High Strangeness

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fifty Years of Swamp Gas -- Part II

I love it when a plan comes together.

Just yesterday I wrote about the Conference in Ann Arbor, Michigan next March to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Dexter-Hillsdale "Swamp Gas" UFO case, and how excited I am to be taking part in it. You may also remember from earlier posts (way earlier) that I had actually been invited to two Dexter-Hillsdale conferences, this first one in Ann Arbor put on by the Michigan MUFON chapter, and the second put on by the alumni association of Hillsdale College itself, in nearby Hillsdale, MI.

Well, for months I've been trying to get the two organizers together to discuss some sort of cooperative effort whereby the attendees of the MUFON event could spend at least part of that weekend at Hillsdale College. As I learned from my recent visit to  Kelly, Kentucky, there's nothing like being at the actual spot of a UFO incident to make you feel truly connected to the history of it.
Some of the Hillsdale College co-eds who saw the "UFO"

I guess it just took a little patience, because today the connection between Michigan MUFON and Hillsdale College was made! Email addresses and phone numbers have been exchanged, and barring an alien attack I am confident that these two will be talking very soon.

The gentleman from Hillside actually sweetened the pot today. He mentioned that the College has just opened a beautiful new conference center that would make a perfect venue for the conference. Then the gentleman from Michigan MUFON said he'd love to talk to the man from Hillsdale ASAP, as his group wants to start publicizing the event fairly soon... It just seems kind of perfect for the connection to be made today.

It would mean a lot more to me to be able to give my talk right where the Hillsdale sighting took place... We could all tromp out to the college arboretum and see the exact spot where nearly 90 witnesses saw what they thought was an honest-to-God alien spacecraft! How cool is that?

(Even cooler: I've suggested that the Michigan MUFON Director lobby MUFON HQ to dedicate an episode of its cable TV show "Hangar 1" to the Michigan "Swamp Gas" Conference, and he seems to think it's a great idea!)

I have another big conference on my calendar for 2016: the "Roswell debate" at next year's Milwaukee Paranormal Conference. You may recall that Roswell Slides impresario Donald Schmitt recently challenged me -- not directly but through the Conference organizer -- to take part in a debate about "Roswell" at next October's event. Well, since I've been in reaching out mode this week I shot the organizer a note to ask how the planning was coming along, and to ask if we could meet to discuss just how the debate will be handled.

He said he wanted to meet, then mentioned something that struck me as a little odd... He said that since he notified Schmitt that I had accepted his challenge, he hasn't heard back from Schmitt at all.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Fifty Years of Swamp Gas

I am psyched. I just got word that the Conference in Michigan to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the infamous Dexter-Hillsdale "Swamp Gas" case is on for March 19, 2016, at the Wyndham Garden hotel in Ann Arbor!

I know most of you know the major points of the case, but for those who don't, here's a quick recap:
For several nights in March 1966, UFOs were being sighted over southeast Michigan by cops out on night patrol. The sightings culminated with an alleged UFO landing in a marsh behind a Dexter Township farm belonging to Frank Mannor, followed by another alleged landing the very next night in a college arboretum, witnessed by 87 college coeds and their housemother from the windows of the women's dorm at Hillsdale College. Because there were so many witnesses and their descriptions were all so similar, the event made national headlines and the UFO faithful were convinced that Dexter-Hillsdale was "The Big One," the one case that would provide incontrovertible proof that UFOs were real physical objects, and were in fact spaceships from another world.

