Ley Lines in New York, Window Areas, Liminal Spaces: A spin through some theories behind why hauntings and strangeness occurs.

In this instance, I’m looking at the concepts of ley lines, window areas, and liminal spaces, and seeing whether any of them could be in play in the hauntings of Fordham University.

Highlights include:
• A quick examination of incomprehensible aeromagnetic maps
• A weird internet aesthetic
• Former trails that ran through the area
• Ley line weirdness

Note: Sorry about the radiator noise on this one. I did my best to reduce it, but it ended up sounding a lot louder on the recording than it did in real life. Maybe just pretend it’s a poltergeist or something.

Episode Script for Ley Lines in New York, Window Areas, Liminal Spaces

DISCLAIMER: I’m providing this version of the script for accessibility purposes. It hasn’t been proofread, so please excuse typos. There are also some things that may differ between the final episode and this draft script. Please treat the episode audio as the final product. 

Ley lines

  • Ley lines show up in a lot of pop culture fantasy and paranormal stories, but I wanted to do some digging into the history behind ley lines and look at “real” ley lines.
  • The quick and dirty definition of a ley line is:
    • A straight line drawn between important historic structures and landmarks that supposedly have connections to paranormal phenomena, earth energy, etc.
  • I first heard of the origin of the ley line idea from Magic in the Landscape: Earth Mysteries and Geomancy by Nigel Pennick. The book talks about Alfred Watkins, an amateur archaeologist who in the 1920s coined the term ley line. Basically, he was looking at a line on a map that connected different parts of the landscape, ancient sites, etc.
    • The book goes on to talk about how Watkins’ “discovery” of ley lines wasn’t really an original idea, but Watkins was the one who gave it the name ley lines. He published a book in 1925 called The Old Straight Track, which then became popular in the 60s and 70s and there was this resurgence of interest in the topic.
  • It’s funny, right when I started researching ley lines, a podcast that I listen to sometimes did a whole episode about ley lines, so I felt like that synchronicity signaled I was on the right path in my research.
  • Ley lines are a huge topic that seem pretty easily debunked. Seems like the big argument is that you can draw lines to connect important sites really easily, but that doesn’t mean there’s actually a pattern, since of course there are also important sites outside of whatever lines you might draw.
  • But to get back to the relevance of ley lines to my research, to my puzzlement, there doesn’t seem to be any kind of high-quality, detailed map of supposed ley lines that cross through the US. 
    • I was looking for one that was overlaid over a google map, which you could zoom in on, etc.
    • I’m ashamed to say that the terrible lady Ghostbusters movie (which though I don’t think it’s good, I own and have watched more times than I care to admit), had me thinking that there existed detailed maps with ley lines. (There’s a whole plot point related to NYC ley lines.) As far as I can tell, there aren’t official ley lines in NYC.
    • If you google ley lines, you can find some somewhat low res jpgs that show at least two lines in NY state: one that passes through upstate, and one that passes through Long Island.
      • It was when I was reading about the Hammonasset Line, which starts in Montauk, LI, that the bad feeling I was starting to get about ley lines was confirmed: I pretty quickly ended up on the website of Graham Hancock, whose name set up some big alarm bells for me.
      • I tried to remember where I knew his name from, and then I looked it up and confirmed that some of his books have been characterized as supporting ultra far right, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. He’s one of those people who has published all these books that sound really smart and sort of . . . DaVinci Code or National Treasure-like, only they aren’t fiction.
        • The Southern Poverty Law Center mentions Graham Hancock in a 2018 article called “Close encounters of the racist kind,” which talks about links between ancient alien theories and the far right, so you can google that if you want to know more. There’s also a great episode of the Qanon Anonymous podcast that talks all about the history channel, ancient aliens, and all of the bad stuff tied up with that whole scene, if you want to learn more about that.
    • To be clear, I’m NOT saying that everyone who’s interested in ley lines is racist or far right or anything. Not at all. But I do think that when you look into ley lines, you should just be very careful to be a filter, and not a sponge.
  • But, as usual, I digress, and to make a long story long, I determined that ley lines weren’t really going to help me explain anything going on at Fordham. Fordham also doesn’t lie on any kind of latitude that’s known for weirdness, either.
  • So then I turned to psychogeography, which as I explained in the last episode, I only sort of understand.
    • The conclusion that I kinda drew from reading what I did about psychogeography was this:
