When presented with evidence of the supernatural, we often find it blurry, anecdotal, or wholly lacking. But, then again, supernatural things are, by their very nature, shadowy and elusive. How then do we follow the history of things that appear so ephemeral, so detached from the physical traces of reality? Where should we begin?
From the March 18th, 2003 edition of The Western Star Dispatch, a weekly newspaper covering eastern Iowa.
“Somerville might be in a celebratory mood next summer if local business owners get their way. The Somerville town council is set to vote tonight on whether to authorize a new holiday based on the local attraction, the Mystery Hole. The Hole, reported by locals to be bottomless, has become a kind of tourist destination after being featured on the national radio program, The Midnight Hour.”
From the October 2nd, 2001 broadcast of The Midnight Hour, a weekly syndicated radio show focusing on paranormal topics. The show’s host, Phil Bart, interviewed a man named Lyle who claimed to know the location of a bottomless pit.
“Phil: Well, I’ve got Lyle on the line. Lyle has faxed us some information regarding a mysterious hole. Lyle from Iowa, you’re on The Hour.
Lyle: Hi, Phil. How ya doing?
Phil: Hey, Lyle. Now, I understand you have a weird hole on your property, is that right?
Lyle: Well, it ain’t exactly my property –
Phil: Oh, well, not exactly, right?
Lyle: – but it is a mysterious hole.
Phil: Now, tell us how you found this hole.
Lyle: Well, it’s always been out there. Everybody out here knows about it.
Phil: And you say that you dump stuff – junk and garbage – out there in the hole. You just throw it in?
Lyle: Yeah, everybody in these parts takes their junk out there and pitches it in. Been doing that for forty years now.
Phil: Now, you say you measured the hole?
Lyle: Well, I didn’t exactly measure –
Phil: Right, you put some line down there? Some fishing line?
Lyle: It’s the kind you use for sharks. My buddy lent me some.
Phil: You get a lot of sharks out there in Iowa, do you?
Lyle: Ha, ha. Not so much, Phil. My buddy used to live in Washington state and do some fishing there.
Phil: Ok, so how much line went down this hole?
Lyle: Well, near as I figure it, these lines come in spools of 5,000 feet, and I’ve gone through about fifteen of ‘em.
Phil: Wait, let’s do that math...
Lyle: It’s got to be a lot of miles...
Phil: That’s fifteen miles, I think.
Lyle: That’s pretty deep.
Phil: Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty deep.
Lyle: Sure is.
Phil: And everybody out there knows about it all this time? Like a local legend?
Lyle: Oh, yeah. And there’s the story of the guy who threw his dead dog down there...
Phil: Oh, really?
Lyle: Yeah, it died so he threw it down the hole.
Phil: Oh, really? What happened?
Lyle: Well, it came back. He said he was out hunting and he swears he seen his dog alive again.
Phil: There you have it folks. Bottomless hole resurrects the dead. Or turns them into zombies, at least.”
From a June 1st, 2010 post on Question the Answer, a blog that takes a critical and informed look at paranormal phenomena.
“When we talk about this sort of experience are we talking about entities that were once alive but are now dead? Or are we talking about a problem with time in the sense that entities from the past (or future?) are showing up in our time? Or are they, following Burke and his research, the result of what we might call cosmic accidents or quantum quirks, events that make something that is impossible suddenly possible.
There is little to base a theory on but let’s take a look at a relatively recent sighting in the US. A credible witness encounters a canine that, for all intents and purposes, is a ghost. It is a Black Dog of fabled British lore, the phantom creature that presages death and doom. But what do we make of it when it shows up among the cornfields of Iowa? Are we going to classify this as a ghostly encounter? The spirit of a dog returned? Or are we dealing with something else? Is there a connection to the vestigial rituals, as detailed by Holman, practiced by Iowa farmers?”
From “The Sacrifice of Land: Pre-Christian Practices in 20th-Century American Agriculture” published in the journal Anthropological Frontiers in 1988 by Dr. Franklin Holman.
“The most striking hints of a so-called non-Christian tradition come from the scant yet provocative evidence collected by Reinhart et al. in eastern Iowa. The anecdotal history suggests an offering of agricultural output ensured the next year’s crop in a familiar cycle of sacrifice and rebirth. Specifically in Iowa, this was accomplished annually by allowing bushels of corn to be thrown down an ominous hole that existed in the middle of the fields. This hole was said to be the abode of a creature or god, sacred to the Otoe natives, who had been displaced by European settlers and, like the Indians themselves, had to be managed in some way.”
