High Strangeness: March 2015

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

UFO Missing Time Madness

The great thing about writing this blog is that, if I'm ever feeling too lazy to write something, I can just give you a report on my current MUFON assignments and let the UFO witnesses do my work for me.

After a couple of very slow months, I am suddenly inundated with cases -- 6 new ones just this week -- and there are some real doozies in the in box. Three in particular caught my interest, because they're all historical cases -- two from 1973 and one from 1997 -- and because two of them involve missing time (my favorite!), and because they're all fucking nuts.

Here are the highlights from the case reports:

CASE # XXXXX: The Case of the Feisty Grandmother (reported in full)
October 23, 1973 -- "My grandmother had come to Wisconsin to pick me up. We stopped at my aunts house(a mobile home) in the country. I was up in the living room and looked out the window of the front door. I saw the object and called grandmother. I looked at the clock by the door and it was 9 p.m. The object was above a field across the street and when she came to the door it started to move Soundlessly it disappeared behind the trees. Moments later I looked out the door and noticed it back over the field. I looked at the clock and it was midnight. Grandmother was feisty and went out the door to investigate. It disappeared like turning off a switch. This would have been the end of the story except that after my military service I went to help my mother move to fla. and she had a Winnebego Motor Home. We stopped at a rest stop in the hills of Tennessee and I slept on the upper bunk above the cab The next morning my pillow had a large area of blood from one side of my nose and in the middle of of it was a large black Crystal. I left it there and we sold the Motor Home later. Wish I knew where those three hours went."
Have to admit, I'd love to know who bought the Winnebago and what they did with the bloody pillow and the black crystal.

If you could, would you leave your implant behind in a Winnebago?
CASE # XXXXX: The Case of the Kid Who Was "Druck" or On Dope or Maybe Even Intoxicated (and Still Is) (aftermath only; trust me, you do not want to read the whole thing) 
June 1, 1973 -- "... THE NEXT THING I REMEMBER WAS WAKING UP IN MY TRUCK,I WAS PARTIALLY IN THE DITCH, UP AGAIST A MAILBOX, THE TRUCK WAS ABOUT 150 FT FROM WHERE I STOPPED TO LOOK FOR THE LIGHT, JUST BEFORE THE INTERSECTION OF CTH X AND XXXXX RD THAT I WAS GOING TO TURN ON TO GO HOME. I LIVED ON XXXXX RD 2 MILES EAST.I WAS VERY EXCITED, I GOT HOME WOKE MY PARENTS UP AND TOLD THEM I THINK I SAW A UFO, THEY WERE LAUGHING TELLING ME I WAS DRUCK OR ON DOPE.THE NEXT DAY THE NEIGHBOR CALLED AND ASKED IF I WAS OK, HE SAID LAST NIGHT, HIS YARD DOGS WERE BARKING FOR A LONG TIME WHEN HE FINALLY GOT UP HE COULD SEE MY TRUCK AT THE END OF HIS DRIVEWAY, HE ASKED IF IT WAS ME? I TOLD IT MUST HAVE BEEN, HE ASKED FOR HELP IN FIXING HIS MAILBOX, I DID HELP FIX IT. I NEVER TALKED ABOUT THIS WITH ANYONE, I DID ONE DAY ASKED MY MOTHER IF SHE REMEMBERED THE NIGHT I WOKE HER AND DAD UP, SAYING I SAW A UFO, SHE TOLD ME JUST THROUGH TALKING AND LAUGHING ABOUT MANY TIMES WE KIDS GOT IN TROUBLE, SHE SAID,, WHEN YOU WOKE ME UP THAT NIGHT I WAS SO MAD AT YOU,SAYING IT WAS 2 AM AND I HAD TO GET UP AT 5 AM TO GO IN EARLY. SO FROM MY CURFEW TIME OF 12 THAT I WAS GOING TO HOME ON TIME OR NEAR TIME I WAS 2 HOURS"
What can I say? I mowed down a few mailboxes in 1973, too.

CASE # XXXXX: The Case of the Black Light and the Strange Words (reported in full)
June 16, 1997 -- "All I know is what I seen. The light hit my chest after that my ex wife's daughter had a black light in her room and with the black light on I had writing on my chest only seen by black light on. it affected my body can't understand what these words mean on my chest"
Now, strictly speaking, this case does not involve anything even remotely resembling a UFO, with the possible exception of the black light, so as far as I'm concerned I am under no obligation to investigate it. Which is great, because the people involved seem really terrifying. On the other hand... I suspect that this investigation could draw me into a nightmare world of drug smuggling, cock fighting and human trafficking, and I'd hate to miss out on that.

Stay tuned...

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Sagan Factor

I've been reading Carl Sagan's book "The Demon-Haunted World" (1995, Random House), and it's been a mostly frustrating experience.

