The Nth Country Experiment?

In 1964, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory conducted a top-secret experiment with enormous global ramifications. The project remained classified until 2003 when heavily-excised documents were finally released to the public. What was the Nth Country Experiment?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 16 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Nth Country Experiment?

In May 1964, the Livermore Radiation Laboratory offered a special assignment to a man named Bob Selden. It was the culmination of a strange couple of days that began when Selden – who held a PhD in physics – was interviewed by Edward Teller, the “Father of the Hydrogen Bomb.” Teller grilled him on the physics of making nuclear weapons, a topic of which Selden knew little.

The assignment? Selden was tasked with developing a working nuclear weapon design using nothing more than publicly-available information.

“The goal of the participants should be to design an explosive with a militarily significant yield. A working context for the experiment might be that the participants have been asked to design a nuclear explosive which, if built in small numbers, would give a small nation a significant effect on their foreign relations.” ~ Summary Report of the Nth Country Experiment

At that time, only four countries knew how to develop nuclear weapons. The U.S. was the 1st country to achieve this feat, the USSR was the 2nd, the UK was the 3rd, and France was the 4th. That begged the question: How difficult would it be for the “Nth country” to follow suit?

Could the “Nth Country” develop Nuclear Weapons?

Selden was brought into the already-existing project to replace David Pipkorn. He joined Dave Dobson and the two men got to work. According to a 2003 article on the subject from the Guardian, it was an uphill battle from the start:

“Dobson’s knowledge of nuclear bombs was rudimentary, to say the least. ‘I just had the idea that [to make a bomb] you had to quickly put a bunch of fissile material together somehow,’ he recalls.” ~ Oliver Burkeman, The Guardian

Two and a half years later, in late 1966, Dobson and Selden ceased work. They’d developed a design for an implosion-style atomic bomb, similar to the one dropped on Nagasaki. Interestingly enough, much of the information they’d used came as a result of Dwight Eisenhower’s “Atoms for Peace” program, which “propelled a huge amount of technical detail into the public domain.”

“We produced a short document that described precisely, in engineering terms, what we proposed to build and what materials were involved. The whole works, in great detail, so that this thing could have been made by Joe’s Machine Shop downtown.” ~ Bob Selden

For two weeks, the two men heard nothing about the success of the Nth Country Experiment. Instead, they were sent to defense and scientific agencies to give lectures on their results. But eventually, they learned that they’d succeeded in creating a credible design for an atomic bomb.

The Nth Country Experiment’s Influence on Chaos?

The Nth Country project officially ended on April 10, 1967. Prior to the Nth Country Experiment, “there were two schools of thought [in regard to nuclear weapons] – that the ideas could be kept secret, and that the material could be locked up.” But Dobson and Selden proved that the ideas were easily accessible to any country that employed reasonably intelligent physicists. Thus, nuclear proliferation efforts became focused on keeping the materials, namely uranium and plutonium, under tight wraps.

I love history and bits and pieces of it are scattered throughout the plot of Chaos. This is the case for the Nth Country Experiment. While it doesn’t play a gigantic role, its implications are daunting…(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD)

Chase ignored me. “Theoretically, it’s not difficult to build a nuclear weapon. The U.S. Army proved that in 1964. They secretly hired two physics professors to design an atomic bomb using only public information. In just two years, those professors had developed the blueprints for a Hiroshima-sized weapon that could be built in a normal machine shop.”

His eyes tensed. Then, his hand reached to his collar and scratched his neck. I caught a glimpse of a large ugly welt underneath his shirt’s fine fabric.

“Just blueprints?” I asked.

“Even with a working design, an atomic bomb was out of their reach. They lacked the appropriate fissionable materials. Specifically, Uranium-235 or Plutonium-239. That’s the secret of non-proliferation efforts. While the knowledge to build a bomb is available, the materials are nearly impossible to procure. Red Mercury will change that.”

“And in the process, put nuclear weapons in the hands of terrorists.” I shook my head. “Are you crazy?” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerMoments afterward, all hell breaks loose as Cy launches a daring counterattack. If you want to know what happens next, treat yourself to a copy of Chaos today.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to examine one of the most explosive controversies in history. Were the atomic bombs dropped on Japan really necessary? Or was their an ulterior motive behind their deployment? Stop by tomorrow to weigh in on the debate…I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

 

The Nazi Atomic Bomb?

In 1937, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassman split the atom, giving Nazi Germany an early edge in the race to build the world’s first atomic bomb. Just how close did Hitler get to developing the most powerful weapon mankind has ever known?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 15 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Nazi Atomic Bomb?

At first, the Nazis weren’t fully aware of the military potential of Hahn’s and Strassman’s work. But that changed after they conquered Poland in 1939. Almost immediately, German military leaders banned the export of uranium and attempted to increase the importation of it via the Belgian Congo.

After conquering Norway in June 1940, the Nazis got their hands on the Hydro-Electric Company’s Vemork-based electrolysis plant. Suddenly, Europe’s only source of heavy water, a key ingredient for an atomic bomb, was in their hands.

