From the Doug-Out
By Doug Oleson at email@example.com
I know it’s the first of the year and it’s a law of some kind you’re supposed to either review the previous year or do something on the upcoming year, but I’m not. That can wait until next week.
This week I’ve got to write about something else.
I was absolutely amazed at some of the gifts I found in the stores as I did my Christmas shopping. Did you see some of them?
Star Wars, of course, is the big deal right now, what with the new movie coming out right before Christmas. Naturally, I expected to see a plethora of the usual gifts: mugs, hats, games, toys, etc. But I wasn’t expecting to see Star Wars soup and Star Wars Mac and Cheese. Not being much of a science fiction guy, I didn’t get either one, yet I couldn’t help wondering. Where the noodles shaped like Darth Vadar or any of those storm troopers? And was the taste out of this world? (Sorry, I couldn’t resist that.)
There were also a number of cute items, such as the bright red stocking with the white lettering that read: “Dear Santa, Let Me Explain.”
Another cute one was the little kid’s shirt that read: “Who Needs Santa? I Have Grandma.”
For adults, there were a number of interesting undergarment choices, such as the one that said “Naughty or Nice?” and another that was red silk with white fluffy trim and strategically placed little bells along where the zipper should go.
Speaking of clothes, are you aware of the ugly Christmas sweaters that are starting to become such a big craze? I saw one the other day that came with a set of frosted Christmas cookies. I guess if you mess up the sweater you won’t mind it.
For pet lovers, I saw a battery-operated dog that rolled back and forth, laughing its little head off. There was also a robotic cat that purred when you patted it and came when you called. (That’s something my own cat could learn from since it only comes to me when she wants something.)
For the religious, there were a number of beautiful nativity scenes. The one that caught my eye the most was a figurine with the Holy Family on the bottom, then a little hill and Jesus on the cross at the top of it. Very inspiring. The trouble was at $98 I wasn’t that inspired.
As usual, there were a variety of Christmas trees you could choose from, both real and practical. I saw blue ones, pink ones, purple ones and ones with frosted leaves and purple decorations.
Surprisingly, one of the neatest Christmas trees I saw was the Charley Brown Christmas Tree. Like the famous cartoon, it was a frail-looking tree with only a couple of very large, bright bulbs on the bare branches, forcing the tree to lean down on one side.
Among the more interesting things I saw was a motion detector candy dispenser containing M and Ms. Fortunately, they didn’t have those when I was a kid or I’d be heavier than I am right now.
Another strange item was the alarm clock with the fluffy brush attached to it. Not only did the bell sound at the appropriate hour, but the brush swished back and forth across your face. (No, I’m not making that one up.)
Like with every Christmas, there were several great deals. The most interesting one to me was the one where you could buy a perfume set that included a big bottle of perfume, a smaller one to carry in your car, a bottle of lotion, and a bottle of powder for less than what an entire big bottle costs.
I think the strangest things I saw were a snowball tray, where you could store your snowballs to make them nice and round; a snowman kit, complete with everything you would expect to use to make a snowman; and a sling shot kit. (Again, I’m not making any of this up.)
Finally, the one item I can’t get out of my mind is a popcorn machine that looks like the Stanley Cup. Absolutely perfect for the big hockey fan in any family. But not for everyone. As I was looking at it in the store, a lady passing by noticed it before muttering: “I wonder how you’re supposed to clean that?”
Hey, to each.
Personally, I’m waiting for the Cubs to win the World Series, then I might be tempted to get a popcorn machine that looks like the World Series trophy.
Maybe next year – oh, wait, maybe this year!
Only time will tell.
History of Movie Theaters’ Rivalry
By Steve Bigolin, Historian for the DC Historical-Genealogical Society
Entertainment venues in Downtown DeKalb have changed considerably over the last 140 years or so. Jacob Haish constructed an Opera House in 1876; nickelodeons abounded early in the 20th century; and here and there also were auditoriums,lodge halls, and small storefront theaters where events and activities could be held.
