Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Top Ten Paranormal News Stories of 2015

I bring you my annual list of the top stories of the paranormal world. There is no way for me to say this is the definitive way these stories should be listed and arguments for the arrangement could be made to put any one of the top ten at number 1, but this list is essentially my opinion on the matter based on a year with few groundbreaking or long lasting viral stories. I have been doing this list since the end of the 2009 season of the Paranormal News Insider.

How is this list assembled?

Stories make the top ten for two basic reasons. The first reason is the story must be viral. A viral story may only be popular on social media (YouTube, Facebook Twitter, etc.) through one or multiple platforms. These stories may also become viral through news media either locally, regionally, or globally. How big a story becomes is one thing, but how long the story lasts in the media is another. A story that is a flash in the pan that is a global story may not be ranked as high as a story that was a big story only regionally yet lasted weeks. The second reason stories make this list is based on the impact they have on the particular aspect of the paranormal field they have to do with. Stories that offer a glimmer of hope in a particular field will usually be ranked higher than a story that is based on a hoax. Using these two scales as a guide I rank each story against each other with both aspects and eventually whittle down a list of stories into a top ten.

Some years are fantastic and other years are duds when it comes to paranormal stories. I will be doing a top three from 2008 through 2015 sometime in 2016, but 2015 was a dud when compared to 2008 (Stephenville, Texas UFO, Georgia Bigfoot Hoax, Montauk Monster) and other years that had standout stories. Here is this years list:

10. A video surfaced in early September that was being called "Real Pterosaur Spotted over Idaho, USA". A few others splattered this over social media and have claimed that it took place in Ohio.

A small amount of detective work links the YouTube video back to the original source of o7tv YouTube channel. While the video itself looks realistic there are a few strange things about it. The flying creature looked stiff, rather like an electronic flying toy. Many posted this as a likely explanation along with a cheesy version of a radio controlled pterodactyl, but the comparison was not close. Many said this was CGI, but there seemed to be no evidence of it being a digital manipulation. In all likelihood the video is a fake of some sort. This YouTube user is also responsible for a number of other releases of videos that are admitted CGI hoaxes, such as the video from 2013 titled “Real UFO with aliens caught on camera” where a skinny alien seems to wave while it stands by a UFO sitting on a hill. The UFO suddenly darts into the sky and the camera drops as the person filming apparently runs away. Later, the UFO is seen hovering again only to shoot off after hovering for a moment. “Car Disappears on Highway”, “Dragon Flying over England” are also examples of viral hits from this user that have generated millions of views. These videos demonstrate some similar effects of those seen in the pterosaur video. So, was the video a real 65 million year old creature flying around Idaho? Probably not, but it's likely that we will never know and the amount of speculation surrounding this video landed it in the countdown this year.

Why it’s in the top ten: It was a viral hit and while many people figured it was the work of a hoax there were just as many that believed this could be real. There were very little details that pegged this as CGI, despite many people claiming it, and it pointed toward a mechanical version of the extinct reptile. However, no one could find a source for this being a remote controlled replica of this extinct creature. Why it’s number 10: While it was very viral it disappeared just as quickly as the creature in the video did. No further evidence could keep this story in the news despite it being one of the most shared videos dealing with the paranormal this year.

9. One story that evolved slowly at first before gaining a snowball momentum was the image of the purported Jersey Devil that was sent in to and was shared with the world on October 12th. The story goes that a man named Dave Black was driving home in Galloway, New Jersey, when he spotted what he thought was a llama near the road. Suddenly, this llama-like creature spread its leathery wings and took flight over a golf course. Black was able to snap a few pictures, but only one came out. Then, the story began to develop. A day later a video was sent in to

by a reader named Emily who was traveling through Leeds Point. She tries to add credibility to the video by stating she is a middle school teacher who moonlights as an algebra tutor for high school students. The video shows the dreaded Jersey Devil quickly flying across the screen as the person filming it lets out a quiet gasp. Even though most people realized this was not a legitimate story things quickly escalated for Kelly Roncace who wrote the piece. She was quoted as saying that once the video was added that "...all hell broke loose." She was getting calls from Good Morning America and news outlets all over the United States and beyond. It also got the attention of many skeptics and paranormal bloggers who were quick to dismiss both the photograph and video. Kelly was attacked by many, but she stated that her section is a features column and was not supposed to be taken as actual news. 

