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Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Gremlins in Cryptozoology

Gremlins, you ask?

Yes, but not the ones from the 1984 movie.

Most people probably don't know that gremlins are not just something from movies. During WWII, many pilots claimed they were harassed by small beings that caused trouble in their airplanes.

Most people think the name "gremlin" comes from an Old English word, "greme," which means "to vex or annoy."

Early stories of gremlins show them as helpful little creatures and even helped man create technology like steam engines. Some even say they helped Ben Franklin discover electricity!

By the early 1900s, however, gremlins weren't viewed as something nice.

British pilots (and pilots from the USA and other places as well) began reporting small, impish creatures  that seemed interested in their aircraft and caused malfunctions on the craft. Reports of them can be found all the way back to the early 1900s, in the British newspaper the Spectator: 

"The old Royal Naval Air Service in 1917 and the newly constituted Royal Air Force in 1918 appear to have detected the existence of a horde of mysterious and malicious sprites whose whole purpose in life was…. to bring about as many as possible the inexplicable mishaps which, in those days as now, trouble an airman's life."

People said the gremlins did many things to cause trouble, including sucking gas our of the gas tanks, jamming radio frequencies, messing with wings and engines, removing bolts/screws, pinching and poking the pilots, breaking windows, and many other things.  Some pilots claimed that the gremlins had telepathic powers and caused them to see things like mountains rise up in front of them. They were also said to make lots of loud noises (like growls and shouts) to distract the pilots.

You may think that the gremlins never existed, and that all the mechanical problems that happened weren't caused by anything strange. No one ever saw gremlins. Well,… that would be wrong.

In May of 1927, American aviator Charles Lindbergh flew a nonstop flight over the Atlantic from New York to Paris. On the 9th hour of the 33 hour flight, he reported that he suddenly felt "somewhat detached from reality" and saw several strange beings around him. They looked vaporous and spoke to him, showing an amazing knowledge of his navigation and flight equipment. Instead of causing trouble like they were known to do, Lindbergh said that the gremlins actually helped him stay safe on his journey. He did not tell anyone about the encounter until he wrote about it in his 1953 book The Spirit of St. Louis. 
Charles Lindbergh

There were many different descriptions of what the gremlins looked like. Some said they looked like little elves similar to humans, with red, gold, pink, or green skin, and wore bright red or green coats, old fashioned hats with feathers in them, and pointed shoes. Other gremlins did not sound so nice. Witnesses said they looked like some kind of animal, with furry bodies, huge, pointed ears, red and sometimes glowing eyes that looked somewhat like a reptile's, and horns. Some said they had hairless, grey skin that looked reptilian. These gremlins had huge mouths filled with sharp, pointed teeth. Some descriptions mention webbed hands and feet, fins, and wings like a bat's.  Some people, like Charles Lindbergh, said they beings were made of some sort of mist or smoke. Sometimes that had suction-cup feet that let them hand upside down or walk on the outside of aircraft. Gremlins did not seem to be affected by any altitude, temperature, or winds. They were said to be from only a few inches to about three feet tall.
Cartoon of gremlins attacking a plane

Some pilots on combat missions in the Second World War had encounters with these little troublemakers. One American pilot, L. W., said that as he took his plane higher in altitude he could hear some strange sounds coming from the engine and his flight instruments on the panel in front of him went nuts. He glanced to the right and saw a "freakish entity" stuck onto the outside of the plane's window. He said it was about three feet tall, had "abnormally long arms," grey, hairless skin, red eyes, a gaping mouth that was full of teeth, and pointed ears that had tufts of black hair on the ends. It was bitter cold outside and the being did not seem affected. When he looked in front of him again, he was horrified to see another one of the beings on the nose of the airplane. He thought he might be hallucinating, but reported that the whole time he felt "sharp and in control of my senses." He said that the beings were laughing the whole time and pulling on and pounding on the outside of the plane, apparently trying to bring it down. After a while L. W. managed to shake them off the plane but did not know what happened to them after that. He was reluctant to share his story with anyone, but when he told a gunner friend, the friend said he had a similar experience while on a training mission only a few days earlier.

In 1939, a plane with a crew of thirteen people left from the Marine Naval Air Force Base in California left for Honolulu. About three hours into the flight, the plane sent a distress call, and then all communications went dead, although it kept flying. It returned to the base and was horribly damaged on the outside. A crew who went inside to investigate found the crew with many gaping wounds. The cabin smelled like sulphur, and there were empty bullet shells everywhere, indicating that they had fired frantically at something. The co-pilot was the only member of the crew still alive and had managed to land the plane. Shortly after, he died in a hospital. He never did get to tell anyone what happened.

You don't really hear anything about gremlin encounters today. But, how do we account for the sightings? Certainly the pilots weren't lying about being attacked by little gnome-like creatures. Something had to have attacked the plane in 1939. If it was a fight inside the plane between the crew, how does that explain all the damage on the outside?

Maybe gremlins are still encountered today. Since they were invented, there have been lots of planes that have disappeared and which have never been found again. Maybe gremlins have something to do with that?…

Whatever gremlins are, they certainly are not cute cuddly creatures. I know I definitely wouldn't want to be a pilot who encounters them on a flight. Gremlins were very real to pilots during WWII. Maybe they are still around today?

Just don't feed them after midnight


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