Because Sagan was Dr. J. Allen Hynek's colleague and adversary for so many years, I thought it would be a good idea to read the book in which Sagan really let loose on UFOs and other pseudosciences. I admit, it's very readable, and Sagan can tell a good story. I even admit that, on a certain level, I can respect his refusal to consider the reality of the UFO phenomenon due to the lack of indisputable physical evidence. I have been a Sagan fan for a long time and always will be.

But...

At the same time I really have a hard time with his strident insistence that science can explain everything, and that anything that science can't explain isn't worth knowing because it simply isn't real. I also don't appreciate his condescending attitude towards anyone who believes something that can't be proven to his standards...

Why those rocks couldn't have come from space! It's preposterous!
Dr. Hynek had a favorite expression when he talked about the scientific establishment's refusal to entertain any new ideas. He would describe what he called "temporal provincialism," and remind scientists that there will be a scientific orthodoxy 100 years from now, 200 years from now, 500 years from now, and those future scientists will chuckle over the things that 20th & 21st century scientists dismissed as ridiculous and impossible... After all, he would remind his colleagues, the scientists of 200 years ago refused to believe that rocks fell out of the sky. The bodies that we now know as meteorites were thought back then to be "rocks struck by lightning."

Dr. Sagan should have taken the hint.

Then today I came a cross a link to a video of Neil deGrasse Tyson laying the smackdown on people who believe that UFOs are alien spaceships, and naturally he was every bit as annoying as his mentor Sagan (although he does have a funny -- and pretty fair -- line about saucer crashes: "Don't tell me you came across the galaxy and can't land on earth. Go home!")

It took me a while, but I finally realized what bothers me about Sagan's attitude... First he would say "I refuse to believe that UFOs are real until you give me solid proof," but then he would turn around and use his immense clout in the scientific world to make sure that no one could do any real scientific research of the phenomenon. By shaming any scientists who dared to consider doing any UFO research, and then strenuously lobbying against any funding being spent on UFO research if anyone in the scientific establishment ever did stand up to him, he all but ensured that the proof he demanded would never be found.

That's what annoys me about Carl Sagan.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

UFO Crash Quiz

Quick: In what year did this happen?
  • An unidentified aerial craft crashes outside a small town
  • Wreckage from the craft is found scattered around the point of impact
  • Material retrieved from the wreckage is described as a strange, flexible metal
  • Artifacts in the wreckage bear unrecognizable "hieroglyphics"
  • The crash is reported in the local newspaper
  • The remains of an occupant are found in the wreckage
  • The occupant is declared to be from another world
  • The wreckage disappears and the local newspaper never mentions the crash again 
  • Decades later, UFO researchers re-discover the case and desperately try to breathe new life into it
Did you guess 1947? You're partly right -- or at least not completely wrong -- that is, if you believe the Roswell story. 

The year I was going for was exactly 50 years earlier: 1897.

Surprise! 1897 is the year a strange "airship" was reported to have crashed just outside Aurora, Texas, after which the remains of the pilot were recovered and declared by the local government man to be "from Mars." I've been studying the case after reading an article my Dad recently sent me (about airship sightings here in Wisconsin), and the more I read about it the more I am amused by the uncanny similarities between the Aurora story and the Roswell story. It certainly seems to me that the Roswell story must have been "inspired" by the Aurora story; after all, Aurora "happened" first.
You'd think it would be pretty hard to crash one of these things, but you'd be wrong.

(There's a lot of good material available on the Aurora incident, and I am indebted to author Daniel Cohen, whose 1981 book "The Great Airship Mystery: A UFO of the 1890s," is a fun read and a treasure trove of information on the topic.)
 
The Aurora crash took place amidst a flap of airship sightings making headlines around the country. Starting in the fall of 1896 and continuing well into the following year, strange aerial vehicles with amazing properties were sighted in the skies over Sacramento, San Francisco, Omaha, Chicago and Dallas. Unlike today's UFOs, the airships were not shy about appearing over major metropolitan centers, in broad daylight, in front of hundreds of witnesses...

Then, in April of 1897, an airship was seen over Aurora, losing altitude and speed, as though it was malfunctioning. The ship crashed into the windmill on a farm and exploded, scattering debris over several acres and leaving behind the charred and disfigured remains of the pilot, whom the witnesses insisted was not of this world. A local reporter wrote up the events in the Dallas Morning News two days after the crash, and that's the last anyone had to say on the matter until decades later, when UFOlogists rediscovered the story and started to investigate in that wonderful, wacky way UFOlogists investigate things.

The biggest point of departure between the Aurora and Roswell stories is that the Aurora alien didn’t get spirited away to a secret base in Nevada, or hidden in a high-security hangar in Ohio. He wasn’t subjected to an autopsy and he didn’t appear on cable TV. His existence was neither leaked nor covered-up. Nobody has discovered 1897 Kodachrome slides purporting to prove that he was real.

