You know how sometimes you lose chunks of your life on the internet in a heartbeat? When I first encountered the website Liminal Seattle, I immediately lost half an hour, just clicking around and reading the crowdsourced stories of weird experiences Seattleites have had in the region. In fact, I defy you to maintain self-control while flicking around Liminal Seattle. The little pinpoints on the map, with their tiny descriptions of bizarre occurrences, are just interesting enough to get you to click through. Consider the ghost canoe in the center of Lake Washington, "apparently with a Lime Bike on deck," or the sad story of Edward Lighthart, a full-grown man who wandered out of Discovery Park with no recollection of his own personal history. The map also demarcates Seattle's very own "Hellmouth" — the lines of which seem to hew very closely to the borders of South Lake Union. I talked with the founders of Liminal Seattle about weirdness and what they're hoping to do with all these stories they've been collecting. (If you have a weird Seattle story, you can contribute to Liminal Seattle here. Also, you can sign up for the new Liminal Seattle newsletter here.)
What do you do when you're not working on Liminal Seattle?
Jeremy Puma: By day I’m a desk jockey at the UW. In my free time I teach and write about urban foraging.
Garrett Kelly: I’m co-founder of Hollow Earth Radio, a non-profit community radio station in the Central District (104.9 FM, KHUH.)
How did the idea for Liminal Seattle come to you?
JP: Garrett and I met during the heyday of blogging, when the internet wasn’t so toxic, and started posting about these topics probably around 2003 or so. We’ve kept in touch, primarily online, since then, and a year or so ago started tracking weirdnesses — dreams and such — on a personal level. One day, we kind of simultaneously had the idea to start putting our experiences on a map, and Garrett suggested we open it up to anyone.
GK: Yeah, for a while now we’ve been keeping track of our dreams, ‘coincidences’, strange encounters, etc. - just among a small group of people. I’ve long wanted to do something that acts sort of like ‘Google Trends’ (which tracks sudden spikes on google search queries) for the collective unconscious. I’ve just been curious about whether there are particular nights when people tend to dream about a similar thing? This map is an extension of that, because we’re trying to see if there are strange places or experiences that are actually quite common but go unnoticed because everyone is afraid to talk about this weird stuff happening to them.
You refer several times to weirdness as though it’s on a measurable scale. Could you give us an example of low weirdness and high weirdness?
JP: I wouldn’t say there’s an actual scale we’d use, but we’re definitely more interested in experiences that are odder than your standard ghost story or UFO sighting. We want those, too, but we’re super intrigued by experiences that are kind of “off of the paranormal charts.” As an example of “high weirdness,” there’s a close encounter story where the guy is visited by aliens, who then proceed to give him pancakes in exchange for water. He takes the pancakes in for analysis, and finds they contain absolutely no salt. Not just “no added salt,” but no salt whatsoever! I’d say this qualifies as “high weirdness.” But, we’re also interested in personal mythologies and stories of unusual or interesting encounters with animals and the landscape.
GK: Yeah, I’m down with Bigfoot and ‘bad vibes’ - but I also like hearing about those encounters that people sometimes have in waking life that actually feel more like dreams. For instance, I just added to the map an old video I had of my friend Jake and I walking around at night in Ballard back in 2005. We were walking in the rain. Jake was talking about how he wanted a ‘fresh start’ in his life and just as he says this, we come across a dead cat getting rained on in a little grassy part of the sidewalk. There was a car parked facing the cat, with its lights on shining straight at the animal. The whole scene felt staged. No one was in the car. No one was around anywhere. There was likely some rational explanation for what was happening, yet it felt so eerie…
How has the response to the site been?
JP: The response has been phenomenal. I think this timeline/reality is so awful right now in so many ways that people are really looking for new mythologies. Social media, in particular, has driven quite a bit of traffic to the site.
Do you think you’ll do something else with this project, besides the crowdsourced map?
JP: If it goes really well, we’d really like to eventually publish a guidebook or something. And it would also be cool to see other people in different locales making their own maps as part of the Society for Liminal Cartography.
GK: Yeah, I’d love to sort of synthesize it all down into a Tolkien-style map of the city with the ‘hotspots’ - maybe something you could roll up into a scroll? I’d also love to take people on late night bike ride ‘mystical journeys,’ visiting the sites and taking pictures and being open to weird encounters along the way…
How did you determine the actual boundaries of the Hellmouth?
GK: I get the impression that you are questioning our cartographic skills? Is there an underlying assumption that we’re somehow “making up” the boundaries of the Hellmouth. Look man, I didn’t create the Hellmouth, I just pulled out the protractor and used my skills as a map-maker to roughly define the border. And I’ll have you know, this is a very conservative estimate - very conservative. There are people saying it’s actually many miles wider, some even saying that it encompasses the entire Seattle Metropolitan area. But I’m going to use my best judgment here and say what has been put on the map has all of the classic indicators of a Hellmouth epicenter.