in One Takes | 01 NOV 11
Featured in
Issue 53

Picture Piece: Mystery Spot

Defying gravity – a classic slapstick pratfall

in One Takes | 01 NOV 11

One of the classic pratfalls involves the comedian, body stiff as a board, leaning over and falling like a tree. It’s a hard one to pull off, to reign in the instinct to extend a protective hand.

The 20 or so ‘Mystery Spot’, ‘Gravity Hill’ and ‘Vortex’ sites are tourist curiosities close to the heart of roadside America. They are all situated on hillsides, and each, strangely enough, was ‘discovered’ in the 30s or 40s by small-time landowners looking to build humble shacks in their little part of the States. There is invariably an ‘old-timer’ acting as a tour guide, ready to regale visitors with tales of mysterious magnetic powers, and vouch for the physics-flouting veracity of the location with simple, down-at-home demonstrations. Almost all the guides retire due to ‘knee problems’.

The principle is simple and convincing enough: block out any reference points to ‘true’ horizontals and verticals, tilt the shack, and – hey presto – gravity is defied. Roll in the greenbacks, roll on the tall tales.

Taken in the late 40s, the days when freakshows had real freaks and Mystery Spots were really mysterious, this pack of ten postcards contains the only images the Santa Cruz Mystery Spot sells today. Hand-tinted proof that our co-pilot, gravity, is not always to be trusted, they are as straight up and no-nonsense as the attraction’s name suggests. The camera never lies; a classic slapstick fall.