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Gravity Anomalies

All over the world, certain places are known for their weird gravity anomalies. Paul Sieveking rounds up some of the most notable.

There is a stretch of road in Ayrshire where motorists will find special warning signs and meet cars apparantly coasting uphill backwards as baffled drivers are confused by their senses. Electric Brae, on the A719, nine miles (14km) south of Ayr and 13 miles (21km) north of Girvan, is just one of many such anomalous spots in the British Isles. The road crosses the side of a steep valley and is actually rising slightly, while appearing to fall towards a stream.

Magnetic Hill, between Ballabeg and the Round Table on the Isle of Man, is another surreal slope. Local wags say that the odd effects are not down to magnetism, but the Little People coming out to push the cars uphill. Then there is Magnetic Hill on the A3055 between Shanklin and Ventnor on the Isle of Wight, the sloping side entrance to Spelga Dam, near Newcastle in County Down, Northern Ireland, and a hill near Yetminster in Dorset. Chat, 28 Nov 1987; D.Mail, 26 April 1994; Isle of Wight County Press, 7+14 June 1996.

Such apparent gravity anomalies are found all over the world: FT has reports from the South Korean island of Cheju Do; near Jerusalem in Israel; near Hanging Rock in Australia; on the drive from Rocca di Papa to Albano south of Rome; near Porto in Portugal; on the Opawica road in southern Poland; on the Pinarhisar–Demirköy highway in Turkey; and on the coastal road between Simotata and Platie on the Greek island of Cephalonia. “Mysteries of Turkey” by Haluk Egemen Sarikaya (1981); letter from David Calvert of Stanley, Co. Durham, Sept 1993; The Warsaw Voice, 5 Dec 1993; New Scientist, 25 Feb 1995.

In 1988 a reporter with the Soviet news agency APN went to investigate such a road on the way to Gek-Gek lake in western Azerbaijan, three miles (4.8km) from the town of Hanlar. “The car engine was turned off, the clutch and hand brake disengaged. The driver released the foot brake and the car started to roll uphill, gaining speed. We tried with the car fully loaded and then empty. We were unable to stop it by hand even when it was empty.” The local people were well aware of the phenomenon, and the Academy of Science in Baku was looking into it. Helsingin Sanomat (Finland), 27+30 Nov 1988.

According to a report over 20 years ago (Guardian, 6 July 1982), Peanuts Street in the Brazilian city of Belo Horizonte allows cars to coast uphill for a quarter of a mile. It was so named because Brazilians believe peanuts impart sexual prowess and cause certain objects to rise of their own accord. This doesn’t explain why vehicles should drift uphill. It has been suggested that the magnetism was caused by the enormous amount of iron in the cliff and that mountains nearby had something to do with it.

Chinese scientists are baffled by a slope in northeastern Gansu province where water runs uphill, according to a report in the Hong Kong Standard (8 Nov 1998). The 200ft (60m) slope at an angle of 15 degrees was discovered by army officer Zhao Guobiao in a desert region of Yugur County. The mystery has attracted the attention of many Chinese scientists, including Fang Xiaoming, a professor of physics at Lanzhou University, who postulated “a strong magnetic field or sharp changes in air pressure”.

Magnetism has also been used to explain the phenomenon on the Lutz Mountain Road west of Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada: so of course it is called Magnetic Hill. Its odd property was known locally in the 1920s and was brought to national attention in 1933. It was celebrated by the fortean writers Andrew Tomas and Jacques Bergier, and is now the principal tourist attraction of New Brunswick. However, according to John Robert Colombo in Mysterious Canada, (Doubleday, 1988) Magnetic Hill is an optical illusion. “Here the countryside is so tilted that what appears to be an upgrade is really a downgrade.” Colombo mentions two other such hills in Ontario and two more in Quebec. Other Canadian gravity hills can be found near Neepawa in Manitoba and in Abbotsford, British Columbia. Grit, 27 July 1975.

The most celebrated US site of anomalous gravity is the Oregon Vortex on Sardine Creek Road, Gold Hill, Oregon, allegedly known to Native Americans as “the Forbidden Ground” because no birds nested there and horses got spooked every time they came near it. Perspective seems to go awry, bouncing balls behave erratically, and compasses malfunction. The Vortex has operated as a roadside attraction since the early 20th century. The proprietor explains it as an “anti-gravitational electromagnetic field” affecting a circular area 165ft (50m) across. Sceptics insist it’s all an optical illusion. Paris (TX) News, 28 Sept 1977; Grants Pass (OR) Daily Courier, 9 Mar 1987; New Scientist, 28 Nov 1992; Sunday Oregonian, 23 Nov 1997.

Then there’s the Mystery Spot off Branciforte Drive in Santa Cruz, California, allegedly ‘discovered’ in 1940. Other gravity hills can be found in Benzie County, Michigan; Mooresville, southwest Indianapolis, Indiana; Idelwild Park, Ligonier, Pennsylvania; near New Paris, Pennsylvania; near Shullsburg, Wisconsin; and near Burkittsville, Maryland – and many other places.

An FT correspondent in Maryland, science teacher Iola Parker, went to see the Lake Wales Spook Hill in Florida and was taken in like everyone else. Careful measurement proved that what appeared, from all angles, to be uphill in fact dropped 16in (41cm) in 178ft (54m), just enough to account for the upward coasting. But Ms Parker was unable to identify the cause of the optical illusion. “I tried every test I could think of, blocking from view one part of the area and then another, and finally blocking everything but that one mysterious bit of road, but still I could have sworn the road sloped up,” she wrote. Tampa (FL) Tribune, 2 April 1990; Wall Street Journal, 25 Oct 1990; letter from Iola B Parker, 16 Jan 1991; People (South Africa), 5 June 1991; Ogden (UT) Standard-Examiner, 30 Oct 1999.

For details and more pictures on Mystery Spot in Santa Cruz go to www.mysteryspot.com

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Thanks to Jacob Levine at Mystery Spot for the postcard reproductions
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Magnetic Hill
Freewheelin' at the famous Magnetic Hill, Lutz Mountain Road, Moncton in New Brunswick, Canada. Drivers feel like they're going uphill but need to brake, or downhill and need to step on the gas. Image: Tourism Moncton
 
Author Biography
Paul Sieveking is a founding editor of Fortean Times and retains his keen interest in all the oddities and quirks of nature.

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