10 Magnetic Hills, Gravity Roads, and Mystery Spots

If you've ever taken a road trip across America, you might be familiar with the hokey tourist attraction known as the mystery spot. Painted roadside signs often with prominently-displayed question marks advertise a local oddity you can pay a small admission price to explore—and maybe check out their gift shop, hay wagon ride, or zip line too.

Tourist traps that they may be, mystery spots date back to the Great Depression, extant pieces of Americana from a bygone era reliant on old-fashioned optical illusion to amaze and intrigue. The draw is the mystery, and the mystery is usually gravity, or the lack of it. Proprietors claim their mystery spots sit atop areas where the normal laws of physics don’t apply, and they invite you to experience the phenomena (usually created by rooms built on a slant) by walking up walls or witnessing water flow uphill.

Explore the science, myth, and kitsch of the mystery spot in these 10 sites around the world.


Location: Santa Cruz, California

One of the most famous mystery spots in the United States—and one of the best at selling their brand—this mystery spot found in the redwood forests outside Santa Cruz boasts a gravitational anomaly that, in reality, is a trick of perception. Mystery houses are essentially rooms or houses built on slants of at least 20 degrees, engineered so that a person standing in the space orients themselves to the slanted room—and not to ground. Visual cues counter to reality often help convince and disorient, so trees and windows are placed on a slant, and the supposed phenomena is demonstrated by balls rolling up the floor and chairs staying put halfway up a wall.


Location: St. Ignace, Michigan—Upper Peninsula

Mystery spots typically come with their own origin stories, and there seems to be a formula to the history, exemplified by the story told by the owners of the mystery spot at St. Ignace: “In the early 1950s, three surveyors named Clarence, Fred and McCray came from California to explore the Upper Peninsula. They stumbled across an area of land where their surveying equipment didn’t seem to work properly. For instance, no matter how many times they tried to level their tripod, through the use of a plum-bob or level, the plum-bob would always be drawn far to the east, even as the level was reading level.” Look out for tall tales of prospectors, lightheadedness, and instrument failure.


Location: Rapid City, South Dakota

The Cosmos Mystery Area varies the narrative behind its attraction slightly, saying it was discovered in 1952 by two college boys looking for a place to build a summer cabin. They decided to set up shop in an old house where they felt the most off balance. The gift shop at the Area sells “the famous crooked Cosmos shot glass.”


Location: Piercy, California

The Campbell Brothers of Confusion Hill add a dash of the mythical to their mystery spot’s lore with claims that the elusive (and extremely fictional) Chipalope (half chipmunk, half antelope) originated at Confusion Hill. According to the Campbells, there was a magical accident that combined two happy male and female antelope and chipmunk couples. Chester the First, as the male was called, gains self-awareness and, realizing how rare he is, decides to hide away from humans’ view—except perhaps on dewy morns at Confusion Hill.


Location: Ansted, West Virginia

While other mystery spots acknowledge they’re not really pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, the quaint Mystery Hole of Ansted—which features a gorilla statue on its roof, a Volkswagen Beetle sticking out of a wall, and a series of slanted underground rooms—admirably embraces its tourist trap roots and has no qualms building up the fantastic qualities of its attraction: “One lady said it changed her husband from an old grouch to a nice sweet person, and some have even complained that the admission price is too low and insisted on giving a tip … [Some] have gone away so bewildered that they've headed in the wrong direction and became lost. Very often keys get locked in the cars because the occupants are too anxious to see the MYSTERY HOLE.”

Whoever wrote the description clearly had a great time doing it, almost daring city folk to come by and just have a good time: “This MYSTERY HOLE thing seems to affect different people in different ways depending on whether they cling to the new style education or stray to the plain old C.H.S. (common horse sense) method. We have noticed that the highly educated folks do ask more questions than the lesser educated ones do. Whatever these unidentified effects may be, they are believed not to be a serious threat to those searching for fun and excitement.” Good thing, too.


Location: Gold Hill, Oregon

The Oregon Vortex—home to the House of Mystery that was once a mining company assay office and a curios shop—amps up the pseudo science behind its spot with an explanation that connects the Oregon Vortex to all vortices in the universe and alleges that its force is strongest when the moon is full. Gold Hill also makes the audacious accusation that the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot is a copy of the one at the Oregon Vortex.


Richard Elzey, Flickr

Location: Lake Wales, Florida

Spook Hill of Lake Wales, Florida, claims, according to local legend, that its gravity hill (an exterior optical illusion created by the land surrounding a road) was created by the ghost of either a huge gator or a Native American chief who fought each other in an epic battle that formed the lake at that spot.


Location: Jeju, South Korea

With the horizon obscured from view (making it impossible to gauge an accurate level), trees leaning toward sunlight, and the surrounding land actually going downhill, a slight downward slope can appear as an upward slope at a gravity hill. And that's just what's happening at Dokkaebi Road or Mysterious Road on South Korea’s Jeju Island. Tourists flock to the spot to put their cars in neutral and watch their vehicles roll “uphill.” (The opposite of a gravity hill is known as a “false flat.” Most noted by cyclists, a false flat appears level to the eye but reveals itself as a low-gradient incline.)


