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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Fortean / Oddball News: The Baboon Boy, Stonehenge Bodies and Hotel Death Ray

Lucas the 'Baboon Boy'

dispatch - The best scientists in the world may have long ago written off the Bathurst “baboon boy” as a hoax but more than 60 years after he died, there are still a handful of people alive who cling to the belief he was a real-life Tarzan.

“It is fascinating for those of us that knew Lucas the Baboon Boy to still hear people writing him off as bulls**t,” 81-year-old retired farmer Gordon Arnold said.

As a child, Arnold would grab his catapult and hunt birds with “Luke” – who he claims “would wring their necks, pull out a few feathers and eat them raw” – in the Trappes Valley area 70 years ago.

“I was always convinced the story of Lucas the baboon boy was true.”

Arnold said Lucas had scars all over his body, including a massive one across his face, apparently from when he tried to steal ostrich eggs with the baboon troop. “He also said he broke his leg when he fell off a krantz stealing honey with the baboons.”

South Africa’s own Tarzan boy made headlines in the Dispatch and all over the world between 1928 and 1938, and there was even talk of making a Hollywood movie . But it all fell apart when the esteemed American Journal of Psychology (AJP) labelled the story a hoax in 1940.

According to a Dispatch story on a paper by internationally renowned Wits University anatomy professor Raymond Dart to a science congress in East London in 1939, the story of Lucas was “the most strongly certified case” of a feral child .

But Dart revised his findings less than a year later when he told the AJP he now considered the story an elaborate attempt to “exploit” and cash in on a “low grade imbecile”.

In the 1953 book Assegai over the Hills, by Grahamstown author FC Metrowich, news of Lucas’ death in Settler’s Hospital in 1948 “created only a faint stir of excitement in the South African press”.

“Yet there was a time this primitive, uneducated K****r achieved worldwide notoriety,” he wrote.

In the book, a copy of which is at the Cory Library at Rhodes University, a young Xhosa baby was “kidnapped” by baboons when his mother left him under a bush while she tilled a field.

Legend has it that several years later, in 1900, a young boy was captured by police after he was spotted running with a troop of baboons near Bathurst and taken to the Grahamstown Mental Hospital.

But no records of the feral boy existed at the hospital. Subsequent interviews with officials revealed although a young boy called Lucas was found and admitted to the hospital at the time, he came from “Burghersdorp” – miles away from where the baboon boy was allegedly found near the Fish River.

It was only after he was taken in by Bathurst blacksmith George H Smith in 1903 that the baboon boy story took root. He lived with the Smiths for more than 40 years.

A treasure trove of photographs and press clippings detailing the controversial “baboon boy” are housed at Grahamstown’s Albany Museum and Cory Library, which both allowed the Dispatch access to the archives.

Norman Clayton, who went to school with Smith’s son Eric 80 years ago, told how he used to see Lucas every day on his way to school at nearby Thornhill Farm. The retired farmer, 89, said Lucas “did not talk much” and was “a bit backward”.

“Lucas used to act like a baboon … he would run on all fours.”

Although academics scoff at claims that Lucas was raised by baboons, Clayton said locals always believed it. “We never questioned it … he ran around like a baboon.”

Eric Smith died earlier this year. His widow, “Aunt Aggie”, never met the “baboon boy”, but she heard all about him during their 59 years of marriage. “Some people say it is hooey, but I don’t think so. Eric always said it was true.”

Another retired farmer recalled Lucas riding a horse with no tack. “Boet, he used to ride around bareback … he would use his feet to steer the horse.”

But US historian Professor Roger Levine, who teaches modern South African and African history at Sewanee: University of the South, Tennessee, is not convinced Lucas ever lived with baboons. Levine did a “bunch of work on Lucas” when he was in Cape Town 10 years ago that featured on National Geographic’s Is it Real TV series for an episode on “wild” children. “ I argue that the way he was presented to the world reveals a lot about white racial attitudes.”

Levine, born in Johannesburg and educated at Boston and Yale universities, is certain the story was a hoax designed to cash in on a person who was “slow or mentally retarded”. “My take on it is that he exhibited a certain set of behaviour that Smith saw and said ‘I can say he grew up that way’ – and then perhaps he coached Lucas on how to answer certain questions.” Calling the “white settlers gullible”, Levine said: “I think it’s to do with how whites at the time hoped to view Africans … almost like wish fulfilment.”


