Wednesday, December 27, 2006


Just joking. I really enjoyed all the comments, but I figured I better set a few things straight . . .

1. Though I wasn't kidnapped, I was detained by customs officials on my way back from France. Seems they frown on people carrying bones back in their luggage. Who knew? (More on that later.)

2. I humbly beg your forgiveness for not posting. I've been itching to tell you about my misadventures in the catacombs, but I was warned not to say anything more until I was safely out of Paris. One thing I've learned in the past few months--don't screw around with les gendarmes. (OK, more on that later, too.)

3. I'll catch everyone up on the French adventure as soon as possible. C'est tres bon! But for those who've speculated there's another book in the works, you're right. Fortunately, I had a lot of time to work on it while I was stuck in a small, windowless room, questioning the wisdom of smuggling human bones back from France.

4. Kiki and I encourage any efforts to start new organizations around the country. Last I checked, the other 49 states weren't short on people in need of a good butt-kicking. But it's NEVER a good idea to give out your name, email address, or any other information to people you meet online. If you want to start a new group through this site, please comment here, and I will find a way to be in touch.

5. If you start a new blog or website, please make sure to let me know. (I'm trying to visit the ones that have already been mentioned.) I'll try to post a link from my site. (By the way, I love the new look, too! And there's much more to come.)

6. My not-so-ghostwriter, Kirsten Miller, has rarely been photographed in public. (Good try, though.) However, numerous poems have been written extolling her unusual beauty and uncanny charm.

7. Kirsten Miller said she's married? Perhaps she was attempting to throw people off her trail—and I’ll state for the record that I’ve never known her to make a clichéd statement of any kind.

8. A giant squid was recently filmed by Japanese researchers. This photo is definitely the best I’ve ever seen!

9. Alexxis and cosimacat (thanks theatre), if you live in New York, you’re officially invited to join the Irregulars.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

I Meet My Guide

My first meeting with the girl who was to guide me through the catacombs took place on the morning of July 15th. I met her at a café in the Latin Quarter, one of the oldest and bloodiest parts of the city. For hundreds of years, foreign students from the nearby universities and the native people of Paris staged gruesome and deadly battles in the warren of little streets just off the river. (Many over nothing more than the cost of wine.)

It was ten o’clock on a Saturday, and other than our waiter, it seemed as if we were the only people awake in town. Bastille Day celebrations had ended just hours earlier, and most Parisians were still sleeping off the effects. It was the perfect time to plan our expedition.

Though she’s only a year or two older than I am, Claire has been visiting the catacombs for more than a decade. But she only gives tours to those who come with a personal recommendation. Kiki Strike has seen the tunnels with Claire. So have several macho movie stars, one of whom didn’t like the idea of being guided by a girl. He took off on his own and was discovered twelve hours later, huddled in a corner crying softly to himself.

Claire said she had met members of the Perforating Mexicans while exploring the catacombs. She’d considered joining the club herself, until she found that their taste in movies didn’t suit her. She agreed to take me to see their underground cinema. (The one the police have yet to discover.) But there are far more interesting things in the catacombs, she assured me, than film clubs. Not only are there bunkers and crypts and rooms made entirely of chalk, but her grandfather had always sworn that there were passages under Paris that not even the most intrepid explorers had discovered—tunnels dug by the Nazis during the war. He had spent his entire life searching, and died before he could find them.

Saturday, September 9, 2006

Kiki Strike at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Kiki Strike will be one of the featured readings at the Brooklyn Book Festival! If you're in New York, please stop by!

Saturday, September 16, 2006
Brooklyn Borough Hall
10am - 6pm

Wednesday, September 6, 2006

The Ossuary

In preparation for my journey into the forbidden passages of the Parisian catacombs, I also visited the tunnels that have been opened to the public. I expected a well-lit, heavily-guarded, tourist-filled environment—an underground Disney Land. I was wrong.

Two tips for visiting the catacombs. First, don’t go alone. (I did.) It’s dark. It’s quiet. And you don’t know who’s down there. Second, wear boots or sneakers. (I didn’t.) There’s water dripping (sometimes pouring) from the ceiling in most of the tunnels. The floor in many sections is one large puddle. But despite all this, if you follow my advice, you should have a fabulous time.

The highlight of the catacombs is, of course, the ossuary where human bones line the tunnels. But in order to see it, you must be prepared to walk quite a distance through dimly lit, stone-lined passages with ceilings that hover only a few inches above the top of your head. In many respects, this is the creepiest part of the journey. As the tunnels twist and turn, you can only imagine what might lie in front of you.

When at last you reach the entrance to the ossuary, and read the warning above the door (“Stop, this is the empire of death”), you may feel as if you’re ready for anything. You aren’t. There’s nothing that will prepare you for the sight of human bones stacked in neat piles that can reach more than six feet in height. These are the remains six million Parisians who were buried in the city’s cemeteries before the 19th century.

In the late 1700s, when Paris’s cemeteries had been crammed (literally) beyond capacity, the dead developed a nasty habit of tumbling into the cellars of nearby buildings. The stench from the graveyards was reported to be overpowering, and those who lived in the surrounding areas often fell prey to the “bad air.” That’s when the authorities decided to empty the cemeteries and deliver the remains to the ancient Roman quarry that stretched beneath the city. The men who carted the bones were only allowed to work at night, and it was years before the last of the dead made the trip.

In the passages that are marked for sightseers, the bones of the dead are still artistically arranged, with skulls and femurs forming bizarre (often surprising) patterns. But if you pause to peer though the gates that block less traveled routes, you’ll see that many parts of the catacombs have not fared so well. Walls have crumbled, and the dead lay in chaotic heaps. A sharp eye will also find proof of the catacombs’ multiple layers. Look beyond the barriers, and you might find yourself staring down at a tunnel that weaves beneath your feet.

This was the first glimmer of what I might find in forbidden passages. But as fascinating as the ossuary was, I had no idea how little I’d seen.

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

The Intestine of the Leviathan

As I mentioned earlier, I first arrived in Paris in July. Verushka Kozolva had provided me with the telephone number of a young woman named Claire (for legal reasons, I can’t give her last name) who could serve as my guide to the catacombs. Her grandfather had been a member of the French Resistance during World War II, when both the Nazis and the Allies had used parts the underground tunnels to their advantage. In time, he had passed his knowledge of the catacombs along to his son (whom Verushka had befriended during year she and Kiki Strike lived in Paris) and his granddaughter.

Claire was vacationing in Romania during my first week in France. While I waited, I downloaded maps of the catacombs from some very impressive websites, but I didn’t trust them (or myself) enough to begin my explorations without an experienced guide. Instead, I tried to get in the mood by visiting other underground attractions around Paris. My first stop, of course, was the sewers.

Anyone with a particularly sensitive nose should steer clear of the sewers. It’s not that they smell the way you’d expect them to smell. If I had to describe their unique bouquet, I’d say it was a mixture of pond water, mold, kitty litter, and garbage can on a hot summer day. But if you’re able to breath through your mouth, the sewers are well worth the trip.

Dig deep beneath any street in Paris and you’ll find an arched tunnel made of brick or stone. In fact, the sewers follow course of the streets so precisely that they form a mirror image of the city above. (You’ll even find street signs to guide your way.) There are more than 1,300 miles of tunnels—some are enormous, more than 12 feet across, and others too narrow to enter. All are gloomy, dark, and dangerous. With a little rain, they become roaring rivers of filth, and toxic gasses are known to accumulate, killing the unprepared in seconds.

Despite the peril, there are many tales of those whose desperation or dimwittedness has led them to pry open one of the manholes that line the streets of Paris and drop into the darkness. Perhaps the most best know is that of Jean Valjean, hero of Victor Hugo’s novel, Les Miserables. (It was Hugo who famously referred to the sewers as “the intestine of the leviathan.")

I, of course, chose to visit Le Musée des Égouts de Paris. It’s a strange museum built around a working part of the sewer system not far from the Eiffel Tower. You’ll see and smell everything you need to make the experience worthwhile, and you’ll learn to pity the people who lived in the days before the sewers were built. But perhaps the most interesting thing about the museum is that you're often on your own, away from guards and tourists. It would be easy to slip into the tunnels and make your way through underground Paris.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Since We're On the Subject of Corpses

Those of you lucky enough to be in New York right now can see the rare blooming of an Amorphophallus titanum, better known as the corpse flower. The plant's enormous single bloom can reach more than five feet in height and emits a nauseating odor of rotten meat, which can offend sensitive noses more than half a mile away. According to the Brooklyn Botanical Garden's website, when the first cultivated corpse flower bloomed in London in 1889, young women weren't allowed into the exhibit because of the plant's "unusual" appearance.

If that's not enough to get you to Brooklyn, check out the photos and information online at the BBG's website.

Lesson Number One

(Which I learned the hard way, as usual.) Finding a way into the catacombs that stretch beneath Paris is not difficult. With a bit of luck, a runaway monkey could find an entrance. Finding a way out is the problem.

Law abiding types can always take the official tour, which guides you past the past the bones of six million Parisians which are stacked in a tidy fashion in a small section of the subterranean tunnels. An ancient and ominous warning greets all visitors, (“Stop, this is the empire of death.”), but unless you try to leave with a thighbone in your bag, you’re unlikely to end up into too much trouble.

