Dr KARL SHUKER

Zoologist, media consultant, and science writer, Dr Karl Shuker is also one of the best known cryptozoologists in the world. Author of such seminal works as Mystery Cats of the World (1989), The Lost Ark: New and Rediscovered Animals of the 20th Century (1993; greatly expanded in 2012 as The Encyclopaedia of New and Rediscovered Animals), In Search of Prehistoric Survivors (1995), and more recently Extraordinary Animals Revisited (2007), Dr Shuker's Casebook (2008), Karl Shuker's Alien Zoo: From the Pages of Fortean Times (2010), Cats of Magic, Mythology, and Mystery (2012), and Mirabilis: A Carnival of Cryptozoology and Unnatural History (2013), his many fans have been badgering him to join the blogosphere for years. The CFZ Blog Network is proud to have finally persuaded him to do so.

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Tuesday, 15 June 2010

A GIANT MYSTERY!


As I am presently in the process of completing two major books, I'm sure that you'll understand why my blogging has been somewhat infrequent lately. A few days ago, however, while browsing in my local bric-a-brac market, I made a discovery intriguing enough for me to break off from my books and - after spending quite some time searching vainly for information regarding it - post it here, just in case there is someone out there who can offer any clues concerning this enigma.

The discovery in question was the very old, sepia-tinted postcard reproduced above. The reverse bears the following simple, if somewhat clumsily-worded, caption: "View on the Helmets of the Giants", which is also given in French and in German. No other detail, not even the location of these remarkable-looking exhibits, is present. The postcard had not been used, so there is no writing or stamp to give any clue as to its age or origin either.

So what, precisely, are these colossal-looking, and extremely ornate, helmets, and where were they being exhibited? Any suggestions or information would be very greatly welcomed.

Answers on a postcard - but not this one!


UPDATE: MARCH 2011 - GETTING AHEAD WITH THE GIANT HELMETS!

I've finally solved the mystery of these giant helmets, thanks to some investigations on my behalf by Fortean Times's art director, Etienne Gilfillan - thanks, Etienne! I have documented Etienne's discoveries in my latest Alien Zoo column, in FT #274:

"Etienne conducted some enquiries of his own, which led him to contact Micheline Ruyssinck, a curator at Belgium’s Royal Museum of Art and History. Intrigued by the postcard’s picture, she in turn sent details to Laurent Duibisson, curator of the Museum of the Giants in the city of Ath (housing various huge figures and other exhibits that have been created for folklore-inspired festival processions in Belgium). And sure enough, he knew all about them. It turns out that the postcard depicts the backs of two extremely large, helmeted, manufactured heads that represent a pair of traditional Antwerp giants – Druon Antigonus and Pallas Athena (Laurent sent photographs of other old postcards depicting them from the front and wearing the helmets shown on my postcard).

Laurent's postcards depicting the giants' heads as seen from the front and wearing the helmets in my postcard (Laurent Duibisson)


"These very elaborate heads featured each year in Antwerp’s annual Ommegang (purification) festival’s procession until 1872, when they were replaced by some new heads and were then stored in the Steen, a castle now housing Belgium’s Navy Museum. They were later transferred to Antwerp’s Museum of Ethnology, where they were placed on display. Following some restoration work to recreate their former glory, in 2001 Laurent saw the heads there himself, and in 2002 his Museum of the Giants hosted an exhibition devoted to them. These spectacular heads are currently in the collections of Antwerp’s new Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), due to open in May 2011."

Procession of giants at Ath, Belgium (EDEN/Flickr)


19 comments:

  1. The background armor looks French in origin as does the display at the rear I would try somewhere like the museum in Paris.
    I note the fire sprinkler on the roof so it will probably be early 20th Century.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Could it be somethig to do with Horace Warpole's book The Catle of Otranto in which prince Conrad is killed by a giant helmet that falls from the sky.
    http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/696

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  3. Legend has it, that Alexander the Great always left giant helmets and weapons behind, when he had conquered somebody, to scare everybody else who would be passing by. I seem to remember reading somewhere, that some early museums exhibited some of these giant Alexandrian helmets.

    Lars Thomas

    ReplyDelete
  4. Hi Tony, Yes, I also immediately thought 'French' when I saw the picture. Interestingly, the trilingual caption lists the French version first, then the German, then the English, thereby indicating a possible French origin for the postcard. Well-spotted re the fire sprinkler! I hadn't noticed that.
    Hi Rich, Interesting idea! The size of the helmets is such that if they are genuine historical metal helmets, they would weigh an immense amount, and surely would be very famous, yet I've never seen anything about them anywhere. So perhaps they are indeed stage/theatre or early film props, or even possibly carnival/masquerade exhibits? Would be interesting to know for sure, though, and the same re their location.

    ReplyDelete
  5. is it possible to get a sharper view of the picture in the background? there should be a possibility to identify the style/period etc.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Hi Lars, This sounds very promising - I didn't know about that re Alexander the Great. I'll look into this.
    Re getting a sharper view of the picture in the background: I'll try to obtain a high-res scan of just that portion of the postcard picture and see if it shows any additional detail. If it does, I'll post it here.

    All the best,

    Karl

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  7. I would say, from the size of the tables they are sitting upon, as well as the post on which they are perched, that either the helmets are made of light-weight materials or we are seeing an early example of "photoshopping," i.e., some form of superimposition.

