In 1952, geologist Don Miller was conducting a petroleum investigation in the region surrounding the Gulf of Alaska when he encountered a vaguely disquieting geological anomaly. While surveying a remote fjord known as Lituya Bay, Miller found that the dense, mature forest that surrounded the bay ended abruptly hundreds of feet upslope of the water. There was some vegetation growing below the distinct line, but it was all upstart grasses, saplings, and such. It was clear that at some point in recent history, an unknown, massive force had scraped the shores clean, and the vegetation was only beginning to reclaim the land.
There was no evidence that a fire had passed through—none of the surviving trees were charred, nor were the few remaining tree stumps. Instead, it appeared that the trees had been bent and twisted away by some powerful lateral force. The damage resembled a “trimline” like those left behind when a glacier recedes, exposing a line of bare rock alongside vegetation, but there was no glacier in a location that would account for it. A tsunami could also theoretically cause such destruction, but the boundary was much farther upshore than any tsunami in recorded history. Upon investigating further, Miller discovered other, older trimlines around the bay, suggesting that the destructive event had occurred multiple times prior, each a few decades apart. This was not typical bay behavior.
Miller interviewed some people familiar with the area, and heard tales of “cataclysmic floods” and such. He sliced samples from the trees along the edge of the old growth and saw signs of blunt trauma. He left Alaska still contemplating hypotheses, and he ended up writing a paper putting forward some possibilities. But the origin of the distinct damage would remain a geological mystery until five years later, when humans had the unsought opportunity to witness the cause of the terrifying phenomenon firsthand.
Billy Tipton was a jazz musician and bandleader who gained a following in the Pacific Northwest during the 1940s and 1950s. He retired from music and adopted three sons with his common law wife. In 1989 at the age of 74, Tipton died due to complications from an untreated peptic ulcer. It was only after his death that Tipton’s family learned he was biologically female. The day after his funeral, his secret was revealed to the public.
Dorothy Lucille Tipton was born in 1914 and left home in the 1930s to pursue a career in music. Tipton initially began dressing as a man during performances to further his career, but was living full time as a man by 1940. He had many relationships with women over the years, keeping his biological sex a secret by telling his lovers he had been in a serious car accident that damaged his genitals and required him to bind his chest to protect broken ribs. He was able to keep his biological sex a secret from the world for almost fifty years. His biological family, however, was unaware of his double life–whenever he visited home he temporarily became Dorothy again.