Google Street View, via Atlas Obscura

Location: Ariccia, Italy

The magnetic hill at Ariccia outside of Rome offers the same phenomena. Hills like these don’t necessarily come with an outlandish story, since the forces that trick the eye and defy our sense of equilibrium aren’t as visibly manufactured as the sideways-leaning mystery spots. It’s confirmed, however, by the CICAP Lazio (the "Italian Committee for the Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal" section of Rome), which conducted a scientific analysis of the spot in 2009, that the slight decline is actually a slight incline.


Location: Black Rock, Australia

The large red magnet sculpture on the side of a public dirt road in rural southern Australia indicates the location of this magnetic hill—one that legend says can trace its discovery all the way back to the 1930s when the site was known as Bruff’s Hill. Former farmer Murray Catford says an acquaintance driving his new motorcar in the area got a flat, put a stone in front of a wheel to prevent the car from rolling, and watched it roll uphill.

Bizarre New Species of Crabs and a Giant Sea Cockroach Discovered in Waters Off Indonesia
One known species of isopod, or "giant sea cockroach"
One known species of isopod, or "giant sea cockroach"

A crab with green googly eyes, another with "ears" resembling peanuts, and a species of giant sea cockroach are among the dozen new kinds of crustaceans discovered by scientists in the waters off Indonesia, Channel News Asia reports.

These finds are the result of a two-week expedition by Indonesian and Singaporean scientists with the South Java Deep Sea Biodiversity Expedition (SJADES 2018), which involved exploring deep waters in the Sunda Strait (the waterway separating the islands of Sumatra and Java in Southeast Asia) and the Indian Ocean. Using trawls, dredges, and other tools, researchers brought a huge variety of deep-sea life to the surface—some species for the very first time.

"The world down there is an alien world," Peter Ng, chief scientist of the expedition, told Channel News Asia. "You have waters that go down more than 2000 to 3000 meters [9800 feet], and we do not know … the animal life that's at the bottom."

The giant sea cockroach—technically a giant isopod, also nicknamed a Darth Vader isopod—is a new species in the genus Bathynomus, measuring almost a foot long and found more than 4000 feet deep. The isopods are occasionally seen on the ocean floor, where they scuttle around scavenging for dead fish and other animals. This marked the first time the genus has ever been recorded in Indonesia.

Another find is a spider crab nicknamed Big Ears, though it doesn't actually have ears—its peanut-shaped plates are used to protect the crab's eyes.

More than 800 species were collected during the expedition, accounting for 12,000 individual animals. Researchers say it will take up to two years to study all of them. In addition to the 12 species that are completely new to science, 40 were seen for the first time in Indonesia. Creatures that the scientists dubbed a chain-saw lobster, an ice cream cone worm, and a cock-eyed squid were among some of the rarer finds.

A "Chain-Saw Lobster"
Nicknamed the "Chain-Saw Lobster," this creature is a rare blind lobster, found only in the deep seas.

Researchers took to the giant sea cockroach quickly, with some of the crew members reportedly calling it “cute” and cradling it like a baby. Check out Channel News Asia Insider's video below for more insight into their creepy finds.

[h/t Channel News Asia]

The Mysterious Case of the Severed Feet in British Columbia

While walking on the beach, many people look out for a number of things: Shells, buried treasure, crabs, and dolphins among them. But if you’re on a beach in British Columbia, you might want to keep an eye out for something a little more sinister—about 15 severed feet have washed up on the shores there in the past few years. The latest was found on May 6, wedged in a mass of logs on Gabriola Island, according to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police.

The feet have been surprising unlucky British Columbians for over a decade. The first appeared back in 2007 on Jedediah Island; it was eventually matched to a deceased man whose family declined to provide additional information. Bizarre, but not particularly alarming—until another one showed up on Gabriola Island less than a month later. More feet followed, and though some were matched to missing persons, most remained anonymous (feet, unfortunately, don’t contain much identifying information). Instead, police focused on the fact that each foot was encased in a running shoe—though sizes, genders, and brands differed.

This seems like a real-life episode of The X-Files, but it turns out there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for the severed feet: They’re not really “severed,” which would indicate cutting or slicing, at all. According to scientists who tested the theory, the feet likely belong to suicide, drowning, or plane crash victims. It’s common for decomposing bodies to come apart at the joint, making it natural for the foot to come apart from the leg. But if that’s the case, wouldn’t hands be similarly susceptible to washing up on beaches? Nope, that’s where the shoes come in.

While the rest of the body naturally decomposes in water, feet are surprisingly well protected inside the rubber and fabric of a shoe. The soles can be pretty buoyant, and sometimes air pockets get trapped inside the shoe, making it float to the surface. Most of the “severed” feet have been clad in jogging shoes such as Nikes and Pumas, but at least one case involves a hiking boot. In that instance, the boot (and foot) was matched to a man who went missing while fishing more than 25 years ago. The most recent case also involves a hiking boot.

That leaves the question: Why British Columbia? According to Richard Thompson, an oceanographer with the federal Institute of Ocean Sciences, it’s connected to ocean current. “There’s a lot of recirculation in the region; we’re working here with a semi-enclosed basin. Fraser River, False Creek, Burrard Inlet—all those regions around there are somewhat semi-enclosed. The tidal currents and the winds can keep things that are floating recirculating in the system." Several feet have also been found further south, in Washington state, which shares a network of coastal waterways with British Columbia.

Others aren’t so quick to accept this scientific analysis, however. Criminal lawyer and crime author Michael Slade still wonders if a serial killer is afoot. "We also have to consider that this could be a serial killer," he said. "Somebody who right now is underneath the radar. That has to be on the table."


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