“THE NIGHT WITCHES” and More True Tales! #WeirdDarkness
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IN THIS EPISODE: During World War II, a squadron of crop duster-style planes flown by Soviet female pilots were used as bombers to terrorize Nazi troops. They were so terrifying to the enemy they earned the nickname “Night Witches.”(The Night Witches) *** The jackalope is a mythical animal – so why do so many people claim to have seen it, even in modern times? (Horned Hares) *** There are places all over the world even today where, during a wedding ceremony, you might hear the reverend say the words, “Do you take this corpse to be your lawfully wedded husband?” (Beyond the Grave Nuptials) *** An old grudge between a detective and a reporter led to one of the strangest—and most damning—fake news stories of all-time. A story that nearly ruined Lizzie Borden. (The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax) *** In 1948, sightings of mysterious green lights in the skies of Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Sandia atomic-weapons laboratories and other sensitive military installations had the U.S. Government extremely worried. That means they the green balls of fire weren’t from America – so what were they? (UFO’s and Green Fireballs) *** (Originally aired June 10, 2020)
SOURCES AND REFERENCES FROM THE EPISODE…
“The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax” by Dean Jobb for Crime Reads: https://tinyurl.com/yd9fvzes
“Horned Hares” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages: https://tinyurl.com/ycarwu4d
“The Night Witches” from Bugged Space: https://tinyurl.com/ybthkflf
“Beyond the Grave Nuptials” by Lisa A. Flowers for Ranker: https://tinyurl.com/y7bevukf
“UFO’s and Green Fireballs” by Darryn King for History: https://tinyurl.com/y9eht7bk
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Paranormality Magazine: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/paranormalitymag
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Church of the Undead: https://weirddarkness.tiny.us/churchoftheundead
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They flew under the cover of darkness in bare-bones plywood biplanes. Their planes were too small to show up on radar. Radio locators were useless as the female-flying Soviet squadrons never used radios on their after-dark missions. Their bomb runs were so deadly accurate that the Nazi soldiers were terrified to the point of being afraid to light a cigarette for fear of giving away their position. They braved bullets and frostbite in the air… and skepticism and sexual harassment on the ground. From pilot, to mechanic, to officer, every one… female. They flew silently, with the only hint of their approach being the soft whooshing sound their cheaply constructed wooden planes made in the wind, a sound resembling that of a sweeping broom, thus the Germans gave them the nickname “Nachthexen”. The “Night Witches”.
I’m Darren Marlar and this is Weird Darkness.
Welcome, Weirdos – (I’m Darren Marlar and) this is Weird Darkness. Here you’ll find stories of the paranormal, supernatural, legends, lore, the strange and bizarre, crime, conspiracy, mysterious, macabre, unsolved and unexplained.
Coming up in this episode…
The jackalope is a mythical animal – so why do so many people claim to have seen it, even in modern times? (Horned Hares)
There are places all over the world even today where, during a wedding ceremony, you might hear the reverend say the words, “Do you take this corpse to be your lawfully wedded husband?” (Beyond the Grave Nuptials)
An old grudge between a detective and a reporter led to one of the strangest—and most damning—fake news stories of all-time. A story that nearly ruined Lizzie Borden. (The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax)
In 1948, sightings of mysterious green lights in the skies of Los Alamos, New Mexico and the Sandia atomic-weapons laboratories and other sensitive military installations had the U.S. Government extremely worried. That means they the green balls of fire weren’t from America – so what were they? (UFO’s and Green Fireballs)
During World War II, a squadron of crop duster-style planes flown by Soviet female pilots were used as bombers to terrorize Nazi troops. They were so terrifying to the enemy they earned the nickname “Night Witches.” (The Night Witches)
If you’re new here, welcome to the show! While you’re listening, be sure to check out WeirdDarkness.com for merchandise, to visit sponsors you hear about during the show, sign up for my newsletter, enter contests, connect with me on social media, plus, you can visit the Hope in the Darkness page if you’re struggling with depression or dark thoughts. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
Now.. bolt your doors, lock your windows, turn off your lights, and come with me into the Weird Darkness!
STORY: THE NIGHT WITCHES=====
This isn’t typical Weird Darkness fare, but after I found this story I had to share it – it’s a story that just had to be told. Someone really needs to make a movie about it.
An all-female squadron, the 588th Night Bomber Regiment of Soviet Air Forces got their nickname as the “Night Witches” during World War II. The brave women of this squadron compromised their own safety by not carrying parachutes due to the heavy weight of the bombs, and their techniques to fight at low altitudes.
Though women were barred from fighting in the war, Major Marina Raskova used her position and contacts to form this all-female combat unit, which terrorized the Nazis.
The women in the squadron had no radar, no machine guns, and even had to decorate their own planes – which they did using their lipsticks and navigational pencils — then struck fear into the Nazi forces. The few things they carried during an attack included maps, a compass, rulers, flashlights, and anything important that would not add significant weight to the plane.