From Logos, USA, an essay by the French philosopher Henri Benoit, published in the January 1992 issue of Riot Magazine.
“What can we offer to the pit? The pit is the center – must be the center – everything else must eventually end up inside. But what does not belong in the pit? What does not fill the pit? Is it nothing or everything that the pit lacks? The bottomless can only be filled with itself, but it does not know this, so it will not be filled. It is a chain of reference without end. The Americans swarmed this continent, utterly consuming the frontier, and they managed to erect the most magnificent, the most expensive culture in history: it cannot be filled, it has nothing but desire, it is a celestial Vegas light show, it is a black pit of formless nothing.”
From The Black Pit of Formless Nothing, a semi-legendary text reputed to be a lost book of Atlantis or the diary of a fallen Lucifer. Although most experts agree it was written in America in the mid-18th century, the author remains a mystery. A fragment of the text became the focus of a failed cult in the 1870s.
“All is formless and empty, not touched with hands, not beheld with eyes. The Pit calls to us and the Pit waits for us. We will live forever and forever in the Pit because the Pit is forever and forever. It will swallow what it cannot love. The White Man will go down with the Red Man to the infinite place of eternal rest. There the great gods slumber and dream of our faces, while the Pit’s keeper watches in silence.”
From “The Great Fire’s Legacy,” an article in the August 16th, 1883 edition of the Chicago Tribune.
“After the Great Fire left him destitute, Mr. Jeffrey, like many others, fled the city for the bucolic pursuits of the countryside. He settled among the fertile fields of Iowa and established himself in the farming business as the seasons dictated. Mr. Jeffreys was first made aware of the secret groupings during the harvest of 1874. ‘They was trying to get us to go to a meeting,’ Mr. Jeffreys reports. ‘I thought the fella was a union-man.’ Before he met a preacher and his soul was saved, Jeffreys spent four unspeakable years as an adept in the Ancient Order of the Unending Pit.”
From The Ballad of the Black Prairie, a western folk song thought to had been composed around 1830 but first published in 1850.
“Follow me not to the prairie, my love,
where my bones can never be found
where my spirit, where my spirit
walks deep under ground.
Follow me not to the prairie, my love,
for the devil that rides as the wind blows
will drag you under, will drag you under
where the prairie grass grows.
Follow me not to the prairie, my love,
for all of my grief and all my regrets,
cannot make a home, cannot make a home
where the western sun sets.”
From West Sets the Sun, a compilation of pioneer stories published in 1914.
“We crossed the big river in May of 1845. Little Hiram was terribly affright on account of the fierce storm clouds but Mother held him close. As the wagons came up on the Great Desert, we saw a lone figure silhouetted ‘gainst the sky. ‘An Indian,’ said Father and he and some men went to treat with him. Father returned in an agitated state but related that he had come to some kind of agreement with a very peculiar Indian. Father would tell us no more about the Indian or the bargain they had made. That night, the animals were terribly skittish, and we laid in the wagon as we listened to strange screams and moaning in the distance. Father said it was just a coyote, but I saw a set of glowing eyes – red like the fires of Hell – watching the wagon from the darkness.”
From The Life and Death of Red Coyote, an Indian, a biography of a Sioux warrior written by Chester Peterson and published in 1851.
“When the son of Two Eagles came to my village, many were afraid of the story he told us. His father was desperate and had gone hunting in the Black Land. Alone among the warriors of the village, I was not afraid to go with him to the Black Land. We made the hard journey, but we were too late to save Two Eagles. He had tamed the Black Land by giving himself to the Great Spirit of the Pit. He had gone down and he had died and then he came back.”
From Before the World: Archaic Myths of America, a linguistic reconstruction of what are thought to be the earliest American Indian myths published in 2010.
“When Agochook, the Great Spirit, returned to the Third World, he saw that his passing had left a great hole and that the hole had no place to begin and no place to end. So, Agochook, the Great Spirit, took one corner of the world in one hand and took another corner in his other hand and he picked up the world and twisted it until the hole began at the beginning and ended at the end. And Agochook, the Great Spirit, saw that the hole was in the center of the world and that parts of the world were now falling into the hole. Birds and rocks and trees fell into the hole and, as they did, the hole began to contain the world, and Agochook, the Great Spirit, saw that after everything in the world had fallen into the hole, then the hole would be the world and he was pleased.”