Those who would prefer to pay a less legal visit to the catacombs, however, have a wide variety of options. Climb down any number of manholes around Paris, and you may find yourself in a dark passage that’s more than a thousand years old. (The entrance to a theater built by the Perforating Mexicans, for instance, can be accessed through a drain not far from the Eiffel Tower.)

Once you’re inside, you may want to keep an eye out for the policemen who periodically patrol the catacombs, but odds are you’ll see no one. There are more than 180 miles of tunnels under Paris, and only a handful of people can find their way around them.

Which brings me back to the monkey. Among the many who’ve met their fate in the catacombs was an orangutan that escaped from the Paris zoo over 200 years ago. But perhaps the most famous victim of Paris’s “Shadow City” was Philibert Aspairt who disappeared in 1793. His body was discovered many years later, a few feet from an exit. In his hands was a set of keys that could have saved his life. He was later buried on the spot where he was found. For a picture of his tomb, click here.

So now perhaps you’ll understand how it came to be that I got lost on my very first trip inside the catacombs.

If you'd like a little more information on Paris's Shadow City, and you can't wait, click here. Otherwise, stick around.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

A Little Something to Tide You Over

Several times in the past week, an enormous manatee has been spotted frolicking in the Hudson River only a few short yards from the coast of Manhattan. A couple of minutes ago, I received an email from my friend and fellow Irregular, DeeDee Morlock, who says she witnessed the great beast as he swam past her townhouse on 106th Street. When she first saw its grey, bloated belly, she almost phoned the police to report a murder. She was pleased to discover it was a manatee, which are far rarer than corpses in the rivers around New York.

I wish I had been there to see it!

Read more in the New York Times.

Miss Me?

Please accept my apologies for neglecting this blog for so many weeks. As you’ll soon learn, I’ve been busy. In fact, if you’ve been reading the Paris newspapers, you may already know about the amazing events that have taken place here in the past month. But I doubt you ever suspected that I was involved.

I’ve been in Paris since the beginning of July. The official purpose of the visit (in other words, the explanation I gave my parents) was a summer of French classes and Parisian culture. A month has passed, and my French is still as terrible as ever. (I was recently told I sound like a dimwitted troglodyte.) I did managed to visit the Louvre once, but it was in the dead of night and too dark to appreciate the art. (More on that later, of course.)

To be perfectly honest, I never intended to spend my summer in classrooms and museums. I came to Paris with two goals in mind: Buy some fabulous shoes and infiltrate the Perforating Mexicans. Not only did I manage to accomplish both goals, I stumbled upon a remarkable sixty-year-old mystery in the process. And I’m thrilled to report that I solved it on my own. (OK, I had a little help.)

I know it’s a bit cruel to leave you in suspense, but my mind is still reeling from all the excitement, and I can’t possibly write the whole tale down at once. Take my word for it, though. This is a story worth waiting for. (Don’t worry, it won’t take another month.)

Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Perforating Mexicans

I will soon be spending some time in Paris. While there, I intend to investigate (and hopefully join) a group known as the Perforating Mexicans. (Also known as the Mexican Perforation and La Mexicaine De Perforation.)

In 2004, French police were training in an uncharted section of the Paris Catacombs when they happened upon a secret room deep beneath the city. Unlike most chambers in the catacombs, which are filled only with dirt and ancient bones, this had been turned into a movie theater and restaurant, complete with electricity and a couscous maker.

It seems a group of enterprising Parisians had combined their love of subterranean spaces with their passion for the cinema and created a movie theater in a forbidden part of the catacombs. When the authorities finally arrived for a formal investigation, they found nothing left but a note that read, “Do not try to find us.”

No one has heard from The Perforating Mexicans since, but I have a hunch that they haven’t abandoned the catacombs altogether.

For more information, see the Wikipedia entry, which includes an interesting picture of the secret society at play.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Map Thief Pleads Guilty

Amazing as it may seem, Dr. Lyle Mayhew, Columbia University's resident map thief, hasn't been the only criminal stealing valuable items from libraries across the US. Yesterday, a map dealer by the name of E. Forbes Smiley III (you can't make up a name like that!) pled guilty to stealing almost a hundred rare maps. Thirty-two of the maps were stolen from the New York Public Library alone.

While no one was watching, the respectable-looking Mr. Smiley would cut the maps from antique books and hide them under his jacket or inside his briefcase. Over the years, he managed to abscond with more than three million dollars worth of materials, which he then sold to wealthy collectors around the world. It wasn't until a security camera at a Yale University library caught him in the act that Mr. Smiley's career as a thief came to an abrupt end.

Thankfully, most of the stolen maps will soon be returned to their rightful owners. The authorities have given up on only five of them, though Kiki Strike thinks she may know where they might be. Soon E. Forbes Smiley III will be hauled off to jail, and we can only hope that Dr. Lyle Mayhew will be following close behind him.

For more information on the case, check out this article from the New York Times.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

If You Want to Win, Wear Red

A recent study by British scientists has revealed a fascinating fact. In sports, wearing the color red can give you a distinct advantage. The study clearly showed that when two teams or opponents are equally skilled, those in red athletic gear are more likely to win.

No one knows exactly why the color has this amazing effect, but the powers of red have long been recognized by a wide range of people, including bullfighters, feng shui masters, politicians, and the people who design stop signs. For centuries, it has been the color of power, passion, and danger. It’s even been scientifically shown to grab people’s attention, make their hearts beat faster and their blood pressure rise. Oddly enough, the color red is also known to make people hungry. (Think of it—how many fast food restaurants and junk food brands have red logos?)

So the next time you’re competing for something—whether it’s attention or a trophy—try adding a little red to your wardrobe. It couldn’t hurt. (After all, that’s why presidents wear red ties, certain street gangs love red bandannas, and most female villains sport huge ruby rings.)

For more information on the history and powers of the color red, click here.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

New York is Being Eaten Alive!

When most people visit New York, they know to watch out for our legendary rats. And anyone who shrieks at the sight of a cockroach would be well advised to steer clear of Manhattan altogether. But these days, a long forgotten menace is once again threatening the greatest city on Earth. And it’s hiding where you’d least expect it. In your bed.

Until 2005, it had been decades since most New Yorkers had come across a bed bug. Then, last year, the creepy little bloodsuckers decided to stage a comeback. Carried into homes on pant legs and pets, they crawled into mattresses all over town and waited for nightfall. Soon, students in rundown apartments on the Lower East Side and socialites in Fifth Avenue mansions began waking up with the same red welts all over their bodies. Little specks of blood spotted their sheets and pillowcases. Within days, exterminators across the city had received thousands of frantic calls. One thing was clear: The people of New York were being consumed by bed bugs.

Some of the nastiest, most disgusting pests on the planet, bed bugs are tiny, flat insects that feed only on blood. Small enough to hide in the joints of bed posts and the seams of mattresses, they are almost impossible to kill. In New York, the problem has gotten so bad that many of our finest hotels are now infested, but other cities around the world are now beginning to show signs of similar bed bug epidemics.

For tips on winning the war against bedbugs, click here.
For more information, and some truly nasty photos, click here.

The Whistled Language

Most people believe that all languages have one thing in common—words. As usual, most people are wrong. There are several languages that contain no “words” at all. One is Silbo Gomero, which is spoken entirely in whistles.

A language invented by shepherds who lived on the Canary Islands off the coast of Spain, Silbo Gomero allowed the islands’ inhabitants to communicate across great distances. (It can even be heard from miles away!) When Spanish settlers arrived in the 17th century, they also adopted the language, and for centuries it could be heard from valley to valley.

In recent years, however, it looked as if Silbo Gomero might become extinct. But now the language is required learning for many children on the Canary Islands.

To hear a little Silbo Gomero, click here. Two more samples (along with English translations) can be heard here on the University of Washington's website.

Monday, June 19, 2006

Mongolian Death Worm

Stretching across much of northern China and southern Mongolia, the Gobi Desert is one of the least hospitable places on Earth. It’s hot, barren, and there are few places to pick up a slurpee. Home only to nomadic tribes and their hardy livestock, the Gobi is seldom visited by outsiders. (In fact, until the late 1980’s the communist governement didn’t allow visitors.) For this reason alone, it’s not unthinkable that a desert-dwelling animal might have escaped the scrutiny of modern science.

Ask most residents of the Gobi what creature terrifies them the most and you’re likely to get a single answer—the allerghoi khorkhoi or intestine worm. (So called because it resembles the intestine of a cow.) Though its never been captured on film, Mongolians describe the creature as two feet in length and several inches wide. It has no visible mouth or eyes. Not very frightening, you say? Well the Mongolian Death Worm boasts two special talents. It squirts a deadly, acid-like venom with remarkable accuracy and can release an electric shock powerful enough to kill a camel. Needless to say, it’s not very friendly.

For decades, Western travelers have heard tales of the allerghoi khorkhoi, and many have left the desert believers. But despite countless reputable eyewitnesses, many outside of the Gobi will refuse to believe the stories until the beast is finally filmed in action.

(Image by painter Pieter Dirkx)

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Human Hobbits Discovered in Asia

2004 was certainly a banner year for freaks of nature. Only a few short months after Hogzilla’s untimely death, archaeologists working inside a cave on the remote Indonesian island of Flores came upon an unusual set of bones. They looked very much like the bones of an adult human being—with one exception. They were shockingly tiny.