At what became 112 East Lincoln Highway was built the original DeKalb Theatre, which opened in 1923. The building had a striking facade of blue terra cotta with a large marque. It sat in the neighborhood of 800 people in its ornate auditorium, and boasted fine theater organ. By 1929 the owner-The DeKalb Theatre Company-decided the structure could not be cost effectively converted from showing silent films to talking pictures, and as a result sought a site on which to erect a new, larger facility.
The Gullicksen Family had an old frame house in mid block on the west side of North 2nd Street, which they were willing to sell to the Theatre Company. When this site was announced as being where the new Egyptian Theatre would be located, east end merchants between 4th and 7th Streets were up in arms. The had hoped the new theater could be in their section downtown to help revitalize it, as many old frame buildings remained in use there.
The east end people now chose to find a developer of their own, and sought to involve Henry B. Fargo of Geneva in the proposed project. From 1925-1927 he had spent $500,000 putting up a series of downtown structure in Sycamore. When Mr. Fargo visited DeKalb and was shown the site for the Egyptian, he is said to have just stood shaking his head: ”No-No-No-No-No.” A side street was a very poor location for a downtown building of any kind he said. The theater here would fail.
The east end merchants now explored the possibilities available between 4th and 7th Streets with Mr. Fargo. The north side of the 600 Block of East Lincoln Highway caught his attention now. Four small tenement houses owned by the Jacob Haish Estate stood there, which they were willing to sell.
Mr. Fargo hired Sycamore contractor Bert J. Nelson to erect his theater. Nelson had built the Sycamore Fargo, using the plans of the Geneva Fargo, which it strongly resembled on the exterior. The DeKalb Fargo did not look anything like its Geneva and Sycamore cousins however. It was much longer, had different second floor windows, decorative details on the front rendered in painted cast concrete, and no decorative cornice or stone trim at the top. The north, east, and west walls were done in brick, while only the second floor walls above the ground level shops were brick. The lower facade looks virtually the same today as it originally had. On the upper floor was a single huge apartment, where Fargo’s granddaughter Ann lived. It contained an immense crystal chandelier I am told. She had a business of her own on the first floor. The theater opened around the middle of November 1929, with seating for a least 1,000, its cost of construction not known. (I have never been in or seen a picture of its auditorium, yet longtime owner Howard Eychaner told me years ago that the stage was still intact.)
Elmer Behrens of Chicago designed the Egyptian, with extensive historical research conducted at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute Museum. All things Egyptian had been the rage since the 1922 discovery of King Tut’s tomb. On the exterior, the terra cotta Pharaohs and stained glass scarab window attract attention. The 1400 seat auditorium’s decoration was intended to give one the impression of being on the Nile River. The theater was considered “atmospheric,” intended to transport one to “far away places with strange sounding names.” A 6-8 story retail, apartment, and hotel structure was to be erected between the theater and Locust Street, but never was after the 1929 Stock Market Crash ushered in the Great Depression.
Corners needed to be cut in how to finish the Egyptian with money getting tight. As a result , instead of a marble floor in the lobby, it is composed of left over terra cotte. Also, some 600 seats out of the old DeKalb Theater were used in the Egyptian’s balcony. A well healed individual or two opened their wallets to finance the building’s completion. The Egyptian opened December 10, 1929, having cost $300,000.
The Fargo and the Egyptian both strove over the years to serve the entertainment needs of the public. Then in March of 1949 they were joined by a new DeKalb Theatre on North Third Street. By the late 1950’s though it was the Fargo which failed to make a go of it and closed. The seats in the auditorium were removed so the space could be used as a storage facility. The Egyptian plodded along for another 20 years or so before being forced to close its doors
And the rest is history
Hospital sale – Just the Tip of the Iceberg Part II
by Barry Schrader, editor of DeKalb County Life.com online
In the Dec. 21 issue I said I would offer some more details about the properties and buildings owned by the KishHealth System or its affiliates such as Ben Gordon Center and Valley West Hospital. But in the two-week interval I was sent some newly obtained emails from another local government watchdog which are more timely, so I need to report on those, instead of the real estate and buildings, which can be discussed next week
Eileen Dubin, my cochair of the DeKalb County Citizens for Better Mental Health Care and I tried to get an audience with States Attorney Richard Schmack to discuss some concerns about there Metnal Healt Board. He had turned us down, replying that he only answers to “government officials and employees whom I actually represent” so could not render “advisory opinions to private citizens.” So he declined our request for a meeting in his office.