Why it’s in the top ten: This story contained different bits of sightings of a unique and well known cryptid and the story went viral beyond simple social media. The fact that Good Morning America and other news stations showed interest, although not serious about the creature’s existence, also added to this story being included on the list. Why it’s only number 9; the story did not have enough traction or validity or even follow up to consider it being any higher than number 9. If there were other viral stories similar to this with even a bit better evidence, the term used loosely here, this story would have been pushed to number ten or out of the top ten easily.

8. There exists some good evidence that the Loch Ness Monster was a story created for tourism in the 1930s. I mentioned on the September 29th episode of the Paranormal News Insider how Crop Circles may have been born in English Pubs, now it seems that the Loch Ness Monster may have been created not at the bottom of Loch Ness, but at the bottom of a nice ale. The monster was supposedly created by a man named DG Gerahty, who was hired by several Scottish hotel owners to help drum up business through tourism. The group was supposedly inspired by Lake Ogopogo’s folkloric monster in Canada. They were also purportedly inspired by a book.
 Professor Gareth Williams suggested these claims in a new book that the Loch Ness Monster was created to help spur sagging tourism after the Great Depression. He also pointed out in his research that the answer to the story behind the monster may lie in a short extract from a semi-autobiographical novel called Marise. In the novel, the narrator described how the story of the monster in the Scottish loch was invented in a pub near Trafalgar square. Professor Williams said that the lack of sightings of the monster before 1930 strengthens the argument that the monster was made up in the early 1930s. Once a sighting took place the flood gates were opened and remain open to this day despite many photographs being disproved as hoaxes or misinterpretations. Many new photographs and evidence continue to pop up only to be discovered as hoaxes or again; misinterpretations. Is the Loch Ness Monster real? Not likely and this story might sound like a nail in the coffin, but the story of Nessie has survived this long and is doubtful to disappear due to facts just as it has all these years.

Why it’s in the top ten; this is a telling story about the potential origin of one of the most popular creatures in cryptozoology. While it seems to legitimately discount the creature as being real it will not take away from it being a popular cryptid. Why it’s number 8 in the countdown: this release of information did very little to disperse the legend of the Loch Ness Monster nor did it really gain much traction as a viral story outside of the United Kingdom or have any impact on tourism to the Loch Ness area, at least negatively.

7. The floating city in China. Thousands of people reported seeing a strange city floating in the sky complete with skyscrapers in the city of Foshan in the Guangdong province in China on October 9th. Numerous photographs and videos documented the strange event that left some wondering if a parallel universe opened up in the skies. If that wasn’t enough, just a few days later a similar event happened over the skies of Jiangxi (GEE-ONg-SHE) China. Conspiracy theorists were quick to make several accusations about the event in an attempt to explain what was happening.
Was it a Project Blue Beam test? Could this be a temporal vortex, a possible parallel universe materializing briefly into our own reality? Some also felt considering China's technological achievements that a top secret holographic technology was tested over a heavily populated area in an effort to gauge the public reaction. These are all nice guesses, but unfortunately the reality is a little less exciting. This event, while rare, actually happens often in China for some reason, but is known to occur most often in polar regions and is known as Fata Morgana. No, this isn’t some French socialite, but it is the name for a natural mirage caused by weather and the infamous temperature inversion. Fata Morgana is the Italian name for Morgan Le Fay, and other names, as the enchantress from the King Arthur legends. Fata Morgana can be seen on land or sea and involves the optical distortion and inversion of distant objects such as boats, which can appears as skyscrapers because the images become stacked, when rays of light bend as they pass through air of different temperatures such as in a heat haze. The real thing here is that while it’s quite a sight and does not happen often, it has been noted every few years especially here in the paranormal news arena. These sightings are also confused with UFO sightings as the mirage comes from below the horizon and makes an object appear in the sky and a Fata Morgana can also trick RADAR signals into perceiving objects floating as well.

Why it’s in the top ten: this story scared the living daylights out of a lot of people, and not just in China. It lead to an enormous amount of speculation, of which only a handful was discussed here, that made conspiracy theorists crowd around the warm glow of their computer monitor in their parent’s basements. Many websites stated that this was a sign of the end times. Other sites thought that the video was just digital manipulation. This speculation was no match for the amount of science that poured in from news and educational resources such as Discovery News, National Geographic, Science, Accuweather, CNN, and others that properly described this as Fata Morgana and even listed a number of very similar incidents that had piled up long before these two in China. However, Snopes declared this story as unproven and that many pieces of this story do not add up. Why it’s number 7: this was a very viral story that nearly everyone involved with the paranormal or science weighed in on. It was interesting to see the diversity of beliefs between the paranormal, UFO, and conspiracy websites and it brought to light their emotional reactions to stories like these. It also highlighted how many bloggers and news organizations continue to peddle stories like these without doing simple research and finding the reality behind them, this is why I do the Paranormal News Insider. While the story had a logical outcome and was nothing short of explainable it did highlight the beliefs of many of the world in the strange, anomalous, and just downright scary things that happen every day.