Nazis were terrified of the Night Witches and their stealth techniques, in one such technique, they would glide to the bomb-release point – idling the engine just before reaching near the target. This would make their approach almost completely silent aside from the wind noise, which was then linked to sound of broomsticks and thus the name “Night Witches” was given to them by the terrified German soldiers.
The female military aviators, when deployed at the front line in 1942, were honored with the Guards designation and reorganized as 46th Guards Night Bomber Aviation, and later became the 46th “Taman” Guards Night Bomber Aviation Regiment. Their involvement in the Novorossiysk-Taman operation on the Taman Peninsula referred to the “Taman” in the regiment’s name.
In just 4 years during World War II, Night Witches were able to successfully complete 30,000 bombing raids and dropped more than 23,000 tons of munition on the advancing German armies.
Interestingly, this all-female Night Witches squadron was formed with young women in their late teens and early twenties, all who volunteered to be actively involved in the war effort, all brave women who wanted to be engaged in combat on the front lines. Marina Raskova who was also known as the Soviet Amelia Earhart for her world records in long-distance flights that many male pilots couldn’t achieve, received a number of letters from soviet women who were willing to be involved in the war to support their nation.
Raskova took this seriously and put all of her power of position and political contacts as a hero of the Soviet Union to use, petitioning to Joseph Stalin to be able to form the all-female bomber units against the German military. This proceeded with the establishment of three all-female air squads on October 8, 1941 and the Soviet Union became the very first country to allow women pilots in combat missions. The three regiments included 586 Fighter Regiment, 587 Heavy Bomber Regiment, and 588 Night Bomber Regiment. Not just pilots, but from commander to the mechanics, each member of the Night Witches was female.
By mid-October, as confusion and chaos swept Moscow in the face of the rapid German advance, Raskova set up her training camps at the large aerodrome in the city of Engles on the Volga River. There, the women of the three regiments were to be trained with planes, engines, armaments, aeronautical study, and military drills. While the college-educated women were trained as navigators, those with factory or armor experience would work as mechanics.
Naturally, all volunteers wanted to become famous fighter pilots, inspired by Raskova, but only the most talented were accepted into the fighter regiment since it required lightening quick reflexes and an ability to stay calm in battle.
The professional pilots with many hours of experience were put into the heavy bomber regiment led by Raskova herself. Those with less experience were put into the Night Bomber regiment – but those women may have needed the greatest courage of them all.
The Night Witches in all means were given the worst conditioned equipment, but the strong female regiment made the best even from the non-military grade equipment. They were provided uniforms that wouldn’t fit them, which were originally meant for male soldiers, but instead of complaining about it, the women in the squadron tore apart their bedding to stuff into their boots, so as to prevent them from slipping off.
Moreover, the Night Witches were to fly the Polikarpov Po-2, a flimsy biplane compared to the then-modern dive bombers. An open cockpit, two-seated plane that had been mostly used for training, made from lightweight plywood and percale which had finely woven fabric made out of cotton, it was cheap to manufacture, small, slow, and an outdated aircraft.
This unimpressive plane was nicknamed the Crop Duster or the Duck, while Germans knew it as a sewing machine or the Plywood Rust. The plane offered absolutely no protection from freezing wind at night in sub-zero temperatures, but Night Witches, bravely not only fought the war using these rusty planes – but did so successfully.
Since the plane was totally defenseless and too slow to outrun any of the German fighter planes, it could only operate in the safety of night. In fact, even small firearms could bring this plane down fairly easily. But the overall situation was so bleak, that even those little planes became a symbol of hope and resistance.
Over time women began to appreciate the simplicity of the crop duster, especially since the women of the Heavy Bomber Regiment had to fly the Su2 which was nicknamed “Bitch” because of how difficult it was to fly and master it.
The women in these regiments were constantly mocked and teased for their lack of femininity by the males. But this only hardened their determination, since to them a “soldier was a soldier“.
Raskova ordered the women to shorten their hair and the battalions commissar forbade anything she saw as a girl talk and prohibited any sort of flirtatious behavior.
The German forces, especially the ground battalions were so terrified of the Night Witches and their “stealth” techniques that no soldier would even light a cigarette in the open at night for fear of being spotted and become a target for the witches.
The Night Witches’ skills made German forces so terrified that rumors spread of the Soviet government enhancing the eyesight of the women with experimental medicines, and the German military even announced the issuance of a prestigious Iron Cross Medal to any soldier who would take down any Night Witch aircraft.
The Night Witches followed many skillful techniques during their missions, in which they usually flew in a group of three, the first plane would throw down flares to illuminate the target and loads would be dropped by the second after idling the engine and gliding to the target. They would then turn the engine back on and escape before the Germans could fight back.
Every morning, the women of the Night Witches came back with red faces and bloodshot eyes, they rebuilt their lives around their nocturnal life, having dinner in the morning and going straight to bed.
