“THE REAL NICOLAS FLAMEL AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE” and 3 More True Tales! #WeirdDarkness

THE REAL NICOLAS FLAMEL AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE” and 3 More True Tales! #WeirdDarkness

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IN THIS EPISODE: It’s what every non-muggle dreams of… to be able to turn any metal into gold and to create a magic potion to give one eternal life! So is the life of wizarding at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books. But was there a real Philosopher’s Stone? Was there a Real Nicolas Flamel who created it? (The Real Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone) *** In 1929 the Soviet Union decided seven days a week just too many to keep track of, and it’s easier to count by five – so in the USSR they suddenly began to live life with only five days per week. No more weekends. How do you think the citizens took that news? (What is Life in a Five Day Week?) *** While not nearly as well-known as its larger Bermudan brother, the Bridgewater Triangle in southeastern Massachusetts in the United States is home to strange tales itself, with the paranormal, unexplained, and even home to its very own cryptid. (The Eerie Inhabitants of the Mysterious Bridgewater Triangle) *** Author Margaret Helen James wrote, “There is an uncomfortable sort of ghostly terror, in beast form, that haunts the villages on the borders of the two counties, which is commonly called the ‘Hateful Thing’. I allude to the churchyard or hell-beast.” Something was terrifying people in the marshlands of a small county in England and tales of it can still bring nightmares to those who live there today. (The Hateful Thing of Geldeston)
SOURCES AND ESSENTIAL WEB LINKS…
“The Real Nicolas Flamel and the Philosopher’s Stone” from Wizarding World: https://tinyurl.com/yycxmws5
“The Eerie Inhabitants of the Mysterious Bridgewater Triangle” by Susannah Sudborough for South Coast Todayhttps://tinyurl.com/y5n3rjcb, and Wicked Local https://tinyurl.com/yxh7g6k2
“The Hateful Thing of Geldeston” by Stacia Briggs and Siofra Connor for Eastern Daily Press: https://tinyurl.com/y4z2bdc8
“What is Life in a Five Day Week?” by Genevieve Carlton for Weird History: https://tinyurl.com/y2u97jxy
“Bogie Tales of East Anglia” by Margaret Helen James: https://amzn.to/3bWfAcP
“Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide To The Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures” by Loren Coleman: https://amzn.to/3spR8X3
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Find out how to escape eternal darkness at https://weirddarkness.com/eternaldarkness
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PARTIAL TRANSCRIPT…

STORY: THE REAL NICOLAS FLAMEL AND THE PHILOSOPHER’S STONE==========

Before we begin, I need to say that I am a muggle – so much so that I not only have no magical abilities, but have only seen one of the Harry Potter films and have read zero of the books. So I may get some of the names wrong. If I do, just chalk it up to my being an ignorant muggle. I don’t mind.

In Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Nicolas Flamel is the only known maker of the Philosopher’s Stone, an object capable of turning metal into gold and granting immortality with its Elixir of Life. At 665 years old, Nicolas and his 658-year-old wife Perenelle certainly make use of the Elixir, but having lived more than six centuries in the wizarding world they favour a quiet life.

The real Nicolas Flamel – because he was a real person – was probably born in 1330 in Pontoise, near Paris. Which would indeed make him around 665 at the time of Philosopher’s Stone if he had really had access to Elixir of Life (and some people think he might have…).

But how did a little-known bookseller from 14th-century France become so synonymous with alchemy that he fetched up in the wizarding world?

We are told that the Flamel of the wizarding world met his wife, Perenelle, at Beauxbatons. While we don’t know where they met, the real Flamel’s wife was called Perenelle. She been widowed twice before and brought the fortune of her two previous husbands to her marriage with Nicolas.

After their marriage, Flamel continued to work as a bookseller. The couple were relatively wealthy – they owned several properties and donated money to the French Catholic church. Their wealth and philanthropy has become part of the legend that surrounds Flamel’s posthumous reputation as an alchemist.

Records show that Flamel died in 1418. He was buried in Paris, beneath a tombstone he designed himself, and his will – dated 1416 – apparently left the majority of his library to a nephew, Perrier, of whom little else is known.

