High Strangeness

Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Trouble WIth Hellier

I was going to take a week or two off from blogging, but I just watched the first episode of the paranormal TV show Hellier and I feel compelled to write down my thoughts.

First of all, it's a 30-minute show passing as a 60-minute show. Really, it's waaaaay too long. Watching the first episode I was bored, then annoyed, then kind of angry. I perked up a little when the host started talking about the 1955 Kelly-Hopkinsville, Kentucky "alien invasion" case, a famous incident in which a family was besieged by "little green men" that kept appearing outside their farmhouse. It's a great story, and I wrote a chapter about it for my book The Close Encounters Man, but the whole chapter had to be cut for space. Sad :( But you can read the deleted chapter here.

Artist's rendition of a Kelly-Hopkinsville "goblin"
Anyway, I got interested when the Hellier host started talking about the case. But interest turned to disappointment when the show's host started getting important facts about the case wrong. He claimed that local police saw a UFO -- that's not true. He claimed numerous times that a UFO crashed outside the farmhouse -- also not true. He then claimed that the police made drawings of the creatures that appeared outside the farmhouse -- dead wrong again.

It was obvious that the hosts of the show couldn't be bothered to do any research into the case, and if they can't do basic research into a case that they are presenting as being central to their whole argument, why would I trust them to do any research into anything else they talk about?

That was my first problem. My next problem came up when the hosts are hiking up a mountain in North Carolina with Micah Hanks to look for a cave, or something. What they find is a huge pile of rocks and this is their reaction to finding a huge pile of rocks:

"This seems like it could be the entrance to a secret base." 

Guess what, kids? I have a pile of rocks in my back yard that seems like it could be the entrance to a secret base, too! I invite you to come here and do an episode about it.

Next problem: the key witness to the phenomenon in Hellier requests anonymity, and the hosts respect his anonymity by blithely mentioning that the witness is a doctor who lives or lived with his family in the town of Hellier, KY, pop. 2350. By the end of the episode they're openly using his name.

And the end of the episode is a doozy. The hosts arrive at the general store in Hellier and commence to interviewing locals without informing them that they are recording the interviews. They soon learn that nobody has ever heard of this "doctor" who is the prime witness.

So... the hosts have no idea where this doctor might have lived because no one they interviewed in secret at the general store knows who he is or was and the hosts aren't smart enough to do the obvious thing and go the county courthouse and check the records. So, what do they do instead? They go driving down a random road until they find a random house that they immediately decide must be where the doctor and his family lived. How do they deduce this important fact? One of the hosts remarks that there's shed in the yard and other host screams, "There's a fucking shed in the yard!!!"

Well, I guess it's all true then.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

UFO Insincerity

With all the news about the Navy's essentially meaningless "release" of the tic-tac videos, I keep seeing the usual suspects associated with the "To the Stars Academy" (TTSA) popping up in podcasts and articles everywhere.

Is anyone else tired of seeing this image?
Whenever that happens -- and it happens every few months, like clockwork, almost as if by design -- I'm reminded of when I saw TTSA frontman Luiz Elizondo speak at the Scientific Conference on Anomalous Aerospace Phenomena (AAP) in Huntsville, AL, in March of 2019. It was a good conference and an enjoyable experience -- except for Elizondo's address, and I'll tell you why.

Elizondo's entire speech consisted of constantly conflicting messages, presented in the following order:

1) "Guys, we have some amazing things to show you!"

2) "C'mon guys, be patient!"

3) "Guys, we have some astounding things to show you!"

4) "Seriously guys, be patient!"

5) "Guys, we have some mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting things to show you!"

6) "OMG you guys, why can't you be more patient?"

That's all it was for over an hour. Build up expectations in one sentence, then squash them in the next, without offering anything of any substance or value in between. Lather, rinse, repeat. I quickly grew tired of the trickery and insincerity, and felt like I, and everyone in attendance, was being played like a sap, like he was just trying to reel us all in. The message seemed to be that we were being ridiculous for being so impatient and, you know, expecting what had been explicitly promised to us.