For the past two years, scientists around the world have been battling over the true identity of the Hobbit Humans of Indonesia. (Named after the diminutive hobbits in the Lord of the Rings trilogy.) But despite the debate, one thing remains certain: Thousands of years ago, human-like creatures no larger than a modern three-year-old lived in the jungles of Southeast Asia, hunting pygmy elephants and dining on huge rodents. The question is—who were they?

The archaeologists who discovered the bones believe the three-foot-tall beings to be a previously unknown species of humans who may have lived alongside our distant ancestors. Other scientists claim that the bones belonged to a group of humans born with a genetic disorder than made their brains and bodies unusually small. However, stone tools too old to have been created by our ancestors were recently found in a cave on Flores, seeming to back up the argument that the Hobbits must have been a separate species.

Perhaps most intriguingly, some residents of Flores believe that the little creatures may not have disappeared thousands of years in the past. Island folklore tells of tiny men who, not long ago, lived in the dense, unexplored jungles and emerged from time to time to kidnap and eat a human or two.

Click here to see a National Geographic image gallery of the Hobbit Humans.
Click here to listen to an NPR radio story about the discovery.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Hogzilla on the Loose

In 2004, a freak of nature stepped out of the woods near Alapaha, Georgia, less than two hundred miles south of Atlanta. Fortunately, Chris Griffin was there to shoot it. When "Hogzilla" made his national debut, in photographs posted all over the Internet, many believed the story was a hoax. “Experts” around the world claimed the image was doctored, and many implied that Griffin was a liar.

Now, after two years and a little DNA testing, Chris Griffin has been vindicated. Hogzilla was exactly what Griffin claimed—a monstrous wild hog that stretched more than 8 feet long and weighed 800 pounds. (OK, Griffin exaggerated a little bit. He originally claimed the beast was 12 feet long and weighed half a ton.) Of course, for anyone sitting in safety on the fifth floor of a Manhattan apartment, this discovery is pretty exciting. But the problem, for anyone wandering the Georgia woods these days, is that Hogzilla might not be the only wild pig to be reckoned with.

You see, pigs are smart—extremely smart. They’re far smarter than dogs, cats, ferrets, or any other domesticated animal. As a result, wild pigs have managed to colonize every continent other than Antarctica. And when large, domesticated pigs escape from their pens, they often mate with the wild hogs nearby. The resulting offspring are huge, frighteningly intelligent, mean, and willing fight anyone for food. Hogzilla may have been the first monster roaming the swamps and forests of North America—but you can bet he won’t be the last.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Green Men are Everywhere

Looking for a way to amuse yourself while riding a city bus or strolling down the street? Try searching the buildings above your head for the Green Man. (Not to be confused with “Little Green Men.”) It doesn’t matter whether you’re in London, Paris, Buenos Aires, or New York—once you’ve spotted a Green Man, you’ll begin to see him everywhere. All over the world, he looks down from windows, watches over churches, and peeks out from garden walls. (The Green Man shown above once guarded a doorway in Argentina.)

Thought to be of Celtic origin, the mysterious Green Man is perhaps one of the most ancient deities in the Western world. Some Green Man carvings are more than a thousand years old. Usually depicted as a man’s face sprouting leaves or other vegetation (though there are a few Green Women, too), the Green Man represents the power and the presence the natural world. He comes in thousands of shapes and sizes, and his personality can range from jolly to severe.

Even on short walks through Manhattan, I’ve counted dozens of Green Men. Sometimes it’s a little creepy to spot him looking down at me. He’s hidden all over the city, but unless you have a sharp eye, you may never know he’s there.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Can YOU Hear It?

Did you know there are sounds that only young people can hear? As humans grow older, it seems, they lose the ability to hear some high-pitched tones.

According to Luz Lopez, not long ago, a company in Britain designed a new technology that was intended to rid malls and shops of unruly teenage crowds. The invention emits a high-pitched blast of noise that drives young people crazy, but doesn't bother nearby adults. (Sound familiar, anyone?)

Fortunately, the company's original plans appear to have backfired, and these days young people's auditory skills are once again working to their advantage. "Mosquito," a ring tone that makes use of the new technology can now be downloaded onto any cell phone. When the phone rings, young people can hear it, but adults (including parents, teachers, and random authority figures) cannot.

Hmmm. I wonder what you could do with that?

Monday, June 12, 2006

New York's Underground Rivers

A reader recently sent a note that reminded me of one of the most fascinating subjects I can think of: Manhattan’s underground rivers and streams. (If any other readers have interesting tidbits to share, please feel free do so!)

Over a century ago, before the island at the center of New York City was flattened and covered in asphalt, Manhattan was a fairly soggy place. Much of downtown was marshland, and dozens of creeks and small rivers trickled all over town.

As the city grew, ponds and swamps were drained, and New York’s streams were buried beneath its streets. But these “subterranean waterways” never dried up. They’re still there, flowing beneath our feet. (A good sign that you’re near one is the presence of a weeping willow tree.) There’s only one problem: very few people today know where they are. And if you start building on top of a forgotten spring, you’re going to end up with nothing more than a damp pile of bricks.

Fortunately, there’s a map that can tell you where to find all of Manhattan’s invisible waterways. Created by an engineer named Egbert Ludovicus Viele and first used in 1874, the “Sanitary & Topological Map of the City and Island of New York” (otherwise known as the Viele Map) has been the saving grace of countless developers. Over five feet long and remarkably detailed, it shows all the rivers, streams, and ponds that no one has seen in a over a hundred years. (Including Minetta Creek, which flows under the street pictured above!)

Click here for a closer look at the map or—if you have a spare $15,000—to buy a copy.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Hidden Manhattan

I want to introduce you to one of my favorite websites, Forgotten New York. The site is packed with fascinating information about the history of the city. You'll also find and photos of crumbling mansions, ancient stables, abandoned subway stations, little known cemeteries (make sure you check out the Marble Cemetery), and other secret places.

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

Icelandic Elves

I'm happy that there are still places in the world where strange and unusual beings are thought to exist. In Iceland, for instance, a high percentage of the population believes they share their country with elves—a race of tiny people who live in the rocky outcroppings that pepper the Islandic landscape.

In Iceland, elves are no joking matter. Roads are sometime diverted in order to avoid damaging their homes, and many reputable and reliable citizens claim to have had encounters with the wee folk. There’s even an Elf School, which teaches students to communicate with the many different types of elves and hidden people who populate the land.

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

A Ghost That Isn't Camera Shy

I’ve always been intrigued by the subject of ghosts. In fact, I guess you could say I’m a believer. But I’ve often wondered why more ghouls and specters aren’t caught on camera, especially these days when even cell phones can snap pictures.

So imagine how pleased I was a few years back when a very authentic-looking ghost was filmed at Hampton Court Palace in England. For weeks, the caretakers of the palace had been frustrated by a set of fire doors that were being flung open by an invisible force. Finally, a security camera captured the culprit. As you'll see in the video, it was a man dressed in old-fashioned (very old-fashioned) attire. The palace workers later swore that there was no such person on the premises at that time.

Some paranormal enthusiasts have boldly suggested that the ghost is King Henry VIII himself. After all, Hampton Court is said to house the ghosts of several of Henry VIII’s wives. But I would point out that the spirit in question looks quite svelte, while Henry was a bit of a porker.

Of course, there are also those who believe the video is merely a hoax. Watch the film for yourself, then take a look a this story from CNN, and feel free to draw your own conclusions.

Monday, June 5, 2006

It's Giant Squid Day!

While the Irregulars’ are waiting for the media frenzy surrounding Dr. Mayhew’s arrest to die down, I thought it would be a fabulous idea to share information on some of my favorite topics, starting with . . . giant squid.

I’m proud to say that I took the photo above. It’s a giant squid that was discovered (dead) off the coast of Japan, then frozen in a block of ice and exhibited in an aquarium in Australia. It was the first time I’ve personally come face-to-face with Architeuthis, and I have to say the experience was well worth waiting two hours in line beneath the unrelenting Australian sun.

Shortly before this picture was taken, Japanese scientists achieved what many had deemed impossible. They captured video images of a living, fully-grown giant squid attacking a piece of bait. Until last year, only dead adult Architeuthis had ever been discovered.

(You can see photos and video of the giant squid here.)

Those of you planning a trip to the beach should know that the elusive giant squid, which can reach 60 feet in length, is not even the largest squid in the ocean. That honor belongs to Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, the so-called “Colossal Squid,” which lives in the ocean depths surrounding Antarctica. In fact no one knows just how big the creature is able to grow. Only one dead specimen has ever been discovered intact.

Sunday, June 4, 2006

DeeDee's New Boyfriend

(Sorry to tease, DeeDee)

On Friday, Dalton Noble finally emerged from his coma. His doctors say he’ll be fine, though it’s unlikely he’ll ever remember his days as a sticky-fingered zombie.

The first thing Dalton requested was a meeting with the girl who'd saved his life in the library. His parents, who would make excellent detectives, managed to track down DeeDee. Once Kiki assured her that the meeting wouldn’t compromise the Irregulars’ cover, DeeDee decided to drop by the hospital.

