Sunday, August 31, 2014

UFO Cookbook

I had a strange experience with UFO-related synchronicity yesterday that I'm still scratching my head over...

My wife and I were doing some shopping and antiquing in Evanston, IL, where the subject of my book, Dr. J. Allen Hynek, lived and worked for years. We spend a lot of time in this area, and I've gotten used to meeting random people who have some random connection to Hynek or finding myself at some business or building with some Hynek connection; it happens with surprising regularity and it makes me feel very fortunate to be so close to the world I'm writing about.

Recently I have done some research on a historical moment in astronomy that involved Hynek and that led to yesterday's odd happenings. In the summer of 1933, Hynek was working on his Ph.D. at the beautiful Yerkes Observatory on the shores of Lake Geneva, WI, and at that time the "Century of Progress" World's Fair was gearing up to open 100 miles away in Chicago. The retiring head of Yerkes, Dr. Edwin Frost, had convinced the Fair's organizers to light up the Fair on its opening night with a little help from the Observatory.

On May 27, the opening night of the Fair, the staff at Yerkes -- Hynek among them -- aimed their 40" refracting telescope at Arcturus, the brightest star in the northern celestial hemisphere, and focused its brilliant light on a photoelectric cell. The cell converted the light of Arcturus to an electrical impulse that was sent to the Chicago lakeshore over telegraph lines, and at precisely 8:15 p.m. that impulse activated the switch that lit up the World's Fair, to the roaring approval of over 30,000 fairgoers. It was an especially magical moment to Chicagoans in that the "Star Beam" that reached the telescope that night was believed to have been created by Arcturus 40 years earlier, in 1893, when the last Chicago World's Fair had been held (it was discovered later that Arcturus is only 36 light years from earth, but whatever).
The 1933 Chicago World's Fair, lit up by the star Arcturus

So yesterday on a whim we decide to explore the shops on a little side street in Evanston, and we find two absolute gems, the Chicago Rare Book Center and Eureka! Antiques and Collectibles, side by side! We go into Eureka! first and the first thing I see is a framed jigsaw puzzle depicting the 1933 Century of Progress World's Fair, and I start to feel a strange tingling... My wife, meanwhile, is in heaven because the place is filled with vintage cookbooks, so after I look around a bit more I leave her to her explorations and follow my tingling next door to the book store. Naturally, there's a section on Chicago history, and naturally, some of the books are about Chicago's World's Fairs (even after all these years, the two Fairs are still huge cultural icons in the city), so I start up a conversation with one of the owners, Tom, and he helps me find some material about the 1933 Fair. As we're talking, he asks if I know a woman named Abigail Foerstner, which I don't, then he explains to me that she wrote a biography of famed astrophysicist James Van Allen, discoverer of the Van Allen radiation belt...


"I would imagine Van Allen and Hynek must have crossed paths at some time or another," says Tom. "Yes they did," I reply. In fact, their paths crossed at least twice: once, during WWII, while developing the proximity fuze for the U.S. Army, and then a few years after the war, on project that launched astronomical instruments into space inside captured Nazi V-2 rockets. They're little-known, but fascinating chapters in Hynek's career, and I am glad to be able to learn more about them. So, Tom gives me Ms. Foerstner's contact info and promises to get in touch if he comes across any Hynek-related material. Cool.

Then my wife and I regroup, and I can tell she's excited about something. She shows me a tiny little vintage cookbook she just found at Eureka! And I mean tiny: it's no bigger than 5"x5", no thicker than 1/8". It has a beautiful full-color illustration on the cover that I immediately recognize as being from the 1933 World's Fair, but the title of the book is "Durkee Famous Food Recipes." Huh?