      • The way that people interact with a place and each other might have complex repercussions that may affect the paranormal
      • The paths that people take (walking paths, trails, train routes, roads, rivers and shipping routes) are important.
        • To me, they seem maybe more important than ley lines. Like, for example, who cares if there are no ley lines going through NYC? If a ley line is defined by connecting the dots between important places, then every street is basically a ley line. So much history has happened here: important events, famous buildings, the lives of a higher-than-average number of people for hundreds of years, and many, many people prior to the centuries of settler colonialism.
        • We also know that many present-day streets grew out of old walking paths that may have been around for hundreds, or even thousands of years. 
          • As a sidenote, I don’t want to get too sidetracked about this, because in the process of researching this episode I’ve spent tens of hours pouring over old books and maps, and newer, not-exactly-accurate books, trying to identify important pre-contact paths and villages, and plotting them on a map. and I could go on about this subject for a very long time while also giving very little real information, so I’m going to try to keep in brief.
        • But for example, to name one of the very many sources I’ve delved into in researching this, in 1946, a man named James A. Kelly created a map of Brooklyn called Indian Villages, Paths, Ponds, and Places in Kings County, and the map shows that some of the trails became major roads, including Fulton Street, Flatbush Avenue, and some of Atlantic Avenue.
        • Another source: Indian paths in the great metropolis by Reginald Pelham Bolton (1922) https://archive.org/details/indianpathsingre01bolt/page/n3/mode/2up?q=map 
        • In the US, it seems that ley lines are often plotted and drawn based on landmarks left by the indigenous population, like mounds and sacred sites.
          • But what about trails? To me, by ley line logic, it seems just as legitimate to plot out ley lines based on the trails that were used by indigenous people.
          •  So, you might ask, what trails went through the land that is now Fordham University?
            • I’ve mentioned that the NYBG is right next to Fordham’s campus, so I wanted to read a bit from their “Outdoor Self-Guided Visit: Westchester Indian Trail Walk TEACHER GUIDE”
              • “The southern branch of the Westchester Indian trail came across Fordham University’s campus [note from me: I believe this refers to the university’s prior, larger campus grounds, part of which were later turned into the botanical garden], through present day Garden land and made its way to a ford across the Bronx River about 150 feet north of the Pelham Parkway bridge. There was a cross-over trail (the Aquahung trail) which followed the east side of the river and connected the south and north branches of the Westchester trail.
              • “The Siwanoy (Munsee dialect–speaking) occupied the east side of the Bronx River and the Weckquaeskec (Renenu dialect–speaking) occupied the west side, but both tribes traversed both sides of the property. There were no permanent dwellings on Garden property, but there was at least one further south, alongside the present-day zoo.
              • “At least two middens (shellpiles) were revealed on Garden grounds: one on the hillside where the present-day Ruth Howell Family Garden is located and another, located at Daffodil Hill.”
  • One note: the full sources for this teacher guide weren’t really cited, and many of the sources I’ve found aren’t exactly accurate, so you should take this historical information with a grain of salt rather than accepting that it’s 100% accurate.
  • However, we do know folks were living in the area, pre-contact, and I think it’s worth noting that an important turtle pictograph was found on the grounds of the NYBG. The pictograph is thought to be between 400-1000 years old. 
    • Per the NYT in March 1988:
      • “”For the first springtime since it was given form by Delaware Indians some 400 to 1,000 years ago – perhaps as a clan design, a hunting-ground designation or a symbol of the creation myth – the turtle will be far from its original home on a bluff above a gentle bend in the river.”
      • https://www.nytimes.com/1988/03/25/nyregion/the-voice-of-an-ancient-bronx-turtle.html
    • Who knows how accurate those theories are, but my understanding is that the stone with the pictograph was brought indoors, and based on what I read online, it’s unclear whether casual visitors can see it now.
  • So anyway, to get back to my original point, I’m not trying to say that Fordham is haunted because historic trails went through it or near it. There’s plenty of irresponsible urban legends claiming that artifacts and sacred sites from indigenous people make a place haunted, and I don’t want to add to that.
  • But I do want to challenge and complicate the idea of ley lines a bit, and I do want to underscore that the area has a long precolonial history that may or may not have an effect on the paranormal in the area now. However, as I’ve discovered, much of that history has been lost and/or obscured by incorrect information, so I don’t feel able to hypothesize anything on this front.

