our version, which changes form at the full moon and can be killed by a silver bullet, derives from Nordic and Germanic tales.

If you intrude upon the Allghoi khorkhoi, you risk death, say the people of Mongolia's remote Gobi Desert. People describe the Allghoi khorkhoi, or Mongolian death worm, as a fat, sausagelike worm that lives under the desert sands most of the year but emerges during the hot months of June and July. No one is quite sure how it kills its victims, but many think it is through spitting some kind of poison. It is said to have killed more than one hundred people during the twentieth century.

The Unicorn: The ancient Greeks and Romans, perhaps stimulated by tales of the rhinoceros and samples of the Arctic narwhal's single horn, believed that unicorns existed. By medieval times, unicorns were emblems of purity: they were attracted to virgins, and their horns were viewed as antidotes to all kinds of poisons.

Chupa, a fanged, two-legged creature began draining the blood of goats, chickens, and rabbits in Puerto Rico in 1995. Since then, reports of Chupa have come from Mexico and Central and South America, Texas, even New York. Some believe the critter was born of a NASA genetic-tinkering experiment gone horribly awry. The Chilean news agency EFE quoted a Chilean architect as saying, "The gringos had at least three genetic experiments run away from them." Calling Hollywood: Can we get a Chupa biopic in development already?

The Dragon: Dragons have soared through men's imaginations for centuries; they are popular in many cultures, although the Oriental version often lacks wings and is benevolent, while the ornery European critter flies around belching flame and distressing damsels. Dragons are kin to snakes, which always symbolize evil. Quetzalcoatl, the dragon-serpent of Mesoamerican lore, was feathered. In a popular medieval tale, St. George rescued a maiden by slaying a dragon.

The Phoenix; The Egyptians gave us this imaginary creature that lives for centuries, builds a pyre and burns into ash; then forms again. An emblem of the soul's renewal, the mythical firebird lives on in many cultures, from Harry Potter books to the statue which presides over the rebirth of bombed Hiroshima.

UFO enthusiasts relish this tiny town as the UFO capital of the world, citing the "Roswell Incident," in which a craft carrying alien beings purportedly crashed, followed closely by an entourage of military and government personnel, who swooped in to collect the wreckage.

It is curious to note the old sea-margins of human thought. Each subsiding century reveals some new mystery; we build where monsters used to hide themselves. - Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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