By early 1942, Nazi scientists had built their first atomic reactor. However, when Hitler realized that the atomic bomb would not be ready in the near-term, he switched resources away from the Uranverein, or Uranium Club. The project lost numerous scientists to more pressing military concerns.

In June 1942, Germany’s atomic reactor exploded. His interest renewed, Hitler told Field Marshal Erwin Rommel that Nazi scientists were close to developing a “new secret weapon” which could “throw a man off his horse at a distance of two miles.”

Sabotage!

Although research had slowed, it hadn’t stopped. But a series of sabotage attacks on the Vermok plant by the Norwegian resistance movement hampered heavy water production. The plant was finally bombed into submission in February 1944. Nazi leaders ordered the remaining supplies to be delivered to Germany. 613 kilograms of heavy water and 14 tons of fluid were subsequently loaded onto the ferry Hydro and the vessel sat out across Lake Tinnsjo.

But unbeknownst to the Nazis, a Norwegian commando named Knut Haukelid had planted explosives on the boat. 45 minutes after leaving shore, the Hydro exploded, causing a tremendous echo that was heard for miles and killing a number of innocent Norwegians in the process. The boat sank into the 1,300 foot deep lake, putting a dramatic end to the Nazi effort to build an atomic bomb.

The Nazi Atomic Bomb in Chaos

Nearly all scholars agree that the Nazis never got close to building an atomic bomb. Even the cache of heavy water aboard the Hydro was far short of the amount needed to fuel an atomic reactor. Thus, it’s no surprise that author Rainer Karlsch turned some heads when he published Hitlers Bombe, in which he claimed that Hitler built and tested a non-standard nuclear weapon, possibly a “dirty bomb,” near the German town of Ohrdruf. However, the soil revealed relatively normal radiation levels and historians have generally dismissed the claim.

The Uranverein and the Nazi atomic bomb isn’t a major plot point in Chaos. However, it plays an important off-screen role in the sense that it serves as the backdrop for the creation of die Glocke, or the Bell. And the Bell’s mysterious existence, described in the pages of an old, weathered journal, haunts my hero Cy Reed to the edge of insanity…

I looked at Beverly. Her solemn expression told me that something was on her mind. “Last chance,” I said. “Any reason we should keep it around?”

She furrowed her brow. “Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Remember what Jenson told us? He said the Sand Demons couldn’t or wouldn’t destroy the Bell.”

I shrugged. “So?”

“So, if it’s the former, maybe we should keep the journal around. If we find the Bell, the journal might help us figure out a way to destroy it.”

I exhaled loudly. A single brush against the flint would send tiny sparks hurtling toward the journal, igniting it instantly. Tiny, golden flames would lick the air, adding light to the dim station. It would take just a moment. And then, I could forget all about Hartek’s journal.

Do it. Do it already.David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerAlthough he doesn’t know it yet, Cy’s decision will have gigantic ramifications. If you want to see how, please consider picking up a copy of Chaos at one of the links above.

That’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’re going to take another curious trip through history, one that will bring us to a strange, top-secret 1964 operation called the Nth Country Project. The results of that project were…to say the least…startling. Stop by tomorrow to find out what I mean…I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

The Island of Stability?

There are currently 118 confirmed chemical elements, the last 24 of which are synthetic. But as scientists construct larger and larger atomic nuclei, these artificial elements become increasingly unstable, often breaking up in mere seconds or even microseconds. However, some scientists believe that this won’t always be the case and await the day when the “Island of Stability” is finally discovered. What is this mysterious Island?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 14 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Stretching the Limits of Science?

The search for elements is an exploration in its own right, with its own goals, setbacks, and personalities. The last naturally-occurring element was discovered (well, rediscovered) in 1925. And for a short while, many scientists thought that the “Age of Element Exploration” was over. But all that changed when the first artificial element, dubbed technetium, was created in 1937 (technetium has since been shown to exist in very minute quantities on earth).

Scientists began to create new and larger elements. In 1940, Glenn T. Seaborg bombarded uranium with deuterons and synthesized the gigantic 94-proton nucleus of plutonium. They didn’t stop there. Seaborg and others continued to build bigger and bigger elements. However, these elements were increasingly unstable and broke up quickly. Many scientists thought they were nearing the end of the Periodic Table.

The Island of Stability?

In the late 1960s, Seaborg proposed the “Island of Stability,” a hypothetical concept that would allow the Periodic Table to stretch even further. He suggested that an atomic nucleus was made of up electron “shells” and that the stability of an element depended partly on whether its shells were filled. Some possible configurations were elements that contained 184 neutrons and 114, 120, or 126 protons. These “superheavy” elements could, theoretically, have extremely long half-lives.

With renewed vigor, scientists began to discuss the quest to reach the Island of Stability. The journey would take them past the stable “mountains” (smaller elements) and through the “Sea of Instability” where elements underwent near spontaneous fission.

In 1998, scholars neared the Island’s shores when they created Element 114. However, the isotope that they synthesized didn’t contain the optimal amount of neutrons. And that is where we stand today. The quest continues and someday soon, we will hopefully discover the mysterious Island.