6. On March 10th a strange video has surfaced from the jungles of Costa Rica, no, not of a dinosaur, but of an extinct bird.
The video, uploaded only to YouTube, shows an iguana in the foreground and then a strange bird poking around a fallen piece of tree in the background. The bird looks slightly familiar and as the 48 second video comes to an end the edited clip shows the bird walking directly in front of the green tinted scene; a bird that closely resembles that of the once living dodo. The video was purportedly taken by a photographer who had set up video to record animals at night, when I first debuted the story I stated it would be wise to doubt the video until further information shows up. Dodos were first mentioned in 1598 and were slowly hunted to extinction in the mid-1600s and ultimately became a mythological bird. Dodos were only found on the island of Mauritius (MAR-RISH-ISS) which is east of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. So, how would one end up in Costa Rica? The dodo was used as food, similarly to pigs which were released on the island of Mauritius. The Dutch who controlled the island in that time most certainly took the bird for trade and may have released them on other islands, such as Costa Rica, as a food source. The dodo bird video made many people, including myself, hopeful that this video was real and that we could rediscover an animal thought extinct. The video was a bit fishy from the way it was shot to how most of it was in focus except for what we were hoping to see. However, on the morning of March 16th I found part two of the video that showed the dodo bird move its beak off camera and return with a cue card with “I wish I was real” written in Portuguese. 

The video was created for a conservation team, a non-governmental organization known as Civil Association Alternative Terrazul, that was looking for some attention by using the extinct dodo to draw in the general public and then educate them on living species that are closing in on extinction such as jaguars, African elephant, golden lion tamarin, Amazon River dolphin, panda bear, black rhino, hawksbill sea turtle, blue whale, and others. The project was known as almost a dodo.

Why it’s in the top ten: nearly everyone involved with cryptozoology, zoology, and the paranormal was weighing in on this video. Many were confident this video was the real deal despite some of the shortcomings described about the blurry nature of it as well as the uncommon camera type and placement. This was an extremely viral video that the conclusion of which was not broadcast very much. Sadly, the message of this organization seemed to miss its mark even after drawing a much larger audience than they anticipated. Why it’s number 6: this was an extremely viral video that had many people believing this could be the biggest animal finding since the coelacanth. Despite the cheesy nature of the video as well as the reveal it has gone down as one of the most believable cryptozoological hoaxes in recent history.

5. The Charlie Charlie Challenge. Gravity will hurt you, but not with falling pencils.  What started out as a Spanish-speaking schoolyard game has morphed into the poor man’s, or lazy man’s, Ouija Board and a silly little game that seemingly can only work if you put it on your Vine.
A 17 year old girl in central Georgia apparently instagrammed her game using the hashtag  #CharlieCharlieChallenge and from there it gained a lot of momentum. As of May 26th the phrase had been tweeted over 2 million times and is getting more social media attention than any news event anywhere in the world. The trend started late on May 23rd and built up on the 24th and went strong for a couple of days. A Priest in Philadelphia wrote an open letter to those involved with the cult-like practice where he taught in a Catholic High School saying that "there is no such thing as innocently playing with demons." Little did he know, these demons actually work in Hollywood. The whole Charlie Charlie Challenge may have started out from trends in South America where this new version of a couple of older Spanish games were merged, but it ended up seeming like nothing more than a viral campaign for the movie “The Gallows” in which the main character of the movie, which whom it is bad luck to utter his name, is named Charlie. During the movie, and as highlighted in the preview at the previous link, they attempt to contact Charlie by using the same exact method in a short Spanish preview "La Horca" or "The Gallows." However, disagrees saying that this video was uploaded a day prior to the breakout of the Charlie Charlie Challenge and that the date discrepancy is enough to discredit this theory. 

Why it’s in the top ten: the Charlie Charlie Challenge was one of the most viral stories of 2015 on social media let alone one of the top stories in the paranormal. Many people were afraid of this while many others laughed this off as a child’s game despite the similarities to the Ouija Board yet this story got the attention of worldwide media well beyond social media. Why it was only number 5: it really did little to bring the paranormal out of the dark ages of belief and superstition. While the fear behind the Charlie Charlie Challenge finally subsided it was just another scar on the face of the paranormal belief engine and did little to create acceptance or discovery in the paranormal. It’s mere presence on this list is due completely to the viral nature of the story.