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  8. helmets for elephants?

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  9. Perhaps you might post this to theater groups? The late 19th and early 20th centuries often had over-the-top "orientalist" or historic dramas in which these would have been right at home on the stage set.

    The banner to the far left could be part of the collection of theater props if it was part of some processional scene. The spears in the left background could also be part of the props collection.

    One of the helmets looks like it's an eagle, the emblem of Rome, and the other suggests an elephant, symbolic of Hannibal?

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  10. There is a famous picture circulating with a soldier holding a GIANT Turban beside what looks to be a humongous Iron Coffin. People shouldn't be so quick to exclude Giant Humans from the equation. There is proof of Giant Humans existing. But people like to relegate that kind of thing to myth and fantasy. Even when the archaeological facts support it.

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  11. Since the postcard photo setting is presumably a museum(possibly near the Franco-German border?), surely a curator may be able to identify which it maybe. If pre-WWII the building and helmets may sadly no longer exist. A Google search shows references to "helmets of the gods" which were hellenistic sculptures recovered from restoration work on the Siphnian Treasury at Delphi. These are likely to be classical greek sculptural examples that were obtained by a museum. Wonder if they're still with us?

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  12. Just seen this in the latest Fortean Times, and thought I'd put on my detecting hat and have a look. After a bit of lateral Googling, I've narrowed this down to a town at least. This is, or was, in a museum in Brussels, possibly the Musée Royal de l'Armée.
    If you do a Google search using the French term "casques des géants" there is a link to this exact same postcard image (its the link that starts with "Ansichtskarten > Europa > Belgien > Brüssel > Museen"), but only if you use the cached page link. I think the postcard must have been sold.
    I don't know if this shrunken link works but you could try http://twe.ly/Lym

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  13. Actually, having another look at the picture on the link I gave, it has a perforated edge to the image, and all the other images on the website with this same perforation and format are listed as from the Musées royaux du Cinquantenaire à Bruxelles, or Jubilee Park Museum. Maybe worth contacting them to see if they have any further information?

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  14. Further to the info I gave about Brussels, I have been doing some more searching, and I wonder if these may be from a "Procession of the Giants" parade.
    Have a look at http://www.opt.be/informations/events_ath__gouyasse_vespers___procession_of_the_giants__fair____ducasse_of_ath/en/E/19462.html
    The helmet on the giant shown looks like it would be roughly the right size, but the ones in the postcard image are much more elaborate.

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  15. Here's the direct link to the postcard:
    http://ansichtskarten.delcampe.be/item.php?id=102097142&var=ON-40-Bruxelles-Vue-sur-Casques-des-Geants&language=G&sessionToken=sslLogin_79c9153129dc10ec6714ba1e68bf3003
    I've looked at every site I can find for processional giants in north France and Belgium but haven't found any other pictures of the same helmets. Maybe they were from a town which was destroyed in one of the wars

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  16. Hi Glen, Thanks very much for this suggestion and info, which I'll definitely look into. The current issue of Fortean Times has a lengthy letter by me, accompanied by an image of the postcard, re these helmets, so that may generate some ideas and info too. All the best, Karl

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  17. I think Glen is right; I'll bet these are from the annual "ducasse" in Ath, or some other local procession of giants. David and Goliath are popular figures in the tradition, so maybe at least one of these is Goliath's helmet. The tradition goes back centuries; there's even a "maison des géants" in Ath devoted to its history.

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  18. I would check with the Guildhall in London. They look to be pictures of the helmets of Gog and Magog, defenders of London. The processional giants were destroyed in WWII. I believe that one had a rooster on his helm, the other a dragon. This is what your postcard seems to show. Good Luck.
    http://www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/Corporation/LGNL_Services/Leisure_and_culture/Local_history_and_heritage/Buildings_within_the_City/guildhall.htm

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  19. Hi there, Thanks for your kind suggestions. However, I recently solved the mystery of these giant helmets, thanks to some investigations on my behalf by Fortean Times's art director, Etienne Gilfillan. I have documented Etienne's discoveries in my latest Alien Zoo column, in FT #274:

    "Etienne conducted some enquiries of his own, which led him to contact Micheline Ruyssinck, a curator at Belgium’s Royal Museum of Art and History. Intrigued by the postcard’s picture, she in turn sent details to Laurent Duibisson, curator of the Museum of the Giants in the city of Ath (housing various huge figures and other exhibits that have been created for folklore-inspired festival processions in Belgium). And sure enough, he knew all about them. It turns out that the postcard depicts the backs of two extremely large, helmeted, manufactured heads that represent a pair of traditional Antwerp giants – Druon Antigonus and Pallas Athena (Laurent sent a photograph depicting them from the front and wearing the helmets shown on my postcard). These very elaborate heads featured each year in Antwerp’s annual Ommegang (purification) festival’s procession until 1872, when they were replaced by some new heads and were then stored in the Steen, a castle now housing Belgium’s Navy Museum. They were later transferred to Antwerp’s Museum of Ethnology, where they were placed on display. Following some restoration work to recreate their former glory, in 2001 Laurent saw the heads there himself, and in 2002 his Museum of the Giants hosted an exhibition devoted to them. These spectacular heads are currently in the collections of Antwerp’s new Museum aan de Stroom (MAS), due to open in May 2011."

    ReplyDelete