10-05-89 ROCKVILLE, Md. There's a lot of strange stuff happening out there tales of poltergeists, swamp monsters, maybe even dinosaurs still crashing through African jungles and Mark Chorvinsky's opened a "strange hotline" to hear all about it.
"The world's a pretty strange place," says Chorvinsky, 35, a black-clad archivist of the bizarre and investigator of the weird who lives on a quiet, tree-shaded street in this Washington suburb. "Everybody knows of something strange that's happened to them, but they never talk about it," he says. "The only time it's safe to talk, it seems, is around a campfire or during Halloween." Now they can dial the "strange hotline" at 1-900-820-8361 to share a scary encounter with the unknown, or hear a tape of Chorvinsky describing some of his favorites.
Among them are the Lizard Man of South Carolina, the horrific winged Jersey Devil, the Manila vampire and a haunted stretch of rural Maryland highway where "the dreaded Snarly Yow" has been spotted by motorists. Chorvinsky, in fact, recently listened to "one of the most amazing stories I've ever heard" from a taped message left by an anonymous hotline caller.
It was the tale of an Arizona woman who bought a giant cactus as a house plant. A few days later, she was alarmed to see the cactus moving its prickly arms. She fled the house with her children just before the cactus exploded, releasing swarms of scorpions in her living room. That's the sort of thing that sends agreeable tingles down Chorvinsky's spine and fills the pages of Strange Magazine, a twice-a-year compendium of weird happenings that Chorvinsky founded and edits for an estimated 4,000 avid readers.
He's also a professional magician who performed at the White House last year, an author who's planning a biography of Merlin the magician and a filmmaker whose movie short, "Strange Tangents," was screened at the American Film Institute, the Library of Congress and film festivals at Cannes, Berlin and Los Angeles. "It's about a young sorceress who tries to save her dying master with the help of her friend, a 3-foot-tall talking salamander," Chorvinsky says.
To help pay the bills, he operates a science fiction and magic shop in a Rockville shopping mall where customers can satisfy their appetites for strange schlock. The shelves are stuffed with dragons and wizards, crystal balls, Ninja swords, Tarot cards, horror movie classics and fantasy games titled "Skulls and Scrapfaggot Green" and for laughs "Batwinged Bimbos from Hell." Although his bushy hair, beard, mustache and suit all in black give him a slightly fiendish look, Chorvinsky's nobody's wacko. He's a good-natured skeptic who directs a global network of tipsters and investigators who track down reports of strange phenomena for scholarly discussion in his magazine. "I neither believe nor disbelieve this stuff," he said in an interview. "We have many skeptics who read the magazine, including myself. I am skeptical but open-minded. I doubt everything but I accept the possibility of anything."
He's never seen a UFO landing in a corn field, but knows that "the damnedest things fall from the sky," including frogs, fish, sugar crystals, ice chunks and vast cobwebs spun by airborne spiders. Mysterious sea serpents like the Loch Ness monster may be the stuff of ancient folklore, he said, or they may have existed all along as monstrous species of marine life that somehow eluded discovery by scientists. But what about the strange booms and bangs in the night? The bizarre mirages of entire cities in the sky? The spinning wheels of light beneath the oceans? Toads encased in rock but still alive? "The stories that really intrigue me are those that give me the greatest feeling of disquieting strangeness," Chorvinsky said. "The tales so strange they couldn't possibly be explained, the kind that give you a chill down your spine or make your hair stand on end. The sort of thing that makes you say, `Ooooh, that's weird'!"
< EDITOR'S NOTE: Reports of strange phenomena may be addressed to Mark Chorvinsky, Box 2246, Rockville, Md. 20852
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