Chicago Tribune, 12/26/93 Mystery hum drives some Taos residents to distraction, others to

Master Index Current Directory Index Go to SkepticTank Go to Human Rights activist Keith Henson Go to Scientology cult

Skeptic Tank!

Chicago Tribune, 12/26/93 Mystery hum drives some Taos residents to distraction, others to disbelief By Hugh Dellios TRIBUNE STAFF WRITER TAOS, N.M.--Two years ago, Paul Loumena and Alexandra Lorraine left the San Francisco area and moved to this fashionable artist colony because of the mountain vistas, the ski slopes and the solitude. Almost from the day they arrived, however, they have had trouble sleeping. In the middle of the night, Loumena repeatedly has gone out back of their house to search for the cause of an incessant hum. They soon found they weren't alone in their misery. For the last two years, this Indian-pueblo-turned-New-Age- mecca has drawn attention less for the desert landscape that inspired Georgia O'Keefe and D.H. Lawrence than for the myterious hum that dozens of anguished residents have likened to a diesel droning in the distance. Labeled "The Taos Hum," it has turned families and friends against each other, forced some to flee the area in search of peace and quiet and given birth to conspiracy theories about which of New Mexico's top-secret U.S. military projects is causing the noise. Next month scientists from the University of New Mexico once again will invade Taos. Having failed in May to locate any weapons or radar signals on the desert plateau, they will be looking for an answer this tmme inside residents' heads. The dozens who attest they hear the noise, tired of defending themselves against whispers that they are just plain nuts or took too many drugs in college, think it may be a waste of time. "I don't necessarily believe it has to be a conspiracy," said Loumena, who runs a small adobe inn north of town. "But if it's generated by the inner ear, then why do I feel these vibrations in my heart? Why does my head feel like a tuning fork when I wake up in the morning?" The many theories on the Taos hum run the gamut from the scraping of the Earth's tectonic plates to an as-yet-unknown energy form that only the most sensitive ears can detect. For some, the hum portends a future when the volume of background noise from power lines gasoline engines and electric gadgets wiU make daily life excruciating, if not unliveable. Others fear the hearers are the first victims of military experiments with infrasound or pulse weapons that would disable enemy troops in the non-lethal warfare of the future. Whatever the cause of the perceived disturbance, it is not peculiar to Taos. As news of the hum spread, officials at the University of New Mexico received calls from people across the U.S. claiming to hear something similar. In England, a group of hum hearers formed a "Hummers" association. "I thought I was going crazy, but now I have a whole envelope stuffed with information on Taos," said Marilyn Meyer, 49, of Waupun, Wis., who tore dowm the TV antenna, electric wires and downspouts from her home in a vain effort to stop the hum. "I had even considered that people from outer space were trying to contact us. You think of everything." Seven months ago, 11 scientists and engineers from the university and three national laboratories draped Taos with an array of acoustic, seismic and electromagnetic sensors. They eavesdropped on gophers tunneling miles away, but failed to pinpoint the kind of low-frequency noise deseribed by the hearers. Some residents were suspicious of the government-funded study, since an acoustical engineer whom locals hired last year measured a 17-hertz sound that could have been the culprit. On the other hand, the scientists' collective shrug led to more skepticism among the majority of Taos' 4,000 residents, many of them old-timers who don't hear the hum. "It's just the newcomers, and I think they brought it with them," said Mario Duran, 63, a parking enforement officer checking meters around the town square, where 3 million tourists a year shell out steep sums for turquoise jewelry, Kachina dolls and cowboy attire. "They should check with the natives. The only time they hear a hum is when they come out of the bar at 2 o'clock in the morning," Duran said. No tourists have reported to the university that they've heard the hum, either. University officials, however, now are convinced the hearers--who complain of headaches, nose bleeds and dizziness--aren't crazy. Earlier this year, Rep. Bill Richardson (D-N.M.), a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, stood up at a packed town meeting in Taos and named three weapons projects as likely sources of the phenomenon. He demanded the federal government put an end to it. The Pentagon denied involvement. A Richardson spokesman now says says the congressman spoke solely on the basis of "rumors." When they return next month, scientists will investigate wkether the hearers produce the sound themselves. They are working on special equipment to measure "otoacoustic emissions," or sounds generated by vibrations of the ear's receptor cells when other noises are piped into it. Many hearers say they detect the sound even when wearing ear plugs, and that it is stronger inside the house than outside. "Certainly the sound is not internal," said K.C. Grams, who said the noise sometimes drives her to tears. "I have to use a wave tape to get to sleep here, but I went to house-sit for a friend in Santa Fe and I slept the whole time."


E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank