Thursday, March 28, 2013

The Brookings Institution and Walter Sullivan

As I was looking into the history of the Brookings Institution report about their investigation into alien life and what would happen if we learned there were aliens out there, I made a somewhat startling discovery. Walter Sullivan, one time science editor of the New York Times had written a book, We Are Not Alone, in 1964, and he quoted from that report. He was writing about the short section that suggested that communication with an alien race might not be a good thing for the people of Earth… might not be bad, especially if it was only through radio astronomy, but there could be negative consequences.
He quotes exactly a long section from the report about what is found in “anthropological files” and how societies, “sure of their place” suffered from a variety of fates. The implication is that those societies were altered, often for the worse. I say just look at the history of contact between the old and new worlds to see what is meant.

Anyway, after these precise quotes (which I have not reproduced here) Sullivan begins to paraphrase. He wrote, “Such studies, the report continued, should consider public reactions to past hoaxes, ‘flying saucer’ episodes and incidents like the Martian invasion broadcast.”

But the report doesn’t say, “flying saucers.” The line paraphrased in the report says, “Such studies would include historical reactions to hoaxes, psychic manifestations, unidentified flying objects, etc. Hadley Cantril’s study, Invasion from Mars (Princeton University Press, 1940), would provide a useful if limited guide in this area.”

The structure of Sullivan’s quote seems to suggest that flying saucers belong in the hoax category and is somewhat dismissive of the idea of flying saucers. But the report used the term “unidentified flying objects” and it wasn’t next to the word, “hoaxes”, but separated from it. This seems to indicate Sullivan’s personal bias.

Now, let me say that my interpretation might be off base here. I just noticed the changing of the words and I remembered Ed Ruppelt explaining that the Air Force used the term, flying saucer, in a derogatory sense as in, “You don’t believe in those flying saucers do you?” Sullivan, by changing the term, was engaging in the same dismissive attitude… which, of course, is his right… except…

The way his sentence is structured, and the use of quotation marks around “flying saucer” suggests that the term was lifted from the Brookings Institution report. But the document doesn’t use the term, and the structure of that particular paragraph seems more benign to me.

Oh, I know, this isn’t a big thing. It was just something that I stumbled over and thought enough about it to mention it here. But it does, sort of, reveal an attitude that is found throughout the MSM and that is something that shouldn’t exist. They should keep the sneering attitude to themselves… and not only when writing about UFOs.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

The June 23, 1947 UFO Sighting

I believe that I have found the original source for the story of a Cedar Rapids engineer who saw the flying discs. A headline in the Cedar Rapids Gazette said, “Flying Discs Seen By Railroad Man.” The problem? The newspaper is dated June 28, 1947 and appears two days after the Arnold story. And it didn’t happen in Cedar Rapids.

The article, which is not six lines or six paragraphs, but a little longer than that, said:

A railroad man said Friday [which is June 27, 1947 and eliminates the need for further information right there because the story appeared after Arnold] he saw “about nine” spinning discs speeding through the sky last Tuesday [June 24] the same day an Idaho flyer said he saw some flashing objects in the air.
Charles Kastl [yes, that is the way it is spelled consistently in the article], 60 [which means he would be 126 today], an employe [sic] of the Elgin, Joliet and Eastern railroad for 38 years, saw he saw the discs about 1:50 p.m. (CST) as he was walking along the highway to work.
No other person in the Joliet area reported anything unusual.
Kastl said he saw a string of flat, circular objects going faster “than any plane I ever saw” about 10 to 12 miles east of Joliet [Illinois]. They were flying about 4,000 feet, he said.
“They appeared to be very high, and were going from north to south,” he said. “I could see no connecting link between them, but they acted as though the leading disc had a motor in it to power the others, because when it flipped, the others would too. When it would right itself, the others would right themselves.”
Kastl said he did not tell anyone but his wife about seeing the objects until Friday, “because I didn’t think anything about it.”
When he returned from a railroad run Friday, however, he learned that Kenneth Arnold, Boise, Idaho, pilot had reported seeing objects similar to the ones he claimed to have seen. Arnold said he saw objects over the Pacific Northwest.
Charles Preucil, head of the Joliet astronomical society, said there would be no natural cause for a display such as Kastl described.

