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Strange & Unexplained - Bermuda Triangle

[- The Bermuda Triangle -]
The genesis of the Bermuda Triangle legend is in an Associated Press dispatch of September 16, 1950, in which reporter E. V. W. Jones took note of what he characterized as mysterious disappearances of ships and planes between the Florida coast and Bermuda. Two years later, in an article in Fate magazine, George X. Sand recounted a "series of strange marine disappearances, each leaving no trace whatever, that have taken place in the past few years" in a "watery triangle bounded roughly by Florida, Bermuda and Puerto Rico."

M. K. Jessup picked up on some of the same stories in his 1955 book The Case for Hie UFO, which suggested that alien intelligences were responsible, a view echoed by Donald E. Keyhoe (The Flying Saucer Conspiracy [19551) and Frank Edwards (Stranger Than Science [1959]). It took Vincent H. Gaddis to coin the catch-all phrase that would enter popular culture; his article in the February 1964 issue of Argosy (the following year incorporated into his book Invisible Horizons) was titled "The Deadly Bermuda Triangle." Soon nearly every popular book on "true mysteries" included sections on the Bermuda Triangle or, as some called it, the "Devil's triangle" or the "hoodoo sea." Ivan T. Sanderson, author of Invisible Residents (1970), cited it as evidence of an intelligent, technologically advanced underwater civilization which is responsible for, among other mysterious phenomena, UFOs.

The first book specifically on the subject was a self-published work by John Wallace Spencer, Limbo of the Lost (1969), which as a 1973 Bantam paperback found a huge readership. In 1970 a feature-film documentary, The Devil's Triangle, brought the subject a new, larger audience. The Bermuda Triangle fever peaked in 1974 with the publication of The Bermuda Triangle, a major bestseller (five million sales worldwide) written by Charles Berlitz with J. Manson Valentine. That year two paperbacks, Richard Winer's The Devil's Triangle and John Wallace Spencer's No Earthly Explanation, also racked up impressive sales.

The articles and books on the subject betrayed little evidence of original research. Attentive readers could not help noticing that mostly the Triangle's chroniclers rewrote each other's work. In 1975 Larry Kusche, a librarian at Arizona State University, published a devastating debunking of what he called the "manufactured mystery." In the book, titled The Bermuda Triangle Mystery-Solved, he did the archival digging the other writers had neglected. Weather records, the reports of official investigating agencies, newspaper accounts, and other documents indicated that the Triangle literature had played fast and loose with the evidence. For example, calm seas in the literature turned into raging storms in reality; mysterious disappearances became conventionally caused sinkings and crashes; the remains of ships "never heard from again" turned out to have been found long since.

In an April 4, 1975, letter to Mary Margaret Fuller, editor of Fate, a spokesman for Lloyd's of London wrote, "According to Lloyd's Records, 428 vessels have been reported missing throughout the world since 1955, and it may interest you to know that our intelligence service can find no evidence to support the claim that the 'Bermuda Triangle' has more losses than elsewhere. This finding is upheld by the United States Coastguard [sic] whose computer-based records of casualties in the Atlantic go back to 1958."

If the Triangle's proponents had been able to mount any credible defense, the Triangle might have retained some claim to being an authentic anomaly. Instead there was virtual silence. An exchange in Pursuit between Berlitz and another Triangle critic, British writer Paul Begg, inspired little confidence in would-be believers. Berlitz's response to a long list of factual errors was to note that Kusche and Begg had not actually visited the Triangle and that Kusche had once asked him "whether The New Yorker was a New York newspaper."

Occasional reappearances in supermarket tabloids notwithstanding, the once-famous Bermuda Triangle survives for the most part as a footnote in the history of fads and passing sensations. In the mid-1970s another dubious "mystery," focused on allegedly enigmatic cattle mutilations, took its place in the popular imagination.

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