This is where the historical facts about Flamel start to merge with the stories. Because some people don’t believe he died at all. There are reports of him and Perenelle having faked their deaths and escaped to India, and their immortality is all down to his supposed alchemical genius.

Flamel’s interest in alchemy apparently began with a book. It is said that a stranger approached him one day with a rare manuscript. Flamel recognised it, because not long before, he had dreamed about an angel. The angel had appeared holding a book, telling him: ‘One day you will see in it that which no other man will be able to see…’

The book was written by a man called Abraham the Jew. It was in Greek and other languages Flamel couldn’t understand, including Hebrew. It was also full of awe-inspiring symbols which Flamel realised were instructions on alchemy.

Flamel supposedly spent 21 years trying to decipher it all. When Paris couldn’t provide answers, he set off to Spain to find a Jewish scholar and came across Maestro Canches, a learned Jewish man living in Leon. Canches recognised Abraham the Jew as one of the earliest masters of the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabbalah and translated the few pages Flamel had with him before agreeing to travel back to France and translate the rest. Unfortunately, he fell ill on the journey and died before they reached Paris.

Luckily for Flamel, Canches had taught him enough. Over the next three years he went on to translate the entire book, learning the secrets of Hermeticism – an esoteric tradition based on the divine writings of Hermes Trismegistus.

Those who believe Flamel used the Book of Abraham the Jew to create a Philosopher’s Stone point to the fact that Flamel then became rich. Apparently, his incredible wealth and generosity brought him to the attention of Charles VI, who ordered an investigation into Flamel but found nothing of interest.

Others say there is no indication that Flamel had any involvement in alchemy at all, and the stories about the mysterious book are just that: stories. Some believe that the character of Flamel was invented by 17th-century publishers in a bid to sell lots of supposedly ancient alchemical books.

Flamel’s reputation was fuelled by a number of books attributed to him long after his death. One was The Book of Hieroglyphic Figures, published in Paris in 1612. By the mid 17th-century, Flamel had become legendary, with reported sightings and well-known historical figures like Isaac Newton referring to his alchemical prowess.

Interest resurfaced in the 19th-century. Flamel is mentioned in Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, the composer Erik Satie was said to be fascinated by him, and the freemason Albert Pike mentions him in his book Morals and Dogma, a philosophical rationale of freemasonry. Whether or not they believed he was still alive is another thing, but these learned figures all identified Flamel as an alchemist.

More recently, as well as Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Flamel has been mentioned in fictional works including Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum in 1988 and Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code in 2003.

So, while the real Flamel may not have been a genuine alchemist, even without the Elixir of Life, his legendary reputation has certainly made him immortal.

 

STORY: THE HATEFUL THING OF GELDESTON==========

A terrible shapeshifting horror, a ghost that rattles the chains that drowned him, a spectral coach and horses and a phantom donkey: Geldeston in Norfolk, England boasts ghosts aplenty.

In one of the most remote areas of the county, in the midst of marshland where waterways criss-cross the land, The Hateful Thing lurks in darkness.

In “Bogie Tales of East Anglia”, written by Margaret Helen James in 1891 (a first cousin of horror writer MR James and sister of Minnie James, the first female librarian of a national library) we learn of The Hateful Thing. I’ve linked to her book on Amazon in the Essential Web Links section of the show notes. Margaret Helen James wrote: “There is an uncomfortable sort of ghostly terror, in beast form, that haunts the villages on the borders of the two counties, which is commonly called the ‘Hateful Thing’. I allude to the churchyard or hell-beast. This charming creature generally takes the somewhat indefinite form of a ‘swoundling’ ie a swooning shadow, whatever that might be! Whenever it is met in any locality, it is a sign that some great and unusually horrible wickedness is about to be committed or has just taken place there. The writer, when crossing a field at night, once came across a countryman who had just seen this apparition, but a slight search for the goblin was wholly unsuccessful.”

