12 Weird Things That Have Washed Ashore

Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0
Davidd, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

From human appendages to rubber duckies and a giant eyeball, some very weird things have washed up on the world's shores.

1. A BAG OF SEVERED HUMAN HANDS

A fisherman near Khabarovsk, Siberia, was startled to discover a human hand poking out of the snow on an island in the Amur River on March 8, 2018. He soon discovered a total of 54 severed hands, which had somehow washed ashore in a bag at the popular fishing location. The authorities were quickly summoned, amid rumors of organized crime involvement and speculation about the "work of a vicious maniac," but the Investigative Committee of The Russian Federation soon told the populace not to worry. The hands likely came from a local forensics lab, the committee said, where they were kept as a form of identification and then improperly disposed. The committee promised a full "legal assessment."

2. LOTS OF LEGO BRICKS

Ever since 62 shipping containers full of 4.8 million LEGO pieces fell off a boat on February 13, 1997, pieces have been washing up on UK shores to surprise beachcombers. And they're not regular square bricks, either: Delightfully, many of the LEGOs in the container were nautically themed. It’s estimated that in the years since the spill, the pieces could have drifted over 62,000 miles—meaning they could be virtually anywhere in the ocean—but thus far finds have only been confirmed in parts of southern England, Wales, and one site in Ireland.

3. E.T.

When Margaret Wells was robbed in 2011 she lost one particularly irreplaceable item from her Hampshire, England home: a life-size E.T. replica made by her daughter as part of a stage makeup course. Several months later, a beach-goer in nearby Portsmouth saw E.T. floating in the surf—but didn’t realize what it was at first. The pedestrian called the police, fearing it was a body on the beach, but the police quickly realized it was a one-of-a-kind alien model.

“There's only one in the whole of England and that is mine,” Wells said. “I always knew E.T. would come home.”

4. LOVE LETTERS FROM WWII

Just a day after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the East Coast in 2012, Kathleen Mullen made an incredible discovery near the Jersey shore. A stack of 57 letters, bound with a pink ribbon, had washed ashore in the storm. Mullen took the letters home, dried them by the fire—the power was still out from the storm—and realized she had stumbled upon love letters written between Dorothy Fallon and Lynn Farnham between 1942 and 1947 while Lynn was in the military.

It’s unclear where the letters came from, but Mullen was determined to get them back to the couple. Through research online she was able to locate a niece, Shelly Farnham-Hilber, who lives in Virginia. Dorothy and Lynn had gotten married after the war and had two children. Lynn and the couple’s son are deceased and their daughter has lost touch with the family. But 91-year-old Dorothy was living in a nursing home in New Jersey.

"It's magical. You go, 'This can't be real,'" Farnham-Hilber told a local news station. "It's like a genealogical gold mine. It's just that moment that you think is lost forever and here is something. It's a gift."

5. A HARLEY-DAVIDSON

Ikuo Yokoyama lost his home and three family members in the devastating 2011 tsunami. So he probably hadn’t given much thought to the fact that he also lost his motorcycle—and everything else that was in the van that he was using as a storage shed—until it washed up on shore over a year later in British Columbia, more than 3000 miles away. Peter Mark stumbled upon the storage unit while exploring a remote beach on Graham Island. The bike was a little rusty, but after the story went public, a Harley-Davidson representative in Japan tracked down Yokoyama and offered to pay for it to be transported back to him and repaired to its former glory.

6. THE "ST. AUGUSTINE MONSTER"

Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
Tissue samples of the St. Augustine Monster at the National Museum of Natural History
National Museum of Natural History, Wikimedia // Public Domain

The St. Augustine Monster is one of the earliest examples of a globster—a delightful term referring to an unidentified animal mass that washes up on a beach and results in cryptozoologists speculating about sea monsters. This particular—and particularly large—carcass was discovered by a couple of young boys playing on Anastasia Island, Florida, in November 1896. The boys assumed it was a whale, but Dr. De Witt Webb, the founder of the St. Augustine Historical Society and Institute of Science, concluded that it was the remains of a giant octopus and sent photos and a specimen to the Smithsonian labeled as such. Over the next century-plus, various tests claimed to “prove” at one time or another that it was a whale or an octopus, depending on which test was run. Finally, in 2004, it was conclusively proven that the St. Augustine Monster was a whale all along—just like the two boys who discovered it had thought.

7. A GIANT EYEBALL

In 2012, a Florida man found an eyeball the size of a softball on Pompano Beach. In previous eras, this likely would have kicked off decades of sea monster speculation, but the eye was quickly handed over to wildlife officials, who easily identified it as belonging to a very, very large swordfish.

