Once a decade or so, I try to purge a few magazines. I have thousands of books already; I don’t need magazines stacking up too. So I looked over my oldest science magazines, figuring that their articles would be the most dated and most easily culled.
One of the oldest issues I have is Scientific American from November 1992. There are actually several items here that are interesting, enough to make this issue a “keeper”, such as an article on the “Cambrian explosion” of life-forms about 600 million years ago, and another examining the relationships between Native American languages.
But I want to look at one tiny sidebar story that, again, is a randomly found item that curves toward the “Missing 411” series.
Actually, the subject is sort of peripheral to the 411 stories, but many discussions of the subject mention it: the shoes, with severed human feet in them, washing ashore in
British Columbia and Washington state:
The article in Scientific American is not quite so grotesque: It appears that, on May 27, 1990, a freighter was caught in a powerful gale in the northeastern Pacific, and five shipping containers of Nike shoes, containing 80,000 tennis shoes altogether, were lost overboard.
And in early 1991, a decade and a half before the severed feet phenomenon began, the sneakers started washing ashore in
Columbia and Washington
Curtis B. Ebbesmeyer, who worked at a marine instruments company, and W. James Ingraham, Jr., of the National Maritime Fisheries Service, thought this made a great opportunity to study currents. However, said Ebbesmeyer, “I tried to find the scientists who were tracking down the shoes, but nobody was.” So Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham, with the help of a “network of beachcombers,” did it themselves.
About 1300 of the waterlogged shoes were recovered. Using computers to backtrack the drift, Ebbesmeyer and Ingraham found out something interesting: That the shoes washed ashore in
British Columbia and Washington was itself something of an
It seems that in most years the waters of the tropical Pacific would have been warmer, and the currents flowing north through the
(the waterways around British
Columbia) would have been faster and more
powerful. Under normal circumstances the shoes should have drifted to before coming
Perhaps, being weighed down with flesh and bone, the mystery shoes of recent years were heavy enough to beach farther south. Or perhaps beachcombers in
Alaska should be on the lookout for the
Powell, Corey S., “Flotsam Footwear,” Scientific American Vol.267 no. 5 (Nov. 1992), p. 26.