Nope, according to the newspaper report, the Aurora alien received a decent Christian burial at the town cemetery mere hours after the crash. He still rests there today, or so the story goes. Amazingly, none of the locals seems to have ever made any fuss about a spaceman -- who may or may not have a soul -- being interred in the same hallowed ground as their kinfolk, which just goes to show you how decent some people can be.

This story fascinates me on a whole lot of levels, not the least of which is the unavoidable "copycat" factor where Roswell is concerned. Seriously, how could these two incidents -- apparently taking place exactly 50 years apart -- be so eerily similar, unless the later event was a complete re-boot and rip-off of the earlier event? And how could this guy, of all guys, seriously disparage the Aurora story? I'm still laughing at that.

I think it's safe to say that the Aurora alien is every bit as real -- or as fake -- as the Roswell alien(s). But, personally, I'm rooting for the Aurora alien.


Tuesday, March 24, 2015

UFOs in OZ

I want to visit Pendle Hill! After you read this, you'll understand why...

This is installment two of my ongoing correspondence with UFO researcher and writer Jenny Randles. In this segment, Jenny describes the 1977 case that inspired her to coin the term "The OZ Factor," in which a UFO witness is taken from our reality to another reality, then brought back to ours again... 

Two factory workers (Brian Grimshaw and a friend who then asked for anonymity) were on the night shift and had just driven some workmates home as this was a semi rural area - Nelson in Lancashire, near the town of Burnley. The roads were deserted and it was a dark night but suddenly something dropped out of cloud over a hill that broods over this small town.

That hill - Pendle Hill - is as notorious in UK history as Salem, Mass in the US. It was deeply associated with magic and several local women were tried and convicted of murder by witchcraft in 1612 in episodes that split the nation. Even today the 30 mile bus route from Manchester to Burnley passing through this region is marketed as the 'Witch Way' with a livery that features a witch on a broomstick and each double decker being named after one of the convicted women.

Back to the UFO. Brian and his friend gazed as this cigar shaped object came towards their car. Orange light poured out of each end and in the middle of the underside was a mass of multi-coloured glowing lights - red, blue, green merging together and which the men told me resembled the embers of a coal fire against a black backdrop of the UFO shape surrounding it. They emphasised the feeling of energy being emitted.
I don't get it.. Where are the ruby slippers?

As this thing approached them at a height estimated as between 50 and 100 feet their car headlights dimmed, then the engine faltered and stopped. They were stranded beneath this object now seeming to hover directly overhead. Brian (the driver) desperately tried to get it started so they could speed off, but it would not work. His friend was so scared that he jumped out of the car screaming (one reason he requested anonymity).

He stood beneath the UFO and both could hear it making a soft humming sound that seemed to permeate the air. Brian said it faded in and out like waves on the sea shore. His friend stood there transfixed for a couple of minutes and felt a strange sensation. An air pressure was pushing down from above and forcing shoulders towards the ground. There was also a tingling sensation that both men felt and one of them described to me as like the crackle you get from nylon clothing when taking it off. Their hair was also attracted upwards much like in the presence of static electricity.

They described feeling isolated and alone in an eerily quiet surroundings.

The terror stricken passenger shouted to Brian 'Let's get out of here' and scrambled back into the car. Brian still could not get any response from the vehicle. By now the UFO was moving slowly away southward and the physical sensations had lessened. When it was about 300 yards away the car lights came back on and Brian was able to start the engine again. They sped off very fast.

Within hours both men developed severe headaches and Brian's eyes started to water quite badly. The headaches faded within a day but Brian's eye problems did not completely disappear for a couple of weeks - though required no medical attention.
Who wants to ride the "witch bus" to Pendle Hill with me??

Friday, March 20, 2015

Welcome, UFO People!

"The Collegian," the newspaper of Hillsdale College in Hillsdale, MI, has a great article today commemorating the 49th anniversary of the "Dexter-Hillsdale" UFO sightings, which is to this day one of the most significant events in UFO history.

Although largely remembered today for introducing the term "swamp gas" into the official lexicon of the UFO phenomenon, the D-H sightings were also noteworthy for causing the American public to lose all confidence in the Air Force's handling of the UFO phenomenon, for triggering the first Congressional hearing on UFOs, and for launching the famous University of Colorado Project, better known as "The Condon Committee," which led to the ultimate dismantling of "Project Blue Book," the Air Force's 20-year investigation of UFO reports, by which the government hoped to drive a wooden stake through the heart of the UFO phenomenon once and for all... Oh, and it also made Dr. J. Allen Hynek's name a household term.