8. A LOT OF RUBBER DUCKS

A rubber ducky on the beach
poolie, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

Just like the LEGO pieces, these duckies were the victims of a shipping container accident that occurred in 1992. The buoyant bath toys have been drifting all over the world in the decades since, serving as unintentional educators about the ocean’s currents. Members of the "Friendly Floatees," a name given to these rubber ducks, have been discovered on the shores of Hawaii, Alaska, South America, Australia, the Pacific Northwest, and even the Arctic ice. Some 200 duckies are still circulating in the currents of the North Pacific Gyre, providing scientists with new information about what is now known as the Great Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch. They’ve even become the subject of a book called Moby-Duck.

9. NAVY TRAINING MINE

Beach-goers on Miami Beach got quite a scare in 2011 when they noticed a 5-foot-long mine had washed ashore. The police were called and the beach was evacuated, but the Navy quickly assured the public that it was simply an inert training mine that had somehow broken free of an offshore training site.

10. A HUNDRED LIVE WWII BOMBS

The nearly 100 World War II-era bombs that washed ashore in Hampshire in 2011, however, were very real and very dangerous. Some people speculated that the so-called Supermoon the previous week was responsible, possibly because it caused very low tides, while others speculated that fishing nets had pulled them up. A British Navy team blocked off the beach and detonated the bombs while they were submerged in high-tide.

11. WHALE EXCRETA WORTH UP TO $180,000

Ken Wilman’s dog Madge noticed the smelly yellow lump of something on the beach in Lancashire first. Initially, Wilman had no interest in it.

“It smelled horrible. I left it, came back home and looked it up on the internet,” Wilman told The Mirror. “When I saw how much it could be worth, I went back and grabbed it.

He had stumbled upon a 6-pound pile of ambergris, or “whale vomit,” worth up to $180,000. The waxy substance is produced in the intestines of sperm whales to protect their digestive tracts from sharp squid beaks. Despite its nickname, it’s likely excreted, rather than vomited, into the ocean, where it floats for untold years before occasionally washing up on shore. So why is the whale excrement worth so much? High-end European perfumeries use it as a “fixer” that allows the scents to stay on the skin for much longer. (It's also a historical ingredient in recipes, especially desserts.)

12. VAST QUANTITIES OF DRUGS

Bags of drugs washing up on beaches is fairly common. In fact, according to Galveston, Texas, police, packages similar to the 66-pound bundle of cocaine worth $3.5 million found on a local beach in May 2015 wash ashore once every couple of months. But what made this one unusual was that it was the sixth bundle of drugs discovered on the beach that week (four packages contained marijuana, and two contained cocaine). Police were unsure of the reason for the massive increase, but speculated that heavy storms had restricted access to the Houston Ship Channel, which led to increased scrutiny by the Coast Guard—and traffickers throwing illegal drugs overboard.

A version of this story originally ran in 2016.

When Skeleton Rocking Chairs and ‘Vampire Killing Kits’ Fooled People Into Thinking They Were Rare Historical Artifacts

A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
A vampire killing kit at Ripley's Believe It or Not! in San Francisco
Glen Bowman, Flickr // CC BY 2.0

In 2012, bizarre rocking chairs—usually dark brown, with various kinds of ornate flourishes, always in the shape of a skeleton—began popping up on sites across the internet. Gothic.org and io9 ran stories about them, and Facebook pages like Steampunk Tendencies soon followed. The chairs were sometimes described as modeled on 19th-century Russian examples—and other times described as 19th-century Russian items themselves.

The grotesque chairs were funny, but got even funnier in 2013 when someone appropriated a photo from an auction house and meme-ified it. They added a blurred effect and magnified the skeleton’s anguished, open-mouthed expression, making it seem as if it were screaming into the void—perhaps upon realizing that it must spend the rest of eternity as a rocking chair in some eccentric collector’s parlor. By early 2014, someone on 4chan had associated the meme with the words “Wake Me Up Inside (Can't Wake Up)” after lyrics from the 2003 song "Bring Me to Life" by rock band Evanescence. Then, in true internet fashion, people started adding their own text.

By then, another story had attached itself to the chairs. In 2009, the Lawrence Journal-World discussed the macabre furniture item in a column titled "Ghoulish pieces attract collectors," and suggested that the chair had something to do with a Masonic ritual.

So—aside from the joy of a good meme—what’s the deal? Was this chair used in some secret society's ceremony, or is it just a strange artifact made by some long-forgotten Russian woodworker?

A Macabre Fantasy

According to James Jackson, the answer is neither. Jackson—the president and CEO of Jackson’s Auctions in Cedar Falls, Iowa, and a specialist in Russian art—sold the chair that was featured in several of the early news stories.

He says most of these chairs were probably made in the '90s, but were designed to look older to fool buyers into forking over more money. “These are the type of things that are created in various markets to appeal to the eclectic, exotic tastes of a wannabe fine art consumer,” Jackson tells Mental Floss. “So the person making this chair—and the guy buying it and reselling it—they understand this brain very well.”