Funny, I thought the citizens of DeKalb County elected him to be States Attorney of all the people, not just “government officials and employees whom I actually represent.” Shortly thereafter we received a memo from DeKalb County Board chair Mark Pietrowski saying he had arranged a meeting in his office with Schmack which the States Attorney did show up for. We got nowhere with Schmack on our quest for the past and current bylaws of the Kish Hospital NFP corporation, but more on that later.
Meanwhile, Pietrowski assured us in an email that stated: “First let me say I firmly support having mental health beds and real mental and behavioral health services here in DeKalb County.” His lengthy email ended with “I have tremendous respect for both of you and wanted to explain the situation,” adding that “the mental health board is writing a letter to the board deciding (sic) (regarding) the merger and I think the county should enter into this issue after the merger is decided.”
GUESS WHAT? The 708 Mental Health Board’s letter to the State Health Services Review Board was so convoluted and misleading it did not even convey the board’s motion to move mental health beds back in DeKalb County. That act of omission and further possible misconduct on the part of 708 board leadership will be the topic of Part 3 in this ongoing series about the hospital deal and deteriorating mental health care.
Watch for that next week.
Getting back to Pietrowski, these recently revealed emails shows that he “threw us under the bus.” I have learned to expect that from ambitious young politicos, always tying their wagon to money and the power brokers who can do them the most good. But his treatment of Ms. Dubin is despicable. She helped him get to where he is today. Nothing short of a written apology to her will ever make me trust him on any matters again.
After that pat on the head memo he sent Ms. Dubin and myself, the next set of emails reveals how he was catering to Hospital Board chair Tom Matya, CEO Kevin Poorten and his cohorts. I won’t take up all the space here to print the volume of emails exchanged by these people, but have them on my computer if anyone would like to read all the details.
But I do want to summarize: Pietrowski sided with Matya in wanting someone from the county board to appear at the State Board hearing in Bollingbrook and disavow the county board’s draft letter sent the State by a citizen from DeKalb who is not a part of our committee. That was the draft letter the county board was poised to pass, saying RETURN our mental health beds to DeKalb County, but was sidelined by the machinations of Mr. Matya and his allies on the county board.
So, Pietrowski, Matya and County Board Vice Chair Tracy Jones agreed to a strategy session via emails to work together to make this presentation, even going so far as setting up a conference call among the same parties to plan their next move. In a followup email KishHealth board president Matya told Jones: “ We really appreciate your agreeing to attend (the state board public hearing) and on behalf of the County Board speaking in support of the NW-Kish partnership. Joe (Dant) will help you in preparation for what to expect and how wording in your statement can be most helpful for the hearing.” What a shame to see our county board leaders being manipulated like this.
In a followup email Jones wrote to Dant: “Attached are my prepared comments. It is very short and to the point. If you have any ideas or opinions as to the content, I am always open. Tracy Jones.” Some emails following that between Dant, Northwestern’s Bridget Orth, Tom Matya, and Kevin Poorten were redacted so we don’t know the content. I can surmise they were congratulating each other over getting Jones and Pietrowski in their camp, so to speak.
Then just after the Nov. 17 public hearing in Bolingbrook, Pietrowski write a glowing email to Kevin Poorten with a blind copy to Jones, saying: “Congratulations on the merger being approved unanimously today. Look forward to having Northwestern at a Dec. or Jan. County Board meeting where they can give a presentation, introduce themselves, and be welcomed into our community. They bring with them a great reputation., signed Mark Pietrowski.”
Hey Mark, what about your email to us (Schrader and Dubin) saying you wanted the mental health beds returned to DeKalb County? Looks like you decided to abandon that position in order to gain favor with your new-found friends in power. Another email from Poorten to Jones with copies to Matya, Pietrowski and County administrator Gary Hanson stated: “I’d like to echo Tom’s (Matya) comments and extend our deepest appreciation to each of you for your thoughtful deliberation on the matter. Our thanks for your leadership, support and approach….”
