Falling into Mel's Hole
Mel's Hole is said to be a mysterious bottomless pit in eastern Washington state.
by Brian Dunning
June 2, 2009
Today we're going to point our skeptical eye downward, down into the deepest hole in the world. Somewhere in the hills of eastern Washington state is said to be a bottomless pit. Not only can you throw as much junk as you want into the hole without it ever hitting bottom or the hole ever filling up, it has other stranger properties. A black beam sometimes shoots up out of the pit, like a solid shadow. A beloved pet dog that had died was once disposed of in the pit, only to come trotting happily out of the woods hours later, very much alive again. Radios brought near the hole play old-time radio broadcasts. The place has some kind of weird aura that makes animals avoid it.
Mel's Hole offers a rare opportunity for seekers of the unknown, because a hole in the ground is something physical that doesn't move and that's always going to be there if you want to go and see it and test it. So I found the idea intriguing, and trust me, if there was any indication something like Mel's Hole existed, I'd make every effort to go check it out. But I quickly hit a snag: Apparently, there is no such place. Mel's Hole appears to be nothing more than the pipe dream of a series of crank calls into the Coast to Coast AM radio show, beginning in 1997.
A guy who said his name was Mel Waters made five calls into Coast to Coast AM between 1997 and 2002, and told his story to the host, Art Bell. Mel said he'd bought the property in Washington and was aware that all the locals knew about the strange hole, and that everyone routinely used it for garbage disposal. Old refrigerators, used tires, even dead cattle were tossed in all the time, and yet the hole never filled up. Physically the hole looked like a well, about nine feet across, walled with stone, and with a 3-4 foot high stone wall surrounding it. Personally I'd like to have seen the operation that tiled the walls of a bottomless pit with stone, even if they only did the top portion. Must have been quite the acrobatic performance. Mel Waters said that 20 people used the hole regularly for disposal.
In his latter Coast to Coast AM appearances, Mel stated that government agents in yellow suits raided his property, seized it, and paid him $250,000 a year to move to Australia and never discuss the hole again. They also removed it from TerraServer and doctored whatever public records were necessary to eliminate any evidence that Mel, his property, or his hole, had ever existed. In logic we call this a special pleading: An excuse invented to explain away any objection. Why is there no evidence? Of course, the "government" eliminated all the evidence.
Correction: An earlier version of this erroneously said Google Earth instead of TerraServer. Google Earth did not yet exist at the time of Mel's phone calls to Coast to Coast AM. - BD
A gentleman named Gerald Osborne, who inexplicably calls himself Red Elk despite claiming no Native American heritage, was the next to call into Coast to Coast AM to discuss Mel's Hole, in September of 2008. Red Elk carries a piece of what he believes to be an alien spacecraft on a necklace, and lectures about impending apocalypse and Reptoids who live beneath the surface of the Earth. Red Elk states that the hole is between 24 and 28 miles deep, though he declines to explain how those limits were established. Red Elk has variously said either that he visited Mel's Hole as a young boy with his father in 1961, or that he "goes there quite often." Yet, in a 2002 Seattle Times article documenting an expedition of enthusiasts trying to find Mel's Hole, Red Elk himself was there to lead the party, and yet he didn't seem to have any more idea where to look than anyone else did.
Mel stated that he'd tried to measure the depth of the hole by lowering a weighted fishing line into it. He told Art Bell he'd lowered 80,000 feet of fishing line into the hole with a one-pound weight at the end. He didn't say what pound test the line was, or whether it was monofilament or braided. He did say he bought it in 5000-yard spools. I found these available online for $40 for the thinnest, cheapest 10-pound test line all the way up to $1300 for braided, hollow core 130-pound line. So if Mel's on his sixth spool, he's got anywhere between 48 and 230 pounds of fishing line hanging, according to the published shipping weights of those spools that I was able to find. Would it hold?
You also have to consider the temperature at that depth. Since we don't know where Mel's Hole is supposed to be, we don't know the thickness of the Earth's crust there. Washington state runs 65,000 to 130,000 feet thick. So, it's possible that Mel's 80,000 feet is through solid rock and not viscous magma. We can calculate that the temperature of the rock at that depth is probably around 1300 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 715 degrees Celsius; way hotter than any fishing line can exist. But who knows, perhaps the unprecedented ability to remain cool and solid at any depth is another of Mel's Hole's supernatural characteristics. That would be another special pleading.
