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Gef the Mongoose, Men In Plaid, and The Acambaro Monsters

There are some subjects about which I would love to write in this paper but I don’t. For instance, things like Bigfoot or the Loch Ness Monster. I don’t write about them because the stories are too long, too complicated for the 1200 word limit that the sci-tech editor so graciously allows me to go over each week. On the other hand, there are some stories that are fascinating, but are much too short. For your reading pleasure I now present to you a mish-mash of those stories.

The first is something rather cute: an invisible talking mongoose. He said his name was Gef, and he lived with a family named the Irvings on a farm on the Isle of Mann during the 1930s. He rattled about in the walls (always out of sight,) talked, laughed, told stories, and spied on the neighbors occasionally. This was a great source of delight to the family, and his story can be found in most books on the paranormal, where he’s used as proof (albeit not as forcefully or sentimentally as things like the Mothman or the Exeter Spaceman) that some weird things are going on in this world and the dimensions beyond. Basically, the story goes that the family began hearing strange voices at night. Then, small objects started moving around on their own and, finally, the voice idenitifed itself as Gef, a mongoose born in New Delhi on June 7, 1852. Everywhere I look I find the note that a farmer who’d lived in the area released some mongooses onto his property in 1912 to catch vermin (or snakes, or whatever it is mongooses eat.) As a side note, I’ll mention that mongooses rarely live to the age of 80 and are not generally known to talk.

Basically, Gef just sort of hung around and entertained the Irvings, except once when he claimed he’d been poisoned and scared the crap out of them.

This story is so cute that I feel bad bringing facts and logic into the picture. A gentleman named Harry Price came out to the farm to investigate, as he was the James Randi of his day. In all, the only concrete evidence that he was able to find were some hairs, supposedly from Gef that looked much more like they belonged to the family dog and some blurry photographs of “something” prowling around outside, most likely a cat. The family produced some plaster footprints that they said were made from Gef’s, but the British Natural History Museum examined them and determined that they were, in fact, not. Interestingly enough, Gef did not make a single sound while the investigator was there, reminiscent of Uri Geller’s inability to bend a spoon with his mind on the Late Show.

So there it is, a cute story with which to thrill and/or trick your pre-pubescent relatives. Perhaps you’d care to wash it down with something a little more sinister? Then don’t fall asleep, lest you see…a Man In Plaid! According to a tiny, tiny fringe group of UFO enthusiasts, which in and of itself is already a bit of a fringe group, the Men In Plaid are even more ominous than the much feared Men In Black that cover up stories of alien sightings. It goes like this: in the dead of night you wake up for no apparent reason, feeling disoriented. You look to the foot of your bed where you see, of all things, a huge man wearing a plaid shirt. After a frantic scramble for the switch, you get the lights on only to realize that the Man In Plaid has disappeared. All of this happens either before or after you spot a UFO, experience missing time, have your home invaded by a poltergeist, so on and so forth.

Here’s a phrase that I never thought I’d end up saying: I am not going to slander UFO enthusiasts by claiming that this is a wide-held belief. In fact, as far as I know the only places that these claims are made is in a single book at the Doylestown Public Library. It has, however, stuck with me through the years, as simultaneously the creepiest and most laughable story I’ve ever heard.

From one flavor of absurdity to another, shall we? In 1945 archaeologist Waldemar Julsrud supposedly uncovered a cache of thousands of tiny little statues, carved between 800 BC and 300AD. Generally, this collection is called the Acambaro Monsters, after the location in Mexico where they were unearthed. They’ve been used as proof by paranormal enthusiasts that the peoples of the Mexican peninsula had contact with Dinosaurs as little as 2000 years ago.

The main problem with this set of figures is the wide variety of stories you can find about it. Right now, apparently, the figures are under lock and key in the mayor’s office, and have only rarely been displayed to the outside world. Nonetheless, paranormal enthusiasts claim that they have been studied thoroughly and, among other things, the forms exactly match those of dinosaurs; the way the figures are shown to move is exactly in line with current archaeological thinking; that the coexistence of dinosaurs and man is concrete evidence that the earth was created 5000 years ago by divine decree. In fact, one of the largest collections of photos on the internet of these statues belongs to Dr. Dennis Swift, a creationist.

So the ancient peoples carved figures that look like dinosaurs, eh? Before you get freaked out, let me remind you that that’s making the assumption this whole shebang isn’t a hoax. So, assuming it’s not a hoax, it’s pretty damning evidence, right?

Wrong. In addition to things that sort of look like dinosaurs, kind of, are things that look like half-men, half crocodiles, other monsters that don’t look anything like dinosaurs, and carvings of people that only vaguely look like people. When you take a collection of 33,000 carvings and a handful of them turn out to look like dinosaurs, I’m not impressed. There’s no statistician in the world that would be willing to say this means dinosaurs walked the earth concurrent with man.

If these carvings are all representations of something that the people saw, that means two things: that dinosaurs walked the earth with human beings, and that our current knowledge of dinosaurs is pretty crappy. There are tens of thousands of dinosaurs, including many that look like people, and some that look like the offspring of people and animals, of which we know absolutely nothing, other than these figures. I think it’s far more likely that some bored artisan decided to put some spikes on his statue of a lizard or use some general artistic license than that.

So there you have it. A cute story, a creepy story, and just plain ridiculous story. Hopefully, I’ll get out of this funk and bring you more single-topic tales of illogic and psuedoscience next week, but until then, if someone tries to show you a statue of a little dinosaur thing and claims it means that the world was created precisely 5000 years ago by the divine word of god, think about it before you agree with him. Ask yourself “which of these things is more likely?” and I’m sure everything will end up fine.

First Published in The Triangle 25 February 2005