 

Window areas

  • Tangentially related, there’s a theory that hauntings could be connected to a location being a so-called “window area.” 
  • The concept was created by legendary journalist/investigator/UFOlogist John Keel, of Mothman Prophecies fame. 
    • He suggested that Point Pleasant, WV, might be a window area, which is basically an area where a bunch of strange phenomena are concentrated.
  • Here’s a bit from Keel’s book Operation Trojan Horse where he talks about his idea of window areas. This is in the context of UFO sightings but, like I mentioned last time, I think that all paranormal phenomena are related and there’s plenty to learn from reading across disciplines.
    • “At first I termed these sectors [of greater activity] base areas, but this was misunderstood by many UFO enthusiasts, and soon after my first article on UFO base areas appeared, teenagers everywhere were out scouring the countryside looking for underground UFO hangars. So I adopted the term “windows” as a good substitute.
    • “Every state in the United States has from two to ten “windows.” These are areas where UFOs appear repeatedly year after year. The objects will appear in these places and pursue courses throughout the 200-mile limitation. These window areas seem to form larger circles of activities. The great circle from Canada (not to be confused with the traditional geographic Great Circle) in the northwest through the Central States and back into northeast Canada is a major window. Hundreds of smaller windows lie inside that circle. Another major window is centered in the Gulf of Mexico and encompasses much of Mexico, Texas, and the Southwest.
    • “Many windows center directly over areas of magnetic deviation such as Kearney, Nebraska; Wanaque, New Jersey; Ravenna, Ohio. In the 1950s, teams from the national Geological Survey Office quietly flew specially equipped planes over most of the United States and mapped all of the magnetic faults in the country. You can obtain a magnetic map of your locale from the Office of the Geological Survey, Washington, D.C. 20242. If you have been collecting UFO reports in your home state, you will probably find that many of those reports are concentrated in areas where magnetic faults or deviations exist.
  • So I thought this thing about magnetic maps was very interesting.
  • I searched the USGS website to try to find detailed magnetic fault maps of NYC, but weirdly, a lot of the maps cut off right before reaching the city, around the North Bronx. I’ll include links in the show notes for what I found, but I don’t think I can say much based on any of that. If you know of magnetic fault maps of NYC, please let me know, because I’d love to see them. Here’re the maps I was able to find:
  • I did find this really interesting article called Intensity and impact of the New York Railroad superstorm of May 1921, which the USGS wrote, which actually may be relevant. Here’s the summary of what the report was about:
    • “Historical records of ground-level geomagnetic disturbance are analyzed for the magnetic superstorm of May 1921. This storm was almost certainly driven by a series of interplanetary coronal mass ejections of plasma from an active region on the Sun. The May 1921 storm was one of the most intense ever recorded by ground-level magnetometers. It exhibited violent levels of geomagnetic disturbance, caused widespread interference to telephone and telegraph systems in New York City and State, and brought spectacular aurorae to the nighttime sky. Results inform modern projects for assessing and mitigating the effects of magnetic storms that might occur in the future.”
    • The article had this bit, which probably isn’t relevant to the story here, but which I found interesting so wanted to share, especially since SO many people in the paranormal are interested in the Appalachian Mountains:
      • “The high-geoelectric hazards shown in Figure 4 are part of a band running from the southwest to the northeast that more or less corresponds to igneous and metamorphic rock of the (highly eroded) Appalachian Mountains and the New England Highlands. Such rock types tend to be relatively electrically resistive, corresponding to high impedance, and, thus, for a given level of geomagnetic disturbance, geoelectric hazards will tend to be high. In contrast, low-geoelectric hazards are seen to the northwest, across the sedimentary rocks of Appalachian Plateau. Such rock types tend to be relatively electrically conductive, corresponding to low impedance and, for a given level of geomagnetic disturbance, lower geoelectric hazards. Notably, geoelectric hazards are relatively high around New York City and southeast New York State “
    • And in case you’re wondering:
      • “The most intense magnetic storm since the IGY (1957–1958), that of March 1989 (Allen et al., 1989), had a maximum –Dst = 589 nT. This storm is especially notable because it caused an electricity blackout in Québec, Canada. This impact on electricity power grids is essentially the modern version of the disturbance summarized here for landline telegraph and telephone systems in May 1921. Indeed, should a storm as intense as that of May 1921 occur today, its impact on electricity networks might exceed that realized in March 1989.”
      • https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/70204992
      • https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2019SW002250
  • So, in conclusion, do I think Fordham could be haunted because it’s a window area? It’s a place where a ton of stuff has seemed to occurred, so I guess it’s possible, but I couldn’t find anything to support it. There are no UFO sightings that I’ve found, and no magnetic anomalies that I’ve found, aside from that ominous thing about geoelectric hazards being high in NYC, but I’m not science-y enough to understand exactly what that means.