“But such questions are, in a sense, beside the point. We search for the island of stability because, like Mount Everest, it is there. But, as with Everest, there is profound emotion, too, infusing the scientific search to test a hypothesis. The quest for the magic island shows us that science is far from being coldness and calculation, as many people imagine, but is shot through with passion, longing and romance.” ~ Oliver Sacks

The Island of Stability & Chaos

The idea of a stable, superheavy element residing on the Island of Stability is intriguing. It  seems possible that such an element would have unusual properties. Obviously, it would exhibit an extended lifespan, perhaps one lasting days, months, or even years. And since it would be super-dense, it’s possible that it would be nearly indestructible as a result.

If you read yesterday’s post, you might see where I’m going with this. If you do, then you understand why Red Mercury is so dangerous in my novel Chaos…and why the last thing one would want is to have it explode…

Jumping up, I knocked his gun hand into the air. As I did so, I released the powder and it flew toward the river.

Chase and I struggled over the gun. I knocked it from his grasp. It fell to the ground and he shoved me toward the river.

As he stooped for his gun, I saw my pistol. My fingers closed around it. There was no time to think, only time to react. Raising the gun, I pointed it into the air. But before I could fire, the drifting cloud of Red Mercury sparked.

And then, the whole damn place went up in flames. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerI wish I could say things get better from there. Unfortunately for Cy Reed, things get worse…much, much worse. If you want to see how, treat yourself to a copy of Chaos today.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to take a trip back to Nazi Germany to uncover one of its most frightening wartime projects, one that caused tremendous fear and consternation for the Allies. If you want to know what I mean, stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

The Strange Case of Red Mercury?

Around 1977, a strange, exotic material known as Red Mercury appeared on the international black market. Shrouded in mystery and highly desired by buyers, it caused an uproar across the globe. Just what was Red Mercury?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 13 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Rise of Red Mercury

Red Mercury burst into national prominence in the early 1990s thanks to a series of high-profile newspaper articles. No one knew what it was, other than it was really important and really dangerous. Oh, and very expensive…prices ranged from $100,000 to $300,000 per kilogram.

The legend of Red Mercury soon took on a life of its own. Con artists went to work to fill the insatiable demand, grabbing gigantic wads of cash and giving away useless chemical mixtures in return. Researchers attempted to sort through the mess and eventually determined that Red Mercury was nothing more than a hoax.

However, that conclusion remains questionable. Why would individuals, groups, and nations drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on useless chemicals? Didn’t they bother to ask for proof that it worked before they gave away their cash?

What was Red Mercury?

When Red Mercury first hit the market, it was sold as a material that could be used to build atomic weapons. Since then, various theories have been put forth to explain its purpose. It has been considered a code name for uranium or plutonium as well as a form of stealth paint. However, the most interesting theory is that Red Mercury represents a shortcut to fissile material.

Hydrogen bombs consist of two stages. In the first stage, a “primary” fission bomb explodes. This compresses a “secondary” section of fusion fuel, causing a fusion reaction. The resulting explosion is, needless to say, massive.

All atomic weapons require the use of some sort of fissile material (U-233, U-235, Pu-239, or Pu-241). Fortunately, these raw materials are difficult to locate. And even if a nation were to get hold of enough uranium, it would still face the challenge of enriching it to weapons-grade level. This requires expensive centrifuges that take years to operate. Thus, nuclear non-proliferation efforts mostly focus on limiting access to the raw materials and centrifuges.

Some believe that Red Mercury facilitated the creation of fissile material, allowing a nation to proceed much faster than under ordinary circumstances. Others, such as Samuel T. Cohen (pictured above) claimed it was a ballotechnic. A ballotechnic is a hypothetical chemical, capable of releasing enough energy during a reaction that it could serve as a direct replacement to fissile material. Cohen, who was the “Father of the Neutron Bomb,” alleged that the U.S. government was deliberately hiding the true purpose of Red Mercury from the public.

Red Mercury in Chaos

If either of the above theories were true, the consequences would be disastrous. Nuclear non-proliferation efforts, at least in their present form, would become useless. The idea of a world where thermonuclear weapons technology is readily available to anyone who wants it is not a pleasant one.

In Chaos, (SPOILER ALERT), this possibility is at risk of becoming a reality.

He clucked his tongue, clearly annoyed at my ignorance. “So, Red Mercury is a super-dense form of exotic matter. It’s nearly indestructible. But when subjected to extreme pressure, it undergoes a chemical reaction that releases an enormous amount of heat energy.”

“Sounds like a blast at a barbecue.”

“The amount of energy released is sufficient to replace the fission-based primary in a fusion bomb.”

My heart beat faster. “Wait, are you saying…?”

“Indeed I am. Once I have the Bell, I’ll be able to produce an endless supply of Red Mercury, which will allow me to build hydrogen bombs without going through the costly and tedious process of gathering and enriching uranium.”