Bowing to public and political pressure, the Air Force's "Project Blue Book" sent its scientific consultant, astronomer Dr. J. Allen Hynek, to Michigan to investigate. Three days later Hynek was pressured into holding a press conference at the Detroit Press Club to reveal the results of his investigation. To the dismay of nearly everyone, Hynek declared that, based on the facts at hand, the witnesses may have seen simple "Swamp Gas" dispelled by the decaying early Spring vegetation in the Mannor swamp and the college arboretum. The citizens of Michigan were outraged at what they saw as an insult to their honor, Hynek's colleagues and supporters were outraged that he would "lie" about The Big One supposedly under orders from the Air Force, and Hynek himself called it "The low point of my career."
Dr. J. Allen Hynek does some UFOsplaining at the Detroit Press Club
That's the story that's been reported and repeated faithfully for the past 50 years, but the thing is, that's not how it actually happened. That version of the story leaves out huge pieces of the puzzle that have been forgotten through the mists of time, but that actually turn the entire Dexter-Hillsdale story on its head... and I have been invited to the conference next March to talk about some of my findings about the case, and I can't wait.

For as much as this case has been investigated and written about, it is astonishing how much of the story people continually get wrong. Case in point: Hynek arrived in Michigan the Tuesday after the farm and dormitory sightings and held his press conference that Friday, three full days later. And yet knowledgeable people still insist that Hynek gave the press conference and made the "Swamp Gas" statement less than an hour after arriving in Michigan, without even conducting any investigation. Even the well-known UFO "historian" and Roswell slides promoter Richard Dolan got it wrong. In his 2014 book, UFOs for the 21st Century Mind, Dolan wrote that, "Immediately upon arriving in Michigan, Hynek gave a press conference." Well, sure, if you leave out the intervening three days.

But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The real problem with the story is the devious and diabolical machinations people still ascribe to how Hynek came up with the "Swamp Gas" hypothesis, and why he offered it as a likely explanation for the Dexter-Hillsdale sightings. And I can tell you, it's not what you think.

Want the full story? Come to the Wyndham in Ann Arbor next March and you'll hear it direct from the source!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

"Little Blue Fuckers" -- a Movie Review

"The whole movie is clouded and obscure and pretty much inexplicable"
                                                                                                          - Hal Hinson
                                                                                                            Washington Post Staff Writer

 "In aiming for the widest popular appeal, the film ends up in no man's land."
                                                                                                          - Time Out London

These two reviews pretty much sum up what has got to be the strangest alien abduction movie ever made, the 1989 Phillipe Mora film "Communion."  (I'm not saying it's the worst; I think "Fire In The Sky" and "The Fourth Kind" share that honor). "Communion" is, of course, based on the 1987 book of the same title by horror and science-fiction writer Whitley Strieber, supposedly based on his own experiences as an abductee. The book was, of course, a massive best-seller (which, I freely admit, I loved) and helped introduced readers to a whole new kind of alien abduction, the kind in which the aliens appear at the foot of your bed in the middle of the night and spirit you away to some kind of exam room to be probed and implanted...

On paper, the film had everything going for it, and, based on the popularity of the book alone, it should have been a smash hit. But then things happened...
What's wrong with this revealing still from the movie "Communion"? Pretty much everything.

Because so many of my MUFON cases recently have involved aspects similar to those portrayed in the book and the movie, I decided to watch the movie again. I had only seen it once before, when it first came out, and watching it last night I remembered why I've never bothered to sit through it a second time. It's weird. It's self-indulgent. It's a mess. And -- surprise, surprise -- it's not available on Netflix or Amazon; I had to watch it on YouTube. Maybe that explains this summation on the "Communion" Wikipedia page:
It received a mostly negative critical reaction due to Walken's performance and was panned by Strieber himself due to its non-factual portrayal of him. The film was considered a box office failure.
Let's pick that apart, shall we? Whitley Strieber wrote the book. He wrote the screenplay. He wrote himself as a character, wrote his his own dialog and story arc. He even produced the movie. And yet he allegedly complained about a "non-factual portrayal of him"? How does that work, exactly?