They were constantly tired and hungry but they were also proud to show the Soviet Union that women could do just as well as any man when it came to war. With every successful mission, they earned more and more respect from fellow male pilots and officers. But that would not protect them from the constant danger they faced.
They had no parachutes given since the Soviet high command figured that in case of an engine failure, the planes could simply glide back to the ground. This totally disregarded the fact that the percale cotton fabric and plywood of the Polikarpov Po-2 plane would burn like crazy and if that ever happened, it was likely that both pilot and navigator would burn to death.
But to Soviet high command, it was still preferable to be burned down and die, rather than to be captured by the German military forces. In fact, those who were shot down or crashed behind enemy lines were expected to fight to the death, as capture was dishonorable to any Soviet soldier, and would leave a stain on their name for the rest of their lives.
Even pilots who were shot down behind the lines but made it safely back to their own lines were interrogated, and often condemned to death by the commissar.
Not all Night Witches were able to escape from the Germans, and 32 of the pilots lost their lives on the front line, including Raskova.
23 Pilots of the regiments were prestigiously awarded the title of Hero Of The Soviet Union. But the Night Witches were excluded from the victory-day parade in Moscow, and the reason was the legendary plane they fought the whole war with, which was deemed too slow.
Nevertheless, The Night Witches cemented their place in history with their incredible skills and bravery. They might have drawn flowers on the side of their planes with lipstick and mascara, but they also drew their part in history for their bravery in chapters of World War II history that few could have.
Up next… An old grudge between a detective and a reporter led to one of the strangest—and most damning—fake news stories of all-time. A story that nearly ruined Lizzie Borden.
Plus, the U.S. Government was in a frenzy when green fireballs were seen in the sky of Los Alamos, New Mexico in 1948. What could they have been? These stories and more when Weird Darkness returns.
STORY: THE LIZZIE BORDEN NEWSPAPER HOAX=====
“LIZZIE BORDEN’S SECRET” was the headline screamed across the top of the Boston Daily Globe’s morning edition for Monday, October 10, 1892. The fourteen-column article that followed rolled out shocking new evidence about the axe murders of Borden’s parents in Fall River, Massachusetts, a crime that transfixed America that year. The secret? Borden, who was awaiting trial for the brutal killings, was pregnant. Her outraged father, Andrew, had been overheard threatening to banish her from their home unless she revealed “the name of the man who got you into trouble.” She refused. A day later both he and Lizzie’s stepmother, Abby, were dead.
More damning revelations followed. The morning of the murders, several passersby had seen Lizzie at the upstairs window where Abby’s mutilated body was found. A rubber cap or hood covered her head, and while the significance of this strange headwear was not mentioned in the article, armchair detectives could deduce it was worn to protect her hair from blood spatter. Other witnesses claimed to have heard Lizzie offering to buy the silence of the family’s maid, the only other person known to have been in the house about the time of the murders. “Keep your tongue still,” she allegedly whispered, “and you can have all the money you want.”
The article presented the statements of twenty-five witnesses, filling almost two full pages of a ten-page paper with incriminating evidence: Lizzie’s inquiries about her father’s will. Her animosity toward her stepmother. Her suspicious behavior and strange comments in the hours after the bodies were discovered. The Globe’s star crime reporter, twenty-four-year-old Henry G. Trickey, claimed to have spent six weeks compiling “every fact of importance” in the hands of police and prosecutors. Lizzie Borden would not stand trial until the following June, but the judicial process now appeared to be a formality. She had been convicted in the court of public opinion.
There was, however, a problem with the blockbuster story.
Hardly a word of it was true.
Welcome to a bizarre tale of fake news in the Gilded Age.
The Globe’s Lizzie Borden “scoop” is a dark and little-known episode in the history of American journalism, a rock-bottom point for a profession that was struggling for credibility and respectability. The Fall River Tragedy, one of the earliest books to chronicle the Borden case, ranked it as nothing less than “the most gigantic ‘fake’ ever laid before the reading public.”
Newspaper hoaxes were shockingly common in the nineteenth century as publishers vied to out-do rivals and boost circulation with exclusive stories—some accurate, some not. Texas A&M University communications professor Randall Sumpter has noted that “’Faking’ was a rampant journalistic practice.” Mark Twain, Edgar Allan Poe, and Benjamin Franklin all passed off fiction as fact at some point in their careers. The New York Sun’s legendary moon hoax of 1835 offered vivid descriptions of creatures living on the lunar surface, while New York’s Herald once concocted a realistic and alarming report of rampaging beasts in Central Park, in a misguided attempt to warn of safety risks at the park’s zoo. Sumpter, in a book on early journalism training, tells of a Buffalo newsman who acquired fingers from a cadaver, then wrote stories claiming he had discovered them and demanding the police investigate a possible murder.
