First Ace edition (H-14), copyright 1965, “by arrangement with Chilton Books.”
Vincent Gaddis’ Invisible Horizons (1965) introduced the Bermuda Triangle into popular culture. The book is a compendium of sea mysteries (the “vanishing” crew of the Mary Celeste, the “cursed” S.S. Watertown) and includes a chapter called “The Triangle of Death” expanded from his 1964 article for Argosy, “The Deadly Bermuda Triangle.” Gaddis, a journalist by trade before he went freelance, was a member of the Fortean Society and wrote for the Society’s magazine, Doubt, starting in the 1940s. He was also a contributing editor for the San Diego-based The Round Robin (1945-1959), “a bulletin of contact and information for students of psychic research and parapsychology” edited by N. Meade Layne, a former English professor whose theory of a parallel dimension called Etheria influenced Gaddis as well as the ufology field.
Gaddis’ coining of “Bermuda Triangle” very likely owes something to Charles Fort’s “London Triangle,” first mentioned in New Lands (1923):
There is a triangular region in England, three points of which appear so often in our data that the region should be specially known to us, and I know it myself as the London Triangle. It is pointed in the north by Worcester and Hereford, in the south by Reading, Berkshire, and in the east by Colchester, Essex. The line between Colchester and Reading runs through London.
The “triangular region,” according to Fort, experiences a high degree of disturbances including earthquakes, “repeating explosions in the sky,” “luminous” aerial phenomena, and falling meteorites—“the type of phenomena that might be considered evidence of signaling from some unknown world nearby.”
Invisible Horizons was first published by Chilton Books in hardcover in 1965. A paperback edition was rushed out the same year, minus the voluminous photographs, by Ace Books, a publisher specializing in science fiction, horror, and the booming “strange but true” genre since the late 1950s. Ace released new editions of all four of Charles Fort’s books throughout the 1960s, starting with The Book of the Damned in 1962.
Gaddis spins a compelling yarn, and, unlike almost all of his genre contemporaries, he cites his sources, even if many of them are ultimately unreliable (i.e., Fate magazine). Gaddis presents his peculiar combination of Fort, Freud, and Jung in the introduction:
We are led to believe that all our awareness, all our knowledge, is derived from the five senses. But consciousness is only the surface of a great mental well that drops deep into the unknown—the outer light of a spectrum that radiates far into the infrared of the subconscious and the ultra-violet of the superconscious.
Man… is influenced by innumerable invisible forces that, in turn, respond to the ceaseless ebb and flow of the universe.
Later, he explains that “the supernatural of today is the natural of tomorrow,” a sentiment originating with Fort* and best expressed by Arthur C. Clarke years later: “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”*
“The Triangle of Death” covers all the disappearances mentioned by E.V.W. Jones in his 1950 AP article, with a big section devoted to “the most incredible mystery in the history of aviation,” the disappearance of the five Navy TBM Avengers of Flight 19 in 1945. (Flight 19 is a myth unto itself that dates to a 1962 American Legion article by Allan W. Eckert called “The Mystery of the Lost Patrol.” The article is poorly researched and includes much sensational hearsay repeated by Gaddis, Charles Berlitz, and many others.)
Gaddis even “borrows” the beginning and end of the Jones article. Here’s Jones:
It’s a small world? No, it’s still the same vast world the ancients knew, with the same misty limbo of the lost.
We think it is small because of speeding wheels and wings and the voice of radio which comes out of the void. A mile is only a minute’s travel by wheel or a few seconds’ flight—but it is still a mile.
But it is the same big world the ancients knew into which men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.
And here’s Gaddis:
The Bermuda Triangle underlines the fact that despite swift wings and the voice of the radio, we still have a world large enough for men and their machines and ships to disappear without a trace. A mile is still a mile, and the miles can add up to a vast unknown—the same misty limbo of the lost feared by our forefathers.