But even worse than the words was the smile. Throughout the entire speech, Elizondo had a grin on his face that I found truly disturbing. I don't know if he was aware he was doing it, but I don't know that that matters. What was he smiling about? I don't know much about the meaning of body language, but to me his grin projected dismissiveness at the very best and dishonesty at the very worst.

Why did it strike me as dismissive? The feeling I got was that Elizondo was pleased with himself because he felt he knew something the rest of us didn't, because he was seeing in real time how powerful and effective his tricks were, and because he was confirming how easily impressed and misled most of us UFO people, even a room full of Ph.D.s, are if you dangle a shiny enough object in front of them.

In the end, all TTSA really wants to do is keep selling us koozies and hoodies.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

UFO Eggheads, Part One

I have to admit, it's kind of cool that people are still reviewing my biography of Dr. J. Allen Hynek, The Close Encounters Man, nearly three years after its publication -- and in an academic setting, no less!

You can read the review here, but I warn you, it's massive: 25 pages! https://www.academia.edu/42856955/Book_Review_of_The_Close_Encounters_Man

Of course I disagree with some of the reviewer's observations, and I expect I will address those issues in upcoming blog posts. One thing I will address right now is that I don't believe that being a scriptwriter in any way disqualifies me from being a biographer. There is no law stating that biographies can only be written by "impartial historians." And since no "impartial historians" have ever bothered to write a biography of J. Allen Hynek, the field was wide open. They had their chance.

I have also become aware this past week of another review of TCEM that came out a while back in a science review. I'll post that soon, as well.

Bottom line: it's always gratifying when The Close Encounters Man is regarded as a science book instead of an "occult & paranormal" book! Not that there's anything wrong with occult & paranormal books, but I always said I wanted to write a UFO book that people didn't have to hide, and this is validation that I've succeeded in that.

PS: Additional reviews  -- here, or on Amazon or goodreads -- are always welcome!

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

UFO Nookie?

In response to my reader @LaurieDecatur asking if there was ever any nookie going on between Jennie Zeidman and J. Allen Hynek, I will let Jennie answer that in her own words:

 I do want this on the record:  Allen and I had no physical relationship, of any kind,  ever, unless you count the time in the Hynek kitchen on Ridge Avenue, that Mimi and I were getting supper on the table, and Allen returned home, I had not seen him in several months, and he gave me a peck on the cheek.  Sorry to disappoint everyone, but that's it.  I am concerned that on the (Project Blue Book) TV show, Allen's secretary will be portrayed otherwise.  But I'll just grin and bear it.
      .....That's entertainment........ JZ
 So, Laurie, are you disappointed, or relieved?

This reminds me of the time when I was knee-deep in research for my book and a guy contacted me out of the blue to say that he had worked for Dr. Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) in the early 1980s, and he knew for a fact that Hynek had left his wife Mimi and had "run off to Arizona" with a beautiful young grad student of his. I didn't believe him for a second -- some people had tried to sabotage my research before and his claim smacked of the same desperation to make Hynek (and me) look bad. But I performed my due diligence; I asked a few people "in the know" whether there was anything to the story and they all laughed it off. Not only that, none of them remembered this guy ever working for CUFOS. Needless to say, his story did not make it into my book.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Flying with the UFOs.

UFOlogy has lost a bright star this month. Jennie Zeidman, friend and colleague of Dr. J. Allen Hynek and a former investigator for Project Blue Book, has passed away.

When I started researching Dr. Hynek's life back in 2012, Jennie was the first person I wanted to interview for The Close Encounters Man, my biography of Hynek. I had come across a thick binder in the archives of Hynek's Center for UFO Studies (CUFOS) that contained years' worth of correspondence and photos between Jennie and Dr. Hynek, and I could see immediately that the two of them shared not just an intense curiosity about the UFO phenomenon but a very warm and lasting friendship. Who better, then, for me to interview about Dr. Hynek?