He smiled. “In other words, in a few short hours, I’ll be the world’s newest nuclear power.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerRed Mercury weaves tightly into the story. The hero, Cy Reed, has his work cut out from him if he’s going to avoid a nuclear proliferation nightmare. But as with much of Chaos, nothing is as it seems and there is more to Red Mercury than meets the eye…much more. If you want to know the deepest secrets of this exotic material as well as Cy’s desperate fight to rid the world of it, consider picking up a copy of Chaos today.

That’s all for now. Tomorrow, we’re going to delve a little further into the myths surrounding Red Mercury. Specifically, we’re going to take a look at a strange type of element and an “island” no one has ever stepped foot upon. What am I talking about? Stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you there!

 

Chaos Book Club

Buildering: The Art of Climbing…Skyscrapers?

On November 11, 1918, Harry Gardiner signed some insurance papers at the Bank of Hamilton and purchased a $1,000 bond. But Gardiner wasn’t technically inside the bank at the time. He was outside, dangling far above street level, practicing the little known art of buildering. After completing his business, Gardiner finished scaling the building, as his own personal way of celebrating the end of World War I.

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 12 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Human Fly?

Buildering, or urban climbing, is the practice of scaling buildings. It supposedly began at Cambridge University sometime during the 1800s. However, I imagine that as long as people have created buildings, other people have attempted to climb them.

Buildering first reached a wide audience in 1905 when Harry Gardiner began to scale skyscrapers without equipment. Dubbed the “Human Fly” and wearing nothing but clothes, tennis shoes, and rimless spectacles, he climbed over 700 buildings in his life. His feats brought fame to himself as well as to the buildings he conquered. Recognizing a good opportunity when they saw it, companies like the Detroit News started to hire him to climb specific buildings.

The Art of Buildering Grows

In 1910, a second builderer started his own career. An owner of a clothing store, looking for publicity, hired George Polley to climb his building. Polley did so and received a suit for his efforts. Soon after, he was traveling the world and scaling buildings. Polley was a born showman and liked to “pretend to lose his grip” while climbing. As the crowd gasped, he’d reach out and grab a windowsill, stopping his descent. Over the course of his 17-year career, Polley is believed to have climbed over 2,000 buildings, including the 406 foot tall Custom Tower in Boston.

While Gardiner and Polley were the best known builderers of their era, they weren’t the only ones. Many others attempted to climb buildings, with some suffering tragic falls in the process. It wasn’t long before city officials began to legislate against buildering, turning the previously legitimate exercise into an illegal sport.

Still, buildering continues today, most notably the “French Spiderman,” Alain Robert. Earlier this year, Robert scaled the world’s tallest building, the Dubai-based 2,700 foot tall Burj Khalifa.

Buildering in Chaos

In 2008, I barely missed an opportunity to watch Alain Robert scale the New York Times building and I’ve been kicking myself ever since. The history of buildering is unique, full of personalities, and for the most part, untold.

The hero of Chaos, Cy Reed, is a skilled mountain climber. As such, he’s able to bring his skills to bear when he needs to break into the mysterious offices of ShadowFire.

Crouching on the sill, I rubbed my sore fingers. Then I carefully edged out of the frame and grabbed hold of a protruding brick. I pulled my feet onto another brick, keeping two points of contact between the building and myself.

I started to climb.

I moved hard and fast, doing my best to ignore the howling winds and drenching sheets of rain. My fingers and toes danced from bricks to vents to pipes to windowsills. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t precise but slowly, very slowly, I ascended the building.

I caught a brief rest at the fourth floor and then again at the sixth floor. Feeling renewed, I headed out again, eager to finish the climb. Eager to at last fully understand the Bell.

Rain soaked my body as I worked my way up a piece of piping to an outcropping. I lifted myself onto it and edged my way toward another pipe.

Suddenly, I heard a crack.

Something crumbled under my foot.

I slipped.

My hands flailed out, looking for something, anything.

Nothing. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerAdmittedly, things look bad for Cy Reed. But they’re about to get worse…a whole lot worse. If you want to know what happens next, consider picking up your very own copy of Chaos today.

Well, that’s it for now. Tomorrow, we’ll be turning our attention to strange science, specifically an exotic material named Red Mercury. Once upon a time, Red Mercury was feared across the globe. Was it a hoax? Or did Red Mercury actually exist? Stop by tomorrow to find out…I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

Die Glocke & Nazi Wonder Weapons?

During World War II, Nazi Germany worked on an astounding array of futuristic weapons including heat-seeking missiles, a gigantic 1,000 pound tank, a stealth fighter, and an acoustic cannon. But perhaps the most spectacular and mysterious Nazi super weapon of all was known as die Glocke.

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 11 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Die Glocke?

Die Glocke is German for “The Bell.” The original die Glocke was constructed from metal, shaped like a bell, and measured 9-12 feet wide and 12-15 feet tall. The Bell contained two counter-rotating drums and an internal stationary shaft. Prior to operation, a liquid substance codenamed “Xerum 525” was placed into the shaft. Then the entire structure was cryogenically cooled and fueled with high-voltage electricity.