Gaddis’ conclusion about the nature of the “limbo of the lost” is that
occasional aberrations of an unusual type occur in the air and on the surface of the ocean. These aberrations might cause magnetic, possibly gravitational, effects; in which case might for all practical purposes be referred to as “space warps,” and cause deadly turbulence ending in total disintegration of planes and ships…
Earlier in the chapter Gaddis refers to the aberration as a “hole in the sky”—shades of Fort’s Super-Sargasso Sea and Meade Layne’s Etheria. Gaddis makes a few more observations of interest in the chapters following “The Triangle of Death.” In the first, as if anticipating Fox Mulder, Gaddis remarks that
in an apparently limitless universe, extending into nobody knows how many dimensions, all phenomena cannot be neatly classified. The realm of the unknown will ever ‘surround’ us, and it is a realm without end.
And from his conclusion, “Invisible Horizons”:
Could some of these crews have been kidnapped by extra-terrestrials? To those who have investigated this question, the evidence that there is interplanetary or interstellar traffic is impressive. We may be ignored for the same reason that savages on a jungle-clad isle are ignored by passing merchant vessels… Still, occasional visitors from the void may pick up some of us for exhibition in their zoos!
So Gaddis popularized not only the Bermuda Triangle but a foundational trope in ufology and ufo lore that became cemented in the mainstream with Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), the conclusion of which shows the crew of Flight 19 and other alleged abductees being released from the Mothership.
Joshua Blu Buhs, an independent scholar researching the early Forteans, has written the most comprehensive biography of Gaddis on record at his blog, From an Oblique Angle.
Images of Gaddis are via Blu Buhs and Nancy Bradley.
Gaddis and Meade Layne are mentioned in this 1948 North American Newspaper Alliance article about a proposed Atlantis expedition.
The novel was originally published in 1977 by Doubleday and seems to hit all the hot topics of 1970s paranormal sci-fi: The Bermuda Triangle, Atlantis, UFOs, time warps, etc. The cover art is by Paul Alexander and continues the dead and buried astronaut trope that I talked about here. There is something peculiarly haunting about the deep space explorer buried in the sands of time—a reminder that even the noblest and most audacious of human endeavors ends in a handful of dust.
The Sargasso Sea, probably first crossed by Christopher Columbus in 1492, is an area in the North Atlantic known for its still waters and named for the large masses of Sargassum seaweed found there and kept there by the circular tides. In nautical lore, the Sargasso Sea is the proverbial “graveyard of lost ships” and has been discussed and avoided by mariners since ancient times.
In fiction, the region becomes a plot device starting in the late 19th century with Julius Chambers’ In Sargasso (1896) and Thomas A. Janvier’s In the Sargasso Sea (1898).* In Lost Worlds, L. Sprague de Camp describes the latter work:
Some odd ideas are current about the Sargasso Sea because in 1896 [sic] the novelist T.A. Janvier wrote a gripping novel, In the Sargasso Sea, in which he described the tract as an impenetrable tangle of weed holding fast the remains of ships of all ages from Spanish galleons down.
The “impenetrable tangle” would become a distinctly supernatural “borderland” in the Sargasso Sea cycle of William Hope Hodgson, a collection of short stories published between 1906 and 1920. In “From the Tideless Sea” (1906), Hodgson’s narrator describes the horrors of being stuck
… in the heart of the dread Sargasso Sea—the Tideless Sea of the North Atlantic. From the stump of our mizzen mast, one may see, spread out to the far horizon, an interminable waste of weed—a treacherous, silent vastitude of slime and hideousness!