 

Liminal spaces/liminality

  • The last things I wanted to talk about in this episode are liminal spaces. 
    • Liminal space is a huge buzzword right now, and I feel like it’s the kind of term that will very soon become almost meaningless.
    • If you’re someone who’s very online, “liminal space” may immediately make you think of the liminal space aesthetic. Images of dead malls, empty school hallways, fluorescent-lit office corridors, and playgrounds at night might come to mind. These sort of images, which are very unsettling but also compelling, have become popular enough that the aesthetics wiki has a whole page on it. (Which I’ll link in the shownotes if you want to take a look.) If I had to describe the liminal space aesthetic, I’d describe it as nostalgic images that make you feel like you’re the only one left after the rapture, maybe, like you’re wandering alone through spaces that should be full of life and people but which are instead unsettlingly empty of people, but which make you feel exposed, almost like you’re being watched.
    • That’s the liminal space aesthetic. But if you’re steeped in the paranormal, you probably think of liminal spaces as places in-between other places. Hallways, bridges, staircases, and other places that you pass through on your way somewhere else.
      • You might also be used to hearing liminality talked about in terms of life stages. It’s a time of transition in your life, a rite of passage, or maybe even an initiation. 
      • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liminality 
    • You see what I’m getting at here, right? For people who attend universities, that time is likely a liminal time in their lives. 
      • If you’re a residential student, you’ve left the home you grew up in, but you likely aren’t working full time yet. 
      • There’s this idea of figuring out what you want to do in your career, but also figuring out who you are.
      • That self-discovery can be somewhat tame and straightforward. But it often isn’t.
        • College is also often billed as a last hurrah. Some people treat college as a four-ish-year-long bachelor’s party thrown for an impending marriage to adulthood, a time when you can and must do all of the foolish things you wanted to do before having to grow up. 
        • Or many people, myself included, experience somewhat major mental health crises, which ends up turning the college experience into a highly emotionally charged trial by fire.
      • No matter how dramatic a person’s college experience may be, I think it’s safe to consider it a rite of passage, and a liminal time.
    • The idea in paranormal circles is that the paranormal appears more often during liminal times, and in liminal places. It’s a sort of Twilight Zone where the uncanny pops in.
  • So college is a liminal time. But another thing to consider is that as liminal spaces, residential universities have students moving in and out with great rapidity. And I think that has its own impact on the paranormal.
    • In one of the episodes I did on the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, I talked about how the intersection in Vegas that Excalibur and Luxor sit at, where Tropicana and Las Vegas Boulevard meet, has the most hotel rooms of any intersection in the world. That’s a lot of lives and souls moving through there. In a place like Vegas, where people travel to party and often lose huge sums of money, it seems like there could be an awful lot of psychic upset and human pain there.
  • I think something similar could be at work when looking at a college campus
  • Of course, last episode, I talked about urban legends, and how the residential population of a college campus is, I think, a perfect breeding ground for urban legends. But what if it’s also a perfect breeding ground for real paranormal phenomena, as well?
    • Much like my Vegas example, we have a bunch of young people who are not transient exactly, but on short-term, less-than-a-year-long leases to live in dorms shared with a bunch of other people. (And I talked in previous episodes about how, at least in my day, sharing a single bedroom with 2 or 3 other people wasn’t unusual. So that adds to this sense of a bunch of emotionally volatile young people all being crammed together in a small space.

 

Don’t miss past episodes about Fordham’s history and hauntings:

Sources consulted RE: What Makes a Place Haunted?

See sources page for the full source list for the series

Books consulted (partial list)

  • Magic in the Landscape: Earth Mysteries and Geomancy by Nigel Pennick
  • Psychogeography by Merlin Coverly (2006)
  • Hauntology: Ghosts of Futures Past by Merlin Coverly (2020)
  • The Official Guide to Randonautica: Everything You Need to Know about Creating Your Random Adventure Story by Joshua Lengfelder and Auburn Salcedo (2021)
  • On Trails: An Exploration by Robert Moor (2017)
  • Dark Folklore by Mark Norman and Tracey Norman (2021)
  • The Vanishing Hitchhiker: American Urban Legends and Their Meanings by Jan Harold Brunvand (1981)
  • The Old Straight Track by Alfred Watkins
  • Indian paths in the great metropolis by Reginald Pelham Bolton (1922) 

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