I found that Jennie was living in Columbus, Ohio, and I called her one evening on the phone. We had a nice chat and eventually I asked Jennie if I could interview her about her work and friendship with Hynek. She told me that much of her writing about her work with Hynek was already available online and that I was free to quote from it. I was happy to hear that, of course, but I still really wanted to hear what she had to say now, in 2012, after 60-some years of reflection. But when I asked her again about doing an interview she hung up on me.

I was caught short-- what to do? I thought of calling her back and trying again, but I realized that some people just want to leave the past in the past and I needed to respect that. In the end, I did quote from some of her published writings, but I always felt the loss of not being able to do that interview and the sting of being hung up on.

Jennie and me, in healthier times.
Fast forward to 2017. My book is published, I'm having a blast promoting it, everything is great, and then I get a message from Jennie's son asking if his mom can contact me about the book. I agreed and when I got an email from Jennie I was, quite frankly, terrified to look at it. But I screwed up my courage and found, to my delight, that Jennie had given me the best book review I ever could have hoped for: "Congratulations, Mark! You wrote Allen exactly as I remember him."

I was thrilled, naturally, but then was even more thrilled when she wrote again two weeks later, saying, "Mark, I just read your book for the second time, and for the second time I ended up in tears."

After that Jennie and I became pen pals. She would send me emails (and sometimes snail mails) sharing memories of Allen, and we developed an ongoing conversation about our theories about the phenomenon, our favorite cases, our favorite UFO villains (hers was indubitably Philip Klass), and all things UFO. I loved every minute of it. I had the perfect mentor, the ultimate UFO Yoda, telling me stories that no one else had ever heard before!

Then two years ago I saw the trailer for the History Channel's awful Project Blue Book series and my heart sank. I felt that Jennie needed to know about the show, and that it would be best for her to hear it from a friend, and so I sent her the trailer. She was furious at the flagrant inaccuracies and misrepresentations in the trailer, as I knew she would be, so I said, "Jennie, maybe now I could do that interview with you. This could be your one chance to set the record straight."

Well, we set about conducting a slow-motion email interview, and she started to fill in some of the missing pieces of the J. Allen Hynek/Project Blue Book history. I was thrilled that the interview was finally happening!

Around this time I got my own TV project off the ground, and I asked Jennie if she'd be willing to continue our interview on camera, for the new show. She was very shy at first, but she agreed to do it.

So, we've done two interviews with Jennie, for a total of 12 hours of video, and I can tell you that she is a national treasure. During the first shoot, I had the rare opportunity to talk with Jennie for an hour and half in her office as the crew set up, and it was just a brilliant conversation. Jennie told me her life story, she shared more UFO secrets, she told more Hynek stories (of course), including one very, very bad joke, and then.... shocker: she apologized for having hung up on me back in 2012, and explained to me why she had done it! CLOSURE!

But then, bad news. In February Jennie fell ill and we had to postpone, and then cancel, our additional interview shoots with her. A few weeks later Jennie's son informed me that his mom was now in hospice care. He said she apologized to me and thew crew but hoped we could make use of the video we had. No apology needed, Jennie!

Then about 10 days ago I got word from Jennie's son that she had died. That was the same day that my mother-in-law passed away, so you can imagine what a rough day that was in the O'Connell household.

I am happy to say that we have enough video of Jennie to use in the first 2-3 episodes of the show (out of 8), but the truth is it's not enough. It's not nearly enough. I can guarantee that if you see Jennie in the show, you will be amazed, and you will understand a lot more about J. Allen Hynek, about Project Blue Book, and about the UFOs and why they're here. And it's all real.

God bless you, Jennie! I know you're up there flying with the UFOs now.

PS: Someone associated with the Project Blue Book series contacted Jennie and asked her to help promote the show. She told me her response was "I want nothing to do with your silly soap opera!"
And then she added, "I think I made myself quite clear!"

