Oakville Blobs – Strange Goo from the Sky

The Stories

The term Fortean Phenomena—so-named for Charles Fort, an American journalist who collected reports of odd occurrences—describes a wide range of mysterious things and happenings including falling frogs and fish, ball lightning, UFOs, poltergeist activity, spontaneous human combustion and other strangeness.

What occurred in Oakville, Washington, in August of 1994 would certainly qualify as a Fortean event.

On August 7, 1994, Police Officer David Lacey was driving through Oakville, WA., with a friend who had joined him for a ride-along. It was 3 AM, raining, and something strange was happening as raindrops splatted on the windshield. Officer Lacey noticed long streaks forming across the glass as the wipers swept back and forth, reducing visibility. He stopped the cruiser and the two got out to see what was going on.

On the windshield were small sticky balls of clear goo, each smaller than a grain of rice. As the two men watched, the strange substance continued to rain down on their shoulders and surrounding area. Lacey donned a pair of latex gloves he kept in the car and gathered a bunch of small globs in his hand. Strangely, according to his account, the individual balls coalesced into a glob and oozed through his fingers.

Baffled by this bizarre stuff Lacey and his friend stopped at a gas station to clean off the windshield.

Mere hours later Lacey would fall ill, suffering with nausea, fever and vertigo. There is no report indicating that Lacey’s friend had developed any similar symptoms.

The strangeness wasn’t isolated to the policeman’s windshield though. Dotty Hearn was at the farm of her daughter, Sunny Barclift, and noticed the gelatinous material falling across the yard and upon the farmhouse porch. She initially assumed it was hail and touched some which had landed on a firewood storage box on her front porch. It was not hail.

Shortly after coming in contact with the substance Hearn began experiencing vertigo and nausea, and fever. She was hospitalized after collapsing on the bathroom floor, where her daughter had found her. Following a three day stay in the hospital for observation she was released. According to Sunny Barclift the doctor had diagnosed an inner ear infection but later commended that he didn’t know what caused her illness; that it was “some type of virus.”

Within days of the rain Barclift’s kitten died, and within a few weeks her mother’s dogs fell ill. Barclift states that she suffered nausea after the first rain, and developed severe bronchitis six weeks later. In all, according to a diary allegedly kept by Dotty Hearn, the strange rain of material occurred six times over the course of three weeks.

Another Oakville resident, Beverly Roberts, also claims to have encountered the mysterious substance. According to Roberts’ account she found a couple of gallons of the material by the roadside, a frog and raven lying dead nearby. Wearing rubber gloves she collected a sample, and days later fell ill just like Officer Lacey, Sunny Barclift and Dotty Hearn.

According to Roberts, the sample she collected remained in a tall jar in her yard until years later when she received a request from a Japanese television show and mailed the jar off to them. Some time later she received $100 and a DVD from them, but according to a report in The Daily Chronicle in 2014, she has yet to watch it. There isn’t any other information available about Beverly Roberts’ story.

What were the unexplained, minuscule blobs that fell across Oakville?

Suggestions proposed to explain the gelatinous rain include military bomb tests along the California coast that blasted bits of jellyfish high into the atmosphere where they later fell along with rain. Witnesses disagree, and Dotty Hearn indicated in an interview that the stuff had no smell as you would expect from rotting marine life.

While that explanation may sound plausible, it seems that it would take one heck of a blast to lob pulverized jellyfish far enough into the atmosphere to become part of the weather, a lot of jellyfish too. But would bits of jellyfish reform into a single gooey mass when collected, as Officer Lacey observed?

Another proposed explanation is that the material was lavatory waste jettisoned from an airliner far overhead. This theory doesn’t work. Airline toilets contain a blue-colored liquid disinfectant to treat onboard waste but the Oakville Blobs were clear and quite a bit smaller than chunks of airline dung. Also, pilots and crew members do not have onboard access to controls for offloading the stuff while in the air.

If some waste happens to leak during a flight the disinfectant will typically freeze on the fuselage at high altitudes and fall to the ground in the form of “blue ice” after it thaws enough to drop off, which usually happens on approach for landing. It wouldn’t necessarily sprinkle over wide area.

So if not jellyfish or airplane waste what were the mysterious tacky globs of sticky rice that landed across Oakville, WA?

