Cosmos Mystery Area
Rapid City, South Dakota
Some people believe that the world is predictable, quantifiable, manageable. But the abundance of Mystery Spots across North America -- often mysteriously close to major highways and tourist attractions -- proves those people wrong.
At Mystery Spots "the laws of nature seem to have gone completely berserk," as a sign at Cosmos Mystery Area declares. Water defies gravity. Balls tossed into the air veer off course. People shrink or grow depending on where they stand. Mystery Spots are less dangerous than space monsters and more predictable than spook lights. On the X/Y axis of paranormal entertainment, Cosmos's promise to "See it. Feel it. Survive it!" seems like a pretty fair deal.
Our tour guide at Cosmos was Eric, 17 years old. The hoodoo at Mystery Spots is usually strongest within a twisted shack on a hillside, which favors guides with young knees (a lesson that one Mystery Spot ignored to its peril). A visit to Cosmos is a bit more strenuous than mall-walking -- so wear comfortable shoes -- but each tour has plenty of built-in breaks, and the last half is all downhill in case you have to flee a sucking vortex.
As our group climbed through woods toward the shack, Eric pointed to a large stand of trees that had all mysteriously bent themselves toward one spot. "We have no idea what's going on over there," he said (This may be because Cosmos is a mystery "area," not a "spot"). Eric also revealed that Cosmos has two shacks of mystery. The first was discovered in its current mysterious state in 1952. Fifty years later an exact replica was built, "to see if they'd get the same effects." They did, and now Cosmos can accommodate twice as many tour groups as before. Eric confided that the "pull field" was "more stronger" in the original shack -- the one on our tour -- which made us feel bad for the other group over at the replica shack, but not too bad.
Eric went through some standard mystery spot demonstrations -- standing sideways on a wall, pouring water uphill -- sprinkled with chatty banter. One man, forced to stand in several places, seemed smaller every time. "If we keep doing this he'll eventually disappear!" Eric cracked. "Ah ha ha ha," the group laughed. When Eric tossed a tennis ball that twisted in mid-flight, a woman asked, "Does the ball have a magnet in it?" Eric answered, "Yeah, we have magnets all over the place," and the group laughed again.
Everyone was invited into the shack to feel its effects. Eric warned that, "You might become a tad disoriented," and people certainly did. " I feel like I've been drinking!" said one. "That's the strongest corner," declared another. "I'm just kind of getting sucked in without moving!" said a third. "Have you ever?" "Oh my god!" "Ah ha ha ha."
"What do they think causes this?" one woman asked Eric. "Well," he answered, "some people think that it's like a vortex where, like, this side of the hill is being pulled this way while the other side is going in the opposite direction. Like a circle. We really don't know." Another woman, seeing that there was a baby on the tour, wondered aloud about the Mystery Spot's effect on infants. "I wonder what that baby's feeling. She's been very quiet, so it's not been disturbing, whatever it is."
Eric saved his most spectacular shack demonstration for last. After balancing a chair on a tiny wall ledge, he removed his hands to show that the chair was mysteriously suspended in air only by its rear legs. He announced that it was "the Cosmos truth chair," and that anyone who sat in it and told a lie would make the chair tumble forward onto the floor! "Have you ever broken the law?" he asked one woman volunteer, perched nervously on the wall. "No," she answered. "Can you vouch for that, sir?" Eric asked her husband. "She smoked dope," he said. "Only once!" she cried. The tour group loved it. "Bill Clinton didn't do so hot in this chair," Eric cracked. "Oooooh, ha ha ha."
As the tour ended and the group staggered back downhill, we pulled Eric aside and asked him if the forces at Cosmos were sometimes too mysterious for some sensitive souls. "I've never had someone throw up on my tour," he reflected. "Sometimes they run back down to the gift shop and go to the bathroom."
Perhaps this is what Cosmos means when it refers to itself as "a physical experience you will never forget" -- but we hope not.