The Cult of Weird refers to itself as an online museum of oddities and curiosities. From medical mishaps, anatomical atrocities, circus history and sideshow freaks, taxidermy, historical mysteries, bizarre inventions to the beyond, Charlie Hintz has created a fascinating website that allows us all to explore our inner weird and satisfy our desires to research the unknown. We caught up with Charlie during the crazy holiday season to ask him about his site and the weird he so embraces. .
FGN: How do you define “The Weird”?
Charlie Hintz: Weird is definitely a relative term. Anything out of the ordinary is fair game for Cult of Weird, whether it is some bizarre historical enigma or a cutting edge scientific discovery that changes how we understand the world we live in. Every bit of our reality, no matter how mundane it seems, is really quite bizarre and fantastic, serving to remind us just how little we really know. In that respect, I think there is a little “weird” in everything, depending on your perspective.
My biggest pet peeve is when I share something with the Cult of Weird community and almost immediately someone says “That’s not weird.” Sometimes, as is the case with more absurd claims, it is the general public reaction that I find interesting, rather than the phenomena. It’s fascinating how quickly people will conclude that an unidentified blob washed up on the beach must surely be Cthulu or some other horror from the deep, when in reality it is the decaying blubber of a dead whale.
FGN: When did you first start reading about the Paranormal, Oddities and the like?
Charlie Hintz: I was raised on the fortean. Tales of hauntings, lake monsters, UFOs, serial killers and the occult were really all I knew as a child. Growing up here in Wisconsin, the life of Ed Gein tends to be something of a bedtime story. At one point or another, you inevitably learn about the guy in Plainfield who dug up graves, made furniture and crafts out of the remains and wore a human skin suit. Everything else becomes completely within the realm of reason after that. Also, I began digging through old tomes filled with ancient mysteries before I could even read them. Later in school, when we were supposed to be reading something like Where the Red Fern Grows, I was reading Chariots of the Gods. The result was many long detentions, which were a great opportunity to catch up on the latest issue of Omni from the library’s magazine shelf.
As for my interest in natural history, it really began in childhood, gazing in awe and terror at the exhibits of the Milwaukee Public Museum. Carl Akeley created the first habitat diorama there in 1890. I had no idea what the significance of the legendary muskrat case was at the time, but it was still mesmerizing. It wasn’t until reading the book Still Life by Melissa Milgrom that I really understood the importance of Akeley’s work there.
FGN: Why did you start The Cult of Weird? Why this particular name?
Charlie Hintz: Cult of Weird began as an excuse to research and keep up with unusual happenings in the news. The name, as is often the way, came about mostly because the domain was available. I like to think of it as some kind of dark and mysterious digital alchemy, but really I was just picking from a list of various word combinations. Everyone likes cults and weird stuff, right? Plus, the acronym could be C.O.W., so I could whip up a logo of a cow being abducted by a UFO. Thankfully, I realized that was a terrible idea and avoided it before it was too late.
Really, the word “cult” has a sinister tone with a natural sense of danger, taboo and, on the positive side, community. Also, I’m fascinated by cargo cults, these cultures so removed that they develop bizarre mythologies and belief systems from a brief encounter with modern civilization. In a lot of ways, that behavior mimics our own current understanding, or misunderstanding, of consciousness, the origins of life and the current paradigm in general.
FGN: How do you find topics for your articles? What is your research process like?
Charlie Hintz: I use a few tools in the content creation and curation process to monitor news outlets for specific keywords and phrases. Google alerts, for example, keeps me aware of the latest case of cannibalism the moment it happens. I also check in almost daily with the trusted resources I was reading long before Cult of Weird, such as The Daily Grail and Fortean Times.
Typically, though, I accidentally stumble onto the topics I spend the most time on by way of some other research. At any given time, there are roughly 30 unfinished articles I abandoned to research something else that popped up along the way. It gets pretty chaotic.
FGN: What is the weirdest thing you’ve come across in your research?
Charlie Hintz: I’ve been really intrigued by certain stories, like the study by Dr. Duncan MacDougall where he believed he had been able to measure the weight of the human soul (21 grams) as it exited the body of a dying patient. But the reality is that his experiments were flawed, and his results have never been reproduced. In modern times, it seems anything hinting at purpose and meaning to our existence is readily disproved.
What fascinates me most are the seemingly irrational accounts from early civilizations. Ancient peoples described their worlds using the best words they had at the time, and much of the original meanings have been lost to time. We cannot know for sure what they saw, but it must have been amazing.
FGN: What is something you’ve always wanted to encounter but haven’t yet?
Charlie Hintz: I tend to be pretty skeptical about the paranormal, so anything out of the ordinary would be interesting. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering around in the woods and the dark hoping to experience something, but the only thing I’ve encountered has been the capacity for pareidolia in the human mind.
FGN: Are there some areas that you avoid all together?
Charlie Hintz: I tend to tread lightly on anything that feels too exploitative or conspiratorial. The history and practices of secret societies is okay, for example, while stories about the Illuminati quest for world domination are better left to Alex Jones, Jordan Maxwell and the like. Generally, though, I think there is always some bit of truth to be gleaned from even the most improbable stories.
FGN: Where can our readers follow your latest exploits?
Charlie Hintz: I try to update cultofweird.com as often as possible, so that is a good place to start.