Given the information in this article and given the descriptions given for the Cedar Rapids sighting, I believe this is the source. It did not happen in Cedar Rapids, nor did it happen on June 23. I will assume here, risking fate, that someone (Frank Edwards?) miscalculated the date of Tuesday, believing it to be the 23rd, and not realizing it was the 24th.
In Alfred Loedding and the Great Flying Saucer Wave of 1947 by Michael Hall and Wendy Connors, the story was reported on page 22 as:

Thus, neither of those sightings made the papers before Arnold's account, but one story was actually reported to newspapers on the 23rd. The tale came from a railroad engineer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As he was climbing off his engine, he observed ten shiny disc-shaped objects flying in a string-like formation, "like wild geese." The six line story it generated produced little attention at the time.
Their footnote indicated that this information came from a speech given by Frank Edwards on April 28, 1956, to the Civilian Saucer Intelligence.
As I have mentioned, Richard Hall, in The UFO Evidence, reported, “6-23-47. Cedar Rapids, Iowa. 10 shiny discs “fluttering along in a string.”
Even if we wish to keep the entry as a reliable report, we now know that it didn’t happen on June 23 and it was not Cedar Rapids but Joliet, Illinois.
And as also mentioned, Robert Loftin, in his Identified Flying Objects reported, “June 23, 1947 – Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Railroad engineer saw ten shiny disc-shaped objects, very high, fluttering in a string toward the northeast.”
This should put to rest the idea that there was a sighting in Cedar Rapids on June 23 by an engineer. It should end the discussion that this case preceded Arnold by a day. Everything I have learned about it suggests that it happened on the day of the Arnold sighting but was not reported until two days later.
I will confess one other thing about this case. I don’t believe it. I think the guy was just spinning a tale about seeing something and because these things were now part of that news cycle, a reporter talked to him and wrote the story. The original importance of it had been the suggestion that it preceded Arnold, and without that, it is another single witness case that does not advance our knowledge…
And I will add this. It is frightening because of how far it has been circulated and how distorted it has become. I don’t know what motivated Edwards to quote it, and quote it so badly, but quote it he did. Others picked up on it without checking the original sources, and it took me quite a while to chase it down. If I could, I would strike if from the UFO literature, but books last a long time and the Internet might be forever. This will live on but I can hope that others will stumble across this information as they search for evidence.

Friday, March 08, 2013

Cedar Rapids Engineer Sees Disks - Beats Arnold by a Day?

I’ve been working on a new book and I was chasing down stories of flying saucers, flying discs, seen prior to June 24, 1947. Sure there are some, but all, or almost all, seem to have been reported after Kenneth Arnold’s story appeared in newspapers.

One of the best of these, reported in many sources, came from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and according to one document, “Thus neither of those sightings [one from El Paso, Texas and one from Wapakoneta, Oregon] made the papers before Arnold’s account, but one story was actually reported to newspapers on the 23rd. The tale came from a railroad engineer in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. As he was climbing off his engine, he observed ten shiny disc-shaped objects flying in a string-like formation, ‘like wild geese.’ The six line story it generated produced little attention at the time.” The source of this, according to the footnote, was a speech given by Frank Edwards in April, 1956.
I have found references to it in other publications. Richard Hall, in his 1964 book, The UFO Evidence, lists it in two places, Section XI, page 129 and Section XII, page 152. Neither supplies much in the way of information. It is basically a recap of this other story and in neither place is there a source.

An Internet site listed Ted Bloecher’s The Report on the UFO Wave of 1947 as a source, but I was unable to find it there. If it is, I would hope that someone would point it out to me, but I don’t think they’ll find it. Bloecher used newspaper files for his documentation and so, if he didn’t find it in a newspaper, it was probably not published anywhere.
Now I was reading, the other day, a criticism of a UFO book, and it was suggested that primary sources were the best. Not witness testimony, but something that had been written down, such as a newspaper article or military document created at the time. If nothing else, that article could help establish the credibility of the sighting. Someone quoting another book would not be a primary source… it might be a secondary source, but might be even further removed from the primary source.

So, rather than quote those other books, rather than make a list of Internet and web sites that quoted the story, I thought about looking in the Cedar Rapids newspapers to find the original story. In June 1947, there were two newspapers in Cedar Rapids, The Cedar Rapids Gazette and the Cedar Rapids Tribune.
I carefully read the Gazette for June 23 and did not find the story. I went through the issue twice. I looked on June 24 but it was not there either. Nor was it there on the 25th, 26th, or 27th. Of course, if printed after June 24, it was just another of the many cases that surfaced after Arnold’s report hit the national circuit.  Yes, I did find the Arnold story in the Gazette and thought the engineer story might be appended to it, but it was not.

