THE ENIGMA PROJECT
Michael A. Frizzell
On one very cold March evening in 1978, members of the Odyssey Research group gathered for an informal meeting at the north Baltimore home of John Lutz, Odyssey's director. They were there to discuss topics of unexplained phenomena. The 15 people present had segregated into smaller groups, each spewing excited chatter in which the quickly belabored subjects changed like slides in a rushed presentation.
one point, I noticed a clean-cut, dark-haired man, appearing to be in his early
twenties, showing several 8X10 glossy photographs to Lutz. John seemed only
casually interested in the man's pictures even though photographic evidence in
paranormal research occasionally represented some value greater than zero. I
became curious and began to noticeably eavesdrop on their conversation hoping
that, on seeing my interest, John would invite me to meet his acquaintance. My
ploy worked and Lutz introduced the man with the photos as Bob Lazzara, a local
researcher with interests in parapsychology and cryptozoology.
Lutz drifted away, I asked Bob what his pictures were all about. He proceeded to
show me the series of Black and white photos which depicted large, seemingly
three-toed, footprint-like tracks made in firm, 8 inch deep snow. Lazzara told
me that each of the prints were 15 inches long, 6 inches wide, and were spaced
at a stride of 5 feet, heel to toe. He took the pictures during the latter part
of February, less than a month earlier, on Rocks Chrome Ridge, an imposing (then
snow-covered) section of Rocks State Park located in Harford County, Maryland.
Now very interested by what I was seeing, he continued by telling me that he and
a friend had discovered the tracks after going to the Ridge on speculation. Bob
was quite fortunate indeed, for prior to his discovery, he had been carefully
analyzing a flurry of so-called "bigfoot" reports that had been coming
from southern Pennsylvania, just north of the Maryland, during the latter
portion of 1977 and first month or so of '78. He determined, through plotting
the reports on a map, that the alleged sightings were moving steadily southward
toward Harford County. Already aware of periodic Maryland Bigfoot sightings from
earlier years, he theorized--based in part on that year's particularly brutal
winter weather--that the alleged animal might migrate southward in search of
better conditions and that, as a consequence, sightings would soon erupt in
Maryland. His feelings were accurate as reports of large, hairy bipedal
creatures soon began coming from the rural sections of Harford County. Not long
after, as if on serendipity's cue, Bob went Rocks Park and found the strange
tracks. Subsequently, he showed these photographs to scores of people, including
wildlife authorities. They have never been explained.
we left the Odyssey meeting Bob was bewildered because the group's members
seemed largely indifferent toward his discovery. I told him that I was intrigued
by what he had found. He then asked if I would like to join him for a return
trip to Rocks Park for an in-depth look at where he found the tracks. Without
hesitation I agreed and the next available weekend found us wandering through
the deserted park. That particular trip back to the area (though we made several
subsequent to it) didn't reveal anything new regarding the footprints, but it
did serve to bond our friendship.
the few weeks that followed our initial meeting, Bob and I had many discussions
about how investigations of various unexplained phenomena could be conducted.