Margaret also tells the story of “a respectable old charwoman” who went walking in Gillingham and Geldeston with her daughter and the young man she was courting one night. Between 8pm and 9pm in Geldeston, they saw something strange by the market path. “…it was that time I saw the Hateful Thing,” the woman told her. Her daughter had alerted her to the presence of a dog in front of them which she then said grew before her very eyes into a creature as big as a horse. Walking slowly, and mindful that her daughter “had been born under the chime hours so she could see things”, the woman looked for the creature but could see nothing…she could, however, hear a thumping noise. When her daughter came to cling to her in abject fear, suddenly she was able to see the object of her terror: “The moment she touched me, I saw The Hateful Thing. The beast was black and didn’t keep the same size and it wasn’t any regular shape. “We walked slow, for I was afraid of it getting behind us.” The creature kept ahead of the trio until it disappeared at Geldeston churchyard, itself a magnet for the strange.

In another of Margaret’s tales, she talks of a path from the village which skirted a pond which often flooded in bad weather, forcing walkers to take a different route along Hodman’s Path. In order to put an end to the diversions, the decision was taken to deepen the pond – and during the excavation, it is said that a skeleton was found in the mud, a millstone chained around its neck. The workmen “…began to recollect old stories told to them by their grannies, of a wicked felon who, for his sins, was condemned to be buried at the ‘four-releet’ or four cross ways, but from respect to his family was after all deposited in the pond, where he had lain undisturbed ever since.” The Rector of Geldeston agreed that the skeleton should be freed from its millstone – a punishment mentioned in the New Testament – and reburied close to the wall on the north side of the churchyard, just across the field. It was, it turned out, a rash decision. Margaret continues: “…this wicked felon, relieved of his spiritual clog, rose at once from his dry and uncomfortable churchyard quarters, and, nightly, with a horrid clanking of ghostly chains, rambles the unconsecrated space of glebe between the churchyard and Lover’s Lane.” It is said that the ghost can be heard at night, clanking the chains it once wore.

The website Hidden East Anglia (which can be found at HiddenEA.com) believes the location of the pond to have been just south of Norwich Road and adds that Lover’s Lane is now Snake’s Lane and runs southward from the church to meet with Sandy Lane, the haunt of The Hateful Thing. Additionally, it adds that both these lanes were once said to be haunted by a coach and horses driven by a headless coachman whose passengers were the restless souls of the infamous Bigod family on their way to their stronghold at Bungay Castle. And if you need more reason to a take a supernatural trip to the Norfolk/Suffolk border in England, there’s also a ghostly donkey that rattles chains in the village on dark nights: an embarrassment of supernatural riches, as it were.

 

BREAK==========

Coming up: While not nearly as well-known as its larger Bermudan brother, the Bridgewater Triangle in southeastern Massachusetts in the United States is home to strange tales itself, with the paranormal, unexplained, and even home to its very own cryptid. That story is up next on Weird Darkness.

<COMMERCIAL BREAK>

STORY: THE EERIE INHABITANTS OF BRIDGEWATER TRIANGLE==========

The ghost stories, personal accounts and folklore that make up the legend of the Bridgewater Triangle are too vast to ever fit in a single book, though many devoted investigators of the triangle have tried meticulously to record them.

They encompass what can only be described as a smorgasbord of the paranormal, cryptozoological and just plain weird. In fact one of the most baffling parts of the Triangle legends has to be the range of strange sightings said to be a part of this enigmatic approximately 200 square mile area of the Bay State.

“Anything that you want to be in the Triangle is in the Triangle. It’s a Pandora’s Box,” said folklorist and author of several books on the Bridgewater Triangle Chris Balzano. “So you’re into zombies? There’s stories about zombies. If you’re into Bigfoot, he’s there. If you’re into pukwudgies, that’s kind of pukwudgie central. If you’re into ghosts, you’ve got it. UFOs, black helicopter — it’s there.”

And one need not believe in the supernatural to enjoy the mystery and history of it all.

Aaron Cadieux, co-creator of a 2013 documentary on the Bridgewater Triangle, said that while he’s a born skeptic, he loved collecting creepy stories about the triangle just because of the fun of it.