The precise origins of the chairs Jackson's sold are murky. A couple of the chairs were sold to a third-party seller called a consignor, who then resold them to Jackson’s Auctions. Jackson suspects they were probably made somewhere in Europe—probably at a workshop where the primary goal is to “make a buck.” That would explain why no artist or craftsman's name is ever attached to the chairs.

These “fantasy chairs” were initially thought to be rare, and some sellers may have benefited from the myths and stories surrounding their origin. Over the years, people started to see more and more of these chairs at auction, which contributed to their diminishing value. Jackson said his auction house sold one of the chairs for $2600 in 2008, but in 2012, the price dropped to $1500. At its lowest price point, a skeleton chair sold for $900 in Detroit, according to Jackson's database of different auction houses.

Artifacts of the Hyperreal

Jackson says the skeleton chairs remind him of the vampire slayer kits that were popular in the '90s, and continued to be sold throughout the 2000s (they still pop up on eBay and other online auctions from time to time). Wooden trunks—purportedly full of vampire-repelling tools from the 1800s such as wooden stakes, garlic, a crucifix, and sometimes pistols—used to command high prices at auction. Sotheby’s even sold one for $25,000 in 2011.

“It was BS,” Jackson says of the trunks, explaining that while they may have contained old tools, the pieces were assembled later for commercial purposes and given a phony backstory. “Whenever we see anything weird like that, it’s an automatic red flag. To the consumer, though, they want it to be some rare and unusual thing—and that’s not true.”

Jackson said one obvious sign that the slaying kits were inauthentic was that "they don’t show up in any literature prior to the 1990s, [and] something like that would have been written about somewhere.” In hindsight, Jackson thinks the whole scam was pretty comical. He said you had experts on TV doing careful analyses of the paper labels inside these kits, when in reality, all they had to do was use a magnifying glass to see that the letters were printed by a dot matrix.

"It’s like doing a metallurgic study on a brand new Mercedes-Benz," he said. “I didn’t have to get a microscope out and a black light and spend an hour fondling it. It’s common sense.”

Jonathan Ferguson, a curator at the UK-based National Museum of Arms and Armour, also debunked these hunting trunks. He wrote in a blog post, “Nowhere was there evidence to support real vampire slayers carting about one of these kits.”

Still, he wrote that they were somewhat valuable as “genuine artifacts of the Gothic fiction,” and rather than being seen as fakes (since there never was a Victorian original), should be seen as "'hyperreal' or invented artifacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props."

As for the Sotheby's kit that was snatched up for $25,000, its creation was also probably inspired by the popularity of Dracula (1897) and other late 19th century vampire lore, according to Dennis Harrington, head of Sotheby's European furniture department in New York City. Harrington notes that some of the pieces inside the kit are valuable in their own right.

"[The kit] was complete and did contain individual elements that have some intrinsic value themselves, like silver bullets and an ivory figure of Christ on the Cross (though we can no longer sell ivory items today) ..." Harrington tells Mental Floss. "The curiosity value would also have helped, and of course the golden rule of auctions is that any one lot is worth whatever someone is willing to pay for it on a particular day."

Likewise, the skeleton rocking chairs—despite not being antiques—certainly have their own unique appeal. “They’re cool, they’re neat. These are ‘man cave’ type things for the most part,” Jackson says. However, “They’re obviously not functional. You can’t sit in it comfortably.”

And what of the skeleton meme? Do the makers of these chairs know that their creation has been turned into an absurd internetism? Jackson, for his part, hadn’t heard anything about it. “I’m glad they made a joke out of [the chairs],” he said, “but I don’t know what meme means.”

Gas Leak at University of Canberra Library in Australia Revealed to Be Durian Fruit

iStock.com/dblight
iStock.com/dblight

On Friday, May 10, firefighters in the Australian Capital Territory received a concerning call: There was a possible gas leak in the University of Canberra library. After evacuating the building and conducting a thorough search, the team found the source of the toxic smell was actually a harmless durian, a Southeast Asian fruit that's infamous for is pungent odor, The Guardian reports.

Writers have been attempting to capture the durian's stench on paper for centuries. Bangkok-based food writer Bob Halliday said Durian smells like "a bunch of dead cats," and 19th-century journalist Bayard Taylor wrote, "To eat it seems to be the sacrifice of self-respect." It may smell like something that died, but Durian's distinct odor actually comes from special genes that release sulfur at a supercharged rate.

The stench apparently is also reminiscent of deadly gas. Emergency services searched the University of Canberra library and conducted "atmospheric monitoring" before tracing the reported gas leak to some fruit. The durian had been placed near an air vent on the building's second floor by an unidentified culprit. It's since been removed in a sealed bag and the library has reopened.

This marks the second time in recent memory that a durian fruit has inspired panic at an Australian university. Just over a year ago, the library at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology was evacuated following reports of a gas leak that also turned out to be a forgotten durian.

[h/t The Guardian]

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