High Strangeness: Who's Dime Is It, Anyway?

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Who's Dime Is It, Anyway?

Today I had one of the most enjoyable experiences of my entire UFO career. Today I had the privilege of interviewing William T. Powers for my book about UFO researcher J. Allen Hynek, and honestly I'm not sure who had more fun.

I discovered Bill Powers in an odd way. A few weeks ago I was researching Dr. Hynek's career in the archives at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL, just north of Chicago, and I kept coming across Bill's name on all sorts of correspondence. Now, Dr. Hynek got a lot of letters, and every time he popped up on TV or in newspaper headlines, the volume of mail mushroomed...

People from all over the world wrote to Dr. Hynek to describe their own personal UFO encounters, and let me tell you, these people couldn't keep it brief and to the point if they were dangling above a vat of boiling oil with a candle burning through the rope. The letters go on and on, and some of them are pretty intense... Dr. Hynek couldn't possibly answer them all, so he had his right-hand man at the Northwestern observatory, Bill Powers, answer a lot of them. And here's the thing: Bill's replies to these letters were unfailingly polite, thoughtful and respectful. Someone would write in saying, "Dear Dr. Hynek, I need to tell you about my theory of reality! But first I have to tell you my entire life story so you can understand exactly how my life experiences led me to my theory..." Bill would write back, "Dear X, thank you for your interesting letter. I found your ideas fascinating. Let's begin with your comment on page 302..." And then he would go on himself for two or three or ten pages.

I found this extraordinary, and decided I needed to interview this man. I had no leads, nothing to go on, but after a little online detective work I found a number for a William T. Powers and decided to take a chance. It turned out to be the right guy, and he turned out to be incredibly charming and tickled pink that I wanted to interview him. When I told him how much I admired the letters he sent back to the UFO folks way back when, he said, "I just always figured that if a person has an idea, they deserve to be listened to." I was hooked. We set up a date to talk this morning, he suggested we talk on Skype, and we were on!

He told me a mothershipload of stories, and I wish I could tell them all here but then you would have no reason to buy my book and I need the cash. But there was one story that really got me, and I will share it here. Bill had started working for Dr. Hynek as a sort of a gopher/office assistant/observatory repair man around 1960, but from the start there was always a little UFO work mixed in, even though the university didn't approve. So one day in 1964, to keep the university off his case, Hynek sent his young assistant out to investigate a UFO sighting. In New Mexico.

Nobody ever could figure out what Officer Zamora saw outside Socorro, New Mexico, but the amazing Bill Powers has a pretty good idea what it was...
Turns out that this was a pretty famous and important Close Encounter of the Third Kind. It involved a small-town cop named Lonnie Zamora who saw what he first thought was a crashed car in an arroyo, then realized was a strange craft with two occupants outside it. As Zamora watched, the creatures got inside the craft and blasted off into the sky.

I was stunned. Hynek trusted this guy a lot. Not only did he entrust his correspondence to Bill Powers, but he sent him across the county to investigate a really significant UFO case. When I got over my shock I said to Bill, "So, he sent you to New Mexico to investigate a UFO sighting  on Northwestern's dime?" Bill chuckled and said, "To tell you the truth, Mark, I was never really sure where all his dimes came from..."

1 comment:

bkp said...

I just happened to stumble on your article (long story), and enjoyed it immensely! You see, Bill Powers is my dad! And he does have a lot of cool stories about those good old days at Northwestern. I remember as a kid, running around the observatories (Dearborn, and the Lindheimer Astrophysical Center, since torn down). I spent many a night staring at the stars, Dad's arm over my shoulder pointing out this one and that... Thank you for such a wonderful article! Best,
Barb Powers