Just a Few Little-Known REAL Mysteries (and other interesting things)

Around the time I wrote “A Few Suggestions/Pleas to Authors of Mystery-oriented Fiction“, I started work on a little post about some of the real mysteries that don’t get much attention. It’s not as long as I’d like, but I don’t think I’ll have time to extend it any time soon.

The Devil’s Kettle
Located in Judge C. R. Magney State Park in Minnesota, U.S.A., this unique waterfall sends half the flow of the Brule river underground. Nobody knows where the water ends up and scientists have no idea how a tunnel capable of carrying that much water could have formed in that kind of rock.
Supposedly, Moscow is home to a secret subway, begun in Stalin’s time and buried deep underground, which interconnects politically important buildings like the Kremlin and the Government Airport and links them to a secret bunker described as an “underground city”. Various current and former members of the government have given various (sometimes conflicting) bits of information but there is nothing reliable on what really does exist and what is exaggeration.

…and since the list is so dissatisfyingly short, I’ll also throw in some…

“Merely” Fascinating Places

Karst Towers
If you’ve ever looked at a traditional Chinese painting (or Super Mario World) and wondered where they got the idea for their exaggerated (sometimes almost phallic) hills, look no further. Essentially nonexistant in North America and Europe, these steep, rocky spires dominate the landscape in various locations in Southeast Asia, most distinctively around the Li River in China, but also in less striking forms in Vietnam.
Hashima, Japan (A.K.A. Gunkanjima)
From 1887 to 1974, this island provided coal for Japan’s industrial needs. At its peak in 1959, it had a hellish population density nearly five times that of Macau, and ten times that of Singapore or Hong Kong. Today, this tiny island is a crumbling concrete ghost town, known mostly to enthusiasts, tourists, and fanfiction authors.
Neft Daşları
Around the end of the 1940s, the Soviet Union was running out of easily-accessible oil, so they decided to drill for it in the Caspian sea… but this was the ’50s and this was the Soviet Union. Rather than build a compact little platform like we do now, they picked a spot with shallow water and Oil, built islets, connected them with causeways, and built a full-blown city on the site. Now part of Azerbaijan, it still produces oil and natural gas.
Unit 731
Everyone knows of the Nazi death camps, but what most people don’t know is that, in World War 2, the Japanese had a branch of the Imperial Army which went even further. Officially known as the Epidemic Prevention and Water Purification Department of the Kwantung Army, Unit 731 was tasked with kidnapping members of the local Chinese population and performing sickeningly cruel experiments on them and on captured prisoners of war to test weapons and to study the progress of various diseases.
Perhaps equally surprising is that we might not have known about this if not for two notable details: First, when the Russian army forced them to abandon their work, participants were ordered to destroy the facilities and commit suicide but it turned out that they’d been constructed too well for the former. Second, while everyone working on the project had been ordered to take the secret to their grave and prohibited from returning to civilian life in Japan, General MacArthur secretly offered immunity to the medical personnel in exchange for granting America exclusive access to their biological weapons research… an offer which they accepted.
Ilha de Queimada Grande (A.K.A. Snake Island)
A small island off the coast of Brazil so densely populated with venomous snakes that, aside from the odd scientist with a waiver, the Brazilian navy forbids civilian visitors. Thanks to Cracked.com for cluing me onto this one.

Got any more real mysteries or little-known fascinating places? Leave a comment and I may amend this list.

Update: As he is wont to do, xkcd did a comic and it’s a chart on the topic of mysterious things.

CC BY-SA 4.0 Just a Few Little-Known REAL Mysteries (and other interesting things) by Stephan Sokolow is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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