Oakville Blobs in the Lab

According to Barclift a sample of the substance was taken to a lab by Dr. Little, who had examined her mother. An unknown lab technician reported that a human white blood cell was found in the sample. This finding was not confirmed by subsequent examinations.

Barclift then sent a sample to the Washington State Health lab where epidemiologist Mike McDowell examined it. McDowell states he discovered bacteria in the gelatinous material, specifically pseudomonas fluorescens and enterobacter collacae.

McDowell kept the sample for further studies and ultimately proposed that the material itself was a manmade matrix created as a carrier mechanism for the spread of bacteria or a virus. Allegedly, according to Sunny Barclift, soon after bringing this suspicion to the attention of his supervisor McDowell discovered that the sample had been taken from his lab. In subsequent conversations his supervisor advised him not to ask any more questions.

Further examination by one Mike Osweiler with the Washington State Department of Ecology apparently revealed little more than confirmation of bacteria, though his findings didn’t identify any particular strains.

Barclift had stored a sample of the substance in her freezer and a year after the strange rain events she brought that frozen sample to Tim Davis at Amtest Laboratories. In a rather inconclusive statement for Unsolved Mysteries (Season 9 Episode 6 which aired November 8,1996) Davis said, “I saw what I think was a eukaryotic cell…”

Davis did not confirm whether the cell he thought he saw was an animal, plant or fungal type of eukaryote.

In her personal letter presented online at medium.com, Sunny Barclift suggests that the substance that rained down over Oakville, Washington during those many weeks of August in 1994 was evidence of a military “continuity exercise” though I can find no instance where that phrase is used to describe military testing on civilians. The term is typically used in reference to continuity of government, and business continuity exercises.

In 1994 Oakville had a population of just around 500 people for its half square mile of land area. Some might consider this the perfect location for clandestine biological testing. Far fetched? Not really. While it may seem unimaginable that US military forces would do this, a test on Oakville wouldn’t be the first time biological testing was done on unsuspecting U.S. citizens.

In his book Clouds of Secrecy: The Army’s Germ Warfare Tests Over Populated Areas Dr. Leonard Cole details a seven day test conducted over San Francisco, beginning September 20 1950, in which a US Navy ship sprayed microbiological agents into the air, infusing the infamous San Francisco fog.

Is it possible that the strange rain which fell over Oakville was a military biological test? If it was, why would they use common bacteria? Both pseudomonas fluorescens and enterobacter collacae can be found in soil and in water. Enterobacter collacae can also be found in sewage and vegetables and is common gut flora of many humans and animals. These may have been contaminants already on the ground and not part of the true origin of the gelatinous glop.

So what was this stuff? If the last lab test is true, and there was in fact a eukaryotic cell present, is it possible that the stuff was was some kind of fungal spores that settled across the landscape, carried aloft and distributed by the wind, and deposited as a fine dust that went undetected until it rained. Witnesses may have seen the gelatinous form after the rain had fallen, and assumed the stuff was falling in that small blob-like form.

Maybe a dense airborne cloud of fine particles, containing the bacteria became caught up in the atmosphere and were held aloft, blending with precipitation and forming the strange gooey droplets that fell. Where these particles originated is anyone’s guess.

Why did people get sick? If enterobacter cloacae was present and somehow inhaled it can cause respiratory infections but typically only in people with a compromised immune system.

It is also possible that a severe virus was making its way through town coincidentally and the illnesses may not have been directly related to the rain at all. Remember Oakville is roughly half a square mile in area with a population of around 500 at the time.

The story of the Oakville Blobs is a true mystery that has gone unsolved for twenty-seven years. It’s hard to explain such a mysterious event, but there must be a logical explanation. We just haven’t discovered it yet.

Cronin, Melissa. “Mysterious goop falls out of the sky in suburban Michigan.” February 18, 2016. https://grist.org/living/mysterious-goop-falls-out-of-the-sky-in-suburban-michigan/

Henley, Nicole. “The Blobs That Fell from the Sky.” Medium.com, March 8, 2019. https://medium.com/marvels-of-history/the-mystery-blobs-that-fell-from-the-sky-325ac9c9541c

Pasanti, Dameon. “The Day Blobs Rained Down on Oakville.” August 9, 2014. The Daily Chronicle. http://www.chronline.com/news/the-day-blobs-rained-down-on-oakville/article_55db01d2-1f96-11e4-8f58-001a4bcf887a.html

Paulson, Tom. “STRANGE PHENOMENON; Mystery Blobs Rain on Oakville; What Are They and Where Do They Come from, Residents Ask, Authorities Are Clueless.” The Lewiston Tribune. Seattle Post-Intelligencer, August 19, 1994.

