5 Conspiracy Theories Surrounding the Denver Airport

Michael Smith/Getty Images
Michael Smith/Getty Images

On February 28, 1995, the Denver International Airport opened its doors and its runways to the general public after falling over a year behind schedule and spending a reported $2 billion more than its original budget had dictated. 

The massive new airport didn’t just take up lots of time and money—it also took up a lot of space: two decades later, it’s still the largest airport in the United States by area (53 square miles) with the longest public use runway available in the country (runway 16R/34L is 16,000 feet long—approximately three miles). DIA replaced Denver’s old Stapleton International Airport, which was plagued by problems (runways too close together, a general lack of space for necessary expansion), and its creation helped meet some basic needs that Stapleton simply couldn’t. Denver needed more room to serve the various airlines that had made—and wanted to make—the Mile High City a hub of operations, and DIA did just that. 

That all sounds normal enough, right? A city needed a new airport, and it got one, even though it took a lot more money and time than originally planned, as so often happens with large-scale public works (although there is some debate as to who actually funded the airport, but we’ll get to that). But for the last 20 years, people have wondered if DIA—giant, expensive, strange DIA—is home to something far more sinister ... like a conspiracy. Or a lot of conspiracies.

1. The Runway Shape

Although one of the underlying themes of the various conspiracy theories regarding DIA holds that Stapleton was a fine airport and didn’t need to be replaced, there is one inarguable point: the runways at Stapleton were not smartly laid out. The parallel runways were too close together for safe landing in bad weather, which happened around 150 days a year and cut the number of arrivals an hour from 80 to 36. DIA doesn’t have the same problem, but it does have something far more nefarious: a shape that many people have noticed looks curiously like a swastika, at least from the air. Taken on its own, such a shape could be brushed off as being just a really terrible piece of planning, but combined with everything else, it all looks very odd indeed. 

2. The Markings

The airport bears a series of “strange” markings on its floors that some people believe symbolize a new strain of hepatitis that could be used in biological warfare. In reality, most of the symbols are taken from Navajo language or are pulled from the periodic table of elements.

3. The Dedication Marker

There is one very weird marker that’s hard to ignore: a dedication marker and capstone that’s been placed over a time capsule (which supposedly includes a credit card, Colorado flag, and DIA opening day newspapers, among many other things) that is set to be opened in 2094. The symbols on the marker are associated with the Freemasons, a charitable organization that is often subject to their own conspiracy theories. The marker also mentions the “New World Airport Commission,” an organization that doesn’t actually exist (or does it? our brains are spinning!) but appears to be taking credit for building the entire airport. However, the contributors listed as part of the so-called NWAC, including an architecture firm and a metal company, do exist. And they just make buildings and metals. Well, probably.

4. and 5. The Tunnels and the Underground Bunker

The airport is home to a number of tunnels, including a tram that goes between concourses and a failed automated baggage system. That all sounds normal enough, but there is definitely something weird about that automated baggage system—mainly, that it cost a lot of money and then never actually worked. The system, which failed pretty spectacularly when it was first tested and just never got better, was one of the reasons for DIA's delayed opening. By 2005, most of the airport’s concourses had abandoned it totally, making both its bloated price and long delays feel like even more of a failure—or at least a really weird way to cover up the building of tunnels. 

But where do the tunnels go? Perhaps to some kind of underground bunker? Most of the people who believe in the various conspiracy theories regarding DIA seem to think that the airport is actually the headquarters for something far nastier than just an airport—like the New World Order or our own American government. This idea might sound pretty wild—just because the place is big? just because of all that weird stuff in the airport?—but there is something very strange to back it up: buried buildings. 

As the story goes, when DIA was first being built, five massive buildings were built somehow incorrectly. Instead of being blown up or otherwise dismantled, they were buried. Although theorists say that a construction worker ultimately blew the whistle on this very weird practice, finding his original testimony on the subject is almost impossible. 

BONUS: The Horse Statue and the Weird Murals

Conspiracy theories aside, it’s hard to deny the weirdness of DIA’s unofficial mascot—a massive horse statue called “Blue Mustang” that has already killed at least one man. At 32 feet tall and 9000 pounds (it’s made out of fiberglass), “Blue Mustang” is huge and imposing, and its glowing red eyes don’t help matters. This thing is giant and really scary—and it killed the man who made it. Really. Artist Luis Jimenez died in 2006 when a piece of the sculpture’s head broke off and severed an artery in his leg. 

Leo Tanguma’s two murals, which take up wide swathes of wallspace in DIA’s baggage claim, might have some nice names—they are called “Children of the World Dream of Peace” and “In Peace and Harmony with Nature,” respectively—but their actual content is terrifying. Death-masked soldiers stalk children with guns, animals are dead and kept under glass, and the entire world looks to have been destroyed. As if being at the airport isn’t bad enough. 