Here's something you don't see every day: J. Allen Hynek being welcomed to southern Michigan.
The account in "The Collegian" is well researched and well written, even if it does repeat and reinforce the unfortunate mythology surrounding the event:
"So Dr. Allen J. Hynek, consultant to Project Blue Book and professor at North­western University, came to Hillsdale to inves­tigate. But after inter­viewing many key eyewit­nesses, including Evans, Hess, and Van Horn, he reached a simple conclusion: 87 eyewit­nesses were mistaken, and had seen only 'swamp gas.'"
But that's not the conclusion Hynek reached at all. The truth is, Hynek never actually reached a conclusion. Pressured by his boss on Project Blue Book, Major Hector Quintanilla, to hold a hurried press conference and provide a "natural" explanation for the sightings, Hynek suggested that the lights that the Hillsdale students saw bobbing up and down in the college arboretum may have been swamp gas.

There were a lot of witnesses, and a lot of descriptions -- hell, half of southeast Michigan saw something in the skies that week -- but the descriptions varied so dramatically that Hynek only considered those that had common factors and dispensed with the outliers. Unfortunately for the true believers, the descriptions that had common factors all suggested the possibility of swamp gas (the witnesses were, after all, looking out over a densely-foliated arboretum in early spring shortly after an intense thunderstorm had saturated the ground, leading to somewhat, oh... let's say "swampy" conditions) so, with no time to conduct a thorough investigation, that's what Hynek went with.

It wasn't a lie. It wasn't a cover-up. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a cowardly cop-out. It was the only logical speculation Hynek could make from the inconsistent testimony and scant evidence with which he was presented, and he presented it as just that: speculation.

What's more, one of the key witnesses, local undertaker and Civil Defense Director Bud Van Horn, told Hynek that when he saw the lights in the college arboretum he immediately thought they were swamp gas... Van Horn -- who went on to become one of Hynek's harshest critics -- was one of a half-dozen people who suggested the swamp gas theory to Hynek in the days leading up to the fateful press conference, yet no one ever assails their credibility or accuses them of taking part in a government cover-up.

One very interesting part of the story in "The Collegian" involves an interview with one of the local policemen who joined Van Horn at the college that night to look for the lights in the arboretum. Trust me when I say I have researched the hell out of this case and have never come across any statement from any local cop describing any "blinding light" coming from the arboretum that night. All the witnesses in the college dorm, Van Horn included, testified that the mystery lights were so dim they could only be seen when all the dorm lights were off; in fact, the lights disappeared completely when the police car drove by the arboretum with its lights on (This blinking out in the presence of other light sources, by the way, is one of the distinct characteristics of swamp gas... just sayin')

So, I'm not sure where this cop is coming from, but I'm damn sure going to find out.

Oh, and that comment about how the arboretum was found to be radioactive after the event? Those "findings" came from the investigation of noted local undertaker and nuclear expert Bud Van Horn. They were never verified by anyone.

Anyway, Happy Anniversary, swamp gas!

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Alien Invasion Confirmed!

Well, this news ought to make some people happy. According to a news story just sent to me by my son's girlfriend Sxxxxxxx, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev recently warned President Obama that if he doesn't go public with news of an alien invasion, he will!

Here's the money quote:
February 11, 2015 - A stunning Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) report on Prime Minister Medvedev’s agenda at the World Economic Forum (WEF) this week states that Russia will warn President Obama that the “time has come” for the world to know the truth about aliens, and if the United States won’t participate in the announcement, the Kremlin will do so on its own.
Okay, so the news is two months old already, so sue me. I just found out about it today and I am profoundly concerned about this.

I read on with great interest, hoping for clarification. Just what is President Obama keeping from us? Why is he in cahoots with the Kremlin on this? And what could have caused Medvedev to bust loose and suddenly make an issue of this on the eve of the important WEF gathering?
Which is it: "Invasion" or "Invasion?"


Sadly, the article makes none of this clear. It simply refers to a 2012 TV interview in which a spunky reporter asked Medvedev about aliens in Russia and he replied:
“Along with the briefcase with nuclear codes, the president of the country is given a special ‘top secret’ folder. This folder in its entirety contains information about aliens who visited our planet… Along with this, you are given a report of the absolutely secret special service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country… More detailed information on this topic you can get from a well-known movie called Men In Black… I will not tell you how many of them are among us because it may cause panic.”
In this case, the reference to the movie "Men In Black" is about a documentary film of that name, not the beloved Will Smith/Tommy Lee Jones Hollywood movie extravaganza. Come to think of it, that film pretty much proved that our planet is teeming with aliens that the government can barely keep track of, much less contain.

Anyway, I am shocked and intrigued by everything about this story. If you look closely at the video capture at the top of the story, the Chyron clearly says "Alien Invasion Confirmed by Russian PM." And in his 2012 comments he says there's a "secret service that exercises control over aliens on the territory of our country," and that if he divulged how many aliens he was actually talking about "it may cause panic." 
 
