“When I was younger …sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” The White Queen
I’d like to think I am as cynical as one can be without being antisocial. I distrust conspiracy theories and yarns about extra-terrestrials, though I am often intrigued by the evidence presented in support of them.
Which brings me on to frogs, toads, lizards, bats and even a flying lizard, all discovered tumbling out of impossible places. They have been reported, mostly alive, found in rock, in coal, in clay, inside trees and in cement.
Not just once, but dozen upon dozen times, since early medieval period till the 20th – and who knows, even the 21st – century, people just keep on finding the impossible. For, face it, common sense does not allow for a toad or a frog to be entombed for probably centuries or thousands or even millions of years – I refuse to say ‘toad in the hole’. What we understand to be the laws of nature and especially zoology do not permit that an animal — even one like a toad prone to hibernation — to survive without air to breathe or food to eat for more than a year or so. Moreover, the creatures were often reported to come from a hole in the rock which exactly fitted their body like the stone has coalesced around them.
To test the reasonable hypothesis that it was impossible for anything to survive, a Reverend William Buckland (1784-1856), theologian, palaeontologist, experimenter and toad torturer, took to entombing toads for himself and burying them. While a few made it through the first year, none survived the second.
But there’s a strongish common sense argument though that says something surrounding the dubious stories of the discovery of entombed amphibians might actually have some kind of truth about it. It’s certainly true that the phenomenon has been seriously discussed by among others Charles Dickens and Ben Franklin… ok, so no surprises that these enquiring minds, well, enquired.
In a strange way, the ‘why on earth would you say something so dumb?’ argument supports the case that something weird is going on. Unless you were desperate for a few minutes of fame or had fraud in your mind, would you contemplate announcing you had just witnessed the impossible? Put yourself in the position of a scientist, an engineer, or even a ditch digger or a miner the 19th century. There was absolutely nothing to gain by reporting such a discovery and yet there was so much to lose. The loss might include anything from your reputation and good name to your job and livelihood. All because you made up a story about an entombed animal. No-one appears to have profited financially from claiming a frog in a stone – and yet the cases kept on being reported.
And then there is the argument about a misreport or genuine mistake. Disbelievers suppose that a frog seen near a rock might just cause a worker to believe that the amphibian has come out of that rock. Come on, even the dumbest ditch digger would have to be almost supernaturally stupid to fall into believing that they found the animal inside a rock they broke open rather than that a toad had simply fallen into the pit he was digging.
And just so you don’t think that this was a phenomenon which ceased when folks transferred their attentions to UFOs and alien abductions during the 20th century, consider the story from Eastland Texas of its most famous cadaver in his open casket. It’s the horned toad, Old Rip (short for van Winkle, what else?). It was said that he was tipped into a corner stone time capsule in front of witnesses by some joker when they laid the foundations for the court house in 1897. Thirty one years later when the courthouse was being rebuilt, the time capsule was opened in front of more witnesses and sure enough, Rip was alive. He was sprightly enough to be taken to meet President Calvin Coolidge before catching a cold and dying a year after his resurrection.
And if you think that finding a toad was strange… how about a flapping, flying living dinosaur?