If you’ve had a weird unexplainable experience, two guys in Seattle want to help you log it and track it on a global map. I have a new favorite place on the internet, and it is Liminal Earth.
Liminal Earth is a web based mapping tool designed to track the bizarre. Created by Garrett Kelly, co-founder of Hollow Earth Radio, and Jeremy Puma, a Seattle based author, their project “acts sort of like ‘Google Trends’ (which tracks sudden spikes on google search queries) for the collective unconscious,” states their website’s About page. “This map is an extension of that, because we’re trying to see if there are strange places or experiences that are actually quite common but go unnoticed because everyone is afraid to talk about this weird stuff happening to them.”
The idea is simple. It is like Atlas Obscura, but exclusively for UFOs, the supernatural, cryptids, etc.
“Is there a specific place where you've seen fairies, ghosts, bigfoot, time travelers, extraterrestrials, ultraterrestrials, crow conferences, sentient lawn computers, lanyard'd ogres, broccoli wizards, etc.?” the website asks, “Does your town have an urban legend you'd love to get to the bottom of? Send us your story and we might include it on our map!”
While some paranormal enthusiasts take their work incredibly seriously, Kelly and Puma keep it light. The map contains some hilarious accounts that go beyond simple ghost and UFO sightings. One account from Denver tells the tale of a mystery cassette tape with the instructions “DO NOT LISTEN TO THIS TAPE” and the storyteller explains that it was clearly left by time traveller “from the past, or from the future when cassettes got retro-cool again.”
Puma said that he and Kelly are "We’re interested in amassing data points from the full spectrum of ‘weird’ experiences."
"There are already maps out there for Bigfoot sightings and UFO reports,” he said. “But we wanted something that encompasses everything all in one place. As far as we know, no one else is cataloging ‘sandwiches from hell.’”
Puma said the usual spots like Skinwalker Ranch are on the map, but that "we also have mysterious deer, winged bat-creatures, and the Giant Shrimp in the Laundry Room. We even have a bizarre psychic cryptid called 'The Old Man of the Crater' on the summit of Mount Rainier. The more entries we get, and the more varied the kinds of encounters, the more interesting our world becomes!"
Kelly and Puma said that the map is not intended to convince users that the paranormal is “real” or “not real,” but to explore how anomalous experiences affect people. Do these experiences make people's lives better, more interesting, or more fun? Are they scary?
“The map is kind of a tool for self-reflection in that sense,” they said.
Our natural fascination with monsters and the paranormal is nothing new, and that monster stories have been traditionally used to keep people from exploring. Now that we're no longer hunter-gatherers, we have no reason to worry about going to looking for them.
“Monsters and the lore concerning them appeal to our basest evolutionary functions,” Dr. David Floyd, an expert in monster mythology and Associate Professor of English at Charleston Southern University in Charleston, South Carolina, told Motherboard. “On one level, particularly in hunter-gatherer or agrarian societies, monsters are anything that threatened our physical security. Humans are innately storytellers, and ancient stories about monsters, therefore, tended to be cautionary, emphasizing the importance of remaining within the confines of society, lest one wander beyond the campfire and be engulfed, lost, or devoured by some aspect of nature or a metaphor thereof.”
Today, we are less likely to get munched by wild beasts, however, paranormal monsters still dominate our landscape, both in the media as well as imagination, and, as some would argue, the actual fabric of our reality.
"Even if every account were a case of mistaken identity, imagination, or outright falsehood,” Floyd said, “such a map may still indicate areas where reports, of whatever nature, are prevalent, and still serve a kind of sociological purpose."
Floyd said that today, “monsters seem more to address the symptoms of modernity, whether they be neuroses, philosophical skepticism, existential anxiety, or simple loneliness...The function of representing some form of threat remains, if the context has changed. All of which is to say that as long as human beings are faced with the potential dangers and struggles of a fallen world, the fascination with and need of monsters will persist.”
Michael Huntington, a travel blogger, writer and researcher, focuses on the strange locations which dot America’s landscape. He and his family travel to the hotspots of alleged UFO and Bigfoot sightings, as well as haunted hotels and other bizarre places.
“For me, traveling to places where weirdness abounds is intriguing,” Huntington told Motherboard. “It’s something I always wanted to do since I was a young boy fascinated with UFOs, Bigfoot, ghosts, and all manner of The Strange—to actually go to the places where people have claimed encounters.”
Many of these small towns “are defined by the strange stories that have occurred or continue to occur there,” he added, noting that documenting the lore and urban legends of these places is historically important.
It is easy to write off the pursuit of the paranormal or the weird as a fool’s errand. Monsters, ghosts and UFOs aren’t real right? Perhaps, but Liminal Earth and travelers like Huntington who enjoy getting closer to the anomalous don’t do it because of some blind belief in the paranormal, they do it because it is fun. There is something very human about exploring the unknown and recording the odd histories and stories of the world.
“Even if every account were a case of mistaken identity, imagination, or outright falsehood,” Floyd said, “such a map may still indicate areas where reports, of whatever nature, are prevalent, and still serve a kind of sociological purpose.”