4. Harvey Robertson, a Scottish tourist, was on vacation with his family off the coast of Parga off the northwest coast of Greece. He was taking photographs with his iPhone of the color of the water while sailing through sea caves when he took a photograph of a strange creature. The photograph was making the rounds as expert after expert were stumped as to what the creature was.
Some felt this was a Cuvier’s Beaked Whale; some thought it looked like a manatee, a cuttlefish, or even some sort of hippo-dolphin morph. Then, the bubble was burst.  Zoologist Dr. Darren Naish of the National Oceanography Centre at the University of Southampton was the first to identify what he felt was truly in the picture. The strange creature was identified as nothing more than a half-sunken low freeboard boat fender. While so many people were contemplating what type of animal it was it seemed no one was willing to question whether it was even a real animal. I admit I was stumped and did my best to find a living creature to match, lesson learned. So did Mr. Robertson attempt to fool the general public? More than likely not. His photograph seemed to genuinely confuse him and if he did not see the fender when he took the photograph or view the picture to see the object he would have little reason to look for it afterward.  Still, there are many people who deny this logical explanation and feel that the animal is still out there. I’m sure it is and I hope someone finds that boat fender. 

Why it's in the top ten: This story went very viral and carried itself for nearly a week until the boat fender theory seemed to wash away the hope of finding a new mysterious creature in the waters off of Greece. Numerous experts weighed in on this story as it built momentum all over the world. Why it was only number four: despite being one of the top viral stories of the year the purported creature is more than likely just a boat fender. While this explanation is still being argued it is the most plausible. With it having no real impact on cryptozoology this story was only carried so far on the waves of popularity.

3. Misidentified Rocket Launches: Probably the biggest UFO story of the year, and definitely September, was actually very explainable. Dozens of videos and photos flooded the Internet on Wednesday, September 2nd, especially in Florida where the Atlas 5
spacecraft was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. The rocket had a $7.6 billion Navy satellite system that was launched into orbit. The launch took place just after 6 AM and seemed to take a lot of people off guard as the rocket and its exhaust trail became illuminated by the pre-dawn sun as it gained altitude. Even people who were told what it was didn’t believe it since the rising sun lit up the trail and made it very colorful. Twitter was going crazy from the tweets of people thinking there was an alien invasion or that the world was coming to an end.

On Saturday, November 7th the west coast lost their minds this time as a rocket was launched from out in the ocean catching many off guard. Earlier in the week the military had flights that normally travel over water to avoid noise over southern California to be diverted back over land on that evening. The Orange County Sheriff’s office tweeted that the large fireball in the sky was in fact a missile launched from the USS Kentucky, an Ohio class ballistic missile submarine. Speculation and rumors were and still are flying that the missile was some top secret thing or perhaps it was a test flight of a UFO being covered up or maybe even some other unknown technology. Why these thoughts? Well, Government. Not to mention the fact that people were taken off guard by the launch as well as saw the ignition of the missile that puzzled many. The missile was actually a Trident 2 missile that was not armed. Despite much speculation it has been cleared up that this is nothing more than a routine shakedown of the recently refurbished submarine. 

On December 22nd another rocket was seen over the western skies that also went viral. This one turned out to be a Russian SL-4 rocket body that was reentering the atmosphere and was visible for around ten minutes.

Why it's in the top ten: these rocket launches got a lot of publicity, both for the mere sighting and some for their scientific merit, but also a lot of speculation and fear generated by those who didn't know what was going on. The September Florida launch generated a lot of UFO and end-of-the-world type of speculation while the Trident California launch generated that and also some Government conspiracy talk. Even the recent sighting was thought to potentially be an alien invasion, I wonder where that thought came from? Why it was only number four: despite being extremely viral and some tense moments generated by fear and misunderstanding, these were obviously explainable examples of man made objects.

2. Bigfoot captured on photo/video (again, and again...). 2015 has been the year that Bigfoot has made numerous headlines of being captured clearly on photos and videos for the first time, well, a number of times. The year started out with photos from Florida of a fisherman who fooled a few people with a horrible Photoshop attempt as well as from the Arizona Department of Transportation that submitted a photo they jokingly thought resembled a family of Bigfoot.
While some so-called investigators claimed to have witness testimony and tracks, those of us who did some simple research found out these were just trees that never moved from their position. We then had the Turner,Maine video that was peddled by Bill Brock since 2014. The entire case turned out to be a hoax perpetrated by a kid that fooled many experts who claimed the video was the best since the Patterson Gimlin Film. Bigfoot’s Russian cousin then made his appearance in the Adygeya Republic area of southwestern Russia in what is now called the snowy woods video. A team of scientists were in the area following up on sightings when they captured the video. Some say that this was merely a stunt to drum up tourism. The Bigfoot Field Researcher’s Organization then debunked the first video of the year shot at Lettuce Lake Park near Tampa, Florida. While many felt this was just a Photoshop attempt gone awry, it turned out to be a hoax to get attention and ultimately make it on Finding Bigfoot. Then, a very viral story; the sighting of a purported Bigfoot family stalking bison near the Old Faithful Geyser at Yellowstone National Park that turned out to just be a group of people