Unsolved Mysteries Television Series. Season 9, Episode 6. Air date: November 8,1996. https://youtu.be/4tni2wQmvtA

Blue Ice (Aviation), http:/wikipedia.com/wiki/Blue_ice_(aviation)

Strange Monolith Spotted by Helicopter Crew in Utah

I’ll admit I caught the web-sleuth bug after reading about the intriguing find by the big horn sheep counting crew in Utah. I began poking around on Google Earth and trying to narrow down a location. Spent way too much time on it to be honest. I even went back in time using FlightRadar24 and found a helicopter flight path that meandered around just southwest of Arches National Park the morning of Monday the 16th. After a couple of hours poking around my eyes started to dry up in their sockets so I had to stop. My wife was having fun watching her Sherlock Holmes scour the satellite imagery.

The next day we’d learn that I wasn’t so far off in my choice of search location. Soon after this story broke, Reddit users began combing the digital desert, narrowing down the flight path and discovering the so-called monolith a little farther south than my search area, closer to Dead Horse State Park.

A keen Redditer, after looking back through past Google imagery, noticed that the object first appeared on satellite images in October of 2016. That rules out John McCracken, whom I mentioned in my original writeup on this topic. McCracken passed away in 2011. Maybe it’s a tribute.

Apparently the area has been used for filming, most recently for the show Westworld, which actually used the area of Dead Horse National Park in 2016, the same year the monolith appeared on satellite images. Maybe some of the crew were having a little fun with extra set materials.

The mystery continues. I’ll report back as I learn more.

The Original Story:
Members of the public safety department were in a helicopter, aloft over the remote high desert of Utah, assisting wildlife resource officers count big horn sheep when one of the crew spotted something strange. There, poking out of the red sandy landscape below, was a tall silvery monument of some kind.

Circling around, the pilot maneuvered the chopper back to the location and set down nearby so they could take a closer look. The crew made the precarious hike down into the canyon to examine the strange metal thing standing alone amid eons of eroded sandstone like some strange beacon from another world.

Maybe, like the monolith found by prehistoric hominids in Stanley Kubrick’s 2002: A Space Odyssey, the gleaming object found in this remote area of Utah heralds an impending change in the development and evolution of humankind.

Or maybe it’s art. The pilot of the chopper speculated that it could be the work of a new age artist. One suggestion is that it is a piece by the late minimalist artist John McCracken who is known for creating such sculptures using various mediums including plywood, fiberglass, polyester resin, polished stainless steel and bronze.

Metallic monolith found in remote Utah canyon, Nov 2020

As the crew walked around the object, which stands roughly twelve feet high, they determined it was securely “planted” into the earth. Photos that the Utah Department of Public Safety Aero Bureau posted on Instagram soon after it was found show that the object is made of metal with fasteners spaced at regular intervals along the edge, likely used to hold the panels of the three-sided form together.

Without some serious examination and investigation it would be difficult to determine when the object was placed in it’s current location, or by whom. It’s likely that it was transported clandestinely to the spot and assembled on site.

While it is fairly certain that the object came to its current resting place at the hands of an unknown visitor in an unidentified flying object, there is little doubt that the visitor is a creative human being. Regardless of the details, this secretly placed work of art does what it is intended to do: wonderfully shrouded in it’s own mystery, it kindles the imagination.

The Philadelphia Experiment

October, Rocktober, Shocktober… Schlocktober. Whatever kind of -tober you call it, it’s that time of month. The wind turns cold, dead leaves start swirling around in the streets, Home Depot shuffles out their halloween decor. Wait, that was last month, this month they set up all of the Christmas displays.