Turns out, the cookbook was a free souvenir created for "the busy American housewife" and given out to anyone who visited the Durkee Foods exhibit at the World's Fair. To keep with the theme, the recipes all have goofy World's Fair-related names, so you'll find items such as "Planetarium Tapioca Royal," "World's Fair Ham Loaf," and "Canapes a la Midway." All pretty funny, but then my wife shows me the jaw-dropper:

There, on the page promoting Durkee's margarine products, is a recipe for "Arcturus Rolls."


Thursday, August 28, 2014

You Don't Tug on Superman's Cape

I hate to quote a Jim Croce song, but it fits today's post.

You don't tug on Superman's cape,
You don't spit into the wind,
You don't pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger
and you don't mess around with Jim.

What has brought me to such a state that I'm quoting corny 1970's story songs?

Well... I've written it before and I'll write it again: One of the most enjoyable aspects of writing the biography of famed UFO researcher Dr. J. Allen Hynek is that I keep finding more evidence that contradicts the popularly-held belief that he was a timid, weak coward. He was, in fact, a cape-tugger, a wind-spitter-intoer, a mask-puller, and a Jim-messer-around-wither.

One striking example came to light shortly after Hynek's passing in 1986, at the memorial services held for him at the University of Chicago. Now, Hynek is not often associated with the University of Chicago, since he spent most of his career at Ohio State, Harvard and Northwestern, but U of C was Hynek's alma mater. He earned his bachelor's degree there, and then earned his Ph.D. at U of C's Yerkes Observatory on the shoes of Lake Geneva in Williams Bay, Wisconsin.

His thesis work at Yerkes "was concerned with the spectra of certain bright F-type stars," explained Dr. William W. Morgan in his eulogy to Hynek. "He revealed a delicate sensitivity to the varied appearances of the spectra of differing F stars," Morgan went on, "and a sense of morphological form as the thesis developed. He received the Ph.D. degree in 1935; the thesis was published in the November 1935 Astrophysical Journal."

That's all well and good, but then Morgan went on to describe a certain awkward incident involving Hynek's thesis work that reveals a striking aspect of Hynek's nature:

"Perhaps the most important result in the thesis," Morgan said, "was Hynek’s demonstration that the Mount Wilson classifications of many bright F0 stars from the Henry Draper Catalogue were seriously in error. These are HD F0 stars showing the broadest spectral lines, due to rapid stellar rotation. Such stellar spectra were classified too early, as A stars, by the Mount Wilson observers."
This was a common get-up for astronomers in the 1930s
Morgan is referring to the Mt. Wilson Observatory in southern California, which, at the time Hynek was writing Doctoral thesis in the early 1930s, was pretty much the planet Krypton of astronomy. It was another world, and the scientists who lived there were astronomy Supermen, with X-ray vision, the ability to fly and outrun locomotives, and, yes, capes.

You didn't fuck with the men of Mt. Wilson, especially if you were a lowly graduate student working in complete and deserved obscurity in a backwater like Williams Bay, Wisconsin. But that's just what Hynek did. He found an error in the work of the Mt. Wilson astronomers and then he proved they were wrong in his thesis.

What's more, he crowed about it... There is a very entertaining and illuminating correspondence in the Yerkes Observatory archives between Hynek and his boss at Yerkes, Dr. Otto Struve, in which the political ramifications of Hynek's discovery are embarrassingly apparent... Struve, who also published the Astrophysical Journal, was distressed that Hynek's paper would cause a row when it appeared in the Journal...

In a letter to Hynek, Struve gently, subtly, timidly suggested that Hynek might want to think about revising the passages in his paper in which he describes the Mt. Wilson astronomers as dummies and amateurs. Struve delicately requests that Hynek could... perhaps... choose gentler words to describe these people who are, after all, soon to be his professional colleagues...

Hynek responded with...

You didn't think I was really going to spill, did you? I'm saving the good stuff for the book!

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Rubbed Out

Boy, have I got it good, biography-writing wise.

I recently met a very talented writer who is working on a biography of a fairly famous cultural figure, and what he had to tell me about his work made me feel very grateful for the relative sanity of the UFO world.