“I walked into the project probably like 99 percent skeptic and walked out of the project still like a 96,” he said. “But there were a few things in the film that even me as a skeptic, kind of had to take a step back and scratch my head.”

The modern cultural origin of the Bridgewater Triangle legend is widely thought to lie within cryptozoologist Loren Coleman’s 1983 book “Mysterious America: The Ultimate Guide To The Nation’s Weirdest Wonders, Strangest Spots, and Creepiest Creatures” (which I’ve placed the Amazon link to in the Essential Web Links of the show notes). In it, he coined the term “Bridgewater Triangle,” inspired of course by the Bermuda Triangle, established its rough boundaries and identified some of the Triangle’s most notable places and legends, calling it a “window area of unexplained occurrences.”

Coleman establishes Rehoboth in the southwest, Abington in the north and Freetown in the southeast as the three points of the Triangle — meaning hundreds of thousands of people in Taunton, Brockton, Raynham, Berkley, Dighton, Easton, Norton, Mansfield and the Bridgewaters live inside it.

But modern investigators into the Triangle insist that there is by no means a clear boundary for the haunted and strange area, often pointing to Fall River, parts of Rhode Island, nearby towns and even Cape Cod as being under the triangle’s unique influence.

“No one ever said ‘There’s a line on the road and if you’re on one side of it you’re fine and outside the triangle and on the other side you’re in it,'” said author and paranormal investigator Jeff Belanger. “It bleeds out.”

Coleman wrote about the infamous Hockomock Swamp, located between Easton and West Bridgewater, as being known for it’s sightings of “spook lights” — unexplained balls of light floating around, as well as large hairy creatures often thought to be Bigfoot himself. He has also penned some of the most famous Bridgewater Triangle stories — how two WHDH radio reporters from Boston saw a homeplate-shaped UFO with red lights and a front headlight in West Bridgewater in 1979, and how in 1971, Norton Police Sgt. Thomas Downey spotted a gigantic winged creature while driving home through Easton one night and reported it to Easton police, much to his ridicule.

But the stories go far beyond what Coleman captured in his book. The mysterious Dighton Rock with its strange writings is often included. Anawan Rock in Rehoboth, Lake Nippenicket in Bridgewater and Profile Rock in Freetown are hot spots for sightings of phantom campfires and ghosts of Native Americans. Also notable for paranormal sightings are Solitude Stone, the Raynham-Taunton Dog Track, several cemeteries in Rehoboth, King Phillip’s Cave in Norton and The Hornbine School and Shad Factory in Rehoboth.

One of the eeriest legends has to be the red-headed hitchhiker of Route 44. It is said that a man with a big ginger beard, a plaid flannel shirt and jeans is often seen on the side of the road near the Rehoboth/Seekonk town line. He is said to get into cars only to disappear.

And then there’s the Freetown State Forest, which has perhaps the darkest reputation of them all. There’s Assonet Ledge, the site of many suicides, and where people who have never considered suicide are said to get the sudden urge to jump.

But much of this is apparently due to its ties to horrifying true crime stories. Retired Freetown detective Sgt. Alan Alves said he witnessed evidence of regular satanic cult activity in the forest for 15 to 20 years, beginning in the late 1970s and continuing into the early 90s. He said he and other officers would regularly find animals that appeared to be sacrificed ritualistically, with no blood in the animal but none on scene either. They’d often find satanic graffiti of upside down crosses and pentagrams.

Alves said police believed the infamous Fall River cult murderers Carl Drew and Robin Murphy conducted rituals in the forest, even having a hut in the middle. Alves also said police found an underground bunker with creepy dolls believed to belong to a satanic couple who were prosecuted for molesting children they had adopted.

Alves was the first officer on scene at the discovery of 15-year-old Mary Lou Arruda of Raynham’s body after she was kidnapped in 1978 and found dead in the forest two months later tied to a tree.

“That stayed with me because at the time my daughter was just a few years younger,” Alves said. “It really stood with me and it stays with me today.”