And Jones replied to the email stating “Thank you! Glad that we could help you out!”
Isn’t that nice—a love fest between the Kish Hospital executive team and county board leadership. And the Republicans want to move Jones up to chair if they regain majority control in the next election!?!
I have to pause and comment that Tracy Jones is one of the most respected and admired farmers in the Kirkland area, known to be a straight shooter by Mayor Bellah, Bill Nicklas and many other prominent people in the Farm Bureau, so I have to believe he was just dragged into this debacle by his friend Matya plus Pietrowski, and pushed out front as the chosen point man to do what Matya wanted. So if I don’t hear differently from other elected officials, I will give Tracy the benefit of the doubt, this time. But I hope he has learned how not to be used by people to gain their own ends at the expense of the citizens of DeKalb County.
Enough for this second part in my ongoing series. Next time I will get back to the properties and buildings surrounding the KishHealth holdings and their allied affiliates, plus lay out the case for holding certain leadership on the 708 board accountable for questionable conduct that States Attorney Schmack so far has tried to sweep under the carpet.
Until then, have a good week and a Happy New Year.
—Barry Schrader, editor (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Roswellian Syndrome:
How Some UFO Myths Develop
(Editor’s Note: Thanks to my friend Kendrick Frazier, long time editor of the Skeptical Inquirer, for providing this counterpoint to the article by Curtis Clegg on local UFO sightings last issue.)
By Joe Nickell and James McGaha, May/June 2012 Skeptical Inquirer
Near the very beginning of the modern UFO craze, in the summer of 1947, a crashed “flying disc” was reported to have been recovered near Roswell, New Mexico (Figure 1). However, it was soon identified as simply a weather balloon, whereupon the sensational story seemed to fade away. Actually, it went underground; after subsequent decades, it resurfaced as an incredible tale of extraterrestrial invasion and the government’s attempt to cover up the awful truth. The media capitalized on “the Roswell incident,” and conspiracy theorists, persons with confabulated memories, outright hoaxers, and others climbed aboard the bandwagon.
We identify this process—a UFO incident’s occurring, being debunked, going underground, beginning the mythmaking processes, and reemerging as a conspiracy tale with ongoing mythologizing and media hype—as the Roswellian Syndrome. In the sections that follow, we describe the process as it occurred at Roswell and then demon- strate how the same syndrome devel- oped from certain other famous UFO incidents: at Flatwoods, West Virginia (1952); Kecksburg, Pennsylvania (1965); and Rendlesham Forest (outside the Woodbridge NATO base) in England (1980). Between us, we have actually been on site to investigate three of the four cases (Joe Nickell at Roswell and Flatwoods, and James McGaha—a for- mer military pilot—at Rendlesham).
Here is how the prototype of Roswel- lian Syndrome began and developed:
Incident. On July 8, 1947, an eager but relatively inexperienced public information officer at Roswell Army Airfield issued a press release claiming a “flying disc” had been recovered from its crash site on an area ranch (Berlitz and Moore 1980; Korff 1997). The next day’s Roswell Daily Record told how rancher “Mac” Brazel described (in a reporter’s words) “a large area of bright wreckage” consisting of tinfoil, rubber strips, sticks, and other light- weight materials.
Debunking. Soon after these initial reports, the mysterious object was identified as a weather balloon. Although there appears to have been no attempt to deceive, the best evidence now indi- cates that the device was really a bal- loon array (the sticks and foiled paper being components of dangling box- kite-like radar reflectors) that had gone missing in flight from Project Mogul. Mogul represented an attempt to use the airborne devices’ instruments to monitor sonic emissions from Soviet nuclear tests. Joe Nickell has spoken about this with former Mogul Project scientist Charles B. Moore, who identi- fied the wreckage from photographs as consistent with a lost Flight 4 Mogul array. (See also Thomas 1995; Saler et al. 1997; U.S. Air Force 1997.)