Aside from that, I have three main gripes with the movie, two of which involve its dramatic structure and one of which involves its treatment of the UFO phenomenon.
  1. Casting Christopher Walken as Whitley Strieber may have seemed like a good idea to the filmmakers, but they overlooked one crucial detail. A big part of the story is how Strieber starts out a fairly normal, if eccentric, guy, and slowly becomes unhinged as he realizes that he is being visited on a regular basis by aliens. Walken, however, portrays him as a whack-job from the get-go so that crucial dramatic transition is completely lost. He starts out kind of crazy and then gets a little crazier. Whoopee.
  2. What should have been the biggest dramatic moment in the story gets thrown away, and because it gets thrown away the rest of the story makes no sense. After Strieber realizes he is being abducted by aliens -- or "little blue fuckers" as he so eloquently describes one of the alien breeds -- and finally reveals this to his long-suffering wife, she thinks he is lying to her. All well and good. But a few days later their son confides to his mom that he has been seeing "little blue doctors" and other entities in his bedroom. At this point, the son knows nothing about his Dad's abduction experiences, so the only way he could know this is from direct experience. Wouldn't you think that would be enough to prove to Mrs. Strieber that her husband isn't making this shit up? I would think so, but instead she has no reaction at all to this bombshell. When she does act, it's to haul her husband's sorry ass to see a psychiatrist, because for some bizarre, never-explained reason she still doesn't believe him. And because Mrs. S. ignores her son's testimony, from this point on in the movie nothing else that transpires makes the slightest bit of sense.
  3. Finally, I hate what this movie has to say about UFOs and aliens, which, in the end, is nothing at all. I get the sense that the filmmakers (and that includes Strieber) are trying to say something important, but their message gets so bogged down in a bizarre mix of cutesy, self-indulgent, surreal nonsense -- at one point Streiber and the aliens seem to have been transported to Rio at the height of Carnival -- and preachy, somber, staring dramatically at the camera pseudo-profundity that the whole thing just falls apart, and in the end has nothing to say. 
Which is a pity, because "Communion" the book has played such a dramatic role in the history of UFOlogy. It's a very strange coincidence to me that Strieber's book appeared, along with Budd Hopkins' "Intruders," in 1987, the year after Dr. J. Allen Hynek died. I almost feel as though Hynek's death signaled the end of serious UFO research and opened the door for the modern UFO for-profit industry exemplified in so many ways by those two books.

And, sadly, in the end, the movie had nothing to tell me that could help with my current crop of potential UFO abductees. In trying to say too much, the movie said nothing of any value.

Give me Richard Dreyfuss and a pile of mashed potatoes anytime...

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

UFO Cause & Effect

Still trying to catch up on my backlog of MUFON cases to investigate, but it's slow going. Although my life has settled down a lot since the end of the summer, my schedule is still irregular enough that scheduling interviews can be tricky...

The person I'm trying to schedule a talk with this week has an interesting story to tell. In fact, he has two stories to tell, which caused me some confusion at first. Like so many people I've come across reporting to MUFON lately, this witness made two separate reports, very different in character, and so at first I thought I'd be talking to someone who saw some strange lights in the sky with his girlfriend but it turns out I'm going to be talking to someone who has had a lifetime of strange experiences, many of which seem to stretch the definition of a UFO encounter...

Once again, the subject of strange dreams comes up in this witness' story. Like the case I recently wrote about in which the witness remembered childhood dreams of alien abduction and watching swarming tornadoes outside her picture window and feeling that they were looking for her, this new witness remembers dreams throughout his lifetime that have a similarly eerie feel...