Yes, I used the terms 'UFO' and 'sanity' in the same sentence. Savor that.

Now this writer, who I met at a social event, is the real deal. He's getting books and articles published all the time, and the fact that he's a flipping genius smacks you in the face the minute he starts talking about his latest project. And yet, he took a real interest in my project; he knew who Dr. J. Allen Hynek was and got excited when I mentioned his name.

"I was just talking to a friend," he said with an excited smile, "who was telling about a character in a book who was loosely based on Dr. Hynek!" He thought I must know the book and the character, but I had to confess I didn't. I thought his friend might have been thinking of Francois Truffaut's take on Jacques Vallee in the movie "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," but he assured me that wasn't it. It was a book, and the character was based on Hynek, he was quite sure.

So that was cool, and I'm looking forward to getting the title of the book and the name of the character when he's able to get in touch with his friend.
Chuck Norris plays a mafia hitman in "Hitman 2: The Mullett"

Then we talked about some of the difficulties we've encountered with our research, and here's where I realized how good I've got it. Sure, I run across the occasional Crabby Appleton who doesn't want to talk to me... and I deal with the occasional nutjob who attacks my work and sabotages interviews... and I have some material for the book that is likely to piss off some people if I decide to include it. But that's nothing compared to what my new friend had to tell me.

"I have some material that, if it is published in my book, will make some people very angry with me," he said. "But I also have some material that, if it is published, could get me killed."

Then he clarified. He didn't mean to say "could get me killed." He meant to say "will get me killed."

Turns out there's some shady activity in the story he's writing, and it's been kept secret by some powerful people. He didn't go into much detail -- I wanted him to, but he wisely said very little more to me about it.

That never happens to me. I suppose it could -- I did have that creepy stalker incident recently -- but it hasn't yet. And I hope it doesn't. I mean, I'd love a visit from the Men In Black, but not from a mafia hit man.

Like I said, right now I'm grateful for the relative sanity of UFO world.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Anthony Ranfone, R.I.P.

This is sad. Thanks to Juan for posting this in the comments to an earlier post. 

The mystery of Anthony Ranfone's whereabouts has been solved. No more wonderful depictions of aliens and robots and monsters. What a loss...

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Son of Hypno-UFO -- Part II

Here is is at last, more of the Charles Hickson hypnotism session! The first two segments are here and here. (Be sure to read the comments; people were scolding me over posting this!)

As I promised last time, this new segment includes Charlie telling Dr. James Harder about what it felt like to be floated aboard a UFO and into an examination room...

Harder:  I would like to see you now see if you can tell us about the sensation of floating, you said before. Now do you feel that you're floating, or do you feel that you're sitting or standing on something? 

Hickson: I-- I just ain't got no feelings.

Harder: You don't have any feelings. But that does -- does that mean that you could be sitting on something or lying on something without being able to feel it? Is that a possibility, or do you think that you're -- do you have -- tell me about the feeling that you have. (pause) You say you have no feelings, but do you feel -- do you feel any of your internal organs, do you feel your stomach being fluttery or anything of that sort? How does your stomach feel?
Charlie Hickson and his UFO

Hickson: I can't -- I-I can't feel nothing.

Harder: Do you feel yourself touching anything?

Hickson: No... I'm trying to move my toes. (pause) I can't do it!

Harder: Well that's all right, that'll be okay. Your feeling will come back. (pause) Can you tell us what happens next, after this? Is there something that happened to you, something that you heard, that you're able to feel or hear, or observe right now that you have not seen before? Is there something that's new that you're remembering? You can concentrate on that, and see if there's anything new that you can tell us that's happening to you.

(long pause)

Hickson: It's real bright in here.

Harder: Very bright... How does it remind you? Does it remind you of something that you've seen? Is there anything that's bright that you've seen before that you can compare it to?

(long pause)

Hickson: I don't think so.

