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The Legend of the Lost Atari E.T. Games

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In 1983, the gaming company Atari decided to capitalize on the recent success of the hit movie, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. Grossing a total of $359 million in North America alone by the end of its theatrical run, the exciting, kid-friendly adventure seemed like it’d lend itself well to a video game version … in theory.

Unlike its movie inspiration, however, Atari’s E.T. was a massive flop. In the single player game, you wander around collecting the three pieces of an interplanetary telephone—picking up Reese's Pieces along the way for energy—so that E.T. can “phone home” and return to his home planet. It was like Super Mario Bros, except you collect phone equipment instead of coins, it was incredibly buggy, and if you win, your best friend leaves forever. Fun! (?)

E.T. became one of the biggest commercial failures in video gaming history, and Atari was left with millions of unsold game cartridges. Their solution? Allegedly, to dump 3.5 million E.T. cartridges into a New Mexico landfill in the small town of Alamogordo. And so was born one of the greatest urban legends to ever hit the gaming world.

While a 1983 New York Times report confirmed that Atari did indeed dump truckloads of unsold game cartridges and other equipment into a landfill in the area, there’s no confirmation as to how much was dumped, or if it even included the E.T. game at all. That’s why a Canadian-based media company called Fuel Industries plans to excavate the legendary site and film a documentary about the process. The crew has reached an agreement with the town of Alamogordo that will give them access to the 100-acre area that’s said to have housed the landfill. Luckily, they’ll also have a guide in Joe Lewandowski, who ran a garbage company at the time of the dumping and claims to know the location of the buried games.

Like any good urban legend, the story has its share of skeptics. Marty Goldberg, co-author of Atari Inc.: Business is Fun, said that claims of such a landfill are highly exaggerated at best. “There were never thousands of E.T. games buried in Alamogordo, that’s a myth that sprung up later and was also never once mentioned by the actual press articles of the time,” he told PC Mag recently. “The dump there was simply a clearing out of Atari’s Texas manufacturing plant as it transitioned to automated production methods and a focus on personal computer manufacturing.” Goldberg went on to call the Fuel Industries’ excavation a “non-issue publicity stunt” for the town of Alamogordo.

He has a point; most Alamogordo citizens interviewed about the documentary seem happier about the upcoming exposure and economy boost to the town than the prospect of uncovering a hidden vault of E.T. cartridges. The town’s mayor, Susie Galea, commented saying, “I hope more people find out about Alamogordo through this opportunity that we have to unearth the Atari games in the landfill.” City Commissioner Josh Rardin said, “Maybe it’ll get us a little bit of publicity, bring us some business to our town.”

Since the excavation is an undertaking that will take several months, there’s no word yet on a release date for the documentary. But whether it turns out to be a Capone’s vault-style bust or home to a plethora of bad video games, the hunt for the Atari landfill is on.

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Stones, Bones, and Wrecks
Found: A Sunken German World War I-Era Submarine
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SMU Central University Libraries, Flickr/Public Domain

During World War I, one of Germany's most formidable weapons was the U-boat, an advanced military submarine with torpedoes that sank countless Allied merchant and cargo ships. But while deadly, these submersibles weren't invincible, as evidenced by the recent discovery of a sunken German U-boat in the North Sea.

As ABC News reports, researchers located the UB II-type dive boat—a smaller submarine that typically plagued coastal waters—off the coast of Belgium, around 82 to 98 feet below the North Sea. The 88-foot vessel appears to have struck a mine with its upper deck, judging by damage suffered to its front.

The submarine is remarkably intact. Two of its torpedo tubes were destroyed, but one of them is still in good condition. The ship itself remained sealed, and may serve as a watery grave for up to 23 crew members.

The U-boat's final resting place hasn't been announced, as to prevent looting or damage, according to the BBC. Meanwhile, Belgian officials have contacted the German ambassador to see how they should proceed with any potential remains.

This isn't the first time a World War I-era U-boat has been found in Belgian waters. Experts have catalogued 11 such discoveries so far, but this one is reported to be the best preserved. The Chicago Tribune reports that since 18 U-boats were stationed in Bruges between 1915 and 1918, and 13 of them were destroyed, there might be even more of these kinds of finds to come.