Submergence. With the report that the “flying disc” was only a balloon- borne device, the Roswell news story ended almost as abruptly as it had begun. However, the event would linger on in the fading and recreative memories of some of those involved, while in Roswell rumor and speculation continued to simmer just below the surface and UFO reports were part of the culture at large. In time, conspiracy- minded UFOlogists would arrive, asking leading questions and helping to spin a tale of crashed flying saucers and government cover-up.
Mythologizing. This is the most complex part of the syndrome, begin- ning when the story goes underground and continuing after it reemerges, developing into an elaborate myth. It involves many factors, including exaggeration, faulty memory, folklore, and deliberate hoaxing.
For example, exaggeration played a large role in the Roswell case. Major Jesse Marcel, who had helped retrieve the wreckage, often made selfcontradictory and inflated assertions, giving, for example, grossly exaggerated statements about the amount of debris, its supposed imperviousness to damage, and other matters. It is now known that Marcel made claims about his own background—that he had a college degree, was a World War II pilot who had received five air medals for shooting down enemy planes, and had him- self been shot down—that were proved untrue by his own service file (Fitzgerald 2001, 511). Kal Korff (1997, 27), who uncovered many of Marcel’s deceptions, found him “exaggerating things and repeatedly trying to ‘write himself ’ into the history books.” As he described the debris, Marcel said the sticks resembled balsa but were “not wood at all” and had “some sort of hieroglyphics on them that nobody could decipher” (apparently referring to the floral designs). As well, there were “small pieces of a metal like tinfoil, except that it wasn’t tinfoil” (Berlitz and Moore 1980, 65).
Faulty memory was another problem. For example, Curry Holden, an anthropologist from Texas Tech, claimed a student archaeological expedition he led had actually come upon the crashed flying saucer and the bodies of its extraterrestrial crew. Holden’s wife and daughter, however, insisted that he had never told them of such an event; neither was there any corroboration in his personal papers.
Holden was ninety-six when he provided his account to UFOlogist Kevin Randle, at which time his wife told Randle her husband’s memory “wasn’t as sharp as it once had been. He sometimes restructured his life’s events, moving them in time so that they were subtly changed” (Fitzgerald 2001, 514). Roswell mortician W. Glenn Dennis, who provided information on alien “bodies” at the Roswell AAF Hospital, also seriously misremembered and confabulated1 events. According to James McAndrew’s The Roswell Report: Case Closed (U.S. Air Force 1997, 78–79), Dennis’s account “was compared with official records of the actual events he is believed to have described” and showed “extensive inaccuracies” that included “a likely error in the date by as much as twelve years.”
The processes that create folklore also played a role in shaping the Ros- well legend. As reported in Leonard Stringfield’s book Situation Red: The UFO Siege (1977), a great number of tales proliferated about an alleged crash of an extraterrestrial craft and the retrieval of its humanoid occupants. The many versions of the story—what folklorists call variants—are proof of the legend-making, oral-tradition process at work. The aliens were typi- cally described as little, big-eyed, big- headed humanoids, a type that began to be popularly reported after they were described by “abductees” Betty and Barney Hill in 1961 (Nickell 2011, 184–86). The pickled corpses were secretly stored—mostly anonymous sources claimed—at a (nonexistent) hangar-18 at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, or some other location subsequently supposed to be Area 51 (the U.S. Government’s secret test facility). From a folkloristic point of view, the crash/retrieval stories seem to function as “belief tales,” that is, legends told to give credence to a folk belief—in this instance a burgeon- ing one (Nickell 1995, 196–97).