Although Odyssey Research (principally John Lutz) had a reputation for
responsive and enthusiastic investigation of the unusual (mainly UFOs and
"creature" sightings), Bob and I felt that his group did not suit our
needs. As a result of that conclusion, we mutually came upon the idea of forming
our own research group. The need for another such organization was apparent, as
we were both aware that "establishment science" all-too-often
overlooked, ignored, or otherwise deferred subjects that didn't neatly fit into
the pigeon holes presided over by the fixed Laws of Nature and
"conventional scientific wisdom." We knew that many skeptics regarded
the "paranormal" as nothing more than a belabored, often embarrassing,
word from the dictionary and never an actual state of being (i.e. the paranormal
is always the normal misperceived). The tenet we preferred was: "...the
paranormal may be the normal not yet understood." Bob and I shared the
philosophy that unexplained phenomena should be studied with a scientific
posture, the use of technical means, and most of all, the indispensable
prerequisite: an open mind. Ideally, that state of mind had to always lie
somewhere between gullibility and incredulity, remaining safely buffered from
either extreme. We both knew that a responsible approach to the study of the
paranormal meant finding the truth. We also knew that searching for the truth
behind paranormal claims could result in the--sometimes resented--exploding of
time-honored myths, the exposure of fraud or, ultimately, the reduction of the
unexplained to explainable, natural levels of comprehension--the goal of a
late April, 1978, we gave the Enigma Project its name and two of our objectives
became the investigation and documentation of phenomena in Maryland, contiguous
states and, in some instances, at remote locations. As an organization, we
wanted Enigma's scope to remain general with individual members having
experience or skills in specific phenomena. For example, Lazzara's specialty was
parapsychology and related tangents. My areas of expertise were unidentified
flying objects and mysterious lights (i.e. ghostlights). To lesser degrees, we
were both knowledgeable in cryptozoology. In addition to Lazzara and myself, two
other serious researchers, Pat Lofgren (inorganic chemist-now based in Ohio) and
John Kopfle (chemical engineer-now based in North Carolina) were automatically
part of the new group as they were closely allied to investigations I had
initiated on the perplexing Brown Mountain Lights [i]
(North Carolina) prior to Enigma's conception. As time went on we gathered many
more associates, worldwide, according to their skills and interests.
Enigma Project was fashioned to deal with six general areas of unexplained
phenomena. They were: UFOs, Parapsychology (ESP, hauntings, possessions,
poltergeists, etc.), Cryptozoology, Spontaneous Human Combustion, Geologic
Anomalies ("ringing rocks," "gravity hills," and the like),
and Mysterious Lights. Furthermore, it was (and still is) our policy to act as a
referral agency for paranormal situations which we felt might be more
effectively handled by other authorities or associates outside of the Project
proper. For instance, on learning of possible cases of spontaneous human
combustion (SHC), the Enigma Project has routinely directed such information to
Larry Arnold [ii], the foremost authority on
SHC here in the United States.
Enigma was born, Bob Lazzara and I were both employed in technical capacities.
Bob was working as a Quality Appraiser (electromechanical) for the former
AT&T subsidiary, Western Electric. And I was working as a Research
Technician (materials science/chemical engineering) for W.R. Grace's, Washington
Research Center. Our technical backgrounds helped us to see that some forms of
paranormal phenomena had potential scientific value and should be subjected to
rigorous scrutiny using whatever technical methods may be applicable. We knew
that even the most seemingly bizarre anomalies would stand a better chance of
being given serious attention by mainstream scientists if preliminary
researchers' fieldwork produced reliable, accurate, and reproducible technical
data (i.e. per the Scientific Method, when the results of an experiment are
reproducible among independent investigators the originating hypothesis for that
experiment earns validity).
early on, Lazzara and I began considering ways to obtain technical data on
phenomena. Through experience acquired earlier, Bob reviewed different
photographic formats, films, and filters and decided that the larger 2 1/4
format cameras, in addition to the mainstay 35 mm types, were well suited for
field work. Infrared film (black & white and color), with its unique ability
to highlight near-infrared energy emissions and heat sources, had potential for
such things as "ghost photography," "spooklights," UFOs, and
other occasionally nocturnal or "invisible" phenomena. We also started
collecting schematic diagrams for a variety of experimental electronic devices
which might aid our quest. Magnetometers, for example, were given high priority
for their potential to detect the alleged intense magnetic fields often
associated with UFO encounters. In the area of audio electronics we used various
amplifiers and parabolic microphones as specialized adjuncts to conventional
cassette tape recorders--improvements that were most valuable on some of our
addition to developing our own research equipment, Bob and I schooled ourselves
to be aware of what other types of scientifically accepted technical tools were