I have no doubt of that, Jennie.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

UFO Propaganda!

I came across an interesting parallel today concerning the possibility of extraterrestrial life.

Many of my readers will remember the uproar around Annie Jacobsen's 2011 book Area 51, in which she quoted an unnamed source who claimed that the alleged Roswell "saucer crash" and resulting recovery of saucer wreckage and of teeny alien corpses was all a Nazi/Soviet propaganda project pulled off by an unholy partnership between Joseph Stalin and Nazi "Angel of Death" Josef Mengele. According to Jacobsen's story, Mengele made some deformed children look like "aliens," and they were placed in a flying saucer supplied by Stalin and sent to New Mexico in order to scare us Americans to death.

From what I've heard, History Channel's Project Blue Book series used that very same Jacobsen/Mengele/Stalin explanation for Roswell in its 2-part season opener, a very strange creative choice that seems to have alienated a lot of fans. "Alienated," get it?

Here's where the parallel comes in. As part of my quarantine distraction, I re-watched one of my favorite science fiction movies, the 1967 British flick Quatermass and the Pit, released in the US as Five Million Years to Earth. It's a brilliant movie, in my opinion, brimming with fascinating imagery and ideas (even if the film's moderate budget made it hard to fully bring them to life).

The story involves the discovery of a Martian spaceship buried under London, and the subsequent discovery of several perfectly preserved insect-like Martians inside the ship. Or are they Martians? The scientist protagonist of the film, Professor Quatermass, believes they are, but the military man supervising the excavation, Colonel Breen, insists that the strange object with its insectoid occupants is -- get this -- "a propaganda scare" developed by the Nazis in the waning days of World War II. "They sent over an experimental V-weapon in order to produce exactly the effect it has produced," Breen explains rather smugly, "though a little late for their purposes."

Of course Breen's propaganda theory wins out, and when the media are invited into the pit to see the "harmless" object, Quatermass' worst fears are realized. The spaceship comes to life, and London is plunged into chaos and horror.

What does it all mean? Probably nothing, but it sure is interesting to see that Jacobsen's bizarre, laughable Roswell explanation -- which, it must be acknowledged, sold a lot of books, and may have just torpedoed a contemporary TV series -- may have arisen in some odd way from a 53 year-old British science fiction film.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Stay at Home UFOs

Quick quiz:

What's the perfect way to pass the time while staying at home that only costs $1.99 and doesn't put you at any risk of being exposed to COVID-19?

It's pretty cheap as a paperback as well!
Answer: If you click here right now, you can download the Kindle version of The Close Encounters Man; How One Man Made the World Believe in UFOs, my biography of Project Blue Book investigator Dr. J. Allen Hynek, for the low, low price of a buck ninety-nine. If there's a better, cheaper, safer way to pass the time during a pandemic, I haven't heard of it!

UFO people seem to be dealing with stay at home orders by burning up the social media platforms... I know I've been spending more time on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter the past few weeks, and, to my dismay, all I see is constant mentions of:
  • Skinwalker Ranch -- Grand Central Station for undiscriminating paranormal activity; recently granted a trademark, because it's, you know, a product
  • Luiz Elizondo -- can you say "overexposed?"
  • MUFON -- they're not hiding anything, because they got nothin'
  • AATIP -- 2+ years in and we're still waiting for the big reveal
All of which begs the question: Which of these hot topics has brought about any real breakthroughs in our knowledge and understanding of the UFO phenomenon? In my opinion, all these things have brought us is more confusion and obfuscation, and those are two things we don't need more of in the study of UFOs.

Is my book the cure? I'd like to think that in some way it's keeping UFOlogy honest, by upholding the ideals that Dr. Hynek established over his four decades of research. I know for a fact that some people have sought out my book after watching the History Channel's sketchy Project Blue Book series, so apparently the truth still matters to some of us.

So, yeah, download my book. Leslie Kean and Jim Marrs loved it; so will you.