The literary trope was integrated into science fiction beginning in the early 1930s.*
Explicit identification of the Sargasso Sea with Atlantis (see part two of this series) begins with W.H. Babcock’s Legendary Islands of the Atlantic (1922) and Lewis Spence’s Atlantis in America (1925). Both authors ascribe Plato’s description of post-cataclysm Atlantean waters as “unnavigable” to the “dead waters of the Sargasso Sea.”* The vast body of water spans the entire area of Spence’s island of Antillia, as well as the southern portion of his Atlantis.*
The Atlantis-Sargasso Sea connection is picked up by Edgar Cayce, who mentions in a February 1932 reading (364-4) that Atlantis “near what would be termed the Sargasso Sea first went into the depths…”* In an April 1932 reading (364-11) Cayce is asked to “Describe in more detail the causes and effects of the destruction of the part of Atlantis now the Sargasso Sea.” He responds:
As there were those individuals that attempted to bring again to the mind of man more of those forces that are manifest by the closer association of the mental and spiritual, or the soul forces that were more and more as individual and personal forms in the world, the use of the these elements – as for the building up, or the passage of individuals through space – brought the uses of the gases then (in the existent forces), and the individuals being able to become the elements, and elementals themselves, added to that used in the form of what is at present known as the raising of the powers from the sun itself, to the ray that makes for disintegration of the atom, in the gaseous forces formed, and brought about the destruction in that portion of the land now presented, or represented, or called, Sargasso Sea.*
Charles Fort (1874-1932), an originator of the field of anomalous investigation (his biographers have called him the “prophet of the unexplained” and “the man who invented the supernatural“), postulates the existence of a “Super-Sargasso Sea” starting with his first book, The Book of the Damned (1919). Part reportage (“a procession of data that science has excluded”), part satire, and part nonsense literature, the text is an attack against what he saw as the arrogance of the exclusionary scientific worldview (“pale ignorances, presiding over microscopes”).
The Super-Sargasso Sea—a motif that runs throughout his work—is a stationary, upper-atmospheric, extra-dimensional holding tank from which things unaccountably appear (i.e., fish falling from the sky during an earthquake) and into which things unaccountably disappear (i.e., the crew of the Mary Celeste). After introducing the phrase as a sentence unto itself, Fort goes on:
Derelicts, rubbish, old cargoes from inter-planetary wrecks; things cast out into what is called space by convulsions of other planets, things from the times of the Alexanders, Caesars and Napoleons of Mars and Jupiter and Neptune; things raised by this earth’s cyclones: horses and barns and elephants and flies and dodoes, moas, and pterodactyls; leaves from modern trees and leaves of the Carboniferous era—all, however, tending to disintegrate into homogeneous-looking muds or dusts, red or black or yellow—treasure-troves for the paleontologists and for the archaeologists—accumulations of centuries—cyclones of Egypt, Greece, and Assyria—fishes dried and hard, there a short time: others there long enough to putrefy—*
He concludes, as far as any thought can be concluded in a book devoted to undermining the basis of all conclusion, that the Super-Sargasso Sea “functions very well as a nucleus around which to gather data that oppose Exclusionism,” though “something else… may overthrow it later.”
The Sargasso Sea is not mentioned in Vincent Gaddis’ Fortean Invisible Horizons (1965), but John Wallace Spencer devotes a small section of his Limbo of the Lost (1969) to the fabled area, rejecting the notion that it has anything to do with mysterious vanishings as unsubstantiated (Spencer’s theory is that UFOs are abducting craft from the area). The National Geographic Society describes the Sargasso Sea as “a legendary twilight zone for mariners” and compares it to the “legend of the Bermuda Triangle” as early as 1968.*
Charles Berlitz reintroduces the Atlantis-Sargasso Sea connection of Babcock and Spence in his first book, The Mystery of Atlantis (1969),* and slots the Bermuda Triangle into the equation with his next book, 1974’s myth-cementing The Bermuda Triangle.
The Sargasso Sea was almost completely demystified by the middle of the 20th century,*** being easily subject to repeated scientific study. The mantle of the “graveyard of lost ships” has long since been transferred to the Bermuda Triangle, whose alleged supernatural properties are inherently unfalsifiable.
