Bigfoot, Mormons, and Smoking Guns

Earlier this year, on January 22, the Washington State Department of Transportation made an unexpected discovery. While reviewing footage from a camera near Sherman Pass on State Route 20, they spotted…something.

That’s right folks, Bigfoot is alive and well and living in the mountain passes of Washington State. Maybe. It’s a fair bet that people are paying closer attention to the WSDOT twitter feed these days and that’s a good thing. These cameras are supposed to show potentially dangerous environmental conditions along the state’s most treacherous roads. They are not necessarily intended to reveal the presence of cryptozoological creatures, which lends maybe the smallest hint of sort of credibility to the video.

The WSDOT certainly isn’t staking its professional reputation on the discovery. After all, they are only “a little stitious,” but I suppose it’s possible they have found the smoking gun in one of the world’s greatest mysteries.

Not a literal smoking gun, of course, though that does seem to be how the phrase may have originally been used. One of the earliest examples is found in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1893 short story “The Adventure of the Gloria Scott” in which a “smoking pistol” in the hands of a criminal demonstrates his guilt beyond any reasonable doubt.

smoking gun
photo credit: AppleDave Smoking Gun via photopin (license)

The phrase didn’t gain much traction as a metaphor for another eighty years when the US press pretty universally adopted it in reference to the hunt for evidence in President Nixon’s impeachment case.

Since the more metaphorical resurgence of the phrase in the 1970s, its use has blossomed to incorporate that one missing piece of crucial evidence that supports not only a criminal case, but also a scientific assumption, or even a conspiracy theory.

I do love a good conspiracy theory. And the best ones seem to all be missing just that one smoking gun. If only the public could finally see the alien technology kept at Area 51 or the original unedited film from Stanley Kubricks’s moon landing hoax.

My new novel Smoke Rose to Heaven, which came out this week, was inspired by a smoking gun from history. In 1830, a man named Joseph Smith published a new sacred text called The Book of Mormon: An Account Written by the Hand of Mormon upon Plates Taken from the Plates of Nephi.

He claimed to have found these golden plates buried in the Hill Cumorah in New York State and to have translated them from “Reformed Egyptian” by divine interpretation made possible with the use of seer stones thrown into a hat. Once he was finished, the plates were taken up to heaven.BoMSmoke

As you might imagine, not everyone was quick to swallow this unusual story. Though Smith’s book won him followers and started a religious movement that continues today, it also garnered a number of detractors. One of those was newspaper editor Eber D. Howe who in 1834 published Mormonism Unvailed. Howe’s book includes a large collection of affidavits swearing that Smith’s sacred text was really the plagiarized work of an unpublished and by then deceased novelist named Solomon Spalding.

Like most conspiracy theories, the claim is supported by a lot of circumstantial evidence, a few assumptions, and possibly some questionable motives, but also like most, it is plausible. At least it’s plausible enough for fiction.

SmokeFrontCover
Available now!

Because if true, this theory, which has come to be known as the Spalding Enigma, would be well served by the existence of the original manuscript of the Spalding novel, allegedly titled Manuscript Found. This particular smoking gun has thus far been lost to history.

But it’s not lost to historical fiction. My novel is the coming of age story of a woman who comes to possess that manuscript. It begins with the Spalding Enigma, but in the course of the story also seeks to explore the unique cultural environment that allowed several new religious movements to begin. The book is fiction. It’s intended neither to convince nor convert, but rather to look at an interesting moment in history.

I mean it’s certainly no Bigfoot caught on a Department of Transportation camera, but I’m pretty proud of the book and I hope you’ll consider checking it out.

 

Want to help me spread the word? If you’re willing to share about the book on social media, I’d be so grateful. You can share this post, the Amazon link, or the book trailer. Really, any mention at all would be great! I even have some ready-made tweets if you’d like to use them. Thanks!