I can recall a time when Home Depot sold nothing but serious equipment, tools and materials for electricians, plumbers, construction and landscraping professionals. Now Home Depot, et al., are just department stores with lame, jumbo Halloween decorations and plastic Christmas trees, who also happen to stock building materials. And people think the paranormal is weird….

But I digress. It’s October! It’s almost Halloween! It’s that time of year when our minds drift to the supernatural and spooky, the creepy and macabre (the “r” is generally silent there by the way). So, what zany out of this world event didn’t happen this month in unexplained mystery history? I’ve got just the thing…

The Philadelphia Experiment
That’s right, didn’t happen, so stop watching all of those dopey “documentaries” that claim this nonsense is real and get on with the true meaning of the season: fun for fun-sake, bunk for bunk-sake. There doesn’t have to be anything real about any of it, it’s just fun fodder for fertile imaginations.

Now, how do we know that the Philadelphia Experiment didn’t happen? Easy, it’s called “Occam’s Razor.” In short Occam’s Razor is a reasoning tool which can be summed up like this: the simplest explanation is likely the correct one. Write that down.

The following is based on information easily digested at Wikipedia.org. See the main article at that website for any potential references. They did the research, I’m just summarizing.

The Philadelphia Experiment was first proposed in letters received by Morris K. Jessup, a writer on the UFO phenomenon who mostly earned a living as an auto parts salesman and photographer. Though he had a masters degree in astronomy he never persued that field any further than beginning work on and ultimately abandoning his doctorate.

The letters were written by a Carlos Miguel Allende, who also referred to himself as Carl M. Allen in other correspondence to Jessup. The mystery letter sender’s real name was in fact Carl Meredith Allen. Allen was a strange fellow with a very active imagination and just maybe a screw or two loose.

In these letters Allen claimed to have witnessed an experiment which occurred in October of 1943, at the Naval Shipyard in Philadeplphia, involving U.S. Navy ship USS Eldridge, in which the ship was made invisible with some kind of humongous electromagnetic field. Or something like that. After reappearing it was subsequently revealed, somehow to someone, that while invisible the ship had made a short jaunt to to New York and even encountered some aliens along the way.

Sounds fun, except for the part where, upon allegedly reappearing in Philly after its alleged vanishing, some of the crew were allegedly found physically blended with parts of the ship. Not just stuck half way into a wall, but literally part of the wall.

That’s an incredibly fantastical tale, so… Insert decades of bunky nonsense here, regurgitated and revised by countless television shows, documentaries, newspaper articles, books, magazines, websites, forums, podcasts and on and on…

Jessup considered Allen a whack-job, and for good reason: generally speaking Allen was a whack-job. We have it on first-hand account by Robert Goerman, a freelance reporter who has written on various topics in the paranormal camp. During his research into the persona of Carl M. Allen, Goerman found that the truth was closer than he expected. Turns out he was actually acquainted with Allen’s immediate family, though he didn’t know it until he mentioned his research to them during a casual conversation.

It was revealed that Carl M. Allen was literally disturbed and a “creative loner.” Read Goerman’s report on the matter at his website.

So, SLICE… Occam’s Razor cuts a huge chunk of bunk from the story of the Philadelphia Experiment and we come to the more logical, and practical, explanation that Carl Meredith Allen perpetrated a hoax with his letters to Jessup regarding the alleged vanishing of the USS Eldridge in 1943.

The truth is usually right under our noses, but all too often—more like all the time when it comes to the paranormal and “unexplained”—a simmering soup of speculation and stubborn beliefs among dedicated fans of these mysteries creates a sloppy glop of claims and fantastic ideas that obscure the truth, distract and mislead.

But why let the truth stand in the way of a good story?

Siberian Craters Evidence of Hollow Earth

Scientists have discovered four new craters in the Siberian Yamal Peninsula in northern Russia. The current theory is that methane gas is being released from the thick permafrost, which is melting due to global warming.

Ha! We all know that global warming is a joke, no one is going to make me give up my f*cking Bronco!

But back to the story… Continue reading “Siberian Craters Evidence of Hollow Earth”

Mysterious Hum Heard in Eastern PA

My first experience with this strange, low frequency hum was sometime back in 2001 in New Jersey. I was in my first home, alone, sitting up in bed one night reading a book. It was very quiet, and I started noticing a very low droning noise. And I mean a very low hum not some ominous trumpeting sounds from the sky. This was a low, persistent sound.