Mel himself seems to be something of a mystery. Enthusiasts of the hole have searched public records extensively, and found nobody of that name living or voting or paying taxes in the area, found no unaccounted private property in the area, and found no property transfers that fit Mel's timeline of when he said he acquired the land. In short, every detail that Mel did share with Coast to Coast AM that was falsifiable, has been falsified by amateur investigators interested in finding the hole. We have to conclude that "Mel Waters" was almost certainly a fake name.
It wouldn't be the first or the last time Coast to Coast AM got hoaxed. In January 2008, the show received a call from a guy calling himself Gordon, a theoretical physicist who worked at a research facility. Gordon described some strange events that were going on at his workplace, and their work involving "portal technology", which host George Noory embraced uncritically. Video gamers recognized the story at once. The caller was pretending to be Gordon Freeman, the character from the video game Half-Life. Perhaps inspired by this, someone else called the show in November 2008 to relate his dream, which was the story from the game Fallout 3. Now it's certainly not fair to blame George Noory or the show's producers for being unfamiliar with these games; you could probably describe the plots of most video games to me and I'd have no idea what you're talking about either. But you can fairly criticize the show for having no meaningful screening process. These episodes show that Coast to Coast AM will gladly give a platform to any caller, with any story, no matter how preposterous, even those made up on the spur of the moment with no documentation or verification. Now, there's nothing wrong with doing that and I don't think it's a fair criticism; after all it's a show about weird stuff and they make no representation that everything (or anything) they broadcast is true. So the lesson to learn is that there's no reason to think that stories promoted by Coast to Coast AM have been documented or independently verified. Gordon Freeman wasn't, and Mel's Hole certainly wasn't either.
But why did Mel's Hole strike such a nerve and convince so many people that it was real? Believers and the merely curious set up a website, MelsHole.com, to share information and track progress on finding either Mel or his mysterious hole. The site generated more than 8,000 posts on nearly 600 topics until its moderator threw in the towel and acknowledged that no progress had been made in ten years since Mel called the Coast to Coast AM program, and that the site was effectively dead unless Mel came forward.
Mel's Hole is a pretty cut and dried case. There's not really anything there to interest a skeptical investigator. All we have is an anonymous person who called a radio show using a fake name and told an implausible, unverifiable story. All the people who would be able to back it up — the local ranchers and folks who had been dumping trash and cattle into it for decades — don't seem to exist either. If I dumped my trash into such an extraordinary hole, I'd bring friends back to see it. They'd bring friends. News of such an incredible hole would spread like wildfire. Is it plausible that it could have had such regular local use, and yet nobody would be aware of its existence? Who are these people? Why can't they be found? Surely the government has not relocated everyone in the county to Australia; there are no vacant homes and no fenced-off government facilities.
Never assume that implausible stories must be true simply because you're unable to disprove them. You never will be able to, because special pleadings can always be invented to explain away any questions you might raise. What can't be invented from thin air is verifiable evidence, and its absence in the case of Mel's Hole speaks loud and clear.
By Brian Dunning
Cite this article:
Dunning, B. "Falling into Mel's Hole." Skeptoid Podcast. Skeptoid Media,
2 Jun 2009. Web.
16 Jul 2018. <http://skeptoid.com/episodes/4156>
References & Further Reading
Davis, J., Eufrasio, A., Moran, M. Weird Washington: Your Travel Guide to Washington's Local Legends and Best Kept Secrets. New York: Sterling Publishing Co. Inc., 2008. 50-52.
Harvey, D., et al. Aspects of Mel’s Hole: Artists Respond to a Paranormal Land Event Occurring in Radiospace. Santa Ana: Grand Central Art Center, 2008.
Konen, K., Nurse, M. "Mel's Hole." UWTV. UW Independent Filmmaking, 1 Aug. 2004. Web. 2 Jun. 2009. <http://www.uwtv.org/programs/displayevent.aspx?rID=5160&fID=1474>
McManman, D. "Search for Clues about Mysterious Pit Comes Up Empty." Tri-City Herald. 11 Mar. 1997, Newspaper.
Waters, M., Bell., A. "Transcripts of Mel Waters of 'Mel's Hole' Fame." Mel Hole Transcripts. The Seattle Museum of the Mysteries, 21 Feb. 1997. Web. 2 Jun. 2009. <http://www.seattlechatclub.org/Mel_Hole_Transcripts.html>
Zebrowski, John. "Expedition seeks paranormal pit." Seattle Times. 14 Apr. 2002: B1.
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