Since Coleman’s introduction of the Bridgewater Triangle to the world, a select group of paranormal investigators and enthusiasts have stepped up to record and investigate as many strange occurrences as possible, and in doing so continue the story of the Triangle. Most have their own websites devoted to their findings in the Triangle, but none have any definitive answers as to what is going on there.

“It’s trying to solve a mystery that doesn’t want to be solved,” Balzano said. “…You’re never going to find the answer, but you’re going to find a lot of clues.”

So what is going on in the Bridgewater Triangle? There is of course what perhaps most skeptics believe:

“Is it because the region has been defined as strange that people are automatically attributing things that could be easily explained as paranormal because there’s a heightened sense of awareness living here?” Cadieux asked. “In other words, you hear something crashing in the woods and it could be a deer, but everyone’s minds go to Bigfoot because they’re living in the Bridgewater Triangle.”

But others who have dedicated their time to investigating the Triangle are convinced there is something more going on. Belanger believes it goes back to King Philip’s War — a war between the English settlers and the Native Americans in the mid 1670s. The bloodiest war per capita in U.S. history, it took place largely in the Bridgewater Triangle region and ended with the Wampanoag chief Metacom, also known as King Philip, being hung, beheaded, drawn and quartered and his head displayed on a pike for 200 years at Plymouth Colony.

“You’ve probably heard the trope of the ‘unfinished business.’ The unfinished business really has nothing to do with the dead. It has everything to do with the living,” Belanger said. “…We don’t like people getting away with murder, even if it happened a long time ago. So there’s this nagging feeling that happened in this area.”

But many other Triangle investigators believe King Philip’s War is merely a symptom of the negative energy there, and that its mysteriousness is much older, having something to do with the land and possibly even being conscious.

“There are these areas all over the globe that are nicknamed ‘window areas,'” said Andrew Lake, of Greenville Paranormal research. “There are these locations that seem to be like a tear in the veil to other realities.”

“It’s a thing. It’s not a location. It’s not a random place on a map,” Balzano said. “It’s a living, breathing thing that has a hunger and has a dark side to it.”

But whatever you believe, the Bridgewater Triangle is just a step out the door for anyone living in Southeastern Massachusetts. And when you see something strange, you might just wonder if it was something more than it seemed.

These dedicated paranormal investigators, folklorists, writers, and “legend trippers”, have devoted their time as hobbyists to recording and investigating reports of UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts and other paranormal phenomenon in the area in an attempt to help themselves and others understand these strange occurrences.

Sometimes they will go “legend tripping,” simply going out to places where hauntings and sightings have been reported with little equipment hoping to see something. While other times they will conduct full-blown investigations, using apps and equipment to try to pick up signals from the unexplained.

Many also record the experiences of others, turning them into books, TV shows or blogposts. And some, like Tim Weisberg, 42, digital managing editor of WBSM radio and host of Spooky Southcoast, even do live investigations on radio, devoting an entire episode of his show to investigating the Bridgewater Triangle once a year.

But despite what you might assume about so-called “believers,” their relationship with the paranormal is … complicated.

Many of these investigators’ interest in the paranormal stems from their own unexplained experiences.

Andrew Lake, 56, of Greenville Paranormal Research, said he was 11 when he encountered a ghost at a family friend’s old house in Scituate. One night while he was staying over, he woke up in the middle of the night while everyone else was asleep to hear the sound of someone in the kitchen directly below him.

“No lights on but going about moving chairs, opening cabinets, moving crockery and silverware,” he said. “But yet there were no footsteps accompanying it. And it happened two nights in a row and exactly the same time — 2:35 a.m. — with no lights on and nobody coming back upstairs.”

Weisberg always had an interest in ghosts, but said he also experienced them himself. He said often as a child he would see an image of an old hag in the wall and would often get the feeling there was someone else in his room. He also believes his aunt and uncle’s house in Halifax was haunted, having heavy steel doors to the basement swing open and closed on their own and faucets turn on and off with no one there.