Roswell folklore was obviously fed in part by deliberate fakelore. Related hoaxing began in 1949 when—as a part of the sci-fi movie The Flying Saucer— an actor posing as an FBI agent avowed its claim of a captured spacecraft was true. In 1950, writer Frank Scully reported in his Behind the Flying Saucers that the U.S. government possessed three Venusian spaceships complete with humanoid corpses. Scully got his information from a pair of confidence men who were hoping to sell a petroleum-locating gadget allegedly derived from alien technology. By 1974, a man named Robert Spencer Carr was giving talks in which he claimed firsthand knowledge of where the preserved aliens were hidden; however, the late claimant’s son reported that his father made up the entire yarn. Other Roswell hoaxes included the ineptly forged “MJ-12 documents” (that continue to fool UFOlogist Stanton T. Friedman); a diary that told how a family came upon the smoldering crashed saucer and injured aliens (but was written with an ink not manufactured until 1974); and the notorious “Alien Autopsy” film, showing the dissection of a rubbery extraterrestrial who appeared to be from the distant Planet Latex (Nickell 2001, 118–21)
Reemergence and Media Bandwagon Effect. In 1980 the story resurfaced in the media with publication of the book The Roswell Incident. Its authors were Charles Berlitz (who had previously written the mystery-mongering best seller The Bermuda Triangle, containing “invented details,” exaggerations, and distortions [Randi 1995, 35]) and William L. Moore (who was a suspect in the previously mentioned “MJ-12” hoax [Nickell with Fischer, 1992, 81–105], as well as author of The Philadelphia Experiment, an expanded version of another’s tale that itself proved to be a hoax [Clark 1998, 509]). The Roswell Incident’s book jacket gushed: “Reports indicate, before gov- ernment censorship, that occupants and material from the wrecked ship were shuttled to a CIA high security area— and that there may have been a survivor!” It adds that “. . . Berlitz and Moore uncover astonishing information that indicates alien visitations may actually have happened—only to be hushed up in the interest of ‘national security.’”
The book is replete with distortions. Consider rancher Mac Brazel’s original description of the scattered debris he found on his ranch—strips of rubber, sticks, tinfoil, tough paper, and tape with floral designs (Nickell 2009, 10)—the same as shown in photos (U.S. Air Force 1997, 7) and consistent with a Mogul balloon array with radar reflectors. However, Berlitz and Moore impose a conspiratorial interpretation, saying that in a subsequent interview Brazel “had obviously gone to great pains to tell the newspaper people exactly what the Air Force had instructed him to say regarding how he had come to discover the wreckage and what it looked like.” In fact, Brazel quite outspokenly insisted, “I am sure what I found was not any weather observation balloon,” and he was right: the debris was from a Project Mogul array, much of it foiled paper from the radar targets (Berlitz and Moore 1980, 40).
Berlitz’s and Moore’s The Roswell Incident launched the modern wave of UFO crash/retrieval conspiracy beliefs, promoted by additional books (e.g., Friedman and Berliner 1992), television shows, and myriad other venues. Roswell conspiracy theories were off and running, typically linked to strongly anti–U.S. government attitudes. The Roswellian Syndrome would play out again and again.
About 7:15 PM on September 12, 1952, at the tiny village of Flatwoods, Braxton County, West Virginia, some boys on the school playground saw a fiery UFO apparently land on a hilltop. Running to a nearby home, they obtained a flash- light and were joined by a beautician, her two sons, and a dog. As the unlikely group went up the hill toward a pulsating light, one boy aimed a flashlight at a pair of eyes shining through the dark. The group saw a tall “manlike” entity with a round face surrounded by a “pointed hood-like shape.” Suddenly the monster emitted a high-pitched hissing sound and swept at them with “a gliding motion as if afloat in midair,” while exhibiting “terrible claws.” The group ran in panic, and the next day skid marks and a black gunk were found at the site (Nickell 2000).
The incident attracted journalists, writers (like paranormalist Ivan Sander- son), and apparently two Air Force investigators in civilian clothes. Soon, the UFO was identified as a meteor; seen in three states, it had only appeared to land when it disappeared behind the hill. The pulsating light was obviously one of three airplane beacons in view at the site. The tall “monster” was believed to have been a large owl on a limb (since then, more evidentially determined to have been a barn owl [Nickell 2000]), and a local man identified the ground traces as caused by his pickup truck and its leaking oil pan. The case soon slipped into obscurity.
