An interesting idea I had the other day: campaign hooks culled from real world places or events. Many times you don't need fiction to make the world a bizarre, disturbing place. So for these posts I'll provide some info on a strange real-world event or place and some plot hook ideas that could be used for urban fantasy, conspiracy, etc.
I used to live in Memphis, in fact I lived there my whole life until a few years ago. The other day I remembered an unusual rumor about one of the city's most distinctive landmarks the Pyramid Arena. The rumor basically claimed that a skull had been hidden in the foundation of the pyramid by the builder for occult purposes. I actually did a little bit of online research and I found out that the story is more or less true.
The Pyramid was built in 1991 and about a year later a maintenance man noticed a small black box attached to the top of the structure. The box was cut off and taken down. When it was opened the box was found to contain a carved crystal skull.
It was quickly learned that the skull was placed there by Isaac Tigrett, son of the Pyramid's patron, and a devotee of eastern mysticism. Supposedly the skull had manifested in the hands of guru Śri Sathya Sai Baba and given to Tigrett. He paid workmen to install the box in the rafters of the arena.
1) The Pyramid is already a powerful symbol. A metal and glass pyramid (the 6th largest in the world) on the banks of a mighty river and the city of Memphis (named after the ancient Egyptian city). The site produces all sorts of sympathetic resonance with the magic of the ancient Egyptians. The skull is actually an exact replica of the skull of an ancient pharoah and the ritual to place it in the pyramid was intended to use that resonance to capture the spirit of that ancient king...although the reason remains a mystery.
2) The skull is not of Egyptian or Indian origin, but South American. It is one of the Mayan crystal skulls and although the Pyramid Arena might appear to be based on Egyptian designs it's underlying structure and geomancy are actually based on Mayan divine architecture.And if it isn't returned by 2012 who knows what will happen?
3) The skull was created as the focus for a mystical ward, designed to protect the structure. With the skull taken out the Pyramid has suffered a seemingly endless stream of "curses" and even now is practically abandoned. Returning the skull is probably far too late, but it is still a powerful tool of good luck and positive magic.
4) The Pyramid was built as a sports arena and the skull was actually created as an emotional "battery". It would sit in the pyramid and the energy and emotional resonance of the crowds below would flow upward and be absorbed, creating a power supply of immense proportions.
5) The skull is not magical, in fact the Pyramid itself is actually a gigantic transmitter built on designs given to the ancient Egyptians by aliens. The skull would have served as the perfect focusing lens to the transmitter.