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It's the witching hour again - a time when experts try to outwit, debunk and explain away disembodied and disturbed souls that witnesses claim are still tied to earth. For this installment in this Hallowe'en countdown, I'm turning to the London Underground (Hat tip: Ghostwatching). London's famous subway is the site of mortal crimes and accidents, and many suicides. To build the subway lines, crypts, graveyards and mass burial plague pits had to be excavated and the bodies removed. With this morbid history, it's no wonder that the Tube is reputed to be a frightening place, especially after hours. In a 2005 Channel Five UK television special, Tube workers testified to strange experiences, particularly in areas of the system that are closed to the public. And paranormal investigators have tried to account for these happenings. The late Vic Tandy from Coventry University assessed a deep, closed section of the Tube, and the results were hair-raising.
Tandy pioneered a theory that what we perceive as ghostly presences are in fact infrasound - sounds that exist outside our normal hearing range. He called the particular sound at 19 Hz, the 'Fear Frequency.' The Wiki entry on infrasound states:
In the 1980s, Kate Bush wrote a song called Experiment IV about the use of sonic weapons that could kill (a recent remix is here). There is something to this; the Wiki entry on sonic weapons is here, which notes that exposure to infrasonic frequencies for periods longer than fifteen minutes injures brain tissue. One can see how a site, say, a house, which for some reason has infrasonic sounds constantly emitted would cause people to be fearful. And if they remained there over time, they might actually experience brain injuries and possible associated hallucinations.Infrasound has been known to cause feelings of awe or fear in humans. Since it is not consciously perceived, it can make people feel vaguely that supernatural events are taking place. The infrasound and low-frequency noise produced by some wind turbines is believed by some to cause "wind-turbine syndrome" (headaches, dizziness, nausea) in humans. ... On May 31, 2003, a team of UK researchers held a mass experiment where they exposed some 700 people to music laced with soft 17 Hz sine waves played at a level described as "near the edge of hearing", produced by an extra-long-stroke subwoofer mounted two-thirds of the way from the end of a seven-meter-long plastic sewer pipe. ... The participants were not told which pieces included the low-level 17 Hz near-infrasonic tone. The presence of the tone resulted in a significant number (22%) of respondents reporting anxiety, uneasiness, extreme sorrow, nervous feelings of revulsion or fear, chills down the spine and feelings of pressure on the chest. In presenting the evidence to British Association for the Advancement of Science, Professor Richard Wiseman said, "These results suggest that low frequency sound can cause people to have unusual experiences even though they cannot consciously detect infrasound. Some scientists have suggested that this level of sound may be present at some allegedly haunted sites and so cause people to have odd sensations that they attribute to a ghost—our findings support these ideas."
Vic Tandy tested his theory about infrasound in the scariest parts of the Underground. He believed the sound of 19 Hz (or below), does not just give us the creeps because it's a sound we can't hear. Sound waves cause vibrations. Specifically, according to NASA, a sound wave at 18 Hz is the resonant frequency of the human eye; in other words, we see things because that level of sound causes our eyeballs to start vibrating. From Wiki:
Research by Tandy, a lecturer at Coventry University, suggested that an infrasonic signal of 19 Hz might be responsible for some ghost sightings. Tandy was working late one night alone in a supposedly haunted laboratory at Warwick, when he felt very anxious and could detect a grey blob out of the corner of his eye. When Tandy turned to face the grey blob, there was nothing.
The following day, Tandy was working on his fencing foil, with the handle held in a vise. Although there was nothing touching it, the blade started to vibrate wildly. Further investigation led Tandy to discover that the extractor fan in the lab was emitting a frequency of 18.98 Hz, very close to the resonant frequency of the eye given as 18 Hz by NASA. This was why Tandy had seen a ghostly figure—it was an optical illusion caused by his eyeballs resonating. The room was exactly half a wavelength in length, and the desk was in the centre, thus causing a standing wave which caused the vibration of the foil.
Tandy's research reminds me of a disturbing horror film from 2004, Creep, which was not about ghosts in the Tube, but monsters. The exposition in the opening scenes of this film certainly captured the mood in London at the time, and gave some dark hints about what could happen to you if you missed your last train and got trapped in a station after it closed. The movie's trailer is here.
And of course, John Landis, the director of the 1981 film, An American Werewolf in London recognized the Tube's innate creepiness late at night. Landis produced some memorable footage that needed no effects at all - based on terrifying camera work through long, echoing, white tunnels that ran up against empty, churning escalators. The film celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year.
For a site on disused stations of the Underground, go here; also Abandoned Tube Stations, here.
For other posts on this series, see Phantoms and Monsters, here; Top Documentary Films, here.
The BBC has a list of ghosts in the London Underground, here.
See all my posts on Horror themes.
See all my posts on Ghosts.
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