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