Crosby Beach is a stretch of the Merseyside coastline just to the north of Liverpool. It starts at the Seaforth Dock and carries on all the way through Waterloo, where it separates the Irish Sea from the marina.
It is also home to a group of solid metal figures, figures that face outward, towards the ocean.
These figures form an art installation named Another Place. Created by Sir Anthony Gormley and first exhibited in Cuxhaven in Germany, the statues found their way to Crosby Beach in 2005, where they currently reside. Consisting of one hundred sculptures of the artist’s own body cast in iron, they gaze across the sea, alternately revealed and submerged by the ebb and flow of the tide, rigid against the power of nature.
At least for the most part.
Two weeks ago, I was asked to investigate a trio of curious encounters that occurred nearby.
15th November 2011
My first stop is the Volunteer Canteen, where I meet one Timothy Weber, a conservationist currently studying the effects of the increased tourist footfall at the site on local bird-feeding areas, due to the installation.
Over a rather delicious seafood lunch, Mr Weber relates his experience, which occurred approximately four weeks prior:
“The statues caused quite a stir when they first arrived. I mean, come on, it’s essentially just a load of naked metal men sticking out from the sand like a bunch of sore thumbs, but the council seem to like ‘em. And the tourist pound must be good for the area, so I assume they’re staying.”
It is easy to surmise that Mr Weber is not a fan of Sir Anthony’s work.
“Well, on my first day, I decided to tag the statues, so I could map their locations. I had a fresh pack of these snazzy little magnetic strips I was slapping on their shoulders.
“Now these are supposed to be packs of a hundred, but I got to the last statue, and I was one short. Nothing too odd there, as you can imagine. I just assumed I’d dropped one or the pack was one short. I came back the next day to finish up at low tide, but I couldn’t for the life of me find a statue without a tag.
“Now, you’d think it was the last one I’d been too. Nope. So I just wrote it off as someone screwing with me. Dumbass kids, no doubt.
“Funny thing is, it happened again a few days later; I found a statue without a tag. I checked my map, checked my tags, but I just could not find the extra figure.
“Now, Dr Gotobed, I’m not an idiot, I’m a scientist. And I’m thorough. I pride myself on that. But there I was, with a hundred tags, a hundred spots on a map, and one hundred and one statues.
“It’s like I was having some kind of mental block. And it kept happening over the next couple of days. Not every time, but enough to start messing with my head…
“…now you promise me this won’t end up in the papers or anything like that?”
He looks a little sheepish as I reassure him it will not.
“I saw one of them move. It reached up and brushed something off of its shoulder.”
“I’m not insane.”
I ask whether simple fatigue may be to blame for all this, but Mr Weber assures me it is not, and while he comes across as a fairly cynical individual, it is quite clear that he is a man who holds his professional reputation in high regard.
16th November 2011
My next contact is one Alisha Walker, a barmaid at the Royal Oak Public House. A genial young woman, she is midway through her shift when we meet. Fortunately it seems to be a slow afternoon and she has time to tell me her tale:
“It was Friday night, about a month ago, and it was drizzling. That really shitty kind of rain that you just kinda walk into and you’re literally soaked, you know? It was near closing time, and I went outside to get the glasses in that the smokers always leave lying around. I went into the garden, trying to be quick, and it was just sat there, at one of the picnic tables.”
What was sat there?
“It was a metal man, exactly like one of those statues on the beach. Boy, did it freak me out.”
What did you do?
“I just stared at it. What was I s’posed to do? Then it just vanished into thin air. Literally there one second and then ‘poof!’, gone.
“I must have shrieked and I dropped the tray of empties in my hand. Sue, the landlady, she came out to see what the commotion was.
“Do you know what pisses me off the most? Those broken glasses came out of my wage packet.”
Ms Walker goes to great length to impress upon me that she was sober that night. The landlady of the Royal Oak confirmed finding her member of staff outside, soaked to the bone, shattered glass by her feet.
If Ms Walker’s story is made up, I would have hoped for something a lot more sensational. Her rather matter-of-fact attitude toward what she saw, I believe, lends her tale an air of credence.
17th November 2011
My final witness is one Bella Turnbull, a veterinarian by trade and a keen amateur photographer in her spare time. We sit at her kitchen table, where, surrounded by hundreds of framed examples of her photographic work, we share a pot of tea. She seems somewhat embarrassed by what she repeatedly calls ‘that weird afternoon’, so we make small talk for a while. After some gentle coaxing, she finally agrees to share her experience:
“I’d popped down to the beach that day, after an early tea. It was grey and cloudy, but the sky had this lovely kind of swirly quality about it. It looked amazing.”
She hands me a photo she took that day, and she is correct about the sky.
“I’d been there for about an hour, getting shots of the statues. I was trying to frame them in such a way that the sunset behind them really bought them to life.”
She shifts a little uncomfortably in her seat.
“It’s not the first time I’d been down there, and I know how fast the tide can come in. I must’ve just lost track of time, as the waves were starting to swirl up around my feet. I thought I’d hang around for a little longer; it was too good a chance to pass up. It’s not every day the sky looks like that.
“But next thing I knew, I was stuck. I couldn’t lift my wellies out of the sand, and the water was beginning to come over the tops of them. I began to panic as I couldn’t pull my feet free.
“All I could think about was that poor family who lost their kids a few years ago. I think I started screaming…”
She trails off. I give her a moment to compose herself before I ask what happened next.
“I haven’t really told anyone about this, apart from the other lady*, and now you. Please don’t think I’m bonkers.”
I assure her that I am not in the business of judging people’s sanity.
“Well… an arm grabbed me from behind, around my waist and picked me up, and… someone… picked me up and tossed me over their shoulder. But they felt cold. Not like cold skin, but like metal, and rough. Like rust. I realised… I realised…
“…I don’t know what I realised.”
Ms Turnbull recalls blacking out. She regained consciousness further in to shore, by the side of a nearby pathway. Her camera was around her neck but her wellington boots were gone.
There was no sign of whoever or whatever had saved her from the tide ‘that weird afternoon’.
Taken individually, these accounts can easily be dismissed as the aforementioned fatigue, hallucination, or the result of a sudden increase in adrenaline. But all three of these events occurred within the time-frame of a single week, and the trio of witness, to me, all seem highly credible.
No further incidents involving the statues of Another Place have since been reported.
Whatever chose to make Crosby Beach its temporary home did not seem malevolent, and I am unable to explain why it decided to take the form of an iron mannequin. The installation itself does not appear to have any kind of hidden history behind it, and I struggle to believe that Sir Anthony Gormley was dabbling in the more, shall we say, ‘esoteric’ arts during its creation. I can only conclude that some outside agency had chosen to use Crosby Beach and its associated artwork as a form of camouflage, though to what end, I can only speculate.
Before I left Merseyside, I elected to take a stroll along the beach front with the intention of counting the statues, just to satisfy my own curiosity.
I got up to ninety nine before the incoming tide defeated me.
I could not locate the final figure.
Dr Thomas Gotobed
* There are more mentions of this ‘other lady’ in the files I have read so far, but this is the earliest reference of her that I’ve found. At first I thought she might be Dr Gotobed’s boss, but now I’ve read a few more, I’m not so sure. I’ll do my best to highlight any further appearances she makes. Maybe her identity is a clue to the good doctor’s current whereabouts? – C.R.