The myth of the “lost continent” of Atlantis originates in Plato, who wrote in the dialogues Timaeus and Critias about a great military power “insolently advancing” from an island in the Atlantic “which was larger than Libya and Asia together.” The Atlanteans, formerly of “divine nature” but presently “visibly debased,” were defeated by the noble Athenians (Plato’s countrymen), and Atlantis was later “swallowed up by the sea and vanished.” (Note: the translation here is by J.B. Bury, an influential early 20th century Classics scholar whose works on Ancient Greece were standard issue textbooks; compare the description of Atlantis’ fate to E.V.W. Jones’ 1950 article on the “misty limbo of the lost” into which ships and planes are “swallowed up” and “vanish”).
Modern interest in the subject began with U.S. Congressman Ignatius Donnelly’s Atlantis: The Antediluvian World (1882) and became a mainstay of the Western occult tradition with the publication of Madame Blavatsky’s The Secret Doctrine (1888), in which the co-founder of the Theosophical Society formulates and describes the seven “root races,” the fourth race originating in Atlantis.
Scotsman Lewis Spence, in an effort to rescue Atlantis from esoteric figures like Blavatsky and continue the serious “scientific” study begun by Donnelly, wrote The Problem of Atlantis in 1924 (several volumes on the subject would follow). Here he argues that Atlantis was once a great continent that took up a substantial portion of the ocean it was named after, and that towards the end of the Miocene epoch tremendous volcanic activity caused the continent to break apart into two island continents, Atlantis and Antillia. The smaller of the two, Antillia, lies directly within what is now called the Bermuda Triangle.
L. Sprague de Camp, who wrote the definitive study on Atlantis and “lost continent mythology,” 1954’s Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature, details Spence’s view of how the sprawling civilization came to ruin:
Final disaster appears to have overtaken Atlantis about 10,000 B.C. Antillia, on the other hand, seems to have survived until a much more recent period, and still exists fragmentally in the Antillean Group, or West Indian Islands. [Italics mine]
Spence also speculates that the Mayan civilization was actually of Atlantean origin, the result of forced Antillian migration.
Enter Edgar Cayce (1877-1945), the alleged psychic who became a national phenomenon during World War II for the “life readings” he gave while in a state of trance. (A 1943 article in Coronet magazine may have been the genesis of his popularity.) Cayce, who became known as “The Sleeping Prophet,” was heavily influenced by the writings of Blavatsky (who drew heavily on Donnelly and Spence), and had elaborate theories of his own about Atlantis and its sister lost land, Lemuria (Mu), supposedly once located in the Pacific. During a trance state in 1933 (reading 440-5), Cayce described ancient records existing
in the sunken portions of Atlantis, or Poseidia, under the slime of ages of sea water—near what is known as Bimini, off the coast of Florida.*
And in 1940, during another reading (958-3),
Poseidia will be among the first portion of Atlantis to rise again. Expect it in ’68 or ’69; not so far away!*
This caused some excitement in the 1960s among a cultural milieu that was openly exploring the “Aquarian frontier” and generally sympathetic to psychic prognostications. The first edition of the still-in-print Edgar Cayce on Atlantis, “interpreted” and edited by Cayce’s sons, appeared in 1968, though his readings were en vogue and widely circulated by Edgar Cayce’s Association for Research and Enlightenment (A.R.E.) before that.
In August 1968, a former Yale zoology professor and amateur archaeologist, Manson Valentine, discovered what he called a “temple” off the coast of North Bimini Island that he hoped “might be part of Atlantis.”* Now called the Bimini Road and pegged by geologists as a natural rock formation, Valentine had been a “student of the Bermuda Triangle” since 1945* and reportedly engaged in the dive “in hopes of confirming Cayce’s prophecy.”* Valentine would later collaborate on the Charles Berlitz blockbuster The Bermuda Triangle (1974). The book, which I’ll cover in a later installment, offers many possible supernatural explanations for disappearances within the Bermuda Triangle, one of them centering on advanced technology (energy crystals called “firestones”) said by Edgar Cayce to be left over from the destruction of Atlantis.