His story begins on a chilling note:
As a child I was always very interested in UFOs and aliens. Not unusual; what little boy wasn’t fascinated by them? But – and I don’t know if this was concurrent with my fascination or if there was some abrupt change – I was also terrified by them. I had recurring nightmares about seeing UFOs or begin taken by alien beings. They are among my earliest memories, these dreams, and they so affected me that I began to dread the night.
Whitley Strieber, what have you wrought??
As you can see, the witness can express himself well, and seems very sure of what he is describing... things that impress me but that you don't often come across in a MUFON report. After telling about how his fascination with UFOs and aliens grew throughout his childhood, and how his discovery of Whitley Strieber's "Communion" was such a revelation to him, he describes more of his dreams:
There are three that I remember specifically: 1) Being with my father in his truck driving at night and getting picked up by a UFO, the classic saucer-shape. 2) Standing outside my old house at night, before a large bush that grew near the driveway, and talking to or hearing something in the bushes speaking – something I somehow knew was not human. 3) Being in a large white room with other children and alien beings who were sort of like caretakers. I remember being very frightened of them, though the other kids seemed fine, and of trying to run away by climbing a kind of ropey structure, like you would find on a playground. One of the beings was following me, trying to calm me down, I think. These dreams have always seemed to me to be dreams, yet they’re more vivid than most memories I have from the same age.
Like that last sighting I wrote about, this witness' experience also involved a remote lake cabin. In his report he tells of a night at the family cabin when he snuck out late at night to see if he could summon a UFO just by concentrating... I'll skip the Steven Greer jokes and just say that the next day the witness' Dad was aware that he had snuck out the night before:
He told me that late last night he had been aware of a “presence” in his bedroom, but saw nothing. My sister then told us about a dream she had had that same night: she was in a sort of hospital room with lots of beds, occupied by girls her age, some of whom she said she recognized from school. There were doctors there placing a box-like device over their stomach area to see if they were capable of becoming pregnant. It’s possible they both knew I had gone to look for UFOs the previous night and had conspired to mess with me the next morning; I don’t know. My sister seemed upset, though, and just as frightened as me.
Weird stuff, all right, and it raises all sorts of questions... Like how much the witness' childhood obsession with UFOs and aliens, and his reading of Strieber's book, might have influenced both his dreams and his waking experiences -- and not just his own but those of his Dad and sister as well. What kind of cause & effect is going on here?

Because I was kind of obsessed with UFOs and aliens when I was growing up, I do have a strong sense of shared experience with this witness, so I'm looking forward to interviewing him later this week. Stay tuned...

Monday, October 5, 2015

More UFO Lies and Scandals!

Something potentially very, very weird has come up in regards to my research on the J. Allen Hynek biography, and even though I can't at this point go into great detail or name names, I can't not write about it!!

Here goes:

Someone recently contacted me about the book, and offered to share stories and recollections of Dr. Hynek. Naturally, I accepted the offer, and we set up a time to talk. The interview was very enjoyable and informative, and I learned a few interesting things about the good Doctor that I had not heard before.

And then things got weird. This source started telling me a story that involved the personal lives of certain people central to Hynek's life. It was unpleasant stuff, to be sure, and even though the source said it was true, there was no proof offered. Nor was I given the names of anyone still alive who could corroborate the story.

I have done what little I can do to look into the story, and so far I have found nothing that would verify what this source told me. To look any further than I already have could very possibly hurt and offend people for whom I have a great deal of respect, so... I'm just not going to go any further.

Could it be that I'm some sort of "human polygraph"?
So, I am left with this very odd story that magically fell into my lap that cannot be easily verified (but that, in truth, doesn't really have a whole lot of relevance to the story I'm telling in my book). And I have to wonder if someone is trying to set me up. Knowing what I know about some of the characters who live in UFO world, and how threatened some of them seem to be by perceived challeneges to their sacred turf, I don't think it's all that ridiculous to think that somebody might try to feed me false information in the hopes that I'd put it in the book and destroy my own credibility.

Because here's the thing: when this person started to tell me this story I detected a change in the person's voice. I guess this is stuff that a polygraph picks up on... if I had to describe it I would say that the voice started to exhibit elevated stress levels. The pitch rose... the cadence changed... the person's intense discomfort was palpable. As I was listening to the curious changes in the voice on the phone, my first thought was that the person was simply feeling fear and anxiety over sharing such a damaging story that no one else, to the best of my knowledge, has ever made public. That would make anyone feel stressed and unsure.