Harder: You've been around arc welding on ships. How would you compare it with that?

Hickson: It's not a... It's not a light like that. 

Harder: Uh-huh. In what way isn't it like that? Is it not...

Hickson: It -- It's just glowing. Glowing.

Harder: Just glowing.


Hickson: There's something... in front of me.

Harder: Can you describe it? Does it seem to have  anything that looks like glass or is shiny or reflective? Or is it just dull-colored or gray-colored?

Hickson: There's something.... The light's bright. I can't see through.

And it pretty much peters out right there... Is there a law of diminishing returns where hypnotism is concerned? Because by this time in the session, Hickson is really running out of things to say. And Harder seems to think that if he just wears Hickson down enough, the guy will finally come up with something.

It's almost comical; you just get the feeling that poor Charlie Hickson has no idea what Harder is trying to get at, and he's just not able to give Harder any kind of satisfactory response... and in the end, we really don't learn anything at all about what it felt like to be floated aboard the UFO. Which sucks, because I really wanted to know!!

Damn you, Harder! Why can't you just get to the point??

Sunday, August 17, 2014

The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers

Over the weekend I've been reading "The Man From Mars" (2012, Tarcher/Penguin), and I think it's a must-read for anyone interested in the history of UFOlogy in America. "Mars" is a raucously entertaining book about a man who could fairly be described as the world's first UFO huckster, pulp publisher Ray A. Palmer (known to his many fans and detractors as simply "Rap").

The book, by Fred Nadis, recounts Rap's early involvement in science fiction publishing in the 1930s, first as a fanzine pioneer and then editor of the popular and influential Amazing Stories magazine. Not content to merely publish entertaining science fiction, Rap was a myth-maker, endlessly messing with his readers' minds by blurring the lines between reality and fantasy, fiction and non-fiction.

The breathless inaugural issue of Fate magazine
When private pilot Kenneth Arnold became the first modern flying saucer witness in the summer of 1947 and the entire country went saucer crazy, Rap founded Fate magazine and perched himself atop the crest of the flying saucer tsunami. Nadis writes that Fate was "designed for an audience with a taste for the paranormal and unexplained," then continues with this wonderful passage:
"With its first issue in 1948, Fate also became a centerpiece for the newly forming flying saucer subculture. Unafraid of the tyranny of what he termed the 'raised eyebrow,' Palmer became the ideal figurehead for the new community of 'saucer people.'" 
That's where the story gets really interesting, to me...

Not only did Rap convince Kenneth Arnold, who was quickly becoming a national laughingstock, to share his story in the first issue of Fate (see picture on right), he transformed Arnold from the world's first flying saucer witness into the world's first flying saucer investigator. In a wild story worthy of the pulp fiction he had been publishing for years, Rap sent Arnold out to investigate the Maury Island, Washington, sighting, and the assignment soon turned hairy... Before Arnold gave up and headed home in frustration, the bizarre case had come to involve the FBI, the Men In Black, a disappearing house, flying saucer fragments... and, possibly, sabotage and murder.

The incident inspired Rap and Arnold to co-author a book about the case, "The Coming of the Saucers." Judging from the extensive excerpts in Nadis' book, I expect "Saucers" will be a good read, but as Nadis points out elsewhere in his book, Rap's recurring editorial advice for writers who had trouble maintaining a suspenseful pace in their pulp stories was: "When the action slows, throw another body through the skylight." Arnold's and Rap's account of the Maury Island investigation, alas, smacks of the writers desperately throwing body after body through the skylight...