When in operation, die Glocke gave off lethal field effects and supposedly killed five scientists during its initial tests. According to Joseph P. Farrell‘s book, The Philosophers’ Stone: Alchemy and the Secret Research for Exotic Matter, survivors reported strange recurring symptoms such as “the sensation of ‘pins and needles’ on their skin, of sleeplessness, and a persisting metallic taste in the mouth.”

Die Glocke was supposedly tested at “The Henge,” an outdoor metal framework located near the Wenceslas mine in Poland. But these tests would prove tragic as well…

“Approximately sixty of the scientists and technicians connected with the project were murdered by the SS prior to the end of the war, and the device, and all its project documentation, along with General Kammler and a massive six-engine Junkers 390 heavy lift ultra-long-range aircraft went missing at the end of the war.” ~ Joseph P. Farrell, The Philosophers’ Stone

Now, before I get into what the Bell’s purpose was, I should point out that its very existence remains up for debate. To the best of my knowledge, there is no primacy source documentation that discusses it. Die Glocke was first described by Igor Witkowski in his 2000 book Prawda O Wunderwaffe. Witkowski claims that he learned about the Bell from classified transcripts detailing an interrogation of a former Nazi SS officer. Supposedly, he was only allowed to transcribe the documents. Thus, it remains impossible to verify Witkowski’s story.

Die Glocke has since taken on a life of its own, inspiring books by Nick Cook and Joseph P. Farrell, among others. Still, most mainstream scientists doubt the Bell ever existed. They consider it a fabrication and believe that the sole surviving piece of physical evidence, the Henge, is nothing more than the remnants of an industrial cooling tower.

Die Glocke in Chaos

Assuming it existed, what was die Glocke? Other than the fact that it was some kind of Nazi wonder weapon, no one knows for certain. A wide variety of answers have been put forth over the years including an antigravity device, a device to create “free energy,” a time traveling machine, and even a machine capable of viewing the past.

Die Glocke, or at least a version of it, plays a very important role in Chaos. It certainly exists but its true purpose will surprise you…

The seats were punctured with small holes and splattered with bloodstains. Closing my eyes, I could almost picture the gunfight between the Rictors and the Sand Demons.

I turned my attention to the back half of the subway car. A wide thick blanket hung from the ceiling, cutting off my view into the rear portion.

I knew Beverly was behind me, but I could no longer feel her presence. The blanket dominated my attention. While unremarkable on its own, it carried heavy symbolism for me.

It was the last remaining barrier between the Bell and me.

I walked over to it. As I grasped its coarse edge, I wondered what secrets I’d find on the other side. Would the Bell look the same as I’d imagined it? Could we destroy it?

I pulled the blanket out of the way. My beam lifted, casting into the space.

I froze.

The flashlight fell from my fingertips. It bounced on the floor and rolled. I felt a sudden reverence as if I stood before the Almighty Himself.

“Oh my God,” Beverly whispered. “Is it…?” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerCome on now, you didn’t expect me to give away the secret that easily did you? Suffice it to say die Glocke is at the source of a mystery that extends back to the Second World War. Some people will kill to have it, others will kill to keep it hidden. And my hero Cy Reed, well, he’s got his own plans for the Bell.

That’s all for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be looking at the history of a very strange urban sport…buildering, or the practice of free-climbing skyscrapers. I hope to see you there…it’s going to be exciting!

 

Chaos Book Club

The Mysterious Minamata Disease?

On May 1, 1956, a hospital director in Minamata, Japan raised the alarm. Almost a dozen residents were showing strange symptoms, namely difficulty with walking and speaking as well as physical convulsions. As the months rolled on, more victims of Minamata Disease were discovered. And even worse…these people were dying at a terrifying rate.

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 10 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. Thanks to those of you who’ve bought the novel already. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Minamata Disease

For a few years in the 1950s, Minamata Disease baffled health officials and horrified citizens. Minor symptoms included loss of muscle control, numbness, hearing impairment, and slurred speech. More serious symptoms included insanity, coma, and death. And humans weren’t the only ones with these symptoms…investigators also discovered a malady the locals called “cat dancing disease” in which cats would go into awful convulsive fits and die. In addition, there were reports of disappearing seaweed as well as dead crows and fish.

Since the strange outbreak seemed to be centered around Minamata, it was assumed to be contagious. Researchers from Kumamoto University canvased the area and by October 1956, had discovered a total of 40 victims. 14 of these victims had died, indicating an eye-raising mortality rate of 36.7%. And the disease didn’t stop there.

“Officially certified patients totaled 2,265 in both Kumamoto and Kagoshima, while the total was 690 in Niigata as of the end of March 2001. Among them, 1,784 have already died. In addition, there are 10,072 people in Kumamoto, Kagoshima and Niigata as of the end of February 2001 with applicable conditions such as sensory disorders or a high consumption of marine products who are provided individual payments of medical expenses and a medical allowance.” ~ Minamata Disease Archives

What was Minamata Disease?

So, what was the source of this strange and deadly disease? An unknown pathogen? A mutated virus?