According to Betty, who went with DeeDee for moral support (disguised as DeeDee’s grandmother), Dalton and DeeDee hit it off immediately. (They do have an awful lot in common, I suppose.) And Betty seems to think Dalton is quite handsome. (She’s never been a good judge of such things, either!)

Dalton and DeeDee planned their first date for Thursday, when Dalton will be released from the hospital. I’d tell you what happens, but now that DeeDee knows how to whip up a zombie potion, I think I’ll try to stay on her good side and let her private life stay private.

Let's just hope Dalton never finds out why he glows at night!

Thursday, June 1, 2006


Dr. Lyle Mayhew was arrested at five o’clock this morning, just as the New York Times was being delivered to newsstands around the city. The contents of Mayhew’s diary are front-page news, and everyone’s talking about the mad scientist and his coed zombies.

Mayhew’s building has been evacuated for safety reasons, and I’ve been watching the NYPD and the FBI stream in and out all afternoon. DeeDee attended a press conference that was held this morning on the Columbia campus, and she says the authorities insist they’ll uncover the names of the people who were interested in purchasing Mayhew’s drug. They’ve also assured the citizens of New York that the maple syrup smell that has periodically engulfed the city since last October has not appeared to have any negative health effects. (Tell that to the Anorexic Chef!) And they’ve promised to return all of the books that were stolen from Butler Library.

As for the source of the information that led authorities to Dr. Mayhew, the NYPD is being typically tight-lipped. But some reporters are already suggesting that Kiki Strike may have played a part in the investigation. That means Irregulars will have to lay low for a while. Betty called a moment ago to say she’s already working on a new disguise for Kiki. I told her to take her time. I’m sure Kiki would agree that all of us could use a little rest.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Freeing Mayhew's Zombies

This morning, the Irregulars sent copies of Dr. Mayhew's diary to the New York Police Department and the New York Times, along with an anonymous account of the events we’ve personally witnessed.

Once that was done, Kiki and I visited Dr. Mayhew’s two new assistants. (Whose names I’ve decided to keep secret for now.) The first we found in Washington Square Park, just outside of the New York University Library. She was napping on a park bench, an empty box of Krispy Kreme donuts crushed beneath her. Her mouth was covered in donut glaze, and her clothes were smeared with crème filling. We delivered her to St. Vincent’s hospital with a note (written by DeeDee) pinned to her dress, which described in detail the drug she’d been given.

Thanks to Luz’s surveillance equipment, we captured the second of Mayhew’s new victims in the tunnels underneath Columbia. He had just returned from the library, and his pockets were crammed with old maps and damp pieces of string. We escorted him to the university’s student clinic, a similar note tucked into his pocket.

Now, while we wait for Dr. Mayhew’s arrest, we’re keeping him under close surveillance. My shift begins in ten minutes; so don’t expect an update until tomorrow morning.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Diary of a Madman

I’ve finished reading the computer files that Oona forwarded from Dr. Mayhew’s computer. Not only do they contain detailed notes on his experiments, but it seems Mayhew kept a personal diary as well. (Why criminals always feel the need to record their activities—and refuse to use spell-check—is anyone’s guess.)

Let’s just say that if Mayhew’s diary had been fiction rather than fact, I would have been highly entertained, despite all the typos. The professor has been a very busy man. I can’t claim to understand all of the scientific information in his files, but what I’ve managed to decipher with DeeDee’s help would make anyone’s hair stand on end.

Here’s what I’ve learned:

The box of old papers that DeeDee’s dad and Dr. Mayhew found in 1968 in the hidden passage under Columbia University had once belonged to Dr. Phineas Dunne of the Bloomingdale Insane Asylum. For years, Dr. Dunne, whose family originally hailed from Haiti, had been secretly experimenting on patients at the asylum. His goal was to develop a drug that could make troublesome inmates more “cooperative”. (Apparently, he hoped the drug would be given to children as well.) Of course, even 130 years ago, some people took a rather dim view of doctors who experimented on human beings, so Dr. Dunne had to be careful. He commissioned a secret tunnel to be built from his home to the main building of the asylum. Dozens of patients were ferried back and forth every week, and few at the asylum knew anything about it.

By the beginning of 1875, Dr. Dunne believed he was close to completing his work. The drug he had developed, using a number of ingredients native to Haiti, sent patients into a zombie-like state. (In other words, they did what they were told and never argued.) Unfortunately, in March of that year, the sister of one of his special patients became suspicious. Her once lively brother had begun staring at walls and drooling like a Basset hound. She convinced the institution’s authorities to investigate her brother’s treatment. As soon as the authorities began asking too many questions, Dr. Dunne hid his files in the tunnel he had built and decided to take a long vacation in France. Thanks to an undercooked pork chop, he never made it back to the United States.

When Mayhew found Dunne’s files in 1968, he knew he’d hit the jackpot. There were plenty of parties—pharmaceutical companies, foreign governments, bad parents—who’d pay millions for the drug Dunne had described. But for thirty-seven years, Mayhew was forced to keep Dr. Dunne’s work hidden away. He knew he could never experiment openly, and he didn’t have enough cash to build a private laboratory.

Then, just over a year ago, Mayhew had a stroke of inspiration. One day, while browsing at Herman’s Rare Books, Mayhew happened to set a book he’d checked out from Butler Library down on the counter. Mr. Herman took one look at the title and offered Mayhew three thousand dollars for it. That’s when Mayhew realized he could make a fortune off the rare books in the university’s library. And thanks to his days as a food smuggler, he knew how to get the stolen books out of the library and into the tunnels without setting off any sensors.

Last September, Mayhew rented an apartment in the building that had been built on the site of Dr. Dunne’s old house. Working in the middle of the night, he connected the forgotten tunnel to the building’s laundry room. Over the next six months, he was able to steal enough books, maps, and illustrations from the Columbia library to finance the building of a laboratory in his home.

In his new lab, work went quickly. But when Mayhew finally succeeded in cooking up a batch of Dr. Dunne’s drug, he encountered an unforeseen problem. The drug tasted terrible. In fact, it was so foul that even his lab rats wouldn’t touch it. And the noxious odor it produced was powerful enough to draw unwanted attention. Mayhew knew he had to find a way to disguise both the smell and taste of the potion. Then, one day as he was making pancakes, he stumbled upon the answer. He remembered a ski trip he had taken to Vermont one spring, and the wonderful smell that had lingered in the valleys. It had been sugaring season, when the sap from maple trees is boiled down to produce maple syrup. The odor from the process is powerful enough to be detected for miles.

When Mayhew began adding maple sap to his boiling mixture, the smell and the taste of his drug were markedly improved. Soon, he had transformed all the rats in his lab into miniature zombies, and was ready to try his drug on a human. That’s when he turned to his lab assistant, Dalton Noble. After weeks of experimenting, he discovered that a teacup of the potion could keep Dalton dazed for several days. While under the influence, Dalton was alert enough to do Mayhew’s bidding, stealing hundreds of books from the Columbia Library. But when Mayhew allowed him to wake from his stupor, Dalton appeared to remember nothing at all.

The drug had one unusual side effect. When the maple syrup was added to the potion, it created an overwhelming urge for sweets. Mayhew also discovered that the steam from the potion could be remarkably potent. At one point, it had seeped into one of his neighbors’ apartments through a broken fireplace. The poor woman had eaten herself into a coma.

Mayhew realized he’d made another mistake when Dalton Noble collapsed in the library. The boy had never mentioned he was a diabetic, and all of the cheesecake that Mayhew had plied him with had finally taken its toll.

According to his notes, Mayhew feels he’s ready to sell his discovery. In the meantime, he’s recruited two new “assistants” to take Dalton’s place—one from New York University, and one from Hunter College.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

The Truth About Zombies

If, like Luz, you refuse to believe that zombies exist outside of bad horror films, you’re not alone. But for centuries, millions of Haitians have been believers, and even doctors have been intrigued by some “zombie” cases, such as that of Clairvius Narcisse. Declared dead and buried in 1962, Narcisse returned to his family eighteen years later, claiming he had been turned into a zombie and enslaved by a voodoo sorcerer.

Whether or not you believe his story, keep an open mind and visit this website to learn how zombies are thought to be made.

Friday, May 26, 2006

Mayhew's Secret Laboratory

This morning, from 7 to 10, Betty and Luz took a turn watching Dr. Mayhew’s building. Cleverly disguised as mustachioed mailmen, they were loitering outside when they saw Mayhew exit, struggling with a shopping bag loaded with books. As he walked to a nearby subway station, Betty and Luz followed behind him. After observing Mayhew board a downtown train, Betty phoned Kiki, who was having coffee with the rest of the Irregulars at a café near Columbia. With the coast clear at Mayhew’s apartment, we set off for Butler Library. Oona and Kiki flashed the fake security badges that Oona had crafted before our first expedition into the tunnels, and together the four of us headed to the basement.

Once we were inside the Columbia tunnels, it took less than ten minutes to reach the hidden passage that led to the laundry room in the basement of Dr. Mayhew’s building. We avoided the building’s elevator (too many nosey neighbors) and climbed the stairs to the fifth floor. While Kiki and I stood guard in the hallway, Oona picked all four locks on Mayhew’s door.