Las Vegas Hotel 'Death Ray' Burning Guests

myfoxla - A new hotel on the Las Vegas strip is so hot that it is burning guests.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the south-facing tower of the curving Vdara Hotel at CityCenter is reflecting the sun's rays and directing them at the pool area, melting plastic and causing hot areas. Hotel pool employees are calling it the "Vdara death ray."

A spokesman for Vdara owner MGM Resorts International is using the term "hot spot" or "solar convergence" and said designers are working with staff to find solutions.

Solar convergence is when the sun's heat is amplified off a curved building and creates areas of increased heat. The heat at the hotel pool was strong enough that the metal parts of some chairs were too hot to touch, AOL News found on a visit Monday.

Chicago attorney Bill Pintas, who owns a condo in the $8.5 billion, six-skyscraper development, which opened in December, told the news site that he experienced the intense heat after returning to his chair after a swim.

"Within 30 seconds, the back of my legs and back were burning, he said. My first thought was, 'They destroyed the ozone layer!"

ABC News reported that the heat has also melted plastic.

The Review-Journal said designers had worried about such an issue and tried to solve it by using a high-tech film on the south-facing glass panes. MGM spokesman Gordon Absher said more than 70 percent of the sun's reflected rays are scattered but acknowledged that is not enough.

Pintas, a personal injury attorney, told AOL News that he believes there is a liability issue.

"It's just a matter of time before someone's going to be very badly hurt," he said.

Absher said other Las Vegas resorts with glass facades have had similar problems.


Another Chef Ramsay 'Goner'

nypost - A New Jersey restaurateur once featured on Gordon Ramsay's "Kitchen Nightmares" -- and told by the TV chef that his debt-ridden eatery was "about to swim down the Hudson" -- was eerily found floating in the river after jumping off the George Washington Bridge.

Joseph Cerniglia, the 39-year-old owner of Campania in Fair Lawn, is the second chef to commit suicide after appearing on one of Ramsay's high-heat, reality-cooking series.

Cerniglia -- once the executive chef at Manhattan's famed Gallagher's Steak House -- had been deeply in debt when his Italian eatery was featured in the first season of "Kitchen Nightmares" in 2007.

During the series, foul-mouthed celebrity foodie Ramsay would verbally bash down-on-their-luck restaurateurs in hopes of getting them back on track.

"Your business is about to f - - king swim down the Hudson," the brash Brit berated Cerniglia, a married dad of three who lived in Pompton Lakes.

Ramsay fumed about the eatery's huge portions, lousy food quality, poor service and the sophomoric antics of the kitchen staff.

"Why did you become a chef-owner if you haven't a clue how to run a business?" Ramsay railed at Cerniglia.

Cerniglia conceded that "Campania definitely has its share of problems, big problems."

He noted that the once-popular restaurant had fallen into desperate straits.

"I'm financially in trouble -- the debt of the restaurant alone is overwhelming. My personal debt -- wife, kids mortgage -- that's a lot of debt," he moaned on the show.

"I owe my purveyors about $80,000 right now in cold, hard cash . . . I can't see us going on another year."

Cerniglia's wife, Melissa, sobbed during the show, "People like us put everything on the line for a dream, and I just want to see him have the time to succeed.

"If this business fails, we will lose everything."

Cerniglia's business managed to survive after Ramsay made a series of changes and held a grand reopening.

In fact, patrons yesterday said the eatery had been thriving.

"The place is really doing well -- the parking lot is packed on weekends," said a woman who works at the tanning salon next door.

Another salon worker, Evelina Grzymala, 22, said Cerniglia was grateful to Ramsey for helping him turn his business around.

"[Cerniglia] said Ramsey was intense but that he turned out to be a nice guy, that in the end, he helped him out," Grzymala recalled.

"I don't believe Joe's gone," she said sadly. "I saw him here last week, and he was on his cellphone, waving and walking by, like he always did."

Cerniglia killed himself Friday afternoon. Authorities said a motorist called 911 after seeing a man standing on the George Washington Bridge just before 1 p.m. His body was later recovered from the river.

Cerniglia's family posted a message on his Facebook page saying they wanted "to thank all of the friends that have sent their condolences" -- and asked that financial donations be sent in lieu of flowers to support his widow and their three sons, Evan, Michael and Nicholas.