Press mentions of strange happenings within the Northwest Atlantic “triangle” area start to appear soon after publication of Vincent Gaddis’ Invisible Horizons: True Mysteries of the Sea in 1965. (Gaddis had coined the moniker “Bermuda Triangle” in a 1964 Argosy article, and I’ll talk more about him later.) George Butler, who penned a column called “It’s a Strange World” for Alabama’s the Gadsden Times (Edgar Cayce at one time lived in Gadsden) from the mid-1960s through the late ’70s, wrote several articles on Cayce’s reported psychic powers, including his Atlantis predictions, the earliest I’ve found (“Lost Continent: Myth or History“) dating from 1966. The following year Butler wrote a piece called “Mystery Hovers Over Florida Waters,” identifying the area in question as a “Mystery Triangle” (capitalization his). Despite being “guarded by radio and radar,” Butler writes,
and under constant surveillance… from dozens of commercial airliners… military planes, airliners, private planes, fishing boats and yachts have disappeared—all without a trace.
He goes on to describe many (four out of five) of the same “baffling” disappearances mentioned by E.V.W. Jones, using much the same language and tone as the writer of the earlier article.
The first known reference to mysterious disappearances attributed to the region now known as the Bermuda Triangle was a nationally syndicated Associated Press article by E.V.W. Jones first published in the Miami Herald and the Miami News on September 17, 1950. Jones does not specifically mention a triangle, though the diagram accompanying the article all but completes one, with the now common vertices named (Miami, Bermuda, and San Juan, Puerto Rico). What he does reference is a “limbo of the lost… into which men and their machines and ships can disappear without a trace.”
The slant of Jones’ article is that no matter how powerful our technology in “the age of the mechanical mind,” it cannot penetrate or control the world’s great mysteries, the sea preeminent among them. The “small” world of the modern harbors the same potent, often violent secrets that beleaguered “the same vast globe the ancients knew.”
The article appeared only five years after the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the advent of the Cold War. Skepticism of or downright hostility towards technology was not uncommon, with humility in the face of God and His creation a prevalently prescribed antidote. (Throughout the 1960s, up until the Apollo 11 moon landing in 1969, “45-60% of Americans believed that the government was spending too much on space…”)*
The freighter Sandra “carried radio,” an instrument that Jones likens to a modern miracle, a voice that “comes out of the void”—yet the cargo ship “disappeared without a trace.” A plane with 32 passengers departing from San Juan and bound for Miami never arrived—“the elusive limbo into which they flew was on no map,” a map being only a demarcation of the known world. The phrase “without a trace” or “no trace” appears four times in the short article, “mystery” or a variant thereof appears seven times, and “disappeared” and “vanished” each appear three times.
Says Jones, in the final, key passage:
These, and other modern mysteries have established a roll of about 135 persons who went forth confidently into a world they thought small. [Italics mine]
“Confidence” in this case means hubris, and “a world they thought small” carries a tone of warning, as if everyone who trusts the modern world’s “speeding wheels and wings” is attempting to catch a hurricane in a thimble.
Though the disappearances are in no way attributed to supernatural or extraterrestrial forces, there is certainly a distinction between the known world, circumscribed by our modern machines, and the “vast unknown” or “elusive limbo” into which those machines have been “swallowed up,” just as utterly and consistently as in the days of Scylla and Charybdis.
Note: The relationship between technological growth and belief in the occult is an intimate one. The bottom line is that the tremendous advancements in science and technology over the last 70 years have done nothing to curb belief in the paranormal. If anything, the opposite has happened. In 1957 only 25% of Americans believed UFOs were extraterrestrial in nature*, compared to nearly 50% today.* Nearly half of Americans today believe astrology is a science*, a number not seen since the height of the New Age fad in the early 1980s. According to a recent poll in the UK, 39% of respondents believe in ghosts, compared to only 10% in 1950.* In that same time period, church attendance in America has declined significantly, as has membership in, trust in, and relevance of organized religion.*
Most human beings require mysteries, myths, and a meaning that transcends the confines of physical time and space. It just so happens that science is in the business of eliminating those things.