The Tribune was not a daily paper and did not have an issue on June 23. I looked at several issues, but they didn’t even carry any flying disc reports. The newspaper was more geared to the local area.
And I was even allowed to search the library’s database for the newspaper articles. It wasn’t there, but then, I was told that they missed things in preparing the database. That it wasn’t there didn’t mean anything other than it wasn’t there. When appended to the other failed searches, that information becomes more significant.

While this sighting, if published on June 23, or even on June 24, would have been an important contribution to the UFO history, I was unable to find any documentation for it prior to Edwards’ 1956 speech. It does not appear in the Cedar Rapids newspapers, and I seriously doubt that any other newspaper would have carried it. Just nothing there of interest for them in it.
There is a school of thought that the case is listed in the Project Blue Book files, but it is from the Des Moines, Iowa area, happened on June 29, and involved a bus driver rather than a railroad engineer. But the details of the sighting are a match. The story was reported on July 8. If this is the right case, then it does nothing for us. It is just another of those sightings made after Arnold, reported after Arnold, and involves a single witness. The Air Force wrote it off as coming from an unreliable source.

I really wanted to document the details of the Cedar Rapids case, but simply could not do it. This is another “sighting” that should be removed from the various listings and databases. I don’t know how Edwards got it so twisted around, but I do know he didn’t get it from a newspaper in Cedar Rapids.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Project Contour and Alien Communication

As I was doing some research the other day, I came across some information from Mark Shippey (or information attributed to him) about a classified Air Force program known as Contour. This is how he explained it:
Today I met an old retired Air Force officer who claims that in the 1960s the Air Force conducted secret projects concerning possible communications with alien life forms…
He said one project was called “Contour”. He said that this project involved understanding “linguistic fundamentals of communication between different species”, and that one part of the project focused on understanding how “primates such as a gorilla might be taught to communicate.”
According to this retired officer, the Air Force was publically disregarding UFOs,” but privately was involved in “intense research concerning inter-species communication.”
He explained how one fascinating part of the project involved taking a gorilla that had been raised amongst humans and taught “basic sign language” back into the field to see how it related to and communicated with wild gorillas and if the domesticated gorilla could act as a “go-between” to communicate between the researchers and the wild gorillas.
All of this was supposed to have happened to, “help us learn fundamentals of language that could be helpful in communications with alien species.” 
I won’t go into the problems with this scenario as described, from the point that gorillas aren’t very receptive to new arrivals, to the point that the domesticated gorilla would not understand the wild gorillas’ communications having not interacted with them. Sort of like taking a baby of Japanese heritage raised in Oklahoma, for example, and dropping him or her into Tokyo and expecting some sort of psychic connection with the Japanese. The Oklahoma person would have no real connection with the land of his or her heritage and would be as out of touch with the Japanese as anyone plucked from another culture would be. The shared heritage might facilitate some interaction, but it really would have little impact on the meeting.
No, the problem with this tale, and I’m sure some of you recognize it, is because it wasn’t an Air Force project, but a plot point in a novel. Here’s what was written about it in the novel:
Pearl’s thesis attracted considerable attention, and funding from the U.S. Air Force, which had supported linguistic research since the 1960s. According to one story, the Air Force had a secret project called CONTOUR, involving possible contact with alien life forms. The official military position was that UFOs were of natural origin – but the military was covering its bets. Should alien contact occur, linguistic fundamentals were obviously critically important. And taking primates into the field was seen as an example of contact with “alien intelligence”; hence the Air Force funding. 
Now before we all take off on tangents to suggest this tale might be true, or have the elements of truth in it, let me point out the linguistic similarities between Shippey’s report and the paragraph in the novel. Let me point out that Shippey’s story surfaced in 1999 and the novel was published in 1980. Let me further establish that I have been unable to find any other references to Contour as a real project, even one with a different purpose.
And yes, I did try to find a Frederick Pearl who matched the description in the book. Yes, there are a couple of them. One, called Fritz, died in 1970 but was a gestalt psychologist and the other is an anthropologist, but is too young to have been writing papers on linguistics in the 1960s. The name seems to be an invention by the writer to advance the story and refers to neither a real person nor a real thesis.
At least this tale has not gotten wide spread circulation inside (or outside) the UFO community. There is no evidence that such a program ever existed, and for those who might suggest absence of evidence, well, they are required to produce some of it.
Oh, the novel? Congo by Michael Crichton…