High Strangeness: Labor Intensive

Friday, January 18, 2013

Labor Intensive

Yesterday I had the rare privilege of pillaging yet another J. Allen Hynek archive in search of material for my Hynek biography. This time I was granted access to the case files of Hynek's UFO research organization, CUFOS, which are housed in yet another Chicago basement. Surely the man deserves a better legacy than to have his life's work secreted away in a multitude of subterranean file cabinets, but that's a matter for another blog post.

The basement I was in yesterday belongs to Mxxx, a CUFOS stalwart who takes the UFO business very seriously. As always, I can't say enough about how nice, thoughtful, supportive and generous the CUFOS folks are. Mxxx was amazing; every time I had a question or hit a hitch in research, she was there to help me along. Like the other CUFOS folks, she can tell a damn good story, and her knowledge of UFO lore puts me to shame.

I was able to find amazing information on the Pascagoula incident, the Coyne case, and the Father Gill case, much of it written in Dr. Hynek's trademark 3"x5" spiral bound notebooks, and I'm all charged up again to finish up my first sample chapter of the Hynek book.

As I was finishing up my work, Mxxx asked me if I knew any photography experts who could help her with photo analysis. I wanted to know more, so she showed me what she was working on: a massive 300-page research paper on the authenticity (or lack thereof) of some of the most famous UFO photos in history: The 1965 Rex Helfin phots...

Feast your eyes on these:

Heflin #1

Heflin #2

Heflin #3
Heflin #4
I had seen the first three photos before. They've been reproduced in dozens of UFO books and magazines over the years, so they're pretty hard to avoid. That last photo, though, officially known as "the smoke ring," is just weird. I have no idea where that came from or how it's supposed to fit into the story.

But that's not important. What's important is that Mxxx has spent the last two and half years of her life analyzing these 48 year-old photos every which way you can imagine, trying to prove that they are not authentic. These are old photos, folks. The guy who took them has died. The camera he used to take them with has died. I don't think that patch of sky still exists.

So what does it matter, at this point, whether the photos are authentic? Well, it matters to Mxxx, and, apparently, to a whole bunch of other people. Because, it turns out that these photos have been analyzed over and over and over again, and 48 years later people are still arguing about whether they're authentic or not. It all has to do with the altitude of the cloud cover that day, the speed and direction of the wind, the location and angle of the shadows, the fact that Rex Heflin was known to be a high-spirited fellow (read: jokester), and a whole lot of other, less-intriguing factors...

And Mxxx is trying to figure this all out without access to the original negatives. Which is why she's looking for a photographic analyst. Which is why I felt bed about not knowing any photographic analysts who could help her. Which is why it was time to leave.

But I left with a profound sense of wonder and respect for people like Mxxx, to whom solving this kind of puzzle is so important they are willing to devote their lives and their sanity to the cause, even if they can't possibly prove anything, due to the fact that they don't have access to the original negatives... It makes my poor head spin.

Because, really, I'm kind of like Mxxx...


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