Why it’s in the top ten: while Bigfoot hoaxes are nothing new, this series of hoaxes all gained momentum within the first few weeks of 2015 making it feel like everyone was getting in on the action. A few of these stories remained in the circle of Bigfootery while others generated a lot of public speculation and were viral stories. While most of these were obvious hoaxes some did bring to question whether these represented the proof that the world needed in order to validate the existence of Bigfoot once and for all. Why it’s number two: it didn’t prove anything other than Bigfoot investigators can either be gullible or very clever in discovering hoaxes. Despite these stories owning the paranormal headlines for the first few weeks of the year one story trumped all others in being viral and stirring belief in the paranormal.
1. The number one Paranormal News Story of 2015 was also one of the most viral paranormal stories of the year. The story took place Friday, March 6th in Spanish Fork, Utah.
A woman was driving home from her parent’s house in Salem, Utah to her home in Springville only 10 miles away. Sadly, around halfway to her destination 25 year old Lynn Groesbeck lost control of her vehicle, struck a cement barrier, and ended up in the Spanish Fork River with her 18 month old baby strapped into her car seat in the back of the vehicle. Nearly 14 hours later fishermen discovered the overturned car in the river and called police. As police and firefighters arrived they made their way to the vehicle unsure if anyone were alive. All five of the three policemen and two firefighters at the scene of the car purportedly heard the words, "Help me, help me now," from inside of the vehicle accompanied with screaming. This fueled the men’s efforts in getting into the car quickly and discovering the baby and bringing her to safety. Unfortunately, Lynn had died in the crash and the 18 month old girl named Lily was unconscious yet alive despite being only inches from the freezing water wearing no gloves or hat. 

Despite many people claiming this is a feel good story this is a very sad story that the young mother perished and that her daughter will not be able to grow up with her. Was this ghostly voice an example of a crisis apparition? A crisis apparition is described as someone who is about to, going through, or just went through the dying process is able to communicate to someone through unknown means. Granted, this could also be pareidolia, the sound of rushing water or other ambient noise in the background that made the men feel as though they heard someone in the car. One question I had was that if these officers were wearing body cameras with sound, why couldn’t we at least hear that few moments of audio? Obviously, the discovery of the driver, Lynn Groesbeck, who can be partially seen in previously released video, would be a bit gruesome and insensitive to show. Days after the accident part of the video on the body cam was released, but on March 14th a full 11 minutes and 45 seconds including the moment where the voice was supposedly heard around the 1:58 mark was put on YouTube.  There was a lot of yelling, talking including female voices, radio chatter, sirens, cars, rushing water, and more going on during the rescue. The female who worked on the infant inside the ambulance was seen standing only a few feet away. This information might be enough to discredit the men’s claims. Lynn Groesbeck's autopsy revealed that she had been using heroin and was under the influence of Clonazepam, THC, morphine, codeine and hydromorphone. A small bag of marijuana and tramadol were also found in the vehicle. 

Why it's in the top ten: this was the largest viral story dealing with ghostly phenomena all year and despite the evidence of a bystander potentially being the source of the voice there still exists a strong possibility this was in fact a voice from beyond death. Why it's number one: Despite the tragic end to Lynn's life the focus has always been on the luck of the survival of Lily. This story will always be remembered as a miraculous effort for a mother to save her baby from death from beyond the grave and has inspired many people to believe in the possibility of life after death.

Honorable mentions: I am still mesmerized by the "Merman in Poland" video that popped up in late September. Even though it was one of the strangest things to appear in the paranormal news the story disappeared a week after it came out despite no one really finding out what truly was going on. The #UFOSA story of a series of green UFO sightings in South Africa on November 28th was an extremely viral story that turned out to be a viral hoax. I had a soft spot for this since I discovered one of the photographs was fake prior to it being released that it was a gimmick for an energy drink. Despite their viral strength neither of these stories made it in the top ten in a year where the stories were all fairly weak compared to past years. I'll explore the top three stories since 2008 when I began doing the Paranormal News Insider in a future blog post.

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