In a statement issued this morning, Ramsay said, “I was fortunate to spend time with Joe during the first season of 'Kitchen Nightmares.' Joe was a brilliant chef, and our thoughts go out to his family, friends and staff.”

The first person to star in a Ramsay show and then kill herself was chef Rachel Brown.

Brown, 41, competed on Ramsay's "Hell's Kitchen" -- a series pitting aspiring chefs against each other -- in 2006.

She had been eliminated on the fifth episode, but returned to the series for the finale to help chef Heather West nab the top prize.

Brown shot herself to death in her family's Dallas home a year later.


Another Genius

metro - One man has proved people will do almost anything for money, after a leaked mugshot has shown him with the name of a radio station tattooed on his forehead. David Jonathan Winkelman was listening to the hard rock station KORB with his stepbrother Richard Goddard back in the year 2000, when the presenter announced anyone willing to permanently etch the logo of the station on their forehead would be in for a six-figure sum.

The gullible pair, who hail from Iowa in the US, upon hearing the offer, paid a visit to the local tattoo parlour and emerged a short while later with Quad City Rocker and 93 Rock etched on their faces. They then went on to hear the most disappointing news of their lives, when staff at the radio station informed the brothers that the competition had in fact been a practical joke – and their six-figure payout would never materialise.

Winkelman has now found that his mistake has been plastered all over the internet, after a mugshot taken when he was arrested on a misdemeanour charge found its way online.

Following the incident, both Winkelman and Goddard tried to sue the station, claiming that it had intended to permanently mark its listeners so they 'could be publicly scorned and ridiculed for their greed and lack of common good sense'. Both cases were eventually dismissed. With tattoo removal often costing thousands of pounds and taking several months, it looks like the pair will have to put up with the funny looks for a bit longer.


New Stonehenge Mystery

cbsnews - A wealthy young teenager buried near Britain's mysterious Stonehenge monument came from the Mediterranean hundreds of miles away, scientists said Wednesday, proof of the site's importance as a travel destination in prehistoric times.

The teen - dubbed "The Boy with the Amber Necklace" because he was unearthed with a cluster of amber beads around his neck - is one of several sets of foreign remains found around the ancient ring of imposing stones, whose exact purpose remains unknown.

The British Geological Survey's Jane Evans said that the find, radiocarbon dated to 1,550 B.C., "highlights the diversity of people who came to Stonehenge from across Europe," a statement backed by Bournemouth University's Timothy Darvill, a Stonehenge scholar uninvolved with the discovery.

"The find adds considerable weight to the idea that people traveled long distances to visit Stonehenge, which must therefore have had a big reputation as a cult center," Darvill said in an e-mail Wednesday. "Long distance travel was certainly more common at this time than we generally think."

The skeleton, thought to be that of a 14- or 15-year-old, was unearthed about two miles (3 kilometers) southeast of Stonehenge, in southern England.

Clues to the adolescent's foreign origins could be found in the necklace, which isn't a recognized British type. But he was traced to the area around the Mediterranean Sea by a technique known as isotope analysis, which in this case measured the ratio of strontium and oxygen isotopes in his tooth enamel.

Different regions have different mixes of elements in their drinking water, for example, and some of those are absorbed into a person's tooth enamel as he or she grows up. Analysis of the isotopes of oxygen and strontium carried in the enamel can give scientists a good but rather general idea of where a person was raised.

The teen, whose necklace suggests he came from a rich family, is one of several long-distance travelers found near Stonehenge. The "Amesbury Archer," so-called because of the stone arrowheads he was found with, was buried three miles (5 kilometers) from Stonehenge but is thought to have come from the Alpine foothills of central Europe. The "Boscombe Bowmen," also found nearby, are thought to have come from Wales or possibly Brittany.

It isn't clear precisely what drew these people to Stonehenge, a site which has existed in various forms for some 5,000 years. It clearly had an important ceremonial function, and the area around it is dotted with the remains of prehistoric monuments and tombs. Some say it was at the center of a sun-worshipping culture or that it served as a kind of astronomical calendar.

Others, like Darvill, also say it might have been an important healing site, drawing pilgrims from across Europe like a prehistoric version of Lourdes.

Fortean / Oddball News: The Baboon Boy, Stonehenge Bodies and Hotel Death Ray