The Irregulars slipped into the apartment’s living room, which, thanks to weeks of surveillance, I knew almost as well as my own. I saw little out of the ordinary—only a small pile of purloined books stacked next to an old oak desk. But my nose immediately detected something unusual. The place stank of syrup. Trying to breathe through my mouth, I walked over to the window and peered down at the sidewalk below. Betty and Luz were there, watching the building’s entrance.

From what we could tell, the sweet-smelling odor seemed to issue, not from the kitchen, but from one of two doors at the end of a hallway. Behind the first door was a bedroom with a king-size bed and a massive pile of dirty clothing.

“We should have saved time and come in through the fire escape,” said Kiki, pointing out the bedroom window. "Let's hurry up and see what's behind door number two."

The second door was locked. Once Oona had worked her magic and pushed the door open, I heard DeeDee gasp. Mayhew had converted the larger of the apartment’s two bedrooms into a windowless laboratory. Microscopes, beakers, and bottles of brightly colored chemicals cluttered the stainless steel counters. Metal cages were filled with dozens of white rats, each one glassy-eyed and moving slowly, as if it were trapped in syrup. On an island in the middle of the lab sat a laptop computer, a long rack of test tubes filled with yellow liquid, and a bouquet of odd-looking flowers. A huge metal vat took up one corner of the lab. It was rigged up to an exhaust system that led to the room’s old fireplace and up through the chimney. When DeeDee opened the vat, the smell of syrup was overpowering.

“Do you think he’s actually been making maple syrup?” asked Kiki.

“I don't know. I'll have to see his computer files. But it looks like he’s using this vat to boil something down. This must be where the smell has been coming from.”

While Oona hacked into Mayhew’s laptop, I studied the yellow liquid in the test tubes. I was certain it was the same stuff I’d seen Dalton Noble drink. I took one of the tubes, made sure the cork was in tight, and slipped it into my bag.

“DeeDee,” Oona said. “I think I’ve found Mayhew’s notes. Want to take a look?”

DeeDee took Oona’s place at the computer and began to scroll through the file Oona had pulled up on the screen.

“I guess the professor’s not interested in syrup after all. He’s working on some sort of neurotoxin—a drug that impairs brain function. I recognize some of the chemicals he’s working with. They’re used in Haiti for making zombies.”

“Did you say zombies?” Oona asked.

Before DeeDee could answer, Kiki’s phone began to vibrate. Luz was calling. Dr. Mayhew was on his way upstairs. Oona pushed DeeDee’s chair away from the computer and began typing furiously, sending a copy of his files to her email account. By the time she had finished, it was almost too late to escape. As we sprinted out of the laboratory, we could hear the sound of Mayhew’s keys in the front locks. Kiki threw open the window in Mayhew’s bedroom, and we all ducked onto the building’s fire escape. As Kiki, Oona, and DeeDee slinked down the fire escape ladder, I stayed behind to close the window. Just as I prepared to follow the others, I saw Mayhew guide a young man into his laboratory and shut the door.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Our Next Mission

Tonight, at a meeting of the Irregulars, a unanimous decision was made. It’s time to see what’s cooking in Dr. Mayhew’s laboratory.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Dr. Mayhew's Discovery

I’m just back from DeeDee’s house, where we made lunch for her father. (I’ve always found that it’s easier to get information from people when their stomachs are full.) Over tuna fish sandwiches, DeeDee casually brought up the subject of Dalton Noble. Unfortunately, Professor Morlock couldn’t tell us much about the graduate student, and he didn’t have any juicy theories about his disappearance. “Dalton always seemed like a nice kid,” was all he would say.

It was only after I gracefully shifted the topic of conversation to Professor Morlock’s colleague, Dr. Lyle Mayhew, that DeeDee and I began to get anywhere. I could tell from the start that Professor Morlock didn’t care much for Mayhew. He set down his sandwich the moment I mentioned his fellow chemistry professor, as if the sound of the man’s name made him nauseous. At first, I wondered if it was just a harmless rivalry between geniuses, but apparently the beef goes back almost forty years—to the days when they were both students at Columbia. It began in 1968 when Morlock and Mayhew had worked side by side, smuggling food to the student rebels who had taken over the campus.

One day, DeeDee’s dad told us, he and Mayhew were returning from a delivery to the rebels camped out in the Columbia president’s office. They were sneaking back to their dorm through the tunnels, when Morlock discovered the hidden passage that led off campus. Back then, it seems, the mysterious tunnel wasn’t entirely empty. The walls were lined with a dozen old file boxes. Dates on some of the papers suggested that the files inside were almost 100 years old. Morlock wanted to take the boxes and turn the papers over to his friends in the history department, but Mayhew convinced him to come back later. The next day, when Morlock returned to the tunnel, the files were gone. He confronted his colleague, but Mayhew denied knowing anything about the missing files. Morlock suspected that Mayhew had sold them, and after the fight, the two didn’t speak again until they both joined the Columbia faculty twenty years later.

“Mayhew was never very trustworthy, but he is a good chemist,” Professor Morlock told us. “In fact, I’ve heard he’s made some kind of breakthrough.”

What kind of breakthrough, we wanted to know.

“No one knows,” said Morlock. “But he’s been dropping hints about it for weeks. And Janice Watson from the English department saw men in dark suits visiting his apartment. That’s usually a sign there's a buyer. It must be something big.”

“Why doesn’t anyone in the chemistry department know about his discovery?” asked DeeDee. “Don’t you all have access to the same lab?”

“Yes, but Mayhew’s secretive. He thinks everyone’s out to steal his ideas, so does most of his work from home,” Professor Morlock told us.

“He has a lab in his apartment?” asked DeeDee, shooting me a look over her sandwich.

“That’s what I’ve heard,” said Professor Morlock. “But I don’t think anyone’s ever seen it.”

Sunday, May 21, 2006

The Missing Graduate Student

Though he’s still unconscious and unable to answer questions, thanks to some clever sleuthing on Oona’s part, we now know the identity of the man who’s been living in Butler Library. He’s a twenty-two-year-old graduate student from Oklahoma named Dalton Noble. His parents reported him missing on February 27th.

Until he disappeared, Dalton had been the lab assistant of one Dr. Lyle Mayhew.

Brooklyn's Endangered Underground Railroad

Six old houses on Duffield Street in Brooklyn are in danger of being demolished by the City of New York--despite the fact that their residents have compelling evidence that the buildings may once have been stops on the Underground Railroad.

Hidden in the basements of all six houses are mysterious rooms that might have concealed run-away slaves in the 19th century. Long-forgotten tunnels linking the buildings have also been discovered.

The New York Times has an article about the endangered houses--and a picture of an intriguing hole in Lewis Greenstein's basement.

This Brooklyn Papers article focuses on the unusual features of Joy Chatel's basement and includes a picture of the entrance to one of the hidden rooms.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Tornado in New York City

Right after I completed the last post, a tornado was spotted just south of New York City. Click here for some remarkable pictures.

DeeDee Tastes a Mystery

Yesterday, DeeDee and I set out for Butler Library, armed with a list of the evidence implicating Dr. Mayhew in the book thefts. Once the Irregulars had recovered the lost copy of Glimpses of Gotham, Kiki and I thought it was best to call an end to our investigations. In fact, DeeDee and I would have paid a visit to the Butler librarian several days earlier, but Columbia’s never-ending graduation ceremonies prevented us from getting too close to the campus.

When we finally arrived at the library, DeeDee insisted we take one last look around the stacks for clues before we finally turned the matter over to the authorities. With classes over, the library was deserted. We made it through seven floors of books without seeing a single person. Then, the moment we stepped onto the eighth floor, we heard someone scream. We rushed to the screamer’s aid and discovered a frantic young library employee standing over the motionless body of a filthy bearded man. The man’s dark trench coat had fallen open, revealing pockets crammed with old maps. DeeDee dropped to her knees and took the man’s pulse. “I don’t feel anything,” she murmured before forcing the man’s jaw open and clamping her mouth over his own.

The library employee and I rushed to call 911 as DeeDee performed CPR. By the time we returned, the bearded man was still unconscious—but breathing. DeeDee was sitting on the floor, her back leaning against one of the bookshelves and her legs spread out in front of her. I couldn’t tell if she was panting with relief or exhaustion.

Minutes later, the paramedics arrived. From what we could tell, they believed the man may have slipped into a diabetic coma—though they seemed surprised to see someone so young in such a state. One of the paramedics congratulated DeeDee on her CPR skills while his colleagues hauled the sick man out of the library.

Back on the ground floor, a crowd of library workers had gathered outside the entrance to the stacks, and I noticed the librarian we had come to see standing among them. As I started to walk in his direction, DeeDee grabbed my arm.

“Not yet,” she said in the voice of someone coming down from a massive adrenaline high. “We can’t stop the investigation.”

“Why not?” I asked her.

“When I was giving that guy CPR, I tasted something.”

“Yuck. What was it? Cheesecake?”

“No. It was maple syrup.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Herman's Rare Books

I apologize for leaving you hanging for so long. Faced with final exams and a forced evacuation from my Columbia dorm room, I haven’t had much time to write. Nor have I had the opportunity to do much in the way of detective work. Fortunately, my fellow Irregulars were able to pick up my slack. And now that I’m back downtown, spending summer vacation with my parents, I finally have a chance to update you on their progress.

