The Oak Island Money Pit – legend, hoax, or reality?

I recently wrote about the legend of the Oak Island Money Pit for Popular Mechanics (in the May/June issue) and the lore that has sustained the search for treasure for more than 200 years. (The complete article can be found here if you are having paywall issues.)

I didn’t intend to write a debunking article (and have no beef with the popular TV series) and I was not surprised to find out that the Money Pit is a pretty sensitive topic among believers. I’ve definitely had some spirited encounters with people from various Oak Island camps but have personally come to the conclusion that misinterpreted history and the area’s sinkhole-heavy geology means that there is almost certainly no buried treasure 😔.

This isn’t to say there isn’t a ton of interesting history on the island (and numerous historians have written some really compelling accounts of who has inhabited the island and why), and maybe some day we’ll see an announcement that billions in gold, proof Bacon was Shakespeare, or the Holy Grail has been pulled from the depths?

I was also invited to be on the Diggin’ Oak Island podcast to discuss this article and the broader Oak Island lore and treasure hunt. Admittedly I was expecting to be taken to task on the podcast but was somewhat relieved to have a much more low-key (though no less entertaining/educational) discussion on the topic.

The Mexican Mountain Town Feeding the International Crystal Market

Many people in Piedra Parada mine amethysts for sale to visitors and dealers.
In Piedra Parada, amethysts are everywhere.

My latest for Atlas Obscura explores the crystal trade going on in Piedra Parada, a tiny mountain town in Veracruz, Mexico. The local men have been mining amethyst from the surrounding mountains, a beautiful gem that is known around the world for its purple hues. The men face dangerous conditions and the occasional rip-off from unscrupulous international brokers but are proud of the economy they’ve created to help their family and communities. I was fortunate enough to visit this town and its mines a few times and learn about this process and the history of the region, as well as the various metaphysical uses of Veracruz amethyst.

Three articles for New Noise Magazine

Long time no update!

One of my longtime loves is extremely noisy and fast death metal and grindcore, and I semi-recently had the opportunity to write about some obscure but really interesting aspects of the extreme punk and metal underground for New Noise Magazine, as well as an article about an incredibly weird but deeply talented 80s new-wave group.

“An Homage to Dbeats in Goregrind: A History of what is Easily the Sickest Musick Imaginable” – An overview of why using a distinct punk beat in grindcore elevates the style to new heights of fun and brutality

“’I hope you enjoy my noise life’ – The Fast Times of James F. Tarr, international gorenoise, and Elephant Man Behind the Sun” – an account of the life of a troubled Canadian musician (RIP) and his deranged musical output

“Dog Police Unleashed: Revisiting an Obscure but Catchy New Wave Classic” – what happens when three jazz musicians start a novelty band called Dog Police? An insane music video and eventually a hilariously awful TV pilot starring a young Adam Sandler!

Discharge

Outrageous story about a legendary private eye with hooks for hands and the hunt for an American killer in Thailand

Armes and Mannequins

I’m very pleased to see my latest story for Narratively go live, and that’s because it is definitely a wild ride. Living in El Paso, I befriended a legendary private eye named Jay J. Armes, who recently turned 88 years old. He lost both of his hands in a childhood accident but used the metal prostheses that replaced them to his advantage as a world-famous private eye and head of The Investigators, his detective agency.

Armes has now been in the business for more than 60 years, and his career has been nothing but astonishing adventures. He has investigated all over the world, tracking down criminals, rescuing hostages, and retrieving jewels. The story for Narratively chronicles how he and his son tracked down an alleged American murderer in Thailand and how they convinced him to come back to the US. But it also takes a look at the life and times of Jay J. Armes and his son’s experience photographing bodies and infiltrating institutions when he was just a kid.

This story is adapted from my updated book about Armes and barely scratches the surface of just how incredible his life has been. Armes not only has an action figure in his honor but also has a storied career as an El Paso politician, where he put his uncompromising drive to work for his fellow El Pasoans.