The Borden story, however, was not a hoax—at least, not a deliberate one perpetrated by the journalist who wrote it. Trickey and his editors were convinced their information was true. They rolled out the allegations in compelling and credible detail, complete with the names, addresses, and occupations of the purported new witnesses. And Trickey, despite his slippery-sounding surname, was the most accomplished and trusted reporter in the newsroom. He had been a journalist since he was sixteen, and his assignments ranged from the crime beat to political affairs, including stints covering major stories in Canada. By the time he tackled the Borden case he had covered more than sixty homicides for the Globe, earning the unofficial title of the paper’s “murder man.” He was impulsive, fiercely competitive, tireless in the pursuit of stories, and above all staunchly loyal to The Globe. “His loyalty was almost a failing,” his employers acknowledged in hindsight. “It sometimes outran his caution.”
The Globe’s evening edition for October 10 reveled in its success, boasting the story had astounded “all New England” and created mob scenes at newsstands. “Doubts of Lizzie A. Borden’s guilt,” the paper proclaimed, “were shaken.” It had been widely believed that Lizzie must be innocent; the attacker was a tramp or fiend who had somehow managed to enter and leave the house undetected. No young woman from a good family, no daughter of a successful businessman, many people reasoned, was capable of such brutal acts. She was thirty-two years old and respectable, a churchgoer who supported an array of local charities. Suddenly, her scandalous double life had been exposed, along with several possible motives for murder—protecting a secret lover, the shame of a pregnancy out of wedlock, a threatened banishment from the household.
A case that had horrified the public was now a salacious one as well. The Globe’s scoop “seemed at last to bring into the case the ‘love interest,’” noted Edmund Pearson, a pioneering true crime writer who studied the case in the 1920s, “for which many newspaper reporters had almost pined away and died.” Trickey and his editors, in their zeal to break the story, never bothered to check whether the most sensational allegation—that Lizzie was pregnant—was true.
The story unravelled with lightning speed. Borden’s lawyer, Andrew Jennings, denounced the allegations as false and “trumped-up.” Rival Boston papers fought back with stories headlined “A Fake” and “A Tissue of Lies.” Within twenty-four hours, the Globe acknowledged its blockbuster had been “proven wrong in some particulars”—most importantly, about Lizzie’s “physical condition” at the time of the murder. She was not pregnant, the Borden family’s doctor confirmed, and never had been. By the time the late-afternoon edition rolled off the press on October 11, the paper was in full retreat. Much of the information in its original report “is false,” it now acknowledged, “and never should have been published.” A front-page apology was issued to readers and to Lizzie, “for the inhuman reflection upon her honor as a woman.”
The Globe refused to take responsibility for the debacle, proclaiming itself “an honest newspaper” and as much a victim of the false allegations as Lizzie. Its journalists had been “grievously misled” by a “remarkably ingenious and cunningly contrived story.” In a long statement published under his byline, Trickey described how he had purchased the information for $500—about $12,000 today—from Edwin D. McHenry, a private detective who had assisted the police during the murder investigation. Fearing the detective would sell the information to a competitor, Globe editors made no attempt to verify the allegations before rushing the story into print.
McHenry was still owed money for his legwork on the case and he may have seen the Globe’s cash-for-information offer as suitable compensation. He would later claim he planted the bogus story with the blessing of the Fall River police, who suspected Trickey was feeding information to Borden’s defense lawyers. The leak, according to the detective, was an elaborate ruse to catch the reporter passing along tantalizing details of the prosecution’s case. McHenry had demanded twenty-four-hours’ notice if the Globe planned to publish the information—enough time to reveal the hoax and prevent the accusations from appearing in print—but Trickey had reneged on the promise.
McHenry’s ultimate goal, however, may have been revenge. He and Trickey had clashed while investigating a high-profile murder in Colorado the previous year, and since then, McHenry later admitted, “we had not been on friendly terms.” But when they met again in the wake of the Borden murders, Trickey had begged him for information. “I want something big to scoop this gang of newspaper fellows who are in the town,” he told McHenry. Since Trickey seemed convinced that Lizzie had a secret lover, McHenry invented one. The “unscrupulous” detective, author and lawyer Cara Robertson has noted in a new book on the Borden case, “apparently relished the opportunity of doing Trickey a bad turn.” The elaborate hoax was payback.
Rather than sullying Lizzie’s reputation or prejudicing her defense, the Globe’s story and its quick retraction rebounded in her favor. For her supporters—and there were many, in Fall River and beyond—it was further proof an innocent woman was being persecuted. The avalanche of false evidence muddied the waters, making it difficult to know who or what to believe. “The final result of this wretched affair may well have been to add to the number of those who distrust the newspapers,” noted Edmund Pearson, “and to persuade them that if this damaging story were false, everything which seemed to tell against the prisoner might equally be false.” Cara Robertson is convinced the hoax and its fallout made Lizzie “a figure of sympathy” in the lead-up to her trial. With no eyewitnesses or physical evidence to link her to the killings, a jury deliberated for a little more than an hour before declaring her not guilty.
