Throughout this history, there have been a number of cities that have been lost to time. Once thriving communities in Petra, Jordan and Machu Picchu, Peru disappeared from recorded history, only to be re-discovered by explorers some two-thousand years later. These significant cities with vibrant religions and cultures were suddenly abandoned and forgotten. Through the lens of archaeology we can often make determinations to the cause – whether through natural disaster, change in climate, decline of natural resources, war, famine, and plague.
Although fascinating discoveries of their time, in today’s modern world of satellites, GIS, and ever-expanding civilization, it seems improbable that a lost city could still remain a secret. Legends of Atlantis or the City of Z still persist in our mythos, having mostly devolved into fictional books and movies that are akin to the mysteries of ancient aliens, yeti and the Lochness monster.
In modern times, there have been a number of secret cities that have been the result of purposeful governmental cover-up. Prior to WW2 and throughout the Cold War, there were a number of “closed cities” within the USSR that were only exposed after the fall of communism. City 40, or Ozersk in today’s world, was the largest of these cities hidden away as part of Stalin’s atomic ambitions. There were many closed cities across the Soviet Union, and there is still much speculation that some of the smaller ones still remain a secret today.
If you would think this level of secrecy could only be achieved in a dictatorship, you would be mistaken. In fact, there were three such closed cities right within the USA as part of the Manhattan Project, now famous for the development of the US WW2 atomic program. Only after the atom bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki was the veil of secrecy eventually lifted. Oak Ridge, a fully operational city near Knoxville, Tennessee was home to many scientists and thousands of support staff who were purposely chosen for their lack of familial connection to the outside world. At Oak Ridge, nobody was permitted to leave for fear of government secrets falling into enemy hands. Even today, much of the documentation surrounding the three secret cities of the Manhattan Project – Oak Ridge, Los Alamos and Hanford are still classified
Which brings us to one of the few remaining modern-day mysteries that I have come across in my entire career of academia – the city of Grimm. I stumbled into the mystery of Grimm through my research of Camp Century, the large underground military complex deep beneath the ice sheets of Greenland. Much of the information about Camp Century is still classified, and there are only a handful of images that I have discovered including a partial map of the expansive tunnel system. One of the largest chambers on the map had a curious label of “Project Iceworm,” which I spent considerable time in military archives researching its purpose, to no avail.
I shared what little I could discover on Project Iceworm in an obscure academic paper I published on the topic of secret military cities. Years later, this article was eventually transferred from microfiche onto a university database that became accessible to the world wide web.
It was through this obscure paper, I came into contact with Garry Snow, an author from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. I was quite surprised to receive a letter from Garry enquiring about Camp Century and he asked me if I had ever heard of the city named Grimm in relation to Project Iceworm? I was puzzled by any mention of this city, which had never come up in my research, nor could I find anything online about it.
Garry said that he had possession of three diaries that he believed were related to Project Iceworm, and they contained details on a lost city called Grimm. In a twist of fate, one of the few ways in and out of Camp Century was via float plan from Churchill, Manitoba. Garry’s Grandfather, serving as an airplane mechanic in WW2, discovered the journals in a secret compartment of a decommissioned military plane. Garry only came into possession of them upon cleaning out his Grandfather’s home when he passed away.
I had to admit that the idea of an unknown lost city piqued my interest, and with the name Grimm, it almost felt like a fairy tale come true. Garry was kind enough to send snippets of the diary which contained detailed maps of the city and a network of underground tunnels. There were also details on three ancient monuments that much like Stonehenge were arranged in a fashion that they aligned for the Winter and Summer solstice.
Although still skeptical, when I saw an archaeology conference taking place in Banff, Alberta, I thought I would take the opportunity to finally meet with Garry who lived nearby.
It’s an occupational hazard of archaeologists to go public with something that is later determined to be a fake. There are a number of people of unscrupulous character that will seek out fame and fortune, and you are always on edge of being duped into providing them a platform. My preconceived plans were to identify it as fraudulent, and attend the conference, with the City of Grimm a just a distant memory.