Someone posting on a forum I visited while researching the hum described it like a tractor tailer climbing a hill in low gear and never reaching the top. That’s the most accurate description in my opinion, just a continuous motoring sound.

Similar mysterious hums have been reported by people around the world, “the Taos hum” in New Mexico for example, and other places.

The sound I heard was so low and monotonous, unordinary, that I assumed there must be something going on with my ears. I tried the usual pressure relief trick, holding my nose and creating a slight pressure to “pop” my ears, but the sound persisted, so I began making deliberate noises to see how the hum would be affected.

If anyone was watching they would have thought I was nuts. I’m sitting there in bed with a book on my lap blurting out calls of nothing in particular, “HAP! HOOOO! PSHHHH!” And making throat clearing noises. After each noise the hum would promptly return.

I spent some time looking into it, but didn’t give it too much further thought and more or less forgot about it. Since then I have noticed the hum periodically, and not just in New Jersey. I heard it while on vacation in North Carolina last year. That time my wife was beside me in bed and I asked if she had heard it too. She claimed not.

We’re living in Southeastern Pennsylvania now, and the most recent occurrence of the hum was just last night in bed, and this time my wife did hear it!

I had just switched off the light and we were laying there in the silent darkness. A few moments went by and I said, “I hear the hum again.” Then I went on to reproduce the pitch I was hearing in my head by humming a low tone.

She said, “I hear it too.”

To clarify I said, “not the hum I just made, but something else…”

She replied, “I heard it before you even said anything.”

I was ecstatic, “You did?! You heard THE HUM?! Can you hear it now?”

We were quiet for a moment and, just as the hum returned to my attention, she said, “Yep, there it is. The same low sound like you just made. Sounds like a truck on the highway.”

I said, “Yeah, but if it’s a truck on the highway it would have driven off by now. This keeps going.”

She agreed. We discussed the sound for a few minutes, between silent listening, and eventually drifted off to sleep.

This morning I came down to my studio to work. I’m a musician and was preparing to work on some recording. While I waited for my computer to boot, a relatively quiet Mac Mini, I heard the hum. That was about 9:30 this morning, May 19, 2014.

Low Frequency HumI had a cardioid vocal microphone set up so I decided to record the silent room and see if I could hear the hum in the subsequent recording. After recording for one minute I analyzed the recording with an EQ set up on the audio track. I increased the gain 20dB, cut all frequencies above 200Hz then, while the sound was playing, swept a very narrow band pass slowly from 20Hz up to hunt for the most resonant frequencies.

Tones were present at 60Hz, 90Hz, 120Hz and 180Hz, the strongest of which was at 120Hz and the second strongest at 60Hz. Based on these frequencies the origin in this case could be electrical, however the frequencies were not present in a recording with the microphone input off, so they are not originating in the equipment.

The HVAC system is off, so the only motors running in the house are a radon pump in the attic, the refrigerator and a small impeller pump and air bubbler on the fish tank. The fridge does not run constantly, the fish tank pumps are relatively quiet…

Oh crap, I think I know what the hum is: 3.5 inch Hard Drive in an external USB enclosure (metal housing), sitting on my wooden desktop. Have to test that theory later this evening when my wife is home. But to be sure, I just lifted the drive off of the desk and the hum went away :)

UPDATE: I tested the theory last night. The hum was still present, two floors up with the computer and hard drive off! The hum we are hearing is not caused by vibrations of the hard drive resonating on the desk. It’s something else. Our investigation is ongoing…

For more information on “the Hum” check these resources:

The Unexplained Files – Leave the Bunk Alone

Carl Kolchak - The Night StalkerAs I said in my last post, we bounced back and forth between The Unexplained files and slightly better TV, Restaurant Impossible, and spent most of the time on the latter. Nothing new on The Unexplained Files, same bunk different day.

Why bother complaining? There is a reason I run this site. A reason I tend to read books and watch TV and movies about monsters, UFOs and strange mysteries in general: it’s fun sometimes. I’m not above admitting an attraction to this stuff. It’s been an interest of mine for a long, long time, and I like it. Tales of the unexplained are entertaining, and sometimes I watch bunk TV even if it’s just to toss wisecrack commentary at the screen during shows like The Unexplained Files.

