Sunday, November 6, 2011

Look to the Skies: UFO Phenomena

For my Culture and Personality class, I will be writing a term paper on Mass Hysteria, with specific focus on the UFO phenomenon. In light of that, I thought I would devote at least one blog, if not a few, to a couple of major events in the UFO community. Everyone has heard of Roswell, of course, but not everyone knows of the Arnold Report, the Airship hysteria of 1897, or the Battle of Los Angeles (not the movie, but close). I would like to highlight these and perhaps a few others. Let's get started, shall we?

First, the Kenneth Arnold UFO sighting happened in 1947, in the skies above Mt. Rainier, Washington. Before Arnold's report, UFOs weren't very high on the human radar. America had gone through the panic of Orson Welles' War of the Worlds Halloween broadcast back in 1938, but since then the idea of aliens had taken a back burner to the second World War. When Arnold saw nine unidentified objects flying through the air "like a saucer would," America was introduced to the flying saucer and ran with it. has several articles outlining the report Arnold made to the Air Force and other inquirers:

"At around 3:00 in the afternoon, he was flying at about 9,000 feet, near Mount Rainier, when a flash of light caught his eye. He turned and saw a procession of nine very strange objects flying from north to south in front of his plane. They were flat and rather heel-shaped, very shiny, and they moved erratically, like a "saucer would if you skipped it across water." 

Since then, Arnold's report has been criticized by skeptics the world over. But, what UFO experience hasn't been? In any case, this is the one that started it all...

After his initial report, America (and the world) were kicked into panic-mode. "Flying saucers" were everywhere. There was no going back now. America had UFO fever.

Far before the idea of flying saucers came about, however, Americans in the northern states were hysterical over something they could only describe as an Airship. Now, all of us in the Steampunk community know all about airships. For us, they're the main form of travel in an alternate Victorian world, more elegant than airplanes or helicopters. These are not, however, our main form of travel. In fact, even in 1897 these weren't the way to travel. But residents from California to Michigan saw something in the sky from a period of 1896-97.

With over 1500 reports from individuals, the mystery airships have become the best-documented paranormal phenomenon from antiquity. It seems there wasn't a person alive who didn't witness some mystery flying in the skies during this chunk of time. But what did they really see?

Wikipedia has way more than I thought on the subject of the mystery airships. It seems Sacramento and San Francisco were the first to report strange flying objects in the skies over California. Witnesses reported seeing a dark object behind a very bright light. Shouts of orders were heard from the ground, as well as singing. A man named Lowry reported two men pedaling to keep the aircraft aloft, and above them something like a passenger compartment.

Similar reports were given all over the continental US. One man even claimed to talk to two nude pilots from Mars. A lot of the reports claim to have seen crashes and airships on the ground, and one even describes the "pilot" telling about a device that let him shrink the airship enough to fit in his pocket! Most of the reports are honestly funny. "anonymous, but reliable" witnesses, nude pilots, even a woman strapped to a chair as a prisoner were told to various newspapers all over the country. At this point, most researchers believe these were all lies, hoaxes, or a serious of personal airships people weren't familiar with. Whatever the case, there wasn't a person alive in the US who hadn't seen the mysterious airships.

The last event isn't well known to the general population, either. In fact, most of the residents from the city in which it happened have no clue that such a thing took place. At the height of the second World War, 1942, a mysterious object was spotted by citizens and military officers alike over the coast of Los Angeles, California. At first officers thought we (I'm from there, after all) were being attacked by the Japanese. It was disturbing enough that a blackout was called for the city, and dozens of rounds of anti-aircraft bullets were fired on the object.

The Los Angeles Times has had two articles on the incident, one from 1942 and the other from 2011:

"No one knows what, if anything, the GIs saw in the early morning hours when their antiaircraft batteries opened fire. And after more than 1,000 antiaircraft and .50-caliber machine gun rounds were expended, there was no evidence that they had hit any targets. A single moment of the incident was preserved in a dramatic photo that ran in the next day’s Los Angeles Times, the image of several searchlight beams converged on a single point in the night sky above Culver City. Over the years that photo became legend among UFO-ologists who maintain the searchlights were trained on an alien spaceship, and that the photo is evidence of an extra-terrestrial visitation."

 This could have been an actual raid, a fake raid used to scare the 2,000,000 residents of LA, or any number of things. It seems that no one has been satisfied with the explanations offered by officials. So what was it? We might not ever know.

What we do know is that there have been thousands of reports on unidentified flying objects spanning the globe for (at this point) over a hundred years. The verdict is still out on every single one of those reports, but the truth is out there somewhere.

If you've got any UFO stories of your own, feel free to email me, or leave them in the comments section! I would love to hear them!

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