available to us. We learned that organizations like the United States Geological
the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Colorado Bureau of
Mines, and the National Bureau of Standards were amazing repositories of maps,
charts, photographs, data logs, and scientific reports that complimented,
intersected with, or related to various unexplained phenomena, with many of
these reference materials being available at minimal cost or free for the
1979, and '80, the Enigma Project busied itself with the research and
investigations of mysterious lights. Often referred to as ghostlights or
spooklights--due to the attachment of an invariable death stigma, these
nocturnal phenomena became quite a fascination for us. Much to our delight, Bob
and I discovered that Maryland's Eastern Shore was the home of several such
lights. Throughout the late '70s and early '80s we devoted much attention to the
Hebron Light (Hebron, MD), Elsey's Light (Crisfield, MD), and Cal's Light
(Andrews, MD). Having first learned of the (now defunct) Hebron Light through a
mention made in Mysterious Fires and Lights by Vincent Gaddis (Mackay- 1967), we
performed literature searches on the alleged phenomenon and journeyed to Hebron
for actual interviews of original witnesses. We learned that on a hot July night
in 1952, members of the Maryland State Police were involved in what might be
termed a bizarre "cat and mouse" encounter with a 10 inch sphere of
yellow light. In their cruiser, two officers closely approached and then chased
the luminous ball down a local road before it mysteriously vanished. Although
media coverage of the phenomenon persisted for about two weeks beyond the main
event, our investigation showed that a mandate was issued to the Salisbury
barracks from Maryland State Police Headquarters in Pikesville that a any
further confrontations with the light be kept under wraps. We subsequently
discovered that this strange light had made sporadic appearances near the town
of Hebron for many years prior to the '52 encounter, although the Maryland State
Police episode has remained the most remarkable case on record. Due to the
obvious integrity of the witnesses, this incident remains an outstanding example
of Maryland mystery. Unfortunately, because the phenomenon has been inactive for
so many years (locals say since the mid 1960s), Enigma Project investigators
were not able to perform a firsthand examination of it [iv].
It was, however, our good fortune to have secured an interview with Robert
Burkhardt, one of the two officers who chased the light. While Burkhardt (now
retired from the police force) was very reluctant to discuss all the details of
the 28 year old experience, he made it quite clear that the encounter
represented one of the most bizarre and "trying" episodes of his life.
Gravity and Magnetic Hills
a young child I occasionally heard stories about a place you could go where your
car (out of gear, brakes off) would be pulled up a hill, as if by some invisible
power. This place was called "Gravity Hill" and it was somewhere in
Baltimore County. In January, 1980, the Enigma Project managed to rediscover
Gravity Hill as being in northwestern Baltimore County along a public road which
ran through the Soldier's Delight environmental area. Sure enough, as we
experienced firsthand, if you positioned your car at the bottom of the apparent
rise on Gravity Hill, and left it in neutral with the brake off, it would very
decidedly roll up the road--as if in defiance of gravitation--for about a tenth
of a mile before stopping. To naked eyes, at least, the slight grade in the road
did go up, and with it so did vehicles positioned on its surface. These
circumstances clearly presented a dilemma which the Enigma Project felt
obligated to explore.
one of the Enigma Project's local associates, Mike Gilbert, was a surveyor by
profession and we wasted little time in getting him to assess the anomaly. Mike
examined the road with a transit and carefully marked it off, making notes all
the while. When finished he presented us with a drawing of his survey, the
results of which were quite surprising. The road's slight "rise" was,
in fact, a "fall." Yes, contrary to what the eye perceived, Gravity
Hill was actually a decline. Summarily, we learned that it was not a place where
Nature's laws go awry, but rather, a unique location for an optical illusion.
Evidently, the lay of the land, the sway of the trees, and so forth set the
stage for an unusual, though not mysterious, error in visual perception [v].
Interestingly, at least three additional gravity/magnetic hill locations in
(they have not been thoroughly investigated) have come to the attention of the
Enigma Project and we have heard about other locations throughout the U.S. and
is frightfully wrong here," wrote anomalist Ivan T. Sanderson as he
referred to the Ringing Rocks in his provocative book, Things. Using perhaps a
bit too much schmaltz, Sanderson was describing a seemingly out of place,
seven-acre field of barren, tumbled boulders located in Upper Black Eddy, a
tiny, northeastern Pennsylvania town near the New Jersey state line. As if a
seven-acre, ten feet thick, layer of stones in the middle of a peaceful forest
wasn't bad enough, Sanderson further confounded the reader with fact that about
30% of those stones would ring like bells when struck with hammers!
the ringing propensity of the rocks has since been shown to be caused by high
internal pressure due to an unusual and selective weathering process, a number
of claims and counter-claims made about the rocks and their field have held the
subject in debate.