The “Lizzie Borden’s Secret” story, the scoop that never was, ended the career of a man hailed in the press as “one of the best writers upon criminal cases in the world.” A grand jury indicted Trickey on December 2, 1892 on a charge of witness-tampering. The authorities, still clinging to the bizarre notion he was in cahoots with the defense—despite his zeal in publishing a fabricated story that condemned Lizzie—now claimed he had tried to induce a key prosecution witness to leave the country. Trickey fled to Canada to escape arrest, traveling under the name Melzar—his wife’s maiden name—and posing as a salesman. A day after the indictment was announced, as he rushed to catch a train pulling out of a station in the Ontario city of Hamilton, he lost his grip on a handrail and slipped under the wheels. He died almost instantly.
In Fall River, the news was met with disbelief. “Many persons,” noted one Massachusetts newspaper, “were heard to express themselves as believing the story to be a fake.” Even the state’s attorney general was sceptical. Albert E. Pillsbury, who knew the reporter “pretty well,” ordered that inquiries be made to confirm that he was indeed dead. Trickey, he confided to a friend, was a man “capable of a number of things.”
STORY: UFO’S AND GREEN FIREBALLS=====
In February 1949, the Los Alamos, New Mexico Skyliner newspaper ran a piece on what it referred to, in typical newspaper parlance, as “flying saucers”—and a possible conspiracy around them:
“Los Alamos now has flying green lights. These will ‘o wisps seen generally about 2 a.m., have alerted the local constabulary and their presence is being talked about in Santa Fe bars. But local wheels deny any official knowledge of the sky phenomena. Each one passes the buck to another.”
The story ended with, “Have you seen a green light lately?”
In fact, a great many had, and would continue to do so—enough to prompt TIME magazine, in November 1951, to publish a piece on the phenomenon called “Great Balls of Fire.” What makes the multiple sightings of “flying green lights” in New Mexico in 1948 and onward such a significant chapter in UFO history is exactly that—there were multiple sightings.
That was unnerving enough. But most alarming—particularly to the United States government—was that the sightings were concentrated around the Los Alamos and Sandia atomic-weapons laboratories. And other highly sensitive military installations, including radar stations and fighter-interceptor bases, weren’t far away. That meant the sightings were reported by typically cool-headed pilots, weather observers, scientists, intelligence officers and other defense personnel, and led many to suspect the fireballs were Soviet spy devices.
On the night of December 5, 1948, two separate plane crews reported having seen a “green ball of fire,” heading west to east. In one of these instances, the fireball raced head-on toward the plane itself, compelling the rattled pilot to swerve the plane out of the way.
One pilot, sometime later, would vividly describe the green fireballs: “Take a soft ball and paint it with some kind of fluorescent paint that will glow a bright green in the dark… Then have someone take the ball out about 100 feet in front of you and about 10 feet above you. Have him throw the ball right at your face, as hard as he can throw it. That’s what a green fireball looks like.”
When a crew of intelligence officers, led by Dr. Lincoln LaPaz, head of the University of New Mexico’s Institute of Meteoritics, plotted the fireball’s flight path and scoured the area a meteorite would have hit, they found nothing—no meteor fragments, no debris, no craters, no evidence of fire.
The inexplicable sightings continued in the area, with sightings on December 6th, 7th, 8th, 11th, 13th, 14th, 20th and 28th. December 20th proved a turning point, literally, and a particularly alarming one for those clinging to the theory that these were meteors: The balls of fire descended from the heavens at a 45-degree angle, then abruptly leveled off into a gravity-defying horizontal flight path. And, as LaPaz would note in a letter to the district commanding officer of the United States Air Force Office of Special Investigations, “none of the green fireballs has a train of sparks of a dust cloud…”
In the years since, there have been reports of green-fireball sightings around the world, from Alberta, Canada to South Africa. In June 2018, a green fireball made an impressive appearance at a concert performance in the Netherlands by the Foo Fighters (coincidentally, the band named for the U.S. pilots’ term for UFOs during World War II). And according to the International Meteor Organization there were more than 170 reported sightings of the fireballs that night, in at least five European countries. The band’s reaction, according to their official Twitter account: “The sky IS a neighborhood.”
The phenomenon came to the attention of the Australian physicist Dr. Stephen Hughes in 2006, when several green fireballs were spotted in the sky in Queensland and New Zealand. “I came to the conclusion that there was something a bit strange going on,” he says.
Hughes went on to write a paper that theorized a possible connection between green fireballs and the well-documented, but still ultimately little-understood, phenomenon of ball lightning—mysterious hovering orbs of electricity that have only been taken seriously by science since the 1960s, well after the New Mexico sightings.
There is still no conclusive theory of what ball lightning is, but hypotheses include antimatter, light bubbles, microwave interference, retinal after-images, electromagnetic knots, even primordial black holes.
Dr. Hughes’ own theory of ball lightning, which he believes fits the description of the New Mexico fireballs: electrified air. “It occurred to me, sometimes when something shoots through the atmosphere, like a meteor, it could be creating a conductive pathway from the ionosphere—a whole ocean of plasma above the Earth—down to the ground. The air becomes electrified.”