Then there's this:

One of Nadis' sources is a 1983 magazine article written about Rap by famed UFO writer John Keel. The article, entitled "The Man Who Invented Flying Saucers," appeared in the Winter issue of Fortean Times magazine, and gives us a fascinating, sad, yet hilarious description of the first ever UFO convention... attended by Keel himself:
"In the fall of 1948, the first flying saucer convention was held at the Labor Temple on 14th Street in New York City. Attended by about thirty people, most of whom were clutching the latest issue of Fate, the meeting quickly dissolved into a shouting match. Although the flying saucer mystery was only a year old, the side issues of government conspiracy and censorship already dominated the situation because of their strong emotional appeal"
Think about that. In the fall of 1948, just a little over a year since Arnold had sighted his flying saucers, "government conspiracy and censorship" were already emerging as the predominant themes among the "saucer people."

Read the book. For good or bad, it's because of Ray Palmer and his exuberant myth-making that we're now stuck with Disclosure, the Roswell Incident, Area 51 and Dulce Base. Thanks Rap.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Coffee and UFOs

Sometimes the best way to enjoy a beautiful Saturday morning while the house is still quiet is to settle in with a cup of coffee and catch up on UFO news.

That means looking in on some of my favorite UFO blogs to see what my colleagues are writing about, which is always worthwhile. There are a lot of interesting, intelligent, entertaining people in the wide, wide world of UFOlogy, and one of the biggest reasons I appreciate their work so much is that they tackle subjects that I don't want to (or simply can't because I don't know nearly as much as they do).

Today we have quite a smorgasbord...

In The Big Study, Professor Michael Swords offers up a little-known "coincidence" involving the famous 1977 "WOW signal," received by the "Big Ear" radio telescope at Ohio State University. Is it possible that an amateur electronics whiz in Indiana picked up the same signal the same night? It's a tantalizing story, and the Professor leaves us wanting to know more...

What's the most spectacular train wreck in UFOlogy? So many choices...
In The Other Side of Truth, Paul Kimball reports on the recent Canadian UFO Survey, which documents 25 years of UFO sightings north of the border. I have only taken a brief look so far this morning, but it looks as though the work done by Chris Rutkowski and UFOlogy Research of Manitoba is a model for UFO researchers everywhere. Kinda cool that their methodology is based on Allen Hendry's awesome 1979 guide, "The UFO Handbook" (also kinda cool, in a completely irrelevant way: One of Dr. J. Allen Hynek's personal UFO sightings took place at his family's cabin in Canada).

Over at Jack Brewer's The UFO Trail, meanwhile, Jack weighs in on the "Carpenter Affair," in which a hypnotist allegedly engages in some seriously sketchy behavior and still gets invited to speak at MUFON meetings (Hate to say it, but we all know this kind of thing happens all the time; seems there's always a place at the head table for even the most ethically compromised "UFOlogists"). UPDATE: Jack just tweeted me to say this is not "alleged" but "confirmed" here: )

For sheer volume, it's hard to beat The UFO Iconoclast(s), which has been serving up a succession of meaty posts over the past few days. First, the always interesting RRRGroup watches bad UFO TV so we don't have to: ancient astronaut guy Giorgio Tsoukalos hosted a show on cable TV last night about "The Roswell Rock," and RRRGroup wasted not a moment in skewering this silly "find." I have joked before about how, in the course of things, the world will undoubtedly be presented with the Roswell 8-Track Tape, the Roswell Post-It Notes, and the Roswell Dry-Erase Board, each of which will prove that a UFO crashed in Roswell, NM in 1947... before being thoroughly debunked. "The Roswell Rock" shows that there may be more truth to my joke than I suspected.

As if to emphasize the point, just a day earlier RRRGroup tore into the "Roswell Slides" drama and found it to be "Sidetracked or Derailed." According to the post, the owner of the slides in question has spurned the "Roswell Dream Team," and is apparently in talks with cable TV producers to present the blockbuster slides in a blockbuster TV special. You can't blame the guy for wanting to cash in, I suppose, and you really can't blame him for not wanting to share the spoils with the RDT. It's a good read, and you have to love a writer who can use "in toto" and "summum bonum" in the same sentence.

So that's my Saturday morning. Now... off to the beach!