Not by a long shot. After a thorough investigation, researchers concluded that Minamata Disease was caused by metals. That’s right. The horrid, mysterious disease that plagued Japan was, in actuality, heavy metal poisoning or to be more specific…mercury poisoning.

It turned out that a company named Chisso Corporation operated a chemical factory in the area. Beginning in 1932, it pumped wastewater into the Shiranui Sea, which encompassed the Minamata Bay. Methylmercury accumulated in the shellfish and fish that lived in the Sea. These creatures, in turn, were eaten regularly by local citizens.

Chisso Corporation failed to cooperate with the official investigation and funded alternative research efforts to identify another cause. Worse, they performed their own investigation, realized that their wastewater was the cause of the disease, and ordered researchers to cover up the results. Even worse, they deliberately installed a wastewater treatment system that they knew was ineffective in order to placate anxious health officials.

That’s not to say that Japan’s government was completely innocent in the matter. Although it knew the true source of Minamata disease by 1959, this information wasn’t released to the public until 1968. And although it realized that local citizens were still contracting mercury poisoning, it failed to warn these citizens or take any actions to stop Chisso’s continued pollution of Minamata Bay.

Minamata Disease & Chaos

I wish I could say that this story had a happy ending. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. A settlement was reached in 2010, covering 2,123 victims. However, other lawsuits continue. More importantly, many citizens are already deceased and the survivors continue to suffer due to the fact that no cure exists for Minamata Disease.

On a personal level, I find the story of this “disease” to be extremely disturbing. But as an author, I found it intriguing as well. (SPOILER ALERT) The idea of a mysterious “disease” that wasn’t really a disease seemed perfect for a thriller novel. So, when I created the strange Colony (a shantytown of “Mole People” who reside in the tunnels under New York City), I decided to afflict them with a “disease” of my own creation. I won’t give away the true source of this disease but suffice it to say, its deadly…

Slowly, I turned my head in a circle. Strange eyes stared at me from the darkness.

They started to move.

Slowly at first, then faster.

And then even faster.

Body odor and dried urine filled my nostrils. Hands grabbed at my shirt, pawed at my arms, scratched at my face.

I released my grip. Rising to my feet, I found myself surrounded by hot, sweaty bodies. Eyes flashed at me. Bruised faces quivered with anticipation.

Punching wildly, I connected hard against a fleshy surface. A face vanished but another one rose to replace it.

They pressed against me and I fell backward, blanketed by the bodies. Amongst the mess of flesh and hair, I saw tiny, revolting details.

Crippled hands with bent, inflamed joints.

Clenched toes lacking nails.

Severely peeled, discolored skin.

Toothless, rotten mouths.

Who are these people?

And what the hell happened to them?David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerCy Reed’s efforts to locate the source of the strange disease that plagues the Colony leads him to a secret underground laboratory that’s been lost for decades. Well, that’s it for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be taking a trip back in time to Nazi Germany. We’re going to take a fascinating look at one of the most sinister and mysterious devices in the history of warfare…die Glocke. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

Do Alligators Live in New York Sewers?

On February 10, 1935, a 16 year old boy named Salvatore Condulucci was shoveling snow into an open manhole. Suddenly, he saw movement and shouted, “Honest, it’s an alligator!” But are sewer alligators real things? Or is this just an urban myth?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 9 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

Sewer Alligators

I actually mention the 1935 sighting in my book. It’s perhaps the most famous account of a sewer alligator living in New York City. According to the original newspaper article, Condulucci and his friends fashioned a slipknot and hauled the gator to the surface. It was surprisingly big, measuring almost eight feet long and weighing 125 pounds. Upon reaching street level, the creature, starved and cold, snapped at the boys with its powerful jaws. They proceeded to beat it to death with their shovels.

Afterward, the neighbors speculated on the sewer alligator’s origin. They finally decided that it must’ve somehow taken refuge on a steamer in the “mysterious Everglades.” Then it sailed to New York where it fell into the water. It swam into a sewer conduit which led to its eventual discovery. After being killed, it was taken away by a sanitation truck to be incinerated.

After a brief spurt of alligator sightings in New York during the 1930s, it would be almost seven decades before the next alligator was reported. In the summer of 2001, a small gator was caught swimming in Central Park’s Harlem Meer. But other than that, there’s not much to report…that is, unless we consider the stories of Teddy May.

A Sewer Safari?

In his fascinating 1959 work, The World Beneath the City, Robert Daley recounts conversations he had with Teddy May, who is somewhat of a “sewer legend” in New York. May’s exact job title is uncertain although it’s believed he might have held the position of Foreman or District Foreman.

According to May, he once discovered a colony of two-foot long sewer alligators. He believed that they had been sold by unscrupulous pet dealers to satisfy a Depression era fad for painted turtles. How did May handle this menace to his beloved sewers?