The phosphorescent green color, Dr. Hughes says, is due to ionized oxygen, which also accounts for the striking greens of the aurora borealis, also known as the Northern lights.
This potential explanation could not have occurred to those on the ground in New Mexico in 1948. After interviewing more than a hundred witnesses, Dr. LaPaz went on to advise the military and the Atomic Energy Commission of his opinion that the fireballs were likely either top-secret “unconventional defensive devices” being tested by the U.S.—or Soviet spying devices.
When Edward J. Ruppelt, director of the U.S. Air Force Project Blue Book UFO investigations, visited the Los Alamos National Laboratory in early 1952 to interview scientists and technicians, he noted that they became particularly animated when the idea of interplanetary vehicles was suggested.
“They had been doing a lot of thinking about this, they said, and they had a theory,” wrote Ruppelt in The Report on Unidentified Flying Objects (1953). They thought the fireballs were actually extraterrestrial probes “projected into our atmosphere from a ‘spaceship’ hovering several hundred miles above the Earth.”
Officially, government investigators concluded that the green fireballs were some kind of never-before-seen natural phenomenon. Interest in, and investigation into, the fireballs dropped off at the outbreak of the Korean War.
“Writing these off as natural phenomena did not solve the problem,” says UFO researcher Jan Aldrich, who believes the green fireballs were related to aerial phenomena spotted in Fort Hood, Texas, in 1949. “It just pushed it under the table.”
But that hasn’t stopped UFO researchers from speculating more recently.
In his 2008 book UFO and Nukes: Extraordinary Encounters at Nuclear Weapons Sites, Robert Hastings, drawing on declassified official documents, suggests that the fireball trajectories align with those of fallout-debris clouds associated with top-secret atomic testing.
But according to Dr. Hughes, there’s another reason to suspect those green fireballs were buoyant balls of plasma: All those unpredictable movements, which suggest their paths may have been following electric field lines above the Earth.
“Personally, I think that the erratic change in direction is reasonably conclusive proof that the phenomenon is electrical in nature,” says Dr. Hughes, citing the more familiar sharp angles of a lightning bolt streaking through the sky.
“If the ball lightning phenomenon was a solid mass, there would be enormous inertia, making it very difficult to explain the source of energy for such extreme acceleration. In the case of a plasma ball, an internal energy source is not required—in the same way that a bolt of lightning does not need some kind of electrical rocket motor to rapidly change direction on the way to the ground or between clouds.”
Still, at this stage, it’s hard to shake the sense that equating the green fireballs with ball lightning is tantamount to explaining a mystery with another mystery.
“I’m a believer in the sense I believe that UFOs exist,” says Dr. Hughes, who finds the name apt: “They are unidentified flying objects. I just don’t think there are little green men at the controls.”
When Weird Darkness returns… The jackalope is a mythical animal – so why do so many people claim to have seen it, even in modern times?
Plus, the idea of a corpse bride isn’t all that far-fetched… even now in the today’s world. It happens a lot more than you might think. These stories are up next.
STORY: HORNED HARES=====
The jackalope is a mythical animal that many people claim to have seen in modern times. Do these horned hares really exist or are they just a myth? Why do so many people claim to have spotted the jackalope? What could be the truth behind these reported sightings?
Tales of the jackalope have been circulating for centuries. Many legends of this unusual animal come from America, but stories of horned hares have been known by many ancient cultures worldwide. In North American folklore, the jackalope is a jackrabbit with antelope horns. In Central America, mythological references to a horned rabbit creature can be found in Huichol legends. In ancient Persia people spoke about a rabbit with one horn, similar to the famous Unicorn that is mentioned seven times in the Bible, but only by mistake. The Biblical unicorn was actually an onyx.
Vikings also managed to fool Europeans with their unicorn bluff for hundreds of years. They started selling a narwhal’s tooth claiming it was a unicorn horn. In Germany, “the horned hare often has other strange body parts (wings and beaks) and is called the Wolpertinger (in Bavaria, southern Germany) or the Rasselbock (in Thuringia, central Germany)”. (Nancy Jennings -RSPB Spotlight Hares).
Many myths of our ancestors tell of various horned animals and other beings. Known under different names, the horned serpent has been encountered in North America, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Europe. In Europe we encounter several mythological beings who were believed to have had horns.
Cernunnos, a god in Celtic mythology that possessed two deer antlers on the top of his head. Herne the Hunter, a mysterious, mythical creature who was said to reside in Windsor Forest and Great Park in the English county of Berkshire had also horns.
According to our ancestors, horns represented the primal power of nature, expressed unstoppable power and majesty throughout human history. Because of this, horns have been synonymous with strength, and they became a universal ancient symbol.