1981, Enigma Project researchers went to the Ringing Rocks field to evaluate the
strange place for themselves. Our basically empirical findings, which were
eventually published in Fate Magazine [vii]
agreed with most of Sanderson's observations. For example, we found that either
breaking the rocks or removing them from the delicate environmental stasis of
their field did not stop their ringing properties--a strong contradiction to
what some scientists had insisted. We also agreed (with Sanderson's assertion)
that the rocks would ring whether clamped or suspended, since there were ringers
in the field clearly wedged by other rocks weighing tons. We did, however,
disagree with Sanderson's claim that all lifeforms (except man, that is) avoid
the field. Project investigators found examples of spiders and garter snakes
living among the rocks and even a couple of young saplings that had managed to
all, we don't know how "frightfully wrong" the Ringing Rocks are but
we will concede that they and their field are unusual and, as is the case with
most phenomena, definitely controversial.
the acts of defying gravity, rock ringing, and light chasing, 1981 also found us
welcoming three new associates to the Enigma Project. They were Sydney Ellis,
Gloria Denick, and George Walls. Each of these individuals has contributed to
the uniqueness, accomplishments, and identity of the group.
Ellis, an electronics assembler living in western North Carolina, was
instrumental in the Project's investigations of the Brown Mountain Lights, a
South Carolina "meteorite" crash, and other Carolinian oddities. She
has devoted her time to many field excursions.
Denick, a nurse who works with the visually handicapped in New Jersey, is well
read in the practices of astrology and has aided the Project by performing
library/archival research and field excursions for the Brown Mountain Lights and
the Marfa Lights.
Walls, a recently retired engineering executive and scientist who served
AT&T in New Jersey for more than three decades, has supported Enigma with
many aspects of engineering strategy, instrumentation design experiments, and
field excursions to North Carolina, Texas, and many other places.
the fall of 1981, Enigma Project researchers were referred to a gentleman (let's
call him Mr. Q) in Perry Hall, Maryland who was allegedly having, what some
authorities might term, demonic manifestations and/or poltergeist activity in
his attractive suburban house (an averaged-sized, two- floor Colonial). A woman
living with Mr. Q (let's call her Betty) was experiencing episodes of violent
personality changes (more suggestive of schizophrenia than demonic possession)
which included menacing contortions of her facial features and rapid utterances
in an unearthly, raspy voice. Also, both individuals claimed to have witnessed
household objects flying about the place under their own power as well as
appliances going on and off by themselves.
Lazzara, with Holmes-like analytical prowess and a knowledge of parapsychology
(honed by other experiences before we met), headed the investigation and began
considering rational explanations for the alleged phenomena that plagued the
house's forelorned occupants. Nonetheless, the familiar culprits of house
settling, faulty wiring, local construction dynamiting, sonic booms, and so on
just didn't fit. Publicity seeking was not the easy answer either as Mr. Q
wanted no parts of the media. Bob's questioning of Mr. Q yielded none of the
classic answers which literature would ascribe to hauntings and related
paranormal disturbances. For instance, no one had ever died in Mr. Q's house--he
was the original owner, nor was it built on "sacred Indian ground" or
a cemetery. As Bob pressed on for details, Mr. Q and Betty both explained that
her episodes of "possession" were recent developments but seemed to be
occurring with greater frequency (as witnessed by officers of the Baltimore
County Police department) [ix].
They did not, however, appear to be linked to any unusual "religious"
practices, changes in lifestyle, or interests in the occult. Bob carefully
questioned Betty about any history of mental or physical health problems and
she, just as carefully, denied having any. Despite the apparent sincerity of the
principals, Bob had a "gut feeling" that something just didn't ring
two exhausting months of investigation--which included all-night vigils in the
house using cameras, audio and video recorders, infrared devices, and other
electronic gadgetry--we could not substantiate any of the principals' claims.