Maybe somewhere in the back of my mind I wish some of it were true, but all of these things emerge from human imagination and our evolutionary heritage. The thrill we get from tales of the unknown is psychological. There is a reason the phrase “spine tingling” exists; humans love adventure and mystery. Stories and spooky legends turn on our imagination and excite us.

What makes it all a farce is the people coming forward with their “evidence” like “doctor” Phyllis Canion. She has a stuffed mangy dog she’s touting as an unknown predator, and the frozen corpse of a dead something we’re never given a clear shot of. Her comment? “I don’t know what it is, do you?”

Maybe we’d be able to figure it out if the damn cameraman were allowed to get a good shot, but no, we’re not allowed to really look at the “evidence” for ourselves, but should we? Should we bother to investigate? Should we play Kolchak or Fox Mulder? Why? Let’s just enjoy the entertainment and leave it alone.

Shows like this actually detract from the wonder of the entertaining and enduring “mysteries” like Bigfoot, UFOs, ghosts and other wonderful strangeness. It all started with stories and legends.

None of this stuff is true, but it’s fun. Tell the stories, enjoy the mysteries and the “what if” factor, enjoy the thrills and the scares. But don’t try to explain it, don’t ruin the beauty of legend and lore as it exists in our culture.

If we look at it for what it is, and explore the mysteries as a way to entertain ourselves, that’s fine. But don’t try to make it real.

The Unexplained FIles on Science Channel

The Unexplained Files premiers on Sci tonight and I plan to watch, but I will also find something else worthwhile and keep my finger on the [return] button to flick back to “good” TV if (when) it gets too stupid. If there is any good TV to flick back to, that is.

I expect a flimsy rehash of the standard “unexplained” fare and suspect it will include scant presentation of any real facts with plenty of attention drawn to complete speculation and nonsense. It is, after all, what the general population (who actually watch this stuff) are looking for.

We don’t want the truth, we want entertainment! I can understand that, I like it too, that’s why I run this damn website, but at some point you would think the producers or broadcasters would at least try to edumacate the general paranormal public about what real science understands regarding these “mysteries.”

Easier said than done I guess. First, people who want to believe nonsense will ignore any legitimate explanation anyway, happens all the time. Second, people who want to believe nonsense will ignore any legitimate explanation anyway, happens all the time.

Turd, the networks won’t get any decent ratings so they have to deliver what the audience wants.

Image of Frederick Valentich and news article about his disappearanceAll kidding aside, the premier episode will feature two stories. The first, “Valentich,” is a rehashing of the disappearance of pilot Frederick Valentich, who vanished without a trace under mysterious circumstances over Bass Strait in Australia.

The mysterious transmission recorded between Valentich and the Melbourne Flight Service Unit reveals some strangeness which tweaks the ears of any UFO buff. Valentich described a strange, shiny metal object “orbiting” overhead. On the recording he stated “it is hovering and it’s not an aircraft.”

This last transmission was followed by strange metallic sounds before contact with his plane was lost. Official investigation has failed to explain the sounds (but they could be the result of a crashing plane), and though no wreckage was discovered it may be assumed that his plane crashed in the sea and was swept away before finally sinking.

According to his father Valentich had an interest in UFOs. He also may have been a bit paranoid, and perhaps was fantasy prone. Not the best combo for a pilot. Of course, that is complete speculation on my part.

Dead, stuffed mangy Texas Blue Lacy dogNext in the premier is “Texas Blue Dogs.” Not sure how the powers-that-be at Sci determined this as part of the lead episode but it sounds down right scary as hell to me. I’ve heard of Texas Hot Weiners but Texas Blue Dogs?

Oh I won’t speculate, but for all we know it’s some crazy hybrid alien-Chupacabra creature running around, I mean, we can’t disprove that right? And there’s a “doctor” on the episode with a full size mounted one of these things. It has crazy blue glass eyes, so it must be for real!

Dr. Phyllis Canion is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine. In short, a quack. She’s probably on TV to promote her name (and thereby her website, when anyone does a google search, as we do these days), and she may actually convert some visits to sales if enough nonsense-believing dopes pop by. It could happen, that’s why I run this damn website. But at least I’m not a quack.