For example, Cornucopia, the ‘Horn Of Plenty’ is a symbol of wealth, abundance, fertility and nourishment, highly respected by many ancient cultures including the Celts, whose concept of abundance was main part of their religion. Many of us have a cornucopia at home; it can be made of plastic, wicker, metal, wood or other materials. It can be symbolically filled with something valuable or simply beautiful.
One can say that the ancient worship of horns has survived. We don’t think about it, but when we look around, we can clearly see there are many objects and symbols that remind us of our ancestors’ deep respect for horns.
Knowledge of the jackalope spread and the horned rabbit suddenly appeared in Medieval paintings. During the Renaissance, and later scientists started to debate whether this creature could be a genuine biological species. At the end of the 18th century, most scholars rejected the idea that horned rabbits could be more than mythological animals.
It was Douglas Herrick (1920–2003) a Wyoming resident who made the jackalope really famous. In 1932, while returning from a hunting trip he tossed a carcass onto the floor, where it came to rest beside a pair of deer antlers. As a taxidermist this gave him an idea that he put to action. Together with his son he started to produce jackalope mounts.
Before passing away at the age of 82, he and his son had made thousands of jackalope mounts. Douglas Herrick earned a lot by selling his jackalope mounts, but his “work” was just a hoax. People embraced this animal as a symbol of the West. The jackalope appeared on postcards, brochures and Wyoming became known as the “Jackalope Capital of the World.” Curious people came to catch a glimpse of this rare animal, but one cannot search for something that is unreal.
In 2005, Wyoming legislators declared the jackalope as the state’s “Official Mythical Creature.”
The fact that the jackalope is today considered a mythical creature hasn’t put an end to the sightings of the horned hares. Witness say they have seen antlered species of rabbit that are brownish in color. The animal is believed to weight about three to five pounds, and it can move at a remarkable speed up to 90 miles per hour.
Does this mean that the jackalope really exist? The answer to this question is yeas and no.
It cannot be denied that some real rabbits do indeed sprout horn-shaped growths from their heads, but this condition is triggered by a virus called papillomatosis. Over the years many people claim to have seen the jackalope, but not everything is always what it seems.
Unfortunately, behind many of these alleged sightings we find a combination of hoax and media activity. Several people have used this mythical creature to seek financial gain. According to scientists there is no solid, physical evidence of a jackalope as described by our ancestors. Nevertheless, occasionally people keep reporting sightings of this rare animals and many are still convinced it does exist, and the legends told around the campfire are being kept alive.
STORY: BEYOND THE GRAVE NUPTIALS=====
True love conquering all is a concept that appeals to romantics worldwide. From Tim Burton’s Corpse Bride to the Bride of Frankenstein, weddings and other rituals for those who’ve passed have always been a staple of art and lore. Some strange shenanigans, from spirit polygamy to weddings with decomposing bodies do go on in real life… and in the 21st century, no less. Here are some memorably ornate ceremonies that are probably commencing somewhere as I speak to you.
According to Ellen Schattschneider, a sociocultural anthropologist and professor at Brandeis University, “bride-doll” nuptials are still practiced in some parts of Japan. Basically, bride-doll nuptials came about during WWII when a young man fell in battle before he had a chance to marry. To make up for this, the soul of the young man was married to a consecrated stand-in figure – a doll representing his spouse. In a 2001 study published by Emory University, Schattschneider recalled an incident in which a mother hired a medium to speak with her deceased son. The soldier, speaking through the psychic, apparently lamented “his bitter loneliness in the voids between the worlds,” and he urged his mother to procure him a spirit spouse. The ceremony took place at a nearby Buddhist temple and involved a bride doll, which was encased in a box with a photograph of the son.
Sati, the Hindu practice of “bride-burning,” is a ceremony in which a bride willingly immolates herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. As of 1987 and the Indian Sati Prevention Act, the rite is “officially” illegal, but it’s been unofficially banned since 1829, and it’s rarely been practiced since. However, there are some modern-day instances of it. According to a report in the Times of India, a 60-year-old widow tried to burn herself on her husband’s funeral pyre in 2009 but was stopped just in time. That last reported sati was in 1987, but the act is still glorified in some areas. The Rani Sati Temple Complex has received criticism for allegedly hosting “discreet congregations” that glorify sati. The temple’s official website even claims that the house of worship, which is named after a 13th-century “heroine” who sacrificed herself, is inspired by “feminine bravery and spirit.”
In 2013, a court in China sent four grave robbers to prison for black market corpse dealing; the “buyers” were the families of recently deceased people who were in need of similarly recently deceased “spouses.” According to The Guardian, the tradition of ritual ghost marriage is rare in this day and age, but it’s not unheard of. The idea is to furnish a deceased groom with a deceased bride so that they will not be “lonely” in the afterlife. Apparently, these corpses go for high prices… and really wealthy buyers can even “purchase their corpse brides straight from hospitals.” Lower-income families, however, have two options: they can either use a corpse stand-in like “a doughy human-shaped biscuit with black beans for eyes” or “buy an old, rotten corpse at a discounted price, dress it in clothing, and reinforce its skeleton with steel wire.”
