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!!

The Greatest Political Shitshow That Ever Was

Bribery! Impeachment! Drug smuggling! Gambling! Judges getting drunk in the chambers! The Florida Supreme Court scandals of the 1970s make today’s political circus look tame by comparison. Art by Justin Klanke.

My latest piece for Narratively explores the wild circumstances of the Florida Supreme Court in the 1970s, in which five of the seven justices were facing some kind of intense legal pressure, impeachment, and disbarment. One had to take a sanity test to prove he was competent enough to keep his position and another later became a drug runner and disappeared to avoid prosecution.

It’s obviously a timely piece given the madness surrounding the US’s resident dickhead at the moment but is also a perennial reminder that power most likely will only corrupt!

Please feel free to check out this ridiculous story here.

A retrospective on the time a mountaintop solar observatory was mysteriously closed by the FBI

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A year ago I was working as a reporter for the Alamogordo Daily News and we got a call that a remote mountaintop observatory had suddenly been evacuated, apparently by the FBI. I went up there to try to figure out what was going on, and by the time I came back down, the internet had exploded with wild theories as to what exactly was going on. I admit I was swept up in the speculation, but it quickly became apparent how maddeningly incorrect almost all of the self-assured conspiracy theorists were about basic aspects of the situation, which in turn called into question the legitimacy of anything they were saying. Still, it was a pretty wild situation and the ultimate answer as to what caused the evacuation left more questions than it answered.

I wrote a piece on the whole situation one year later, and though I’m woefully late on posting this link, it can be viewed here at Narratively.

I’ve since received a brief email from the FBI saying only “The matter about which you inquire was investigative in nature, and Justice Department agencies generally do not comment on investigative matters. The FBI therefore cannot respond to your inquiry other than to state that the investigation concluded without the filing of criminal charges.” While I’m grateful for the response, other sources say this isn’t entirely accurate and they are still waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of what comes next for the person allegedly behind the crime discussed in the above story.

I’ll continue to look into this strange saga, not indulging any conspiracy nonsense but at least sniffing out some leads on some other weird things that were going on in the area at around the same time. It’s probably nothing, and there’s ample evidence that the charges mentioned in the story are simply a cover for an investigation into a much more serious security breach, meaning that we’ll probably never know the real story. Then again, maybe something will suddenly be announced or maybe this really was all that happened.

At any rate, check out the story and feel free to get in touch with any ideas, leads, or suggestions!

Just published – The Curse of the Ship of Gold!

Aboard the SOG mission

I’m very happy to post a link to one of the most in-depth stories I’ve had published, the fascinating and tragic tale of Tommy Thompson, a brilliant scientist cursed by the grandeur of his discovery.

Please feel free to check out The Curse of the Ship of Gold here!!!

In 1988, Thompson and a crew of scientists and adventurers discovered the remains of the SS Central America, a ship that sank in a hurricane in 1857. The ship was carrying tons of gold from the Gold Rush, making it the dream quarry of treasure hunters. Thompson’s mission drew widespread acclaim as an example of classic American ingenuity, but he soon learned that he had also unleashed the wild specter of greed.

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From there, Thompson’s life was turned upside-down and would take him from court rooms to hoarded-out mansions to life on the run as a federal fugitive. He was ultimately captured after disappearing for almost two years and recently went on trial for allegedly making off with gold due to investors in the mission three decades before.

Thanks again to Narratively for taking on this piece and for the fantastic and classy look of the finished story!

Criminal conspiracies on the world’s foremost micronation

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I am very pleased to announce that I recently had an adapted excerpt from my upcoming book on the Principality of Sealand and its remarkable 51-year history published by Narratively.

What happens when a gang of international criminals bootlegs passports from the country your family founded? Quite a bit, it turns out: bank fraud, gunrunning, and a connection to the murder of Gianni Versace.

The article can be found here.

Read on if you like intrigue, self-determination, kidnapping, and governments-in-exile!!

My appearance on WYSO’s Book Nook

Dance of the TrusteesIf anyone is for some reason interested in anything I have to say, please feel free to listen to this interview I did with Vick Mickunas for the long-running and always interesting program Book Nook.

We spoke about my book Dance of the Trustees, life in Yellow Springs, the joys and difficulties of writing nonfiction, and some of the strange situations I’ve managed to get myself into and/or write about over the years.

Thanks a ton to Vick for the invite, and although everyone usually dislikes hearing their own voice, I have to say I think this turned out pretty well!

The interview can be heard here.

The locks and canals of the mighty Muskingum

Lock #10 is unique in that it is a double-lock, with two chambers to raise and lower boats. At least half a million gallons are displaced in each step of the process.

Atlas Obscura recently published a piece I wrote about the old lock system still in use up and down the Muskingum River in southeastern Ohio. The locks are operated by hand and require the skills of a lockmaster, who stays on site to help the estimated 7,000 annual boaters traverse the dams that make the river navigable.

It’s always a pleasure to pore through dusty old archives and historical collections, and this certainly holds true when investigating the interesting history of my beautiful hometown! Thanks to the various historians and lock enthusiasts for talking to me, and to Tim Curtis for showing me how it all works!

The article can be found here.