High Strangeness: Flying with the UFOs.

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.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Mark--feels like the perfect opening for satisfactory-as-possible Closure. Bittersweet blending of head & heart, shared restoratively. Thx, Seeker-Healer!