Thanks to one old law that was never overturned, it’s apparently possible to wed the deceased in present-day France. In fact, the law isn’t even all that old; it was first established in 1959, when the Malpasset Dam broke and Charles de Gaulle, the French President at the time, visited the town in the wake of the disaster. A young woman apparently begged him to allow her to legally marry her fiancé… even though he had perished in the flood. The president consented, parliament drafted the law, and the woman wed her departed beloved. Since then, apparently, various others have applied for the same nuptial permissions, and, after complicated petitioning procedures, been granted them; one notable occasion took place in 2004, when a woman married her late betrothed and, in the process, became both widow and bride in the course of one ceremony.
Levirate Marriage, known as Yibbum in Hebrew, is a Jewish tradition that states that a man must “marry the childless widow of his brother to produce a child who will carry the deceased brother’s name, so that the deceased brother will not be forgotten.” The tradition, which was first mentioned in the Book of Deuteronomy, can get somewhat complicated. Should the brother of the deceased refuse to marry his sister-in-law, a ceremony called Halitza, AKA “the Removed Sandal,” takes place. The widow “loosens or removes the brother-in-law’s shoe, spits in front of his face, and says, ‘So shall be done to a man who refuses to build up his brother’s house.'” This ceremony is only performed by the Orthodox today, but after it’s done, the widow is free to marry whomever she wants.
Some present-day cultural practices in Ebonyi State, southeastern Nigeria, apparently stipulate that marriage must come before burial. And in early 2016, Adejo Emmanuel found himself on the receiving end of such a decree. After his fiancé died in childbirth, her family reportedly refused to let her burial ceremonies commence without a wedding. For financial reasons, however, this request left Emmanuel in a bind. He said: “I have no money to pay for the mortuary; I also have no money to feed the children; and my in-laws are demanding… for me to come over and do a compulsory marriage with her before she could be buried. They say some rituals must be performed and 350,000 naira must be paid to her family as part of her bride-price, before talking about the burial at all. Where do I get the money from?”
In Haitian Vodou, also called Voodoo, the primary spirits are called lwa. It is reportedly not uncommon for followers of this religion to marry a lwa in a “mystic marriage,” which even involves a ring, a priest, and a cake. This ceremony apparently ensures spiritual protection, but it requires abstinence on a certain holiday. The lwa are known to have distinct personalities. Some are brave but quick-tempered, while others are flighty but generous.
In 1982, famed boxer Kim Duk-koo collapsed into a coma after his opponent beat him within inches of his life. Four days later, he died, but his inconsolable fiancé didn’t let that stop her. “I have decided to make a spiritual marriage with him because I believe that is the only way to console him,” Duk-koo’s bride (who, at the time of his death, was pregnant with his child) explained. Though she reportedly did not go through with the ceremony, she claimed she had no plans to marry anyone else.
And I just had to save this one for last. In 2007, a young woman began visiting Charles Manson in prison and eventually acquired a marriage license – to marry the man either during his life, or after his death. She was good either way. However, it turned out to be commercial interests that inspired Afton Elaine Burton to pledge her eternal love; according to The Independent, she was hoping to use his body as a tourist attraction. Manson, however, wasn’t having it. He refused to marry Burton after discovering what she planned.
Thanks for listening (and be sure to stick around for the bloopers at the end)! If you like the show, please share it with someone you know who loves the paranormal or strange stories, true crime, monsters, or unsolved mysteries like you do! You can email me anytime with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find information on any of the sponsors you heard about during the show, find all of my social media, listen to audiobooks I’ve narrated, sign up for the email newsletter, find other podcasts that I host including “Church of the Undead”, visit the store for Weird Darkness merchandise, and more. WeirdDarkness.com is also where you can find the Hope in the Darkness page if you or someone you know is struggling with depression or dark thoughts. Also on the website, if you have a true paranormal or creepy tale to tell, you can click on TELL YOUR STORY. You can find all of that and more at WeirdDarkness.com.
All stories on Weird Darkness are purported to be true unless stated otherwise, and you can find links to the stories or the authors in the show notes.
“The Lizzy Borden Newspaper Hoax” by Dean Jobb for Crime Reads
“Horned Hares” by Ellen Lloyd for Ancient Pages
“The Night Witches” from Bugged Space
“Beyond the Grave Nuptials” by Lisa A. Flowers for Ranker
“UFO’s and Green Fireballs” by Darryn King for History
WeirdDarkness® is a registered trademark. Copyright, Weird Darkness.
Now that we’re coming out of the dark, I’ll leave you with a little light… “Woe to those who go to great depths to hide their plans from the LORD, who do their work in darkness and think, ‘Who sees us? Who will know?’” – Isaiah 29:15
And a final thought… “Bad things happen: – Every day. – To everyone. The difference is in how people deal with it.” – Unknown
I’m Darren Marlar. Thanks for joining me in the Weird Darkness.