To his credit, the narrative of Tanguma’s murals ends on a happy note—with all that peace and harmony stuff—and the artist himself has said, “I have children sleeping amid the debris of war and this warmonger is killing the dove of peace, but the kids are dreaming of something better in the future and their little dream goes behind the general and continues behind this group of people, and the kids are dreaming that [peace] will happen someday. See how the little dream becomes something really beautiful, that someday the nations of the world will abandon war and come together.” Still, the last place anyone wants to see depictions of death and destruction in an airport. 

12 Intriguing Facts About the Intestines

When we talk about the belly, gut, or bowels, what we're really talking about are the intestines—long, hollow, coiled tubes that comprise a major part of the digestive tract, running from the stomach to the anus. The intestines begin with the small intestine, divided into three parts whimsically named the duodenum, jejunum, and ileum, which absorb most of the nutrients from what we eat and drink. Food then moves into the large intestine, or colon, which absorbs water from the digested food and expels it into the rectum. That's when sensitive nerves in your rectum create the sensation of needing to poop.

These organs can be the source of intestinal pain, such as in irritable bowel syndrome, but they can also support microbes that are beneficial to your overall health. Here are some more facts about your intestines.

1. The intestines were named by medieval anatomists.

Medieval anatomists had a pretty good understanding of the physiology of the gut, and are the ones who gave the intestinal sections their names, which are still used today in modern anatomy. When they weren't moralizing about the organs, they got metaphorical about them. In 1535, the Spanish doctor Andrés Laguna noted that because the intestines "carry the chyle and all the excrement through the entire region of the stomach as if through the Ocean Sea," they could be likened to "those tall ships which as soon as they have crossed the ocean come to Rouen with their cargoes on their way to Paris but transfer their cargoes at Rouen into small boats for the last stage of the journey up the Seine."

2. Leonardo da Vinci believed the intestines helped you breathe.

Leonardo mistakenly believed the digestive system aided respiratory function. In 1490, he wrote in his unpublished notebooks, "The compressed intestines with the condensed air which is generated in them, thrust the diaphragm upwards; the diaphragm compresses the lungs and expresses the air." While that isn't anatomically accurate, it is true that the opening of the lungs is helped by the relaxation of stomach muscles, which does draw down the diaphragm.

3. Your intestines could cover two tennis courts ...

Your intestines take up a whole lot of square footage inside you. "The surface area of the intestines, if laid out flat, would cover two tennis courts," Colby Zaph, a professor of immunology in the department of biochemistry and molecular biology at Melbourne's Monash University, tells Mental Floss. The small intestine alone is about 20 feet long, and the large intestine about 5 feet long.

4. ... and they're pretty athletic.

The process of moving food through your intestines requires a wave-like pattern of muscular action, known as peristalsis, which you can see in action during surgery in this YouTube video.

5. Your intestines can fold like a telescope—but that's not something you want to happen.

Intussusception is the name of a condition where a part of your intestine folds in on itself, usually between the lower part of the small intestine and the beginning of the large intestine. It often presents as severe intestinal pain and requires immediate medical attention. It's very rare, and in children may be related to a viral infection. In adults, it's more commonly a symptom of an abnormal growth or polyp.

6. Intestines are very discriminating.

"The intestines have to discriminate between good things—food, water, vitamins, good bacteria—and bad things, such as infectious organisms like viruses, parasites and bad bacteria," Zaph says. Researchers don't entirely know how the intestines do this. Zaph says that while your intestines are designed to keep dangerous bacteria contained, infectious microbes can sometimes penetrate your immune system through your intestines.

7. The small intestine is covered in "fingers" ...

The lining of the small intestine is blanketed in tiny finger-like protrusions known as villi. These villi are then covered in even tinier protrusions called microvilli, which help capture food particles to absorb nutrients, and move food on to the large intestine.

8. ... And you can't live without it.

Your small intestine "is the sole point of food and water absorption," Zaph says. Without it, "you'd have to be fed through the blood."

9. The intestines house your microbiome. 

The microbiome is made up of all kinds of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, fungi, and protozoans, "and probably used to include worm parasites too," says Zaph. So in a way, he adds, "we are constantly infected with something, but it [can be] helpful, not harmful."

10. Intestines are sensitive to change.

Zaph says that many factors change the composition of the microbiome, including antibiotics, foods we eat, stress, and infections. But in general, most people's microbiomes return to a stable state after these events. "The microbiome composition is different between people and affected by diseases. But we still don't know whether the different microbiomes cause disease, or are a result in the development of disease," he says.