Fifteen years elapsed, then Sander- son included the case as Chapter 3 of his Uninvited Visitors (1967). The credulous Sanderson (once fooled by a rubber Sasquatch frozen in ice [Nickell 2011, 87–90]) opined that the Flat- woods incident involved multiple UFOs—citing contradictory accounts of, in each instance, a single object. Instead of suspecting that witnesses were mistaken or that the meteor might have broken apart, he insisted that “to be logical” we should believe that there was “a flight of aerial machines” that were “maneuvering in formation.” For some reason they lost control, but one managed to land at Flatwoods. Its pilot emerged “in a space suit” but, observed, headed back to the craft, which—like two others that “crashed”—soon “vaporized” (Sander- son 1967, 37–52).
Sanderson was followed in 2004 by Frank C. Feschino, Jr., who published— with an introduction and epilogue by Stanton T. Friedman—The Braxton County Monster: The Cover-Up of the Flatwoods Monster Revealed. Feschino interviewed elderly witnesses, who, according to the book’s promotional copy, “wanted to talk about the story for the first time in fifty years.” For example, Kathleen May, the beautician who was with the boys when they encountered the “monster” in 1952, recalled a mysterious “government” letter that had been shown her by local reporter A. Lee Stewart, Jr. She claimed it told of experimental craft the “Navy Department” operated in the area the evening of the incident. Feschino huffs: “The test ship explanation told to Mrs. May in the mysterious letter was not even remotely possible in 1952. The Air Force knew that Mrs. May did not see a meteor in Flatwoods. So they convinced her that it was something explicable, like an experimental ship. But there were no experimental ships in 1952!” (Feschino 2004, 336) Actually, according to reporter Stewart, what he had shown May was only a press release for an issue of Collier’s magazine with an attached photo of a moon ship (Feschino 2004, 323–36)
About forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh, in Kecksburg, Pennsylvania, on December 9, 1965, a boy playing out- doors saw an object plummet into nearby woods. In fact, a brilliant aerial object had been seen by numerous observers over a large area. The Greensburg Tribune-Review reported in its county edition of December 10, “Unidentified Flying Object Falls Near Kecksburg” and “Army Ropes Off Area.” However, that newspaper’s city edition headlined its story “Searchers Fail To Find Object” (Gordon 2001, 288). From photographs of the cloud train from the object, Sky & Telescope magazine (February 1966) identified it as a very bright meteor (a type of fireball known as a bolide). The story went underground.
The Kecksburg incident remained obscure until September 19, 1990, when it became the season opener for NBC’s Unsolved Mysteries. The show launched the story as one of a crashed UFO, its secret retrieval, and a government con- spiracy to hide the truth. Nearly a quarter of a century after the original incident, two local men had begun to claim that before authorities arrived they had entered the wooded area and encountered a large metallic object, shaped like an acorn, partially embedded in the earth. At the back of the object, the witnesses said, using wording that is curiously similar to that of the Roswell incident, were markings like ancient Egyptian “hieroglyphics.” And, also like the Roswell case, the UFO was allegedly transported to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, near Dayton, Ohio, where it was kept in a sealed building (Gordon 2001, 288–90). Such shared motifs (as folklorists call story elements) suggest the Kecksburg incident was influenced by the Roswell story. One source even claimed bodies were recovered at Kecksburg but subsequently retracted the claim (Young 1997).
The various later claims do not fare well, and more than fifty residents of Kecksburg sent a petition to Unsolved Mysteries attempting to forestall the broadcast. These included the fire chief in 1965, Ed Myers, and a couple, Valerie and Jerome Miller, whose home the TV show wrongly claimed had served as a “military command post” during the UFO recovery. Actually, both the Air Force and the state police reported the day after the incident that nothing had been discovered and that all that had been carried from the site was search equipment (Young 1997).