Seems pretty clear-cut to me: the aliens are here, and they intend to kick our asses. And yet, despite the fact that this news broke two months ago, neither President Obama nor Minister Medvedev have, that I'm aware of, gone public with what they know about the aliens among us. The aliens are coming, folks -- no, they're here! -- and our leaders are doing jack about it!!

And, Mr. Obama, are you really going to let the Russians make this announcement to the world?? The Russians? Remember Sputnik? Remember Yuri Gagarin? Are you really going to let them do it to us again?

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

UFO Wisdom

One of Jenny Randles' 50-some books
Since UFO wisdom seems to be in perpetually short supply, I figured I could help by sharing the
thoughts of someone I consider pretty smart and sane: the great British UFOlogist Jenny Randles.

Jenny has been kind enough to submit to an interview for my J. Allen Hynek bio, but it's kind of a slo-mo interview. I emailed her a list of questions a few days ago, and she is emailing me back responses to the questions, one at a time, as it fits her schedule.

I have no complaints with this whatsoever, as it allows me to savor each individual response at my leisure, which is a nice way to work. All my projects should be this leisurely!

Of course, as I do with all my research and interviews, I am saving all the best stuff for the book, but there's no reason I can't grace you with a tidbit or two while I'm feeling generous.

My first question to Jenny was this:
How did Dr. Hynek's work become known to you, and what about his work appealed to you?
Jenny's reply starts with a very charming reminiscence of her early days:
"I  come from rural Lancashire in the Pennine Hills of northern England. Somewhere that I had no idea in the 1960s when I was growing up is a 'Window Area' - or UFO hot spot. Relatives told me about things that they saw whilst walking over the moors and so I was constantly on the look out whilst I was up there but never saw anything myself. However, I was taking science (physics) in high school and so very intrigued to understand what these UFOs might be, especially as this was the decade of manned space flight and our eyes were on the Moon.
"This interest peaked when a UFO appeared over the local police station in Bacup and several patrol officers on the moors reported encountering it. I was determined to find out more, and, being even then a bit of a writer and a very avid reader sought out what I could about the subject in the local libraries in the city of Manchester (where my family had by then moved)."
As a result of this early effort at researching UFOs, Jenny started reading "Flying Saucer Review" and through that publication became aware of the work of Dr. Hynek:
"This introduced me to Allen Hynek and I saw at once a kindred spirit. Someone who believed in the ways of science, had a passionate interest in this phenomenon and yet was not openly endorsing any theory. He was simply aware that the job of a scientist at this stage was to collate evidence, look for patterns in the data and cross match with possibilities."
Jenny worked as a teacher early in her career, and she shared a very funny story from that part of her life:
"I did do some teaching for a little while before becoming a full time writer and managed to use the natural curiosity that children had about UFOs with practical experiments that saw us investigating a local flap and letting the kids use scientific methods to resolve it. Again citing Hynek as my model for this approach. 
"Of course, I got into a fair but of trouble over this. It was not at all the done thing in British schools in the mid 1970s and I was politely advised never to do it again. That is what made me decide not to make a career out of teaching and take the opportunity provided to me by fortune to write books instead. At least that way I was in control of my own rules about what was and was not appropriate. 
"I must admit I smiled a lot when a decade later, as an established author, I was invited back to do seminars in schools about UFOs and what we could learn from them!"
What a delight!

I promise I'll be sharing more of Jenny's wit and wisdom as her replies trickle in...
 
 
 

Sunday, March 15, 2015

UFO Genealogy -- Part Two

Here's an interesting timeline...

1877: Astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli maps the planet Mars, discovers channel-like formations he calls "canali"

1894: Misinterpreting "canali" to mean artificially-constructed canals, astronomer Percival Lowell builds his eponymous observatory in Flagstaff, AZ, to continue Schiaparelli's work

1895: Percival Lowell publishes "Mars," in which he "proves" that Mars has an atmosphere and water, and that intelligent life forms have dug a vast network of canals to use melting water from the Martian ice cap for irrigation; Lowell's theories capture the world's imagination

1896-1897: The first UFOs appear over Sacramento, CA, and soon The Great Airship Mystery sweeps the nation

1897: Alleged airship crash in Aurora, TX; charred remains of pilots are rumored to be not of this world

1897: H. G. Wells publishes "War of the Worlds," the first alien invasion story, depicting Martians as super-intelligent drooling cephalopods

H.G. Wells' Martian cephalopods
1906: Percival Lowell further develops his theories of Martian civilization in "Mars and its Canals"

1906: The New York Times reports that Lowell's findings are "absolute proof that there is conscious, intelligent, organic life on Mars" 