When Garry slid the first Iceworm Diary across the table, my attitude changed immediately. The leather cover and binding construction was reflective of pre-WW2, and the paper itself had the edges and weight that was consistent with printing presses of the time.
Most archaeologists fancy themselves as explorers of ancient civilizations. In reality, our work consists of countless hours in libraries and on computers, rarely meeting that ideal you had when choosing your career. There are no ancient temples. There are no alien ruins. There is no standing on the precipice of a mountain, looking down on a lost city.
However, upon opening the diary, I finally had that moment that I had desired for my entire career, reading the hand-written note on the inside page:
“If you have found this diary, it is because I have failed to find my sister. Everything I know about the secrets of Grimm are in this book. I beg that you find her, and bring her home.”
The author of this note is still a mystery – which actually makes a lot of sense when you take a step back. Rarely do those that keep journals and diaries ever state anything more than a “property of” within its covers. It’s one of those ironic twists of humanity that we document our secrets, but never envision that anybody but ourselves would find them worthy of history.
The diary documented a city that had been founded by Viking explorers who blew off course in the North Atlantic. However, these Vikings were not the island’s first inhabitants, and much of the castle and original city had been built upon ancient ruins of an unknown origin. I have given much speculation that Grimm could actually be the foundation for the myth of Atlantis. An island off the coast of Europe that was highly advanced in science and art – only to be flooded and lost to time. Could the Vikings have unknowingly discovered Atlantis?
The Grimm family for which the city was named had ruled over the kingdom for a millennia, and provided a free port of trade and commerce which was not tied to any geopolitical disturbances. Its location on the archipelago between Europe and North America made it an ideal location for those traveling by boat and float plane between the two continents. It appeared to be a true melting pot, and there is mention of cultures from Africa, Middle East, Asia, and Europe.
The archipelago land formation seemed to be the result of volcanic activity due to its location between the continental plates. The diary mentions that Grimm was prone to violent earthquakes – which could also potentially be the reason for its disappearance? It would not be uncommon for volcanoes or earthquakes to cause the abandonment or destruction of a civilization, as has been seen with Pompeii and Herculaneum.
Since this meeting with Garry, the Iceworm Diaries have preoccupied much of my research, pouring over its details and trying to connect it with other historical documents. Despite my best efforts and various leads, I only have a trail of breadcrumbs with items such as ticket stubs from a dirigible departing from Berlin.
The trail of Grimm goes cold during the start of WW2, and it could also suggest a cover up on a large scale similar to the secret cities of the USSR. Due to its strategic location, it would have been an ideal for military bases of both the Axis and the Allies. Could this also have played a role in all records of Grimm being removed.
Further expanding this line of thought, how did the diaries end up in Camp Century? There is a mention in the Iceworm diaries that there were conduits to other locations around the world. As much as this concept crosses into the realm of science fiction, it poses the question – could there have been portals to places like Greenland?
One of the areas providing the most detail about Grimm was from the records of Nazi occultists searching the Himalayas for the lost civilization. It was presumed that the lost city would provide cosmic secrets to the Third Reich in their efforts for global domination. In these documents they also pose the concept that similar ancient sites could be connected through portals. The results of the Nazi expedition have mostly been lost to time and war, but what remains of the records indicate their belief in Grimm being another location with ancient secrets they wished to control.
When Garry shared that he was turning the contents of the Iceworm Diaries into a role-playing game, I have to admit that I was hesitant of his decision. With Grimm already seemingly a myth, I did not want the game to further slant Grimm into the realm of science fiction. However, with my research at an impasse, I have ultimately changed my stance. The game could provide an opportunity to share the mystery of Grimm to a wider audience, which might uncover more information.
I invite you to explore this unique place and learn its secrets. Perhaps you will be the one to discover what happened to Grimm?
Fellow, International Society of Antiquaries