Rendlesham Forest (1980)
For three days in late December 1980, in East England, a series of UFO close- encounter incidents occurred in Rendlesham Forest, located between two British NATO bases—RAF Bent- waters and RAF Woodbridge—that were at the time being leased by the United States Air Force. The incidents began in the early morning of December 26 (although sources disagree, some giving December 25 or December 27) and lasted for three successive days. Security patrolmen witnessed a bright streaking light that appeared to crash into the forest. Investigating, the men soon saw lights they attributed to the UFO—a bright white light plus an apparent vehicle with “a pulsing red light on top” and “blue lights underneath.” As the patrolmen proceeded closer, the object maneuvered through the trees and disappeared” (Halt 1981). The following day, three seven-inch-diameter depressions were found at the site. That night “burn marks” were seen on trees and radiation readings were also obtained. On an audiotape made by the deputy base commander Lt. Col. Charles Halt that same night, one hears an unidentified person call out regarding the bright light, “There it is again . . . there it is,” with a five-second interval (“Rendlesham” 2011). Later that night “three starlike objects” were seen in the sky; one to the south, Halt (1981) said, “was visible for two or three hours and beamed down a stream of light from time to time” (Butler et al. 1984; Ridpath 1986; Hesemann 2001).
As we now know, a bolide (a brilliant meteor) streaked over southern England at the time of the first Rendlesham sighting. Subsequently, the Suffolk police investigated the initial sighting and determined that the only light “visible [from] this area was from Orford light house”. The Orford Ness beacon stood in the very direction air- men were looking and flashed at the same five-second interval reported for the UFO. Later, other claims were convincingly debunked: the red and blue lights were from a police car; the “landing” depressions were rabbit diggings; “burn marks” on pines were axe blazings oozing resin; the low radiation readings had been taken with equipment not intended to measure back- ground radiation and were therefore meaningless; and the starlike lights were probably indeed stars, namely Sirius, Vega, and Deneb (“Rendlesham” 2011; Ridpath 1986). Meanwhile, the Rendlesham story remained unpublicized for almost three years. In October 1983 the story leaked out and made headlines in the British tabloid News of the World: “UFO Lands in Suffolk—and That’s Official.” It was followed by a book, Sky Crash: A Cosmic Conspiracy (1984), written by Brenda Butler, Jenny Randles, and Dot Street and based in part on hypnosis sessions with “Art Wallace”—actually former U.S. airman Larry Warren who was the News of the World’s informant. Warren’s claim to have been a witness to the Rendlesham incident has been disputed by others, including Halt (“Rendlesham” 2011). By this time bizarre rumors had surfaced that a commander had met three little humanoid extraterrestrials who had emerged from the landed UFO, but the alleged contactee denied it (Butler et al. 1984, 86).
In time, Jenny Randles, who helped hype the Rendlesham incident, came to doubt the extraterrestrial connection, stating, “While some puzzles remain, we can probably say that no unearthly craft were seen in Rendlesham Forest. We can also argue with confidence that the main focus of the events was a series of misperceptions of everyday things encountered in less than every- day circumstances” (qtd. in “Rendle- sham” 2011).
No doubt other instances of the Roswellian Syndrome could be given (even beyond UFO encounters), but the ones we have presented here are major examples of the type. Of course, each is different in its own way (for example, the Rendlesham Forest case had a much briefer period of submergence than did Roswell). And some famous UFO incidents—the Phoenix Lights of 1997, for instance (Davenport 2001)— have not followed the same course. (For one apparent reason, it did not involve a specific site on the ground visited by investigators.)
Nevertheless, we believe we have identified a genuine pattern in cases in which, during a period of submergence, the mythologizing tendency has been at work followed by a reemergence— rather like a new, more virulent strain of a virus. It appears that UFOlogists are always looking for a Holy Grail case to verify their belief in extraterrestrial visitation, and when that does not pan out (most UFO reports prove little more than misidentifications, ambiguous sightings, fake photos, and the like) they seek out the old cases and are rewarded with much more sensational testimony. By identifying and analyzing this process, we hope to promote more critical thinking regarding these and other sensationalized cases.
History Mystery Photos…
What business would be open only two hours a day?
What church displayed this Creche out front?
Answers at bottom of this post.
FAV Foto of the week
This traditional courthouse Christmas lighting is popular with people from all over the county.
Answers to History Mystery photos
The two History Mystery photos were taken across the street from each other in the village of Esmond. The post office has very limited hours. The manger scene is at the Esmond United Methodist Church.