Do you remember the Black Cat Explosion of 2007? Mysticals of Pittsburgh do, and they're hoping you do, too.
Perhaps you've stumbled across one of the hand-drawn booklets slipped into nooks around the city -- in a coffee shop, maybe, or at a bar or park bench. The idea is that the book finds you: If you are receptive to what it's about, you'll notice it.
The booklets illustrate sightings of supernatural happenings around Western Pennsylvania -- the second and most recent booklet shows a pen rendering of a Lake Erie monster, a smoking pregnant woman who disappeared from outside West Penn Hospital, an alarmed Yeti from the Allegheny National Forest and varied sprites, homeless people and mopes.
The pair who collect the tales and do the drawings, a man and woman with earnest Pittsburgh accents and a penchant for anonymity -- they insist on speaking only over the phone, and call from a blocked number -- say Western Pennsylvania is ripe for supernatural happenings. They're all around us, going on every day, and the pair began the project as a way to share and connect with others like them.
"Who else is going to do it?" she asks. "We've been witnessing stuff for a long time." The pair say a UFO was one of their first shared sightings, years ago. A white-haired elf spotted in Frick Park this March was the genesis for putting their sightings down on paper and sharing them with the rest of the world -- or at least, the people in the world who are willing to see it.
"I imagine that someone who's not going to be receptive might not see it," he says.
The pair, friends with boring day jobs they won't reveal, say their shared past and sensitivity unite them in their mission.
"Our past haunts us," she says. "We grew up in the woods together. We were born, both of us, on a gloomy day. We met each other crying."
"As highly sensitive people, we feed off that kind of inspiration," he says.
They call themselves self-diagnosed depressives, and say that depression and other mental illnesses go hand in hand with sensitivity to otherworldly happenings.
"Sometimes the mentally ill are more receptive," she says. "Often the things they see make them depressed because they're the only ones seeing them. You can't share this stuff with everybody."
"The child-like connotations of being this way comes from fear," he says. "As an adult, you can choose to take it as something that terrifies you."
Both stress that they don't want to trivialize mental illness in any way, though.
"We're not for or against anyone's abilities or disabilities," she says.
While the DIY ethics and production values and stumbled-across placement of the project may seem familiar, don't call it a zine, if you please: "We did zines in the '90s. It's not a zine," she says, "it's more of a calling."
Is anything too preposterous to believe, and thus, to print?
"We don't believe in King Kong," she says. "It could happen, though. A lot of what we've been told isn't the truth."
They accept anonymous submissions via e-mail. Sometimes submissions stink of fakery, but the pair say it's generally pretty obvious which ones are submitted earnestly and in good faith.
A MySpace for the project recently went up, and submissions and contacts have increased a lot since then -- around 30 the first week. While the randomness and tangibility of the hidden paper copy is worth preserving and recalls the pre-Internet age of pasting up and mailing out zines, they say MySpace was a way to reach more people.
"There's way more to it if you can hold it in your hands and maybe study it or throw it down and have someone else find it," she says.
If you want to see what all the fuss is about, check outwww.myspace.com/mysticals_of_pittsburgh. Or just ... believe.
- An offering from the Mysticals of Pittsburgh