At any rate, read on! If this is of interest, my should be forthcoming at some point. And if you need a private eye, definitely reach out to the Investigators. They aren’t cheap, but they are legendary.

Two Articles on Current Events

Below are two articles I wrote in response to recent events. Another article addressing rates of domestic violence committed by police officers and the lack of statistics available to study this awful phenomenon is forthcoming.

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Updating a conspiracy “as American as apple pie.”

The first article aims to contextualize the JFK assassination theories in today’s conspiracy landscape. An important disclaimer is that this article is not an endorsement of conspiracy theories, and certainly not of the noxious QAnon/Deep State insanity that has become an influential part of today’s political discourse. While it is obvious (and proven) that powerful people collude with each other for their own personal and financial benefit, that’s dramatically different than believing Hilary Clinton eats children. And that’s the point of this article – how does investigation into the very real machinations of government agencies that (directly or inadvertently) resulted in the death of a President get subsumed into the vortex of today’s alt-right disinformation hellscape? And what does this say about how we consume information and how we’ll do so in the future?

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The so-called “Umbrella Man” caught breaking windows quickly fled when confronted by activists who didn’t recognize him

The second takes a look at a suspected agent provocateur filmed smashing windows at an Autozone in Minnesota in the midst of the uprising following the murder of George Floyd. Widely-shared footage of this guy clearly indicates he was a plant of some kind, and the initial assumption was that the guy was an undercover police officer. My article takes a look at the legality of this kind of law enforcement tactic, though it recently came to light that the guy is a white supremacist implicated in similar clandestine actions at other demonstrations. My article is thus somewhat outdated, but the general ideas it explores are still worthwhile, since infiltration like this has been happening all over the place, has happened in the past, and will no doubt continue in the future.

Want to hear more about the Principality of Sealand?

Below is some media featuring yours truly talking about my new book Sealand: the True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and Its Eccentric Royal Family for when you are driving or operating power tools or pretending to work and reading a book isn’t the optimal way to get this information!

My appearance on the History Unplugged podcast with estimable and affable historian Scott Rank.

Talking once again with the brilliant Vick Mickunas on the long-running Book Nook.

Chatting it up for an entire hour (!) with WBAI’s Leonard Lopate in NYC.

A short convo with Narratively (where I am a staff writer) about the process of researching and writing this book.

And I make an appearance in a video about MicroCon 2019, in which micronationalist leaders from around North America (and a few from beyond) gather for a weekend of microdiplomacy:

MY BOOK ABOUT THE PRINCIPALITY OF SEALAND IS OUT NOW!!!!!!!!

Finally, the day has arrived! My second book “Sealand: the True Story of the World’s Most Stubborn Micronation and Its Eccentric Royal Family” is now officially out!

The book chronicles the remarkable history of the Principality of Sealand, a self-declared country built on an oil rig in the middle of the North Sea. Sealand has been sovereign for more than fifty years and has been host to an outrageous series of battles, schemes, and adventures. All of this is chronicled in my book, from the country’s s start as a pirate radio station to the trouble that can come when your country’s passports are bootlegged by international criminals. Sealand has gone on to inspire similar micronations the world over, and the book takes a look at this global subculture of would-be world leaders.

I will leave it to the advance reviews below to hype the book further, but please feel free to order the book and let me know what you think! An excerpt I published a while ago on Narratively can be found here.

Thank you to the Bates family and the longtime Sealanders for granting me such cool access and interviews, my agent Amanda Jain at BookEnds Literary, and Diversion Books for publishing this brilliant work of micronational art!