[h/t ABC News]

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
The Long, Strange Story of Buffalo Bill's Corpse
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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

You probably know William Frederick Cody, a.k.a. Buffalo Bill, as the long-haired Wild West icon who turned the frontier experience into rip-roarin’ entertainment. But the story of Buffalo Bill’s body and its many burials is almost as outrageous as the man himself.

When Cody died of kidney failure in January 1917, his body ended up on a mountain outside of Denver, Colorado—a counterintuitive choice given his close ties to the town in Wyoming that bore his last name. Cody, Wyoming was founded in the 1890s with help from Buffalo Bill, who employed many of its residents and was responsible for its tourism business. It might seem natural that he’d be buried in the place he’d invested so much in, but he wasn’t. And that’s where the controversy began.

Though Cody spent much of his time in the town named after him, he also loved Colorado. After leaving his family in Kansas when he was just 11 to work with wagon trains throughout the West, he headed to Colorado for the first time as a 13-year-old wannabe gold prospector. During his short time in the area, he chased the glittery fortunes promised by Colorado’s 1859 gold rush. Even after leaving the territory, his traveling vaudeville show, which brought a glamorous taste of Wild West life to people all over the United States, took him back often. Later in life, he frequently visited Denver, where his sister lived. He died there, too—after telling his wife he wanted to be buried on Lookout Mountain.

The mountain, located in Golden, Colorado, has a commanding view of the Great Plains, where Buffalo Bill experienced many of his Wild West adventures. It was also a place to contemplate the giant herds of buffalo that once roamed the West, and from whom Cody took his nickname. (Denver still maintains a small herd of buffalo—direct descendants of original American bison—near the mountain.)

But weather almost thwarted Cody’s burial plans. Since he died in January, the road to Lookout Mountain was impassable and his preferred burial site frozen solid. For a while, his body lay in state in the Colorado Capitol building. Governors and famous friends eulogized Cody in an elaborate funeral service. Then his body was placed in a carriage that moved solemnly through the streets of Denver, where thousands showed up to say goodbye. Afterwards, his body was kept in cold storage at a Denver mortuary while his family waited for the weather to change.

Meanwhile, Colorado and Wyoming started a heated feud over one of America’s most famous men. Wyoming claimed that Cody should be buried there, citing an early draft of his will that said he intended to be buried near Cody. Colorado cried foul, since Cody’s last will left the burial location up to his widow, who chose Lookout Mountain. Rumors even began to circulate that a delegation from Wyoming had stolen Cody’s body from the mortuary and replaced it with that of a local vagrant.

In part to stop the rumor mill, Cody was finally buried in an open casket on Lookout Mountain in June 1917. Twenty-five thousand people went to the mountaintop to bid him farewell before he was interred. To prevent theft, the bronze casket was sealed in another, tamper-proof case, then enclosed in concrete and iron.

Pennies on Buffalo Bill's grave
V.T. Polywoda, Flickr // CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Yet his rocky grave was anything but safe. In the 1920s, Cody’s niece, Mary Jester Allen, began to claim that Denver had conspired to tamper with Cody’s will. In response, Cody’s foster son, Johnny Baker, disinterred the body and had it reburied at the same site under tons of concrete to prevent potential theft [PDF]. (Allen also founded a museum in Wyoming to compete with a Colorado-based museum founded by Baker.)

The saga wasn’t over yet. In 1948, the Cody, Wyoming American Legion offered a $10,000 reward to anyone who could disinter the body and return it to Wyoming. In response, the Colorado National Guard stationed officers to keep watch over the grave.

Since then, the tussle over the remains has calmed down. Despite a few ripples—like a jokey debate in the Wyoming legislature about stealing the body in 2006—Buffalo Bill still remains in the grave. If you believe the official story, that is. In Cody, Wyoming, rumor has it that he never made it into that cement-covered tomb after all—proponents claim he was buried on Cedar Mountain, where he originally asked to be interred.


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