by Gail P. Montany

Little did we know when we ran what appeared to be a routine feature story earlier this month on a strange, invasive humming sound plaguing several Newark residents, it would so capture the reading public's imagination, even in places far from the Northeast Kingdom.

We heard from a number of "hearers" in Vermont and other parts of the country. Paul Langlois of Burlington said the sound followed him from Florida to New Hampshire and now to Burlington. "I thought it was inside my head," he said.

Ruth Descoteaux of Barnet told us last week that she has been hearing the hum on and off for a couple of years, assuming she had a physical problem. She had already seen two different doctors, she said, and had plans to have a CAT scan performed to find out what her "problem" was.

"Finally, I know I'm not crazy, said Descoteaux, whose husband and friends cannot hear the sound.

Plainfield musician Dennis Murphy, who put the sound at F just below the bass staff, said he at one time unsuccessfully tried correlating the sound to weather phenomena. He hears the hum only occasionally now, he said.

Karla Misto of Foster, R.I., contacted The Caledonian-Record last week, saying she was relieved to discover she was not the only one hearing the hum, and seeking any information we could provide.

Since the story hit the national press a few weeks ago, the hum has stopped, returning only sporadically, according to Descoteaux and Claire van Vliet of Newark, one of those who brought the noise to our attention. Van Vuet believes the higher-pitched hum that she hears now is likely a nearby generator and not related to the "onginal" hum that disturbed her sleep for more than a month.

But everyone, it seems - especially those who have not actually heard it - has a theory about what the hum is and where it comes from, at least judging from the telephone calls, letters and e-mailings we have received on the subject.

Here, then, is a sampling of possiblities offered by our readers:

Owls mating was suggested by an anonymous reader who called the newsroom last week.

Not so, said Charles Browne, executive director of the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johusbury. "I know of no owls that make a low humming sound when they mate," he said.

Snowmakingequipmentat Burke or other ski areas. This was suggested by several people, including Maureen Petty of Virginia, who heard the hum when she lived on Town Highway 27 in Newark several years ago, and again near Mt. Watchusetts in Massachusetts, where she lived until last year.

That certainly could explain why several people, including Newark residents van Vliet and Rochelle Schenk, first noticed the humming sound during the early winter months, but it does not explain why van Vliet heard it in other towns and on mild winter days when Burke would not have been making snow, nor why Ruth Descoteaux has been hearing it year-round from her home in Barnet, nor why others many miles from ski areas are hearing it.

Generating stations from the area's various hydroelectric dams was suggested by Thomas Flocks, a former Lower Waterford resident now living in Nevada City, Calif., who heard the hum in Waterford at night,particularlyin colder weather.

Could be. But Descoteaux also hears the noise from the Comerford Dam when it is running, and says it has a distinctly different sound. And that does not explain why the hum has been heard in Morgan, Glover and other areas with no hydro dam nearby (although, as Flocks points out, the frequency of E flat can carry for many miles).

Telephonelinesdigginga "groove" into trees and then reverberating a low-frequency sound was reported by Deborah Bouton of Burlington. When she and her family lived in Winooski, she said, they were haunted by the "really weird" sound and thought they were being overtaken by aliens. The sound, which was eventually traced by a telephone linewoman to the little channel dug into a tree down the street, was heard especially when the wind blew.

A tantalizing suggestion, since telephone lines near trees are something that occurs everywhere. But then why would others be hearing the hum most clearly when the wind was not blowing?

A24 hour logginglchipping/sawmill operation in one ofthe myriad forested areas of the Northeast Kingdom and North Country was suggested by many callers.

Also a tantalizing suggestion, especially since the irregular and generator-like character of the hum could easily point to the kind of sound made by heavy machinery. But it does not explain why the hum has been heard in New Mexico where logging operations are scarce.

Wind in homes' downspouts and the hum of television antennas was suggested by other readers.

Sounds plausible enough, but it would not account for hearings outdoors orinplaceswhereno television antennas exist, although again,low-frequency soundis far-reaching.

Military operations, particularly the Navy's ELF (extremely low frequency) Project in Michigan and Wisconsin.

Could be, but a team of scientists at the University of New Mexico ruled itout inanextensive government-funded study of the phenomenon known as the "Taos hum" several years ago.

And finally, our favorite: the "Hum of Humanity," was suggested by a reader who had read an article on overpopulation in a science magazine some years back. (How can we argue with that one?)

Copyright 1997

The Caledonian-Record


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