Paranormal investigator Kristen Evans, 50, said that as an adult she moved into a haunted house in Hanson where she would hear people moving around when she was the only one home. And folklorist Chris Balzano, who has written several books on the Bridgewater Triangle, lived in the famously haunted Charlesgate Hotel building in Back Bay while he attended Emerson College, which owned the building at the time. He said his particular experiences are some of the most quoted.

“How many coincidences does it take before you go ‘something unusual is going on here?'” he said.

But other investigators simply followed an interest. Paranormal investigator Chris Pittman, 41, started investigating UFOs in high school when he joined some UFO study groups, which eventually led him to start investigating other types of phenomena in the Triangle, believing that they were connected.

“I think there is a lot of hubris in the assumption that we know everything about the world around us, especially when people in every community are consistently reporting experiences that seem to fall outside of our understanding,” he said. “There is something compelling about claims of the paranormal, even if we don’t believe them. The fact that the witnesses insist their fantastic-sounding accounts to be factual is itself worthy of attention.”

Jeff Belanger, 46, writer and researcher for The Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures” and co-creator of PBS’s “New England Legends,” got into the paranormal as a newspaper reporter seeking out feature stories about hauntings. He said he was quickly hooked, and moved into working for TV, as well as writing books and podcasting about his research.

“Investigating the paranormal means asking the biggest questions humans have ever asked: What happens after we die? Are we alone in the universe? Do we know every creature who walks the earth with us?” he said.

But no matter how they got into the paranormal, all of these investigators ended up seeking out like-minded people, often finding one another’s books and websites. Many of these investigators have gone out to investigate the Bridgewater Triangle together and have tag-teamed following up on reports.

It may surprise you, but most of these investigators don’t care whether or not people believe in the Bridgewater Triangle. They’re more interested in helping people understand their strange experiences and exploring the unknown for themselves.

“If someone doesn’t want to listen to any account of paranormal phenomena that lacks iron-clad proof, I can’t blame them for that,” Pittman said. “These mysteries blur the line between reality, imagination, and maybe more than that. It takes time and effort to sort the fact from fiction. Not everyone is going to be interested enough to try.”

In fact, many say it takes a personal experience to believe in the paranormal and the Bridgewater Triangle.

An experience like the one Bill Russo had approximately 30 years ago to the day when he was walking his dog on Cynthia Street in Raynham after working a midnight shift at Raynham Ironworks and he came across something strange.

Samantha, a German shepherd-rottweiler mix, started “shaking like a washing machine.” At first Russo couldn’t see or hear what was bothering her, but then it reached his ear. “Keer, Keer. Ee Wan Chu,” is what he said it sounded like.

“It was a dark night, but that street lamp made a big circle on the pavement, a circle of white light, and into that circle came this creature,” he said. “Three feet tall, maybe four feet tall. Kinda like a stuffed animal — think teddy bear. …hundred pounds or so with a potbelly. Eyes a little bit too big for his head. I always say think of a cat…And then was motioning to me, beckoning me with its arm or paw or whatever.”

At first, Russo said, he thought it was a kid in a Halloween costume. But he tried to talk to it and it just kept repeating its nonsense words. He said he wasn’t scared, being so much larger than it, but Samantha was, so he decided to leave and go home.

When he got back, he thought long and hard about the incident, and eventually came to the conclusion that the creature was trying to speak to him in English. He believes it was trying to say “Come here, we want you.”

“I am not a paranormal guy. I don’t look up in the sky. I don’t watch UFO shows. I had no connection to them. Nor do I now, to the paranormal,” he said. “I was just the guy out walking with my dog who saw something that stretches credibility.”

Russo said he’s still not sure what happened to him, but many paranormal investigators believe Russo may have encountered a Pukwudgie — a legendary creature said to lure humans into the woods to their deaths. But many investigators are also not quick to use labels, using the idea of legendary creatures like Bigfoot and thunderbirds as a reference point to talk about what was experienced.

“When we talk about things like another dimension or aliens, we’re just kind of explaining a mystery with another mystery,” Pittman said. “And so the reality is, nobody really knows and I don’t know if anybody ever will really know.”

