Residual Memories

I love podcasts, and though I sometimes fall off the wagon, I like to rack some up and listen when I can't think about anything else and just want someone to tell me a story.

Last night, I listened to an episode of Richard MacLean Smith's Unexplained podcast, which would be a good recommendation for fans of Aaron Mahnke's Lore - it's sort of the UK-centric version. (Plus, a British accent always helps.) It was about the Hexham Heads, two small stone carvings of crude faces that in the 1960-70s brought strange spirits into the houses in which they were kept. There is a lot of speculation about their origin, their purpose, and their supernatural forces, and they apparently disappeared, but the episode also mentioned the Stone Tape theory, which was the main point for me.

The Hexham Heads (from

The Hexham Heads (from

The Stone Tape theory was posited in 1961 by archaeologist-turned-parapsychologist Thomas Charles Lethbridge. Essentially, it states that inanimate materials - e.g. stone - can absorb and replay visual or emotional information, like a cassette tape recording. The example in the Unexplained episode tells of a young man working in a cellar who suddenly had a vision of a Roman soldier and entourage in full army regalia plowing through the stone walls, but submerged to about knee height in the cellar floor. Upon further inspection of the location, it was found that there had once been a popular stone road going through that area during ancient Roman times, which would have been lower to the ground than the cellar's current floor (hence the submersion of the spirits' legs). According to the Stone Tape theory, the stones used to make this road retained residual memories of the travelers upon it, which were "replayed" somehow for the hapless young worker centuries later.

This is relevant to my project, I promise.

I love the idea of objects being imbued with information from people. I was a big fan of Syfy's sadly discontinued show Warehouse 13, which followed a secret government agency whose one task was to locate, neutralize, and safely store objects (called "artifacts") from history, which had been supernaturally infused with powers from their original owners, inventors, or the events through which they became famous. For example, Lewis Carroll's full-length mirror, which turned out to house the angry spirit of muse Alice Liddell, or a glass jar used by the ill-fated Donner Party, which turned anyone who touched it into a zombie (it was found when the food truck using it as a tip jar was blamed for several college campus illnesses and violent events). The emotion and power these physical, symbolic objects had were retained and still wreaking havoc in innocent (or cunning) people's hands for years.


I like Unexplained's use of the more vague word "information" as opposed to something more subjective or leading, like "emotion" or "memory". The "information" retained by the objects doesn't have to be sentimental or nostalgic, even though for my project's purposes, the objects in the cabinets are made special because of my character's associations with them and the emotional memories they bring up for her and her family. I'm not sure if I think this information can be replayed randomly for someone else, as the Stone Tape theory says, but for one person and/or the group of people closest to her, an object can mean something on several planes, and summon very powerful ideas and feelings just by being seen or touched or smelled. The human imagination can be extremely florid when it comes to memory and story, and filling in information with little prompting. It's such a visceral reaction altogether, to recall a memory, so why can't it be "infused" into an physical object, even if just in one person's mind?

Ella Romero