Published: 2:57 PM 2/12/2015
The first report in the cache specific to Chicago is a hand-written note dated May 25, 1949...
Posted: Neil Steinberg
Do you believe in UFOs?
That is, do you believe that Unidentified Flying Objects are not the result of mirages, misidentifications and mendacity, but tangible evidence of intelligent life from distant planets traveling huge distances to gaze mutely upon us because, well, we’re so interesting and important?
You are not alone. Between a third and two-thirds of Americans — numbers vary depending on how the poll is worded — believe reports of UFOs reflect their extraterrestrial origins.
And now you can plow through those reports yourself, at least 10,000 of them, from 1947 to 1969, gathered by the Air Force in its Project Blue Book, posted by an organization calling itself The Black Vault.
Rather than plow through all 129,491 pages, I began looking at reports from Illinois, starting with one filed June 28, 1947 — four days after private pilot Kenneth Arnold started all this by reporting nine strange objects flying “like a saucer skipping over water” near Mount Rainier in Washington State.
The Illinois report is less descriptive, consisting of the single sentence: “Only info given was that saucers were seen over Illinois,” on a faint, microfilmed page where some Air Force functionary had concluded, in the all-caps so popular when dealing with this subject: “INSUFFICIENT DATA FOR EVALUATION.”
The cover-up begins!
The first report in the cache specific to Chicago is a hand-written note dated May 25, 1949.
“On Monday, February 28th 1949 at 6:11 a.m. in a clear sky I saw a large cylinder shaped ship come out of the East on a Westerly course.” Estimating it was 12 to 15 miles away, the observer said, “Before reaching this point it gave off exhaust for about 22 seconds. Gas, blue in color, flecked with red to orange darts from the entire rear end that was conical in shape extending about one half the length of the ship then rolling off in Steam Gray balls.”
The reports are a charming blend of the ordinary and the bizarre. A man walking his dog on Kildare Avenue in June 1967 sees a flying object whose “top and bottom were equally convex. Like the side view of an aspirin tablet — its color was a uniform orange-red glow, not a light, more like a neon sign in the distance.”
In 1966, a 25-year-old UPS driver watching TV on the 9th floor of his apartment on the South Side looks out the window and sees something “larger than a nickel at arm’s length” that is “Red & Green in color.”
The details of the supposed spaceships did not interest me as much details of the Air Force bureaucracy. The letterhead of Maj. Hector Quintanilla Jr., chief of the “Arial Phenomena Branch,” was emblazoned with, “Headquarters FOREIGN TECHNOLOGY DIVISION Air Force Systems Command” (UFOs naturally would be “foreign technology.”)
There’s also the letterhead of Dearborn Observatory, Northwestern University, signed by J. Allen Hynek, the astronomy professor tapped as a scientific consultant by the Air Force, which was increasingly desperate to get out of the UFO witness hand-holding business. Hynek started out as a debunker of UFOs as intergalactic busybodies but grew to give credence to the idea that people were seeing something — there were so many of them. (Then again, the 42 percent of Americans who believe in ghosts do not will poltergeists into being).
In a letter dated Nov. 16, 1964, Hynek discusses a Chicago man who saw three large, light green, fuzzy-edged oscillating crescents the man found “most fearsome.” Just 3 to 5 seconds of their presence left him trembling and perspiring. Hynek decided it was an “after-image.”
This case certainly shows the alacrity with which people spread the word. “Within five minutes” our Chicagoan was on the phone to the Chicago Tribune, the Air Force, the Adler Planetarium and had sent a telegram to Sky and Telescope magazine (he was a telescope buff). When Hynek talked to the witness (the names are all redacted), he said he had been setting the dials of his telescope with a red light, to preserve his night vision.
“It was he himself who brought up the suggestion that it might have been caused by the red light,” Hynek wrote. “Usually, when the witness brings up a suggestion like that, it often means that he’s pretty convinced himself that that is what it was.”
My view on this topic is demonstrated in an incident that occurred Feb. 25, 1967, in Urbana, Illinois. “Various observers watched a round-shaped object reddish-orange in color travel toward the Eastern sky” according to the Air Force “Brief Summary and Analysis.” I believe people saw something. It’s the leap from seeing-something to identifying-that-something-as-a-spaceship where they lose me.
This report ends, “Local radio station reported that they received many calls, and a few of the calls said that the object looked like a balloon with a flare attached.”
Hmm, so two theories. Intergalactic travelers here to keep an eye on us. Or a balloon with a flare. Which is more likely?
About half of Americans believe these reports are evidence of aliens. I see them as evidence — yet more evidence — of human vanity. A more interesting question than “Are they out there?” is “Why do we so desperately want them to be out there?”