Tweet this“A fascinating look at a historical mystery that spell-bindingly blends fact with fiction.” Smoke Rose to Heaven. #bookrelease #tbrlist #amreading

A girl abandoned becomes a woman pursued by a dark past, a dangerous secret and those who would kill to keep it hidden. Smoke Rose to Heaven. #bookrelease #tbrlist #amreading

A woman with a unique gift and a tragic past holds the key to unravelling one of history’s greatest deceptions. Smoke Rose to Heaven. #bookrelease #tbrlist #amreading

 

What to Do in the Meantime

In 1912, rare books dealer Wilfrid Voynich added to his collection of his London shop the strangest book he never read. It’s not entirely clear how the manuscript came into Voynich’s possession, but it most likely came from the Jesuit Order, which around that time, sold some of its holdings from the library of the Roman College (by then Pontifical Gregorian University) to the Vatican and apparently to a few others as well.

Voynich2
Ohhhh… so that’s what it says. Excerpt from the Voynich Manuscript. Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons.

The Jesuits didn’t read it either, not even the scholar Athanasius Kircher, who was likely responsible for the inclusion of the manuscript in the collection.

Before him, the two hundred-plus-page manuscript probably belonged to a physician by the name of Johannes Marcus Marci, who likely received it from alchemist and antique collector George Baresch, who may have gotten it from Jacobus Horcicky de Tepenecz, who served as the personal physician to Emperor Rudolph II of Germany. Emperor Rudolf assumed the manuscript was the work of 13th century philosopher Roger Bacon and purchased it for a fairly large sum.

But none of these men ever read the book.

Because they couldn’t. What came to be known in the 20th century as the Voynich Manuscript is an enduring puzzle. Its vellum pages have been carbon-dated to the early fifteenth century, which means Bacon didn’t write it. They are filled with an unknown language or code, written by a single, careful hand, and accompanied by lots of strange pictures of unidentifiable plants, weird symbols, and plenty of naked ladies.

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I chose not to highlight one of the pages with naked ladies, as this is a family-friendly blog. Illustration from the Voynich Manuscript. Public Domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Housed today in Yale’s Beinecke Library, and available to view online if you want to take a stab at it, the Voynich Manuscript has been defying translators for pretty much as long as it has existed. Recent attempts at translation by television writer Nicholas Gibbs and University of Bristol research assistant Gerard Cheshire have been pretty quickly shot down by Voynich scholars and enthusiasts. And in 2016, even AI failed to convince those in the know that it could crack the code.

It’s been suggested that the book is a medical guide of some sort, that it’s written in Hebrew anagrams, that it’s nothing more than an elaborate hoax, or that it’s of otherworldly origin. All we know for certain is that it’s weird, oddly fascinating, and unreadable. Perhaps it contains the answers to the greatest mysteries of the universe.

But as frustrating as it is that there’s this one book that has remained unread by everyone except, presumably, its author, I can’t help but think there are probably a lot of books no one has ever been able to read. Most languish on hard drives or exist only as scribbles in tattered notebooks. Others have been locked up in contracts with defunct presses, trapped away from the public by copyright law.

Hopefully that last possibility doesn’t apply to too many books. Very soon it will apply to one fewer, as the copyright of my first historical novel, Smoke Rose to Heaven, will be returning to me in the coming weeks. What this means is that very soon (February 4th to be exact), I will be releasing it finally into the world for anyone to read.

SmokeFrontCover
Coming soon!

I can’t promise that it contains the answers to the greatest mysteries of the universe, but it’ll be fairly easy to read because it’s written in English without anagrams, strange symbols, or unidentifiable plants. For better or worse, it doesn’t have any pictures of naked ladies, either.

I’ll have a lot more to share about this most elusive of my books in the coming weeks. You can’t read it just yet,* but maybe while you’re waiting, you can decipher the Voynich Manuscript.

 

 

*Okay, you can actually get a sneak peek if you would like to commit to giving Smoke Rose to Heaven an honest review. If that’s something that interests you, drop me a line at s_angleton@charter.net before the publication date and I’ll happily send you a complimentary e-book. You can check out the back cover blurb and read a sample here.