Great Falls area residents have seen many unidentified flying objects over the years. Some of those people might have had too much hootch to drink at the time.
But that wasn't the case for Nicholas Mariana, who filmed strange objects from Legion baseball park with a 16mm camera in August 1950. Mariana was general manager of the Great Falls Electrics baseball team at the time. Little did he know that his quick-thinking work with a camera would make Mariana a heroic figure among UFO buffs.
Mariana was standing in the bleachers one day when he was amazed to see "two vehicles hovering above the pitcher's mound," his son related in an interview Saturday. The elder Mariana, who studied journalism at the University of Montana, kept a movie camera in his glove box. He ran for the camera, and stood in the bleachers behind home plate filming closeups of the strange objects. After a short time, the aircrafts shot up into the air in a flash.
Soon, "they were little dots on the horizon," said the son, Nick Mariana of Victor.
Mariana's film is credited as one of the best films ever taken of possible extra-terrestrial activity. And he had a witness, his secretary, who backed up his story.
Mariana later complained the best segment of his film disappeared after he gave the movie to Malmstrom Air Force Base to analyze. Base officials denied intentionally clipping out the best closeups from the film.
Mariana once appeared on "I've Got a Secret," a TV program hosted by Gary Moore in which a panel tried to guess what secret a guest had. Panelists didn't guess Mariana's secret. Mariana died Aug. 20, 1999, in Oregon, but interest in his film continues.
Mariana's son, Nick, was born in Great Falls, but the family almost immediately moved to Missoula. Today, he owns a former Great Falls business called Mr. Video. As it turned out, he had his own movie camera when he was a kid. Nick Mariana shares his father's view that the government took the best part of the film and stuck it in a classified folder somewhere.
"They don't lose that stuff," he said. The younger Mariana thinks the vehicle may well have been from another world.
"I'm a believer," the Victor man said. "I think it's perfectly feasible that they've made contact."
At the same time, he said there are plenty of "crackpots" out there who falsely claim to have been abducted by aliens.
For years, the Marianas had the famous 15 seconds of 16 mm film around the house in a collection of movies. Then Nick Mariana tried to find it.
"It disappeared from our house," he said. Fortunately, that part of the film had already been copied.
Nick Mariana said his father was irritated that the government whacked out the best section of his movie. After all, who wouldn't object to a hatchet job of editing? But the elder Mariana didn't dwell on what happened to his film, even if he wasn't thrilled about it.
"He just wasn't that kind of guy at all," son Nick said. That hasn't kept the Marianas from musing over the years about what the full film might have been worth to collectors.
This spring, makers of a two-hour UFO film documentary for the History Channel in Canada, All In One Films of Toronto, are trying to find friends or relatives of Mariana who heard him talk about filming the UFOs. They also would like to talk to anyone who might have seen a showing of the Mariana film in Great Falls in the 1950s.
If you fill that bill, either e-mail or write me and I'll pass the information on to the folks upstairs in Canada.
Tribune Staff Writer Richard Ecke writes a weekly column on city life. Reach him by e-mail at email@example.com, or at (406) 791-1467 or (800) 438-6600.
Originally published May 8, 2006
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