But later I had another thought: maybe the stress level became so pronounced to me because this person knew the story was pure crap. What if the person desperately needed me to buy the lie and was worried that I would call bullshit on the story? I have to consider the possibility...

Or maybe I'm just paranoid.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sometimes the Truth is So Simple...

A friend posted this on Facebook the other day, originally from the Boston College History Department.

It speaks for itself:

Thursday, October 1, 2015

UFOs & Tornadoes & Lakes & Picture Windows

I just got off the phone with the witness in my latest MUFON Case, and even though her story wasn't really all that spectacular, there were some intriguing wrinkles that kept me on the phone much longer than expected...

It was another historical case (which seems to be becoming my speciality), this time going all the way back to 1964. It involved a dozen pre-teen and teenaged kids out playing on a summer evening outside their families' lakeside cabins. There were three families represented, staying at three neighboring cabins on the SE shore of Lake Waubesa, just south of Madison, WI. The six parents had gone to a tavern across the lake (this is Wisconsin), leaving the kids to their own devices.

(NOTE: There was, and still is, a Bible camp just north of where the sighting occurred. What that means I cannot say) 

The witness can't remember who saw them first, but suddenly all the kids were aware of a trio of objects hovering out over the lake, or just beyond it, perhaps a mile away, in the direction of Madison. The objects were saucer-shaped, and each had red, blue and green lights spinning around their edges, although the saucers themselves never moved or changed positions. Suddenly one of the kids--the witness recalled it was "one of the twins"--said, "Oh my God, it's a flying saucer!" and all the kids high-tailed it back to the closest cabin. When the adults came back, they were fully briefed by the excited kids, but by that time the saucers had vamoosed. She feels sure that the kids must have gone back outside with the parents to look for the saucers, but she can't recall.
UFOs & lakes... just like peanut butter & chocolate.

Everyone seemed to forgot about it, except for my witness. It's been 51 years and the memory still sticks with her... Her husband is a fan of UFO and paranormal cable TV shows, and although he is what she described as "a healthy skeptic," he persuaded her to report her sighting. Before reporting, she checked with her two sisters; one remembered the event, and the other did not. The witness has no idea how to contact the other kids involved, and the cabins have long since been torn down and replaced by new owners.

Pretty straighforward, right? But here are the details I find so interesting, offered to you now without judgement:
  • No one saw the saucers appear or disappear
  • The sister who remembers the sighting now insists she "doesn't believe in UFOs"
  • The witness recalled having a strange feeling that the saucers or something in them was watching the kids watch them
  • The witness had an experience at age 5 or 6 while living in a different state in which she woke up at night to see a cigar-shaped object hovering outside the house and visible through her bedroom window, then fell back asleep; she also felt at the time that the object or something in it was watching her
  • The witness has experienced alien abduction dreams all her life, but often the dreams revolve around tornadoes swarming outside the picture windows of her house, and a terrifying feeling that the tornadoes are looking for her, and coming for her
  • Also, regarding UFOs and lakes, I recently interviewed a witness about a 2004 case involving 2 or 3 similar lighted flying objects over Lake Kegonsa, just a few miles south of Lake Waubesa... the lights were seen simultaneously by 3 adult witnesses in 3 different locations, all connected by phone
  • Also again, regarding UFOs and lakes, I also recently investigated a 1976 case involving 6 kids, ages 10 to 12, out late at night at a lake being scared out of their wits by brilliant lights in a tree
  • Still also, too, I once investigated a 1990's case where the witness dreamed of seeing aliens in her front yard walking towards her house, with a creepy twist: she and her seemingly hypnotized family could see the approaching aliens through the picture window in their living room 
Probably nothing to it, right? I guess if you do this long enough, small things like picture windows start to take on ominous meanings, and you start to see patterns and connections everywhere...