Once DeeDee and I had identified Dr. Mayhew as the mastermind behind the thefts of books, prints, and maps from Butler Library, Kiki and Betty took over his surveillance. I was hoping they could uncover more information about his relationship with the bearded man who’s living in the library. (Kiki and I suspect that the two might be more than partners in crime.) But the Irregulars’ first—and most important—goal was to recover the stolen copy of Glimpses of Gotham.

On Friday the 12th, Kiki and Betty followed Dr. Mayhew for several hours as he went about his rather boring business. He bought a pastrami sandwich (with extra mustard and a dab of mayo) from a local deli and took a stroll through Riverside Park. Afterwards, he stopped at a newsstand and picked up several rather naughty magazines. Though it’s hard to believe, Betty claims he was in such a good mood that he appeared at times to be skipping. On Saturday morning, they observed Dr. Mayhew leave his apartment, carrying a large tote bag. They trailed him downtown to Herman’s Rare Books—a filthy little shop filled with tall towers of ancient books—and watched from outside as he did business with the man behind the counter.

Fifteen minutes later, Dr. Mayhew emerged, tucking an envelope into his suit jacket. Betty followed him back to his apartment while Kiki took some time off to do a little shopping at the bookstore. The books and maps that Dr. Mayhew had delivered to the shop were still sitting on the counter. With Mr. Herman himself looking over her shoulder, Kiki casually rifled through them. There were at least a dozen items, but Kiki was particularly intrigued by three of them: The journal of a famous explorer who had disappeared in 1826 while searching for the lost cities of the Amazon, a two hundred-year-old biography of Marie Antoinette’s favorite poodle, and a map of the New York Subway system from 1915. All evidence of the items’ origins had been carefully removed. There wasn’t a Dewey Decimal label to be seen.

“How much,” she asked Mr. Herman, holding up the subway map.

“I like your taste,” said Mr. Herman, whom Kiki describes as a pleasant old man with sardine grease on his tie and breath that could peel paint. “But I haven’t put a price on that one yet. I just bought it from a gentleman who’s selling off his collection. I can show you a couple of remarkable things if you’re interested in New York history.”

“Do you have a copy of Glimpses of Gotham?” Kiki asked.

Mr. Herman looked shocked. “As a matter of fact, I do. You know your stuff, young lady. I’d never even heard about Glimpses of Gotham before it came in the other day. I still don’t know whether to label it fiction or non-fiction. But I’m afraid it may be a little out of your price range.”

“Try me,” said Kiki.

“Fifteen hundred dollars,” said Mr. Herman.

“I assume you take Amex,” said Kiki, holding out her credit card.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Man in the Bow Tie

Last night, after the man in the bow tie went to bed, I checked the footage from the cameras Luz had placed in the hidden tunnel under the man’s apartment building. Around 10:50, a glowing figure had entered the tunnel and opened the door to the building’s laundry room. At 11:15, the figure had returned, moving in the opposite direction. I should have been paying better attention. It was pure luck that I looked out the window when I did.

This morning, DeeDee and I visited the mastermind's building. Using the names written next to the apartment buzzers, we jotted down a list of the people who live in the five apartments on the fifth floor. Then, with the help of a Columbia faculty directory, we began the process of elimination. Two of the last names on our list belong to women. One belongs to DeeDee’s biology professor, whom she assures me would never be caught wearing a bow tie. The fourth person listed is in jail for reckless driving.

That leaves Dr. Lyle Mayhew, professor of organic chemistry at Columbia University.


It’s just past eleven o’clock, and I think I’ve made an unbelievable breakthrough. I was just studying for a history exam when I glanced out my window. There, in an apartment on the fifth floor of the building across the street, I spied two men talking. One of them seemed to be faintly glowing. At first I thought that my eyes might be malfunctioning. In the past four hours, I’ve consumed enough coffee to kill Juan Valdez and his mule. But now that I’ve turned off my light, I can see that the glowing man matches DeeDee and Kiki’s description of the man in the library. He’s eating a fudgesicle and listening to an older man who's wearing a bow tie.

The man in the bow tie just threw a sheet over a chair and the dirty, bearded man has taken a seat. The beard has handed a backpack to the bow tie. Bow tie has looked inside and seems pleased. He’s giving beard a glass of yellow liquid. Wine? Lemonade? Mountain Dew? Beard just dropped his fudgesicle on the carpet. Bow tie hasn’t noticed. He’s pulling books out of the backpack. Now he's unrolling some papers. I'm pretty sure they're maps!

Bow tie has stood up and is patting beard on the back. Bow tie just said something and beard is finishing his drink. Bow tie is walking beard to the door. Beard is gone and bow tie just noticed the fudgesicle. He’s wiping at the carpet with a wet paper towel. Oh my god, I just identified the mastermind behind the thefts!

Wednesday, May 3, 2006

The Looting of Butler Library

This afternoon, I paid a visit to the Collection Management Librarian at Butler Library. I had three objectives when I knocked on the door of his office. The first was to apologize for the mess the Irregulars had made on the sixth floor of the library's stacks. The second was to alert the librarian to the presence of a thief. My third and final goal was to squeeze as much information out of him as possible.

I was hoping to make use of the element of surprise, but the fact that a thief is on the loose in Butler Library didn’t come as news to the librarian. While books are stolen from Butler all the time, he informed me, this semester the thefts have increased at a dizzying rate. What’s more, the thieves’ taste seems to be better than usual. While the subject matter of the stolen books has ranged from Teddy Roosevelt to the Battle of Troy, most of the volumes have had one thing in common—they’re extremely rare. The librarian was even kind enough to show me his handwritten list. I recognized a few of the titles, but one stood out from the rest. Glimpses of Gotham.

The librarian still hopes that the missing books will one day be recovered. It's the fate of the books that aren’t missing that concerns him the most. Sometime in February, he began to see evidence of terrible vandalism. Old books were regularly turning up with missing pages. A little research told him that nearly all of the pages that had been removed contained illustrations—usually maps or prints that were worth a fortune to collectors. He said it would be impossible to know just how many illustrations had been stolen without examining every single book at Butler, but he knew the thieves had made a fortune. One of the maps that had been ripped out of a book was worth ten thousand dollars alone.

As for the mess Kiki and DeeDee had left behind in the stacks, all was forgiven when I agreed to give a statement to the police. They are already looking into thefts, but they aren’t convinced that one person is behind them. And as one of the policemen pointed out, we hadn’t actually seen the filthy man steal anything. The cops were, however, quite intrigued by DeeDee’s glow-in-the-dark solution and asked if I could provide them with a sample. I tried to refuse as politely as possible.

By the time I left the library, my head was throbbing. The police warned me not to look for the man in the stacks. But now that a copy of Glimpses of Gotham is involved, there’s no way that the Irregulars can call an end to our investigation.

DeeDee and Kiki Corner a Thief

Just when I was getting bored with this investigation, the Irregulars have made a real discovery at last! Unfortunately, I had nothing to do with it. I’ll try to faithfully recount the story as I heard it, but I encourage Kiki and DeeDee to correct me if I take too much poetic license with the details.

Early this morning, around two o'clock, DeeDee and Kiki were patrolling the stacks in Butler Library. (One has to admire DeeDee’s perseverance. After countless nights of watching and waiting, most people would have thrown in the towel—particularly given the impact a nocturnal lifestyle can have on a girl’s looks, health, and GPA.) They had just begun to make a round of the sixth floor when they heard a chomping and slurping that made them wonder if a wild beast was prowling the campus, snacking on students. A cone of light rose from between two bookshelves and cast a pale yellow circle on the low ceiling.

After removing their shoes, DeeDee and Kiki tiptoed toward the light and ducked into an aisle next to the beast's. Peeking through a narrow gap, they saw a filthy, disheveled man sitting on the floor, surrounded by old books. A flashlight stood on one end, lighting an unusual picnic. The man was consuming a strawberry covered cheesecake without the benefit of a fork or anything resembling table manners. Once he had licked the box clean, the man-beast drew a pristine handkerchief from a pocket and delicately removed all traces of the dessert from his hands and fingernails. He didn’t bother to wipe his mouth, however, and his shaggy beard remained caked with crumbs.

With his hands finally as clean as a surgeon’s, the man stood up and removed a book from the top of a shelf. Apparently, he was quite tall, (though Kiki’s not always a good judge of such things), and not much older than your average Columbia student. While he sported the facial hair of a middle-aged mountain man, DeeDee was certain he couldn’t be more than twenty-three years old. And with a shave, a shower, and a haircut, he wouldn’t have been bad looking, she said,(though DeeDee’s not always a good judge of such things).

DeeDee must have been entranced by his “pretty eyes,” because she leaned in for a closer look. A book slid out on the other side of the bookcase and fell with a thump near the man’s bare feet. According to Kiki, he stood perfectly still for a moment, scanning his surroundings like a trapped animal. That’s when Kiki decided to take action. She pulled out a spray bottle filled with a phosphorescent substance that DeeDee had spent weeks extracting from a species of glow-in-the-dark jellyfish. She shoved an entire row of books to the floor, took careful aim, and coated the man in fine mist of the liquid. Roaring like a yeti, the man hurled himself at the metal bookcase that separated him from my friends. Fortunately, Kiki had foreseen this turn of events, and by the time hundreds of books crashed to the floor, she and DeeDee were tucked safely under a nearby study desk. From their hiding place, they saw the man sprint for the exit. In the darkness, he glowed like a vat of nuclear waste.