“Within a day or two of admitting that there really were alligators in his sewers, Teddy May was able to face the problem of eliminating them. A few months later they were gone. Some succumbed to rat poison. Others were harassed by sewer inspectors into swimming into the trunk mains, where the Niagara-like current washed them out to sea. Some were drowned when blockages filled their secluded pipes with backwash–to the very top. And a few were hunted down by inspectors with .22 rifles and pistols–not as part of the job, but as sport–possibly the most unusual hunting on earth, a veritable sewer safari.” ~ Robert Daley, The World Beneath the City

May was known to be a yarn-spinner and most historians are doubtful that this “sewer safari” ever took place. In fact, these same historians usually doubt the veracity of the 1935 account as well. Back then, newspapers were known to print outrageous stories in order to sell papers. And the fact that the sewer alligator was incinerated before it could be photographed does merit some suspicion.

But could an alligator survive in the sewer? The answer seems to be yes. While New York’s above-ground climate isn’t conducive to gators, its sewers are an entirely different matter. Sewers are actually quite warm, due in part to decomposing waste, and a gigantic rodent population is readily available as a source of food.

“As noted from alligator growers and authorities…the darkness in the sewers is not a problem for gators and actually increases growth in these animals. Also, the temperature is routinely high (easily 95-97 degrees F with +60% humidity). Food, breeding materials, and access to other environments are not in short supply in the NY and other urban sewers. Alligators are also able to resist infections in lots of nasty conditions…I stand behind my sense that alligators could and may have already bred in the sewers.” ~ Cryptozoologist Loren Coleman

A Sewer Alligator…in Chaos?

Of course, all this is not to say that sewer alligators do live in New York – only that it’s possible. Since much of Chaos takes place in the tunnels and sewers deep under New York, it was only natural that my hero Cy Reed would come face-to-face with one of these fabled creatures. And unfortunately for him…well, I’ll let you read it for yourself…

Suddenly, the alligator reared upward. The movement was so fast I didn’t have time to react.

Its head turned toward me and I saw its eyes. They were red as blood, yet dark as night. As I stared into them, I felt like I was looking into the soul of the devil himself.

The gator lunged at me. My instincts took over and I dove to the south. As I rolled through the water, I seized the machete from my waist with my free hand.

I rose to my feet. The gigantic alligator was just a few feet away. I backed up, trying to get some breathing room.

It followed me.

I backed up farther. It continued to follow me, gnashing its teeth in the process. Looking down, I studied the small puny objects in my hands.

I’m going to need some bigger weapons.David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David Meyer

That alligator, as you’ll find out, is far more mysterious and deadly than even Cy realizes. Well, that’s it for today’s entry in the Chao book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be leaving New York City and traveling to Japan in order to peel back the layers of the mysterious Minamata disease that plagued that country during the 1950s. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

FDR’s Lost Subway Car?

Deep below Manhattan, an abandoned subway track gathers dust. At the end of Track 61, a rusty subway car rests quietly. Popular rumor holds it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s personal car. Supposedly, it was used to help him secretly enter the Waldorf=Astoria without revealing that he was partially paralyzed. This subway car is considered by many to be the Holy Grail of urban exploration. But is it the real deal? Or just a myth?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 8 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Invisible Track 61?

Track 61 is invisible to the average subway rider. It’s part of a hidden layup yard connected to Grand Central Terminal and lies beneath the Waldorf=Astoria. Many years ago, the Waldorf had a small cement platform installed next to the track. An elevator was built to connect the platform to the hotel. In effect, Track 61 became “an exclusive platform for the Waldorf’s use.”

According to legend, President Roosevelt used the platform whenever he was in New York City. He would take a private subway car to Track 61. Then his driver would drive FDR’s armor-plated Pierce Arrow car from the subway car into the elevator. From there, the car would ride up to the hotel’s garage, allowing the President to access the Presidential Suite without anyone knowing about his paralyzed legs. Later, Track 61 fell into disuse although it was used by the famous artist Andy Warhol when he hosted “The Underground Party.”

A Lost Subway Car?

On May 8, 2008, Matt Lauer of the Today Show visited Track 61 for a segment called “The Mystery of Track 61.” At one point, he examined a mysterious bulletproof car located at the end of the track. An MTA spokesman declared that it was FDR’s private subway car. Is this true?

Although it made great copy, most rail historians consider the story to be false. President Roosevelt did ride in a private subway car called the Ferdinand Magellan. But the Ferdinand Magellan now resides in Florida, not New York. Also, there is no evidence that FDR ever used the platform. According to Joseph Brennan, the earliest surviving story to that effect came from author William Middleton in 1977. So far, Brennan has been unable to find confirmation of the story.

So, what is this car then? The most likely theory is that it’s an old Pennsylvania Railroad express-baggage car from the 1940s. It was probably left behind for servicing. Thus, it appears that FDR’s lost subway car is, in fact, nothing more than a legend.

FDR’s Lost Subway Car & Chaos

The story of FDR’s lost subway car has taken on a life of its own and as I mentioned earlier, it is considered somewhat of a Holy Grail to urban explorers. When I wrote Chaos, I wanted Cy Reed to pay a special visit to the subway car. Unfortunately for him, he wasn’t the only one in the area.