****

Sealand is a rollicking ride across a tumultuous and astoundingly improbable history. How did I not know about this? How can a heap of concrete and metal in the North Sea possibly be the newest and smallest country in the world? Prepare to be charmed and transfixed by Roy Bates, the swashbuckling, visionary Prince of Sealand and his ‘micro Royal Family’ who stave off sea invaders, cyber coups, and attempted governmental takeovers in the name of freedom. An unlikely, remarkable, riveting story.”―Buddy Levy, bestselling author of Labyrinth of Ice: The Triumphant and Tragic Greely Polar Expedition

“In Sealand, Dylan Taylor-Lehman offers a thoroughly researched, stranger-than-fiction account of a rogue principality a fraction the size of Buckingham Palace. With decades of outrageous shenanigans and unparalleled bravado on display, the story of the Bates family gives the term royalty a whole new meaning.”―Robert Jobson, Royal Editor for the London Evening Standard; and author of King Charles: The Man, The Monarch, and The Future of Britain

“Outrageously funny yet tender at its core, Sealand chronicles an oddball visionary’s quest to create a legacy that even kings and emperors might envy. The gifted Dylan Taylor-Lehman has blessed us with a book every bit as madcap and admirable as Roy Bates’s dream of a sovereign North Sea paradise.”―Brendan I. Koerner, author of The Skies Belong to Us and Now the Hell Will Start

Behold! The Glory that is Sealand!

The Pirates of the Highways – a look into the world of American semi-truck thievery

My latest for Narratively takes a look into the world of semi-truck thievery across the good ole’ USA. Though I of course can’t comprehensively explore every aspect of this kind of crime, I was able to go into some depth about the surprising cargo that is often stolen and how some of these thieves go about this business.

For better or worse, crime is always interesting and this is no exception.

“…[the investigative team] was already aware of [the thief], who authorities had been keeping an eye on since 2009. But they’d ramped up surveillance a year earlier, after his son had been arrested for stealing a trailer full of 39,000 pounds of Wrigley’s gum, valued at $175,000, from a shipping facility and attempting to drive it to Detroit, a heist that led to a 15-minute chase with a Michigan State Police officer, and culminated with the driver running from the cab and his co-conspirator attempting to hide in a field.”

Please read the article here!

On covering my first homicide

A UK-based true crime magazine called Foul Play debuted a few years ago and was described “zine seeks to satiate our fascination with real-life murders without resorting to sensationalism.” Foul Play was edited, designed, and published by Emma Hardy and Grace Harrison, and the pair put out three issues before apparently closing shop.

I had a piece published in the third issue, which came out in early 2019. The article discusses the first murder I covered as a reporter, which happened to be a double-homicide that occurred in Yellow Springs in January 2017. The crime was obviously extremely shocking and I found myself in the difficult and surreal position of being on the scene not long after it happened and trying to speak with law enforcement and distraught family members.

The article is written in first person (which I ordinarily really don’t like to do) and takes a look at what it was like to be there, to experience the family’s grief firsthand, and to be utterly stunned by a startling revelation that unfolded right in front of me. My deepest sympathies will always go out to the families involved for the unimaginable difficulties they had to face.

Foul Play‘s website is offline and the magazine doesn’t appear to be readaily available anymore, and so below you’ll find a link to download the entirety of issue 3. My article, entitled “Hot Off the Press,” starts on page 44. The entire magazine is beautifully laid out and has a lot of interesting content and it’s a shame that Foul Play was so short lived.

A 2018 profile of the magazine’s creators and editors appeared in Vice and can be found here.

Issue 3 of Foul Play can be downloaded here.

The World is Studded with Artificial Mountains

A few years ago, I traveled to Kingsport, Tennessee and came across a strange geologic feature in the middle of the city. It was Cement Hill, an angular hill covered in scraggly grass and gnarly thorns and inaccessible to pedestrians. I was taken by the surreal sight and was told it got its name because it was in fact made of material leftover from cement production in a nearby factory. It was amazing to me that something so seemingly geologic in scope was actually man-made and I wanted to see if there were more places like this.

I later found out that Cement Hill is not actually made of cement and instead got its name because cement factory employees used to live on the hill. But I did learn that there are actually tons of artificial mountains around the world, for better or worse, and I recently had an article published at Atlas Obscura that provides a brief overview of the whys and hows of the world’s artificial mountains.

Feel free to check the article out here, and please feel free to get in touch if you’d like to invite me on an excursion to one of these monuments to the anthropocene era!!