Once the man had vanished, Kiki and DeeDee sorted through the piles of books that had fallen from the shelves. There was no way to know which ones the man had been looking at. But next to a crushed cheesecake box, Kiki discovered our most important piece of evidence to date. A ball of string.

I don’t think any of us knew what to make of Kiki’s “evidence” when she first told us about it at this evening’s meeting. The other Irregulars were sitting in my living room downtown, enjoying the contents of my parents’ well-stocked refrigerator, when Kiki took out the ball of string and asked me for a book—one that I didn’t mind ruining. Using her teeth, Kiki snapped off a length of string, balled it up and placed it in her mouth. A few seconds later, she removed the string, now dripping with spit. She opened my copy of Little Women and placed the wet string between two pages of the book, positioning it as close to the binding as possible. She let the book sit for a minute before opening it again. Taking one of the pages between her fingers, she pulled softly and the paper silently tore away in her hand. The cut was clean and almost undetectable.

“Now we know what the man is the stacks has been up to,” Kiki told us all. “He’s been stealing pages from books.”

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Columbia's History Remains Untold

Nearly a month after I ordered The Untold History of Columbia University from Herman’s Rare Books, it arrived in my mailbox yesterday. Unfortunately, the package included a note from Mr. Herman himself. He recently purchased the item from a very reputable collector, he wrote. But before shipping it to me, he took the time to examine the book closely and discovered that a number of pages had been removed from the text. He claims he tried to email me, but never received a response. (A flimsy excuse, I thought, until I checked my order slip and discovered I had mistyped my own email address.) He eventually shipped the book anyway, but should I decide to return it, he will gladly supply a full refund.

Sure enough, as I thumbed through the book, I noticed that several pages had been carefully cut out. Judging from the table of contents, the book was missing a map of the Columbia tunnels and 10 pages of text from a short chapter entitled “Bloomingdale Experiments in Mind Control.” The only new information I could find was a brief mention of a tunnel that linked the asylum’s main building to the home of Dr. Phineas Dunne, one of the institution’s leading physicians. The tunnel, (which I can only imagine is the same one that now ends under an apartment building on the outskirts of the Columbia campus), was used to ferry certain patients back and forth for special “treatments” without arousing the suspicions of their fellow inmates.

A thorough Internet search has revealed nothing about the mysterious Dr. Dunne. He, along with every other lead I’ve tried to follow in this case, has brought me to a dead end. I’m sorry to say that since my last post, the Irregulars have made no progress in our investigations. Luz’s cameras have revealed no visitors to the hidden tunnel. DeeDee has seen no trace of the man we believe is living in the Butler Library stacks. Even Oona and Betty’s visit to the chemical plant in New Jersey was nothing more than a wild goose chase. While Manhattan reeked of Mrs. Butterworth, the scientists across the river were busy perfecting the chemical concoction that makes fast food hamburgers smell like real meat. (Since their visit, Betty has become a vegetarian.)

The only incident I have to report may have nothing to do with the Irregular’s investigations. Since Columbia was overwhelmed by the maple syrup smell more than a week ago, it seems the Anorexic Chef across the street has been unable to stop eating. I personally witnessed her consume two pans of brownies and a stick of butter while she watched an episode of Lost. Yesterday, I came home from class and saw my neighbor passed out on her kitchen floor, covered in cocoa powder. I called an ambulance, and when the paramedics arrived, I was glad to see that one of them shook out her wig and placed it on the gurney beside her. I’ve tried to check up on her, but the hospital refuses to tell me anything other than she’s doing “fine.”

Monday, April 17, 2006

I'll Never Eat Pancakes Again

While I was wasting time watching my neighbors indulge their eating disorders, the maple syrup smell has returned with a vengeance. Two days ago, it rolled in during the middle of the night and engulfed the Upper West Side in a cloud of sickening sweetness. The entire Columbia campus smells like an IHOP, and the students are starting to panic. I’ve seen some wearing World War II-era gas masks, and a number of girls on my hall refuse to leave their rooms until the smell dissipates. (Though to be honest, I’m not sure if the girls in question bothered to attend classes when New York merely reeked of its usual spring bouquet—a blend of urine and exhaust fumes.) So far, however, the odor appears to be relatively harmless. The only effect I’ve noticed is a ravenous hunger and the tendency to eat entire boxes of Krispy Kreme donuts. The Anorexic Chef even scarfed down some of her brownies last night.

The Irregulars can’t afford to entirely drop our investigation of the man in the stacks, but Kiki and I have taken Betty and Oona off the case. They’re now devoting their time to looking into the maple syrup phenomenon. This morning, one of the clients at Oona’s manicure shop was heard speculating that the smell was wafting across the river from a chemical plant in New Jersey. Betty and Oona are going undercover to the plant to see if there’s any truth to the rumor. But I’m beginning to suspect that the source of the smell might be a little more sinister.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Keeping an Eye on the Neighbors

The building across the street from my dorm houses Columbia faculty. I’ve been watching professors totter in and out for two weeks now. Once it’s dark outside, I turn off the lights in my room and enjoy the half-dozen dumb shows that take place every evening behind the building’s windows. I swear it’s better than cable.

When I moved uptown to attend Columbia, my mother purchased a truck load of towels, blankets, and pillow cases—along with enough canned soup to feed the Donner Party. My father, whose sense of humor can border on the bizarre, supplied me with only two things—a chamber pot and a pair of opera glasses. The chamber pot was new, and its intended purpose was self-explanatory. (I’m pleased to say that I haven’t been forced to use it yet, though at times the dorm’s communal bathroom seems like it’s in New Jersey.) But the opera glasses were one of my father’s most prized possessions, and for years, they had been a mystery to me. During the day they sat on a shelf, looking prim and proper in their mother of pearl case. At night, however, whenever my father was suffering from a bout of insomnia, they came out of the china cabinet.

On many occasions when I was a child, I would stumble toward the kitchen for a late-night glass of water and find my father sitting in the dark, his favorite chair turned toward the living room windows and the opera glasses resting in his lap. In the building across the street from ours, I would see an elderly couple arguing in their living room or a teenage girl sneaking out of her apartment while her parents watched police dramas on TV. It took me years to realize that my dad was spying on the neighbors. (It’s not as strange as you think. New York is filled with peeping toms.) He could have used binoculars, he explained to me not long ago, but opera glasses made it seem so much more civilized.

Dad refuses to tell me what more than a decade of surveillance taught him about our downtown neighbors. He claims to think of them as friends, and he says their secrets will always remain safe with him.

Thanks to my father’s opera glasses, over the past couple of weeks, I’ve gotten to know the people who live across the street from my dorm. At first I hoped I would see something that might help explain what the man in the stacks was doing in the tunnel underneath their building. Instead, I’ve discovered that El Gordo (as I’ve started to call the rotund man on the fourth floor) likes to order in tacos and watch Mexican professional wrestling in his underwear, while the Anorexic Chef (I think she teaches creative writing) takes off her wig and prances around her kitchen while baking brownies that she never eats. There’s also an old man in a bow tie who spends a great deal of time pacing and talking on the telephone, as well as a handsome Italian professor who chooses to live like a fourteenth century monk.

DeeDee is convinced my surveillance is pointless. She spends every night at Butler Library, waiting for the man in the stacks to return. Kiki is also getting impatient. I can’t possibly keep track of all the apartments in the building, she’s pointed out, and even I am starting to believe that my time would be better spent elsewhere. Luz is installing surveillance equipment in the tunnel beneath the building. Once the cameras are ready, I’ll turn my attention to the videotape. But I’m not looking forward to leaving my new friends behind. Who else is going to call 911 if El Gordo ends up choking on a quesadilla?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Columbia's Underground Labyrinth

I’d love to tell you that the Irregulars were the first people in forty years to explore the tunnels under Columbia University, but that would be an almost laughable lie. (This old story from Columbia’s newspaper proves that the tunnels are—and will always be—a source of fascination for the school’s more adventurous students.) If you know where to look, you can even find maps on the Internet that claim to show all of Columbia’s underground passages. (Though most sites admit that their maps aren’t entirely reliable.)

Perhaps the reason the tunnels continue to receive a small but steady stream of visitors is that getting inside them is so astonishingly easy. Using the ID cards that Oona had forged, all six of the Irregulars breezed past the security desk at Butler Library, and less than five minutes later we were standing in front of an unmarked door in the building’s basement. There were no guards or cameras—and just an ordinary lock on the door. I imagine some would-be explorers might have found the lock a bit daunting, but Oona’s skilled fingers popped it like the latch on a cheap diary. She threw open the door, revealing a stern warning—something about dangerous conditions and trespassing fines—posted on the wall of tunnel. Kiki Strike took a picture of the warning for her own amusement, and we stepped inside the dimly lit labyrinth.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of exploring Columbia’s underground, I’m happy to describe what we saw there, though I can’t say it was charming sight. The tunnel beneath Butler Library is shaped like the inside of an aluminum can and stretches from east to west under the campus. The Irregulars set off to the east and eventually reached a door that opened onto a passage with concrete walls that were lined with a rainbow of brightly colored pipes. Later, we found sections of tunnel in poor repair—their brick walls were crumbling and mud puddles sprinkled with dead squirrels created a foul obstacle course. Wherever we went, evidence of previous explorers was impossible to overlook—graffiti covered the walls, soda bottles with cryptic notes inside littered the ground, and uninspired messages written in magic marker decorated the pipes.

