July 2011 & July 2014
Lisa and I make a road trip on the Mountaineer Expressway and beyond. This is one of eleven columns from that trip.
Gravity is a universal physical constant. It is one of the four fundamental forces in nature, the other three being electromagnetism, the strong force and the weak force. Einstein, in his general theory of relativity, said that gravity is the consequence of the curvature of spacetime. Makes sense to me.
Gravity, force or consequence or whatever it is, is a fact of nature. Only in literature and movies, and if you are a cat, can you make gravity do something it won’t do in real life. Literature, movies, cats, and the Mystery Hole in Ansted, West Virginia.
One point six miles up the road from Hawks Nest State Park is Mystery Hole, a place where “The Laws of Gravity [are] defied!” they tell us. “Some [visitors] have gone away so bewildered that they’ve headed in the wrong direction and became lost.”
We decide to take the tour. We want to see gravity defied. Before the fun begins, I go to the edge of the property above a steep gorge. Maybe I can go over the edge and not fall down. A picket fence separates me from the drop off, assuming that if I were to drop off, I would fall down. A picket fence is easier for me to understand than defying gravity. Wilson Pickett is singing <In the Midnight Hour> on a nearby loudspeaker. I’m leaning on the picket fence. Already the place is weird.
The rules of the tour, according to the Mystery Hole people, include…
NO RECORDING DEVICES
…and more things you may not do or carry or have.
Mystery Hole also claims no responsibility for accidents or after effects, especially if you have a heart ailment, high blood pressure or vertigo. Got the hype machine cranked up to 10.
You pays your money and you takes your chances. We pays our money. Printed right on the receipt, in case we miss it, is “Seeing is believing.” With five other people, we tromp down the ramp to begin our tour. Passing through a narrow hallway, I’m reminded of the carnival fun house where you hear noises but can’t tell where they are coming from and an occasional something-or-other with bulging eyeballs drops from the ceiling and startles you. We shuffle past three discolored manikins named Miss Mystery Hole, Miss Hawks Nest and Miss New River Gorgeous. Our tour guide, who maintains a steady patter throughout, explains, seemingly mystified, “They’re all still single.”
They’re plastic, dude. What’s the mystery? Besides, Miss Mystery Hole is probably not as much fun as her name suggests.
Soon enough, with a few distractions to build the suspense, we climb down a small, treacherous set of steps and come to the room where the action is, the room of infinite mystery, the spooky-as-antimatter, stranger-than-sleep-paralysis tourist attraction and conundrum. In this room, things lean sideways. Water flows uphill, a chair stays stuck to the wall with nothing holding it there, a ball rolls up an incline. You might even begin to feel dizzy. You don’t realize it but as the tour guide is talking, you’ve been leaning hard up against a wall. But your posture is perfectly straight up and down, as if the wall magnetically attracts you. You’d better hold on if you walk from one end of the room to the other. That’s all I’m gonna say. I don’t want to give up all their secrets. I mean, we’re talking gravity here.