And most investigators say they do question their belief in the paranormal. Belanger and Lake said they question it all the time. Pittman said he’s not even sure if the word paranormal is even appropriate for what he investigates.

But one thing they all agree on is that regardless of what the Bridgewater Triangle is or how it got there, there is something strange going on in and around it. While some like Belanger and Pittman have never experienced anything strange, many others have.

Weisberg said he has been thrown against a wall and down the stairs by spirits multiple times in the Lizzie Borden House in Fall River after daring them to do so. Lake said he has seen phantom fires at Anawan Rock, as has Balzano, who has also experienced lots of other strange happenings in the Triangle, including losing two hours of time for apparently no reason.

And as long as people keep experiencing strange phenomena in southeastern Massachusetts, these people will be there to see if it’s an everyday occurrence or something that needs further investigation.

BREAK==========

Coming up on Weird Darkness: Imagine being told that starting next month there will no longer be anymore weekends, and that you will be working every day of the week, non-stop, because there is now only five days to a week. Ludicrous? Tell that to citizens of the Soviet Union in 1929. That story is up next!

We’ll also step into the Chamber of Comments!

<COMMERCIAL BREAK>

STORY: WHAT IS LIFE IN A FIVE DAY WEEK?==========

On September 29, 1929, the USSR had its last Sunday for 11 years. In an effort to boost productivity and eliminate religion, Josef Stalin instituted a new Soviet calendar, known as the Soviet Eternal Calendar. Under the Soviet Union’s continuous working week calendar, the USSR eliminated weekends. Instead, workers operated on a five-day week.

Each day, 80% of the workforce showed up to work while 20% stayed home. Workers received a color code corresponding to their day off. Husbands and wives often worked opposite schedules, meaning families lost their shared day of rest. The move was incredibly unpopular, with one letter in Pravda complaining, “What is there for us to do at home if our wives are in the factory, our children at school, and nobody can visit us?”

The five-day week wasn’t the first change to the Russian calendar, but it had the greatest impact. The new Soviet Union calendar tore families apart and wiped out religious communities. Yet one group ignored Stalin and continued to follow a Soviet Union calendar with weekends – while still taking off the new state-sponsored revolutionary holidays.

Maximizing productivity was a top agenda item in the USSR, and in 1929, Yuri Larin came up with a revolutionary plan. Instead of closing the factories on Sundays, why not switch to a continuous work week? With machines running every day, the Soviets could surely meet the production goals of Stalin’s five-year plan.

Josef Stalin loved the idea. By August of 1929, the Council of People’s Commissars ordered a five-day work week, completely eliminating Saturdays and Sundays. The new calendar went into effect just weeks later.

Known as the nepreryvka, or “uninterrupted” work week, the new calendar changed life radically in the Soviet Union. Under the new Soviet Eternal Calendar, the USSR divided the year into five-day weeks, with six weeks in each month. The government added five holidays throughout the year to equal 365 days.

Every Soviet worker clocked in for a four-day shift each week, with one rotating day off. But the plan never considered how the staggered rest days would change life for Soviet workers.

To help workers adjust to the new system, the USSR introduced a color-coded system. Each day came with a color: yellow, peach, red, purple, or green. All the green workers took that day off, while the red workers took off red days.

The Soviet Eternal Calendar also carried new symbols for days of the week, since the Soviets no longer recognized old names like Monday or Tuesday. Instead, a red star and a military cap symbolized different days of the week.

When the Soviet Eternal Calendar went into effect, husbands and wives were often given opposite schedules. While one spouse might have first day off, the other might take fifth day off. Under the system, spouses barely shared any days off in a year.

After several months operating on the Soviet Eternal Calendar, the government finally considered granting simultaneous breaks for spouses. Families could petition the government for the same day off, but there was no guarantee of approval.

Soviets complained about the five-day calendar from the beginning. Pravda, the official newspaper of the Soviet Communist Party, published a letter from an anonymous worker who criticized the system.