The fact is, next to the Shadow City, the Columbia tunnels don’t offer much to write home about. Most are dirty, hot, and unpleasantly narrow. We did make a few interesting discoveries, however: a jumble of rotting trampolines, a dozen old coal carts left forgotten on their tracks, and evidence that one of the university’s main buildings could collapse at any time. When we passed under Pupin Hall, the university’s main physics building, DeeDee insisted we search for the cyclotron that was rumored to be on the first floor. Legend had it that the sixty-year-old machine had been used during the Manhattan Project—the development of the first nuclear bomb. DeeDee tried to make the search more interesting by warning us all that machine—along with the entire building—could be radioactive, but when we found the cyclotron, it looked like nothing more than a harmless hulk of rusting metal. (Also covered in graffiti, I might add.)

As we left the physics building and continued on the loop that led back toward Butler Library, DeeDee entertained us with the story of Ken Hechtman who had been a student at in the 1980’s. Founder of an anarchist group called ADHOC, Hechtman had used the tunnels to steal radioactive material from the physics department and dangerous chemicals from a nearby chemistry building so he could experiment with them in his dorm room. No one seemed to know the nature of Hechtman’s experiments. As DeeDee recounted the tale, I could sense that she admired the anarchist’s dedication to his science.

We were almost back under Butler Library when I realized we’d missed one of the tunnels. It was clearly marked on Professor Morlock’s map—a passage that began under the university’s bookstore and led to the west, beyond the campus’s borders. Yet somehow we had walked right past it.

The Irregulars returned to search for the tunnel, and for more than twenty minutes we looked in vain. Since the Irregulars have all had a fair amount of experience locating hidden passages, I began to wonder if the professor had made a mistake. After all, the tunnel wasn’t noted on any of the other maps we had come across. Even Kiki was ready to give up when Betty noticed a pipe on one wall that appeared to be cracked. She bent over for a look and felt a cool draft blowing against her cheek. She gave the pipe a soft push, and the crack widened. Another push, and part of the wall seemed to give way. It was a secret door, and behind it was the entrance to the tunnel we’d been looking for.

Long, dark, and only a few feet wide, the brick-lined tunnel stopped abruptly at another door. Kiki and I stepped past two empty cheesecake boxes and turned the knob. The fluorescent lights of a laundry room spilled into the darkness. We sent the other girls back to Butler Library, and exited the tunnel. When the door we’d come through closed behind us, it seemed to disappear into the wall. After a quick survey of the basement, Kiki and I took an elevator to the building’s first floor. When we realized we were inside an ordinary apartment building that offered little to see, we left through the front door.

Outside in the sunshine, I experienced my first real shock of the day. I was standing across the street from my dorm.

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Story So Far

I’m sure you’re expecting to hear what happened last night in the tunnels below Columbia University. Believe me—I’m anxious to tell you. But I’ve been advised by one of my most loyal readers (thanks, Luz) that I’m in danger of confusing everyone unless I take the time to bring you up to date on the story. So here goes . . .

Three weeks ago, I discovered evidence (namely an electric blanket and a half-eaten cheesecake) that led me to believe that someone might be secretly living in Butler Library—the main library on the Columbia University campus. My curiosity piqued, I decided to investigate. For almost a week, I staked out the darkest, most deserted sections of the library but saw nothing of note. Then one evening I fell asleep while reading a book I had found lying on a nearby desk. Sometime around midnight, I was rudely awakened by a mysterious goggle-wearing man who informed me—in a very uncivil tone—that I was using “his” book as a pillow. That was my first—and last—meeting with Butler Library’s only resident.

The book he yanked out from underneath my head was entitled The Untold History of Columbia University. From the little I managed to read before drifting off to dreamland, I gathered that an insane asylum had once stood on the very ground where Columbia was built and that a system of tunnels lay underneath the school. Later research informed me that the tunnels did, in fact, exist and that some of them dated back to the days of the old Bloomingdale Insane Asylum.

I began to suspect that there might be a connection between the man living in the library and the tunnels underneath the school. As it turns out, I was right. (More about that once I've gotten a little sleep.)

Kiki Strike and the Irregulars agreed to help me with my investigations, and DeeDee Morlock managed to make the first break in the case. Her father, Sirius Morlock, a professor of chemistry at Columbia has first-hand knowledge of the tunnels underneath the school. In 1968, while Professor Morlock was an undergraduate at Columbia, he and group of his fellow students staged an uprising and took over the campus. He used the tunnels to smuggle food and supplies to the rebels. Though he probably had no idea what he was getting his daughter into, Professor Morlock gave the Irregulars our first big scoop—a hand-drawn map of the tunnels.

Last night, the Irregulars took our first tour.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

Ancient Tunnels Discovered in Israel

While I'm waiting for tonight's adventure to begin, I thought I'd let you know about a thrilling discovery that was recently made on the other side of the world. I should have posted this story earlier, but as you might imagine, I've had a lot on my mind.

Earlier in March, archaeologists uncovered a system of tunnels and igloo-shaped underground chambers near the city of Nazareth in Israel. Apparently, the subterranean village was the work of ancient Jews who were preparing to revolt against Roman rule nearly 2000 years ago. The hidden rooms, which the Jewish rebels built beneath the floors of their own homes, were intended to serve as a refuge from the Roman army.

A much more in-depth account of the discovery can be found here, along with a fascinating picture of a two-headed turtle.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Planning for the Expedition

First thing this morning, Kiki Strike and I visited the secret room under the Brooklyn Bridge. No “civilians” have been allowed inside since it was discovered, and even Oona’s handmade press passes didn’t impress the policemen keeping guard when I tried to gain access to the bridge on Thursday. But Kiki had a hunch that we might find an entrance to the room in the Shadow City, and I had a hunch she was right. The bomb shelter may date from the 1950’s, but the bridge itself is much, much older. Just as Kiki suspected, there was a narrow passage leading from a large room with a rat-baiting pit to the hidden chamber under the bridge. (I wonder if the passage was once used to deliver waterfront rodents to the pit below.) It’s nice to know that, even after all of these years, the Shadow City can still continue to surprise us. Kiki and I were able to take a private tour of the Brooklyn Bridge bomb shelter, and Kiki left with a souvenir package of fifty-year-old crackers.

When I got back to my dorm room, I picked up a message from Oona. She’s finished making Columbia ID cards for the Irregulars. (We could have explored the tunnels under the university without them, but it’s always best to be prepared for the worst. Students caught wandering through the tunnel would be one thing—but who knows what might happen to a bunch of suspicious-looking girls with no security passes.) Tomorrow night, the Irregulars will embark on our first expedition through the Columbia tunnels. Although I know nothing could possibly compare to the tunnels of the Shadow City, my head’s still buzzing with excitement.

As for the man in Butler Library, he’s been keeping a very low profile lately. Since my cover was blown in the stacks, DeeDee has been spending late nights studying in the darkness. She’s only caught sight of the man once when he sauntered past her desk carrying a pillow and a bowl of soup. She tried to follow him, of course, but he managed to slip out of sight somewhere in the vicinity of the architecture books.

I should also note that after hunting online for days, I’ve managed to locate a copy of the book the man took from me that night in the library. I've ordered The Untold History of Columbia University from a downtown shop that specializes in rare books, and it should arrive in my mailbox sometime soon. I'm dying to find out why it was of such interest to Butler Library’s only resident.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Coyote Captured in Central Park

It’s only Wednesday, but this week has already seen two bizarre events. First the forgotten bomb shelter under the Brooklyn Bridge was discovered, and now a coyote has been captured in Central Park. The furry invader managed to elude the authorities for quite some time before it was shot with a tranquilizer gun and given the rather uninsipired nickname Hal.

Of course, this is by no means the first time wild animals have been spotted or captured in New York City.

Ask most New Yorkers, and they’ll tell you that the alligators reputed to live in New York’s sewer system are only urban myths. However, quite a few of these fierce reptiles have been discovered in the city over the years. You can find an amusing list of alligator sightings at this website.

The Wild Parrots of Brooklyn
No one knows for sure how a large and boisterous flock of South American parrots came to take up residence in parts of Brooklyn. The most promising theory states that, sometime in the 1960s, a shipment of birds bound for pet stores was accidentally released at JFK Airport. Since then, the number of wild parrots in Brooklyn has exploded, and the birds have found themselves with many friends—and many enemies—in New York. An excellent website entirely devoted to the parrots can be found here.

In 2001, seals began to make a comeback in the waters surrounding New York City. For decades they had avoided the harbor, which was foul, polluted, and often quite smelly. Now seals can be found sunning their fat, brown bodies in all five boroughs of the city.

In 2003, police disovered a 400+ pound tiger living in the apartment of a man named Antoine Yates. (Along with a three foot alligator.) In order to capture the beast, a police officer rapelled down the side of Mr. Yate’s buiding, and fired a traquilizer gun at the tiger through an open window. The tiger is currently living in a much more suitable environment: Ohio.