Cold, stiff fingers wrapped around my neck, choking off my reply. My head flew to the side, bashing into the door.

Foggily, I reached for my belt.

But my machete was missing.

With my head plastered to the door, I twisted my eyes to the side, seeing a murderous gaze staring back at me. My eyes bulged as they caught a glint of light.

It was my machete.

I didn’t know the man who held it. But I knew what he wanted.

He wanted to kill me.

And he was going to use my own blade to do it. ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerIn real life, the area around Track 61 once held a squatter community, similar in some respects to the Colony from Chaos. According to Brennan, “inflation and a poorly thought-through campaign to cut down on single room occupancy buildings” caused an increase in homeless people, some of whom relocated to the Waldorf platform.

Well, that’s all for today. Tomorrow, we’ll be moving to another New York City topic from Chaos, one that touches on cryptozoology. Alligators in the sewer! I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club

Do the Mole People Exist?

In 1993, Jennifer Toth wrote The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City, which chronicled an orderly society of homeless individuals living deep under New York’s busy streets. The book was an instant hit and yet, garnered tons of controversy. Was her work accurate? Do “Mole People” really exist?

The Chaos Book Club

Today is Day 7 of the Chaos book club. Chaos is an adventure thriller along the lines of Indiana Jones or books written by Clive Cussler, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, or Steve Berry. If you haven’t already done so, please consider picking up a copy at one of the following locations:

Kindle * Nook * Kobo * iBooks * Smashwords * Paperback

The Mole People

Generally speaking, the term “Mole People” refer to underground urbanites. These homeless folks live in tunnels, shafts, or other buried structures. And they are not a myth. For example, back in 2009 the Sun reported on an elaborate indigent community under Las Vegas:

“Steven and Kathryn…have a neat, if compact kitchen, a furnished living area, and a bedroom complete with double bed, wardrobe and bookshelf featuring a wide selection including a Frank Sinatra biography and Spanish phrase book…But their life is far from the ordinary…Because, along with hundreds of others, the couple are part of a secret community living in the dark and dirty underground flood tunnels below the famous strip…Despite the risks from disease, highly venomous spiders and flooding washing them away, many of the tunnel people have put together elaborate camps with furniture, ornaments and shelves filled with belongings.” ~ Pete Samson

Beginning in 1974, homeless people began to move into Manhattan’s Freedom Tunnel, an abandoned structure located under Riverside Park. By 1991, a large and boisterous shantytown had sprang up, leading to complaints from residents. New York City responded by bulldozing the rickety homes, cordoning off the tunnel, and evicting hundreds of homeless people. These individuals became the inspiration for Jennifer Toth’s critically-acclaimed The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City.

The Mole People: Life in the Tunnels Beneath New York City

Toth claimed to have visited the Freedom Tunnel during its heyday. She interviewed the residents and spun wild stories about their lives and surroundings. She even claimed that a homeless man named Blade wanted to kill her, which forced her to flee the city. Her book was a sensation. But there was just one problem…much of it was probably fabricated. Joseph Brennan, who hosts the Abandoned Stations site, puts it best:

“Here’s the problem in a nutshell: every fact in this book that I can verify independently is wrong. I’m referring to her descriptions of the tunnels…Since she fictionalizes the setting as much as she does, then other facts she claims also should be subject to a re-examination. There are too many exaggerations and inventions in the tunnel descriptions to make it believable that the rest is absolutely straight reporting.” ~ Joseph Brennan, Fantasy in the Mole People

Still, although Toth’s book was more fiction than non-fiction, the Mole People were all too real at that point in time. In 1990, John Tierney described the Freedom Tunnel and its residents in the article, In Tunnel, ‘Mole People’ Fight to Save Home.

“These men and women may be the most stable homeless settlement in New York City, although some of the old-timers would not describe it that way. After 15 years in the tunnel, they do not consider themselves homeless. They have plywood shanties and cinder-block bunkers with rugs, beds, night stands, kerosene lamps, wood and gas stoves, paintings on the walls, pets in the yard.” ~ John Tierney, New York Times

The Mole People in Chaos

I’m fascinated by “lost tribes.” So, the idea of the Mole People as a sort of lost tribe of underground denizens has always intrigued me. When it came time to write Chaos, I wanted to incorporate my own version of the Mole People. Thus, the Colony and its mysterious leader Ghost were born.

Mary shook her head. “That’s not funny. If Ghost heard about this…”

“I’m sick of Ghost. He’s a stubborn old bastard whose time has passed.”

“You’re serious aren’t you?”

He sneered. “Damn right I’m serious. Someone needs to take a stand. Our people are dying. The healthy ones are deserting in droves. If we wait any longer, the colony will be extinct.” ~ David Meyer, Chaos

Chaos by David MeyerBut as those of you who are reading the book know, the Colony members aren’t your typical Mole People. They’re hiding a secret…one that might kill them.

I hope you enjoyed today’s entry in the Chaos book club. Tomorrow, we’ll be stepping a little further back in time to examine the legend of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Lost Subway Car. I hope to see you then!

 

Chaos Book Club