1906: Having convinced the world and The Times that intelligent life exists on Mars, Lowell begins the search for a mysterious "Planet X" beyond Neptune and Uranus

1908: Lowell completes his vision of Mars' doomed civilization in "Mars as the Abode of Life"

1908: Astronomers at Yerkes Observatory analyze the tail of the approaching Halley's Comet and find it to contain deadly cyanogen gas; because this will be the first time on record earth passes through Halley's tail, Armageddon is predicted

1910: Halley's Comet becomes visible to the naked eye; panic ensues

1910: J. Allen Hynek is born, and when he is a few days old his parents, Joseph and Bertha, take him to the roof of their Chicago home to bask in the light of the comet; somehow, he survives the cyanogen gas, but could he have been pixilated by comet dust?

1911: The New York Times reports on an astounding discovery by Lowell that two vast new canals, "a thousand miles long and twenty miles wide," have been constructed on Mars over the past two years

1912: Professor William Campbell of Lick Observatory theorizes that Martian life takes the form of "One Vast Thinking Vegetable" with a single gigantic eye on an invisible stalk from which it observes activities on earth

1912: Edgar Rice Burroughs publishes "A Princess of Mars," based in part on Lowell's theories; the book is so popular it spawns 10 Mars sequels over the next three decades
The Mammoth Eye of Mars is watching us...

1924: Publisher and "father of science fiction" Hugo Gernsback publishes his "Evolution on Mars," based on Percival Lowell's theories, in which he depicts towering Martians with large chests, elephantine noses, and stork-like legs

1930: Astronomer Clyde Tombaugh of Lowell Observatory discovers "Planet X" or Pluto, based in part on Percival Lowell's earlier observations

1932: J. Allen Hynek begins his graduate work in astrophysics at Yerkes Observatory

1938: Orson Welles' "War of the Words" radio broadcast convinces millions that the earth is being invaded by Martians; panic ensues

1950: Clyde Tombaugh takes part in "Project Twinkle," a U.S. government investigation of the "green fireballs" repeatedly sighted in the skies over sensitive defense and atomic research facilities in New Mexico; the sightings are never explained

1952: Dr. J. Allen Hynek's first field assignment for the Air Force's "Project Blue Book" UFO study involves asking professional astronomers whether they have seen UFOs; about 11% of the 55 astronomers Hynek interviews privately admit to seeing a UFO, but only one, Clyde Tombaugh, is willing to say so publicly

1965, 1976: NASA's Mariner fly-by and Viking lander missions return photos of an apparently lifeless planet Mars, finally disproving Lowell's theories

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

UFOs & Monty Python

I'm now reading Dr. Jacques Vallee's newly re-issued book "Passport to Magonia" and loving it. Every time I start to get immersed in Vallee's brain space and I start to think about the ways UFOs and extraterrestrials may be messing with our heads, I'm reminded of the UFO/Monty Python connection...

You will never see a more cogent dramatization of what the aliens are doing to us than here, in Monty Python's brilliant "Confuse-A-Cat" sketch.

Remember, the aliens are the "Confuse-A-Cat" squad, and we, the earthlings, are the cat.
It's all in a day's work for "Confuse-A-Cat"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

UFO Irritant

I've been trying to maintain a more positive vibe here at High Strangeness lately, but after putting up my post about UFO Genealogy the other day things went a little off the rails, and for a very strange reason...

I posted a link to the blog at the Google group The UFO Collective, and almost immediately got a wonderful, warm reply from UFOlogy goddess Jenny Randle. My post had brought back some good memories for her of working with Dr. J. Allen Hynek over the last few years of his life. I was thrilled to read her reminiscences of Dr. Hynek, and even more thrilled when she agreed to do an interview for my Hynek book!
It's amazing how often this picture seems appropriate to what I'm blogging about...

The good feeling didn't last long, however, for soon after some numbskull posted a response taking a gratuitous swipe at Dr. Hynek. After complaining that any scientist who thinks he or she knows anything about UFOs is acting on "borrowed authority" he said this:
The late Allen Hynek’s standing in ufology is partly based on such borrowed authority – the fact that he was a scientifically qualified astronomer. Admittedly, he had a longstanding interest and involvement in the UFO subject, which in itself would have created some expertise; and it’s true to say that he was a positive force in his later years. But when we consider his ‘ufological career’ as a whole, it’s evident that he wasn’t always a luminary. In fact, in the earlier years, he was complicit in an official cover-up of the UFO phenomenon. 
So, what, in the rare instance that a scientist actually becomes interested in the UFO phenomenon and finds it worthy of study, we have to dismiss said scientist as having impure motives? I don't get it.