11. Transferring bacteria from one gut to another can transfer disease—or maybe cure it.

"Studies in mice show that transplanting microbes from obese mice can transfer obesity to thin mice," Zaph says. But transplanting microbes from healthy people into sick people can be a powerful treatment for some intestinal infections, like that of the bacteria Clostridium difficile, he adds. Research is pouring out on how the microbiome affects various diseases, including multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, and even autism.

12. The microbes in your intestines might influence how you respond to medical treatments.

Some people don't respond to cancer drugs as effectively as others, Zaph says. "One reason is that different microbiomes can metabolize the drugs differently." This has huge ramifications for chemotherapy and new cancer treatments called checkpoint inhibitors. As scientists learn more about how different bacteria metabolize drugs, they could possibly improve how effective existing cancer treatments are.

15 Unique Illnesses You Can Only Come Down With in German

iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages
iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

The German language is so perfectly suited for these syndromes, coming down with them in any other language just won’t do.

1. Kevinismus

At some point in the last couple of decades, parents in Germany started coming down with Kevinismus—a strange propensity to give their kids wholly un-German, American-sounding names like Justin, Mandy, Dennis, Cindy, and Kevin. Kids with these names reportedly tend to be less successful in school and in life, although some researchers have suggested this could be due to a combination of teachers’ prejudices toward the names and the lower social status of parents who choose names like Kevin.

2. Föhnkrankheit

Föhn is the name for a specific wind that cools air as it draws up one side of a mountain, and then warms it as it compresses coming down the other side. These winds are believed to cause headaches and other feelings of illness. Many a 19th century German lady took to her fainting couch with a cold compress, suffering from Föhnkrankheit.

3. Kreislaufzusammenbruch

Kreislaufzusammenbruch, or “circulatory collapse,” sounds deathly serious, but it’s used quite commonly in Germany to mean something like “feeling woozy” or “I don’t think I can come into work today.”

4. Hörsturz

Hörsturz refers to a sudden loss of hearing, which in Germany is apparently frequently caused by stress. Strangely, while every German knows at least five people who have had a bout of Hörsturz, it is practically unheard of anywhere else.

5. Frühjahrsmüdigkeit

Frühjahrsmüdigkeit or “early year tiredness” can be translated as “spring fatigue.” Is it from the change in the weather? Changing sunlight patterns? Hormone imbalance? Allergies? As afflictions go, Frühjahrsmüdigkeit is much less fun than our “spring fever,” which is instead associated with increased vim, vigor, pep, and randiness.

6. Fernweh

Fernweh is the opposite of homesickness. It is the longing for travel, or getting out there beyond the horizon, or what you might call wanderlust.

7. Putzfimmel

Putzen means “to clean” and Fimmel is a mania or obsession. Putzfimmel is an obsession with cleaning. It is not unheard of outside of Germany, but elsewhere it is less culturally embedded and less fun to say.

8. Werthersfieber

An old-fashioned type of miserable lovesickness that was named “Werther’s fever” for the hero of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther. Poor young Werther suffers for the love of a peasant girl who is already married. Death is his only way out. A generation of sensitive young men brought made Werthersfieber quite fashionable in the late 18th century.

9. Ostalgie

Ostalgie is nostalgia for the old way of life in East Germany (ost means East). If you miss your old Trabant and those weekly visits from the secret police, you may have Ostalgie.

10. Zeitkrankheit

Zeitkrankheit is “time sickness” or “illness of the times.” It’s a general term for whatever the damaging mindset or preoccupations of a certain era are.

11. Weltschmerz

Weltschmerz or “world pain,” is a sadness brought on by a realization that the world cannot be the way you wish it would be. It’s more emotional than pessimism, and more painful than ennui.

12. Ichschmerz

Ichschmerz is like Weltschmerz, but it is dissatisfaction with the self rather than the world. Which is probably what Weltschmerz really boils down to most of the time.

13. Lebensmüdigkeit

Lebensmüdigkeit translates as despair or world-weariness, but it also more literally means “life tiredness.” When someone does something stupidly dangerous, you might sarcastically ask, “What are you doing? Are you lebensmüde?!”

14. Zivilisationskrankheit

Zivilisationskrankheit, or “civilization sickness” is a problem caused by living in the modern world. Stress, obesity, eating disorders, carpal tunnel syndrome, and diseases like type 2 diabetes are all examples.

15. Torschlusspanik

Torschlusspanik or “gate closing panic” is the anxiety-inducing awareness that as time goes on, life’s opportunities just keep getting fewer and fewer and there’s no way to know which ones you should be taking before they close forever. It’s a Zivilisationskrankheit that may result in Weltschmerz, Ichschmerz, or Lebensmüdigkeit.

This list first ran in 2015.

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