Finally, during another round of Lazzara's persistent questioning, Mr. Q made a
confession. He sadly admitted that Betty had not only a brain tumor but a
drinking problem as well. These combined maladies caused her periodic changes in
personality. The claims of objects and appliances paranormally misbehaving were
entirely Betty's. She would hallucinate and Mr. Q, not wanting to admit to
himself (or anyone else) that she had some serious problems, would corroborate
her imaginary claims.
least in the beginning, Mr. Q believed there was some substance to Betty's
allegations of something "strange" being in the house. He was hoping
against hope that we would somehow arrive at the same conclusion.
"Chessie" (The Chesapeake Bay
1982, the Enigma Project became inextricably involved in investigating and
documenting reports of a Chesapeake Bay Phenomenon [x].
For more than ten years, newspapers of Maryland and Virginia have been
documenting reports of a huge, snake-like animal allegedly seen in the
Chesapeake Bay and its larger tributaries. The mysterious beast, nicknamed
"Chessie" by the press, has been repeatedly described as serpentine,
about twenty-five to forty feet in length, eight to ten inches in diameter, and
possessing an elliptical or football- shaped head. Reportedly, the creature is a
uniformly dark color, having no fins or bodily appendages.
the Project has secured interviews with retired watermen who recalled talk of
"giant snakes" seen many years ago in southern Maryland's swamps,
Chessie's notoriety really surfaced as recently as 1978 when Virginia newspapers
began printing contemporary sightings of the beast.
several years reported sightings of the alleged animal remained unsubstantiated
until May 31, 1982. On that date around 7:30 PM, Maryland resident Robert Frew
videotaped a long, dark, serpent-like creature swimming in the Chesapeake Bay,
about 100 feet off the bulkhead of his Kent Island home. The less-than 2 minutes
of video recording that Frew shot proved to be very interesting and quickly came
to the attention of the Enigma Project researchers who launched an investigation
August 20, 1982, The Enigma Project succeeded in getting the Frew videotape an
audience with Dr. George Zug and other scientists at the Smithsonian
Institution's Museum of Natural History. After thoroughly examining the tape the
scientists, although intrigued by what it apparently depicted, were unable to
reach any conclusions about the "animate" object shown. The
videotape's quality was simply not good enough to allow such a determination.
a result of the publicity concerning the Smithsonian's viewing, Enigma Project
directors were contacted, the following September, by scientists at the Johns
Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland. Researchers at the
Applied Physics Laboratory offered to perform computer image enhancement of the
Frew Tape in an effort to extract from it more information about the mystery
animal. The computer work initially conducted isolated an impressive,
unmistakable, serpentine shape from the surrounding waters. Unfortunately, soon
after the enhancement techniques began, the internal funding that the Applied
Physics Laboratory allowed for the Frew videotape work ran out. Further
enhancements on the Frew tape have been suspended pending the availability of
some outside source of funding. Since 1983 the videotape has remained in limbo.
no one knows what Chessie is. Nevertheless, compelling detailed reports from
credible, reliable witnesses suggest the possibility of an unknown animal.
Although the number of Chessie reports vary from year to year, they persist all
the same. The Enigma Project's investigation of the Chesapeake Bay Phenomenon
proved to be the Enigma Project's banner year. Chessie was our most successful
case in terms of overall longevity, attention from mainstream scientists,
objectives met, and positive media exposure.
and '84 were slow years for the Project, during which some small, short term,
but nonetheless interesting, cases came to our attention. It was also during
this time that Bob Lazzara, Enigma's co-founder/director, made a career move to
Atlanta, Georgia. His absence has been sorely felt, though he has continued to
support the Project with investigations of such Georgian oddities as the Etowah
Indian Mounds (and the recent flurry of UFO activity in Fyffe, Alabama).
represented a resurgence of activity with the Enigma's research and
investigation of the Marfa Lights. [xi].
The mysterious balls of light seen near Marfa, Texas are among the most
interesting of all. They have the greatest potential for being viewed,
photographed, and otherwise scientifically scrutinized in a setting of
outstanding natural beauty and majesty. This entire region of Texas is largely
desert plain, heavily interspersed with bare, rocky, mountain ranges showing
colorful strata. The lights' principal "haunt" is a huge expanse of
desert range called Mitchell Flats, located in the Lone Star State's
almost a week, in October, 1985, George Walls, Gloria Denick, and I visited the
desert near Marfa. With cameras galore, infrared viewers, videotaping equipment,
and the ubiquitous magnetometer, we spent many cold, nighttime hours scanning
Mitchell Flats. Although we managed to secure some compelling witness testimony,
the lights evaded us.