She also touts her professionally stuffed and sinisterly posed, dead, malnourished or mangy Blue Lacy dog as an example of mysterious, unknown creatures who may be mutilating her chickens and terrorizing other ranchers in Texas.

I mean, let’s not look too closely at these things, we don’t really want to know what the truth is, we just want to be reminded that maybe, just maybe… things are not as they seem. That’s entertainment.

Mysterious Sounds: The Hum

The mystery of The Hum. The first reports of mysterious, monotonous droning noises began in the 1940s and 50s, but the most well known case was the Bristol Hum, heard by about 800 people in Bristol, England in 1979. Scotland followed suit with reports of a strange hum in the 1980s, then Taos, New Mexico put the U.S. on the Hum map.

Apparently as much as 2% of people in “Hum prone” areas, known as “sufferers,” are plagued by The Hum. They claim to be troubled by a persistent humming noise that has been described by some sufferers as a truck driving up hill in low gear, never reaching the top. A low frequency resonance.

But what could The Hum be?

A 2003 study by consultant Geoff Leventhall, an expert in acoustics and president of The Institute of Acoustics, states:

The Hum is the name given to a low frequency noise which is causing persistent complaints, but often cannot be traced to a single, or any, source. If a source is located, the problem moves into the category of engineering noise control and is no longer “the Hum”, although there may be a long period between first complaint and final solution.

Is the Hum the result of a social effect or suggestion? Leventhall’s study explains,

The Hum is widespread, affecting scattered individuals, but periodically a Hum focus arises where there are multiple complaints within a town or area. There has been the Bristol Hum (England), Largs Hum (Scotland), Copenhagen Hum (Denmark), Vancouver Hum (Canada), Taos Hum (New Mexico USA), Kokomo Hum (Indiana USA) etc. A feature of these Hums is that they have been publicised in local and national press, so gathering a momentum which otherwise might not have occurred. The concepts of memetics are applicable here.

Memes, a term coined by Richard Dawkins in his book The Selfish Gene, are ideas, behaviors or styles that spread through a culture person to person. Wikipedia explains memes well, “A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena.”

If an individual’s experience is not corroborated by others in the immediate area at the time, or detected with equipment and subsequently it may be subjective, specific to the individual, and could possibly be previously undetected effects of tinnitus, or otoacoustic emissions, noticed after the individual was made aware of the phenomenon through exposure to a meme, through the media or hearsay.

Possible explanations for The Hum include tinnitus, spontaneous otoacoustic emissions (SOE, sounds generated by the ears themselves), and infrasound created by nearby machinery, industrial processes, highway traffic, gas lines, or natural sources, including colliding ocean waves.

In the case of tinnitus and SOE, the specific sound would not be detectable by equipment or anyone else, only known to the subject.

According to an article on NBC News, “Generally, the Hum is only heard indoors, and it’s louder at night than during the day.” The article goes on to state, “It’s also more common in rural or suburban environments; reports of a hum are rare in urban areas.”

This would hold true for internal or external causes of The Hum, since the humming is faint enough to be masked by some ambient noise near the subject.

This author has actually experienced The Hum, but it seems to follow me around, and is intermittent, so it may be the effect of low frequency tinnitus brought on by either muscle tension in the neck or sinus pressure associated with seasonal allergies.

Other Mysterious Cases of The Hum
Whatever the cause it is a strange effect, especially at night, when things are quite. And especially in colder months when we close our windows. The Hum takes on an ominous quality, and it’s easy to imagine some clandestine scenario like massive machinery tunneling its way through the earth, digging subterranean research facilities, secret infrasound guidance systems for submarines, or maybe something stranger.

The McCalla Hum, for example. In 2011, residents of McCalla, Alabama, woke to a strange noise described by some as distant sirens, helicopters or locusts. They could not pinpoint a source, for when they walked in a direction which seemed to be its origin, the sound would then appear to come from behind them.

Strange indeed, but Samford University biology professor, Lawrence J. Davenport, Ph.D., insists that what the residents of McCalla heard were 13 year cicadas.

What other natural phenomena might explain The Hum?

A Review of Published Research on Low Frequency Noise and its Effects
The Hum – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Sourcing the Taos Hum
NBC News
Infrasound Laboratory