Then, to support his argument, the guy posted a YouTube link to some ancient, moldy, superficial TV special about UFOs that was so full of misinformation that I wanted to scream... First the show completely mis-characterized Hynek's message in a 1966 Congressional hearing on UFOs, then it got worse:
"(Hynek) faithfully continued to dismiss all UFO sightings as swamp gas, mass hallucinations, temperature inversions, and conventional aircraft until Blue Book was terminated in 1969."
Where to begin with such a stinking load of crap? Hynek did not "faithfully dismiss all UFO sightings until Blue Book was terminated in 1969"; he identified them as misidentified astronomical objects, or airplanes or balloons or natural objects when those explanations fit the facts, but the 20% of the cases that couldn't be so identified he categorized as "unknowns." Which, as we all know, or should know, drove his Air Force bosses crazy. Further, he only ever raised the "swamp gas" explanation in regards to two 1966 sightings in Michigan (and only as a possible explanation), and it was Donald Menzel who tried to dismiss all UFO sightings as "temperature inversions." Hynek was nearly always skeptical when that explanation was invoked, because it rarely held up to scrutiny...

Jenny wrote a very patient, but very firm response to the gentleman, and he fired back. Jenny wrote another patient but firm response back and that was pretty much that. Jenny did not back down, but in defending her opinions she was polite and charitable to the other commenter to the last. Ms. Randle earned my undying admiration for her handling of the situation.

In the same spirit, I bit my figurative tongue and suggested to the commenter that he should not base his opinion of Dr. Hynek on a poorly researched, 50 year old TV special, and he said this:
"My thoughts about Hynek weren’t created by my watching that clip. But I found what he said interesting, since he indicated that he was aware that weak (easily explained) cases were being given differential emphasis." 
Okay, so his thoughts weren't formed by the TV special, but he was using the TV special to validate his thoughts, so..

The thing is, neither Jenny nor myself denied that Hynek had been far too enthusiastic about debunking UFO reports in the early days, and Hynek himself admitted as much later in his career. So why trot out this sorry excuse for journalism to "prove" something that no one was denying? I found the whole exercise in axe-grinding very sad and discouraging. There are just too many perfect people out there who refuse to forgive Hynek for his mistakes.

And the same commenter kept coming back and picking at Jenny's comments that 5% of UFO reports remain unsolved, all but accusing her of trying to mislead him. Was she referring to cases, or reports, he demanded? Because, you know, there could be one single UFO appearance that generates "scores or hundreds of" reports! "Now, if that UFO were deemed to be unexplained," he ranted, "it would give us multiple, unexplained sightings."

Good grief. Where do people like this come from? 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

UFO Genealogy

Have you ever done genealogical research? It's kind of a pain. I guess I figured it would be like an ancestry.com commercial: I'd enter a name and suddenly all sorts of birth certificates and tintypes and shit would pop up on my screen accompanied by the majestic but subdued sounds of musket-fire.

Nope. It just got confusing really fast.

I woke up this morning thinking about a new avenue of inquiry for my bio of Dr. J. Allen Hynek: namely, that I should try to track down the death records of Dr. Hynek's parents, Joseph and Bertha. I had learned when I interviewed Dr. Hynek's son Paul for the book that his dad had lost both his parents within a couple years of each other, when he was still a teenager. Paul and I surmised that the trauma of losing one parent when he was 14 and the other when he was 17 may have been influential in Dr. Hynek's interest in the spiritual teachings of the Rosicrucians and in Rudolph Steiner's writings about the "supersensible realm." Since Paul was understandably a little foggy on which of his grandparents died in 1924 and which died in 1927, and what they died of, I thought, "Why not do a little digging to see what else turns up...?"

Well, an hour or so of tedious searching for historical records for Chicago, Cook County and the State of Illinois led me to the website for the Cook County Clerk and its wonderful "Genealogy Online" service, and things finally started to click onto place. Kind of.

The first thing I learned was that all city and county records from before 1871 were destroyed in the great fire, which made me feel very lucky that I was looking for records from the 1920s. The next thing I learned was that Paul was a little off: one of his grandparents had indeed died in 1924, but the other had died in 1929, not 1927 as he had thought. The third thing I learned was a real head-scratcher: either Dr. Hynek had two dads named Joseph Hynek, both of whom died within months of each other in Chicago in 1929, or he had only one dad named Joseph Hynek, who somehow managed to die twice in 1929.
The Chicago Fire, 1871: Where were you?

Neither possibility seemed likely, so I decided to dig further. In this case, "digging" meant shelling out $51 for the death certificates of Dr. Hynek's three parents.

The case of Dr. Hynek's mother Bertha is fairly straightforward. She was born Bertha Waska in Chicago on April 19, 1871, the daughter of Joseph and Marie Waska, both of whom were born in Bohemia. She was a schoolteacher, and died on May 31, 1929, of carcinoma of the breast.

Then there are the two dads...