October of 1986, George Walls and Gloria Denick journeyed to Marfa's desert.
This time, they rendezvoused with James Crocker, an anomalist and Project
associate from Dallas, Texas. Toward the end of their stay, both Crocker and
Walls managed to photograph the Marfa Lights. Crocker's photo is among the most
revealing images of so-called ghostlights ever captured on film. While we all
realized that the photographs were a victory, much more work had to be done in
order to determine the nature of the lights.
Enigma Project last ventured to Marfa in the fall of 1987. In addition to
George, Gloria, and myself, Alan "Cuz" McCann, a positively
effervescent industrial maintenance technician from Baltimore had joined our
ranks. Again, with a full compliment of equipment, we performed the nightly
watches and awaited our prey. At various points during the observations we saw
only distant, anomalous lights which could not be photographed due to their brevity
and a very annoying dewpoint which kept fogging our lenses.
continue the research of this baffling oddity, Enigma researchers hope to return
to Marfa sometime in the future. Of the experiments planned, one is to obtain a
spectrographic analysis of the anomalous lights. Such data would contribute
substantially to an understanding of the phenomenon.
cases keep popping up all the time and in the most spontaneous ways. For
example, in April, 1989, after inducting two new members to the Project, Marcus
Adams and David Jones fate stepped in. Adams, a computer technician, told us of
a harrowing experience he and Jones had in western Maryland's Green Ridge State
Forest. One night during a camping trip in August of 1987, the two men were
suddenly and briefly surrounded by several animals that produced threatening
screams. Though the darkness and dense brush prevented them from seeing the
originators of the cries, both men, familiar with the area and its wildlife,
were terrified and admitted that they had never encountered anything like that
before or since. Adams likened the strange noises to the angry cries of
chimpanzees. At first, the incident appeared to be an isolated event, however,
after talking with State Forest officials, Enigma Project investigators learned
that just a few months earlier, a local couple nearly hit a "naked man
covered with hair" while driving their camper through Green Ridge- -only a
few miles from where Adams and Jones had their experience. The investigation
vignettes presented above are only a sample of the Enigma Project's biography.
The Project's computerized database, technical capabilities, and the diversity
of its associates grow larger with every passing year. There have been many
investigations; some which remain unexplained, and others that were found to
have rational, prosaic--though not readily apparent--explanations. Those of us
in the Project refuse to abide by the senseless syllogism, "It can't be
therefore it isn't."
[i] Jarvis, Sharon (ed.) True Tales of the Unknown: The Uninvited Bantam Books: NY, 1989.
[ii] ParaScience International, 1025 Miller Lane, Harrisburg, PA 17110-2899, Larry E. Arnold, Director
[iii] Frizzell, Michael A. "The U.S. Geological Survey: An Invaluable Technical Resource for Forteans and Anomalists" INFO Journal No. 56, February, 1989.
[iv] Frizzell, Michael A. & George Walls. "Stalking Those Mysterious Lights" Pursuit Magazine, Fourth Quarter, 1987.
[v] The Community Times (Reisterstown, MD) "Local Research Group Explodes Myth" Thursday, January 31, 1980.
[vi] Due to a resurgence of interest in this subject by INFO member Al Rosenzweig, another Gravity Hill was recently (November, 1989) observed in Frederick County, MD.
[vii] Preliminary trips to the field were also made by Mike Frizzell and John Kopfle in 1978 and 1979.
[viii] Frizzell, Michael A. "Riddle of the Ringing Rocks," Fate Magazine, October, 1983.
[ix] Copy of Police Report on file with the Enigma Project.
[x] Frizzell, Michael A. "Investigating The Chesapeake Bay Phenomenon," The Gate, July, 1987.
[xi] Frizzell & Walls. "Stalking Those Mysterious Lights" Pursuit Magazine, Fourth Quarter, 1987.
©1996 - 2001 M.A. Frizzell