While I wait for the movie about the expedition of Colonel Percy Fawcett – one of the most famous cases of missing person in the golden age of exploration – I spent some time to re-watch a Discovery Channel documentary on the man’s disappearance, called Colonel Fawcett’s Dream.
A lean, entertaining feature, the documentary was short on details about Fawcett’s expedition, but more than compensated with gorgeous shots of the sector of the Mato Grosso where Fawcett and his son disappeared1.
I discovered Fawcett’s story when I was a kid, in a very entertaining book called The World Atlas of Mysteries, by Francis Hitching. I read it and read it in its Italian edition (it was a birthday present), and later bought myself a used copy of the original.
The book is chock-full of articles on a number of mysteries and strange factoids, and it belongs very much in the 1970s (it was published in 1978 – my translated edition is probably from 1981), but that’s not a real problem. Not to me, at least.
What I found particularly interesting, and would be in my opinion much worth analyzing in more depth, was the shift in Fawcett’s behavior, from serious, reliable explorer to obsessed visionary in search of a fabled and unlikely-to-exist lost city.
It is a sad mainstay among scientists and researchers, that usually the more expert are the ones that fall for the most outrageous ruses, and fall because of decisions that a researcher on its first day would consider laughable.
According to some, it’s the fact that the top players in a field often assume that nobody would cheat, doctor the data or sell them a bogus map. Why should they, right?
Or they are so self-assured that they consider themselves infallible, and above the rules.
Or maybe it’s their ambition leads them to follow the offbeat and the weird in the hopes of doing something nobody else would, or could.
It is an interesting question.
In the case of Fawcett, it would make for an interesting meeting of psychology and historical investigation?
What was going on in the man’s mind? And what sort of “evidence” got it going?
I guess we’ll never know, right?
- if you’re interested, a fair copy can be found on Youtube. ↩