To avoid confusion, I'll call them "Likely dad" and "Unlikely dad." Likely dad was born in Bohemia on January 8, 1871 and came to the U.S. with his parents, Joseph and Marie Hynek, in 1885, when he was about 14. (Did you notice that both his and his future wife's parents are named Joseph and Marie? What is it with these Bosnians?) He worked as a cigar manufacturer and storekeeper at "Waska & Hynek," the family business, and died from pulmonary edema and cardiac dilatation on March 1, 1924.

Unlikely dad was born June 17, 1889, which makes him about 18 years younger than Likely dad. His parents are listed as "unknown" but he was born in Lower Slovenia and emigrated to the U.S. in 1915. He worked as a storekeeper at an unnamed business and died on July 12, 1924 of acute cardiac dilatation...

Are you as confused as I am? Two men named Joseph Hynek are born 18 years apart in more or less the same corner of the world, both emigrate to Chicago where they work as storekeepers and die a little over four months apart from the exact same cardiac condition (spending one's lifetime manufacturing, selling, and presumably smoking cigars can't be good for one's heart). They are clearly not the same person, but could they be connected somehow? Could Unlikely dad be a cousin or nephew of Likely dad? The black sheep of the family who moved from Bosnia to Lower Slovenia to make it big, then followed his relatives to Chicago and joined the family cigar business when he couldn't cut it? And then died four months after his uncle or cousin?

Is it a mystery to be solved, or a weird coincidence? Did I just blow $17 to download the death certificate of someone who has absolutely nothing to do with my book?

So many questions to ponder...

And then there's this: Did I mention Dr. Hynek's first name is Josef? Did I also mention that many UFOs are described as "cigar shaped"?
Is a cigar really sometimes just a cigar? Or is it always something else?

Friday, March 6, 2015

UFO Cleansing

I've taken a much-needed step back from UFO world this week, to cleanse and purify my system... You can't imagine how pleasant it is to go a full week without paying any attention to the Roswell slime... er, slides, and the assorted name-calling, character assassination and personal attacks that accompany them.

Taking a breather has given me a new perspective on the UFO problem, as it concerns me both here on my blog and in my book about the career of Dr. J. Allen Hynek. I've been immersing myself in reading and research material that goes back to the beginnings of the modern age of UFOs and beyond, taking a look at the UFO phenomenon as it affects and is affected by society and culture, and it's been a pretty fun ride so far...
How to greet the first visitor from space, circa 1951

By telling Dr. Hynek's story in the context of how the UFO phenomenon has influenced science, film, the military, literature, politics, television, religion and social systems, I hope to tell a much larger story and a much better story, and one that will reach a much larger audience. And as a useful byproduct, I hope to keep my material here at High Strangeness out of the gutter that has claimed so much of the UFO conversation lately.

My new reading list includes a long list of websites and government and university archives, and a rapidly growing list of books. Many of the books were already on my bookshelf and only needed to be dusted off and cracked open. Others have come to me over the past few days through dumb luck or divine inspiration.

Here's my book list so far. It may seem a bit random at first, but if you look closely you may see a theme emerging...
  • "Them or Us: Archetypal Interpretations of Fifties Alien Invasion Films" by Patrick Lucanio (1987, Indiana University Press)
  • "Paranormal America: Ghost Encounters, UFO Sightings, Bigfoot Hunts, and Other Curiosities in Religion and Culture" by Christopher D. Bader, F. Carson Mencken and Joseph D. Baker (2010, New York University Press)
  • "The Conquest of Space" by Willy Ley and Chesley Bonestell (1949, The Viking Press)
  • "The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark" by Dr. Carl Sagan (1995, Random House)
  • "E.T. Culture: Anthropology in Outerspaces" edited by Debbora Battaglia (2005, Duke University Press)
  • "Science Fiction of the 50s" edited by Martin Harry Greenberg & Joseph Olander (1979, Avon)
  • "Flying Saucers: A Modern Myth of Things Seen in the Skies" by Dr. Carl G. Jung (1964, Princeton University Press)
  • "The Film Encyclopedia: Science Fiction" edited by Phil Hardy (1984, William Morrow and Co.)
  • "The Man From Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey" by Fred Nadis (2013, Tarcher/Penguin)
  • "Billion Year Spree: The True History of Science Fiction" by Brian Aldiss (1973, Doubleday)
  • "Aliens in America: Conspiracy Cultures from Outerspace to Cyberspace" by Jodi Dean (1998, Cornell University Press)
Yeah, it's a lot, but they're all books I would have undoubtedly read or re-read over time anyway, and now I'm reading them with a purpose. It makes a difference.

I fully expect my faithful readers to offer me more suggestions, so don't be shy!

Oh, and I also used this as an excuse to re-watch the wonderful 1951 movie version of "The Thing From Another World."

"Keep watching the skies!"