In the letter, the worker complained: “What are we to do at home if the wife is in the factory, the children in school, and no one can come to see us? What is left but to go to the public tea room? What kind of life is that – when holidays come in shifts and not for all workers together? That’s no holiday, if you have to celebrate by yourself.”

With husbands, wives, and children on opposite schedules, Soviet families were torn apart. One worker complained, “How are we to work now, if mother is free on one day, father on another, brother on a third, and I myself on a fourth?”

But some considered the cost to families a benefit of the calendar. Just before the new calendar went into effect, Ivan Ivanovich Shitz wrote in his diary that the continuous working week would make it impossible for people to meet as a family or join religious or political groups. He believed that eliminating these associations would bond people more closely with the state.

The USSR tried to give the new calendar days revolutionary names. One would be called “Trade Union,” another was “Hammer,” and a third “Sickle.” They even considered names like “Lenin” and “Soviet.”

But the revolutionary names never caught on. Instead, Soviets simply began to refer to the days by their number or color.

The colors associated with the five-day calendar became shorthand for the days of the week. Some even marked colors in their address books as a shorthand code for which day of the week a friend had off work.

Not surprisingly, Soviets soon socialized by color. A worker who only had the green day off couldn’t easily maintain a friendship with someone who had the purple day off. In an entire year, two workers on different schedules would only share five days off in common.

The five-day week didn’t last long in the Soviet Union. After protests from workers, the government finally decided to introduce yet another new calendar.

The 1931 calendar added back Saturdays, shifting to a six-day week. Under the new system, all workers took a rest day together on Saturdays, which always fell on the 6th, 12th, 18th, 24th, and 30th of the month.

The six-day work week lasted for nearly another decade in the USSR.

Stalin believed the new five-day calendar would boost productivity. When considering the Soviet Eternal Calendar, the USSR mainly emphasized factories that fell silent on the weekend. But one major sector of the Soviet economy practically ignored the new calendar: farmers.

In rural areas, farmers already worked every day of the week. There were no purple days off on farms, nor were there staggered shifts. Historian Malte Rolf reports that in 1931, “almost all officials were complaining about the still existing ties of rural people to ‘traditional habits.'”

However, farmers did adopt part of the Soviet Eternal Calendar. They took off the new state holidays, in addition to taking off traditional religious holidays.

The Soviet efforts to manipulate the calendar and the working day didn’t start in 1929. In 1928, the USSR announced a reduction of the working hours. Instead of an eight-hour day, workers would spend just seven hours at work.

The shorter working day was part of Stalin’s five-year plan, and in 1929, the USSR announced that all industries must incorporate shorter working hours and extra time off throughout the year. In exchange, industries had to increase production by using a three-shift system. With factories running night and day, production increased – though at the cost of workers forced to take the night shift.

The continuous working week wasn’t just about productivity. It was also about breaking the religious associations to the calendar.

Sociologist Eviatar Zerubavel argues that “the main purpose of abolishing the seven-day week in the Soviet Union was to destroy religion there.” Without Saturday or Sunday, Jews and Christians had to completely rearrange their worship times. And with only 20% of the workforce off work on any day of the week, it was difficult to maintain religious congregations.

Stalin’s change to the Soviet calendar wasn’t the first time the USSR tinkered with calendars. Lenin also agreed to change the Soviet calendar in 1917.

However, Lenin’s change brought the USSR in line with the rest of the world. Prior to 1917, Russia used the Julian calendar, which was 12 days behind the more common Gregorian calendar.

Lenin ordered the Soviets to skip 12 days in February 1918 and start the month with February 14 to catch up with the Gregorian calendar. The shift, though less major than eliminating the weekends, did alter history. Under the new calendar, the Soviet October Revolution actually took place in November.

Stalin finally admitted defeat in 1940. On June 26, 1940, he reinstated the seven-day week. Sundays were once again holidays.

However, in order to meet its strict productivity goals, the USSR passed harsh penalties for tardy or absent workers. Those who missed one day of work, or came to work more than 20 minutes late, were guilty of misconduct and faced mandatory prison. The return of the weekends may have come at too high a cost for some Soviet workers.

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