(Image: via YouTube; mysterious Plague Doctor video)
Assuming you know where to look, it’s no secret that you can find out practically anything on the internet. Out in cyberspace, someone somewhere has the answers you’re looking for. As a result, stumbling across those things that the online realm cannot answer is all the more frustrating, sometimes downright weird. The online realm reaches into almost every aspect of our daily lives, and there are questions that even the mighty Google can’t answer. This article delves into some of the internet’s strangest mysteries, and the lengths people will go to in an effort to uncover their meaning. From disappearing websites to unsettling videos and more, there’s no shortage of weirdness online.
What Happened to “The Crossing”?
The general consensus is that once something’s on the internet, it’s there forever. But that’s not always the case. Take the mysterious disappearance of a 34-part series exploring a long-forgotten tragedy. Kevin Vaughn stumbled across the story of 20 children killed when their school bus collided with a train. It had happened in his own state, and he was horrified to think he’d known nothing about it. That was 1961. In 2006 Vaughn decided to write a piece exploring how tragic effects had long-lasting impacts on the people and communities involved. In addition to the 34-part story, Vaughn’s editors built an entire website around the piece, and he was even nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.
Then, the website disappeared. It had included everything from Vaughn’s work to copies of forgotten photos and court transcripts, all made public with the intention of showing a community still reeling from Columbine how events like this impacted them. Then it was gone. Vaughn says that one day, his work just vanished from the web. Fortunately, he had a back-up. But the question of what caused the website to disappear in the first place remains a mystery, and one can’t help but wonder: how many other websites have simply vanished over time?
Radiohead’s Disappearing Website
In May of 2016, Radiohead fueled a massive amount of rumours when they disappeared from the internet. Not only was their website gone, but their Facebook page and Twitter account vanished, too. That’s no small feat. Anyone who’s tried to do the same knows how many hoops you need to jump through to delete just one of those things, much less all three.
Radiohead’s disappearing website gave rise to all manner of rumours, from a complete break-up of the band to the idea its marketing team was teasing merely a new album in a presumably ironic way. The entire thing was made even more suspicious by the disappearance of the band’s back catalogue from the likes of Spotify just a month earlier.
It turns out, however, that the disappearance of their songs was due to a change in ownership. Radiohead’s internet shenanigans ended with the reappearance of their website and social media presence, and an advertisement for the new album, Dead Air Space.
(Image: via Atlas Obscura)
On April 5, 2015, a new channel started posting bizarre videos to YouTube. It was called Unfavorable Semicircle, and before the account was suspended on February 25, 2016, someone had uploaded around 72,000 videos. (That’s an average rate of about one every 10 minutes.)
Some videos featured names followed by a number of random digits. Others were purely random. Most were only five to six seconds long, and some just seemed to be blank. The audio for some of the videos contained a man’s voice, speaking seemingly random strings of numbers and letters. Around 28,000 videos had names that started with BRILL, while others started with the symbol for Sagittarius. At least one video featured 11 hours of silence. Another was a voice saying the alphabet.
Redditors set up a group to try and get to the bottom of what the Unfavorable Semicircle was all about, but no one ever did. Theories abounded, ranging from it being part of an Alternate Reality Game to an abstract art piece. Some even suggested that Unfavorable Semicircle could be a top secret communication channel.
Grave Robbing for Morons
Back in the days before DVRs, the best we could hope for was VHS. Into the 1990s, homemade VHS movies and so-called fringe tapes were heavily traded, and this one, nicknamed “Grave Robbing for Morons”, was probably one of them. Since the advent of the internet, the video has been posted to YouTube and an appeal has gone out on Reddit for information about the person in the video is and whether or not it’s authentic. Either way, it’s disturbing. The video shows an unidentified man giving tips on grave robbing, how to be efficient at it, and what to do if you’re spotted.
So far, there’s no consensus on just what this video is. Some suggest that it’s exactly what it looks like, while others believe it was some sort of school project. Some even think it was meant for a larger (and darker) production. At the end of the video, the creepy man promises that Houdini’s grave is going to be the next target. Real, or not real?
Karin Catherine Waldegrave
Strange things were afoot in 2011, especially on the Facebook page of a Canadian woman named Karin Catherine Waldegrave. Her profile said that the London-born, PhD-holding multilingual lived in Canada. Then, things got weird.
Before the end of May, Waldegrave’s updates seemed pretty normal. Then, her posts not only became bizarrely nonsensical, but hundreds of updates and comments would be added to the original posts. As many as 700 replies might come in a 12-hour period, and absolutely none of them made sense. Pictures were also posted to the account, but each one was damaged in some way. Eventually, Waldegrave began talking about the CIA and the FBI, her updates becoming suspicious in tone before spiraling into one-sided dialogues that made no sense whatsoever.
Since some of the comments (even very long ones) were posted within seconds of each other, some have suggested that the page is “run” by a computer program that’s generating random text. Others believe there’s someone behind the page who’s using it for coded communications. When Redditors got hold of the internet mystery, they tracked Waldegrave down to a LinkedIn profile that seemed legitimate… But they could never find a concrete explanation.
The Plague Doctor Video
In 2015, the tech blog Gadgetzz posted a bizarre video which the site claimed to have received by mail. At a glance, it shows someone in a plague doctor’s mask, blinking some sort of coded message through a light in his glove. The internet loves this sort of thing, and the online community jumped at the opportunity to disect it piece by piece. Secret messages were found throughout the video’s audio and visual coding, and it just kept getting weirder.
Spectrogram analysis found more images hidden in the video, while further research found messages hidden in binary code, sounds hidden in different frequency layers, and more photos of a completely NSFW nature. The mystery got even weirder when someone stumbled across photos of the abandoned insane asylum in Poland where the video was filmed, and finally, it was linked to the YouTube account of one Parker Wright.
Not long after online sleuths managed to track down the right “Wright”, a second video was released. but why? And what does it mean? Have people sifted through all the layers of this internet mystery yet? No one’s quite sure.
This one has technically been solved (mostly), but it’s such a great story of how technology hasn’t changed us that much that we wanted to share it. In March 2014, Rutgers’ Zimmerli Art Museum hosted a particularly poignant exhibit. It featured 445 photographs, silver gelatin prints taken over the course of 30 years, spanning the Great Depression to the 1960s. In all the photos, a mysterious man looked directly into the camera and in most of them, he’s got the slightest hint of a smile. No one had knew who the man was, but everyone recognised what he was doing – taking selfies, decades before selfies were even a thing.
The internet mystery and the search for the unnamed man went viral. It was his nephew who finally recognised him. The man’s name was Franklyn Swantek, owner of Swantek Photo Service. Specifically, he sold photo booths. The nephew that recognised him, Tom Trelenberg, had nothing but fond memories of the man he described as the family’s fun-loving uncle. Suddenly, all the selfies made sense. It turned out that Franklyn was a trendsetter years ahead of his time.