Years ago, when I was an unemployed carpenter in a small town in northern Michigan, the otherwise sensible owner of a gas station slipped me a book with a conspiratorial look in his eye. I shoved it in my coal, assuming it was naughty, but when I slipped it out at the tavern I saw it was called Chariots of the Gods? At first I misread "Gods" for "Gobs," and assumed it would be about some sailors on a riotous shore leave in ancient Rome. No such luck. The book insisted that there was evidence that we had been visited by extraterrestrial beings who left marks of their journey in dozens of locations, especially in Peru.
I admit I am gullible, being a poet with scarcely a hard fact in my brain. But I balk at outright nonsense unless it is meant to be funny or a con or hype. Now my credulity is being pushed by yet another book in this lineage called The Bermuda Triangle, by Charles Berlitz of the family of language whizzes ( Doubleday, $7.95). We may presume Berlitz to be an intelligent man—the jacket says he knows 30 languages—though his command of English is less than elegant.
The book examines various explanations of the disappearance of ships and planes in a roughly triangular area off Florida, spanning Bermuda, the Bahamas, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Florida Keys. This is a well-known and puzzling phenomenon that has been investigated by the Navy and Coast Guard. Some ships have returned to report strange experiences in The Triangle, but many simply vanished. Included is an account of the flight of five TBM Avenger torpedo bombers that disappeared on a routine run out of Fort Lauderdale in 1945 and of the Martin Mariner with a crew of 13 that searched for them. It also disappeared without a trace. Dozens of other equally mysterious examples are given.
The first half of the book is fascinating reading, dealing as it does simply with the facts. Unfortunately, the second half is a hodgepodge of time warps, UFOs, strange lore of the deeps and the myth of Atlantis, not omitting the Edgar Cayce notion that an ancient civilization left a giant "crystal" deep in the ocean which, through the forces of antigravity and magnetism, plays havoc with navigational equipment.
Maybe. I suggest we set Berlitz adrift out there in a dinghy with a 10-year supply of damp, damp soda crackers so that he may test these theories.